Category Archives: Film Adaptation

On the Road (2012)

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

Directed by Walter Salles

Directed by Walter Salles

On the Road is a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic, and genius beat-generation tale of the same name. The film was directed by Walter Salles, and stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, and Garrett Hedlund as the illustrious Dean Moriarty. The difficulty of this films lies in the challenge to portray a novel that has many times been deemed unrepresentable. Whether or not they succeeded can be measured by the portrayal of the main characters, and the authenticity of Salles representation of the very distinct beat generation.

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

On the Road, the book, can be described as a dialogue between Kerouac and his youth. The characters of the book represent people who were actually a part of a trip Kerouac took across the country. The book reflects the journey that Kerouac took with Neal Cassady (who Dean Moriarty is based upon), a major face of the beat generation and the book is written stream of consciousness with very few breaks. Hence its reputation as being unrepresentable.

The film includes some of the important aspects of the original story. The costuming was right and the scenery was right. But the story was anachronistic and the casting was questionable. Sam Riley played a convincing Sal Paradise. Compared to Dean, Sal is a very understated

On the Road cast

On the Road cast

character. The subtleties of Sal Paradise are mostly captured by Riley’s performance. Though there may have been a certain calm lacking in him, we can perhaps chalk that up to the fact that the movie seemed mostly to take place in the present while the book was more of a reflection by an older Sal. Kristen Stewart played the love interest of Dean, and sometimes Sal, and as portrayals go it was not the strongest. That can’t be completely blamed on Stewart however; it seemed that she played the character as written, but the character was not written properly. The performances of the smaller cast members, however, ought not be overlooked. Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Elizabether Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen performed splendidly. Their individual performance, while short-lived, illuminated the story and brought wonderful clarity to adaptation.

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Hedlund’s portrayal of Dean Moriarty is still one that is stewing with me. It takes time and patience to digest Dean Moriarty and it will take even more time to understand how one portrays such a character. Dean is truly an enigma. It seems so even to Kerouac. Another reason this book may be deemed unrepresentable is because one of the key players, Dean, is written from Sal’s point of view. So any actor seeking to portray Dean has to consider what of Dean is unseen to Sal and represent that as well. All complexities aside, Hedlund did a bang up job on Dean Moriarty. It would have been very easy to overstate the characters, and turn him into a caricature. but Hedlund’s performance was finely tuned and he burned down to the bottom of the wick of Dean Moriarty.

The power of On the Road as it was written most likely cannot be recaptured on a screen. It happens so vividly in the heart upon being read that the best medium for the retelling of Kerouac’s tale seems to be the original scroll, not the movie screen. That being said, Salles and his beloved cast made a hell of a go. When you watch this film you might feel that magic for a moment. You might feel yourself atop that pickup truck with the wind blowing through you. You might live for a moment in the brass of the jazz saxophones. You might even feel the fever of Dean, and the quite passion of Sal, and the beat generation pressing into your lungs like a sticky Mexico night.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.”

Directed By David O. Russell.

Directed By David O. Russell.

Silver Linings Playbook is a film adaptation of author Matthew Quick’s novel about a Pat Solitano, who struggles to readjust after a stint in a mental hospital. David O. Russell, director of I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, again demonstrates his understanding of human movement through the world with this peculiar foray into the psychosocial.

Leading actress Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Tiffany, an apparently fucked up girl whose instability was brought on by her husband’s death. Lawrence, unsurprisingly, slips into the role like an old professional and plays Tiffany in a very human way. While Lawrence has experienced recent success with blockbusters like The Hunger Games (also a film adaptation), she was recognized before then for her acting prowess when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards, for 2010 independent film Winter’s Bone (also based on a book). So for those of us who like to stay plugged into the indie movie scene, Jennifer Lawrence was already on the radar screen.

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Lead actor Bradley Cooper on the other hand was not. While he has demonstrated great versatility in moving between comedies and dramas more smoothly than most actors do, Cooper hadn’t exactly had his Winter’s Bone, so to speak. but with Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper’s embodiment of Pat Solitano is gloriously uncomfortable. Pat set’s your teeth on edge. He makes you want to leave the room. It is as if his instability provokes instability in others. Cooper played the role like a cello. For every quick remark, every tense or loose muscle in his neck, every twitch and flicker Cooper was there, without the thin buffer that separates actor and character. Every nerve in his body was Pat Solitano. Every measure of temperament, the highs and the lows, were there and realistic. This may have been his best performance to date.

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Reunited on screen with Cooper was Robert De Niro, who played Pat’s father, Pat Sr. Bookkeeper and dedicated Eagles fan, Pat Sr. was a superstitious and beautiful man. De Niro’s acting sensibility is always well adjusted to a balance between guarded and vulnerable, and that is exactly what his character was. De Niro’s performance was only illuminated by surrounding performances by Jacki Weaver (wife, Dolores Solitano), and Chris Tucker (Pat’s friend, Danny).

The story isn’t one that everyone can relate to, but its keen resonance is probably the most compelling truth of its greatness. A combination skilled performances by a wonderful cast, brilliant directing, and a naturally occurring, honest string of events has wrought a wonderful mess of a film.

This film is a romance. It could probably be described as a romantic comedy, but it is an outlier if that is so. All of the actors seemed to be so huddled around their characters. The vibrations of human life were all throughout. It was very unusual, and no part of it felt like acting. But more than this film is a romantic comedy, it is a biography. It is a biography of every gentle, and every violent movement and moment in the world. This film is soul cartography, and it is a silver lining around the dark cloud of the film industry.

Rating: 9/10

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Filed under Dark Comedy, Film Adaptation, Romance, Romantic Comedy

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

“You see things and you understand. You’re a wallflower.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the book, was written by American author Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film, was written and directed by American author and director Stephen Chbosky. Here we have the wettest  of wet dreams for any literature/film lover, the ultimate prize: an author actually directing their own story. I still can’t believe it, myself. The story is one we think we know quite well. Logan Lerman plays protagonist Charlie, an introverted teenager who begins his freshman year of high school burdened with his ambiguous past, but hopeful for a new start. (Spoilers)

The film begins with Charlie anonymously writing a letter to an unidentified source. While this theme doesn’t continue on as consistently as it should, the viewer gets the feeling that these letters are the framework in which the story is being told. Charlie’s first connection is with his English teacher, Bill, played by Paul Rudd. Here, literature becomes an important theme, and one the continues throughout the film. Bill begins to give Charlie books outside of class assignments, on which Charlie writes essays. Some of these books were classics like, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and finally J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Ryewhich Bill gives to Henry to keep.

The Smiths

As relationships to adults in this film go, this particular one is the brightest and most benevolent, and it is offset by rather morose ones. Paul Rudd is believable, and as usual makes a remarkable and very fluid transition from comedy to drama. There was a very nice intellectual and cultural element to the film. Other than the numerous references to famous literary idols, music was rather significant. The Smiths in particular connected Sam and Charlie. They even get into some culty stuff with Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don’t know about you all, but I wish my friend and I would have put on lip-syncing productions of Rocky Horror in high school. For those of us who love Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Rocky Horror, and The Smiths, you will feel a tinge of satisfaction from all the scenes these things are celebrated in.

Sam: Welcome to the island of misfit toys.

The performances from the younger actors in this film were something of great fascination. After a brief interaction at a football game Charlie gets sucked into a whirlwind of teenage whimsy and happenstance with the flamboyantly gay Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and the luminescent Sam (played by Emma Watson). The introduction of these characters prompts a boost in the film’s tempo and provokes a rapidly evolving chain of events that

Logan Lerman as “Charlie” and Emma Watson as “Sam”

eventually leads to revelatory events and confessions. The characters of Patrick and Sam, who are step-siblings, are crucial to Charlie’s growth, and, interestingly enough, his eventual unraveling. Ezra Miller, unknown to most audiences, gave a surprisingly emotional performance. Melancholy is something that most actors are trained to relate, but Patrick is a comedic character whose eventually is faced with a dilemma so destructive that even he dissolves into sadness. Miller’s portrayal of the wounded comedian is an expert one. Watson, on the other hand, also delivers a performance that deserves to be remarked upon. While her American accent isn’t all the way there yet, Watson manages an honest performance. Her character is idealized by Charlie, and through his eyes she is a goddess of sorts. There is one particular scene, wherein she is standing in the back of a moving truck, with her arms spread and her chest open. The idea is that she is supposed to seem ethereal, and she does indeed, most likely as a result of Watson’s ability to deliver captivating, yet subtle, emotion through stillness. Similarly to the performances of Miller and Watson, Lerman utterly transforms into Charlie. With every word or movement you felt his tension, his hesitation, his shame and his desperate hopes. His performance is uniquely captivating, because its familiarity prompts an espousing of empathy.

Sam: Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?
Charlie: We accept the love we think we deserve.

All the stories within Charlie’s story become very important as the film progresses. First he witnesses his sister being hit by her boyfriend. Then he becomes aware of Patrick’s relationship with Craig, a football player whose true sexuality is a secret. Then Sam confides in him about being molested when she was younger, and all of this is told with intermediate ambiguous flashbacks of Charlie’s Aunt Helen whose mysterious presence in the storyline is unexplained and vaguely haunting for most of the film. Following these revelations things begin to unravel. There is a particular scene between Charlie and Patrick, where Patrick’s comedic facade finally disintegrates, and in a moment of

Ezra Miller as “Patrick” and Logan Lerman as “Charlie”

confused vulnerability he kisses Charlie. This scene is perhaps the most gentle and kind scene in the entire film. Afterwards he apologizes and embraces Charlie, who receives his embrace and assures him that it’s ‘okay’. Miller shines most in this scene, when the gravity of teenage blues bite down on young tongues and the triumph and folly of youth are magnified in an emotionally charged moment. These sad affairs all culminate in Charlie’s hospitalization, after his friends leave to college and he’s left alone with his nightmares, which we eventually come to understand as his being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was a child, and her subsequent death. Charlie’s pain, communicated masterfully through Lerman, was realized through his need to rid others of their pain. That it, the downside to being a wallflower: powerlessly observing the pain of others.

Charlie: Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here…

Possibly the best thing about this movie is that it does not belittle the troubles of young people. High school, adolescence, is arguably one of the most impactful times in any person’s life. In this way, Perks has a way of communicating a message so fundamental that the viewer cannot help but connect to it. Your story may not be the same, but the essence is the very same. Chbosky brings to life in this film what he brought to life with the book. He made something that taps into collective human trauma, and in doing so helped undo some of the knots that we sometimes have in our hearts. Some of our greatest quandaries are not from what we do not know, but from what we’ve known and never come to understand. Perks is pain and it is clarity.

Charlie: You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.

Rating: 8.9/10

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The Pianist (2002)

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? It you tickle us, we we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” 

Roman Polanski’s Academy Award winning film, The Pianist

Interestingly enough, this brief recitation of Shakespeare was not nearly the most poetic moment in Roman Polanski’s portrayal of the life of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. This film, one that has received much critical acclaim, tells the tale of an artist living through the bottomless chasm of human suffering that was the Holocaust. What Polanski delivers is remarkable.

The film is based on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s book Death of a City. It is an auto-biographical account of Szpilman’s experience during WWII. The film is exceptional in that it manages to capture a Nazi occupied Poland, and the nature of the hardships experienced there while also preserving a separate spatial plane for understandings of incongruous things, like  family, souls, and music. In times of keen suffering life seems to be reduced to the baser things, such as hunger or shelter. The director and the actors do a wonderful job of communicating this.

The film begins with Szpilman playing the piano, and it ends similarly. However, all that is between is a cacophony of loss and grief. There is a certain rhythmic quality to the progression of the film, not unlike that of the piece Szpilman performs (Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Chopin) for Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who upon discovering Szpilman beseeches him to play. The loss of music was a theme that I think, while subdued, was almost as strong as the calamity surrounding it. There is a scene wherein Szpilman is in hiding, and his lodging has a piano that he cannot play for fear of being discovered. So he sits at the piano and pantomimes playing a glorious song. The passion and warmth is Brody’s jaundiced, bearded, hollow face were magnificent. The dutiful conviction Brody brings to this scene and countless others is in large part what makes this film seem real. His beginnings as a famous pianist were cool and deferential. Those qualities carried throughout the film, unhampered by tragedy and echoes of unrepentant diaspora.

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman: It’s a funny time to say this, but… 
Halina: What? 
Wladyslaw Szpilman: I wish I knew you better. 

Polanski’s decisive focus on peripheral characters was something of value. There is a scene where a woman is killed during a Jewish uprising. A Nazi shoots her in the back and she falls to the ground, dead and prostrating in front of a hospital. There’s another scene wherein a troupe of Nazis intimidate a small group of Jews, of varying ages, into dancing and singing. In another scene, or rather a string of scenes, a woman is wailing the words ‘why did I do it?’ and we come to find out that she smothered her own child while hiding from Nazis. Another scene shows a woman asking around for her husband; this woman appears several times, each time asking is anyone has seen her husband. It is these scenes that allow us to remain in the first person without losing the impact of the collective trauma. This is done quite gracefully by Polanski.

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld: Thank God, not me. He wants us to survive. Well, that’s what we have to believe. 

Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld

The ray of light in this film is awarded to Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who ensured Szpilman’s survival by feeding and concealing him. Whose very existence is a defense against cynicism and the inclination human beings have to parse the world into black or white, good or bad. Of all the things Polanski achieved in this film, just choosing to tell the story is the greatest achievement.

I haven’t tallied up the numbers, but the Holocaust has got to be the most common piece of subject matter where the art of film is concerned. I think it captivates us so in that it challenges everything we presume to know about life, and humankind. The gravity of shared horror is great enough to award the Holocaust a permanent spot in the archive of humanity. Polanski’s masterful representation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s story was one worth watching, and one that will touch you.

Rating: 9/10

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Candy (2006)

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Stopping and starting and changing and losing and gaining and finding and being lost. All things that director Neil Armfield attempts to translate onto film with Candy, a film adaptation of author Luke Davies Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film stars late actor, and man of legend, Heath Ledger.

Directed by Neil Armfield

Alongside Ledger is another couple of beloved Aussies, Abbie Cornish and our favorite old queen, Geoffrey Rush. Spoilers are drawing nigh.

Candy is the story of a young drug addicted poet named Dan (Heath Ledger) who falls in love with a young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). His drunk, vagrant charm draws her into a vortex of romance and heroine addiction. They’re relationship goes the way of destruction from then on.

Seeing as this film is based on a novel, I want to make it clear that I have not read said novel and can only judge the quality of the film alone. That being said, I thought that there was a cog missing. It may have been the dialouge, overwrought in places. Or maybe the pacing of the film, which seemed a bit rocky (which perhaps could have been a way to illustrate the nature of the main characters’ relationship). I enjoyed the story. I think it could have benefited from some added ingredients, such as a prelude (however brief) to the madness that was Dan and Candy’s relationship. An explanation, or even an ambiguous reference to Dan’s parentage and childhood. For a movie driven by characters there seemed to be too many missed opportunities to develop them. That, however, did not stop the cast from knocking it the fuck out of the park. So let’s begin with those brilliant bastards.

DanThere’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is. 

This film has a certain allure, for me at least, because it features a prematurely deceased, brilliant, actor whose skillfully crafted performances have been made more haunting since his departure. This particular film is resonant because Ledger died of a drug overdose, a fate that both Dan and Candy constantly face. Ledger’s performance was another great addition to the impressive, albeit incomplete, resume he left behind. Ledger has the skill of completely embedding himself into a character. He is the smallest doll in a matryoshka doll set, and his containers are all character. He makes the viewer feel as though they are witnessing a string of private moments. With posture like an old scarecrow and a smile faithfully crooked, Ledger was a clean white bed sheet strung up on a wall with the character of Dan swirling on a film reel nearby, projected plainly onto it.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger

Elaine Wyatt: What happened to that beautiful little girl? 
Candy: What happened? What happened? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I have been clenching my fucking fists since I was six years old!

Having not seen Abbie Cornish in any other leading role I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe my complete lack of expectations contributed to this, but she was brilliant. In terms of the script she was responsible for delivering some of the heavier dialogue, and she did so magnificently. She can do much more with a down-turned eye and cotton white panties than most actresses can do with full a make-up crew and a million dollar style budget.

Dan: Casper was like the dad you always wanted – the one who lets you have lollies and fizzy drink, who lets you stay up and watch the late night movies. 

Geoffrey Rush (Casper) as a homosexual heroine cook. It was brilliant, I must say. There’s something in all of us that needs to see Geoffrey Rush be a homosexual on screen, and the satisfaction from having finally seen it is my own personal “yellow jesus.” His character hints at something not entirely approached in the story, but the mystery adds to the impact of his fate, and to its affect on Dan.

Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger as Dan

There were shining scenes. The scenes when they were most intimate, which were enhanced by the fantastic connection between Ledger and Cornish. The withdrawal scenes. The scene when Dan is reading Candy’s story on the wall was a particularly powerful moment in the story. The film had some very precious moments.

But the film suffered at the hands of a director who did not properly judge which plot points to emphasize and which to let creep in slowly. Maybe even experimentation with chronology would have improved it; Armfield had all the pieces, he just didn’t know where to put them. Where Armfield did succeed was in terms of atmosphere. The film felt clenched, which is often a bi-product of first person narration, but Armfield made it as though the life Dan and Candy lead was the only life, save brief encounters with Candy’s parents when the couple looked sick and rattled by comparison. This spoke to the nature of addiction. The thrill and the hunt. The high and the low.

This film was best in it’s quietest scenes. Unfortunately Armfield didn’t always know when to be quiet.

Rating: 4/10

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