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Novel trauma that comes with popcorn

By Tom Teixeria
On April 10, 2012

Lately it seems like the only movies with any ability to sell tickets are those based on over-hyped novels written for pre-teenage, star-infatuated girls or fantasy obsessed, sexually-repressed and parent-dependent adults.

In recent years, the "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" books, along with the pre-teen titles like "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games," have produced box-office lines, book-store sell-outs, and head aches for those lucky enough to be older siblings. But it hasn't always been like this; since film's origins in the 1920's directors have transformed good reads into excellent films. Here are eight great literature-based films for those of us not quite in the mood for movies reminiscent in either the Bieber or League of Legends veins.

Anyone with any knowledge of recent filmmaking has heard of Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. But none possesses anything close to the ability of F.W. Murnau. In 1926, the German director turned Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe's 1604 play "Doctor Faustus" into "Faust," a 90-minute silent film with the ability not only to entertain, but emotionally move. Beautiful photography, amazing special effects and lighting elevate this film about morality, redemption and the human condition to masterpiece status.

In 1939, "The Grapes of Wrath" put a face on the Great Depression through it's portrayal of the Joads, a struggling Oklahoma family desperate to reach California. Steinbeck's classic was adapted a year later by director John Ford. Capturing the sense of the book, Ford's direction and a gritty, honest performance by Henry Fonda as Tom Joad make the film version a stunning and powerful Hollywood success.

Literature and film were seen as cultural and aesthetic equals for a time during the golden years of Hollywood. In 1944, director Howard Hawks, screenwriting star Jules Furthman and literary icon William Faulkner adapted Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not" for the silver screen. While the film strays heavily from the novel, which Hawks called "a bunch of junk" and Hemingway deemed his "worst book," performances by Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, excellent direction, and one of the best screenplay's ever written make the film version a charming, funny, sexy and ultimately timeless film.

Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King's bestseller "The Shining" in 1980 and ended up making one of America's most terrifying films. Jack Nicholsan stars as Jack Torrence, a novelist who becomes psychologically unstable during a winter spent with his family as caretaker of the Rocky Mountain resort, The Overlook Hotel. Strange and wonderful performances across the board and an excellent plot line are sure to put you face first in a pillow if you watch after dark.

Two book adaptations in 1992 failed to rack up awards at the Oscars or top box office charts, but are still excellent films. "The Last of the Mohicans" follows the last remaining people of the Mohican tribe of New York as they struggle to survive in a world of rival tribes and battling European powers. Action, romance, sweeping outdoor shot sequences and an intense performance by Daniel Day Lewis distinguish this historical-fiction based film.

Brad Pitt's performance in 1992's adaptation "A River Runs Through It" not only established him as a serious actor, but cemented his status as the sex-symbol of the 1990's. Robert Redford directs this family drama about a conservative father, a son who follows a prototypical American success story and his free-spirited and troubled brother. The three men, despite their differences and malcontent, are forever tied by their love of fly-fishing in the big-hearted rivers of 1930's Montana. The novel version by Norman Maclean has been compared to the writings of Thoreau and Hemingway in its poetic focus on the connection between American and nature.

In 1997, a band of B-list actors was cast to make a film together. By the years end, "L.A. Confidential," staring Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Guy Pearce and Danny Devito had swept the nation and made stars out of Crowe, Pearce and Spacey. With excellent acting and a storyline that has remained unsurpassed by any American film in the 15 years following the film noire's release, "L.A. Confidential" still shocks and jolts first time viewers and satisfies those who cannot help but to keep coming back to this neo-classic crime thriller.

"Everything Is Illuminated," a small independent film based on Jonathan Safran Foer's 2002 debut novel, tracks one man's journey to Ukraine to discover his family's roots with quirky, bizarre and charming humor that is sure to satisfy. The movie stars Elijah Wood as a Jewish-American who clashes with an unconventional Ukrainian host family. The film's characters, and unique and odd, though hilarious sense of humor make it among of the best independent films - and best adaptations - of the past decade.

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