Monday 11 January 2010

Review: The Road

Year: 2010
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Joe Penhall
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Synopsis is here

Like the fans who will never believe that a remake can be better than the original. Film adaptations from books face a similar scrutiny from people who find it hard to separate the two mediums. When a book you love is turned into a movie, it's very hard to get those images the pages have burned into your memory, So much so that everything, EVERYTHING that isn't in place in the film, even the elements that just wouldn't fit in a cinematic way become a flaw.

As an avid movie viewer I realize that trying to fit all the nuances that a book can carry, into a consumable two hour movie is more than a little difficult. One must also remember that even how a book is WRITTEN concocts a mental picture completely unique to the reader.

This brings me to Cormac McCathy's hard going but stunning 2006 novel The Road, a book that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with a healthy interest in reading. With this said I will say that the novel is at times a difficult read. When I heard about the movie, I was instantly intrigued. After the film being pushed back for various reasons The Road is finally released to maybe perhaps contend with the 2010 Oscars. But despite this does it manage to do what adaptations should do and evoke the spirit of the book?

In my opinion The film does extremely well although it has its flaws. Case in point: The Infamous coke scene in which The Boy is given a can of coke by the father and told to drink it. In the book we understand that this the first time the boy has even heard of coke let alone drank the stuff. It's a small moment but the poignancy behind it has hidden depths. Despite it being a basic hypothesis (No more coke) it can hard to fathom, particularly when we take such things for granted. This incident in the film doesn't come across right. There's something about McCathy's prose that gets under the skin. Tapping into that feeling is so very difficult. This brings me to my other example, being the final scenes, which are so close to my imagination it feels like director John Hillcoat opened my brain and rummaged through my skull to pick out the mental pictures. They were exactly how I imagined them to be.

It's understandable to see why certain aspects of the film are executed in the way they were and while it's clearly obvious that The filmmakers need to stay as faithful to the novel as possible. The Road still kinda needs to be a marketable mainstream film. So while it's a little frustrating that the film feels more "action packed" (I use that in the loosest term) than the book, Hillcoat still manages to bring across so much of the same emotional tug that resides in the book, and while the narration of the father's is quite clunky (I understand why it's used but show not tell) Hillcoat manages to combine create the stark imagery dreamed by the author and is still able to get the novel's message across.

That message is of course the frailty of humanity. When the chips are really down, and the shit has hit the fan and is beginning to stink, it's not likely that we will act like the stereotypes we see in a film like 2012, it's going to be a downward spiral in which we wouldn't be able to recognize ourselves in the mirror. The central relationship between the boy and his father is one which states that even when we reach the end of civilization; hope and compassion will still be taught and learned. Not only will the older generation try and teach, but the younger breed will also help to install in life lessons.

To make sure this is communicated as thoroughly as possible, Hillcoat has placed his faith in the hands of the the experienced method actor that is Viggo Mortensen and the upcoming youth; Kodi Smit-McPhee. This combination not only puts a face to the "names" (they are unnamed throughout) but fill every frame they're in with raw emotion. With Mortensen, the work he puts into this is almost too easy for him, Smit-McPhee however, is the revelation here. The bonding they had in pre-production clearly shows through here as they carry the movie from struggle to struggle. One of the reasons the film is just as hard to sit though as the book, is because the leads on screen manage to describe how difficult the situation really is with each look, glance and stare.

Hillcoat who was also director of the equally blunt western The Proposition directs the plot efficiently and keeps the pacing tight. No watch watching here, I found myself at times truly lost in the films images and performances and despite some changes Hillcoat's vision is so very close to the book it made me fall in love with the original material again. That's what I feel an adaptation should be about, not straying so far away from the premise that it's a completely new entity, but not hugging the material so tight that the film becomes turgid. It's about finding the balance. A difficult goal to achieve but one that Hillcoat aims for and hits the mark often.

Delays may have kept it from reaching our shores sooner, but once it got here I was happy it didn't disappoint. The Road for me was not only worth a watch but worth checking McCarthy's prose once more. and for those who know how hard that book can be, it says a lot about how I felt about the film.

Review: Daybreakers

Year: 2010
Director: Micheal and Peter Spierig
Screenplay: Micheal and Peter Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke , Sam Neill, Willam Defoe,

Synopsis is here

I will try and be as quick as possible with this because I really do not wish to waste words on this film.

Daybreakers wishes to be a snappy little genre piece but despite an intriguing twist on vampires (yes another fang flick) and some appealing visuals (including one particularly memorable night time action sequence involving exploding vamps at night), there is nothing here that you haven't seen before.

It's characters? Annoying. It's story? Predictable. It's action and scare sequences? (expect the aforementioned scene) Pedestrian Sometimes unintentionally funny. The film was a forgettable viewing that I won't care about seeing again.

It's a shame because vampires at this current moment in time really need a shot in the arm. Ethan Hawkes character is so wet I found it almost impossible to root for him. Sam Neill plays one of the most toothless capitalists I've ever seen, while Willem Defoe is in a role he could do in his sleep. A film like this could really do with something ANYTHING with some verve. Even the films talks about new ways of curing vampirism the ideas feel half baked. It doesn't help that the film has an background allegory towards immigration which is far more interesting than what's happening in the forefront.

It's only been a few hours since I've watched Daybreakers and already I have nothing else to say about it because the film is so faceless.

The Spierig brothers clearly have an astute visual style that will evolve and mature as they make more films. However I hope for their next trick they come up with something that I can "take home with me".