Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies About Writing



I missed out on picks last week, which sucks! because I love a good gambling movie. I was gonna make the case for the under-discussed late 90s Miramax Matt Damon flick Rounders, specifically praising John Malkovich's brilliant turn as the Russian poker player, Teddy KGB. Anyway, I started back to work after nine weeks off last week, and to say I was too busy to make a Thursday post would be an understatement. I have now figured out what I did wrong. The problem is fixed. I have found the right time to keep making these posts.

The Novel. The Novelist. Poe called them indulgent, even at the earliest outset of their possibility in America. We, of course, came to devour them, much more so than the short story or the poem, in our contemporary literary world. Tons of movies are based on them, too many if you ask me. Quite a few are about them and their writers. I myself made a short list of about 8, finally whittling it down to the three that follow: one based on a novel about a novelist (and other writers), one a perverse ride through the mind of a novelist all blocked up, and the other the story of a man whose interior monologue is not his own.

So, it's Thursday! Time again for Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movies Picks. This week: Movies About Writing/Writer of Novels.

Here are my picks:

The World According to Garp
dir. George Roy Hill, 1982

No movie can ever truly capture the work of John Irving. In his novel on which this film is based, he actually presents three stand-alone narratives within the narrative, writing as if he is the writer of his title, T.S Garp. Played in George Roy Hill's film adaptation by Robin Williams (in one of his first dramatic-ish roles), T.S. Garp is a kid born a bastard on purpose. His mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), is an unforgiving feminist nurse with no desire for a husband or anything that goes with it, impregnating herself with a brain-dead WWII gunner, her patient. Garp wants to be a great novelist, but it is his mother who finds all the fortune and fame, causing a painful distance that Garp may never narrow. Spanning an entire lifetime, the novel is rich, disturbing, and hilarious. The film captures all of that, somehow, and that's enough. It hasn't been done with a whole Irving novel since. And John Lithgow as a woman is boss in this movie.

Deconstructing Harry
dir. Woody Allen, 1997

Harry Block has writer's block. Clever move, Woody. I took a class on the films of Woody Allen in college, and I chose this and its even less successful follow-up, 1998's Celebrity, as the topic for my final paper. I can't even remember my thesis at this point, but I chose to dive into this film because it is so far away from anything Woody has ever made before or since. It is about a struggling novelist, much in the vein of Allen's Manhattan, but this guy is a dark character. Here is Woody Allen defying the Woody Allen persona by doing one simple thing...cussing. This is one of the very few R-rated Allen films, and it really deserves it. Added to that, it does something with narrative film I've rarely seen. It delves into the idea of writing about what you know by blending real memories with fictionalized versions, using different actors to play the real and imagined versions of the same characters. It's really pretty damn cool.

Stranger Than Fiction
dir. Marc Forster, 2006

Here is one of the true cinematic delights of my lifetime. Very few movies make me feel as good this. It is simultaneously light, funny, airy and dark, tragic, heavy. It does this by tapping into emotions we all feel about stories and storytelling. Will Ferrell plays it pretty straight as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor, who wakes up one day with an interior monologue. The weird thing is that it is not his own. It is not first person but third person omniscient. This leads him down a path that was already his, though he wouldn't have known it. It is a journey that leads him to self-discovery through an attractive baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a scattered English professor (Dustin Hoffman), and eventually the writer of his story (Emma Thompson). I adore this movie. It is seriously one of the greatest movies since 2000.


20 comments:

  1. I saw Garp way back when I was a teen. I remember liking it, but not much else. Time for a rewatch. Stranger Than Fiction is wonderful.

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    1. I could do a re-watch myself, man. I saw it as a teen as well and once in college after I read the novel. It is one that really sticks with me.

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  2. I haven't seen your first two but I also chose Stranger Than Fiction. I love that movie.

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    1. It's so good, right? I think you'd probably dig both of my other picks.

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  3. I like the film of Garp but had the hardest time with the novel. I think that was partly my fault, there was an enormous amount going on at the time and my reading of it was very disjointed. The performances are wonderfully observant with Lithgow doing particularly fine work.

    I like but don't love Stranger than Fiction. Farrell is less irksome than usual but I still find him grating but the other cast members make up for it.

    Haven't seen Deconstructing Harry, it's from that period where for some reason I was on a Woody break and now those films are the hardest to find. But it is on my to see list.

    I love this sort of film, you're right there are SO many to chose from, so my picks were simple this week. All three are favorites of mine.

    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.

    By the way, glad to see the mention of The Rounders. That is a highly enjoyable film that seems to have fallen through the cracks.

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    1. Irving is hard to get into sometimes. His novels are massively sprawling, slow as a result. It's almost impossible to make a decent film out of one of his works. Cider House Rules worked well enough, but it didn't capture the entirety of the scope. Garp really got it all. Another Irving adaptation that really works is The Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. It is based on the first third of Irving's A Widow for One Year. Really good movie.

      I love Will Ferrell, so seeing him in something like Stranger Than Fiction just validates that.

      Woody's films of that era and back seem hard to keep in print and affordable. He needs an updated best of Box Set or even a complete Box Set on Blu-Ray. It would be worth the money for me. I love his work.

      Swimming Pool is one I wanted to see but somehow missed. Need to catch up with it. Wonder Boys is a great film and one I almost picked. Douglas is amazing in that one. And I remember Maguire being so wonderfully weird. Need to re-watch. I don't remember much detail.

      Love Rounders. Glad you do as well.

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  4. That's so cool that you took a class about Woody Allen! Must have been a great class. I haven't seen Deconstructing Harry, but I plan on it soon. I actually wasn't a fan of Stranger Than Fiction, but I did like the idea of it and it was quite different than others.

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    1. Yes. I took it as an elective for my English degree. Pretty great class. Three hours every Monday for a semester. Watch a film. Discuss it. Repeat the next week. Watch a few of the more obscure at home. Write a few papers. Done. Loved it. Try to see Deconstructing Harry, one of the funniest and most unique.

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  5. Stranger Than Fiction is popular this week! It's my favorite Will Ferrell role to date.

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  6. Deconstructing Harry is one of Woody's smartest scripts, Judy Davis is a laugh riot in this!

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    1. Yes! Love Judy Davis in this one. So intense, so funny.

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  7. It's a real shame you missed out on last week's picks, because I would've loved to see you talk about Rounders. I love it, my dad loves it. Loved how you mentioned it was made by Miramax. (Miramax was the first independent studio I was introduced to, & some of Miramax's movies are some of my favorite movies: Good Will Hunting, Clerks, Pulp Fiction, The Cider House Rules, In the Bedroom, Gangs of New York, No Country for Old Men, The Crying Game, The Piano, My Left Foot, Chasing Amy, Shakespeare in Love, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Heavenly Creatures, Trainspotting, & Swingers. So... in a nutshell, Miramax caused me to love movies. But I digress...)

    I haven't seen The World According to Garp, but I want to, especially considering it stars Robin Williams (also, today has been 2 years since Robin Williams died), & it was based on a book by John Irving, since I loved The Cider House Rules. (I desperately need to re-watch The Cider House Rules).

    I haven't seen Deconstructing Harry, but it looks extremely intriguing.

    I haven't seen Stranger than Fiction, but it sounds really interesting. I didn't know Marc Forster directed it.

    I have a lot of picks for this week: Adaptation, Barton Fink, Shakespeare in Love, Capote, Misery, & The Squid & The Whale.

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    1. Still miss, Robin, man. Definitely see these. I like your picks. Though about Misery and The Squid and the Whale myself.

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  8. I have a sneaky suspicion that Stranger than Fiction will be popular today.

    The World According to Garp sounds like my kind of film, Williams and Lithgow and as a woman! Gotta see it. I;ve always heard of it but never had the chance to see it.

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    1. Stranger Than Fiction straight up won, I think. Rightly so.

      Definitely see The World According to Garp. Read the book too.

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  9. I've only seen Deconstructing Harry (and picked it too) and I absolutely love what Allen did there. The other two both sounds interesting.

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    1. It's so different, isn't it? That's what made it stick with me.

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  10. LOVE Stranger Than Fiction for the spot-on cast and the cleverness of the script. REALLY need to see World According to Garp. Like but don't love Deconstructing Harry. It's from an interesting period in Allen's career, I think, but sort of the beginning of a kind of decline for him.

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    1. So glad to hear you love Stranger than Fiction. I think that movie is totally under-discussed.

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