Friday, December 15, 2006

How is a Good Movie like a Good Book?

I love a movie that my fellow viewers and I can sit around and muse over for hours afterwards and revisit later on. In college I was able to read the same books as my classmates and contemplate them in class. I miss that, and I see a quality film that spurs discussion about characters, plot, dialogue, and ideas as a surrogate for my English major days. So here’s a list of movies I saw in the theater this year and enjoyed, and books that are related in some sense.

Match Point: It’s not cheerful, and it’s not easy to watch. I’m not a Woody Allen fan, but his work on this movie was absolutely brilliant. Jonathan Rhys-Myers is cold and calculating; Scarlett Johansson is sultry and desperate. I’ve never seen a movie with better use of a soundtrack. In scenes where you want music to relieve the grating tension, there is silence, and in scenes when it seems horribly out of place, you hear ethereal operatic arias. The viewer is manipulated into rooting for the wrong person, feeling amusement where one should feel disgust, and wondering if there is such a thing as justice. It’s basically a modern adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Thank You for Smoking: This is the role of Aaron Eckhart’s career. I’ve hated him in everything else I’ve ever seen him in, but he’s perfect in this as the un-PC spinmaster on behalf of big tobacco. Adding much to the wicked humor are Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, David Koechner, Adam Brody, and J.K. Simmons. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Buckley, which I haven’t read, but if the reviews are any indication, it’s just as funny.

Little Miss Sunshine: The whole theater oscillated between roaring with laughter and smarting from the pathos. When I walked out of the theater, I wanted to turn around on the spot and see it again immediately, and I kept wanting to see it again ever since. It’s the only movie I can think of where each of the actors in an ensemble cast (six) gave an equally affecting performance. The most memorable scene features Steve Carell and Paul Dano out on a pier talking about the misery of being a teenager. They’re an insanely dysfunctional family, but they also love each other dearly in very real, convincing ways. It’s probably my favorite movie I’ve seen all year. It’s not adapted from a book as far as I know, but if you like it, you may enjoy Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fanny Flagg or Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

The Prestige: Director Christopher Nolan also directed Batman Begins and Memento. The Prestige feels like a novel in the same way that Memento felt like a short story. Both are dark and brooding with countless unforeseen plot twists. Christian Bale brings the same sort of moody energy to this role as his turn in Batman, only with a baser motivation. Hugh Jackman (who I’ve never liked until now) is Bale’s more gentlemanly competitor. Nothing is what it seems here; it’s hard to differentiate between trickery and magic. There are a lot of levels to this movie regarding identity, viewpoint, time (the plot leaps around chronologically), and morality. It’s also just darn exciting—I spent much time leaning forward in my seat and gripping the armrests. The movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest. I’d also recommend Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.

Stranger Than Fiction: This was such a clever concept, ingeniously acted by Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhall. It was odd and funny and tragic. The ending was a bit weak, but it could have been worse. Shots of stark modern Chicago architecture deftly represent the emptiness of a lonely existence and writer’s block. There’s an inspired scene where Ferrell has an awkward conversation on a bus with Gyllenhall—he’s sitting on the accordion-like connection between the two bus sections, and she’s on the back section, and every time the bus turns a corner he’s pulled away from her. For hilarious books that mix literature and life I recommend the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, and for a creative story dealing with free will and foreknowledge, I recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (sadly plagued by an overlong ending, but otherwise good).

Casino Royale: This movie did for the Bond franchise what Batman Begins did for the Batman franchise. Casino is something of a throwback to the early Connery Bond movies, but in my opinion, Daniel Craig is even better. The campiness, Bruckheimeresque action, and dreadful puns are gone. There’s intrigue with some witty and amusing scenes. Craig actually looks like he can throw a punch (unlike Moore and Brosnan); he’s debonair in his tux but rough around the edges. Judi Dench gets to do some actual acting, and the bond girl can form complete sentences. The chase scene that opens the movie contains the best stunts I’ve ever seen in anything—I made audible gasps and exclamations in disbelief. Books to recommend? The originals by Ian Fleming. I haven’t read these, but my husband has and felt the same way about the movie as I did.


CAC said...

I liked "V for Vendetta," although not as much as the movies listed here. Also, we liked "Brick" and "Grizzly Man," a lot, but we only saw those on DVD.

hambone said...

Little Miss Sunshine was one of three movies the Buzzard and I saw in the theatre this year, and it was tremendous. There was an honesty to it -- like that scene on the pier -- that made the family so believable and lovable.

I don't think I could read Time Traveler's Wife again. The book had such an undercurrent of anger to it, and I think that got away from the author -- in fact, that it came *from* the author. Plus, the ending wasn't just overlong, as you said, it was weak, weak, weak.

Watoosa said...

Hambone, I'm with you about the TTW. The ending was such a disappointment. It's too bad because the concept of the book was very creative and I quite enjoyed, say, the first 3/4ths of it.