Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations


My Dinner With Ernest

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, October 11, 2005 08:56 am

Stevadore sends us the news that Anthony Hopkins will play Ernest Hemingway in a film called "Papa". The film will depict the friendship between Hemingway and a young Korean War correspondent who looked up to him. They meet in Havana (Hemingway's home base, in the years just before Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution), and Hopkins apparently gets to act up a storm in depicting the despair of an aging writer contemplating his eventual suicide.

Hemingway lived a cinematic life, but Anthony Hopkins is an old guy and obviously won't attempt to reach into the author's picturesque adventures in Europe and around the world in his booming 20's and 30's. It sounds like a talky film, which doesn't jibe with my understanding of the Hemingway essence. In lit-film heaven, Orson Welles circa "Citizen Kane" would nail this role. Anthony Hopkins? I don't know -- it's a stretch. The last famous face Hopkins tried to inhabit was Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's "Nixon", and I don't think he pulled off the transformation.

Hopkins as Hemingway. I'm not too hopeful -- what about you?

Mr. Perkins

by Bill Ectric on Wednesday, October 5, 2005 02:27 pm

A recently rediscovered classic of American non-fiction, The Klan Unmasked by Stetson Kennedy, is currently making the rounds in Hollywood, and not for the first time.

Plans to turn Stetson Kennedy's true account of a personal and national battle against racism in the 1940's have been in the works for decades. Humphrey Bogart considered playing the lead role in a film based on Kennedy's book in the 1950's. Oliver Stone worked on a new treatment based on the book in 1996, but the project was abandoned.

Later, Mel Gibson expressed interest in a screenplay titled Mr. Perkins (referring to the fake name Kennedy used when he infiltrated the Klan). Again, the project was not developed, but a new treatment is currently making the rounds, and supposedly Brad Pitt is expressing interest. What does it all mean? We really don't know.

Bukowski Comes Alive

by Levi Asher on Friday, September 30, 2005 01:47 pm

It's hard for anybody to top Mickey Rourke's interpretation of Charles Bukowski in Barfly, but a few actors are trying, and may even succeed.

For an eerie moment in this trailer, Matt Dillon is Bukowski. I like Matt Dillon, whose literary explorations have ranged from Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy to S. E. Hinton's Outsiders. Factotum is a good Bukowski book about the young author's attempts to hold down a day job. Imagine a depraved, typewriter-era Office Space -- that may be what this film will deliver.

Also courtesy of the fine Syntax of Things site, here's a notice of a live theatrical production in Long Beach, California, Love, Bukowski in which 10 different performers will portray Bukowski sitting on a toilet. Yes, for real. I had thought the bathtub was Bukowski's famous "happy place", but I guess that wouldn't offer the opportunity for all those Rodin-esque "thinker" poses. I wish I could get out to ol' Hank's home-state to see this production.

Let’s Get Graphical

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, September 27, 2005 09:52 am

David Cronenberg's new film A History of Violence is based on a 1997 graphical novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Two bad guys roll into a quiet Indiana town intending to indulge in murder and robbery and mayhem, but they're disposed of by a mild-mannered family man whose only weapon is a glass coffee canister. He's a hero, but this is only the beginning of the story. As his fame spreads, other strangers roll into town, and it turns out the mild-mannered hero has his own "history of violence". That's where the story gets twisted, and it stays that way.

David Cronenberg is a great choice to direct this compelling tale. He's the filmmaker who turned William S. Burroughs' life story into a panaroma of intimate and creepy visual experiences with Naked Lunch, but my favorite Cronenberg film will always be his remake of The Fly featuring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis in performances so good they had to run off and get married immediately after making it (though their marriage apparently lacked that Cronenberg magic, and didn't last).

I haven't seen A History of Violence yet, but I have read the excellent book that inspired it. I know some people are sick of the graphic novel fad, but I like them, and I hope this film will inspire more cinematic treatments of the genre's classics. Who wants to take on Persepolis? How about Ralph Bakshi trying Maus?

On a much gentler front, Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano's The World On Sunday is a gorgeous volume of archived newspaper artwork. It's amusing to learn that Baker's wife (who we have read much about in books like Room Temperature) is his co-author here, and one has to wonder if her literary last name (which once designated a great bookstore in midtown Manhattan, before it closed down) helped inspire the bibliophilic Baker to marry her.

The World On Sunday is not a major or definite Baker book, because words are his forte. But it is an overwhelmingly pleasing visual experience, and nobody but Baker would have worked this hard to bring it to you. When is somebody going to give Nicholson Baker a MacArthur genius grant, or a Nobel prize? The guy deserves it.

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.


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