Archive | Book Matters

The Dickensian Dystopia of ‘Snowpiercer’

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

Snowpiercer is a fantastic dumb movie for smart people. Or maybe it’s just a fantastic smart movie for everybody. Either way, I’m in love; this is the first big-scale picture of the summer that deserves to put tons of bodies in movie theater seats. The irony is that it belongs to the two cinema genres already glutting multiplexes to the chagrin of many. It’s both an action pic and a comic book adaptation – albeit a Korean adaptation of Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, which is basically a brainy cocktail of Speed and Brazil. On the rocks.

For seventeen years, Earth has been adrift in an Ice Age caused by a misguided effort to head off climate change. The only humans still alive are sealed off from the elements on the Snowpiercer, a perpetual motion-powered train that hurtles around the earth every 365 days. At the front dwell those who could afford to buy their seats; at the rear, the unwashed ragamuffins who secured their (most piteous of) positions through a lottery. The “haves” luxuriate in spas, nightclubs, and lush greenhouses, swilling sushi and champagne while their children are brainwashed by a Martha Stewart-on-crack schoolmarm (Alison Pill as you’ve never seen her). The “have-nots” languish in unlit shantytowns in which they are subject to terrible brutality (amputation being the standard punishment for insubordination), maw black gelatinous blocks fashioned from a nebulous animal protein, and are presided over by Mason (Tilda Swinton, sporting a dental prosthesis that’s practically four-dimensional), a Thatcher-esque bureaucrat who brandishes a polyester glove on an iron fist. Continue Reading →

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 →

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