Read it or Watch it?
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Writer-director Sean Penn adds some cinematic razzle-dazzle (slo-mo shots, split screen, etc.) but stays relatively close to the facts in Jon Krakauer’s 1996 biography of Chris McCandless, a young man who gave up a cushy suburban life to experience the wilderness. Last Word Good as Penn’s film is, the book’s unsentimental tone better fits the heart-wrenching story. —Adam Markovitz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
Despite losing characters like the Younger brothers (Jesse’s old partners in crime), Andrew Dominik’s screenplay is remarkably faithful to Ron Hansen’s 1983 novel in both story and style — it pulls chunks of dialogue straight from the page. Last Word Even with a 160-minute running time, the movie can’t match the depth and detail of the novel. —AM
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Auteur Robin Swicord retains Fowler’s endearing premise — a group of Californians gather to read Austen’s six novels as a way to escape their own love lives — but trims a lot of the characters’ backstory (e.g., dog-obsessed Jocelyn received her first pup from a high school beau). Last Word Though the film charms, the book’s witty yet delicate tone is far more engaging. —Lindsay Soll