A film snob in denial.
I have to say it’s difficult to take movies/stories like On The Road (2012) seriously nowadays, when being free-spirited and rebellious has become cliche. When I saw the trailer, I immediately thought, “So what?” Obviously the novel is a classic, but I wasn’t sure a movie version was necessary.
I haven’t read the book, so I can’t really speak to the film’s faithfulness. I would bet it’s pretty close though, in terms of theme and mood, and I came to enjoy it a lot, despite my initial wariness.
I could listen to Garret Hedlund’s voice all day (it was a little distracting, actually), but even more than that, he played Dean (the free spirit) perfectly. He’s the sort of character you have to be charmed by because he’s so manipulative of everyone around him (women especially). If he wasn’t charming, you would hate him right off the bat. Hedlund has the right mix of Midwestern charm and exuberance to make Dean likable.
Sam Riley as the main character, Sal, was very good, albeit forgettable. That’s due more to the character than his acting. Kristen Stewart was more vibrant than I’ve ever seen her. Her acting is more complex and emotive, which I applaud, although there’s still an awkwardness to her style. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it.
I appreciated the inclusion of other talented actors like Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen (that crazy man), even if they were only on the screen briefly. They each made their own mark on their characters and fleshed out their storylines. Adams is especially good at this.
The editing in the beginning of the film bothered me, because it was too fast, but it slowed down around the middle, so it wasn’t bad. The cinematography was decent too. It felt like Walter Salles made an effort to make it visually stimulating without trying to show off.
My favorite parts of the technicals were the score and the sets. I really admire period movies that don’t scream “THIS IS PERIOD, GUYS” which On The Road manages to do. I believed it was the late 40s/early 50s without having to focus on it the entire time. And I loved the jazzy score because it was just fun to listen to, and it fit the mood.
Script-wise, I thought Jose Rivera did a great job incorporating the language of the book in the right places. The poetry of it complemented the imagery onscreen. But, personally, I thought there were too many sex scenes. I don’t usually care about sexuality in movies, but it did feel like sex took over the majority of the screen time. Sex is an essential part of the book though, as far as I know, so I can’t complain too much.
Basically, On The Road is restrained and classy (even with the constant sex). The character arcs make sense and you feel like you’ve learned something, even if it’s a familiar lesson. And if nothing else, it’s worth it for the well-crafted bromance.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Person to Person
I’m a little wary of this remake of The Evil Dead (1981). The main appeal of the original was the campiness and over-the-top gore, but this remake is going for legit horror. Granted, the trailer did freak me out a lot, so it’s doing something right. I’m also easily scared, so who knows.
Even if it’s well-made, it’s not going to feel like a real Evil Dead movie if it isn’t corny and ridiculous.
Warning: Contains spoilers
Sorry, I really can’t resist going into details about Stoker (2013). Skip the rest of this review if you don’t want to ruin the entire plot for yourself.
It’s pretty obvious that the movie was influenced by Shadow of a Doubt (1943) by Alfred Hitchcock (which was confirmed by Wentworth Miller). Like in Shadow of a Doubt, the uncle (Matthew Goode) here is called Charlie, and also like that film, he stirs up awkward sexual tension with the niece (Mia Wasikowska). Not to mention, Charlie is the sort of villain you don’t quite hate, like Joseph Cotten’s character was. That’s mostly where the similarity ends, but I appreciate Miller’s taste. Can’t go wrong with Hitchcock.
In Stoker, there’s much more emphasis on sociopathy. Cotten’s Charlie seemed more human - he may have almost killed his niece, but he also appeared to like her or care for her in some way. His actions were more desperate than cold and calculating. Goode’s character, you find out by the end, is clinically insane, and though he feels attachment to his brother (Dermot Mulroney) and India (the niece), everyone else is disposable. In fact, he kills recklessly. A more sane person would realize that killing as many people as he does would draw attention right away. Cotten’s Charlie is more restrained.
Even without considering the Hitchcock influences, Stoker is very well made in itself. Though it has the appearance of a typical thriller, it keeps you guessing and amending your initial impressions of the story and the characters. Chan-wook Park hides the twists cleverly, and reveals them without making you feel tricked.
India, the main character, is at the center of the best twists. For instance, in the opening shot, we don’t know just to what to think of her. She seems to be calmly looking out into a field as she describes her attire in the voice over, saying she’s wearing her mother’s blouse, her dad’s belt, and shoes from her uncle. These seem like strange details to mention, until you come to the end of the movie, and realize she’s not just looking into a field - she’s spotting a kill. Each item of clothing also has a significance in the story, like the father’s belt, which is used by Charlie as a weapon. Family is important to her, albeit in a messed up, murderous way.
Park keeps us visually interested as well. He does some amazing shot transitions and camera movements, letting the camera linger when it needs to and building suspense through editing. I still can’t get the image of a bare bulb lamp swinging out of my head, and the scene where India eats ice cream in the basement, and discovers the body of the housekeeper. Park definitely makes a lasting impression as a director.
The acting matches the talent of the director and writer, and helps hint at the twists. Though you don’t immediately think Goode’s character is a sociopath, his acting certainly suggests it throughout the movie with his stares and terrifying smiles. Goode uses his charm to reveal Charlie’s true nature slowly. Nicole Kidman is, as always, fabulous. She’s good at portraying the right amount of vulnerability while still showing Evelyn Stoker’s flaws. India could’ve easily gone into a melodramatic direction, but Wasikowska doesn’t ham it up. India feels like a real person, and you don’t feel disgust towards her at the end, when she becomes just like her uncle.
The only criticism I can really think of was the dialogue. It felt stilted and too formal at some points. But eventually, I came to like it. The movie is otherworldly anyway, so the dialogue fits the mood.
All in all, it’s very enjoyable, and filled with tension and good acting, so I would recommend it. I’m still stewing over the issue of whether Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt was a sociopath, and whether he was less or more of a sociopath than Charlie in Stoker. If anyone wants to weigh in, feel free.