Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Beautiful Mind by Ron Howard

Ron Howard is 56 years old. He played Oppie in The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham in Happy Days, he also happens to be a very capable director. With several Oscar Nominations under his belt and one win he has proven that just because more people know you as "Oppie" or "Richie" than your real name means nothing.

His 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, is his Oscar darling, it may not go down as his masterpiece, but its the one that got him the hardware. It follows the life and hardships of Nobel Prize Winning economist and mathematician, John Nash. Played by Australian hot-head Russell Crowe, in one of the finer moments of a very solid career. The film is not perfect, as so few films are, but it has a heart, and her name is Jennifer Connelly. At the center of all of Nash's problems is the fact that he can't just be a menace to himself, because he has a wife that loves him more than she can figure out the reason for.

The chemistry between Crowe and Connelly with the direction of Howard and the graceful writing of Akiva Goldsman create a very good film. It is not, however, the cinematic achievement that I want to talk about. At the true center of this film is a nugget of fearful truth. The film faces mental illness in a way that few films do, and love in the face of illness. The quality of a woman who loves her man in the face of adversity and stays by his side through one of the hardest situations that a person can be put through. So, while there is some legitimate criticism about this film, manipulation of the audience, etc from a cinematic perspective. Its true. It is a flawed film. That being said, most films are flawed, there is a rare gem of perfection. But its what this film shows us about love and family and illness that makes it a picture worth watching and remembering.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Greenberg by Noah Baumbach

    You like me more than you think you do.
    Hurt people, hurt people.

These are the two enduring quotes from Wes Anderson pal, Noah Baumbach's fourth film Greenberg. The film is a departure, of sorts from his previous two films, The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding in that the film isn't about children. On the surface. Roger Greenberg, played masterfully by Ben Stiller, is a 41 year man child. And his part-time lover, Florence, a 25 year old college grad who has now spent as much of her life since college as she spent in college, seems very well put together on the surface, but, she has some growing up to do herself.

While the film is named after Roger, one could argue that Florence is the centerpiece of the film. In Florence the audience is able to see themselves; and, in Roger we're allowed to see what Florence is in danger of becoming if she isn't able to save herself--and possibly Roger--from the ruts of their lives. Roger is a bitter man who always has a deep seeded guilt that he was the one who killed his band's chances of making it 15 years before.

Roger takes this anguish out on everyone he loves. Florence. Ivan. His brother. He wasn't willing to show up for his mother's funeral out of fear that he would have to face his former friends and bandmates. He also has a tendency of exploding on people as he gets truly close to him.

Greenberg is a film that is an incredibly awkward film. It has some truly hysterical moments and some touching and poignant scenes. Ultimately, I believe that the film has a message that says that we all have to grow up at some point. It won't be fun. But, the longer that a person puts off this inevitable moment the more difficult it becomes to do it without suffering major consequences. I believe that the film is loved by the people that admit to liking it; but I believe that when the film says "you like me more than you know," is a little wink to those in the audience that didn't enjoy the movie. Because, Noah Baumbach knows, as well as I do, that the movie caught the hearts and minds of the audience, whether they "liked" it or not.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans by Werner Herzog

Since the 1970s Werner Herzog has been one of the jewels of world cinema. With classics such as Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Stroszek and the remake of F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu. Herzog has blessed audiences around the world with unforgettable cinematic experiences for decades. His Psycho-Realist style is fairly unique to him, though other filmmakers have made films within Herzog's style it seems that he has stuck to it as if it were a genre and not just a style within the broader scope of cinema. In 2005, Werner Herzog expanded his horizon's making his first, truly, American film--while I concede that Stroszek is close, it is much more of a German film--the documentary Grizzly Man, since then his last four features two documentaries and two narrative's have all been truly American films.

On the flip side of this film is the outstanding Nicolas Cage. Throughout his career, Cage has made some very (very x's you choose) bad decisions. However, when Cage is at his best is when everything around him is going wrong. In his classic roles from Moonstruck, Leaving Los Vegas, Bringing Out the DeadAdaptation and The Weather Man Cage sneaks his way through a life that could be better, though for some reason he can't make it so. In Herzog's newest film. Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans Nicolas Cage is allowed to be just that. He is a lieutenant in the New Orleans police department in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. He and his partners have gotten used to the "cowboy" style that was afforded to them by the near martial law status of the city during the days after the devastation. And, a back injury causes him to get into worse habits than he had already had.

Equipped with every non-alcoholic vice that I have ever heard of, Cage sleazes his way through the seedy underworld of New Orleans. As the film unfolds we are allowed to see the this man and everyone around him both at their best and worst. We are able to see corruption and redemption over and over again. In many way Herzog's film plays like a comedy of errors as we are left in disbelief with what we see, and the consequences for the actions taken. The Psycho-realism and Cage's man-on-the-edge persona are a match made in cinematic heaven.

This is a film of vice and should be watched as such. That being said, it is also a vastly entertaining crime film that will keep you guessing and shaking your head from start to finish.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Needed Adaptations. Anything by Charles Dickens.

This adaptation is quite different from the last few that I have done. In that, I am avoiding making a statement about which piece of literature should be adapted. Charles Dickens, is perhaps, the greatest British novelist of all-time. He is, also, perhaps, the greatest Non-Russian novelist. Though many may argue Jane Austin or George Eliot for British novelists, and many may argue James Joyce as greatest non-Russian novelist. I don't care. I will cross that bridge and have that discussion when it comes.

In any case. It makes no difference. The fact is that Charles Dickens wrote classic after classic and one of them must be adapted; but in a very specific way. Some of my readers may be aware of my...misunderstanding...(?) of the American filmmaker Tim Burton; however, this is a project that I think must be tackled by the quirky goth kid who brought us Beetle Juice, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeny Todd and his greatest film, Big Fish. But, to do Dickens's characters justice, this must be done in Burton's signature, stop-motion style animation.

What Tim Burton did as producer with the cult-classic, Nightmare Before Christmas and director in The Corpse Bride truly add a different dimension to the stories being unfolded on the screen. Think about the jagged edges, the gothic characteristics, the allegorical looks of Dickens' characters. This could be done with makeup, but its not the same. I would like to see Tim Burton's animation team take on Charles Dickens and the novels that I keep coming back to are Oliver Twist, though it has been adapted several times, successfully, already and Tale of Two Cities which has a bright and boring BBC adaptation made about it.

Once again, leave your feedback, recommendations and arguments in the comments section. I am really looking forward to hearing any ideas that are not mine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Needed Adaptations. Nick Adams by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, in my opinion, to the shock and awe of many of my friends, is the greatest of the American Modernists. He has many praiseworthy pieces of literature, and I believe that there may be another one of his works on this list later on. However, There is no denying the greatness of Hemingway's short stories; and the best of his short stories are those surrounding the character Nick Adams.

Stories including the thrilling "The Killers," and the heart breaking "The End of Something." Hemingway breathes life into Adams that is a rare kind of life for characters within short stories.

The film, in all likely hood would end up being episodic in nature, as are Hemingway's stories and novels anyway; but I don't believe that is a bad thing in the least. An author like Hemingway is a rare talent and American literature has seen few people who can replicate his ability to weave a story. His terse sentence structure and frank dialogue driven stories are among the best ever told, let alone by an American author--perhaps Poe is his only rival within American literature in the short story.

Hemingway is an American treasure and the brightest of his gems have yet to be touched by the world of cinema. It is time for that to change.

*Once again, I ask for any suggestions and recommendations that you will be willing to offer.*

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Needed Adaptations. St. John's Eve by Nikolai Gogol

I will say that I love Nikolai Gogol's master novel, Dead Souls, as much or more than the next guy. Believe me when I say that it is one of my favorite novels. I have called Gogol the Russian Dickens, which seems fitting since they were breaking conventions of the novel and story-telling in general at the same time in their respective nations. As much as I love Dead Souls, however, I also admit the near impossibility to adapt a novel that was supposed to have three sections and ends abruptly 3/4 of the way through the second part after missing significant portions of text in the second part to begin with. To adapt the novel a filmmaker would have to be brazen enough to write portions of missing text and create an ending...or just give their audience an ending as or more open-ended as the Coen's No Country for Old Men.

Nikolai Gogol, however, wrote more than just the one master novel. He wrote several plays and a lot of wonderful short stories. The one that sticks out to most literati-types is "The Overcoat," as it may be a truly pivotal point in the history of Russian Literature; however, I think that it would make for an interesting short story, but a lackluster feature. I think that, as his shorts go, that "St. John's Eve" would be a very adaptable piece that would be very entertaining and, if done right, quite horrifying.

"St. John's Eve" tells the tale of a man who makes a deal with the Devil for fame and all that ensues. The plot is simple and maybe doesn't sound like a lot in synopsis form. But believe me when I say that its the work of a master and if it was ever made into a film, if it was done right it would be a great film. Gogol has other stories that could make great movies, but I'll leave it there for now.

*Please share insights or suggestions in the comments section. I will be glad to consider them or discuss them with anyone who shares. Book suggestions? Have I missed a film? Please share.*

Friday, May 7, 2010

Needed Adaptations. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is, possibly, the greatest novelist of all-time. Of course, is contemporary and compatriot, Leo Tolstoy, would give him a good run for his money. And, The Brother's Karamazov, is probably his greatest novel, though The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Possessed (oft-called Devils) are also great in their own right. The fact, however, is that there hasn't been a Russian-language adaptation made of the novel, that is readily available here in the United States.

It is a shame that one of the greatest novels of all-time, named the fifth greatest novel of all time, doesn't have an adequate film adaptation that was made in its native language that can be accessed world-wide and that holds up to the cinematic standards that the novel has held up to.

In 1967 the Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Bondarchuk, made a six hour epic based on Tolstoy's War and Peace that has held up as one of the crowning achievements of the Soviet film industry as well as one of the most faithful adaptations ever put on celluloid, because that's what films were put on back then.

*The above post is the first in a series that is still in development. I don't know how many novels will be named, and I don't know how it will go. I would appreciate input from anyone who is willing to offer it on novels they would like to see, films I may've missed based on these novels and whether you even agree with what I'm putting on the list. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here it is.

I have been trudging my way through James Joyce's Ulysses for, about, the last two weeks. So, with that beast of a novel and the beginning of baseball season it has been hard for me to get to any quality movie time. I finished ripping the Bergman pictures yesterday before returning to Indiana for graduation of my Alma Mater. I should be back to giving real posts in the near future instead of life updates and excuses for not giving any meat.