#281. F. Scott Fitzgerald

What makes an author’s work unadaptable to film? Over the years, there have been many stories written that have been deemed “impossible” to transfer onto film. Sometimes the limitations come in the content: something that can only be captured in our imagination. Sometimes it’s the scale of the story: with so much to cover, what do you cut out to get it within a reasonable running time? Sometimes it’s simply the wishes of the author’s estate. Nevertheless, these factors haven’t stopped filmmakers from trying. CGI has helped bring imaginative content to the screen. Two-part films split one long story into more manageable chunks. One of the most difficult authors to adapt to film has been F. Scott Fitzgerald, despite his prolific bibliography. This week’s two films focus on works adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button                                        The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours

From The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) to Watchmen (2009) to Ender’s Game (2013), each of these films have been “impossible” to capture on film and each has tried, to varying levels of success. Part of the reason that these films were even attempted was due to the advances in computer technology that allowed these stories to be told. Of course, many detractors of these films cite the fact that much of their source material was cut out during filming because of time constraints. But what about short stories? If the works of Philip K. Dick have proven anything, it’s that short stories can make great film adaptations. It is then no wonder that the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, eventually became a feature-length film. This would not have been possible without CGI, but there was still much that was added to the story to pad it out to almost three hours.

Much like the peculiar clock of Mr. Gateau, which advances backward in time instead of forward, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born as an aged man. His birth killed his mother. His father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), not knowing how to raise such a child, drops Benjamin off at a nursing home. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) finds the elderly baby and decides to take care of him. As his time at the nursing home passes, he gradually becomes strong enough to leave, but not without meeting Daisy (Cate Blanchett) first. The two individuals go off to live their lives, occasionally intersecting as Benjamin becomes younger and Daisy ages normally. Despite a few missed connections, they eventually become romantically involved. This too, does not last as Benjamin becomes more youthful and Daisy continues to grow older. Now at the end of his life, Benjamin dies as an infant in the elderly Daisy’s arms.

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours

While F. Scott Fitzgerald only wrote five novels (only four of which were published in his lifetime), only three of them have seen life on the big screen. The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and Tender Is the Night (1962) are the only adaptations that have been attempted once. Of course, it stands to reason that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work would be attempted multiple times. The Great Gatsby has seen itself adapted four times (not counting at least one adaptation for TV). From 1926 to 1949 to 1974, each film has tried to capture the spirit of the book that Fitzgerald penned in reaction to the state of the American society of the 1920’s. The most recent adaptation is that of the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version. Even though the visuals of this version were quite enthralling, some say that defeats the point of adapting The Great Gatsby at all.

Searching for a new job that will support him, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) finds himself in New York renting a small house next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a few weeks as neighbors, Nick is eventually invited to one of Gatsby’s lavish parties. This is an odd occurrence, since most people have just showed up at Gatsby’s parties, with very few of them actually having met the man. Gatsby and Nick develop a friendship which leads to Gatsby meeting Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), rendering him immediately smitten. In the struggle between old money and new, events transpire that drive Gatsby to madness and causes Daisy to drive through the valley of ashes, accidentally killing the lover of her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). With infidelities and accusations flying, many others die and are killed as the story becomes trapped in Nick’s head.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Fitzgerald fables

#178. Rachel McAdams

Prolific actors are usually noticed for this trait near the end of their career. If they’ve been in a single movie every year they have been acting, suddenly 40 years of acting turns into a resume of 40 films. But what about those actors who act in more than one film a year? Movies don’t take quite the commitment like they used to, so it could be feasible to appear in up to five films in a year. It’s these actors who are more impressive, as it requires an amount of time management to coordinate between different filming schedules. What’s even more impressive are the actors who do two films a year, and manage to do enough research for their roles to show their skill as an actor. Rachel McAdams is just such an actress. For the last ten years, she’s averaged about two films a year, even including a brief hiatus in 2006. This week’s two films look at Rachel McAdams’ career on either side of her 2006 break.

The Time Traveler’s WifeThe Time Traveler's Wife
Year: 2009
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

In 2009, a few years after taking some time off to gather her thoughts, Rachel McAdams was once again in the spotlight with some high-budget blockbusters. Aside from a supporting role in Sherlock Holmes, she starred across Eric Bana in the film adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife as the titular character. What is interesting to note here is that she would play the fiancée of a time traveler two years later in the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris (2011). While the time travelling was performed in different ways in each film, McAdams’ roles were drastically different as well. In the latter film, she was an angry, controlling woman who had an affair with a snobby know-it-all, whereas in The Time Traveler’s Wife, she’s a loving and dedicated spouse to a man with a strange medical condition.

As a young girl, Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) was visited by a man who told her that he would visit her again in the future, because he had actually travelled backward in time. With each visit, the man is a different age, but that doesn’t stop their friendship from growing. When she turned 18, she realizes that her relationship transcends into a romantic one when he kisses her for the first time. Now 20 years old, Clare runs into Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) in the library in which he works. While she is bubbling up with excitement for having met her old friend, this is actually the first time he has met her. Even so, they start their romantic relationship, which is difficult at times due to the sporadic nature of Henry’s time travelling. Tragedy and joy abound as they live their lives together, connected by love through time and space.

The NotebookThe Notebook
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours

Two years after her first roles in film, Rachel McAdams hit it big with two 2004 films: Mean Girls and The Notebook. While these two films are drastically different in genre, they propelled McAdams into stardom as an up-and-coming actress. Even though both films are well known, she is perhaps better known for her role in the Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation, The Notebook. In fact, even though her name is almost synonymous with the romantic genre, she has only acted in a few romantic dramas. One of the other films in this genre was The Vow (2012), a true story about two newlyweds who were in an accident which caused McAdams’ character to lose all memories of her relationship with her new husband. Once again, this is a bit of a repeat of the plot of The Notebook, which involves memory loss, albeit due to old age.

The eponymous notebook belongs to an elderly man named Duke, who is reading it to a female patient in a modern nursing home. The story inside is that of forbidden love between the rich Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and the lowly country boy, Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling). While they have a love affair during the summer of 1940, her parents forbid her from seeing him, since his class status is beneath them. When they move away, Noah writes to Allie, but to no avail. Time goes on and World War II provides Allie an opportunity to meet a rich southern man, Lon Hammond, Jr. (James Marsden), to whom she becomes engaged. However, she reads in the newspaper about Noah and his restoration of the house he promised they’d live in. This causes her to visit and learn that he still has feelings for her, and it was her mother preventing his letters getting to her. Now she must choose between her fiancé and her first love.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 memorable McAdams roles

Bacon #: 2 (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows / Lasco Atkins -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

#165. Woody Allen

One of the most prolific Directors of our time is Woody Allen. From his start in the mid-1960’s, he has directed a film almost every year since 1966 (with the only gaps being in 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1976, and 1981). As such, with a resume of 43 directed films between 1966 and 2014, it’s no wonder that some might be able to overlook some of his personal life choices, especially considering that the majority of his films receive very favorable critical acclaim. Furthermore, most of the films he directed up until 2003 have Allen acting in front of the camera as well. It is this film persona that we often associate with Woody Allen. As Ned Flanders from The Simpsons put it, “You know, I like his films, except for that nervous fellow that’s always in them.” This week’s two films are some of Woody Allen’s best.

Midnight in ParisMidnight in Paris
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

As I mentioned before, Woody Allen has appeared in most of the films he has directed. In recent years, his age has made this more difficult, especially if his character is the lead role. Most all of Allen’s films are romantic comedies, so the main characters must be young enough to attract audiences. But then the question remains, “How will his film persona continue?” I feel that this persona has been so completely fleshed out in previous Allen films that all it would take is for a dedicated actor to pick up on all the idiosyncrasies of the character in order to act the part. I also feel that Owen Wilson took on the Woody Allen persona very well in Midnight in Paris. Of course, when Allen’s original screenplay won an Oscar (his third for screenplays), amongst the 16 other nominations he’s received for writing over the years, it becomes obvious that this character is ingrained in the pages of his scripts.

The “Woody Allen persona” in Midnight in Paris is that of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter who is in conflict with his fiancée, a know-it-all on Parisian history, and his own novel manuscript. His solution comes in the form of a mysterious car from the 1920’s that appears one night and transports him to what he considers to be the “Golden Age” of Paris. Through his now accurate and first-hand encounters with the Paris of the past, Gil out-intellects the know-it-all, bringing more ire from his fiancée. Of course, he really doesn’t care much about this, because by now he has fallen in love with Pablo Picasso’s mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). While in the process of having his novel reviewed by Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), he learns that his fiancée is cheating on him with the know-it-all, but now he also realizes that we all long to live in the nostalgic past. Moving on, he decides to live in the Paris of the present.

Annie HallAnnie Hall
Year: 1977
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Perhaps the most critically acclaimed of Woody Allen’s works, Annie Hall not only won him his first and only Best Picture Oscar, as well as his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but his first and only Best Director Oscar. Over the years, he has been nominated seven times for Best Director, but only won for this film, his first nomination in that category. Similarly, two other films of his were nominated for Best Picture: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and the aforementioned Midnight in Paris. Annie Hall was also another “first and only” time for Allen to receive a nomination for Best Actor. So, considering Allen’s track record with the Academy, you could almost guarantee a movie directed and/or written by him to receive a nod in the Screenplay department, if nothing else. The American Film Institute has placed Annie Hall as high as #31 on their top 100 list.

There’s so much about Annie Hall that is quintessentially Woody Allen. His character, Alvy Singer, is quintessentially nervous, quintessentially Jewish, and quintessentially New York City. As Alvy tries to figure out what went wrong with the one relationship that ever went right, he thinks back over his time with the titular Annie Hall (Diane Keaton, who won Best Actress for this role). Being a creative intellectual, there’s plenty of psychoanalysis into the past relationship, trying to figure out what made it tick. What makes this film somewhat unique in terms of Hollywood romantic comedies is that, despite all the effort that Alvy puts into getting back together with Annie, things never quite work out. This realism in relationships is so often missing from the film world, and is refreshing to see.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Woody Allen works

Bacon #: 2 (Manhattan / Wallace Shawn -> Starting Over / Kevin Bacon)

#164. Encounters with the Past

Humanity has a fascination with any time other than the one in which they are currently living. We always dream of the future and what it can bring us in terms of technological advancement. We also tend to have a certain amount of nostalgia when it comes to the past. It’s difficult to see the flaws of these time periods because we either don’t know what they will be, or we forget what they were. As a result, we tend to idolize those who we see as successful, even if it came long after they were alive. These idols of the past always spawn the icebreaker question: If you were to meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be? While the answer should definitely be “living”, the act of sitting down with a historical figure and picking their mind is something we’ve all thought about. This week’s two films feature characters who did just that.

                                            Bill and Ted’s Excellent AdventureBill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours

The trouble with history is that most students will find it boring. This seems to be a fault of the presentation of the material, which tends to be dry and full of dates, places, and names to memorize. I have always applauded people who can make history interesting and/or fun, much in the same way that I applaud those who can do the same thing for science and/or mathematics. Life should be a constant classroom, an arena for learning, but if people refuse to learn important subjects like history, they will fail to see the world as a measure of the law of cause and effect. The trick seems to be finding applicability to our modern lives. If we can use the knowledge we gain from history, and use it to our benefit, suddenly the learning becomes fun. One way to make history applicable is to bring history to the modern age.

High School students Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are about to fail their history class if they cannot pass the final presentation. This presentation is to pick three historical figures and to tell what they would think of modern San Dimas. Unfortunately, they get little to no help from the customers of the Circle K. That is, until a mysterious phone booth emerges and out steps Rufus (George Carlin). He tells Bill and Ted that the booth is a time machine and they can use it to complete their history assignment. After being convinced by future versions of themselves, they set off to collect historical figures and bring them back to the present. The one catch is that time will still move normally, despite the use of the time booth. It’s a race against the clock to gather as much history as possible and get back to school in time to present their findings.

Midnight in ParisMidnight in Paris
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

History isn’t merely filled with the people who change its path. Sure, political figures, philosophers, and military generals guide history along its immutable course, but it’s the artists that make it fun to look at. The cultures of the past were all crafted from the minds of the writers, sculptors, painters, and musicians. Their creative outputs give us a glimpse into the past and the influences society had on them, as well as their influence on future society. Because time has given us the chance to analyze and reflect upon the works of these artists, we now see their genius, even if the people they lived with at the time did not. Unfortunately, this high amount of esteem will often blind us to the character flaws of the artists, covering their works in a fog of nostalgia. Still, the people who knew the work of these artists the best were the artists themselves.

On vacation in Paris, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) has fallen in love with the city, especially when it rains. Unfortunately, his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), doesn’t agree. She also doesn’t think he should be attempting to write a novel, and instead says he should focus on his job as a screenwriter. Out on his own one night, Gil finds himself lost when the clock strikes midnight, ushering in a car from the 1920’s, which whisks him into the past. While he’s there, in what he feels is Paris’ “Golden Age”, he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, who introduces him to Ernest Hemmingway, who in turn allows his editor to look over Gil’s novel manuscript. In subsequent travels to 1920, Gil meets Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, but the theme he keeps finding is that everyone’s “Golden Age” is never in their current time, but always decades in the past.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 personalities from the past

#109. Paris, France

Not to be confused with the Texas town of the same name, Paris is known around the world as the City of Light. And why shouldn’t it? The capital of France is the cultural nexus for many of the arts, including painting, music, food, dance, fashion, and romance. As such, it is a light that influences the entire world in terms of artistic culture. So often, it is used as an anchor to orient where people are and where they are going in this world. Much like New York City, people will travel to this bustling town in order to make or break their careers. As one who has an interest in the arts, I know I would love to visit this important metropolis at some point, even if it happens when I’m retired from my day job. This week’s two movies are set in this beautiful city and highlight some of its cultural strengths.

RatatouilleRatatouille
Year: 2007
Rating: G
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

Chefs who are trained in Paris tend to be some of the best in the world. The rigor and determination needed to make it in a French culinary school helps to give a foundation to anyone who wants to cook fancy food for a living. It’s no wonder that Julia Child is now a household name when it comes to French cooking, considering she wrote the book on how to master it. Even she had to learn from the best while she lived in Paris. Considering that French cuisine is its own special challenge, those who are good at it don’t need long to prove themselves. Even though anyone can cook, doesn’t mean that everyone should. And yet, even in this town filled with underdogs, the surprise talent is always something that takes a while to get used to. Nevertheless, they are still given as much a chance as the next.

Even though Gusteau (Brad Garrett) was a famous cook who wanted to bring his vision of culinary inclusion to the world (a bit like the aforementioned Julia Child), his death has unfortunately spoiled his good name. Now that his likeness is being used to push frozen foods, his legacy remains to be found. Enter Remy (Patton Oswalt). Remy is a faithful disciple of Gusteau’s who also just so happens to be a rat. When Remy is shown mercy at the hands of Linguini (Lou Romano), he stumbles across a way to show everyone that he can cook. Since Linguini works at Gusteau’s restaurant, it’s the perfect place to rise up the culinary ranks, even if Linguini is Remy’s front. Unfortunately, Remy’s ratty past comes back to haunt him and jeopardizes the whole plan to bring Gusteau’s back into culinary relevance.

An American in ParisAn American in Paris
Year: 1951
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

What could be more romantic than falling in love in Paris? After all, even if it doesn’t work out, the memories will still be there (as we were reminded in Casablanca). Of course, very few people head to that town with that endgame in mind. It seems that most who decide to move to Paris are there to find their dream job. Apartment complexes are full of such dreamers who are low on income, but high on hopes that they’ll somehow make it big. Many artists will take this gamble with the expectations that their talent will help them stand out among the rest, but not everyone will be this lucky. Painters and pianists are a dime a dozen in this artistically cultural hub, so what can an American do to keep from losing to the rest of the crowd? And why did he jump straight to Paris instead of going through New York first?

Two friends share an apartment in Paris as they try to obtain their dreams. Jerry (Gene Kelly) is the eponymous American who has joined forces with his pianist friend Adam (Oscar Levant), at least joined insomuch as they have to pay the rent together. Adam is working with the singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary), who in turn is in a relationship with Lise (Lesli Caron), a French girl that Jerry has so conveniently fallen in love with at a local restaurant. Of course, Jerry’s patron, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) is smitten with him, which leads us to the crazy intersection of a masked ball. At the ball, these people sort out who loves who, even if their situations cannot change in order to make it happen. Still, this doesn’t prevent Jerry from daydreaming about what might happen if he and Lise could actually be together.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 pictures of Paris