Director Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Thank You For Smoking bears the self-consciously hip tone and highly affected aesthetic of an emerging talent’s debut film, of the sort straddling the line between trying-too-hard to be an instant cult classic and actually being an instant cult classic.
While the 30-year-old Reitman’s got at least one incredible movie under his belt already, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody actually is an emerging talent making her debut here, so certainly a great deal of the cuteness may be hers to take credit for/accept blame for. From the high school notebook sketch font on the credits and titles to the Wes Anderson-like reliance on soundtrack, costume and set design for storytelling purposes, nearly every frame of Juno betrays a film that could have gone horribly, horribly wrong instead of going so pleasantly, pleasantly right.
It’s been almost a decade since writer/director Tamara Jenkins’s semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy The Slums of Beverly Hills, and yet there’s no signs of rust or dust on her latest, a semi-semi-autobiographical melancholic comedy about one of the least funny topics imaginable—putting your demented, dying parent in a nursing home and then watching them die.
In a somewhat surreal opening in the incredibly surreal Sun City, Arizona, a brightly colored paradise for the aged and elderly, we meet Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco), who is beginning to lose his mind. When his equally elderly and sick live-in girlfriend dies and her family claims her house, Lenny finds himself without a home.
Enter his two adult children, Jon and Wendy Savage (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, respectively), whom Lenny abandoned as children and apparently abused to some unspecified degree. Both have grown accustomed to having nothing to do with their father and little to do with one another, but find themselves reunited and forced to care for him, despite having plenty of growing up to do themselves.
Ian McEwan’s novel is not an easy one to adapt to film. Sure, it’s got lots of high drama, of the sorts that usually lend themselves to the medium—World war! Tragic death! Star-crossed lovers! Hot sex! Class conflict! Rape! Delirium!—and yes, it does have an unusually high pedigree, being both a very popular and very good novel.
It’s also got a pretty idiosyncratic narrative structure which keeps a reader on his or her toes, showing the same events from different perspectives, and including a twisty shift or two which, on film, can be incredibly jarring, because the medium requires the attention of your ears and eyes to a higher degree than prose. That is, a reader is in much more control of how what they’re experiencing is perceived, while a film-viewer is at the mercy of the film itself to a greater degree when it comes to the sight and sound of things.
And man, there’s a shift in here that might knock you right out of your seat, if not the film itself for a moment.
Director Joe Wright is up to the challenge of difficult-to-succeed-at-adaptations-of-novels, of course, coming off the thoroughly charming 2005 Pride & Prejudice, the top of the heap of adaptations of that perennially popular British novel.
It was only a matter of time before Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini’s first novel was made into a film. The Oprah-touted, book club-beloved 2004 Kite Runner benefited from excellent timing, being released so relatively soon after the fall of the Taliban, and presenting story elements that most Americans were quick to appreciate and push, like the stark evil of the Taliban, America as land of opportunity and positive role model for Afghan people, and plenty of background on the day-to-day life of the country we still know so little about.
That it has so quickly become an awards-baiting film is perhaps just one more example of Hosseini’s luck with timing. His second book was just released this year, and we could probably use a nice big reminder that Afghanistan is full of real people facing some serious shit right about now, given the increasingly bad news coming from that front of the Global War on Terror, which, since 2003, seems like it’s merely been our other war instead of, you know, a priority of any kind.
Hosseini gets a writing credit on the film, though the screenplay is the work of David Benioff, who previously adapted The 25th Hour and the Illiad (turning it into the 2004 Brad Pitt vehicle Troy), and is responsible for the so-bad-it-must-be-seen-to-be-believed 2005 psychological thriller Stay. I haven’t read The Kite Runner myself, so I’m not sure how faithful it is to the book, but it seems like he kept in the most controversial element—the rape scenes that caused trouble for the boy actors and their families back in Afghanistan. The film is structured in a rather cliched form for a movie of this type, however.
Posted in Film
Tagged afghanistan, kites
This is the sort of film in which I feel almost reluctant to review, because even mentioning the actual plot in any detail ruins one of the more effective surprises that the it offers—when the physical conflict that star Will Smith’s character will spend the bulk of the film fighting against is first introduced, it’s only after a nice, long build-up of tense foreshadowing, and has the power to summon quite a few gasps (at least from the audience in the preview screening I attended).
On the other hand, given the time and financial investment it takes to go to the movies these days, and the way films are marketed, is it even possible to go into a big budget holiday release like this without already knowing what it’s about, and having seen most of the pivotal scenes in the trailer and TV spots?
And even if it were possible to experience such films in an information vacuum these days, I Am Legend certainly isn’t going to be one of ‘em, given its long life. It’s based on a book by Richard Matheson that’s now over half a century old, and has previously been adapted for film twice, though neither used the original title (1964’s Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, and 1971’s Omega Man starring Charlton Heston).
Writer/director Noah Baumbach follows 2005’s tale of warring parents The Squid and the Whale with another dysfunctional family dramedy, this one focusing on more nebulous conflicts with more players but more vague stakes.
Lacking the central metaphor and the kids’-point-of-view (as well as early ‘80s setting) of his last film, Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding has a less clear throughline and fewer laughs that aren’t of the uncomfortable variety, putting a viewer on much shakier ground here.
Every character here is crazy, and by “crazy” I mean has some kind of behavioral issues or emotional problem they’re keeping secret, like, you know, pretty much every real person you know, but none of them fess up to or communicate these problems, nor does Baumbach telegraph them. Rather, they’re simply revealed in the announcements of life decisions or unpopular opinions, in sudden bursts of crying or screaming. It’s up to the audience to diagnose them, or at least put up with them.
This certainly makes for an immersive film-going experience—you’ll likely be just as irritated with and angry at the thoroughly unlikeable characters as they are with one another—but it doesn’t exactly make for a very fun one.
For the past five years the Sublime Frequencies label has taken the global music imprint to an entirely new level, releasing obscure audio and video from all corners of the world, focusing mainly on (but certainly not limited to) the folk and pop music of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Headed by Hisham Mayet and Alan Bishop of longtime globe-trotting collective Sun City Girls, the label’s 2007 has been its biggest year yet, unleashing two wonderful vinyl-only African guitar records, a pair of South American compilations, a pair of “ethnic minority” music compilations from Asia, a collection of Thai pop songs and another of Thai psych, two collections of folk and pop from Myanmar, and a “Jihadi Techno” album out of Syria.
Tonight Mayat begins a new venture for his label, bringing two hour-long films he directed to show at Skylab. Palace of the Winds is an “entrancing look at the culture and music of the Saharawis from the Western Sahara and Mauritania”, while Musical Brotherhoods of the Trans-Saharan Highway chronicles a variety of Moroccan street music “live and unfiltered”. Tonight’s showing is the first date on Mayet’s December film tour. Rest of the dates and trailers after the break.
In the U.S., the majority of the major media discussion revolving around the crisis in Darfur had to do with whether or not anyone in the Bush administration would use the G-word when discussing it, and if and when they would step in and curb the genocide there, or if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would keep us out of intervention.
It also occurred during President Bush’s first term which, at this point, was years ago.
As has increasingly become the case, documentary filmmakers have taken it upon themselves to talk about what the TV and print media can’t or won’t, and co-directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (whose previous collaboration was The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a wrongly convicted man), have found themselves about as perfect as a protagonist as one could hope for in their Darfur documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback.
In Oprah-approved author Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel No Country For Old Men, an aging small town Texas sheriff ruminates about the scary new world he finds himself living in, complete with new crimes committed by new breeds of criminals he’s unsure if he’s able to face.
Meanwhile, good old boy Llewelyn Moss finds a satchel full of millions of dollars in the midst of a cross-the-border drug deal-turned-Mexican standoff gone very wrong, and takes it—a move sure to sic the money’s rightful owners on him.
What follows is a three-way chase, with Llewelyn on the run with the money, a mysterious, unstoppable killer on trail, and the law pursuing them both. It’s a pretty simple, even shallow story, but McCarthy’s a subtle talent, and he fills seemingly negative story space with implied meaning and dramatic import in a way that gradually catches up with the reader.
The author’s trademark spare storytelling and hands-off approach to visuals and world-building—character descriptions never go any farther than maybe hair or eye color in this particular book, and almost everything but the dialogue and plot are left to the readers’ imagination—provides a perfect vacuum for filmmakers to fill, particularly when the filmmakers have the sort of quirky talents that have made the Coen Brothers’ body of work so distinctive.
I had somewhat mixed feelings while watching this new documentary, which cuts to the heart of anti-gay sentiment in the United States by zeroing in on the alleged source of so much of it—what the Bible has to say on the subject of the morality of homosexuality.
It’s a powerful piece of filmmaking by director and co-writer Daniel G. Karslake, who has sit-down interviews with a half-dozen different religious families, starting with the straight parents and telling their story before even introducing their gay or lesbian child. Each of these story arcs is compelling enough to support a documentary of its own. Built atop these are interviews with theologians and at least one celebrity member of the clergy (Hey look, it’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu!); plenty of painstakingly gathered, archival footage; man on the street-type interviews with passersby; and an educational cartoon sequence about the current state of the science of homosexuality.
Karslake’s film will alternately amuse, infuriate and inspire, when it’s not breaking your heart or demolishing religious arguments against homosexuality that claim to be supported by the Bible, most of which you’ve (hopefully) heard before. In the entire book, there’s only about a half-dozen mentions of homosexuality all together, Jesus never once mentions it, there was no word for homosexuality in the modern sense in the original languages the books of the Bible were written in, the same book that calls men lying with men “an abomination” also calls eating shrimp “an abomination,” and so on.