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 →
Last week, it was reported that Baz Luhrmann is in talks with Warner Brothers to direct an Elvis Presley biopic. Since rumors also abound that he may be directing a 1970s-style Kung Fu flick, there’s no need yet to start cheering – or jeering, for that matter. (Luhrmann rarely provokes a neutral response.) But it’s likely the Presley movie will happen, especially since Warner Brothers has secured the rights to his full music catalog and Luhrmann has cornered the market on dizzyingly over-the-top musical extravaganzas – think Moulin Rouge! and last summer’s megahit Gatsby.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I’ve never been a fan of the Aussie helmer’s films, which seem like never-ending music videos directed by a Busby Berkeley with attention deficit disorder. (Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was so steroidally MTV-like that he had to call it William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet in order to clarify his antecedent material.) But even I can’t pretend he isn’t the obvious choice to tackle pop music’s original bad boy, who was no stranger to excesses himself. The only real wild card of this project might be the script, reportedly being written by Kelly Marcel (of the super-saccharine Saving Mr. Banks). That said, Luhrmann’s films are never about anything so pedestrian as words, anyway.
What his films are about is star power. Luhrmann always casts blindingly shiny stars (Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio) to portray blindingly shiny stars, and certainly no one radiated star power like The King of Rock and Roll. So the true success of this Luhrmann-directed biopic lies squarely with whomever plays Elvis. It has to be a fellow with enough swagger to override our intellectual objections; enough of a wink to lighten the director’s bombast; enough talent to stand up to the inevitable comparisons to Presley himself; enough of a range to take him from breakout panty-dropper to bloated Las Vegas lounge lizard; and enough heavy-lidded beauty to mesmerize us into submission. For Word and Film, I consider what actor could possibly fill those blue suede shoes.