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Posts tagged “adaptation

2011: We Need to Talk About…


I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.

But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.

Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.

There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.

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Chick Flick Remix: The Women


ph. Alliance

In Dianne English’s re-adaptation of The Women, Meg Ryan comes out of obscurity and plays Mary Haines. Mary is praised by her circle of rich, Long Island housewives even if her hair looks like that of a drowned rat and she dresses like her window curtains. Her husband, Stephen, is cheating on her and her friends Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) are all so surprised. Cue a more forced character arc than the original, her ‘I’ll change myself in hopes of getting him back’ is implicitly placing blame on Mary for Stephen’s indiscretion with a girl behind the perfume counter, Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes). This material has already been remade before with the 1956 film The Opposite Sex starring the insufferable June Allyson. Films about the rich were both a fantasy and a target for satire but today it just seems out of touch, upper-class snobbery falling flat in front of contemporary, more cynical audiences.

Despite my strong words above, I can see some things where this remake excels. The original has Mary’s declaration along the words of ‘In [her mother’s generation], women were chattel. Today we’re equals.’ She stays a trophy wife from beginning to end. It would be easy to fall towards Crystal’s methods by pretending to learn how to bake like a fetishized housewife, but in the remake, Mary is her own woman, actually getting her own career, her seduction is independence instead of subservience. Speaking of careers, this film also makes a bigger deal about the falling out between Mary and her best friend Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening). It allows us to see Sylvia’s side as well as her clichéd struggle between her friendship and career, betraying the former to keep the latter intact. Slyvia inadvertently hijacks the story and even gets Mary’s daughter’s friendship because of her more realistic take on life.

Bette Midler is also in this movie. I’ve always been on her side in the Bette versus Barbra debate, although that changed in recent years with discovering Barbra’s work in Funny Girl and her winning streak in the 70’s while Bette is doing indie films with Helen Hunt that I nor many people have not seen. But all it needs to take me back is watching her character smoke pot with Mary. She looks good and she doesn’t overdo her lines, saying them like she’s experienced love and loss without them scarring her. If only the movie was two hours of female stoners, I would have paid to see that.


Book: Sense and Sensibility


I finished this book on February 15th for a Jane Austen Book Club. We’re never going to have our first meeting. Sad. The first thing that comes to mind is the dialogue, impressionistic between the Dashwoods, focusing instead on portraying a pastoral tone through narrative. The novel seems more dialogue-centred during chapters when Elinor and Marianne encounter male characters. Some conversations are either omitted, or through hearsay, obscured so that even the Dashwoods don’t know their endings. dialogue is important both in form and content in this book because it cements or disintegrates the female characters’ engagements with their suitors.

Had Austen been born in this era, Elinor would have rolled her eyes at people, especially when it comes to the alleged relationship between her and one of Marianne’s suitors, Colonel Brandon. This platonic relationship is probably Elinor returning the favour to Marianne with the latter’s few conversations with the former’s suitor Edward Ferrars. Marianne and Edward both hate jargon, the former’s poetic personality refreshed by Edward’s simplicity.

The book also perfectly encapsulates female heartbreak. I’ve seen it personally and it’s nasty and can almost suck the soul out of someone. Yes, and even if the book is mostly from Elinor’s perspective, Marianne’s heartbreak is more tragic. Speaking of conversations, Elinor has a last conversation with Willoughby that doesn’t really make him sympathetic, no matter how hard Austen tries to sway us.

The only adaptation of the book that I’ve seen is from Emma Thompson’s screenplay. Willoughby’s introduction scene still makes me giddy, even if I know how he really is. Eventually having to cast herself as Elinor, Thompson is the wrong age for the part. But I can’t help but hear her voice when I’m reading Elinor’s dialogue. Pardon the limp wordplay, but Thompson’s adds sensibility and soul to make Elinor and Austen proud. Also, House is in this movie.


Oscar Hangover: A Single Man


Chandler Levack called A Single Man an ‘interesting failure.’ I agreed with her to a certain extent, reminding me of its disappointments, all but one are the film’s fault. A mix of diaspora story and American Gothic, I devoured the book about a day in George’s (Colin Firth) life and it devastated me (that’s a good thing). I found flaws within the casting, since George is ten years older than Firth when the film was released, or that they turned Asian Lois into white, or that all the actors are good-looking except for a Jewish bit part. I’m also going to back sell that despite Firth being theoretically miscast, he should have won the Oscar for this role.

The heading for this film indicates that I saw this again eight hours after I passed out while watching the Oscars. Sure it’s not a great condition to watch and write, but I retained a few things:

Director Tom Ford has given more attention to the film’s surfaces than any of the other film’s aspects, but I finally concede that George and his house, described as a constraining home across a bridge, can look stylish since every self-respecting middle class gay man in the early 1960’s should be dressed or living with class. Charley’s house actually has a better description in the book. But everyone else? And turning gruff Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) into a twink? I suppose the style adds a fictionality within the film, and you can decide whether the latter is a good thing.

George and Jim’s (Matthew Goode) couch scene also makes me think that he has taken Jim for granted when the latter was alive. There’s a power dynamic between them that heteronormative or fictional homosexual relationships have, their book choices show how one is supposedly more masculine or intelligent than the other. This dynamic is subverted by Kenny’s entrance into George’s life, Kenny being more game than George, the latter submissively lusting over the former. Anyway, I actually appreciate how the script and Goode characterizes Jim with sunny optimism, despite seeing him through George’s nostalgic goggles. Goode has always been my second MVP in the movie, but too bad he’s such a jerk.

Emily Watson could have been a great Charley (Julianne Moore) since she’s the right age and nationality. I’m however warming up to Moore’s performance now, and for some reason, it’s because of her dancing. Despite the beautiful exterior that she’s grown into, she dances like she’s trying too hard, making me think of someone who wasn’t loved in her younger years, who certainly isn’t loved by George in the same level that she does.


The Many Faces of Eliza


ph. Criterion

Exhausted. This is after the disastrous tea time social with the Higgins’ family and friends. Colonel Pickering tells Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) that they’ll never be able to pass off Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) as a duchess. Higgins asks her if she wants to go on and says yes. She tells him in a later scene why she decides to go on. What follows is a really crappy montage, Howard portraying an affected caricature, making himself look older, making Hiller look like the better actor as she deserves to be hailed as so.

Perfection. Eliza enters the room with fear in her eyes, but  she puts this mask on and she transforms into elegance. She smiles at the right people with warmth. She’s in the receiving end of a conversation and she’s so worried about standing gracefully that she might as well not be listening. She does the right moves, performing, so calculated that people can marvel at her and know that she’s not ‘from here.’ Karpathy (Esme Percy) tells his former teacher Higgins that she must be a Hungarian countess. I would have put my five pounds on outer space.

Mad. Eliza is exhausted again after the Embassy Ball. She is furious at Higgins, then anger turns slowly into depression. She asks him ‘Where am I to go? What am I to do?’ He hells her that she’ll get married, which doesn’t comfort her, retorting that as a Covent Garden girl she sold flowers but not herself, a line I don’t remember from the play, but packs a big punch. She easily moves from upper class to a refined Cockney within her anger.

Let’s discuss the ‘noirlike’ style here. I’ve noticed a lot of shadow play in ‘British’ movies between this one and The Secret Garden in 1949. Pygmalion‘s cinematographer, Harry Stradling Jr., is also responsible for Southern Gothic films like A Streetcar Name Desire, and actually shot the colourful My Fair Lady as well.

The scene also hints on the uselessness of institutions like education and marriage. Upper class people learn to speak the King’s English and ‘science and literature and classical music.’ Then they start a business and marry. It’s easy for the upper class to get from one institution to another, but those are hurdles for Eliza. Her education with Higgins isn’t adequate.

Awakened. Again, this scene is probably not a part of the play. Context. Freddy has waited outside Higgins’ door for Eliza for days, without looking like he smells. Eliza, while constables are watching, tells him to kiss her again. Both factors should seem creepy, but it’s not. Both actors don’t play the scene as if it is real love, and neither does Hiller act out Eliza like she’s using Freddy, not consciously anyway. It’s a fine line between those two extremes of love and rebound that this scene walks on, and greatly so.

Triumphant. There are ups and downs within this scene and Hiller’s elastic facial expressions takes us to this last stop. For this film, she’s looked like many personalities between her transformation. From an ancestress of a chavette as she  to a mannered Hungaian ‘ingenue’. From boyish innocence to an elegant, chiseled-face goddess. Eliza is now a ‘pillar of strength’ over Higgins. This part of the scene is actually when Eliza lovingly tells Higgins why she has gone along with the experiment, even if it has meant emotional strain on her. But she leaves for a while anyway. Also, I dare you to find me a more prominent set of cheekbones in the history of cinema.

Awakened

Book: I am Number Four


Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four has a film adaptation now. The trailer includes love interest Sarah (Diana Argon), falling from a building for protagonist John (Alex Pettyfer) to catch him. Sarah’s reaction is to look at John lustily. One of John’s lines include ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of,’ sounding like something that would make me call an abuse shelter.

I had to choose either the original cover art or one with a quote from film producer Michael Bay, who is apparently a book critic now.

Norlinda wrote about I am Number Four echoing traditions of  teen sci-fi. Superman. Buffy, especially that John’s survival depends as much on his peer support, ironic since Henri (Timothy Olyphant) advises him to keep to himself. They belong to an endangered alien race, the Lorien, exiled from their planet, hunted by another alien race, the Mogadorians.

Yes, I’m the asshole who will talk about the implicit politics in a book about teenage aliens. The prologue begins with a “Heart of Darkness”-y depiction of the Congo, the setting for Three’s death. John is one of nine powerful aliens on Earth, the death of Three personally hurting him, thus the interconnected nature of their relationship that transcends skin colour and geography.

John is both an alien and all-American. John also talks about a fear of cities, where the Mogadorians might blend in easier, yet has a love-hate relationship with his new home. Cynical at first, he eventually subscribes to the mythology connected to the aptly named Paradise, Ohio. He also recounts the histories of his planet and the Mogadorians’, both having dealt with overpopulation and pollution, the former dealing through change – liberals – the latter choosing viral destruction – conservatives.

Lore writes the book’s prologue in clunky third person. Thankfully the rest is in first person, Lore writing John’s narration with such attention to specific objects, making his world as tangible as he is intelligent. The last chapters of the book tell a drawn out fight between him and the Mogadorians that I lost attention on the details. Lore also breaks the Frankenstein rule but that also humanizes the Mogadorian beasts.

Henri also tells John that Loriens and humans have procreated, siring great men like Julius Caesar, which is weird because I’m pretty sure a 15-year old girl can go to Wikipedia and trace Julius Caesar’s provenance by at least two generations. And it’s great that Lore includes an asshole like Julius Caesar into their fold.

Lore is a collaboration between Jobie Hughes and James Frey. In page 264, they write ‘…force causes it to smash into a million little pieces.’ This happens again in page 300-something. In between those references, page 333, there’s a reference about a drug movie. Page 439 is the second to the last page of the book, where Lore indulges himself with a Milton reference.


All I Care About Is Love!


I’m not gonna be the Debbie Downer who talks about how this movie is a satire of the demonization of women who vengefully act against the abuses they face from their partners. Or that the musical and its adaptations came out within different contexts, the 1970’s urban prurience, the 1990’s circus trials and the cynical escapism and ‘reality’ crazed 2000’s reflect the prurient, circus-y crazy escapism of 1920’s Chicago. This movie’s too fun and campy for that.

ph. Miramax

Not like I can cite these opinions I’m talking about, but Chicago today is treated as a shallow visual exercise, that other films deserved the Best Picture trophy better, and that it’s dated. How terrible of a fate for a film to be called dated. It’s only eight and a half year’s old! I don’t have the problem with the separate worlds of gritty jail and colourful cabaret fantasy, the transitions between the two are seamless. Maybe because both worlds are as colourful, unlike the drastic cinematography changes between the fantasy and ‘real’ segments in director Rob Marshall’s later work, Nine. My problem on that department is that the takes are too short and quick, sometimes the audience can’t see the actors perform their song and dance, especially with Richard Gere‘s Billy Flynn. Sometimes it shakes too much, like when Kitty Baxter (Lucy Liu) is arrested, stealing Roxie’s thunder, or the last number.

There’s been also been many discussions about the casting. Sometimes I think about what Goldie Hawn, Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra would have done under Bob Fosse. I’m also  pretty sure that some of you are slightly bitter that Charlize Theron, Toni Collette, Hugh Jackman and Kathy Bates weren’t in the movie version we have now. Yes, I’ll admit that Gere is the weakest link of the cast. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with his arms. He gets a showy role but like every capable actor given a boisterous character, he doesn’t always turn it up to 11. it’s Although his renditions of his songs border on sprechgesang, his voice is still nice to listen to.

And he may be Mr. Cellophane all right, but John C. Reilly can outsing Gere any day.

I’m probably one of the people who will defend Renee Zellweger‘s casting and performance as Roxie. Yes, her face is a bit twitchy, but her dancing not that’s bad. Although I do have to see a stage adaptation for comparison in the triple threat department. She has a wiry, sinewy body, not as voluptuous as her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, like she’s lived a life of poverty. Her voice is also a little hoarse, like a female version of a schmoe. My favourite song from the film is starting to change to ‘I Can’t do it Alone,’ or ‘We Both Reached For The Gun.’ Nonetheless, Roxie’s songs always catch me, like ‘Funny Honey’ and ‘Roxie,’ because there’s anger and delusion to them. The latter number, when we see her body from tilting close-ups to wide shots of her body into the darkness of her fantasy, or when she looks to the right and finds a mirror, and more mirrors. Those are my favourite images of this film.

Zeta-Jones’ Velma Kelly needs the least defense from me, because her Oscar-winning turn’s pretty much well received even now. Some regard it as the best Supporting Actress win the past decade. Zellweger’s hoarseness matches Zeta-Jones’ raspiness, reflecting the anger and toughness that comes with her situation then as a dancer who had to make her way to the top and her desperation in jail. Egyptian dancers and her theatre background would be proud.