Movie adaptations: Fraudulent or faithful?

Feb. 13, 2018, 12:30 p.m.

Stardust (2007) – Claire Francis, desk editor

Starring Charlie Cox (“Daredevil”), Claire Danes (“Romeo + Juliet,” “Homeland”) and the disembodied voice of Sir Ian McKellen, “Stardust” is “The Princess Bride” for the post-modern millennium: ludicrous, festooned with just-slightly-off CGI, witty yet heartfelt and based off a book of the same name (written by Neil Gaiman in the 1990s). Baby-faced Cox, as coming-of-age hero Tristan Thorn, sets out to secure a fallen star, as we all do, in order to impress a pretty girl (aptly named Victoria, an It Girl of circa-2002 media incarnate and trapped in a faintly fantastical English countryside far away from her usual suburban habitat). “Stardust,” in text, is a self-aware fairy tale that plays with fate, family and self-discovery in three intertwining storylines (that of Tristan, that of seven royal brothers and that of a coven of decaying witches); the screen adaptation supports this structure quite well, perhaps even more effectively than our semi-omniscient narrator in the novel. While the film fabricates characters (e.g. the incomparable sky-pirate, Captain Shakespeare) and climatic scenes (e.g. the final fight), these inserts mesh well with the essence of the Gaiman original, so even the most ardent devotee (ahem, me) must admit their charm. If the film does trade worldliness for whimsy, well, no one will complain about the resulting lighthearted romp. “Stardust,” while cheesy, predictable and a product of its time, is also mischievous, clever and a great comfort on cold days. 3.5/5.

Cat Soup (Nekojiru-sō) (2001) – Ashley Huang, staff writer

A certified deep cut, “Cat Soup” is a 30-minute animated short film adapted from one chapter of an out-of-print 90s manga. The original “Nekojiru Udon” follows the day-to-day lives of Nyatta and Nyāko, two anthropomorphic kitten-children with perpetual :3 faces and dead, dead eyes. Artist-writer Chiyomi Hashiguchi’s bold, almost clumsy linework looks like it’s meant to appeal to your baby cousin, and her biggest focus is indeed on kids — as echo chambers for the kindness and barbarism expressed by those who know better. “Udon” cycles through endless afternoons of eating shaved ice, watching your dog vomit up parasites and finding half of your sister’s soul buried in the garden. That last plot transforms into an odyssey in Tatsuo Satō’s “Cat Soup”: after his sister succumbs to illness, Nyatta drags her half-conscious body to the circus, across a desert and eventually to the land of the dead in order to get her back. Yet this act of love is tempered with Hashiguchi’s trademark cruelty. One of the movie’s most memorable scenes features Nyatta and Nyāko turning on and eating the kind pig that has been offering them shelter. Keep an eye out for the beautiful animation work of legendary art director Masaki Yuaasa (credited only as a screenwriter), and make sure you stick around for the credits. Trust me, it’ll hit you hard.

The Hours (2002) – Scott Stevens, contributing writer

Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours” pays homage to Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece “Mrs. Dalloway.” As is the case with the eponymous hostess of Woolf’s novel, the stories of his three main female characters take place over the course of one day. Clarissa Vaughan, named after the original Clarissa Dalloway, must also buy flowers and order food for a party at her apartment in New York in the year 1999. Laura Brown doubts her role as a housewife in 1949. Cunningham also dramatizes Woolf’s struggle to overcome her poor health and writer’s block to produce “Mrs. Dalloway.” The beauty of “The Hours” stems from the delicate echoes of speech and thought that run across the years between the characters. What one character says may bleed into what another thinks decades later. The movie adaptation fails to capture this pensiveness, a typical failure of cinema. Clarissa Vaughan’s interactions with her partner Sally and daughter Julia also disappointed me — her insecurity as a mother and wife is not so prominent as it is in the book. However, I encourage everyone to watch the movie, for the acting is incredible, and Philip Glass’s soundtrack captures the silvery, wistful atmosphere of the book impeccably.

Arrival (2016) – Shana Hadi, staff writer

While at first glance it seems like another stereotypical alien movie, “Arrival” quickly proves its substance as a new vision of the sci-fi genre. (Alright, fine. The first introduction of the heptapod spacecraft as a steel-colored, oversized pumpkin seed had me slightly concerned for the adaptation’s integrity, but Amy Adams as Louise Banks and Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly approached the ship with the proper seriousness, swaying my liking of the heptapod aesthetic.) With the film unfolding in a cyclical manner that mimics the structure of its original text, Banks is our gateway into exploring linguistic relativity (how one’s first language affects the patterning of one’s thoughts) and its effects on a perception of time; this later becomes relevant to the central conflict when Banks’ new insights help her save the world (no spoilers!) and find personal solace as she considers her future. Overall, while I enjoyed the original “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, I appreciated how the film added another dimension to the narrative, with the swirling characters reminiscent of ink paintings, believable depictions of Banks’ prevailing anxiety and eventual understanding and the rousing soundtrack (listen to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Sapir-Whorf” and note that the title refers to the linguistic relativity hypothesis of the same name so central to this work!) “Arrival” is one of my favorite films of all time, because it goes beyond illustrating a fascinating concept and story — it treats its subject matter with such reverence, allowing for a film that is both speculative in its ideas and resonant at its heart.

The trailer for “Nina” (2016) – Josh Wagner, desk editor

Nina Simone: The Movie should have been a success. Following in the footsteps of “Get On Up” and other similar biopics, the film’s premise follows the life of Eunice Waymon (Nina’s real name), one of the most popular 20th century jazz musicians. Though jazz is a male-dominated sphere, Nina was able to carve out a space for herself and her music, which is inextricably tied to her blackness and femininity. Like many others, Nina did not initially want to play – she took the elite Curtis exam to study classical piano at the Curtis School in Philadelphia, but was rejected (allegedly) on the basis of race. The only job she could get was playing cocktail piano in an Atlantic City dive bar where she was forced to sing. Nina’s identity is tied to her aesthetic appearance – “I’m the kind of colored girl who looks like everything white people despise or have been taught to despise” – with untameable, curly hair and very dark skin. Instead of tackling these diverse issues head-on, the trailer skirts around these issues, casting the traditionally beautiful and light-skinned Zoë Saldana as Nina. Donning blackface, Saldana is continually backgrounded by whiteness – in a swimming pool, in a shower, in bed – as if the director is playing up a massive joke that no one quite gets. The film indulges in artificial recreation without engaging with what makes Nina and her music amazing – do not pay to view this film. You’d feel more of Nina by seeing the Netflix documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” or, better yet, by listening to “Mississippi Goddamn.”


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