Friday, June 22, 2018

BOOK VS MOVIE: On Chesil Beach

What are the extents of one's love? What limits does someone have towards their significant other? Every love is different mich in the same way that every person is different. and don't expect societal views to help in any way.

On Chesil Beach follows that particular element to a T as it follows Edward and Florence on their honeymoon. Certainly, they have the typical newlywed jitters but with many things left unsaid, is this a union fated to end before it even begins?

"They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible." So opens Ian McEwan's novel before exploring how Edward and Florence ended up in that hotel room. Neither halves led ideal upbringings but how much of that affected their later lives?

Dominic Cooke's adaptation stays generally true to McEwan's original story (certainly helped with McEwan himself writing the screenplay). Starring Saoirse Ronan (no stranger to McEwan's work) and Billy Howle, it doesn't quite capture the nuances of the novel but Cooke's theater background adds a particular flair to his feature film debut.

So which is better: McEwan's book or Cooke's movie? While both follow the same story, their approaches to the conclusion differ. (The film ends on a somewhat happier note than the novel.) But while how they conclude aren't generally the same, they capture to devastating effect how the era Edward and Florence are a part of isn't as liberating as they once thought.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

The Great Lie

Peter Van Allen (George Brent) is in a tight spot at the start of Edmund Goulding's The Great Lie. His marriage to pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) isn't valid -- her divorce from her previous husband wasn't finalized -- so instead of going through that again, he marries old flame Maggie Patterson (Bette Davis). And for a while, everything seems right.

But then Peter's plane goes missing when he goes away on business and he's presumed dead. Before he had left the country, Sandra confided in Maggie that she's pregnant with Peter's child. And after Peter disappears, Maggie offers to help Sandra during her pregnancy on the condition that she gets to have the child. But will this situation work for both women?

Davis took on the role of Maggie after some fans wrote hoping she would play a nice character. (She also picked Astor to play Sandra.) Both women conspired together to downplay the melodramatic aspects of The Great Lie in order to flesh their characters. Does it work? Absolutely.

Indeed Davis in the rare pleasant role (which she likened to her real-life personality) is something of note in The Great Lie but boy, does Astor make up for Davis' lack of bitchiness with her own. With this being released the same year as her famous role in The Maltese Falcon, it's understandable as to why it's not as known (even though she won an Oscar for it).

The Great Lie has its melodramatic moments, yes (probably to be expected from the director of Dark Victory and The Constant Nymph), but Davis and Astor ensure that the film doesn't firmly stay in that genre. (Thank goodness for that.) And like several of Goulding's other works, it has a particular preference for the characters and their personalities.

My Rating: ****

Friday, June 15, 2018

BOOK VS MOVIE: Disobedience

There's always something so tantalizing about the forbidden romance, the story of the star-crossed lovers. We root for them to see if in fact that love can conquer all. Very seldom do they receive the happiness they ache for in the end (same-sex couples are the more glaring examples) but the few that do get exactly what (and who) they want.

Disobedience is a more recent example of this oft-told tale. After receiving news that her father -- a well-respected rabbi in London -- has died, Ronit returns to the home she left behind years before. But as she reacquaints herself to the Orthodox Jewish community she was raised in, she discovers that her former lover Esti has married Ronit's cousin Dovid. Is the past truly in the past for both women or will sparks be re-ignited?

Naomi Alderman's novel focuses greatly on the workings of Judaism, each chapter opening with an examination of particular beliefs within the religion (that also happen to summarize their respective sections). Switching between perspectives (and fonts) from the third person and Ronit, we see how complex the society is to its devotees.

Sebastián Lelio's adaptation eschews most of the novel's focus on grief and faith in favor of Ronit and Esti's relationship. (There is way more sexual tension here than what Alderman originally wrote.) Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams have strong chemistry (it'd be unfortunate if they didn't) but the shift in the story's central themes feels outputting at times.

So which is better: Alderman's book or Leilo's movie? Both have different characterizations for both plotline and leads. (How Dovid is portrayed, for instance, differs between the works.) Still, they both make one thing certain: one's feelings may not change after many years have passed.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

First Reformed

The journal kept by Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke) in Paul Schrader's First Reformed doesn't seem to be serving as a recollection of his day's events. Instead, its purpose appears to be the release of a troubled man's musings. And as the film progresses, we see just how unhinged Toller is.

As many of Schrader's previous films have shown, First Reformed has a particularly jaded perspective from Rev. Toller. He had tried to vainly to maintain an idealistic view on the world but with his health failing and his faith being tested, he finds it nearly impossible to be the man of the cloth he appears to be. What is his limit?

Parallels to Taxi Driver are hard to ignore as one watches First Reformed. (One shot in the later film is practically an allusion to the earlier one.) But it bears more resemblance to Bringing Out the Dead in their shared weariness in the protagonists. They've seen the horrors of the world they're a part of and are now numb to everything around them.

Hawke has been delivering a number of solid performances these last few years but First Reformed is easily the best of his career. His Rev. Toller is a complicated figure (a staple in Schrader's works), haunted by his past mistakes and uncertain of what his future holds for him. It's when a concerned parishioner steps forward that his fate is ultimately sealed. And Hawke tackles the role brilliantly.

First Reformed firmly solidifies Schrader's status as a writer in Hollywood. (Just in case his previous work didn't already prove that.) He provides an unflinching commentary on humanity itself, how it's cruel to those who aren't willing to conform to it. And the end result will stay in your mind long after it finishes.

My Rating: *****

Friday, May 18, 2018

BOOK VS MOVIE: Lean on Pete

Many times in fiction we often see adolescents dealing with the brunt of everyday life beyond high school and puberty. Sometimes they lose a close family member, often by unnatural means. Other times their responsibilities in life increase greatly. But what differs from these depictions is how the teens handle their new situations.

With Lean on Pete, it follows Charley Thompson after his supposedly comfortable home life slips through his fingers. He decides to find his aunt but there's one problem: he's in Oregon, she lives in Wyoming (at least that's where he remember where she lives), and he has no means of getting there. With the titular ailing racehorse as his companion, he ventures out to find a place he can call home.

Willy Vlautin's novel is simplistic in its writing (it's told from Charley's point of view) but its storytelling speaks volumes in the narrative. In a style reminiscent of John Steinbeck's work, the matter-of-fact perspective from Charley shows innocence becoming aware of the hardscrabble nature of everyday life. (No one ever said life itself would be forgiving.)

Andrew Haigh's adaptation condenses Vlautin's novel to a certain degree but otherwise stays true to the source material. As his earlier films Weekend and 45 Years showed, he prefers depicting the small things that happen in one's day and Lean on Pete is no exception. And like his previous entries, Haigh shows how the little things can lead to something big.

So which is better: Vlautin's book or Haigh's movie? Both capture the modesty of everyday life, how one's usual routine can be a change of pace for another. And they also depict something else, something most fiction rarely chronicles and often eschews: the world we're a part of is both fascinating and frightening.

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Chappaquiddick

July 18, 1969. That was the evening that left permanent damage on the career of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. That was the night that cost an innocent woman her life. That was the night of the Chappaquiddick incident.

Now nearly fifty years since the accident, John Curran dramatizes the days following the death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) with his film Chappaquiddick, What he depicts is how after the accident, Kennedy (Jason Clarke) and his legal team tried their damnedest to save both his own and his family's reputations. But often lost in this scramble of public relations is the fact a woman died involuntarily by his hand.

Throughout Chappaquiddick, Kennedy is depicted as someone who's more concerned about his image than the people he's supposed to be representing. Now obviously this can be viewed as far from the truth (Kennedy was haunted by Kopechne's death until his dying day forty years later) or an attempt to depict politicians -- real or fictional -- as arrogant. (His wearing an unnecessary neck brace to Kopechne's funeral certainly did not help his mounting troubles.)

The depiction of the aftermath may be on shaky ground but Clarke's portrayal of Kennedy is particularly noteworthy. He plays the late senator as a man under the weight of expectation from both his father and his country. (The shadows of his brothers loom over him throughout Chappaquiddick.) Now if this was also true in real life is hard to say but Clarke is excellent.

Chappaquiddick ends up raising more questions than answering them. What caused Kennedy to drive off the bridge? Was it really an accident or was it deliberate? Was was the extent of his connection with Kopechne? The real answers went to the grave with Kopechne and Kennedy, so we may never know the truth.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Married to the Mob

Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) should be happy about her initial situation in Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob. She lives in absolute luxury thanks to her husband Frank's (Alec Baldwin) line of work: organized crime. But he gets whacked by his boss "Tony the Tiger" Russo (Dean Stockwell) -- who's desperate to get Angela as his mistress -- so she and her son go into hiding...which is much easier said than done.

In stark contrast to some of her work earlier in the decade (hell, she did Dangerous Liaisons the same year), Married to the Mob allows Pfeiffer to be in a lighter role and expand on her comedic abilities. (Worth mentioning that Demme's follow-up film to this was The Silence of the Lambs, again another decided career change-up.)

By this point in American history, the public was more than aware of the mafia's existence. (John Gotti as the head of the Gambino family really did not help the other four families in keeping a low profile.) There were a number of films during the 1980s alone that either made a mockery of or enforced the status of the Italian mob. Regardless of the depiction, people were fascinated by this organization.

Pfeiffer may headline the film but she's not the only actor of note in Married to the Mob. Stockwell and Mercedes Ruehl (she plays Tony's easily jealous wife Connie) steals scenes left and right. It's no wonder that they were the more recognized performers of the film come awards season (with Stockwell earning a long-overdue Oscar nomination).

Married to the Mob is further testament to Demme's worth as a filmmaker. (Being one of Roger Corman's protégés clear had some perks.) His death last year marked the end of an esteemed career of varying genres, and it's unlikely that we'll see another storyteller like him.

My Rating: ****