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


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

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

Young Adult (2011)

“And I noticed you got a KenTacoHut. You know, one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell.”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Young Adult is yet another female driven dark comedy written by the magnificent Diablo Cody. Since her movies always feel like an extended vagina monologue gone meta, it’s hard for me not to love them. Her written work paired with the human smirk that is the film’s Director Jason Reitman make for a bangin’ film.

“This is a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world, and while she looked so sad in photographs I absolutely love her” prophesied  Nine Days’ John Hampson 12 years ago. No, Absolutely (Story of a Girl) is not a song about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), Young Adult’s protagonist, but god damn do those lyrics run deep. Anyway, Mavis is the author of a young adult series, not a fucking kid’s series, a young adult series. She comes from a small town called Mercury where no one makes anything of themselves, so after her divorce she returns to try and rekindle things with her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). In the interim, she connects with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a crippled man-child who also went to her high school. They befriend each other and then shit hits the fan. And by shit, I mean Mavis.

There’s something about how Cody writes women that is so alluring. Maybe I, like everyone else who consumes primarily male written, directed, and produced films, am starved for authentic female characters. In any case, the essence of a woman as told by another woman added immensely to this film’s appeal.

This film flourished in intermediate scenes. When Mavis is covering her face in concealer. When she goes from a grease stained crumpled up napkin, to a cardigan-ed, powdered, primped mannequin/Rolling Stones groupie. When she eats trash, and watched trash television and walks down the street. When she listens to music in her car. Cody has a way of giving the atmosphere of reality. As kitschy as her films are, I always felt like I was watching real events, and real people. Albeit, pretty fucked up people.

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary

Charlize Theron herself is massively versatile. She is one of those rare actresses who can travel seamlessly from one genre to the next. I still haven’t been able to wash her haunting performance from Monster out of my brain. She was such a shit stain in this film that it made you kind of hate her,  but it was so superbly acted that at the end of the film you felt you’d been through the taxing emotional experience that she had been through. You understood the mundane terror of feeling like your life has gone all wrong, and that it is too late to fix it.

The stand out performance for me was given by Patton Oswalt, a comedic actor in a comparatively dramatic role. His performance was real, and convincing and funny all at once. For me he really nailed the dark comedy. He’s one of those unexpected gems.

As for how the movie was written, Cody is just a genius comic. If you can find a way to get down in the mud with her, you can’t not enjoy yourself. The film is filled to the brim with quirky little characteristic quips. Her style is so culty. I just see her with a wide brimmed hat sitting on the edge of some roof, smoking cigarettes thinking ‘how can I get Charlize Theron to say the phrase ‘theater fag”?

The whole premise of the film. ‘Pyschotic prom queen bitch’ going back home to relive her glory days only to have a huge mirror shoved in her face, in the form of everyone she used to know. Seeing what became of all the youth from her past. Fucking used tampons and crushed soda cans of people

The Ultimate Showdown

scattered across the school yard, wishing they were somewhere else. Someone else. Finally it all culminates in an epic meltdown where we learn all the unsettling details of Mavis’ haunted past, that settles the score once and for all. The popular girl is just as miserable and unfulfilled as anyone else. Probably more miserable.  It’s all very familiar, but Cody manages to make it…..well, Cody. I’ll need to see it a few more times, but for me the movie did exactly what it was meant to do. A good dark comedy cuts deeper than a good drama. I think this one came quite close.

Mavis Gary: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra Freehauf: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die. Fuck Mercury.

Rating: 8/10

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Directed by Wes Anderson

“I hope the roof flies off and sucks me into space.”

Said Walt Bishop, played by a classic from the Wes Anderson arsenal, Bill Murray. Wes Anderson’s latest work of divine theatre, Moonrise Kingdom does something that his previous films have come quite close to, but have never fully succeeded at. That thing can only be fully described through the rat maze of ramblings that are about ensue. Proceed at your own peril. [SPOILER ALERT]

MK had a cast that anyone with eyes and a brain would die for. Bill Murray is a fucking champ. Tilda Swinton is her own magnificent species of bird. Jason Schwartzman, like Murray, is an Anderson trademark. Sprinkle our visitors from the A-List, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel on top of that and we have some sort of strange moth ball filled sundae. With nutmeg.

Walt Bishop: What am I looking at here?

Laura Bishop: He does watercolors. Mostly landscapes. Some nudes.

In addition to from the wondrous cast, the film features Anderson’s famous panoramic landscapes and wide shots brought to life with blindingly colorful impact, the likes of which Dr. Suess himself would have tipped his hat to. The fantastic thing about this is that somehow there is another story happening that can only be communicated through color, and contrast, and framing. As if the film could be watched without sound and become another thing entirely.

Wes Anderson has a way of confronting the viewer with demanding, yet accessible framing/imagery. Every scene looks like a picture. Character stare into the lens. They look into you, and you look back. It’s strange actually. Almost interactive. And utterly engaging. When Suzy (Kara Hayward) looks through her binoculars, she is looking at you. Or you are looking with her.

Sam: I love you but you have no idea what you are talking about.

Kara Hayman and Jared Gilman

The love story of Suzy and Sam is one that will become classic. It’s timeless, in that it documents the experience of falling in love. It is the story of two people in love, two people that happen to be children, that misunderstand themselves, are misunderstood by their peers and guardians, and that misunderstand each other. All that, and you somehow watch and get the feeling that you’ve misunderstood your own life. Misunderstood what it means to be happy, and close to another person.

The role the adults in the film play is very interesting. Wes Anderson has successfully found a way to validate the children, through telling their story from their point of view, and by mobilizing the story around them. But he has done that without reducing the adults to bickering nitwits. The dynamics in the film happening higher than 4ft. off of the ground are just as interesting as the love story between Sam and Suzy. The infidelity between Laura and Captain Sharp. The abandonment felt by Walt. The confused commitment and dedication of Scout Master Ward. All very captivating.

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis was stunning to watch as Captain Sharp. I always remember him from Pulp Fiction. Muscular and handsome. Strong and commanding. Anderson’s Captain Sharp is a smaller man. One who has accepted love from a married woman into his life; someone who would rather have half of someone than be alone. His journey from that man to the man that implants himself into Sam’s fate is one that could have survived center stage in any theatre.

This entire film, from the very beginning with the gnome-ish Bob Balaban narrating, gave me the feeling that there was a world around me that I hadn’t seen or touched. One whose name never lived up to its glory. A kingdom. In a world of brilliant color and arresting candor you feel as though you have been sung a song. You’ve been taught how to see again. Moonrise Kingdom is a film, but it is also a gift. To those who see, to those who love, and to those who wish to continue on in that way but haven’t the slightest idea how to.

Rating: 10/10