Movie Review: ADAPTATION, 2002, Directed by Spike Jonze

ADAPTATION,      MOVIE POSTERADAPTATION, 2002
Movie Reviews

Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhall
Review by Russell Wray

SYNOPSIS:

Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives… With Great Difficulty. His Twin Brother Donald Lives the way he writes… with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life… But can’t live it. John’s life is a book… Waiting to be adapted. One story… Four Lives… A million ways it can end.

REVIEW:

“Nothing happens in life. Life is boring.” writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) declares to screen writing wiz Robert Mckee (played by Brian Cox) whilst at one of his writing seminars. To this Robert Mckee fiercely replies “Nothing happens in life? Are you mad? People find love. People lose it. Everyday someone makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else”. With these two characters there is a strong summary of all of Charlie Kaufman’s work which is finding the interesting and extraordinary in everyday life. Adaptation is a great example of this because Kaufman tries to answer this question through his characters as oppose to his usual device of creating surreal scenarios to attempt to answer this question.

Writer Charlie Kaufman is given the task of adapting a book about orchids into a movie. He struggles to find a story in the book. He has to make one up. He cleverly decides to make the movie about himself and his struggle to write the movie. With the help of his twin brother Donald (also played by Nicholas Cage) he follows the writer and the subject of the book to find out who these people really are. In the same way that Kaufman has become fascinated with his subjects, the writer of the book, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) has become obsessed with her subject John Laroche (Chris Cox). Susan lives a seemingly ordinary suburban life and seeks to escape this with flower thief Laroche. Laroche is no stranger to tragedy and leads a different life to Susan. He poaches orchids in Florida, runs an internet porn site, and is missing his front teeth.”

The most interesting area of this film is Kaufman’s struggle to write the movie. Kaufman uses the film as a tool to discuss writing conventions. Kaufman himself declares that he does not want to make a fantastical film about car chases, guns or characters faced by obstacles that they must overcome. He simply wants to make a film about flowers. As the film shows this is no easy task. The contrast between the neurotic Charlie Kaufman with twin brother Donald Kaufman works brilliantly. Donald Kaufman has followed his brother’s footsteps and begins to write a screenplay of his own. Donald attends regular screenwriting workshops and generally writes with conventions and stereotypes. Kaufman shows his cleverness here by showing the audience these conventions to enhance his more complex style of writing.

In Kaufman’s quest to find adventure in naturalism he still creates a line in the film where fact and fiction meet. The problem is trying to find where that line is. Even to the extent of his characters it is unclear how accurate they are. In this auto-biographical piece it is not clear what Kaufman has contrived to drive plot and what he has kept close to real life. Charlie Kaufman shows bravery in creating himself as a timid weak person and yet does not hint to the audience that his character is merely a representation and not his real persona. The heart pumping close of the film leaves the audience wondering about these small details. This is a different approach for Kaufman as the audience usually leaves the film wondering what the hell they just saw. This once again sticks to Kaufman’s new deconstructive approach to writing and it clear that Kaufman is attempting to master a much more subtle style of writing.

Spike Jonze’s direction doesn’t stand out but that is a good thing. It is obvious that the director has a great respect and love for Kaufman’s writing since they worked together on Being John Malkovich. Jonzes does not try anything too absurd. He works very much as a silent director and lets the characters live out the story. This is not to say that Jonze does not construct some brilliant pieces. When Laroche’s past story is revealed, Jonze’s works very simply but effectively to create a very cold but extremely naturalistic scene which will definitely shock any audience member.

Nicholas Cage puts in one of his best performances in recent memory. No offence meant to Mr. Cage but he does portray paranoia and insecurity brilliantly. He never goes over the top with his performance. He also shines as the brother Donald who is confident yet naïve. The chance to play two roles which show an actor’s range so strongly must have been a challenge for Cage but he fully leaps in and created one of his best pieces of work here. Chris Cooper won an Academy Award in 2003 for his performance in this film and rightly so. Laroche is an interesting character from a less privileged world to the other characters. Cooper plays the tragedy and emotions of the character on such a subtle level that the audience believe this character to be flesh and blood. Streep is excellent as always in portraying the naturalistic tone that Jonze creates. Some of the smaller roles in this film really stand out, especially Brian Cox as screenwriter Robert Mckee whose bite is not as bad as his bark but you would still not like to see his bite.

Adaptation is definitely not a film to be missed. It is another landmark in screenwriting from Charlie Kaufman. Even if it does not include the surreal and absurd moments that audiences loved in Being John Malkovich it works as a much more subtle and sensitive piece of cinema which drags all of the excitement out of ordinary life as best as it can.

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1997 Movie Review: THE BOXER, 1997

 

THE BOXER,  MOVIE POSTERTHE BOXER, 1997
Movie Reviews

directed by: Jim Sheridan

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Nye Heron, Jer O’Leary
Review by Virginia De Witt

SYNOPSIS:On the eve of peace being declared in Northern Ireland, Danny Flynn is released from prison after serving 14 years for his youthful involvement with the IRA. Danny’s former girlfriend, Maggie, married his best friend, Tommy Doyle, and had a son, Liam. Tommy is now in prison himself and Maggie is watched vigilantly by the local community as she is now a prisoner’s wife and must be above reproach at all times. Danny sets out to start his life anew, and continue with his boxing career which had been interrupted by his prison term. He begins by initiating a training program for young boxers in the youth centre where Maggie also works. They reconnect even though it is dangerous for them to be seen together. At the same time, Danny begins to fight professionally again. Events spiral out of control as Maggie’s young son, Liam, is furious over his mother’s attachment to Danny. As well, Danny’s newfound commitment to the peace process sets him on a collision course with members of the local IRA.

REVIEW:

This third collaboration between writer/director Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis is the least well known. It was shot from an original screenplay co-written by Sheridan and Terry George. Their main object in telling the fictional story of Danny Flynn was to dramatize the culmination of the peace process and the consequences of it in the lives of ordinary people living in Belfast. In an interview on the DVD, Sheridan says the idea for the story came to him while he was living in New York in the ‘80s watching the news from Ireland, which was all bad. Then one night, a young Irish boxer, Barry McGuigan, was featured and said, “Leave the fighting to McGuigan.” Sheridan relates how he found it “… kind of innocent and naive a little bit, but great. Here was a guy in a violent profession saying stop fighting. That contradiction interested me.”

It’s that contradiction that is at the heart of the drama Sheridan and Geoge have crafted here. It is a thoughtful and intelligent take on the sometimes painful and dramatic progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which however, lacks some of the focus and tightness of storytelling that distinguished “My Left Foot” and “In The Name of the Father.” The tension that drives the story comes from the split on the republican side over whether to accept the terms being offered by the British to achieve peace, ie decommissioning weapons, etc. Danny (Daniel Day-Lewis), his friend and boxing mentor, Ike Weir (Ken Stott) and Maggie’s father (Brian Cox), an IRA chief, are all on the side of negotiating. They are each, in turn, confronted by Harry (Gerard McSorley), a break away IRA member, in violent episodes meant to sabotage the peace process. In the midst of this political drama, Sheridan works in a love story that is affecting and simply drawn.

Sheridan is ambitious here, attempting to combine what initially seem like too many elements for a small film. He does manage, however, to keep the political story, the love story and finally the boxing narrative of Danny’s attempted career comeback, balanced for most of the film. It is not until well into the last act when Sheridan cuts to Danny’s big fight in a London hotel that the film loses its momentum and bogs down. The London sequence is unnecessary dramatically as it doesn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen in Belfast regarding the peace process. It does, however, allow the filmmaker to make his point about violence by having Danny refuse to keep fighting a man who is clearly in distress. This scene is also an emotional nod to Barry McGuigan (who worked on the film as Daniel Day-Lewis’s trainer). McGuigan relates in an interview on the DVD how, when he was a professional boxer, he had fought a man in London, who had died later of head injuries. As admirable as all of this is, the point has already been made about Danny’s desire to use his boxing skills for peace in the earlier Belfast scenes. The result is that the build up to the final confrontation between Danny and Harry at the end of the film has been crucially interrupted.

Despite this lapse, overall the film works well. As usual Sheridan, and his actors, are wonderful at capturing the nuances of Irish life believably and dramatically. In the extended wedding scene that opens the film or in the depictions of the daily interactions at the Holy Family Boxing Club, the rhythms of language, the pleasures and pressures of family life and social obligations are all caught knowingly, and yet seem completely natural in their context.

The cast is crucial in this process. Daniel Day-Lewis is intense, but quiet, as Danny Flynn, displaying a barely acknowledged sadness just beneath his surface that is moving. This is a man who is aware of what he has lost by virtue of his earlier decisions and has now grown used to being alone. It is easy for us to understand how Danny now only wants to start his life again. As an important part of that new life, Emily Watson, as Maggie, displays a disarming simplicity. Maggie is quiet too, but it is a quiet strength. We come to know that in her world to talk too much is dangerous. Maggie learned long ago how to navigate her way through the byways of a life lived in proximity to violence. Watson lets us know subtly that this endless process, both personal and political, is now wearing her down. As well, she has a nice rapport with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes together. Ken Stott, as Danny’s trainer, is memorable as an older man who, like Danny, is desperately trying to begin again but knows the odds are against him.

The original music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer is eery, evocative of tribal chants, mixed with Celtic sounds. The cinematography by Chris Menges has a sometimes strangely blueish tint to it, but is clear and sharp and captures the dark world out of which these characters are struggling to emerge.

The ending of “The Boxer” lacks the joyous completion of “My Left Foot” or the triumphal vindication of “In The Name of the Father.” There is, instead, an air of quiet resolution about it, and the film overall. Nonetheless, “The Boxer” deserves its place alongside these other two excellent films and should be revisited

 

 

Film Review: CHURCHILL (UK 2017) ***

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

churchill.jpgA ticking-clock thriller following Winston Churchill in the 96 hours before D-Day.

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: Alex von Tunzelmann
Stars: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
CHURCHILL begins with the scene of an image of World War I and II Prime Minister Winston Churchill standing on an isolated beach. He imagines blood washed by the sea on its shores while his black bowler hat eventually floats out into the vast horizon. The scene is rich in metaphors while being solemn, setting the mood for a 2-hour film on a Winston Churchill most of the world do not know. It is a Churchill depicted as a bully, drunk and opinionated self-pitying cad.

It is the week before the planned D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy which everyone knows led to the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one is aware of the victory of D-Day in the film, and the planning is set with uncertainty. Churchill, after his failure of the Gallipoli war which resulted in the loss of thousands of young British men, was intent not to let the mistake of leading thousands to their death happen again. So, he would stop the D-Day landing at all costs. But planning was already under way,. Everyone including Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham) believed that the landing would be instrumental in winning the War against the Nazis.

The trouble with this film is hat there is not much story but much repetition of the same storyline. Churchill is against the landing. He is shown the truth and he will only budge at the very end after learning that he had no choice. Still, the film still hails Churchill as a great man, as the title ‘the greatest Briton that ever lived’ is flashed on screen.

There are scenes that show Churchill at his worst. These include those where he is constantly pouring himself whisky and more so, when he takes it out on his secretary, screaming at her for little reason. The script, written by Alex von Tunzelmann is full of great oratorical speeches, which is expected as this is a story of a man who gave the great speeches.

British actor Brian Cox is nothing short of stunning in the title role of the Prime Minister. Cox is currently of the same age as Churchill during the time of the story. The supporting performances of Slattery and Wadham are also impressive. But arguably, the best performance comes surprisingly from Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill, his long suffering wife. She does not have the freedom of the luxury of leaving her husband no matter how tortured the marriage had become. The film emphasizes the importance of duty during the War.

CHURCHILL is a war drama without any battle scenes. It would serve as an effective prelude to the upcoming summer blockbuster DUNKIRK, directed by Christopher Nolan which reported is supposed to depict the horrific realities of the landing of the Allied forces on the Normandy beaches. CHURCHILL only hints of the horrors of the landing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVOzMZ4IrMA

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Happy Birthday: Brian Cox

briancoxHappy Birthday actor Brian Cox

Born: Brian Denis Cox
June 1, 1946 in Dundee, Scotland, UK

Married to: Nicole Ansari-Cox (2002 – present) (2 children)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

ManhunterManhunter
1986
dir. Mann
starring
William Peterson
Brian Cox

BRAVEHEARTBraveheart
1995
dir Mel Gibson
Starring
Mel Gibson
Brian Cox

THE BOXERThe Boxer
1997
dir. Jim Sheridan
Starring
Day-Lewis
Emily Watson

RushmoreRushmore
1998
dir. Anderson
starring
Jason Schwartzman
Bill Murray

Adaptation
2002
dir. Spike Jonze
Starring
Nicholas Cage
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper

25th HOUR25th Hour
2002
dir. Spike Lee
starring
Norton
Philip Seymour Hoffman

THE BOURNE IDENTITYThe Bourne Identity
2002
dir. Doug Liman
Starring
Matt Damon
Franka Potente

x-menX-Men 2
2003
dir. Bryan Singer
starring
Hugh Jackman
Halle Berry

 moviesIRONCLAD
2011
dir. Jonathan English
Stars:
Paul Giamatti
Jason Flemyng

MOVIE POSTERCORIOLANUS
dir. Ralph Fiennes
Stars:
Ralph Fiennes
Gerard Butler

The Bourne SupremacyThe Bourne Supremacy
2004
dir. Paul Greengrass
Cast
Matt Damon
Brian Cox

Red Eye
2005
dir. Wes Craven
Starring
Cillian Murphy
Rachel McAdams

REDRED
dir. Robert Schwentke
Stars:
Bruce Willis
Helen Mirren

MOVIE POSTERFOR LOVE OF THE GAME
1999
dir. Sam Raimi
Starring:
Kevin Costner
Kelly Preston

MATCH POINTMatch Point
2005
dir. Woody Allen
Cast
Jonathan Reyes Meyers
Scarlett Johansson

ZODIACZodiac
2007
dir. Fincher
Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal
Mark Ruffalo
Robert Downey Jr.

MOVIE POSTERRISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
dir. Rupert Wyatt
Stars:
James Franco
Andy Serkis

MOVIE POSTERTHE ROOKIE
2002
dir. John Lee Hancock
Stars:
Dennis Quaid
J.D. Evermore

TRICK R TRICKTrick r Trick
2008
dir. Michael Dougherty
Starring
Quinn Lord
Cox
Dylan Baker

FANTASTIC MR. FOX Movie PosterFantastic Mr. Fox
dir. Wes Anderson
Stars:
George Clooney
Meryl Streep
Bill Murray

MOVIE POSTERTHE CAMPAIGN
dir. Jay Roach
Stars:
Will Ferrell
Zach Galifianakis

MOVIE POSTERRUNNING WITH SCISSORS
2006
dir. Ryan Murphy
Stars:
Joseph Cross
Annette Bening