Category Archives: Films

Adaptation

Adaptation (2002) is compelling.  I don’t remember who told me I should see this film, maybe it was someone involved in the industry.  Probably this is one of those films educators advise students to watch, as it sheds light (or pokes fun) at the writing process.

The basic idea is a screenwriter (Charlie) is going crazy trying to adapt a book into a movie script.  He is competent, but a bit neurotic with his self-doubts.  He knows he wants to focus on the theme of the book (flowers), but can’t figure out how to really get started or what direction to go.  His frustrations are exacerbated by his brother (Donald), who is a bit of a bumbling fool, who has decided that he too will take up screenwriting like his brother…in writing his first screenplay, Donald does everything Charlie hates – bad plot, bad scenes, he attends a professional seminar and treats all of the advice he’s given as truth.  Both of these roles are played by Nicholas Cage.  Normally I don’t like his movies…but when he’s a non-action role, I think I like him better.  He does well in this film.

Meryl Streep plays the book’s author Susan.  Her story revolves around her book research, and her increasingly complex relationship with the star of the book…an interesting character named John Laroche, played by Chris Cooper.  It’s really the eccentric Laroche and Cooper’s performance in the role that is the star of this film as well.

“That’s how much fuck fish” is one of my favorite lines in the movie.  John is explaining to Susan how he drops one subject after a while, and gets completely engrossed in the next, without looking back.  He goes from turtles, to Ice Age fossils, to fish, and ultimately to plants.

“Look I’ll tell you a story, all right?  I once fell deeply, you know, profoundly, in love with tropical fish.  Had sixty fish god damn tanks in my house.  I’d skin dive to find just the right ones…then one day I say fuck fish.  I renounce fish.  I vow never to set foot in that ocean again.  That’s how much fuck fish.”

At one point, Charlie decides to actually take Donald’s advice to attend one of the story seminars, given by Robert McKee.  It’s one of those classic university-style classrooms with the stadium seating.  And Charlie is in the center of the frame, stands up, he’s hunched over and looking a bit pathetic, and asks a question in all sincerity.  And then McKee puts him in his place, as Charlie later says “shaking him to the bone”.

Charlie: “Sir, what if the writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens?  Where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies, they struggle, and are frustrated, and nothing is resolved, more a reflection of the real world.”

Robert McKee: “The real world?  First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears.  Secondly, nothing happens in the world?  Are you out of your fucking mind?  People are murdered every day.  There’s genocide, war, corruption, every fucking day, somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his life to save somebody else.  Every fucking day someone somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else.  People find love, people lose it.  For Christ’s sake, a child watches a mother beaten to death on the steps of a church.  Someone goes hungry.  Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman.  If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you my friend don’t know crap about life.  And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie?  I don’t have any use for it, I don’t have any bloody use for it.”

Charlie: “Okay, thanks.”

That whole exchange is so beautifully done.  And who can’t empathize with a moment of utter humility, like being ripped on by a teacher.  There are so many great moments in this film, so many funny moments.

Adaptation. (2002)
Adaptation. poster Rating: 7.7/10 (128,627 votes)
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Susan Orlean (book), Charlie Kaufman (screenplay), Donald Kaufman (screenplay)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Runtime: 114 min
Rated: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Released: 2003-02-14
Plot: A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen.

Foxcatcher

Steve Carell’s role as John E. du Pont in Foxcatcher (2014) is one that is going to live in my imagination for a long time.  I think that’s a haunting.  du Pont is a freak…for me, I put Carell’s du Pont in the same class as Nick Chinlund’s Donnie Pfaster in The X-Files.  A very creepy, not-sure-what-he’s-thinking, complete freak.  And the story is a true one, so you can’t help but to wonder how close was the real life du Pont compared to his portrayal in the film.

Steve Carell’s nomination for Best Actor in a leading role this year is justified.  Right now I’d pick him as the favorite – I’m thinking Carell at one, Eddie Redmayne at two for his Stephen Hawking, and Bradley Cooper at three for his Chris Kyle.  Interesting, all those roles are based on real people.

Foxcatcher is the story of two Olympic champion wrestlers who are brothers.  Dave Schultz (played by Mark Ruffalo) is the older brother, and has a wife and two children.  He seems more successful than his younger brother Mark (played by Channing Tatum), who doesn’t appear to have much going for him in life…sure, he’s won Olympic gold, but he lives alone in an unremarkable home and does not eat well.  Certainly not like a champion in training for another Olympics should be training.  It seems that Dave gets a speaking engagement at the elementary school, and gives it to Mark, so Mark can get the $20 check and buy fast food with it.  Not good.

John du Pont is a wealthy man who wants to turn his family’s Foxcatcher facility into a training center for American wrestlers.  His first dialogue, his speech to Mark, is a bit creepy between his manner of speaking, the look in his eyes, and what might be his careful selection of words.  The overall idea is a great one, one that you’d want to see…essentially he’s a man with means who wants to do what America as a nation should be doing.  We should be supporting our Olympic athletes with whatever means are required.  He’s just a private citizen wanting to do that.

Early on, Mark has success at Foxcatcher.  He begins training wrestlers.  He wants Dave to join him there, but Dave prefers to stay with his family and continue his work as a trainer at a school.  We see the friendship between Mark and du Pont grow.  After Mark wins the world championship, things to begin to change.  The relationship seems to get a bit more weird.  Mark is certainly under the influence of du Pont’s cocaine.  His hair changes to a spiky frosted-tips…it’s almost like we’re expected to think he’s become some kind of boy toy to du Pont.  In criticism of the film, I think I recall some anger that there are certain thing that pointed to sexual activity between Mark and du Pont, and the upset party wanted to make it clear that no such thing was going on.

It’s clear that du Pont had mother issues.  His mother doesn’t respect wrestling.  Maybe she never respected anything he did.  It’s got to be tough if you’re an ordinary person in a family with extraordinary ancestors.  Maybe he felt he never had any true accomplishments, and he thought Foxcatcher wrestling could be his legacy.  He tells Mark he never had any friends when he was growing up.  Except for one, the limo driver’s boy…but du Pont found out his mother was paying them in order to be his friend.  Truly pathetic.

When du Pont finds that Mark is slacking on his training, he slaps him in front of the other wrestlers, and says he must bring Dave in, at whatever the cost.  That’s when Mark’s attitude snaps…I think he never forgives du Pont for this.  I am interested in how du Pont convinces Dave to come to Foxcatcher, but we’re never told this.

Dave becomes a buffer between Mark and du Pont.  du Pont is still interested in keeping Mark on track, but Mark doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.  Dave is trying to figure out what’s going on, but Mark won’t tell him.

The timeline of true events is more clear looking at them outside of the film.  Mark goes on to place only 6th in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.  It must be have been devastating for du Pont.  I think we see Mark going into retirement from wrestling after that, and Dave stays on to coach at Foxcatcher.  At the time, as part of his deal to stay on, Dave forces du Pont to continue paying Mark a salary, so that he knows his brother is taken care of.  We see that du Pont doesn’t like it, but does so anyway.

In real time it happens much later, in 1996…but we do see the scene in the film.  The audience wasn’t prepared for it, and I heard a lot of gasps and one of two incredulous WTFs out there in the theater.  I was prepared for it, because I’d read on the story beforehand.  One day du Pont has one of his servants warm up the car, and he drives them out to Dave’s house on the property.  And then he shoots Dave in cold blood and kills him.  I’m surprised to see du Pont got only 3rd-degree murder, I really don’t understand how that’s not 1st-degree murder.  And in the notes at the end of the film, we see that du Pont dies in prison in 2010.  Surely that was in the news, but I don’t remember it.

Foxcatcher (2014)
Foxcatcher poster Rating: 7.5/10 (15,405 votes)
Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller
Runtime: 129 min
Rated: R
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
Released: 14 Nov 2014
Plot: The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Human capital

Human Capital (2013) is an Italian film, and was Italy’s selection for consideration of an Academy Award.

The premise is a simple one.  One night, a cyclist is run off the road, and is badly hurt.  The driver fails to stop.  The story unfolds, as we see events happening from the perspective of different characters…

First from Dino, who is father to Serena.  He is dropping his daughter off at the residence of wealthy Bernaschi family (Giovanni and Carla).  He is friendly enough, but borrows money from the bank and worms his way into one of Giovanni’s financial investments.  He is hoping to capitalize on a big profit return.  To help seal the transaction, he is happy to become Giovanni’s tennis partner…which is easy for him, as he is a former semi-pro.

Second, we see events from Carla Bernaschi’s perspective.  She is busy trying to prevent an old theater from being bought out and turned into something else.  She wants to use Giovanni’s money for that purpose, but his investment isn’t panning out as he’d hoped.

Third, we get more insight to the story from Serena’s perspective.  She really drives the story…we see her relationship with Massimiliano basically erode…he is after all, a really annoying, spoiled douche of a son.  Instead she falls for Luca Ambrosini.  He is a bit unstable.  People know him as a sort of trouble maker, for getting into trouble with law sometime in the past.  We learn that he took the blame for something he didn’t do.

I love this type of story.  There must be some name for it, I should find out.  The idea is that an event occurs, and the story is more and more revealed as we see the perspectives of individuals related to the event.

Human Capital (2013)
Human Capital poster Rating: 7.4/10 (3,121 votes)
Director: Paolo Virzì
Writer: Stephen Amidon (novel), Paolo Virzì (screenplay), Francesco Bruni (screenplay), Francesco Piccolo (screenplay)
Stars: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Guglielmo Pinelli
Runtime: 111 min
Rated: N/A
Genre: Drama
Released: 09 Jan 2014
Plot: The destinies of two families are irrevocably tied together after a cyclist is hit off the road by a jeep in the night before Christmas Eve.

Uzumasa limelight

Since I started keeping track in mid-2012, this is only the 2nd time that I repeated a film in the theater.  But Uzumasa Limelight (2014) is just so good.  It was a selection at the Heartland Film Festival this last year, which was where I first saw it.  And now it was down at IU Cinema, so I took the opportunity to see it again.

This film touches on many ideas, but is about the fate of the Japanese kirareyaku, who are the actors whose job it is to be killed by the leading actors in Japanese samurai films.  Such films typically involve the hero cutting his way dozens of opponents.  As the popularity of samurai films wanes, what is the fate of these men, who are so specialized in being killed on-screen?

The story centers on Seiichi Kamiyama (played by Seizô Fukumoto, who is one of the best kirareyaku, but who is essence, now a 70-year old man with some declining physical skills.  As new directors become responsible for movie projects, they desire younger actors, and to move away from traditional samurai dramas.  It becomes harder and harder to find work.

As in any culture, some members in the new generation revere the great of previous generations, and some hold it in disdain.  It’s a natural thing, for the young to challenge the old and demand for a changing of the guard.  It’s a universal idea, which is what makes this so great.

There are a lot of great action scenes…the young Satsuki (played by Chihiro Yamamoto) approaches Kamiyama and asks that he teach her how to sword-fight.  He initially laughs it off, as sword-fighting is a male activity.  But of course he comes around, and she becomes a proficient sword-fighter under his tutelage…good enough to go from being an extra to being a stunt double…and eventually a lead actress.  There’s also a lot funny moments.  The young “trying to be cool” director is hard to take seriously.  The young “I’m not playing a bald guy” singer/actor who chooses a wig with crazy long blond hair.

All in all, a very satisfying film with a range of great scenes.

Uzumasa Limelight (2014)
Uzumasa Limelight poster Rating: 7.2/10 (60 votes)
Director: Ken Ochiai
Writer: Hiroyuki Ono (screenplay), Hiroyuki Ono
Stars: Seizô Fukumoto, Chihiro Yamamoto, Masashi Goda, Hirotarô Honda
Runtime: 103 min
Rated: N/A
Genre: Action, Drama
Released: 12 Jul 2014
Plot: The film centers an aged movie extra who specializes to be killed in samurai movies without ever being lit by the limelight. Using Charlie Chaplin's film Limelight as an underlying theme, ...

Selma

Selma (2014) is based on the events of the civil rights march from Selma (Alabama) to Montgomery (Alabama), led by Martin Luther King, Jr.  I love watching powerful orators deliver their speeches.  The choice of words, the inflection, the carefully-timed delivery, I love all of that.  It’s those hackle-rising, emotionally-stirring speeches that polarize an audience and call them into action.  Martin Luther King was one such speaker.  And David Oyelowo, playing King in this film, does an incredible job channeling this powerful oratory.  Really, wonderful stuff.

I wasn’t familiar with these events of 1963-1965 leading up to the march, so I hope the film portrays them accurately.  I find it interesting how carefully King and his team selected the spot to begin this march.  Between the careful preparations made by the local population, the demeanor of the mayor and police chief, King knew that there was a good chance he would attract the attention he needed.  And looking at the press present, it’s their stories and their video that allowed not only the nation but the world, to see what was going on.

I especially love the ensuing reaction when King calls for people “of all races, of all creeds” to “come to Selma and join” the march for civic rights.  I love that the numbers swelled from 600 marchers to 2500 marchers…the film states one-third of the marchers were white, and made up mostly of clergy from all over the country.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t at first recognize the actor playing George Wallace, the despicable Alabama governor who refuses to assist citizens in his jurisdiction to secure and employ their right to vote.  Probably my dislike for George Wallace was affecting my thinking, the way he looks, the way he speaks, the way he tries to play off his clear bigotry.  I was thinking “I know this guy, who is this guy”, and all I could come up with a sort of older Paul Reiser, but I knew that was wrong.  It turns out it’s Tim Roth, a guy whose acting I love.  A forehead-smacking moment.  He was so good in his role that I couldn’t see who he was.

The images in this film are powerful, and the subject matter is stern stuff.  On the one hand, you see these things that happened, these attitudes that prevailed only 50-60 years ago, and I think you must be dumbstruck.  I wanted to reach through time and slap some faces.  How is it possible, you wonder, how can people think of another people as less than human, and treat them accordingly?  It seems unthinkable.  To deny rights guaranteed to them as fellow citizens…I can’t imagine.  And yet, there it is.  There it was.

But if you think about present-day America, maybe it’s not so different.  General attitudes towards blacks have changed, they’ve greatly improved…in the sense that most places offer equal civic rights, and enforce that now.  However, other minorities have filled that void, and are currently subject to that hate rhetoric, that same denial of basic civic rights…specifically, people in the LGBT community, or foreign-born immigrants, and so on.  You have to wonder how long will it be before America can finally live up to its own ideals…we are supposed to that “golden door” opened to the “wretched refuse” of those “teeming shores”.

Selma (2014)
Selma poster Rating: 6.5/10 (1,124 votes)
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Paul Webb
Stars: David Oyelowo, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Runtime: 127 min
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Released: 09 Jan 2015
Plot: A chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.