April 16, 2007


It's nice to have some good news to report in a week that has seen not only the death of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. but also the release of a new Avril Lavigne album: Keith Gordon's directorial debut The Chocolate War is coming to DVD!

I'm excited about this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that The Chocolate War has long been a holy grail of mine. I also feel an obligation to put my proverbial money where my mouth is, having acted as a mediator of sorts between Señor Gordon and content producer Greg Carson in one of the initial attempts to get the film out on disc in a form that honoured its cult status. (Or at least its status as virtual Cliffs Notes for the Robert Cormier perennial on which it's based.) This was in September of 2003; things got as far as a marketing proposal, and then MGM merged with Sony, shaking the studio's release slate like an Etch-a-Sketch. I didn't know until recently that Gordon and co. had finally made some headway.

Fox has really picked up the slack since taking over the home video arm of MGM. This week alone the Lion brings us Robert Altman's fine Thieves Like Us, Ulu Grosbard's underrated True Confessions, Mike Hodges' inscrutable Pulp, and, of course, The Chocolate War, a movie I can't recommend highly enough and will (re)review in short order. I'm also supposed to interview Keith Gordon sometime in the coming weeks, and while I'm hesitant to pass up the opportunity (mostly because I flaked on a chance to sit down with the late Bob Clark not too long ago, something I'll always regret), the truth is that between his commentary track and 51-minute talking-head on The Chocolate War DVD, Keith has left very few stones unturned--at least where his first feature is concerned.

Anyway, The Chocolate War streets tomorrow, April 17th. Fox has furnished us with Quicktime clips from the film, which I've linked below. (Aside: I'd be remiss if I didn't also steer you towards Ian Pugh's tireless coverage of the 16th Philadelphia Film Festival.) I'm particularly eager to know how a whole new generation of readers will respond to the film's Bizarro interpretation of the book's coup de grâce, surely the finest revision since they scrapped the upbeat ending of David Ely's source novel for Seconds.

Everybody always says "the book was better," but what movies do you think are superior to their literary counterpart or at least improve upon it in some way?

Clip 1: Brother Leon and Archie discuss the chocolate sale.
Clip 2: Jerry refuses to sell chocolates.


Rick said...

Ok, lets get this one out of the way:

The Godfather, duh.

And these two for adding some style and energy to each respective writer's worst (or at least, most empty) book/play:

The Rules of Attraction

Ryland Walker Knight said...

First, I'd like to propose two favorite films of mine that take a source material and really kind of throw it away in order to forge ahead anew and dive into what's really going on in each of the original texts and the respective directors' personal interests:

The Thin Red Line
Beau Travail

They're pretty similar films, I think, at bottom, too. I think I read somebody say "Beau Travail is like The Thin Red Line without the warfare" somewhere on this interweb. And it's mostly true. Oh, I think it was Rosenbaum.

Other "jumping off" adaptations I like, off the top of the dome:

Jackie Brown
McCabe & Mrs Miller
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Tristram Shandy

Gotta get on that Chocolate War: never seen it, nor have I been assigned it, ever. I've only heard good things, though.

Jeff said...

To Have and Have Not...

Just kidding. There's no relationship between the book and film other than the title.

Jeff said...


James V HArt is adapting Sirens of Titan and Cat's Cradle.

Which I find depressing.

Dave Gibson said...

Movies better than the book? My picks:

Less Than Zero
Crash (the good one)
American Psycho

I'd add Dead Ringers too, but its connection to the "source" novel ("Twins") is tenuous at best.

jer fairall said...


DaveA said...

Not necessarily better than the book, but Soderbergh's Solaris adds a whole new layer to the story which makes the book even more interesting to read.

Other picks:

Blade Runner
The Shining
Silence of the Lambs
The Remains of the Day (though just because of Hopkins)
Maybe The Leopard, but I would have to read it again to be sure...

Bill C said...

I should clarify that I dig Cormier's novel a lot; as Keith says on the DVD, its nihilistic ending worked well on the page but would seem juvenile on the big screen.

As for answering my own question--lots of good entries so far (though I vehemently disagree with American Psycho), to which I'd add:
-The Bridges of Madison County
-A Simple Plan
-Die Hard (aka Nothing Lasts Forever)

Robert said...

Great to finally see this available again... The other Keith Gordon Holy Grail is Mark Romanek's STATIC, which Keith also co-wrote & co-produced, but it's unlikely it'll ever see a legal release -- Romanek has pretty much quashed it, preferring ONE HOUR PHOTO to be his feature debut.

Bill C said...

As it happens, Robert, Gordon outs Static as Romanek's directorial debut on The Chocolate War DVD (it's sort of unavoidable in context, but Keith no doubt appreciated a chance to amend Romanek's revisionist filmography), so hopefully it'll generate enough curiosity to get the damn thing released.

jer fairall said...

I keep forgetting that I really liked The Bridges of Madison County (the film, not the book) so yes, definitely that one too.

Should I be reading The Chocolate War before seeing the movie? Somehow I missed out on this one during my S.E. Hinton/Tuck Everlasting phase.

Ryan said...

Does Adaptation count?

I'll throw in a small Aussie hit called Cosi that actually isn't anything but slightly above average, but the Aussie play that it's based upon is pretty weak and the film is good for a laugh - one of the rare films the Aus film industry has produced over the past decade that isn't unwatchable.

Anonymous said...

I held a legit release copy of Static in my hands at a down-and-out video store in Vancouver many years ago. It was $5. I didn't buy it. I've regretted this ever since.