Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Writing/Writers of Novels

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun  - and it IS fun - by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!
AH writing. Sometimes the muse is with you. Sometimes it is not. Of course, there is more drama when the muse is NOT with you, so that explains why most of the movies about writers (both fictional and non-fictional, but for the rules of this week we're sticking to the fictional) are about writers dealing with writer's block.

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011) One of the best movies of the '00s, Young Adult follows Mavis Gary, a writer of a once-popular series of young adult novels that is now being cancelled. Living a rather lonely existence in Minneapolis after a bad divorce, she goes back to her home town after receiving an invitation to the naming ceremony of her old high school boyfriend. And... well... things don't go so well. What's so amazing about Diablo Cody's script and Jason Reitman's direction is just how much of that story I just described is told in the background. But when you have Charlize Theron giving an unbelievable performance of one of the trickiest characters seen on screen in ages, you can afford to let the story simmer on the back burner. Theron gives an absolutely tremendous performance as the acidic Mavis, and she brings the best out of scene partner Patton Oswalt as a crippled former high school classmate.

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) Perfectly cast and designed, and directed with Polanski's typical chilly precision. Only with this story, chilly precision is EXACTLY what's called for: A ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is brought in to write the memoirs of a shady politician (Pierce Brosnan). Scandals start to swirl and before long, the ghost writer starts to think he may be marked for death because of what he knows and what he's seen. Perhaps not a brilliant thriller, but a really goddamned great one, with a flat-out brilliant, perfect ending.

Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006) Well, I mean, it's all right there in the trailer, isn't it? Emma Thompson is having a particularly nasty case of writer's block while writing her new novel. AND it turns out, through a metaphysical twist, that the character she's writing - IRS agent Will Ferrell - actually exists in the real world, and what she's writing is having a direct effect on his life. Perhaps a little too clever for its own good, Stranger Than Fiction is still enjoyable thanks to the sly performances of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, as a professor of literature whom Ferrell contacts to try to figure out what's going on, an the surprising chemistry between Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as a baker he's auditing.

23 comments:

  1. I LOVE Stranger Than Fiction. I also chose it. Great call on Young Adult as well. I haven't seen your 2nd pick.

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    1. Thanks! The Ghost Writer is a great chilly thriller.

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    2. Chilly it is. I don't remember much of the end anymore so I'd love to check it out again.

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  2. I've seen and liked all three of these but my favorite of them by far is Ghost Writer. That may be because I read and really enjoyed the book the film was based on a was happy that it followed the book pretty closely, a rare occurrence. Polanski get the tenor of the film just right and the cast is perfect.

    Young Adult has great acting but it's so bitter once was enough for me and while I don't like Will Ferrell I found him easier to take in this and I loved the rest of the cast.

    This week was a breeze for me since I really enjoy this genre and just chose three of my favorites.

    Swimming Pool (2003)-Writer Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is blocked working on her new detective novel so her publisher suggests she get out of London to refresh herself and lends her his home in the French countryside. On arrival she luxuriates in the sunshine and solitude but that is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of the publisher’s wild child daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). After a rocky beginning the two form a bond, one that is challenged by a serious turn of events. Strange, moody and captivating with a brilliant Charlotte Rampling performance.

    Wonder Boys (2000)-Shaggy dog college professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) drifts through his days in a pot induced haze avoiding the various crisis that are swirling just below the surface of his life. He’s a noted author suffering from a strange sort of writer’s block-he can’t seem to end the follow up novel to his first hot book, his third wife has just left him, his mistress, the college chancellor (Frances McDormand), is married to the chair of Grady’s department and has just discovered she’s pregnant by Grady, his editor is in town hounding him for a completed manuscript and he has a new odd wonder boy writer James Leer (Tobey Maguire) in his class stirring memories of when Grady was the hot young kid on the block. Oh and the department chair’s dead dog, accidently shot by James Leer, is in the trunk of Grady’s car! Somewhat shambling film is kept centered by Michael Douglas in perhaps his best ever performance.

    In a Lonely Place (1950)-Hot headed screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is considering adapting a novel he knows is trash. Rather than reading it he invites a hat check girl at his favorite watering hole to his apartment to tell him the story. After she leaves she’s murdered and Dix is suspected, however his neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame) is able to provide him with an alibi. Only nodding acquaintances previously they strike up a friendship which rapidly turns serious and they plan to marry. Everything seems rosy until Dix’s violent outbursts start to create doubt in Laurel’s mind. Both Bogart and Grahame are just great. Brooding nihilistic Nicholas Ray directed film is an essential noir.

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    1. I usually don't like Ferrell either but really liked him in Stranger Than Fiction.

      SWIMMING POOL. YES. BRILLIANT.

      I've heard lots of people like Wonder Boys, and I like the cast. If you say it's Douglas's best ever performance then I HAVE to see it.

      In A Lonely Place is WAY up there on my watchlist.

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    2. JOEL! I thought I remembered you bringing up In A Lonely Place somewhere recently and I'm so glad I found this because I SAW IT LAST NIGHT as part of a double feature at Film Forum (it was the back half of the bill, with The Big Heat coming first). I really liked both of them, but Grahame and Bogart absolutely floored me in Lonely Place. I'd probably even say it's Bogart's best performance (of the ones I've seen only Sierra Madre comes close to the range and subtlety he displays here).

      After seeing both of them, I also have to say that I finally "get" Gloria Grahame. I still despise her Oscar win, but I definitely don't hate HER anymore. She's so great in both of these films, and so different! And that FACE! Wow.

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    3. Hey Daniel,

      I just rewatched In a Lonely Place day before yesterday! Sadly not anywhere as cool as Film Forum, I own it, but it's been on my mind since I chose it for this and finally had the time to catch it again. It was as always a riveting watch. I'd be willing to go along with you that it's Bogart's best performance. It's such a rich one balancing his most likable qualities along with his deeply unnerving ones.

      Gloria is amazing in it as well though I think The Big Heat is her best work, her "Sisters under the Mink" scene slays me everytime, as with Lonely Place & Bogart Debbie in Big Heat uses so much of the variety of her talent.

      Back to Lonely Place, as great as the lead pair are it's the totality of the film that makes it so special. Such great dialog! I've always been a Jeff Donnell fan but even though her part is small in this I think she's wonderful in that small part & so well matched with Frank Lovejoy (big fan of his too)-they seem like a couple who would have that sort of salty sandpaper relationship.

      Bogart wanted Lauren Bacall for Laurel but Warners wouldn't loan her out, and Ginger Rogers was considered (E Gods!! so very wrong for the role!) until Shelley Winters was signed but had to drop out when she discovered she was pregnant and Nick Ray put Gloria Grahame forward as a choice. They were married at the time though they separated during filming which though unfortunate I would imagine aided both in the picture.

      Betty Bacall was too understated for Laurel and Ginger would have been a disaster but I can sort of see Winters working though she was always keyed to a higher emotional level that often lead to stridency than Gloria who is so perfect so ultimately it worked out for the best.

      I'm no big fan of her performance in The Bad and the Beautiful, she gets the job done but the part is really a nothing, but from what I've read neither was she and was shocked when she won. She had expected Thelma Ritter to take it for With a Song in My Heart. Much as I love Thelma it should have gone to Jean Hagen but her statement gives an idea of the way the wind was blowing in that year's race. The win was actually detrimental to her I think since as she was so freshly rewarded she missed being nominated for either of these two amazing pieces of work. So glad you finally came around on her she was a one of a kind actress. Her career was very erratic-to say her personal life was messy is an understatement-but if you haven't seen it I'd recommend watching Fritz Lang's American remake of La Bete Humaine "Human Desire" where she reteams with Glenn Ford. It's not a great film but she's very good in it. There's also the absurd Vincente Minnelli misfire "The Cobweb" which is such a hooty mess all about "the Drapes". Be prepared to jeer and mock when you watch it though.

      However she hardly holds the only Oscar that was awarded for the wrong role. One needs look no further than Bogart...all those great inimitable performances and he wins for The African Queen?

      Thanks for following up and telling me what you thought of both of these classics!

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    4. I may have been slightly more impressed by Grahame in Lonely Place than Big Heat but she's sure a dynamo in both. And for the life of me I can't picture either Bacall or Rogers or Winters doing better with Laurel in Lonely Place than she did. I do LOVE that "sisters under the mink" scene in Big Heat, and actually pretty much every scene when she has the bandages on her face. She's great.

      And now I've gotta find me a copy of The Cobweb!

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    5. Speaking of the "Sisters under the Mink" how awesomely venal was Jeannette Nolan as Bertha Duncan! The coolly vicious way she says “the coming years are going to be just fine” with that cold smile to Glenn Ford and then the snarling "Mr. Lagana is an excellent insurance policy". Great stuff!

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    6. OH MY GOD thank you for reminding me! I LOVED HER!!! UGH so collected and ice-cold - she's the real femme fatale of the picture, and a great one at that!

      I also liked Jocelyn Brando as Glenn Ford's wife - it's a role that could very easily be bland but she made it her own and was very memorable. You really feel her loss (which, by the way, shocked me. I figured she'd just be horribly injured when he managed to drag her out of the car but NO!).

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    7. I liked Jocelyn Brando too. And seeing her at the beginning with her quirks, her sort of off-center way of speaking and the give and take she & Ford shared added an extra layer of poignancy to his final scene with Debbie (like it needed more?) when he describes the little things about her that made her who she was. Ugh! Just so many little touches to that film.

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  3. All fantastic movies! I went with Stranger than Fiction as well. I didn't expect for The Ghost Writer to be that good; that ending really nailed it. I need to re-watch Young Adult soon.

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    1. UGH the end of The Ghost Writer is so fucking perfect I want to die.

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  4. I've seen all three of these and they are all excellent. Theron in YA is so good, it's ridiculous.

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    1. Easily in my Top Ten performances of all time. She's freaking brilliant in a totally unexpected way.

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  5. Ok...I do want to see You g Adult. I forgot about this film but remember the trailer and liked what I saw. I do want to see Stranger than Fiction. I have seen Ghost Writer and really enjoyed it. It has some faults but it's very compelling and intelligent. The ending killed me.

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    1. The tone of Young Adult is a VERY tricky thing, but Cody and Reitman work well together, and the actors (ESPECIALLY Theron) are all brilliant. The ending of The Ghost Writer... GAH it's so brilliant I can't even.

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  6. I thought the Ghost Writer was better than expected and the abrupt ending was a shock!

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    1. I KNOW, RIGHT?!? SO perfect, though.

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  7. I haven't seen any of these, but sooner or later I'll watch them all as they all sound very interesting (and they already are on my watchlist).

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    1. hehehe YAY! You should see them all. Because they're all GREAT.

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  8. Stranger Than Fiction is only so good BECAUSE of how clever it is. If you want to watch a film that gets down not to the essence of fiction writing but to the essence of why we love fiction, this is THAT movie. I love it and could watch it any day. Need to see The Ghost Writer. I remember thinking about seeing it when it came out. And never caught Young Adult. I will one day. Great picks!

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    1. I would say Stranger Than Fiction is only so good because it's cast so perfectly, but I really do love how clever it is.

      UGH The Ghost Writer and Young Adult are SO brilliant, in completely different ways.

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