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The 411 Movies Top 5 05.10.12: Week 373 - Top 5 Novel Movie Adaptations
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 05.10.2013

Welcome to Week 372 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.

The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: With The Great Gatsby coming out this week, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Top 5 movies based on books. Since we have done a lot already on comic books, lets limit this to actual novels, both classic (Great Gatsby), newer efforts (Life of Pi) and everything in between (The Shining).


Bryan Kristopowitz

Honorable Mentions: The Green Mile (1999), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Last Man on Earth (1964), Die Hard (1988), Cobra (1986)

5. John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)

Based on the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley, Carpenter's Vampires essentially takes the opening scene from the novel, elements of the Jack Crow character, and the premise of the Vatican funding a worldwide vampire elimination operation and then makes his own thing. Felix, a prominent character in the book, is nowhere to be seen. I'm going to assume that Carpenter didn't think he could actually film the book as is (it probably would have cost way more than he had on hand to make a movie) and just decided to take parts of the book and make a kind of horror western. I think it would have been interesting to see the book as a full on movie, but I'm glad that Carpenter made his own movie instead. The movie has its own energy that the book just doesn't possess. I wouldn't mind seeing the book turned into some kind of cable mini-series, though. There's enough in there to make a kind of cable epic.

4. Misery (1990)

Rob Reiner steps into Stephen King territory once again after the mega successful Stand By Me with Misery, a nasty thriller about obsession. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for playing Annie Wilkes, the wacked out "number one fan" of novelist Paul Sheldon, expertly played by James Caan. Wilkes rescues Sheldon after a terrible car crash seriously injures the novelist and "allows" him to recover in her secluded home. Reiner, who hasn't made a straight up thriller since (he's allegedly working on another one right now), cranks up the tension as the movie progresses and we find out just how psychotic Wilkes really is. The movie is still unsettling twenty-three years later. I mean, would you want to be trapped in a house with a heavily armed, batshit insane Kathy Bates? She has a pet pig for the love of God.

3. First Blood (1982)

The major difference between the novel First Blood by David Morrell and the movie First Blood by Ted Kotcheff is how the Rambo character is portrayed. In the book, Rambo (and that's his name. Just Rambo) is a bit of a lunatic. He's the protagonist, sure, but he isn't necessarily the "good" guy in the story. He's taking on Sheriff Teasle because of a Vietnam flashback that sets him off (he also feels disrespected). And in the course of taking Teasle and his deputies on Rambo kills several of them. In the movie, John Rambo, as played by Sylvester Stallone, is a man persecuted by the law, a kind of man of peace that is drawn into an unnecessary conflict by an asshole sheriff brilliantly played by Brian Denehy. Rambo escapes arrest and goes off into the woods and whatnot, but Rambo doesn't kill anyone. One cop does die but Rambo doesn't kill him. In the movie, Rambo just wants to be left alone (that's why he goes off into the woods. He hopes that no one follows him into there. The man just wants to be left alone). Kotcheff and crew definitely made the right choice in changing Rambo's character. Morrell states as much on the DVD commentary. You can't really root for a guy that's an unrepentant killing machine. Well, at least back in 1982 you couldn't.

2. Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish, by Brian Garfield, is a lean and mean novel that deals with a man who, through grief, transforms from a mild mannered sort of milquetoast liberal into a gun toting, revenge seeking right wing loon bag. It's a sad and scary descent into the pits of hell. The movie adaptation, directed by the great Michael Winner, moves along briskly but never feels rushed, and is kind of in favor of what Chuck Bronson's Paul Kersey is up to. Being a vigilante is a "good" thing. Being a vigilante isn't necessarily a good thing in the book. Winner basically copies large chunks of the early parts of the book for the movie, but then about halfway allows the movie to go off on its own. Again, the movie sort of condones/supports Kersey's mission. It's an appalling position, sure, but it works out quite well.

1. Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers, in this writer's opinion, is the greatest movie ever made. It's a war movie, it's an anti-war movie, it's a badass sci-fi movie, it's a rollicking satire of fascism, and it's gory as hell. Directed by the great Paul Verhoeven, it's a movie that wasn't exactly appreciated when it came out, but it's managed to build a following since it came out (two live action direct-to-video sequels and several cartoons wouldn't have been made if there wasn't an audience). The movie is based on the novel Starship Troopers by sci-fi Grand Master Robert Heinlein. Mega fans of the novel didn't particularly care for the liberties Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier took with the source material (lots of people thought the movie was disrespectful of the military). And the lack of battle power armor also pissed a bunch of people off. I've never been able to get through the whole novel, although I believe I did get further into the novel than Verhoeven, so at least I have that going for me. A potential remake is apparently in the pipeline somewhere, I can't imagine how Sony plans on improving what's already a masterpiece.

"Come on, you apes, you want to live forever?" Indeed.

Caliber Winfield (Guest Reader)

5. Red Dragon

Red Dragon is the adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1981 novel of the same name. The film was originally adapted in 1986 under the name Manhunter, and was such a flop that Silence of the Lambs almost never happened. Released only a year and a half after 2001's Hannibal, Red Dragon put Brett Ratner in the director's chair, with Anthony Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning role originally interpreted by Brian Cox. Edward Norton plays retired FBI agent Will Graham, the man who caught Hannibal Lecter. He's brought out of his life of leisure in order to help the Bureau nab a serial killer dubbed "The Tooth Fairy," and looks to his former colleague Hannibal for assistance.

I really can't say enough about this film, as I actually enjoy it more than Silence. The relationship between Will and Hannibal is more interesting due to Will being the man who caught the good doctor, and I find The Toothy Fairy to be a scarier, more intriguing and fleshed out villain than Buffalo Bill. The film is far darker and more graphic than you would expect from the director of the Rush Hour trilogy. The supporting cast is built from ass-kickery such as Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Harvey Keitel. Without hyperbole, I can truly say this is one of the best crime-thrillers I've ever seen, and for those of the superficial nature, you do get to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in his BVDs.

4. Fight Club

Any man who's seen this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel walks away thinking three things; 1] not doing what you love is for suckers 2] I need to brush up on squatting laws, and 3] I think I'd be gay if I DIDN'T lust after Tyler Durden.

Fight Club often goes beyond film and becomes inspiration, becomes a way of life for some people. I read an article that was written by the lead-singer of the Airborne Toxic Event who said after seeing Fight Club he quit his corporate job and set out to become his own Tyler Durden. Few films have that sort of effect on people. It celebrates the working class and says that without it, the World would stop spinning. End of story.

The best way to describe the style of Fight Club would be 'dirt under the fingernails'. That's what I think of in terms of the feel regarding this film. Everything is dark, grimy, dirty and rough. There's nothing shiny, polished or cherished in this masterpiece. Before you see this film, your mind is a wad of cookie dough; afterwards, it's carved out of wood. It'll make you want to destroy something beautiful. It'll make you feel like Jack's well spent time.

3. First Blood

1982's First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by David Morell.

First Blood is a completely different breed of film compared to its first and second sequels. Whereas those films are far more over-the-top and absolutely fantastic in spectacle, First Blood is a tragic tale about isolation, abandonment, and prejudice. The film also tells you what happens if you try and shave the wrong guy; he blows your fucking town up. Part 2 and 3 in the Rambo series are flashy and over the top, filled with incredible one-liners, explosions and countless battles. First Blood, however, is gritty, dark and based in the harsh reality of what happened to the soldiers of Vietnam once the war was over. The men who were tricked into thinking they were fighting for a just cause, and had to come home to a country that didn't want or respect them. A country that expected them to just shut-off the memories of all the horror they had to experience, and settle down with a wife and kids.

When it comes to action films, First Blood is in a class all by itself.

2. Die Hard

Often considered the greatest action film of all time, Die Hard is based off the 1979 best-selling novel Nothing Last Forever by Roderick Thorp. In the novel, John McClane is a bit older, and is in town visiting his daughter, not his wife.

For those who know me, you know that I literally wrote the book on action movies. Die Hard not only deserves to be called the greatest action film ever, but it also deserves to be called one of the most influential as well, creating its own sub-genre. When Die Hard came out in 1988, the Surgeon General had to put a warning out, because people who went to see it were going through a second round of puberty, that's how burly the film is! The film canisters the movie arrived to theaters in had to be shaved before being opened. Bruce Willis was the studio's last choice to play John McClane, and the studio had such little faith in him that he was left off all the promotional material. Pretty funny considering that Willis' portrayal of John McClane became the archetype for action heroes, and one of the most imitated of all time.

Die Hard is not only one of the greatest action movies ever, it's simply one of the greatest movies period. It's one of those films that is a glaring example of why people make movies in the first place, why people want to become actors, directors, writers, and most importantly why people go to the movies. It would have taken number 1 on my list had it not been for...

1. Goodfellas & Casino

I know, it's a cheap move putting two films at number one, but when you speak of one, rarely is the other not mentioned. Plus, they're both adaptations of works from the same writer, and both directed by the same person.

Goodfellas is based on the 1986 book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicolas Pileggi, which depicted life in the hey-day of the mob, through the eyes of a man named Henry Hill. The film, well, it's nothing short of a masterpiece, and arguably the greatest film ever made. Goodfellas is a film that if I see it on TV, no matter where it's at, I'll sit and watch it. Even though it's completely censored, even though I have it on DVD and even though with commercials it makes the run time about 3 days, I still sit and watch it. It's truly a film I feel gets better every time, and is the benchmark for so many aspects in the world of film. Amazingly enough, I actually like the next film even more.

Casino is the second collaboration between Nicolas Pileggi and director Martin Scorsese. This time around, the source material is Pileggi's book, Casino: Love & Honor in Las Vegas.

As a fan of film, one often gets into discussions with people about certain related topics. One that will often come up with me and my friends is what's the most brutal on-screen death. Myself, I often try and decide between the fate met by Alex Murphy in Robocop, or that of Nicky Santoro and his brother in Casino. I honestly think the latter tops them all.

As I stated previously, I prefer Casino to Goodfellas. For me, I find the film more fun. Don't get me wrong, Goodfellas is a blast, but between the way Nicky acts, and the Sam Rothstein dancers, you can't lose. This film is packed with so much subtle humor that it takes multiple viewings in order to catch most of it.

Not to mention Casino has one of the greatest characters of all time; Lester Diamond. Anytime someone tries to tell me that Goodfellas is the superior picture, I need only mention Diamond's rockin' mustache, and fish-net tank-top. What the hell else more could you want? What's that? Joe Bob Briggs is also in this film? That's it, I'm sold. Game over.

In all seriousness, this film is a perfect mix of style and substance, action and humor, brutality and light-heartedness, and fish-net tank-tops and The Sam Rothstein Dancers. The absolute perfect mob movie, and one of my Top 5 all time favorites.

Shawn S. Lealos

Honorable Mentions: Trainspotting, Apocalypse Now, Drive, Schindler's List, Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Godfather, Jurassic Park, Silence of the Lambs, Shutter Island, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, No Country for Old Men

5. To Kill a Mockingbird

There is a reason that Atticus Finch is often voted the Greatest Movie Hero of all time. In this movie, based on the novel by Harper Lee, Gregory Peck plays Finch, a lawyer who happens to be a good, pure man, defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the racially charged south. The movie took the same direction as the novel, telling the story from the point of view of Finch's daughter Scout. It includes great performances from top to bottom, none better than Peck, and even features a very fresh faced Robert Duvall as Boo Radley. The movie is a true classic and has influenced an entire generation of courtroom dramas, none more so than A Time to Kill, both the John Grisham novel and the movie adaptation of it.

4. Children of Men

There are people who didn't like Children of Men, but I thought it was pretty damn brilliant. Clive Owen stars in the movie as a man sent on a mission to protect the first pregnant woman on earth in almost two decades. Meanwhile, numerous groups want her for their own political, religious or sociological reasons, so it ends up as a chase flick. I thought the story - both the novel by P.D. James and the movie by Alfonso Cuaron - was great. However, this was the movie that proved to me that Cuaron was one of the most gifted filmmakers working, and the fact that his output since then has been sporadic at best is heartbreaking. Take a look at the scene with the motorcycles chasing the car with Owen in it, all shot as one continuous shot using a camera attached to a mechanical arm within the vehicle, to see how innovative Cuaron is. This movie was great, it was brilliantly shot, and it remains one of my favorites - adaptation or not.

3. Fight Club

David Fincher created something that was more than just a movie with Fight Club. This was a tour de force that proved that Fincher was not only one of the brightest directors working in Hollywood, but possibly the most visionary director not named James Cameron. Brad Pitt is a marvel in this movie, proving that he was more than just a pretty face, and Ed Norton was solid as always. I saw this at a time in my life where subversive movies were exciting to me, and now over a decade later, the movie remains great despite the lapsed time. Everything about this movie is cool, from the quotable script, to the masterful performances to Fincher's personal touches. It is the true definition of a modern day classic.

2. American Psycho

From the first time I saw American Psycho, I knew I was watching something brilliant. When I saw the movie, I had not yet read the book, but since then I have and really feel like - outside of the ending - it is a pretty damn brilliant adaptation. Christian Bale turns in what I feel is one of his best performances, and despite his nihilistic personality from the movie, the very first time I watched this I knew he would be the perfect choice to play Bruce Wayne, something that made me very happy when that actually came true. The movie is ultra violent, yet always keeps its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, and it a bitingly funny look at a horrific situation. Honestly, this is one of my favorite movies of all time - adaptation or not - and I will stop to watch it every chance I get.

1. The Shining

Stephen King hates this Stanley Kubrick adaptation because Kubrick completely changed the theme of the story from how a haunted hotel could change Jack from a good man into a serial killer. Instead, Kubrick showed the deterioration of an already damaged man, really only hinting at the haunting. Everything in the movie could have happened in the mind of Jack, whereas King made sure to prove that Jack was not fully to blame. Despite all that, The Shining remains one of the best horror movies ever made, an atmospheric thriller that succeeds despite an annoying kid and an even more annoying Shelley Duvall. When counting down the best horror movies ever made, The Shining always sits at - or at least near - the top of the list, and that is coming from me, someone who is a HUGE fan of the source novel. I can separate the two as different beings, and both are masterpieces.


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