Books that had a punch on the big screen

By Denny and Carson Parish Take One, Take Two

Which was better, the book or the movie?

We cannot tell you how often we have been asked — or have answered — that question. The Academy gives an Oscar every year for Best Adapted Screenplay based on material usually from a novel or short story, evidence of the enormity of translating one popular medium to another.

There is a long history of films based upon literary classics and best-selling books stretching from 1939’s “Gone With the Wind’,” based on the Margaret Miller epic novel, to “Gone Girl” the 2012 crime thriller from author Gillian Flynn.

Today, we thought we’d explore a few films based on their best-selling pages that were successfully translated to the big screen.

Take One

Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 crime thriller “Jackie Brown” is based on Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch.” Tarantino changed the story’s setting from Miami to Los Angeles and diversified the characters, but otherwise remained true to Leonard’s vision. This neo-noir is an homage to ’70s blaxploitation flicks with an all-star cast that includes Samuel L Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda and Michael Keaton. But it is ’70s black action star Pam Grier, in the title role, and the long-underappreciated Robert Forester, as bail bondsman Max Cherry, who steal the show. Drug courier Brown, who faces peril from inept dealers (Jackson and DeNiro) and the LAPD enlists the aid of the laid-back Cherry to navigate her extradition from danger. Forester was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, but Grier should have been nominated for Best Actress.

Outside of “Catcher in the Rye,” most literary critics believe that Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning southern gothic tale, “To Kill a Mockinging Bird,” is the greatest American novel of the past 75 years. The 1962 film, directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout, is equal to the book. The movie (and book) controversially address issues of racial injustice, rape and class struggle in the 1930s, through the eyes of a precocious child. Scout observes her widowed father attack these issues with compassion, tolerance and courage in a small town Alabama courtroom. Peck won the Best Actor Oscar and, in a 2002 poll, the American Film Institute selected Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in film.

“The Remains of the Day” (1993), from storied director James Ivory, uncovers the daily life of an upperclass English household (Darlington Manor), in the 1930s, through the servants and housekeeping staff. Based on the book by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, we watch the trials and tribulations of running a highly structured mansion by the head butler (Anthony Hopkins) and housekeeper (Emma Thompson), while hosting the upper elite of British society. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, this is a fascinating and educational look behind the scenes of wealth and power.

Take Two

There are few authors who have captured as much of the public consciousness as Stephen King, and rightfully so – his books are often heart-pounding, full of hideous imagery and built from a wealth of emotional pain. But rarely did the stars align on both page and screen as they did in his debut novel, “Carrie,” and director Brian DePalma’s disturbing adaptation just two years later. The film features Sissy Spacek in her signature performance as a telekinetic high schooler subjected to Job-like punishment from her maniacal mother and cruel classmates at school. The images from the film (including a blood-soaked Spacek) are now the stuff of teenage nightmares, but the enduring power of both King and DePalma’s visions are that all of us, to some extent, can relate to them. They tap into our most traumatic memories and our biggest regrets and — in some strange way — seeing them replayed in front of us, makes us less likely to perpetuate them.

Back in 2009, the attention and love directed toward Lee Daniels’ “Precious,” which was based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, was universal. It immediately became an awards show darling and racked up six Oscar nominations. But shortly after Mo’Nique won for her supporting performance, as did Geoffrey Fletcher for his screenplay, public opinion seemed to sour on the film. It was accused of following commercial formulas in order to sell its story and was a seminal entry in the “poverty porn” genre, alongside “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” But, even over a decade after its release, Gabourey Sidibe’s performance in the lead as Precious is unmatched on the screen. She commands the entire film and never lets Mo’Nique or Mariah Carey steal her uncompromising energy. Although Fletcher’s screenplay doesn’t live up to its Oscar, Daniels, who went on to direct “The Butler,” employs several stunning and creative methods to tell his story, and is also worthy of reappraisal.

(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)