Thursday, September 30, 2010
James Franco is a genius. Say it with me. James Franco is a genius.
Have you read Howl? Do you know who Allen Ginsberg is? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” get up, do research, watch footage, fall in love, and then watch this movie. James Franco is a genius. The extent to which he sinks into his “character,” the author of this gorgeous controversial poem, is shocking. I was shocked. I was moved to tears.
Most images of Ginsberg that people are familiar with right now are those from the 60s, post-Howl trial, during his long-bearded, wild-haired days. Ginsberg himself holding up cue cards in the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, or David Cross’ vision of Ginsberg in I’m Not There, crazed on the back of a motorcycle, shouting. The Ginsberg of Howl, this sparkling biopic, is a young man, clean-shaven and soft, finding his place in the world, in writing, and in love.
Howl is split into four distinct pieces: an interview with Ginsberg; the obscenity trial against the book Howl and Other Poems, which pitted the publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, against the state; Ginsberg reading Howl aloud to an audience pre-publication; and an animated sequence with a voiceover of the poem. Each piece is a different color, a different mood, but they are blended together nearly seamlessly by the co-directors, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
Though Ginsberg tells us there is no Beat Generation, all the players are there, though almost none have any lines to speak. We see Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, both objects of Ginsberg’s affection, both of whom broke his heart. We meet Peter Orlovsky, the man who finally loved Ginsberg back and continued to love him for his whole life. We listen to Ginsberg speak about his mother, Naomi, lost to madness, and for whom he wrote the beautiful and heart-wrenching poem, Kaddish.
The major players in this film could not have been better-chosen. There are Jon Hamm and David Strathairn as the dueling lawyers, Bob Balaban as a put-upon judge, and numerous witnesses on both sides of the obscenity argument, including Treat Williams and Alessandro Nivola. But the real treat here is Franco, who never fails to impress, but who I had not seen in full glory before, I realize. His voice, cadence, and movements are Ginsberg’s, and they are glorious.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
My heart was beating faster than usual when this movie let out. There was a tugging on it as well, which was there through most of the film. I wasn’t 100% certain that I wanted to see this, thought maybe I should wait until it was available on Netflix. Another quiet, slow-paced movie set in the cold mountains of the American South? Must I? But the girl who stars in it, Jennifer Lawrence, was getting the kind of reviews you don’t often see anymore, and a friend of mine told me that I’d “better see this movie if it’s still out in the city.” So I went, and blown was my mind.
Less is more, they say, and so, I imagine, did Debra Granik, the director. And Jennifer Lawrence listened. Her performance of the lead character, a girl who has never lied and never needs to, is so deeply soulful, with a mixture of mournfulness and hardness inside it. She plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl of the Ozarks, from a meth-cooking family. She becomes caretaker to her siblings and their mother, who has retreated into a near silent existence, unable to tend to her offspring. Ree’s father, a noted meth cooker in town, has gone missing the week before his court date, and Ree learns from a cop that he has put his family’s house up as his bond. Ree grocks the fact that her only choice is to find her father. And so the movie begins.
Winter’s Bone is cold, raw, and chewed up, as is John Hawkes, who plays Ree’s terrifying uncle Teardrop, the meth addict with a heart of lead. Ree’s questioning about her father’s whereabouts is a prickly topic, and there is violence in the film because of it. But there is not enough violence to warrant skipping the movie.
The cold and mist in Winter’s Bone will sink into you in the theater. It may be a quiet little movie, but it will roar at you for some time.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Someone has been killing the townspeople of Blackeberg, the tiny suburb of Stockholm that is the setting of this gem, draining them of blood. We know from the beginning who it is. This is not a murder mystery. This is a tale of two young (one only nominally) people finding their way around each other, forming a symbiotic relationship in the snowy reaches of Sweden.
We meet Oskar, a spindly and bullied 12-year-old, as he torments empty space the way his classmates have tormented him. You’ll recognize his first lines, and shudder appropriately, from Deliverance, though the tone they are uttered in could not be more different from the original.
The killer that the town is searching for, who is taking people’s friends and loved ones, is not a psychopath, nor a deranged vengeful person, but a 12-year-old girl. She is Eli, a vampire, new in town, who befriends Oskar and teaches him to protect himself. Oskar’s fascination with gore and death provides enough of a buffer that he is not phased when he realizes Eli’s secret. Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, as Oskar and Eli, respectively, are brilliantly self-assured and precise in their acting. Nothing overdone, nothing superfluous. The same goes for the rest of the film, actually. There is no Hans Zimmer score booming away in the back of each scene, telling us how to feel and when to feel it. Instead, there is almost utter silence, save for the crunch of boots in the snow or a body thudding against a van. We feel what we feel when we feel it.
The age of original ideas in Western film being mostly dead, we will be “treated” to an American remake of this wonderful film later this year. I smell a thriller, unfortunately. Get to this one first.
**Since this posting, I have spoken to several people about the remake, and my mind has been changed. My brother, specifically, helped this occur, since he is prone to not liking things, but he has high hopes for the American version, except for the part where it's set in New Mexico, which I read somewhere. In any case, he convinced me that from the previews, it looks to be a possibly shot-for-shot remake, so I feel better about it. But I still think it's silly to remake something so soon after the original was released. Of course, we're also getting an American- and British-made version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even though the original (Swedish again) was literally still in theaters a month ago.