By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Christmas rush of holiday movies is upon us, and if you find this whole notion of peace on earth is already beginning to wear thin, they offer some harrowing alternatives. Two of them, Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, had their premieres cancelled last weekend because their scenes of gun violence were considered inappropriate so soon after the Newtown massacre. Jack Reacher, which reboots Tom Cruise’s career as a action hero, has landed with especially unfortunate timing in light of the Sandy Hook massacre—it opens with a scene of a sniper killing five random civilians, including a mother holding a young child. Django, Quentin Tarantino’s tale of slave liberation, is tale of merry vengeance that opens Christmas Day.
Jack Reacher opens Dec. 21, along with Judd Apatow’s fractious family comedy This is 40. Those two studio pictures will likely lead the weekend box office, but also opening Dec. 21 are The Impossible and Rust and Bone, a pair of potent dramas from European directors that could win Oscar recognition. The Impossible is the harrowing tale of a family on holiday torn apart by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami; Rust and Bone is a romance about an animal trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses both her legs to a renegade killer whale. No one ever said escaping Christmas would be a walk in the park.
So many movies, so little time. Here’s the rundown:
As a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, I was as mortified as everyone else when it was first announced that the 5’8″ Tom Cruise would play the 6’5″ Reacher It seemed like a historic coup of miscasting. Since then Child has endorsed both Cruise and the movie, which is loosely based on One Shot, the ninth novel in the Reacher series. Now that I’ve seen it, I still feel Cruise is miscast, and not just because he’s too short. Size doesn’t matter so much on the big screen. But character does. Reacher is a rugged Army veteran, a multi-decorated former U.S. Military Police Major, who has gone rogue and become a drifter. Cruise doesn’t look like he’s a veteran of anything but the gym and the red carpet. Reacher, who has a brutal manner and a forensic intellect, is cool, detached and laconic. He’s like a human bullet: smooth, fast and hot. Too intensely polished for the role. That said, he’s an athletic actor who is always impressive in hand-to-hand combat. He functions best with blunt, minimalist dialogue, and in that sense he makes the character his own. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 10:53 AM - 0 Comments
I just spent a month without movies. Not one, not even a DVD. Usually I see four or five movies a week, and about three a day during festivals. So this was a radical retreat from the screen. A film fast. I was in a cabin on a Quebec lake with no TV, just a laptop with limited Internet and a pile of books. It wasn’t quite like David Denby taking a full-on sabbatical to immerse himself in the classics. My books spanned extremes of low and high culture, from Fifty Shades of Grey to Swann’s Way, with many shades in between. I’m embarrassed to say I dragged myself to the end of the E.L. James tome but just dipped into Proust periodically without ever finding traction.
Did I miss movies? Not really. I felt I was still watching them, on the page. In the absence of film, what intrigued me is how every book I read took on cinematic dimensions—whether I was reading a Lee Child paperback and trying not to imagine Tom Cruise (who has been wildly miscast as the 6’7” Jack Reacher), or parsing Memorial, an elixir of brilliant poetry distilled from The Iliad that is as graphically violent, and tender, as any movie I’ve seen.
But the book that struck closest to home was Swimming Studies, a sublimely unconventional memoir by Leanne Shapton, who grew up in my childhood suburb of Etobicoke, in Toronto’s west end. Displayed on a table at Indigo, her book caught my eye at once: a pale blue hardcover designed like an old-school textbook and daring to go naked without a dust-jacket.
Then there was subject matter. In this overheated summer, swimming became something of an obsession: I got into a daily routine of leisurely 2 km laps to the end of the lake and back. But Shapton swam in a whole other league. A former art director with Saturday Night and the New York Times, this New York-based writer and illustrator was once a competitive swimmer, reaching the Olympic trials in 1988 and 1992. But despite the Olympic trials and Olympic-sized pools, on the first page she hastens to point out, as she has done so often, that she was not an Olympic swimmer. In other words, it’s not that kind of book.
Swimming Studies is a unique mix of memoir and meditation, one that takes us from the grueling rituals of early-morning training in cold chlorine to recreational bouts of ocean swimming and delinquent pool jumping. Shapton confesses to a fear of open water. She likes the security of the lane, with a wall beside her. For me, it’s the other way around. I feel claustrophobic in a lane and ecstatic in an empty lake.
Shapton treats swimming as a medium for a deeper meditation, as memories of suburban family life glide by like a series of Impressionist silk-screens. She writes like a painter, letting her life unfold as a non-linear suite of laps, strokes—and brushstrokes, literally. Her text about life in and around the water is paced with her own water-colours, and an archival photo gallery of her many bathing suits.
Visually designed with a keen eye inside and out, the book is an utterly original objet. It could be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swimmer. Even the author’s episodic, lap-by-lap prose feels art-directed, powered with a fluid economy of line. And as she writes about eventually finding her vocation in art, all those mantra-like strokes of memory begin to add up to something more conceptually coherent than you’d expect. Learning that artist Cy Twombly is the son of a swim coach, she writes: “I start to see Twombly’s paintings as thrashing laps, as polygraphs, as a pulse rate.” Or, in the eyes of this film critic . . . a frame rate.
Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a slim book of exquisite poetry, was also a fine swimmer’s companion, with lines like these:
He was knocked backwards by a rock
And sank like a diver
The light in his face went out
Like the shine of a sea swell
Lighting and flattening silently
When water makes way for the wind
Her book chronicles the violent deaths of some 200 characters in Homer’s Iliad, and begins with their names simply listed on eight pages, like a print version of Washington’s Vietnam War memorial. Each death is followed by a one-stanza simile, which is then repeated word for word. You could choose not to read it again, but you do and the second time around it feels different. There are moments of violence worthy of Tarantino:
And PEDAEUS the unwanted one
The mistake of his father’s mistress
Felt the hot shock in his neck of Meges’ spear
Unswallowable sore throat of metal in his mouth
Right through his teeth
He died biting down on the spearhead.
And what about Fifty Shades of Grey? I read it out of duty—figuring I should check out a pop culture phenomenon that everyone was talking about—while secretly hoping it would be a hot read. Of course, it’s depressingly bad, and not hot at all. It’s S&M for Dummies, a jejune fantasy of pasteurized eros. The relentless clichés reminded me of the Hardy Boys books I read as a child, and though the email repartee between the gob-smacked ingénue and her tycoon dreamboat has a few flourishes of wit, I found myself skipping the tedious sex scenes after a while, eager to consummate the soap-opera, while wishing I was watching Girls.
The only consolation is that the movie franchise—which is inevitable—could not possibly be worse . . . or could it?
Now as TIFF looms, it’s time to go back to the movies with a fresh eye, and fond memories of a widescreen lake where a pair of goggles served as 3D glasses.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 11 Comments
Fans of Lee Child thrillers are apoplectic about who’ll play his six-foot-five hero in the movie
Lee Child is six foot five, and so too is his fictional creation Jack Reacher, who also sports a 50-inch chest, 250 lb. of muscle and the ability (and willingness) to snap bones like matchsticks. And thereby hangs a tale. Mythic hero Reacher—a lone drifter who’s been traversing America since he left the army as a major, carrying just an ATM card, foldable toothbrush and expired passport, and stopping long enough only to right some hideous wrong—has been hugely popular since his first appearance in 1997’s Killing Floor. But Reacher is now firmly ensconced in the big leagues: 50 million copies sold; fall rather than spring publication (Child’s 16th Reacher novel, The Affair, was released Sept. 27); and, at last, Hollywood adaptation.
The last development is not unalloyed good news for Reacher Creatures, as true devotees are known. Not only has superstar Tom Cruise acquired the movie rights, but when filming begins this month for One Shot (2005), he—tiny Tom Cruise himself—will portray the literally larger-than-life hero. Fans have been venting their rage and dismay for months. Most started off absolving Child of blame in their online postings—acknowledging that authors have little control over film casting—but have lately started to resemble those Londoners who roundly abused Arthur Conan Doyle on the street a century ago after he killed off Sherlock Holmes. There’s a new truculence in the air as the Creatures demand Child do something to prevent the Cruise travesty.
Child, too, is now showing signs of being fed up. “I realize the fans are mad and resentful, and I’m thrilled they care,” he said in an interview with Maclean’s. On the other hand, though, “If we all want the film to be a success, why not go with the great actor with the star power? I look at it as a professional author, like a musical act would consider a proposed cover version of a song—something new is more exciting a prospect than the same old thing. Besides, no one at all looks just like Reacher.”
The spat over authenticity is more than a little ironic, given that neither character nor author are quite what they seem. Lee Child is actually former TV producer Jim Grant, an Englishman no less, as is Reacher himself in certain ways, however much of an American icon he’s become. Child, who acquired his pseudonym almost reflexively (“I’ve always worked in showbiz: new project, new name—that’s what you do”), calls Rogue Male, Geoffrey Household’s classic—and very British—1939 thriller about an English big-game hunter who stalks an unnamed European dictator (Hitler, of course), “a groundbreaking book, the ancestor of what I do.” The protagonist, Child adds, “could have been Reacher’s granddad.” So he could, and not just because of their common integrity and stiff upper lips, but in their utter lack of introspection. Household’s hero actually believes his own cover story, that he’s just checking to see if the idea—a long-distance rifle assassination—is achievable.