Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Double Feature: Adaptations

I’m no great fan of voice-over narration, but how else to adapt a novel for the screen if its greatest strengths are ruminative? If you’re Jason Reitman, you add a new character, or two, and have the protagonist hector them with his formerly-interior monologues. In Thank You for Smoking, he conjured up a child to travel with the hero, so the hero could explain the job of a lobbyist to (by extension) us dumb hick moviegoers, and he conjures up another youth to tag after George Clooney in Up in the Air.
In the novel, our hero is in deep denial, and fashions a weirdly-enticing alternate reality out of his business-travel existence as he heads for a breakdown; in the film, Clooney plays a cool guy whose priorities are out of whack. His job is firing people, and the painful scenes of people being terminated from their jobs arrive with the regularity of the murders in a slasher flick, but to what end? So that Clooney and his apprentice can learn some small thing about themselves, yawn. If you don’t want the camera to follow J.K. Simmons when he leaves that office, and stick with him for at least five minutes, if not the remainder of the movie, I don’t know what to tell you. As it stands, Reitman has no idea how to end the movie. I wonder if he knows why he made it.

Watching Edmond, on the other hand, it’s easy to feel that everyone involved knew exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it, and why they wanted to. Directed by Stuart Gordon (maker of some of the most entertaining horror films of the past thirty years, and of the recent Zero-Sum World favorite, Stuck) from a script by David Mamet (adapting his own play) and featuring Mamet players Bill Macy, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Joe Mantegna, Edmond is simply the best Mamet on film thus far. More importantly, for readers of this blog, it is a very pure example of the One-Way Ticket to Hell story, bracingly fearless, with as devastating an ending as any film I can remember recommending wholeheartedly to my loved ones! Seek it out! (Currently offered as a Free Movie on Comcast OnDemand in the Detroit area.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Read | Re-read | Reading

The Hot Kid, Elmore Leonard
Echo Park, Michael Connelly
The Ask, Sam Lipsyte

If You Can’t Be Good, Ross Thomas

When The Sacred Ginmill Closes, Lawrence Block
Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Follow-up | The Letdown

Criminal Paradise, Michael Connelly, Justified

I stand by my assessment of Criminal Paradise, but want to note I wrote it before I finished the book -- before the author throws his careful build-up out the window, and resolves things in pedestrian ‘80s -action-movie fashion. (One late chapter even ends with someone racking a shotgun and saying, “It’s showtime.”)

I read a second Harry Bosch novel, Trunk Music, directly after finishing Angels Flight. (Reverse chronological order. Unintentional, but I do have a problem with series.) It was also fantastic. Then I decided to try a non-series book by Connelly. Chose Void Moon. A thriller, a cat-and-mouse story, well-drawn Vegas setting, interesting villain. Also, unfortunately, “surprising” twists created by withholding information from the reader for an unconscionable amount of time. I think I’ll stick to the Bosch novels.

The drop-off in quality between the pilot of Justified and the first episode was stunning. Did the producers throw some work to hard-up friends they met back on “Jake and the Fatman”? Raylan Givens deserves better.