Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Film

Little Shopgirl Around the Corner

by Levi Asher on Saturday, September 17, 2005 10:17 am


I'm not going to pretend to care about the new film of Everything Is Illuminated (because I didn't care about the book, and the sight of Elijah Wood in horn-rimmed eyeglasses fills me with inexplicable revulsion).

However, I am interested in the upcoming film version of Steve Martin's appealing novel Shopgirl. This book was an exercise in Beverly Hills minimalism: a wealthy older man conducts a crisp love affair with a shy clerk at an expensive clothing store. He discovers in her an empty intellectual vessel, devoid of ideas and conviction, but with a capacity for love that touches him deeply (for a short while before he moves on). The book revels in her exquisite emptiness, laying out the blueprint of her brain as if it were an uninhabited house on a very fashionable street.






A Writer In Tulsa

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, September 7, 2005 08:38 am


S. E. Hinton, who has maintained her quiet dignity since The Outsiders made her a teen-lit legend in 1967, has been doing just a little talking about her books and her life. The occasion is the upcoming release of a new, longer version of the film based on the book, The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. Using footage that didn't make it to the original theatrical release, the new version will spend more time introducing the characters, remix the soundtrack and hew closer to director Francis Ford Coppola's original vision.

I'm not sure if the film's recut amounts to exciting news or not (the official Warner Brothers website is one of the ugliest websites I've seen in a long time) but I am interested to hear that S. E. Hinton has been granting unusually frank interviews about the real-life stories behind her novel.

There really were Greasers and Socs at her high school, Will Rogers High in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Socs (pronounced Sosh-es) were mostly rich with oil money, and Hinton's family had none of it.

The Outsiders was about three brothers living without parents in the Greaser part of town. S. E. Hinton did have parents, but she is now speaking up about the fact that her mother was deeply troubled and abusive, as well as completely unsupportive of her daughter's surprising writing career. In this sense, the author seems to link herself not to the three brothers but to Johnny, the shy, sweet kid who seems to always get hurt worst in every rumble, whose parents were described as similarly abusive.

This is about as much talking as S. E. Hinton has ever done. If I could interview her further, I'd ask about the origins of her great character names -- Sodapop, Ponyboy ... she even named a kid M&M in That Was Then, This Is Now, long before Marshall Mathers ever thought of it. But Hinton (who still lives in Tulsa, is happily married and has a son in college) doesn't speak up too often, and I have a feeling the door is now closed again.

As for the movie (which isn't the only legendary novel about restless American youth Coppola has been working on), we'll have to wait till September 20 to see the new cut for ourselves.





Frigid Mountain

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 11:46 am


Well, as I promised recently, I finished watching the DVD of Cold Mountain, a film based on one of my favorite books in the world.

This is not one of my favorite movies in the world.

I know I'm about two years late to the trashing party for this movie, so I don't think I should bother going into much detail. The fact that this film is a disappointment is not news. I'm not sure if I have any original complaints to add, but maybe I can at least vent a little of my personal fury by making a couple of points about this film:

First, the performances were as bad as everybody told me they would be. Nicole Kidman and Jude Law didn't come across as actors so much as dress-up dolls reading lines from a script. Renee Zellweiger managed to have some fun with the role of Ruby, but beyond that every performer was stiff and artificial. I was particularly disappointed in Donald Sutherland, who was supposed to be playing Ada's father, Monroe, but was instead apparently playing Martin Sheen playing Robert E. Lee playing Monroe. Ever hear of method acting, Sutherland? What the hell is your motivation?






Speaking of Movies …

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, August 2, 2005 09:14 pm


It's time for the semi-annual news report about Francis Ford Coppola's never-ending attempt to greenlight a film of Jack Kerouac's On The Road.

I'm not sure if I want to see this film made or not. Probably not, but if somebody's got to do it, I think Coppola is the right choice. However, I'm not reserving my tickets on Moviefone just yet ... we've been covering this film on LitKicks a long time.

Maybe the film will finally get made. Maybe it won't. Maybe it will star Billy Crudup as Sal Paradise, or maybe it will star Jack Black as Allen Ginsberg (well, why the hell not?).

We've also been hearing about Joyce Johnson's Kerouac film project for a long time, and in fact I attended a read-through of this screenplay over a year ago. Adira Amram (David's daughter) played the Joyce Johnson character, and I think Adira Amram should get the role in the movie as well.

And Jack Black should play Allen Ginsberg.





Inside the Chocolate Factory

by Jamelah Earle on Saturday, July 16, 2005 07:29 pm


Today, I went to see the brand spankin' new adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Being a big fan of Tim Burton's delicious weirdness, and also a big fan of Johnny Depp's delicious... Johnny Depp-ness, and also also at least a moderate fan of Roald Dahl's original book, I have to say that I, for one, was really looking forward to this movie. So how was it? Like I expected -- sort of like a 1 hour, 46 minute sugar high -- fun and discomfort all mixed up together in a great big confection of guilt.

First of all, this film is not a remake of the 1970s Gene Wilder classic titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, for which I'm glad. Go ahead and call me a jerk, but even though that movie is fun, and that Oompa Loompa song sure is catchy, it just never really clicked with me. Tim Burton's version of Charlie is, well, Tim Burton's, and therefore is really its own thing. I think it follows Dahl's book pretty closely; it may vary from the source material in places (most movies do), but where it does, I don't remember. The last time I read the book I was 9. So it's been awhile.

Anyway, I think Tim Burton nailed it. The opening scenes in the Bucket home are spot-on, and the kid who plays Charlie is priceless. In fact, most of the kids in this are good, though I did find myself wishing for just a little bit more appalling brattiness out of Veruca Salt. Even though I think comparing this to the other film version is sort of pointless, I will say that the Oompa Loompas in this film kick the other ones' asses all the way to Oompa Land and back. For what it's worth.

Actually, as much as it may pain me to say this, the only problem I had with this was Depp's performance. I was glad to see that he wasn't Michael Jackson so much as a 19th century dandy underneath layers of cynical sadism and stiffness. At first, it worked for me, but after awhile, it got to be a bit much. Though the malicious smile that would play on his mouth when each of those awful children got what was coming to them was a nice touch. Ah, schadenfreude.

Anyway, I think it was worth sitting in a theater crammed with children on a Saturday afternoon to see this film, if for no other reason than, seriously, oh my God, the squirrels!








The Secret Life of Owen Wilson

by Caryn Thurman on Saturday, July 16, 2005 12:53 pm


Word has it that Owen Wilson (star of such fine films as Meet the Parents, Starsky & Hutch and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) will play the lead in the film version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The classic Thurber tale of the quintessential daydreamer was made into a movie once before, back in 1947. It's interesting to note that Wilson appeared in another book to film adaptation (one we've mentioned recently, even) -- the movie version of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions.





DiCap’s in the Cradle

by Caryn Thurman on Monday, July 11, 2005 07:49 pm


I'm not sure how I missed this one -- although it seems like I have posted this before, with all the Tom Hanks connections to books in film and the infinitely inescapable presence of the young Hanksesque Leonardo DiCaprio (not unlike the haunting memory of Jack Dawson in Titanic) it's sometimes hard to tell what is real and what is a dream around here. In any case, it looks like Leonardo DiCaprio's production group, Appian Way, is working with screenwriters to adapt Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. No word on who might star in the film or on a production date. Any nominations on who you'd like to see in this one?





Tom And Viv: Eating a Peach

by Levi Asher on Thursday, June 9, 2005 10:33 pm


Peaches are in season, so naturally our minds turn towards the poetry of T. S. Eliot.

I've been pondering the film Tom and Viv, a very convincing 1994 art film about young T. S. Eliot and his troubled marriage. A shy but ambitious American visiting England, Eliot fell in love with Vivian Haigh-Wood, a tempestuous woman whose upper-class British style and ribald sense of humor fascinated him. They married impulsively, then discovered they did not get along at all. The bad marriage lasted for many years, and in fact seems to have inspired many parts of Eliot's poetry. Sexual and interpersonal anxiety is central to most of his work; it is fascinating to realize that in real life T. S. Eliot did dare to eat a peach, and perhaps too impulsively at that.

In the film, Eliot is played by Willem Defoe, and I think he does a great job. I don't usually like Defoe -- I thought he was badly miscast as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (Willem Defoe does not look Jewish), and in Wild At Heart I thought he was just plain weird. But he was born to play T. S. Eliot, sallow skin, cautious diction and all.

Miranda Richardson is just as good as Vivian, who you feel both sorry for and angry at in this film. The movie is also an interesting tableau of Jazz Age London; we see Vivian Eliot having a meaningless affair with Bertrand Russell, then getting into a catfight with a group of women including the haughty Virginia Woolf.

Overall, I thought this was one of the best literary biographies I'd ever seen on film. I'd like to know what you thought of it -- have you seen it?





Merchant of Merchant-Ivory

by Levi Asher on Thursday, May 26, 2005 07:22 am


Let's take a moment for Ismail Merchant, co-creator of some of the best literary films of our time, who died yesterday, May 25, in a London Hospital at age 68.

From 'Shakespeare Wallah' in 1965 to 'The Golden Bowl' in 2000, the team of Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala produced films steeped in the greatness of Victorian and modern literary traditions, often adapted from books by authors like E. M. Forster and Henry James.

'A Room With A View' was their first breakthrough success, though in my opinion the team hit its peak in 1992 and 1993 with the wonderful 'Howards End' followed by the soaring, sublime 'Remains of the Day', featuring Anthony Hopkins as a repressed butler in a grand mansion. This film contained a smaller cast and fewer costumes than most Merchant-Ivory productions, but was probably their most thrilling work of all.





Stallone Takes on Poe

by Caryn Thurman on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 08:46 am


Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone has all the pieces in place to go forward with a new film project -- a movie about none other than Edgar Allan Poe. Apparently Stallone wrote the screenplay for this project back in the 70s and it has been his goal to portray Poe "not as a dour dipsomaniac, but as a rogue, a real rake." Now that the details of financing and distribution are settled (it seems that Stallone will be footing much of the bill himself), Sly has his eye on Robert Downey, Jr. to play the role of everyone's favorite goth.





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