By Ezra Stead
This is one of the most persistent clichés of film criticism: that the book is always better than its film adaptation. More often than not, it’s true, as the novel is generally able to provide a richer, more nuanced character study, not limited to only two senses the way films are. However, in some cases, less is more. Here are seven films that I would argue are even better than the books on which they are based.
1. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) – Dashiell Hammet’s original 1930 detective novel is a masterpiece of stylistic economy, so faithfully adapted by director John Huston that reading the novel is almost like reading an exceptionally detailed treatment for the film. However, eight simple words improvised by Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade make all the difference. When asked what the titular bird sculpture is at the end of the film, Spade says, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” This classic, oft-quoted line of dialogue has become the most memorable moment of the film, a subtle commentary on filmmaking itself, especially of the Hollywood “Dream Factory” variety, of which The Maltese Falcon was itself a part. The line is nowhere to be found in the book, and that alone is enough to warrant the film’s inclusion on this list. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Since M. Night Shyamalan’s much-ballyhooed 1999 feature The Sixth Sense, twist endings have gotten something of a bad rap, and usually with good reason. After all, in many cases they are a cheap way to add excitement to the climax of an otherwise dull story; sometimes they are a cop-out, negating all emotional involvement that may have been invested in a film up until that point; others seem to be the sole reason for a story’s existence, without which the whole thing crumbles. On the other hand, when they work, twist endings can make a good film great, and they occasionally even reward repeat viewings by revealing previously unseen layers that can only be recognized once the conclusion of the story is known.
As rightly reviled as are many recent examples of the technique, especially many of Shyamalan’s subsequent efforts, there are also many laudable examples to be found among some of history’s greatest cinematic achievements, old and new. Widely respected filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have successfully employed the well-placed twist to wonderful effect, and even Orson Welles’s immortal classic Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, concludes with what can only be deemed an elegant, emotionally rich twist ending. Read More
By Ezra Stead
I Saw the Devil, South Korea, 2010
Directed by Jee-woon Kim
I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I ultimately did. Throughout its two hour and twenty minute running time, much of which seems intentionally designed to feel like an endurance test, I observed the multitude of things on display to recommend the film: great acting, superb direction, beautiful cinematography, not to mention a visceral intensity that has made it the talk of gore-hounds everywhere since its U.S. release, which is still very limited. There is a lot to like about Jee-woon Kim’s blood-soaked revenge saga, especially for fans of South Korea’s recent wave of such films, among whom I feel I can count myself as one, at least to a point. Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003) is one of my absolute favorite films of the past decade, a brilliant work of art that only gets better upon subsequent viewings; I also really like his other films that I’ve seen – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Lady Vengeance (2005), Thirst (2009) and his short for 2003’s Three … Extremes, “Cut” – as well as Kim’s earlier film, A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), a strange but intriguing and frequently frightening psychological horror story.
So what went wrong with this one, a film that boasts a visual style on par with Park’s best and even shares one of its stars, the always compelling Min-sik Choi? I guess what it comes down to is that simplest but most important flaw that kills so many otherwise excellent films – the script, by Hoon-jung Park, just doesn’t work. It will be impossible to delve into my mixed feelings about this fascinating but fatally flawed film without a multitude of spoilers, so the interested reader is hereby advised to stop reading now unless he or she has already seen the film; despite my overall disappointment, this is absolutely required viewing for all lovers of extreme cinema. Read More