Friday, October 24, 2014

A Long Way Down: My take on the movie starring Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul

Oh, so heartbroken! I've finally managed to see A Long Way Down on Netflix (we just installed a ROKU which took care of slow streaming and freezing problems)- I blogged and blogged and blogged and blogged about the book, I loved it sooooo much - and, yes, it IS a long way down. A hard flop down, I would say. I was prepared to be disappointed as the lack of a real release date here in the states was a pretty big clue the adaptation of Nick Hornby's book was a dud. And then those initial pesky reviews

The problem with the movie though, isn't how bad it is, it's how good it could have been. The material was dark, and edgy and bitingly funny; that laughing through the tears kind of funny. The movie was a weird melding of I don't know what, snark, sap and lacking in gritty recognizable authenticity, with director Pascal Chaumiel seemingly encouraging the cast to overact like they were in a high school play. There's a total lack of trust in the actors to tell the story, and the audience to get it. Instead there are plenty of obvious, dig-in-the-ribs moments. The relationship between JJ (Aaron Paul) and Jess (Imogen Poots) is so nuanced in the novel, we feel, rather than see a push/pull attraction; the movie plays it out in the open, with Jess draping herself all over him, pretty much as you see it in the poster above. Their rom-com ending is NOT what I was looking for at all.

The script by Jack Thorne misses the mark completely; we really don't get to see the utter hopelessness that would drive four souls to the top of a building to throw themselves off, and the sheer bungling and dawning realization of the gravity of the situation that stops them. The cast is incredibly talented in other films and tv shows but here are given a shallow script that never delves into who these people really are. As a person with creative leanings I was especially disappointed that we didn't get to know J.J. better. He was probably my favorite character in Nick Hornby's novel - the tortured musician who knows there's nothing he can do in life except make his music - in the film he's reduced to a caricature and rom-com bad boy. Pierce Brosnan's TV host Martin Sharp was okay; I was actually surprised how well they handled the underage girl aspect, believing in fact that she really did look 25 vs Martin being a dirty old perv. Rosamund Pike  so incredible in Gone Girl, comes off as fake as Martin's former broadcasting partner. Sam Neil is fine as Jess's dad, if wasted in the part.

On the good news front, I believe one can never have too much Toni Collette, and she's just as watchable here as Maureen as she always is. Also I've become an overnight fan of Imogen Poots - her character is supposed to be over the top and she plays it balls to the walls - and really hope she gets more effectively directed as Dee Moray in the screen adaptation of Jess Walter's luminous Beautiful Ruins. Oh God, I hope they don't botch that too!

Dan Tallerico, in his review over at puts it pretty well, enumerating the problems in his review, quoted in full here.
There are moments of tenderness and honest human emotion buried in the frustrating “A Long Way Down” but one has to work far too hard and give far too much credit to the over-qualified cast to grab at them. Based on a hit book by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”) that contained an emotional minefield maudlin enough that the film took nearly a decade to come into existence even though the Hornby bandwagon was full in the ‘00s, “A Long Way Down” is a textbook case of over-direction. Characters laugh too hard; the score by Dario Marianelli alternates between wispy guitar strumming and heartstring-pulling piano tinkling; the suicidal characters literally dance to “I Will Survive” at one point. You get the idea. Honest emotion falls victim to poor filmmaking again. 
Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) wants to kill himself on New Year’s Eve. He has tumbled from the height of popularity after a sex scandal with an underage girl destroyed his family and sees no reason to go on if he’s not famous. He climbs to the roof of the Toppers Building, a notorious suicide spot; so notorious that he runs into three other people on this frosty, fateful evening. Maureen (Toni Collette) has a severely disabled son and can’t go on. Jess (Imogen Poots) is heartbroken and J.J. (Aaron Paul) tells his new mates that he has brain cancer. The four agree to delay their life-ending until Valentine’s Day, keeping tabs on each other over the next month-and-a-half and, of course, forming a unique bond. 
When the “Topper House Four” is outed in the press (it turns out that Jess’ dad is a famous politician, making her bait for tabloid headlines), they become semi-celebrities. To escape the attention, they jet off to a resort, frolic in the surf, grow closer, learn the importance of life, get a tan, etc. 
“A Long Way Down” is a film that’s afraid of its subject matter: suicidal depression. One never senses any actual danger or urgency in the plight of these characters to battle their demons before they kill them, and the lack of any sense that these people might actually end their lives drains the piece of drama. Their depression is merely a plot device. J.J. was once the frontman for a band called Gepetto and he laughs about one of the hackneyed lines that he wrote: “I don’t mind the pain, it’s the hope that kills me.” Writer Jack Thorne and director Pascal Chaumeil present the line as a bit of humor about a wannabe grunge band that never was but it’s indicative of the problem with the film. The movie never minds the pain. It doesn’t pay attention to it. We don’t feel it. Well, most of the time. The always-great Collette somehow finds a way to make the most maudlin and manipulative character arc of the quartet hit most of the right beats. The film's greatest value is further proof that Collette makes everything she's in better. 
To be fair, Poots is quite good here as well, but both actresses are weighed down by a director who didn’t trust them. Jess lying on her bed singing the BeeGees classic “Tragedy” should be done with a wink, not with a treacly score underneath. When the foursome realizes they’ve written their non-suicide pact on the back of Maureen’s suicide note, the actors have been directed to laugh in response in an exaggerated, overblown way. It sounds picky, I know, but “A Long Way Down” never registers emotionally because it is constantly reminding you it’s a movie. And it’s not a very good one.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why have only Five Novelists won Oscars for writing screenplays based on their books?

Why don't more novelists write the adaptations for their own novels? That's the question, and the answer, according to Lindsey Bahr in EW, is because, Gillian Flynn aside, they're not very good at it. While Flynn did it with Gone Girl and did it to great success, she's the rare exception. And that's just judging financial success as it's a little too early to predict her nomination, and certainly a win, a rarity indeed. According to Bahr only five authors have won Oscars for adapting their own work for the screen! *

''The two big differences between books and movies are pace and perspective,'' says screenwriter and cohost of the popular Scriptnotes podcast John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). ''Novels can luxuriate in internal moments of indecision and longing. Movies keep chugging along at 24 frames per second.'' Flynn's adaptation—which August says he ''desperately wanted to write''—soars because she was willing to trim the fat, cutting subplots and even characters. 
''You start making the cuts that are really painful,'' Flynn says of her kill-your-darlings approach. ''There are certain scenes that I would just hang on to. I knew, ultimately, they were going to go. I just couldn't quite do it yet.'' Through a series of drafts and five-hour phone calls with director David Fincher—''He very much likes to see the beginning, middle, and end of a scene''—the final product came together. ''There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I'd spent two years painstakingly putting together, taking a hammer to it, bashing it apart, and reassembling it into a movie,'' she says.
The collaboration with director Fincher may have been the key. And Flynn's own experience at EW and knowledge of Hollywood may have made her a bit more savvy than the average novelist about the whole scripting process. A process that went awry somewhere along the line with Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You. I liked the movie but it didn't exactly bowl the critics over OR earn the bucks. 

Still, Bahr points out, there might be a shift coming. Rainbow Rowell is tackling the screenplay for her popular YA book, Eleanor & Park and Jess Walter is co-writing the script for the adaptation of his beautiful Beautiful Ruins novel with director Todd Field (Little Children) - which makes me a bit nervous as Field isn't exactly a screenplay A-lister either. 
''The smart novelist writes the best book she can and lets the movie be the best movie it can be,'' says August. ''There's no victory in a faithful adaptation if the result is mediocre.''

* Who are the handful of authors who won an Oscar for writing the adaptations of their own novels?
I was curious and thought you might be as well so I've been scouring around for you:

Pierre Boule, (with Carl Foreman,Michael Wilson), The Bridge Over the River Kwai, 1958 
Mario Puzo, The Godfather, 1972 
William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, 1973
Mario Puzo, The Godfather (Part 2), 1974
Michael Blake, Dances with Wolves, 1990
John Irving, The Cider House Rules, 1999

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Me Before You: Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin Cast as Louisa and Will

I've been following news of the screen adaptation of JoJo Moyes Me Before You and I follow the author on twitter but you know how that is, unless you actually stalk their stream, it's easy to miss things. Well I missed things! I'm sure some of you already know what I find quite surprising news - according to JoJo Moyes, Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin have been cast as Louisa and Will in the adaptation of her best-selling novel. 

Surprising because when I think of Emilia Clarke, it's the sexy, often almost naked, Amazonian-like, power wielding Daenarys Targaryen she plays on Game of Thrones that comes to mind, a stark contrast to the unsophisticated and sheltered working class 26 year young Lou hired to look after the suicidal wheelchair-bound upper crusty Will from Moyes novel. But perhaps it takes a dragon tamer to handle the likes of prickly former master of the universe Will Traynor! And Clarke is certainly an extraordinary young actress so while I might have cast more conventionally, I'm almost as pleased with her casting as Moyes herself. The author announced the news on her twitter account last month - the tweet I missed. "Thrilled to confirm we (finally!) have a Will and Lou for the Me Before You movie. Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke. Who are both Awesome."

I don't know how 'Awesome' Sam Claflin is as Will, I don't know too much about the actor except that he's Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games:Catching Fire and the upcoming Mockingjay duo. And he's currently starring opposite Lily Collin in Love, Rosie, the film based on Cecelia Ahern's Where Rainbows End so I suppose he's one of the up and coming hotties in the YA film world. Physically, he's about a half dozen years too young, a cross between my first choice to play Will, Michael Fassbender, and a young Hugh Grant. He strikes me as being a tad too Grant (fresh-faced) and not Fassbender (dark) enough in energy, and, dare I say it, almost too good-looking to be Will, but I don't suppose I'm the target audience for Me Before You, am I? Still, I hope they don't make it into another silly romantic comedy, surely the difficult subject matter Moyes tackles deserves better than that? 

To be honest, with the YA adaptation kings Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter doing the scripting - The Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, 500 Days of Summer with screenplays coming for John Green's Paper Towns and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette - I'm a teensy bit concerned because the more I think about it, the more I'd like to see British writers with an understanding of Brit sensibilities. Something a bit quirky in that wonderful understated British way. As much as I LOVED the film Love, Actually I'd lay money on it they've been told to watch the movie with an eye to the relationship between the prime minister played by Grant and his tea-serving Natalie, with its obvious class distinctions, which is almost but not quite the vibe the adaptation deserves. 

I'm assuming most of you have a good idea about Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke. Check out the trailer for Love, Rosie, see what you think of Claflin.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pacino in The Humbling "Why don't you get me a deal writing my memoirs? Isn't that what washed-up actors do?" TRAILER

Is Philip Roth's The Humbling still on your pile of books to read? If so, you've got a couple of months before the movie version hits the theaters. I've been intrigued since I heard that the novel has been adapted for the screen with AlPacino cast as the washed up actor, Simon Axler.

Here's the low down on the book from Barnes and Noble:
Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of Philip Roth’s startling new book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his sixties, he has lost his magic, his talent, and his assurance. His Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya, all his great roles, "are melted into air, into thin air." When he goes onstage he feels like a lunatic and looks like an idiot. His confidence in his powers has drained away; he imagines people laughing at him; he can no longer pretend to be someone else. "Something fundamental has vanished." His wife has gone, his audience has left him, his agent can’t persuade him to make a comeback.
Into this shattering account of inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire, a consolation for a bereft life so risky and aberrant that it points not toward comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end. In this long day’s journey into night, told with Roth’s inimitable urgency, bravura, and gravity, all the ways that we convince ourselves of our solidity, all our life’s performances—talent, love, sex, hope, energy, reputation—are stripped off.

The novel, especially for those of us pacing the boards in own third acts, sounds like mandatory if terrifying reading and the idea of Mr. Pacino as Axler is nothing if not exciting. I had put the book on the back burner since the film doesn't come out until January 23rd but now that I've seen the trailer, I'm going to have to move it to the top of my pile.

In the film, Greta Gerwig plays young, star-struck lesbian whose adoration gives the fallen star a lift but, as you can see from the trailer, their relationship doesn't exactly strike calm in the hearts of those around them.

The solid cast includes Dianne Wiest, Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin and Dan Hedaya; Wiest and Grodin while never huge Hollywood names, are strong, immensely talented actors who have been turning our stellar performances for years. Barry Levinson directs from a screenplay by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede. While Zebede (Devious Maids) is a newbie, both Levinson and Henry have had long, illustrious, some would say iconic, careers. While he's never stopped working you might say Levinson's glory days were the 80's and 90's when he gave us the glorious Avalon, Diner, Rain Man, The Natural, Bugsy, Sleepers, Wag the Dog, Good Morning Vietnam. Buck Henry's writing career going all the way back to 1960's with the television show Get Smart, The Graduate, Catch-22, What's Up Doc? and The Owl and the Pussycat among his screenplay credits. (Small world department; I just mentioned playing the prostitute in a scene from The Owl and the Pussycast over on where I write MY memoirs!) I'm very, very excited to see what these undeniable genius types bring to the material.

Here's the trailer. Tell me, doesn't it look AMAZING? Remember, if you want to read the book first, The Humbling comes out January 23 in theaters and VOD.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy: In the Heart of the Sea trailer

Well I have seen the trailer for In the Heart of the Sea which stars Chris Hemsworth and all I can say is, it looks like a whale of a tale. Yes, I went there. Hemsworth was in Ron Howard's amazing Rush; the director must have fallen in love with Hensworth just as I did because Howard cast him as the real life captain of the whaling vessel the Essex. The film is based on the book about the true story that inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick. 
The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents-including a long-lost account written by the ship's cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.
Yep, pretty sure, Melville didn't read Nathanial Philbrick's account;  the author's name only sounds like it's straight out of the 1800's? Philbrick was born in 1956, the National Book Award winning book was published in the year 2000.

For my Dreaming of France friends, here's the trailer in French.  It's a nebulous connection at best but the French voice over grabbed me. Au Coeur de la Ocean, un film de Ron Howard avec Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker et Ben Whishaw.

And here it is in English. It's the same, correct?

The film opens in Mars, 2015. That's March for you non French speakers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nicole Kidman talks "universal theme of a man controlling of every aspect of a woman's life" in Before I Go To Sleep

Good Slacker Sunday morning all! (What a crazy headline!)I hope the day finds you well and happy, ready to celebrate the glorious world and your place and space within in. Yeah, I woke up in a good mood: Ebola, Isis, right-wing politicians, you don't scare me! What does? The idea of people carrying guns in grocery stores. Thank God that doesn't happen here in California, but I signed and tweeted the Moms Demand Action petition to stop Krogers in other parts of the country from allowing guns in their grocery stores. Check my twitter feed or link to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America  End of political rant, thank you. 

Okay, back to fun, scary stuff. Here in the states Before I Go To Sleep, a horror movie of sorts, is being released the day before Halloween. Based on the SJ Watson thriller which I've posted about from time to time, Before I Go To Sleep stars Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. For today's Sunday Slacker post I'm posting the most recent trailer and linking to an interview with Kidman in The Australian 

Here's what Kidman told the magazine about the subject of control within the context of a marriage - and the film. Just in case you think she's talking about her relationship with Scientology's superstar Tom Cruise, she clarified that no, it's not about him. 
Simply enough, Kidman says she was attracted to the film because she knew its director, Rowan Joffe, the director of Brighton Rock. (Joffe is also the son of director Roland.) “(I) just connected to the universal theme of a man controlling every part of a woman’s world and her having to fight her way out of that,” she says. 
Kidman says she was intrigued by the internal struggles in this film: Christine’s need for her husband (Colin Firth’s Ben) and how that contrasts with the husband relishing “complete control over every aspect of her life”. 
“Control is a really fascinating subject for a movie,” she says. “And that’s what this is, it’s a film about that and identity, obviously.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry: My take on the book behind the upcoming movie

I can't say I loved Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture. Not like I loved the bright and breezy Where'd You Go Bernadette which I read just before tackling Barry's much weightier and complex novel, also written in the epistolary style. While I found Barry's book, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, slow-going, challenging but ultimately satisfying, I think my personal preferences are for material a little more easily accessible.

The basic story is that of a doctor assessing an ancient patient's ability to be relocated when the mental hospital, where the one hundred year old woman has spent most of her life, is slated for demolition. The patient, Roseanne reveals her life before her institutionalization in an epistolary she keeps hidden under the floorboards. That history - tumultuous and tragic - isn't quite clear because Roseanne, while well-intentioned has the expected issues of memory loss and revision that come with one hundred years of living. Even if she is sane - and we're not at all sure of her mental state - what really happened and what she remembers or wants to remember may not the be same thing. What has she forgotten over the years? What has she reforged and altered to protect herself?
What of your personal history have you revised to protect yourself? That's a theme I find myself confronting over and over again on my other blog where I write 'memoir' and struggle to retrace my own footsteps. I can only tell my own truth, but it's painful to discover that doesn't always align with another's reality. 
Dr. Grene, her psychiatrist, at seventy plus years, isn't a young man himself. He's been caring for Roseanne for at least a quarter century, and his side of the story, his efforts to get to the truth of Roseanne's life, as well as the story of his own life, with its loves and losses, is told in his own words in an alternating narrative.

Both have compelling tales to tell but much of Roseanne's early years take place against a background that almost demands historical context. Sadly my knowledge of Irish history is shamefully small - as in close to zero - and Barry's writing is full of references to the Irish uprising and often veiled allusions to the surrounding political ramifications so there were notions that were difficult for me to fully fathom.

Vanessa Redgrave Now and Then (Camelot)

Wading through the work - that's how it felt sometimes - the story itself is dramatic and cinematic. Little wonder then that the book, basically an unravelling of a mystery, is currently in preproduction with filming in Ireland starting up soon - imdb says 'shooting in September' but I can't find any evidence of that. While I'm finding some of the casting mystifying - Eric Bana as Dr. Grene for example - I can see this has the potential to be a thrilling period drama. The venerable Vanessa Redgrave has been cast as Roseanne with Rooney Mara as the younger version.  Mara is not quite the alluring beauty the young Roseanne is meant to be - and that Vanessa Redgrave was in films like Camelot and Blow Up. Much is made of Roseanne's looks and while Mara does have the requisite mysterious aura I still think Jessica Chastain, originally cast as Roseanne would have been the ultimate choice. There is a cold and cruel Catholic priest that figures prominently in Roseanne's world, Fr. Gaunt, who will be played by the gorgeous Theo James. I initially balked at his casting - why waste his romantic appeal by casting him as the rigid priest? - now that I've read the book, and understand his role in the events of Roseanne's life, I can see how the playing against type could work really well. Jeremy Irons and Jack Reynor are also onboard, the latter plays one of Roseanne's love interests, probably her husband, but that's not entirely clear. Which fits right in with my take on the book! The film will be directed by Irish director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot.)

If you'd like to read a real review of Barry's The Secret Scripture from reviewers who have a greater understanding of literary criticism and the important historical context referenced in the novel,  I've got two links for you to check out.

The New York Times
The Guardian

 I won't assign rating points; I don't feel I'm qualified. As to 'enjoyment points'? Hmmm, I'd give it 3 out of 5 Irish roses.