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‘God’s Pocket’: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Posthumously

The following is a review I originally published in Word and Film:

When an artist as talented as Philip Seymour Hoffman dies unexpectedly, a cultural void develops in their absence. It’s not just that we can’t accept the loss; it’s that we can’t entirely register it. In some childlike recess of our minds we keep seeking an alternative reality in which they are writing another book, recording another song, shooting another film. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross may have identified this as the bargaining stage of grief and loss but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Unless we knew the artist personally, for us they only existed in a communion between their imagination and ours, anyway – an interstice of consciousnesses outside of life and death. Even after they die, then, we continue to visit their work for that connection. And if it’s an artist as prolific as Hoffman, for a while their posthumous work grants us additional destinations, which is when the bargaining does creep in. We study this new work not only for insights into their sudden death but for evidence of an alternate reality – a reality in which the person is still alive and still creating more worlds that we may visit.

Which is to say that it’s both difficult and enthralling to watch “God’s Pocket,” a sad sack of an indie directed by Mad Men‘s John Slattery that features Hoffman in one of his last performances. The movie itself is a mixed bag. Set in a fictional working-class section of South Philadelphia named, unfortunately enough, God’s Pocket, it is populated by underdogs who have so little to boast about that they uphold their neighborhood with a blind patriotism that renders non-natives inferior in their eyes. The result is that the neighborhood itself is this film’s true protagonist, with Hoffman as Mickey, a hard-drinking, low-level criminal, running a distant second. Continue Reading →

Eat Drink Book Movie

If there’s one thing people like as much as food, it’s the culture of food: dining and cooking blogs, restaurant scenes, cookbooks for every sense and sensibility, chef idolatry, food TV, and, of course, food movies. Even bad movies about food are still good, thanks to their subjects, and cinema’s most sensual moments tend to feature meals rather than sex—think Eat Drink Man Woman, Babette’s Feast, and Tom Jones. (If you’ve never seen the latter, be forewarned: You’ll never look at a roasted chicken the same way again.)

While there’s never been a shortage of movies to make us hungry, though, there’s a surprising dearth of films based on food memoirs. Sure, there’s Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron’s film based on memoirs by Julia Child and Julie Powell; Toast, based on British chef Nigel Slater’s memoir; and reportedly an upcoming film based on New York City chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s Bones, Blood & Butter (which may star Lady Goop herself, Gwyneth Paltrow). But since all of Hollywood loves a literary adaptation, and since few literary genres blend such va-va-voom carnality with serious brass tacks, I’d argue there should be many more. For Word and Film, I list the food writers whose books would provide an excellent start.

Of ‘Under the Skin’ and Mother Lodes

It can be said that the first rule of any literary adaptation is that it must work unto itself—that our appreciation of the film can’t be contingent upon our familiarity with the book. But I would offer an adjacent rule: that, as audiences, we must never judge a literary adaptation by how well it references its antecedent. Nothing makes my heart sink faster than the casual dismissal, “Eh, the novel was better than the movie.”

I’ve been thinking about this because of two recent releases: the terrific Hateship, Loveship, which diverges greatly in tone from the terrific Alice Munro short story upon which it’s based (I review them both here), and Under the Skin. A sci-fi indie starring Scarlett Johansson as a ruby-lipped alien predator, Skin hit theaters last week to much ado. Continue Reading →

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