REVIEW: A Long Way Down

3 12 2014

A Long Way DownThe chief problem with the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel “A Long Way Down” is that the screenplay does not come from Hornby himself.  He is one of few writesrs capable of making telling a grounded, compassionate story out of a scenario involving an accidental New Year’s Eve convening of four suicidal individuals on a London rooftop.

The gathering is eclectic, to say the least.  Among the bunch is a disgraced news anchor Martin (Pierce Brosnan), down-and-out American ex-patriot rocker-cum-pizza boy JJ (Aaron Paul), rebellious wild child Jess (Imogen Poots), and Maureen (Toni Collette), a single mother whose life consist solely of caring for her disabled child.  Nothing would ever bring them together but death, and nothing could keep them together but life. Contradictions and reversals underlie almost all of their story, all of which Hornby navigates gracefully.

Moreover, each character got a chance to narrate their own take on events and plumb the depths of their deep despair on the page.  That wealth of information is lost in the changeover to cinema, and nothing really replaces its intimate gaze into their troubles.  Jack Thorne’s adaptation is not terrible, but it clearly lacks the spark and panache of the source material.  He just captures the general essence of each character, only skimming the surface in the roughly 90 minutes available in “A Long Way Down.”

Director Pascal Chaumeil delivers a film that is definitely fun and entertaining in parts, yet it pales in comparisons to the dizzying highs and devastating lows of reading the novel.  He knows not to attempt the tricky tonal high-wire act of Hornby’s prose, though Chaumeil might have been better off emphasizing either the drama or the comedy of the story rather than taking his nondescript, wishy-washy approach.  His “A Long Way Down” feels short on personality, a real shame given how much Hornby’s book had to spare.  B-2stars

Advertisements




REVIEW: Wild

26 11 2014

WildTelluride Film Festival

On the page, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” is nothing particularly noteworthy.  While she tells her story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with raw honesty, the book is often little more than a hybrid of “Eat Pray Love” and “Into the Wild” that insists on its own importance.  The grueling odyssey is enlightening into the evolution of her psyche, though it usually achieves such an effect by excessive elucidation.

On the big screen, however, “Wild” is an altogether different beast.  In fact, it is better.  The book fell into the hands of a caring filmmaking team that sees the cinema in Strayed’s tale.  The collaboration of star Reese Witherspoon, screenwriter Nick Hornby, and editor/director Jean-Marc Vallée yields a wholly gratifying film experience because each uses their own set of talents to draw out the soul of the book.

Hornby is among the rare breed of writers who can balance the role of humorist and humanist.  Whether in his own novels or adapting someone else’s words for the screen, as he did in 2009 with “An Education,” Hornby’s stories percolate with snappy wit and superb characterization.  Here, almost all of that skill goes into the development of Cheryl, whose 1,100 mile solo hike virtually makes for a one-woman show.

The dearth of conversational opportunities hardly proves daunting for Hornby, who ensures the film flows effortlessly and entertainingly.  There is the obvious and occasional recourse to flashback to break up the monotony of her trek, sure, yet these glimpses from the past do not drive the narrative.  In fact, these scenes are among the least effective in “Wild” because they are never quite clear as to why Cheryl decides to take off on this foolish quest in the first place.  The past provides the background for the character, just not necessarily the journey.

Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #162

6 01 2010

I meant to inform you of this groundbreaking decision last week, but how sense escapes me!

Well, I made a big decision…

I BOUGHT MY FIRST SCREENPLAY!

I chose on Christmas Day and was expecting for almost a week, when on New Year’s Eve, my bundle of joy arrived!

The screenplay was Nick Hornby’s “An Education,” a beautifully written drama with plenty of wit.  I don’t know what made me choose it (especially because I can download the screenplay from the Sony Pictures Classics FYC site).

Just call it Christmas spirit.





REVIEW: An Education

25 11 2009

In the age of the booming blockbuster, independent cinema is in dire need of a movie that can appeal to a blooming generation of teenage moviegoers if sophisticated cinema is to survive.  I couldn’t be more pleased to report that “An Education” is that movie.  Although it is the type of movie that typically plays best with adults, it has the power to resonate among younger viewers unlike any movie of its kind.  Director Lone Scherfig’s clear understanding of the mind of teenagers radiates from as early as the opening credits, where sine graphs and frog diagrams devolve into hearts.  Thankfully, her vision is complemented by phenomenal performances and a sensational script that easily makes for one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year.

Jenny, the film’s heroine played with a stunning mastery by Carey Mulligan, is a character with struggles that people at crossroads in life can still appreciate many decades after the movie is set.  Sadly, she faces the same problem of creating a “college identity” separate from her regular identity that still plagues teenagers today.  Her parents (Alfred Molina and Carey Seymour) make sure that she has all the interests and hobbies necessary for her to fit the Oxford bill, obliging her to partake in activities that she loathes.  Through the process, Jenny begins to feel somewhat uneasy about going to spend four years doing something “hard and boring” with her nose in a book at a university only to end up in a “hard and boring” career for the rest of her life.  She reasons, however, to go against the grain would mean throwing away years of her life dedicated to looking impressive on an application, but still the desire remains for something beyond the education that a textbook can provide.

Almost as if an answer to an unspoken prayer, a chance encounter with the charming, older David (Peter Sarsgaard) gives Jenny a taste of a captivating world where the formalities of her schooling rank substantially below the proclivities for enjoyment.  Gradually, David’s outlook rubs off on Jenny, and she becomes willing to throw out what she has worked so many years for to enter the materialistic world that he inhabits.  For all those who think Jenny’s judgement is being impaired by an infatuation for love, what is she doing other than indulging a yearning that all students have had?  Her curious exploration into a very adult world ultimately leads her to a course she had never expected to be enrolled in – a crash course in adulthood.

Read the rest of this entry »





Oscar Moment: “An Education”

14 10 2009

This edition of “Oscar Moment” concerns “An Education,” a coming of age story in 1960s Britain.  The movie has been generating massive buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, particularly around leading actress and breakout star Carey Mulligan.  She plays 16-year-old Jenny, dead set on going to study at Oxford.  However, things change when she meets the magnetic David (Peter Sarsgaard).  He is much older than she and offers her a glimpse of a world that she has never imagined.  After being introduced to a new lifestyle, her old ideals and values begin to fly out the window.  But their relationship is unable to transcend societal norms, and they come crashing down on unsuspecting Jenny.  Will she be completely broken?  Will the old Jenny return, or will a new and independent woman be born from the ashes.

I knew that the story involved coming-of-age since I first heard of it back in January, but I had no idea that it involved someone my age.  This is so thrilling to hear because no one makes good, independent, thought-provoking movies about people my age!

Some Oscar prognosticators I read have boiled the Best Actress race at the Oscars down to Carey Mulligan vs. Meryl Streep for “Julie & Julia.”  Others have gone as far as to say that she already has the statue in the bag.  Although I do like an exciting and unpredictable race, I love when a performance so magnificent comes along that allows people to call the race in January.  My humble prediction is that if other female performances fizzle and it does boil down to Carey and Meryl, the Oscars will choose the former just because Meryl already has two.  Not to mention recent trends show a tendency to honor up and coming actresses, such as in 2007 with the stunning victory of Marion Cotillard.

But the buzz isn’t around Mulligan solely.  Alfred Molina, who plays Jenny’s father, has been acknowledged as a strong candidate for Best Supporting Actor.  Some say that if the film hits big with the Academy, goodwill could result in nominations for some other cast members, like Rosamund Pike in Best Supporting Actress and Peter Sarsgaard in Best Actor.  The latter seems improbable just due to how stacked the Best Actor category appears this year.  The film’s director, Lone Scherfig, could find herself nominated due to the nature of the year and its spotlight on female directors.  Nick Hornby, author of the source material for “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch,” penned the script based on Lynn Hornby’s memoirs; his chances seem somewhat more auspicious.  And the film itself, provided it registers as a blip on the public’s radar, seems likely to land itself in the Best Picture category.

It pains me to know that I have to wait until October 30th for “An Education” to hit a theater in Houston.  But until then, I will be enjoying selections from the soundtrack, which is stellar.  If you wonder what the catchy tune from the trailer is called, it is “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” by Beth Rowley.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Supporting Actor (Alfred Molina), Best Adapted Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Director (Lone Scherfig), Best Actor (Peter Sarsgaard), Best Supporting Actress (Rosamund Pike/Emma Thompson/Cara Seymour)