Archive | Book Matters

The Meta Mea Culpa of ‘Venus in Fur’

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film. 

Handily, “Venus in Fur,” which is adapted from David Ives’ Tony Award-winning play, which in turn is adapted from Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella, is about adaptation itself. As if that were not bald enough, it is also a two-person film about a woman and a man worrying over a script on a bare stage. Yet this is Roman Polanski’s finest work in decades. It hones in on elements of horror lurking in ordinary human dynamics with a lurid specificity that the director has not evinced since the drama of his personal life eclipsed his professional life more than thirty years ago.

True, “Venus” treads familiar terrain for Polanksi, who has not returned to the United States since he fled the country in 1977 after pleading guilty to charges of raping a thirteen-year-old girl. It stars Mathieu Amalric – who, with his puckish features and light dusting of facial hair, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Polish-French director himself – as writer-director Thomas auditioning Vanda, a floozy actress played by Polanski’s real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner, for his play about a sadomasochistic relationship. But Polanski seems to be tackling this familiar terrain from a new angle: “Venus” is a superbly crafted meta-mea culpa, a strange new cinema genre that may not be for the faint of heart (don’t try this at home, kids!) but nonetheless transfixes us for its entire ninety-six minutes. Continue Reading →

The Stellar Success of ‘TFIOS’: Now What?

The following is a report originally published in Word and Film.

As The Fault in Our Stars heads into its second weekend of release, it remains to be seen if it will emerge as one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Either way, though, it’s safe to say the adaptation of the popular young adult novel is a wild success. Pulling in nearly $50 million its opening weekend, it outstripped even optimistic box office predictions, not to mention The Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise sci-fi action movie that opened the same day. That’s right: This little weepie about two teens with cancer knocked a Tom Cruise movie out of first place at the box office. (Actually, the Angelina Jolie vehicle Maleficent also beat it out.) What’s more, “TFIOS” cost only $12 million to make, in contrast to the $175 million it cost to make “Edge.” And what’s even more, given its groundswell of support, “TFIOS” required a marketing budget of less than half of what movie studio 20th Century Fox usually spends to publicize a summer film. The profit margin is huge.

Granted, that’s a whole lot of business blather. But in Hollywood, money talks. And the big question now is whether the success of “TFIOS” will change what we can expect in the multiplexes in the years to come. As veteran Hollywood reporter Anne Thompson has observed, mid-range films — ones with budgets between $5 and 100 million — aren’t getting made anymore. (Annie Hall would have been made as an independent film today.) We’re all acquainted with what’s being produced instead: superhero and action movies galore. Sure, fantasy YA has already secured its position on the marquee; the massive success of such franchises as “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” and, most recently, “Divergent” has made sure of that. But given how much money “TFIOS” cleared, might big movie studios be ready to adapt other “grounded” (non-fantasy) YA novels? And — the mind reels — might it be ready to put more money behind grounded YA novels that star females? (Indiewire’s Inkoo Kang reports that, of the 100 highest-earning movies of 2013, movies with a female protagonist earned twenty percent more on average than movies with a male protagonist.) Continue Reading →

‘Violette’ Is No Bed of Roses

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.

Violette, about French author Violette Leduc’s quest for success, may be the ultimate literary love story: At core, it depicts how the creative process can be seen as a love affair, both with ourselves and with an imagined audience. It takes a lot of fortitude to sit still with the imagination – to trust that, if we hang in there, we may produce something worth sharing with the world. In this sense, Leduc, who throughout her career had the temerity to demand love for her controversial self-expression, was powerfully strong if also powerfully frustrating. Much like this movie.

To be clear, “frustrating” is putting it nicely. Radical self-exposure was Leduc’s strength in her writing but her weakness as a person, a fact that director/co-writer Martin Provost captures in excruciating detail. French actress Emmanuelle Devos channels Leduc’s inability to contain her rawest feelings – her jealousies, her resentments, her neediness – so effectively that the result is an almost unbearable character. Almost. A woman who won’t rest until she is wanted on her own terms may not be an easy story but it is an important one. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy