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Phasekitty and the Oscars

Before I break it down film by film, here are some of my initial, knee jerk reactions to the Oscar nominations this year:

First and foremost, this year has been a major disappointment to me for one movie: The Wrestler. This was by far the best movie I saw this year and it is being largely ignored. Not only do I feel that it should have been up for Best Picture, but more importantly Darren Aronofsky deserved a Best Director nod for it as well. I have yet to watch anything this year that impressed me as much as that film did in directing, writing, and acting. I do believe that Mickey will win and deserves the Oscar, but I’m pretty disappointed in the academy for not giving Aronofsky credit for his best work to date. And what is up with the song category? Did they pair it down to three nominees so that we won’t have to sit through 5 live performances during the ceremony? Because I kind of like the performances. Either way, Bruce Springsteen got screwed out of a nomination and that bugs me.

Despite this glaring omission, I do have to hand it to the Academy for giving just one (deserved) nomination to Revolutionary Road, for leaving Doubt out of the Best Picture and Director races, and for shutting out Gran Torino altogether- all were movies that were overly hyped and really just not that great. The nominations for Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep’s incredibly over the top performances in Doubt are disappointing, but expected.

Let’s talk about supporting actors. I love Robert Downey Jr., but his nomination for Tropic Thunder is out of place. I expect that sort of thing from the Globes, but not the Oscars. While RDJ was certainly the standout performance in that film, I can think of plenty of other actors whose performances deserve this spot just off the top of my head: James Franco (Milk), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), Viggo Mortensen (Appaloosa). There are a ton of performances that would suit this category better than “the dude playing a dude disguised as another dude.” Even if they would inevitably lose it to Heath, it’s still nice to get the recognition.

A few more things:

  • It’s nice to see The Dark Knight get all the technical nominations, even though it didn’t make it into the big categories. Despite how you feel about big, action super hero films, no one can deny the fact that technically, it’s a fantastically made film.
  • I love the surprise acting nominations this year- Michael Shannon brings a brief breath of life to Revolutionary Road and while I haven’t yet seen The Visitor, who doesn’t adore Richard Jenkins?
  • Angelina and Brad’s nods seem like a ploy to keep them front and center, in case anyone forgot that Hollywood adores them. What a waste of two perfectly good nominations.
  • I’m not usually as surprised by the score nominations as I was this year. It’ll likely go to Slumdog, but I also expected to see Changeling and Revolutionary Road in this category. And I don’t recall a single note of Milk’s score- I would have liked to see one of those two movies in its place instead.

How do you feel about this year’s nominations?

Appaloosa, a Western by Ed Harris

I’m a sucker for a good western. There’s something about the slow southern drawl, the sweeping desert beauty, the tough guys on horses, and the intensity of a good showdown that I find so engaging.

The Book:
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are two gunman who come to the town of Appaloosa to lay down order and reign in the terrible Randall Bragg who murdered the sheriff and instills terror upon the town. The two embark on lawfully bringing Bragg down, but hit a few snags along the way including a mysterious woman named Allie French. Even though Parker’s novel was written in 2005, it may as well have been written in the early 20th century in the era of silent films and John Ford westerns. Its slow and steady pace is perfectly suited for the screen and offers a visual style and well developed characters with smart dialogue. This book is a great read and a perfect western film all in one.

The Movie:
Ed Harris, who produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, brings this story to life with an amazing cast and a near direct adaptation of the book. Nearly every line of dialogue comes from the pages of Parker’s novel and every action is precise to the word. Often such a direct adaptation does not result in a good film, but as westerns tend to have a slow pace about them, it translates well. It goes without saying the Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Jeremy Irons turn in fantastic performances and even Renée Zellweger, who I find to be hit or miss, easily transforms into the needy, backstabbing Allie. The pacing is slow at times, and Harris does fall victim to an adaptation cliché with Everett’s unnecessary narration at the beginning and end of the film. Also, there is a stumble in the development of the relationship between Virgil and Allie when she is teasing him about his past and Virgil gets upset and beats up a belligerent drunk in the bar. This scene doesn’t play as well as it does in the book and instead makes Virgil out to be an angry man with random bursts of violence, which is not the case. However, the film preserves the source material and the actors bring a great, dry comedy to the film that is not as apparent in the novel and truly brings the characters to life.

What’s Missing:
Appaloosa by Ed HarrisNot a whole lot- the first time Virgil and Everett met, the crime that Bragg’s men commit upon arriving at Appaloosa (it’s mentioned by the sheriff Jack Bell in the first scene of the film), and some minor scenes between Virgil and Everett along the way. Most notably missing is the prostitute Katie’s wisdom and relationship with Everett. She gets but three decent scenes in the film, though it feels like there was once more that may have ended up on the cutting room floor. In the book, she helps Everett to understand Allie’s manipulative ways and develops a sweet relationship in which he is considered more than just a client to her, but in the movie she is nothing but a glorified companion. She’s not even mentioned by name, though Everett does have a touching scene with her just before the final showdown.

What’s New:
Harris’ adaptation is so precise that hardly a single detail has changed. The largest one is still rather insignificant where Whittfield is one of Bragg’s man who witnessed the murder and turns against him to testify, while in the book he is a deputy of Appaloosa who ran away once Jack Bell is shot and returns to testify against Bragg. Also, Russell, the Shelton’s cousin, does not show up until they arrive at Beauville, while in the book he’s with them throughout the encounter with the Indians.

Overall Adaptation:
It would have been easy for Harris to change the story to involve more action, more sex, and all in all make it a more acceptable Hollywood film, but he does not. This is a very respectable, direct adaptation that preserves its engaging story and transforms it into an instantly classic western.

In preperation to watch and review “Appaloosa“, I took another look at the film’s trailer. Watching this trailer leads me to believe that if you’re looking for a direct adaptation of Robert Parker’s novel, look no further.  Every line of dialogue uttered is directly from the book and I can place every shot down to the chapter.  It’s amazing how Harris seems to have captured both the quiet, classic western aspect, the amazingly visual style, and the tongue in cheek humor of the book.  I can’t wait to see the film and compare, but for now I’d say this trailer is a great start.

Appaloosa by Ed Harris This weekend Ed Harris’ adaptation of “Appaloosa” hits theaters in limited release.  The western is based on a 2005 Robert B. Parker novel.

The film is centered around Virgil Cole (Harris), a lawman, and his sidekick Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen). Cole and Hitch are hired to defend a 1880s lawless town from a murderous rancher, Randall Bragg (Irons). Their efforts are disrupted and their friendship is tested by the arrival of Allie French (Zellweger), an attractive widow.

“Appaloosa” is one of many adaptations that are being released in the fall/early winder season. We’ll be seeing the film this weekend at the ArcLight Hollywood, which will also feature a Q and A with Ed Harris, the film’s director/star. Phasekitty will be writing a book to film comparison early next week.

Appaloosa Book CoverCurrently I’m plowing through the 2005 Robert B. Parker novel which inspired the Ed Harris western due out September 17th. So far, I’m bowled over by how much this book reads like a classic western. When I settle down with this novel, I feel like I’m being transported to Monument Valley and reliving a John Ford film. I was astounded to find that this book was written just 3 years ago and not 50. It’s refreshing to see that it’s not just modern films that are reinventing the western (such as last year’s excellent 3:10 to Yuma), but novels as well.

I try not to let what I know about the film influence me while I read, but even without watching the trailer it’s sometimes hard to do. I picture Ed Harris while I read about the stoic Virgil Cole, while Everett, who tells the story, continually brings to mind Viggo Mortensen’s face. The only cast member I have yet to place is Jeremy Irons as the villain Bragg. For some reason, I can’t get the image of Lee Marvin out of my head, though I know that’s just from watching too many Ford westerns.

I’m excited to see Harris back behind the camera again, though the last film he helmed was not without its flaws. Pollock was superbly acted, but the story was inconsistent. Here Harris has great source material with a straight forward narrative and a very visual style. I can’t wait to see how he translates it to the screen.

For a full list of fall/early winter film adaptations, click here.

Max Payne is a best selling video game being turned into a film.

From now to the end of the year there will be a wide variety of adaptations hitting theaters.  From books to video games and remakes, no properties have been left untouched by Hollywood. Read on for a full list of adaptations that will be hitting theaters in the fall/early winter.

September

9/5

  • Bangkok Dangerous (based on the 1999 film)

9/12

  • Towelhead (based on the novel by Alicia Erian)
  • The Women (based on the 1939 film)

9/17

  • Appaloosa (based on the novel by Robert B. Parker)

9/19

  • The Duchess (based on the biography Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Forman)
  • A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (based on the short story by Yiyun Li)

9/26

  • Choke (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk)
  • Miracle at St. Anna (based on the novel by James McBride)
  • Nights in Rodanthe (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks)

October

10/3

  • Blindness (based on the novel by José Saramago)
  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (based on the memoir by Toby Young)
  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (based on the novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn)
  • What Just Happened? (based on the novel What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line by Art Linson)

10/10

  • Body of Lies (based on the novel by David Ignatius)
  • City of Ember (based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau)
  • Quarantine (based on the 2007 film REC)

10/17

  • Max Payne (based on the video game)
  • The Secret Life of Bees (based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd)
  • Flash of Genius (based on the New Yorker story by John Seabrook)

November

11/14

  • The Road (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy)

11/21

  • Twilight (based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer)

December

12/5

  • Frost/Nixon (based on the play by Peter Morgan)
  • Punisher: War Zone (based on the comic book series created by Gerry Conway)

12/12

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (based on the 1951 film)
  • Doubt (based on the play by John Patrick Shanley)

12/19

  • The Tale of Despereaux (based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo)
  • Yes Man (based on the autobiography by Danny Wallace)

12/25

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Marley and Me (based on the autobiography by Josh Grogan)
  • The Spirit (based on the comic book series created by Will Eisner)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife (based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger)

12/26

  • Revolutionary Road (based on the novel by Richard Yates)