On the Road Directed by: Walter Salles Written by: Jose Rivera (screenplay), Jack Kerouac (novel) Starring: Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen
Too much goes wrong in the movie adaptation of On the Road that what it does get right is overshadowed almost completely. In adapting Jack Kerouac’s classic Beat Generation novel, the time period is completely lost amid a cast of venerable modern actors who are cluttered together on the screen as if it would be a felony to exclude someone who was in the book.
At almost two-and-a-half hours, director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera do with this story what many other bad book adaptations do: they drag things on for too long. I haven’t read Kerouac’s book, but as many people I know who’ve read it feared, his stream-of-consciousness writing style does not translate very well. Much of the screenplay is very well-written, to be sure, but the complete lack of atmosphere drains them of much of their power.
A Dangerous Method Directed by: David Cronenberg Written by: Christopher Hampton (screenplay & play), John Kerr (book) Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel
David Cronenberg is a director obsessed with the crossroads of violence and sex. His films vary greatly in both tone and narrative structure. For proof (since we are soon talking about science) lay down the science fiction horror show Videodrome next to his more recent pulpy small-town thriller A History of Violence.
It makes since, then, that a film about the birth of psychoanalysis, revolving around the violent sexual relationship between Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient Sabina Spielren (Keira Knightley), would be a work best fit for someone like Cronenberg. A Dangerous Method is not a straight-forward exercise in period filmmaking like its costumes and curiously English-speaking Europeans suggest, though. The film begins intent on dispelling that rumor, as Spielren howls with bursts of rage and laughter in the claustrophobic confines of a horse carriage. She is dragged out by a group of men and taken into Dr. Jung’s care in Switzerland.
It’s kind of ironic that Viggo Mortensen has become somewhat of a symbol of rugged masculinity on the screen, because his best characters often undo that image. Like Michael Douglas before him, Mortensen frequently does movies that put the modern American male through some kind of brutal morality test. He finds the bruised souls of these characters, and shines even when he’s part of a large ensemble (Lord of the Rings.) However, he is at his best when he is front in center, paired with a director like David Cronenberg who has some mischief cooked up to counter his archetypal characters.
Few actresses in Hollywood that are this attractive get famous for their talent. That’s just how the business works, unless you’re Naomi Watts. Her career was launched by a David Lynch movie early in the 2000’s, and she’s been on an almost perfect hot streak ever since. Sure, she does venture into the mainstream (King Kong), but it isn’t because she’s looking for a paycheck. She is an actress who does movies she cares about. In 2010, after a couple years out of the spotlight, she makes a return in the new Woody Allen movie and takes the starring role in a thriller about the outed spy Valerie Plame. On her way to becoming one of the endearing performers of modern movies, let’s hope Watts continues to send volts through the system for years to come.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Directed by: Peter Jackson Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel) Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Andy Serkis
An epic by any standard and a finale to this behemoth of an undertaking, LOTR: Return of the King continues the evolution of Peter Jackson’s vision. Bigger battles, higher stakes, and a conclusion drenched in emotion wrought the team behind this movie 11 Oscars, including Best Picture. Does this make it the best one of the trilogy? Not by a long shot.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Return of the King a disappointment, it is the weakest film of the three. Though it is still excellent in many ways, most notably the battle sequences, it is held back by Jackson’s refusal to end it. It essentially has an ending for each Oscar it won, also putting it in contention for the longest denouement in film history. One of the biggest strengths of the Lord of the Rings movies was Jackson’s willingness to skim it down and make it fit a movie. The last 45 minutes of this one are almost painful even if it is shorter than in the book.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Directed by: Peter Jackson Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel) Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Astin
Empire Strikes Back. The Godfather Part II. Terminator II. These are all great middle entries in a trilogy, either on par or better than the first entry. Add to that list The Two Towers. With the quest(s) set up and the characters introduced, it’s time to have some fun.
Though this trilogy is one of the greatest literary adaptations, what really makes Lord of the Rings immortal is how it redefined special effects in movies. While you may be taken on a largely character driven adventure across beautiful scenery in the first one, in this entry Jackson gets to show us even more of his new toys. The Battle at Helm’s Deep, the giant Ents of the forest, and, of course, Gollum.
A History of Violence Directed by: David Cronenberg Written by: Josh Olson (screenplay), John Wagner & Vince Locke (graphic novel) Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt
When David Cronenberg decided to direct this brutal, idealistic masterpiece in 2005, it was snubbed royally by both the Academy Awards and general public. As time wore on, though, and the end of the decade lists needed to be made, A History of Violence rightfully appeared on them.
Once you see the movie, the title will evoke Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That’s how definitive it is on the subject. Cronenberg knows that violence is a part of human DNA, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. He uses this to create a visually stunning, relentlessly violent assault on the typical American family.
The Stahls are that family. Once the film moves past it’s brutal introduction, we see that almost too perfectly. They banter carelessly, the children are obedient stereotypes, and the couple are hopelessly in love. Thankfully, Croneneberg doesn’t stay there for long. We see Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie (Maria Bello) engage in wildly erotic, kinky sex after the kids are gone. We see their son Jack (Ashton Holmes) do well in gym class and then almost get pummeled.