Talking Movies

October 12, 2012

On the Road

Acclaimed director Walter Salles tackles Jack Kerouac’s classic 1957 novel only to demonstrate directors shied away from it for 55 years for a good reason…

On the Road is a fiercely autobiographical work as all the ‘characters’ are barely disguised real people. Our hero, aspiring novelist Sal Paradise aka Jack Kerouac (Sam Riley), lives in Queens, NYC. In conservative 1947 his best friend is flamboyantly gay aspiring poet Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge). Into their bohemian scene roars Dean Moriarty aka Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund), a literary borstal boy with a 16 year old wife Mary Lou (Kristen Stewart). But hanging out with bebop trumpeters like Terrence Howard’s cameoing saxophonist cannot satisfy Dean’s wanderlust and so he drags Sal and company across America on a series of road-trips. Sal works as a picker in California, Dean gets romantically entangled with the icy Camille (Kirsten Dunst) in San Francisco, and both men hang out with the genteel junky Bull Lee aka William Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen) in the Deep South. But what drives Dean onwards?

Hedlund is not the Dean you’d imagine from the novel, but he improves on his inert Tron: Legacy hero even if he occasionally channels Tyler Durden to an embarrassing degree. Control star Riley is equally unlikely casting; especially in affecting a curiously wheezy American accent. Mortensen impresses most as an unexpected voice of common sense who accuses Dean of ‘compulsive psychosis’ and ‘psychopathic irresponsibility’. Poor Sturridge, doing a good Ginsberg, exemplifies this film’s failure. Compared to David Cross’ Ginsberg in I’m Not There Sturridge’s version is unbearably annoying – because Kerouac’s dialogue shorn of Kerouac’s dazzling and comic prose makes ‘Carlo’ appear incredibly self-important and self-involved. The fact that the hackneyed ‘mad ones’ riff is spoken as voiceover when Dean and Carlo are literally monkeying around hammers home the problem that it’s impossible to like these characters, or believe they’re talented (not least as Dean seems to take 18 months to read 1/5th of Swann’s Way.)

Jose Rivera’s script dashes thru the novel’s events without obvious purpose, and Salles’ direction veritably trumpets minor appearances by major actors (Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss). This film is simply soaked in sex, drugs and freeform jazz, yet is desperately dull. It never actually feels like fun on the road, and you groan when you realise the Mexican road-trip is still to come. Salles’ visually recreates an impressively detailed post-war America, but prioritises swivelling camera shots observing the Hudson roaring past along the road to another set of encounters rather than ever lingering in the car observing; so that he never conveys the hypnotic beauty of driving that drags these characters back for more.

Salles so fails to capture the spirit of the book that watching Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho might better serve cineastes unwilling to just read Kerouac’s original.

2/5

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September 28, 2011

Graham Greene Festival 2011

I’m off to Graham Green’s birthplace Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire for the Graham Greene Festival 2011, which takes place this weekend. I’ve won the thriller category of this year’s creative writing awards for my short story ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ but this festival, which is only a half-hour train ride from London, is well worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties as it has a very interesting line up of talks and screenings, including Rowan Joffe introducing his recent Brighton Rock film and the book launch by Dermot Gilvary and Darren Middleton of Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene.

Thursday 29 September
Exhibition: Illustrations from Greene’s books for children
15.30 – 16.30 A Festival Event for Berkhamsted School’s Sixth Form
Old Hall, Berkhamsted School
Sixth-form event with Neil Sinyard speaking to English A-level students.
This event includes the announcement of the titles for the GGBT Creative Writing Awards for 2012.
17.30 – 19.30 Social Gathering and Buffet Supper at The Gatsby
Two courses and coffee with a vegetarian alternative. Please order on the Ticket Application Form and pay by Friday 23 September if you intend to be present.
Cost: £15.
19.45 – 21.30 Film Night at The Rex Cinema
Film: Brighton Rock
111 mins; UK; Director Rowan Joffé. Starring Andrea Riseborough, Sam Riley, Helen Mirren. Classification: 15.
Introduced by Rowan Joffé
Cost: £8

Friday 30 September
Talks at the Town Hall, Berkhamsted
Morning Session
9.30 – 10.30 Christian Hofferbert
“Godless Greene – Changing Extremes in Greene’s Work”
10.30 Break for tea and coffee
11.00 – 12.00 Prof. François Gallix
“Graham Greene’s Books for Children”
Cost: £10.00
12.00 noon Break for Lunch
Afternoon Session
14.15 – 15.15 Martin Jenkins
“At last The Blue Plaque”
Tim Bentink
“How Greene was My Childhood”
15.15 Break for tea and coffee
15.45 – 16.45 Julian Clapp
“Brighton Rock Locations”
Cost: £10.00
Evening Session: Civic Centre, Berkhamsted
19.30 – 22.00 Film: Brighton Rock (1947)
92 minutes, UK, 1947 , starring Richard Attenborough and Carol Marsh. Classification: PG. With an introduction by Quentin Falk who will also lead a discussion afterwards.
Cost: £8.00

Saturday 1 October
Talks and Events in Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School
Morning Session
9.30 – 10.30 Prof. Cedric Watts
“Brighton Rock, Janus and Proteus”
10.30 Break for tea and coffee
11.00 – 12.00 Prof. Joyce Stavick
“The Not-so-Quiet Americans: University Students Speak Out as Greene Film Critics”
Cost: £12
12.00 noon. Break for Lunch
Afternoon Session
14.15 – 15.15 Prof. Michael Brennan
“Faith and Authorship in the early Novels”
15.15 Break for tea and coffee
15.45 – 16.45 Lee Langley
“Traps and Escapes”
Cost: £12
Early Evening Session
18.15 – 18.30 Book Launch
Dermot Gilvary and Darren Middleton present: Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene
18.30 Birthday Toast
Andrew Bourget
18.45 – 19.45 Prof. Steve Chibnall
“Problems with Pinkie: Adapting Brighton Rock for the screen, 1947 and 2010”
Cost: £10
Late Evening Session
20.00 The Bourget-Greene Gala Dinner
(sponsored by Andrew Bourget, Graham’s eldest grandson)
Four courses with wine and coffee.
Followed by Ed Reardon
A Short Talk
Cost: £28

OR

Saturday 1 October Alternative Event
9.30 – 16.45: A Creative Writing Workshop in Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School
A practical one-day course which should suit aspiring adult writers of all ages
There will be one group, except for an afternoon session when delegates can select Prose Fiction OR Screenplay.
The day will include professional writers’ introductions to two disciplines (in which Graham Greene excelled), shared considerations of sample materials and the opportunity to write creatively in one of the genres.
Delegates will need to bring their own writing paper and pens or pencils.
There will be breaks for tea or coffee, but lunch is not included.
The event includes breaks and attendance at Lee Langley’s talk.
Cost: £30
The Workshop will be led by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, whose first novel was Home (Social Disease, 2008); she teaches Creative Writing at City University (London), and she is a partner of Apis Books, an independent publishing company for shorter fiction; and William Ivory, who wrote the screenplay for Made in Dagenham (UK, 2010), which was nominated for a BAFTA Award; and The Sins, for which he won The Edgar Allan Poe Award in New York presented by The Crime Writers Association of America for Best TV Drama Series. Advance booking is essential to guarantee a place on the Creative Writing Workshop.

Sunday 2 October
Talks in Newcroft, Berkhamsted School
Morning Session Only
9.00 – 9.45 David Pearce
Founding Trustee and former director of the Festival: who better to show you around?
Prior registration is essential.
Tour of School
10.00 – 11.00 Dr Bernard Ineichen
“Spies, Lies and Dangerous to Believe—espionage in the writings of Norman Lewis and Graham Greene.”
11.00 Break for tea and coffee
11.30 – 12.30 Prof. Neil Sinyard
“All writers are equal but some writers are more equal than others”
Cost: £12
12.45 – 14.00 Farewell Lunch in Old Hall, Berkhamsted School
Buffet lunch with wine
Tickets: £20

January 28, 2011

2011: Hopes

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In Darkest Night

Ryan Reynolds is Green Lantern, Blake Lively is love interest Carol Ferris, and Mark Strong is renegade alien lantern Sinestro in the biggest gamble of the year. Green Lantern’s ring which allows him to physically project anything he can imagine, but which can’t handle the colour yellow because of the evil Parallax, is the most far-out of the major DC characters; but in the right hands (see the recent resurgence of the comics title by Geoff Johns) he can be majestic. If this movie works it opens up the whole DC Universe for cinematic imaginings. If it fails then Nolan’s Batman swansong and Snyder’s Superman will be the end of DC on film for another decade…

A Knife-Edge

Talking of gambles what about Suckerpunch: can Zack Snyder handle an all-female cast and a PG-13 rating after the flop of his animated movie? The answers provided by his Del Toro like escapade set in a 1950s mental hospital where Vanessa Hudgens and Abbie Cornish escape into a fantasy universe to fight a never-ending war will give hints as to how he’ll handle Lois Lane and the challenge of resurrecting Superman’s cinematic fortunes. Breaking Dawn sees Bill Condon, director of Gods & Monsters, take on the final Twilight book in two movies. Given that the book sounds the epitome of unfilmable on the grounds of utter insanity, it’s a gamble to split it in two when it may make New Moon look competent. On the other hand he may take the Slade/Nelson route of Eclipse and simply play the romance as stark nonsense and be as nasty as he can with what little time for horror is left him after he’s shot Jacob shirtless 20 times. Paul should be a lock: it’s a comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. However, they’re not working with Edgar Wright, co-writer and director of their other two movies, but with Greg Mottola, writer/director of Adventureland, and this film was meant to be released last year. Kristen Wiig has a supporting role created for her and Seth Rogen voices the titular slobbish alien with whom Pegg & Frost’s archetypal nerds have daft adventures, but will this be a mish-mash of styles?

A Grand Madness

Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? has had immense success on the festival circuit and seems to confirm that Bad Lieutenant was no one-of, he really has got his feature mojo back.  Michael Shannon stars in a very loose version of a true-life murder case which saw reality and fiction tragically become fatally confused for a young actor appearing in a Greek tragedy. The Tempest sees Julie Taymor takes a break from injuring actors on Broadway to helm another Shakespeare movie. Her last film Across the Universe was misfiring but inspired when it worked, expect something of the same from this. Helen Mirren is Prospera, while Russell Brand’s obvious love of language should see him Fassbender his way through his jester role.

In England’s Green and Pleasant Land

February sees the release of two adaptations of acclaimed English novels. Brighton Rock sees Sam Riley, exceptional as Ian Curtis in 2007’s Control, take on the iconic role of the psychotic gangster Pinkie in an adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel. This remake updates the action to the 1960s and mods v rockers, with Helen Mirren as the avenging Fury pursuing Pinkie for murdering an innocent man, and rising star Andrea Riseborough as Pinkie’s naive girlfriend. Greene and Terence Rattigan co-wrote the script for the superb Boulting Brothers’ 1947 film, so this version has to live up to the high-water mark of British film noir. Meanwhile Never Let Me Go sees one of the most acclaimed novels of the Zeros get a film treatment from the director of Johnny Cash’s Hurt video. Can Mark Romanek find a visual way to render Kazuo Ishiguro’s dreamy first-person narration of the slow realisation by a group of elite public-school pupils of the sinister purpose of their isolated education? The cast; Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan; represents the cream of young English talent, but replicating the impact of the novel will be difficult.

Empire of the Spielberg

Super 8. I gather it’s about aliens, and monsters, in fact probably alien monsters. In fact really it’s probably Cloverfield: Part II but with Abrams writing and directing instead of producing. Spielberg is producing so it’s safe to say this will be exciting. Whatever it’s about. It’s out in August. The War Horse sees Spielberg breaks his silence after Indy 4 with an adaptation of West End hit which follows a young boy’s journey into the hell of World War I in an attempt to rescue his beloved horse from being used to drag provisions to the front. Meanwhile with Tintin we get an answer to the question does Peter Jackson still have his directorial mojo? His version of the beloved famous Belgian comic-book has a lot to live up to, not least the uber-faithful TV cartoon adaptations. And can the problem of dead eyes in photo realistic motion capture CGI finally be solved?

The House of M: Part I

Kenneth Branagh’s directorial resurgence sees him helm Thor, his first comic-book blockbuster. Branagh will no doubt coax great performances from Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, but does Chris Hemsworth have the charisma as well as the physique to pull off a Norse God banished to Earth just as Loki decides to invade it? This is a pivotal gamble by Marvel’s in-house studio. If this flops, it puts The Avengers and Iron Man 3 in major difficulties, and it is a worry. Captain America had fantastic storylines in acclaimed comics by Mark Millar and Jeph Loeb in the last decade, but Thor really has no great canonical tale that cries out to be told. Not that those Loeb/Millar ideas will get in the way of a (How I Became) Insert Hero Name approach to the Cap’n. Chris Evans, fresh from dazzling comedic turns in Scott Pilgrim and The Losers, takes on the title role in Captain America: The First Avenger. He will be a likeable hero but it’s almost certain that Hugo Weaving will steal proceedings as Nazi villain The Red Skull. Joe Johnston’s Indiana Jones background should probably guarantee amusing hi-jinks in this 1940s set blockbuster.

The House of M: Part II

Other studios, content to build one franchise at a time around Marvel characters, will unleash two very different comic-book blockbusters. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance sees the lunatics behind the Crank films finally get their hands on a blockbuster after their script for Jonah Hex was rewritten to make it vaguely ‘normal’. The prospect of Nicolas Cage, fresh from his brush with Herzog, being encouraged to again find his inner madman while the two writers/directors shoot action sequences from roller-skates besides his bike is an awesome one. Matthew Vaughn meanwhile helms X-Men: First Class starring James McAvoy as the young Professor X and Talking Movies’ hero Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto. This prequel charts the early days of their friendship and the establishment of Xavier’s Academy, before (according to Mark Millar) a disagreement led to Magneto putting Xavier in a wheelchair. The prospect of Fassbender doing his best Ian McKellen impersonation gives one pause for joy.

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