Tag Archives: movies based on books

Don’t Worry. He Won’t Get Far On Foot

John Callahan was a dedicated alcoholic when he had a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed.

Post-accident, the path to sobriety isn’t exactly direct. Between the struggle to accept his new limitations, learning to live in a chair, caring for his broken body, and searching for the mother who gave him up at birth, there are a lot of reasons to drink. Of course, there’s always a reason to drink. Only when he truly embraces the value of AA, with the help of group leader Donny (Jonah Hill), does he start to imagine a future for himself. And he finds a healthy way to channel his anger and his energy and his wonderment: cartoons.

MV5BMjMyMTY2MzYxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTEwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Callahan is injured enough that he cannot grasp a pen but he manages somehow to manipulate a felt-tip pen between two mangled hands and he finds inspiration in his life to create funny, and often controversial cartoons. His student paper sees fit to publish him and from there he develops a national following.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a line ripped from one of his own cartoons; the movie is adapted from Callaghan’s memoir. Director Gus Van Sant wants to say something about the healing power of art but the movie itself reads more like a tribute to support systems and the importance of forgiveness without dipping into the considerable well of inspirational cliches.

It’s a dark comedy, as you can imagine, but between Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and an orange-haired Joaquin Phoenix wielding his wheel chair like a bat on wheels, there’s some appreciated levity to all the drama. It’s an off-beat comedy about an off-beat guy. Phoenix is irrepressible.

Sean didn’t care for the movie – he felt not much had happened. I liked it well enough – I liked the unexpected performances from the likes of Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, and Kim Gordon. I liked that Callaghan’s dark vein of humour is kept in tact throughout transformation, that he doesn’t become some sort of saint, merely the same caustic guy with a new lease on life. I liked that his past is never treated like an excuse – not that I’m not sympathetic to his victimhood but I like that he finds his salvation elsewhere, that he’s allowed to not solve the puzzle of his childhood before finding peace in his present. The 12 steps are not equally cinematic, but I felt Phoenix’s charismatic performance carried us through. Obviously Sean disagreed, so I guess I’d call this a mixed-bag review. It’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 July

22 July 2011. Anders Behring Breivik triggered a car bomb in the government district of Oslo that killed 8 and injured 209. Two hours later he had ferried over to the island of Utoya where a summer cap for the youth division of the Labour Party was held. You likely heard about it on the news, at the very least. Breivik was dressed in a police uniform and armed to the teeth. He opened fire on the group of teenagers and killed 69 more, injuring another 110. The kids were like sitting ducks, and Breivik shot them one by one for the political affiliations of their parents.

The film, by Paul Greengrass, is difficult to watch, especially the beginning, which recreates the attack. Later it focuses on the survivors, and on the court case that wouldMV5BM2RkYThlMDQtZDZlMi00ZGVhLThiYWYtZWJlNzQ4YmQ2M2QzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA5NjIzMg@@._V1_ keep Norway rapt. Breivik, who orchestrated the attacks to protest immigration and other stupidly racist, extremist right-wing bullshit, claimed insanity in order to avoid prison. But he also desperately wanted to stay in control of the trial, demanding the prime minister be called as a witness, and insisting that he have the opportunity to address the court to spout more of his hate, and so after “playing a role” for court-appointed psychiatrists, he decided to retract and change his plea.

As you can imagine, with 1 in 4 Norwegians in some way affected by these attacks, the whole country was fraught. The lawyers tasked with defending him were targeted themselves. But the movie’s beating heart is one kid, a survivor shot 5 times, who finds the courage to stand up and face his worst nightmare in court. He doesn’t want to let Breivik see his vulnerability, but feels the weight of all the voices who cannot speak for themselves.

It’s a moving film, of course. I said before that the first part was particularly difficult to watch, but for me, Breivik’s cold, rational, hateful testimony in court performed by Anders Danielsen Lie was even harder. Film has more or less desensitized us to horrific violence, but nothing can prepare you for looking into the eyes of a person we know exists, who really carries this hate in his chest in the cavity where a heart usually resides. That’s the tough part: reconciling ourselves with the fact that this villain has walked among us.

Thankfully, a thoughtful and humble performance by Jonas Strand Gravli balances this out. He is not just the spokesperson for the victims; he’s a stand-in for the horrified audience as well. Director Paul Greengrass has made these sorts of films his niche lately (Captain Phillips, United 93) and it’s a god-awful corner to have painted himself into, but I must admit he’s got it well sorted, but the movie’s attempt at dividing up the story gives it a sense of imbalance. It sputters a bit in the middle when it doesn’t quite know which movie it is. But it’s worth the watch. It’s an act of remembrance.

TIFF18: Hold The Dark

Three children have gone missing from a small, very small, very isolated community in Alaska, snatched by wolves. One of the grieving mothers, Medora (Riley Keough), hires wolf expert and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the wolf or wolves responsible.

But the wolves are not the villains of this story.

First, the Alaskan landscape. It’s frozen, much colder than what cold passes for MV5BODYwNTY5MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNDQxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1487,1000_AL_anywhere else. It’s unforgiving. It’s unknowable. It’s remote. There are only 5 hours of daylight at midday. It’s a blank canvas, a blanket of white, relentless and renewing, where even your own footprints are quickly snowed in and covered over; one wrong step can mean the difference between life or death. It’s no place for a novice like Core, but he’s got some demons of his own that keep him from making better judgments.

Second, the village. Or rather the villagers. They’re an insular tribe and don’t take kindly to outsiders. The environment is hostile in every sense of the word. They don’t cooperate with the law.

Third, the grieving parents. Grief makes a person crazy. Some people were crazy to begin with. Medora was on her own when her son went missing, her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) away at war. Injured, he gets sent home to a probably-dead kid and a mentally disturbed wife. There aren’t a lot of times when war is the preferable scenario, the kinder one, but I think this it.

I read the novel upon which this is based (by author William Giraldi) but this screenplay is adapted by the twisted mind of Macon Blair, so I know I’m in some sort of trouble. He’s beefed up the part of Vernon for Skarsgard, sure, and he also makes sure every bit of violence is as graphically gory as possible. What else do we expect from a Jeremy Saulnier movie? The man loves to taunt us with threatening, ominous images and then leave us exposed to whatever chaos may come. It’s an exceptionally tense way to watch a film, but if Saulnier isn’t throwing you into minor cardiac arrhythmia, he feels you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Saulnier is a master of making you shit your pants, and if anything, Hold The Dark is a little lighter on the anxiety-ridden dread. But while we buckle up for a movie about wolves and wilderness, it’s actually humanity who shows itself most vicious, and that’s all Saulnier. There are so many twists in the tundra it can be hard to keep them all straight, and you’re never quite sure just what kind of movie you’re watching, but it’s a bloody, vengeful rampage and it will not have a happy ending.

Nappily Ever After

Violet sets her alarm extra early so she can sneak out of bed, fix her hair, and sneak back into bed so her boyfriend thinks she wakes up like this. She does not. An exacting mother made sure that Violent has spent her whole life hiding her true hair. But even with all the tools and chemicals and salon appointments in the world, Violet is still Cinderella waiting for the clock to strike midnight. When it rains, or is even humid, the magic disappears and her hair reverts back to its natural state. So her life revolves around monitoring the weather and keeping her boyfriend’s hands away from her head.

On her birthday, Violet’s hair is perfect (though not without some drama). She is MV5BOTNhMWM0ZDUtZDI0Ny00OTVjLTgzMDctZTk4NWQwZmM3YmFiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODQzNTE3ODc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_expecting a ring from her boyfriend of 2 years and instead gets a puppy. Boyfriend accuses her of being “too perfect” so a breakup tailspin ensues, including stops at ‘fuck you hair’ and ‘drunkenly buzzing it all off.’ But can Violet change her attitude and values to reflect her newly bald head?

So, okay. I’m white. Violet is black. I am not the best person to review this film. I mean, on some level, many if not most women will relate. So much of our identity is tied up in our hair. But it’s different for Violet, for women of colour. Black hair, for some unknowable reason, has been viewed as…inferior? Is that the right word? Even very young girls may feel that their hair is somehow ‘wrong.’ A black woman who wears her hair naturally may be viewed as unprofessional at work, unkempt at school, perhaps even viewed as her making a political statement to the world. Culturally, hair may serve as a bonding tool, a thing that unites black people (even black men – there’s a whole franchise of Barbershop movies) but it can be misunderstood outside the culture. Black women make up 70% of the hair care market, but the marketing always features white women with long, straight, glossy locks. As do TV shows and movies and magazine covers. So to attain white standards of beauty, black women blow through time, money, and PAIN to achieve the kind of hair that grows naturally out of white heads but not their own. They’ve felt the need to suppress the natural texture of their hair not just to look attractive but to be accepted at work and in the world. But it takes a toll. Viola Davis said in an interview recently how nice it was to wear her hair naturally in Widows (which had a black director, Steve McQueen). She’s used to wigs, weaves, and chemical relaxers just to present ‘the right kind of black’ to Hollywood and audiences. As you know, there’s still a huge gulf to be overcome in terms of media representing people of colour, but even when a film does hire a black actress, she will often arrive on set to find that the hair and makeup team have not thought through her particular needs. They may be unequipped, in terms of tools and experience, to deal with her hair. It is rare to see a black woman on screen rocking her own natural hair. And that’s okay if it’s a real choice. I don’t wear my hair natural either. But for me it’s a matter of style and personal preference. For a woman of colour it may not feel like any choice at all.

So yeah, Nappily Ever After is a romance, but it’s one tied into culture and identity and hair and femininity and acceptance. Sanaa Lathan is really terrific in it, and relatable too. Even though the script itself is very much about the black woman experience, there are universal themes of authenticity that anyone can appreciate. There’s something very powerful about having the courage to be yourself – but I think there’s something even more powerful about living in a world where that wouldn’t be discouraged in the first place, even if that doesn’t exist yet.

 

 

[Women of colour, feel free to correct me or to add to the conversation. And to anyone interested in the topic, Chris Rock (yes, THAT Chris Rock) has a cool documentary about it called Good Hair.]

 

 

TIFF18: Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

If you were present in the literary world of the early 2000’s and you have a sharp memory, you may remember JT (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy as the author of a New York Times best-seller, Sarah. That is a true thing that happened.

Now here’s where it immediately gets messy. JT LeRoy was a teenage truck stop prostitute who idolized his mother Sarah, also a hooker. Except JT wasn’t actually a real person, he was just an “avatar” used by the book’s real author, Laura Victoria Albert, who developed the pseudonym in the 90s while calling suicide hotlines. She found it easier to talk about her pain if she attributed it to someone else, and she MV5BZjI3NDk1NWUtMmQ4NS00MWMzLTljMmQtZjBhNWU0NWU0ZDFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI0MTEwNTY@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_found male identities received more sympathy. Eventually she found a way to turn it into art, and several stories and books were published under the name. She wouldn’t be the first writer to write under an assumed name, but she might be the first to have gone to such great lengths to present a pseudonym as a real person. She recruited her boyfriend’s androgynous sister Savannah to “play” JT in person, granting interviews and posing for pictures as him – even signing the rights to a movie contract. Of course, when the truth comes out, as it nearly always does, the world was kind of mad about being duped, and there was a big backlash.

So that’s the true, and truly weird, story explored in the film, where Laura is played by Laura Dern and Savannah/JT is played by Kristen Stewart. Laura does all the talking over the phone (as a phone sex operator, she has a knack) and Savannah plays it cool and quiet in public. But both of them grow increasingly attached to the character and are possessive of him – particularly when a beautiful actress/director gets involved (Diane Kruger). Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. Laura develops other personas, like Speedie, JT’s obnoxiously British manager who mysteriously and confoundingly does a lot of his talking for him during interviews.

Every year at TIFF, there are certain themes that pop up. This year it’s addictions, and also cops killing black kids. But a third, and quite odd theme, is literary hoaxes. Melissa McCarthy plays a forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays controversial memoirist James Frey in A Million Little Pieces. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy provides two very juicy roles for Dern and Stewart, and the tension it creates between them is pretty addictive in itself. Stewart is cast to perfection and in JT’s gender-neutral shoes, themes of sexism and identity leap out so easily. Laura Dern is similarly well-matched, and she somehow makes the juggling of personas look easy. We get the sense that Laura feels her limitations in the field keenly, while Savannah embraces this shadowy second life, perhaps feeling a bit freer in a wig and dark glasses.

I thought Laura deserved a bit more from the script, and the end in general needed a little more oomph in order to match the intensity that comes before it, but this is an interesting story you have to see to believe, with 2 out of this world performances. You should take all of your personalities to the cinema to see this one.

TIFF18: If Beale Street Could Talk

If this movie review could talk it would say: wow. And also: thank you.

How is it possible that Barry Jenkins is making GOAT movies right out of the gate? Is he for real?

If Beale Street Could Talk is about a love story, interrupted. Tish (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo (Stephan James) are young lovers and the world is theirs as they fall in love inside their bubble. He’s respectful, she’s adorable, they’re so in sync their clothes begin to match, the colours mirroring each other as they walk hand in hand in a highly-saturated stroll through the park, the perfect date that just happens to end at prison, where she drops him off. Alonzo is going away for rape – a crime he didn’t commit, not that the justice system particularly cares. Beale Street is both love story and tragedy at the same time.

The most powerful thing about this film, and indeed about James Baldwin’s original work, is how little shock we see from either family – and both families, and their community, rallies around them. And of course they’re upset, they’re devastated, and they should be angry and incredulous, but no one seems all that astonished that such a MV5BMjMxMWQ5MjctN2MwMC00ZGY1LWJkNWUtNmUwOWFmYzAyNWJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE4NTE0NjU@._V1_thing could happen, because of course they’ve seen it happen before. So they swing into action, because they know the drill. Though they have little money, they will fund-raise and do whatever it takes to work the case themselves because they know whatever lawyer’s appointed to them will be inadequate (though he’s actually not painted as a bad guy, interestingly), and that the system is rigged is against them. They aren’t wrong.

I said earlier that this was a love story, interrupted. Thanks to director Barry Jenkins’ genius, that’s true on more than one count. First, the literal one, where the two lovers are separated just as she’s discovering they’re pregnant and would have made a home together. Through flash backs we see their love story, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity, in its sweetness, but every scene is tainted by our knowledge of where it ends up. Jenkins obviously has a respect for the poetry of Baldwin’s prose. He uses it as a bridge between scenes, uniting flashbacks which almost seem dream-like with the harsh realities and razor-precision detail of their present day (1970s). The interruption is an opportunity for Jenkins to show how lyrically he can manipulate time as well as genre. Because for every pause he takes to explore a character and make note of some sweet detail, this story is also infused with a greater cry for social justice. This Beale Street could be any Beale Street. Alonzo could be any black man. And the system of oppression, which is not limited to crime and punishment, applies just as much today as it did then. This is a cry meant to be heard across generations.

James Laxton’s stunning cinematography helps establish not just breathtaking film, but black culture itself, the streets coming alive and vibrant under his lens. The way Jenkins plays with colour astonishes me, the virginal whites, the lust-drenched reds; somehow this movie is everything a movie can be. It’s everything. And this is only Jenkins’ third feature. The costumes are perfection. The set design is perfection. The way the camera talks to us, showing us where to linger, communicating hunger, or desperation, or separation. The emphasis is masterful but never gets in the way of itself.

Beale Street’s ensemble cast is the beating heart of this film, with James and Layne both claiming rights to future stardom. Their fathers (Colman Domingo and Michael Beach) are terrific as well, but for me Tish’s mom Sharon (Regina King) was the real standout. She is fierce and unwavering. The scene in which she confronts Alonzo’s accuser is deeply affecting, and it’s because of King, of the layers of emotion playing out on her face. I couldn’t look away. Notably, I also thought the mother in The Hate U Give (played by Regina Hall) was the best part of the movie, so I’m not sure if black moms are having a moment, or if it’s Reginas specifically, but watch out, they’re coming. Jenkins puts together a cast that becomes the fabric of his film. There is no detail too small to have escaped his love and attention. This is one of the better adaptations I’ve ever seen on film, and possibly the best. It works on so many levels at once you don’t even see the train coming until it hits you. It’s hard to outdo yourself when your last film won Best Picture, but Barry Jenkins is a director not to be fucked with.

TIFF18: The Sisters Brothers

Murder and machismo, that’s what you’re in for when you sit down to watch The Sisters Brothers. Charlie and Eli Sisters are a couple of guns for hire. They care deeply about maintaining their bad reputations, which shouldn’t be a problem as long as they keep working for The Commodore, a fearsome and violent man.

Their next mission, should they choose to accept it: kill Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s got something The Commodore wants. A professional scout, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), is already tracking him, and once located, the Sisters Brothers ride in for the dirty work.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play the brothers – Phoenix the younger brother, Charlie, but natural leader of the two. He’s more violent and more gung-ho. Reilly, on theMV5BNWE3MDAwMDgtZGY0MS00OGM3LTk4MzEtYjIxODZkMDc0NGY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1496,1000_AL_ other hand, gives Eli a slightly sweeter disposition. He dreams of retirement but remains in the game to keep watch over his brother, who’s a drunk always looking for trouble, and always, always finding it. Eli pines for a woman who was kind to him once. He laments the fate of his pitiable horse. He cuts his brother’s hair.

When the foursome finally meet up, Herman isn’t the villain everyone anticipated, and his commodity proves irresistible to anyone who hears about it. But if his body and potion aren’t offered up to The Commodore in a hurry, there’ll be hell to pay. With allegiances divided and a different ending standing tantalizingly before them, what will the Sisters Brothers choose, and how will the body count be affected? Because there WILL be a body count, make no mistake on that.

The Sisters Brothers is adapted from a book I absolutely adored and passed around to nearly everyone I know, by  Canadian author Patrick DeWitt. John C. Reilly also read it and loved it, and he optioned the book in 2011; he produces this film alongside his wife, Alison Dickey, an indie film producer he met on the set of Casualties of War when she was an assistant to Sean Penn – they’ve been married for over 25 years). They’ve tapped French director Jacques Audiard to helm this shoot-em-up western, and Audiard gives it a sensibility that’s weird and eccentric. Not your typical western, not your typical anything. It’s as funny as it is violent, and both characters and story break out of the genre frequently enough to surprise you.

The acting is great. Riz Ahmed especially gives Herman’s character a bit of a twist, colouring the movie with a slightly more optimistic or meditative vibe. But of course the film belongs to Reilly and he knows it. Though I wish we would have spent a little more time with Eli alone, away from his brother’s influence, deeper into his psyche (flashbacks, I suppose, would have been nice), there’s still something very special going on there, something half-sweet (Eli is still a bad man), half-innocent, half-introspective, half-other-worldly. These aren’t necessarily the kind of cowboys you’re used to but I enjoy the genre’s subversion, the clever hacks that elevate it to something unique and fun to watch. DeWitt’s novel is quite good and I urge you to read it. But unlike many adaptations, this film captures some of its surprising warmth. Despite the Sisters Brothers being contract killers, we find a fair bit of compassion for them as they unravel the traumas of their past and seek a path forward, perhaps not quite forged in enlightenment, but in understanding, and from a need to do and be better.

Charlie and Eli are a some of the most interesting characters to come out of the western genre. Charlie simmers with anger. Eli ooze regret. The brothers bicker like an old married couple but they have each other’s backs when needed – and if often is. But no matter how much sympathy we’re feeling for them, Audiard doesn’t shy away from the fact that the guns on their hips are used to commit murder, for money. Their morals are for sale to the highest bidder. It makes them complex, and eminently watchable.