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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November 9, 2010

23 Minutes of Tron:Legacy

I can’t help but have the strangest feeling of déjà vu in writing this, and not just because this is an incredibly belated sequel to a 1982 pop culture touchstone.

My second posting after properly launching this blog in September last year was a review of the 15 minutes of Avatar that James Cameron had chosen from the first and second acts to give a taste of the film without revealing spoilers. Now here I am again reviewing 23 minutes of scenes chosen from the first and second acts of another 3-D CGI heavy spectacular to give a taste of the film without revealing spoilers. The film this time is Disney’s Tron: Legacy which considerably changes the aesthetic of Tron and so has generated an inordinate amount of excitement for a sequel to a film that I don’t think I’m alone in not having seen in years, and which is remembered largely for its once nifty effects but not for being a great movie. The 1980s day-glo colours have now been replaced by black, white and orange and an oh-so-hip Daft Punk soundtrack.

The 2-D opening sees the estrangement of Jeff Bridge’s son from his father’s company and from his ‘surrogate father’ established. A mysterious page from a disconnected number summons our hero to a basement where the Eurhythmics and other 1980s music starts pounding as soon as he flicks the circuit-breaker. Before you can say Zap a laser has inserted him into his dad’s computer game. Now firmly in the land of 3-D and CGI he’s caught by a huge flying joystick and dumped into the underground programming lair where four women, dressed and moving like they’re in a Daft Punk music video, emerge from the walls to kit him out in his updated Tron suit and attach a disc-drive to his back. “What am I supposed to do?” he asks. “Survive”, one of the women replies before melting back into the wall. Survive he does, as he’s immediately thrown into The Games and fights another program in a ridiculous game that seems like it was invented after too much air-hockey and late-nights with writers’ block. You throw your disc-drives at each other, if you get hit, you splinter apart. If you hit the floor hard enough with the disc you can splinter it too. “Activate!”

Inter-textual jokes are never that funny: Thirteen requested a leave of absence to go to Rome but got sucked into an arcade-game-universe by accident. ‘Joking’ aside Olivia Wilde, dripping eye-liner, has a great entrance; pan-caking bat-pods in a bat-mobile, if they were animated in the style of Sin City. She then starts to dispense plot-points between flicks of her pageboy hair and settles into being the love interest. So, an actress so charismatic that The OC never recovered from the end of her recurring role becomes the latest TV heavy-hitter reduced to cinematic eye-candy. Our hero meets his father, Jeff Bridges, in the fabled ‘safe house’. “This means something” Olivia Wilde insists to him, but what? Well, the second and third acts then flit by in a trailer-flash of enticing images, one of which is surely a spoiler as it seems that a young ‘program’ Jeff Bridges is the one pulling all the strings…

The 3-D is as superfluous as ever. Far more interesting is that Tron: Legacy looks completely different to the original, yet much of the design is similar, just darkly coloured and more slickly realised. I’m not sure exactly why I’m excited about this film. Maybe Disney have correctly diagnosed a hitherto unsuspected nostalgia for revisiting Tron while Bridges was still able to reprise his part with beloved Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges eager to not just reprise but deepen his signature role from Tron. Whatever the reason is this is my recommended Christmas blockbuster.

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