My money situation will shortly be a thing of the past, but unfortunately at the moment I am feeling the more negative effects of being penniless. In particular, I know that my landlord deserves an explanation for why he hasn't been paid this month yet. I feel really guilty about that, but since they haven't pressed me, and they know that I always pay them (I have lived there for three years), I have so far not had a confrontation. While I am not actively sneaking around, I am nevertheless attempting not to draw attention to myself. It feels like sneaking.
My Philosophy 105 professor (film, philosophy and politics: the city in cinema) keeps our philosophy readings on a website. Despite the fact that I don't neccesarily think that he intergrates the films and the philosophy very well in the classroom setting, some of the readings are pretty interesting.
The concept of "hang-out" cinema
and reflections on the novel
I saw Wonder Boys a few months after it had premiered on DVD at the insistence of my cinematographer. I had enjoyed Curtis Hanson's previous film, L.A. Confidential, although I thought that it was slightly overrated. I found Wonder Boys, however, to be delightful and engaging.
I rented the DVD again to show it to the writer of my most recent film when it seemed that we may work on another project together; the second time around cemented in my head the desire to purchase the disc (back then, I could actually buy stuff).
Wonder Boys stars Michael Douglas and he is cast extremely against type as Grady Tripp, a perpetually stoned professor who has a single, very successful novel and has been working on his follow-up for the past seven years. He doesn't have writer's block, though. He's just on page 2611. Douglas' pitch-perfect performance is the focal point of the film, and it is such a radical departure from his usual fare that it is easy to forget that it is him.
Tripp's path crosses with one of his students, a sullen yet talented writer named James Leer played by Tobey Maguire. As fucked up as James is, his issues are in many ways complementary to Grady's.
Grady's life is gradually unravelling. His wife has left him, his agent is in town and he wants to see Grady's book, his wife has left him, his boarder is a little too sensitive to his wife's having gone, and his boss' wife - with whom he is having an affair - has some disturbing news. There are also arrogant writers, dead dogs, transvestites, youthful police officers and "Vernon Hardapple" to deal with.
I watched the film on Wednesday night again, and found that the main pleasure of watching the film, that which makes it so repeatable, is that the characters have become friends.
On the Jackie Brown DVD, Quentin Tarantino addresses this. He designed that film to be a "hang out" movie, a film in which the viewer returns to it to sort of "hang out" with the characters, to have a drink with Max Cherry, or smoke a bong with Melanie. He mentions several films that have this appeal, such as Dazed and Confused, where the story is almost incidental to the enjoyment of the movie.
Wonder Boys, with its cast of colorful and amiable characters, fits into this category. Often the best chuckles in the film come from a slight turn of phrase that is only funny in context of the character and situation itself.
Curtis Hanson quietly orchestrates the bittersweet comedy, with Dante Spinotti's austere Panavision photography keeping a low-key tone. Chris Young's jazzy score is a treat (it is a shame that the proposed release of it was scrapped, but I have the promo, nyah nyah!). A nice touch is how Hanson intergrates the characteristics of Philadelphia into the film (during every major turning point in the movie for Grady, a bridge can be seen), something which he did quite memorably in L.A. Confidential as well.
Hanson's intelligent use of songs is a major element of the film (and is deservedly given a whole section on the DVD); the soundtrack album is a treat, a far cry from the stupid "Music From And Inspired By The Business Deals Made By The Studio And This Record Label That Have Little Or Nothing To Do With The Motion Picture FILL IN THE BLANK" albums that constantly pop up in the soundtrack section. Wonder Boys sounds like a mix CD that Grady Tripp might make, and it is great fun, concentrating as it does on the singer/songwriters of the 60s and 70s... and of course, Bob Dylan's Oscar-winning "Things Have Changed."
There is also a "collage" cover similar to the DVD,
but the program material identical.
What's the best way to get more of the characters from a movie you like? Go back to the source, of course. I picked up Michael Chabron's novel.
Under most circumstances, the first thing that you might notice about a novel that a film you liked had been based on are the differences. This was not the case with Wonder Boys. Although there are some significant departures (Wonder Boys is Grady's fourth book in the novel, while it is his second in the film; Grady and James' visit to Grady's ex-wife's family is a minor incident in the film, but it is a long sequence in the book), what struck me before anything else was how Steve Kloves' screenplay concentrated on preserving as much of the characters as possible.
Robert Downey Jr., for example, steals several scenes in which his character, Grady's editor Terry Crabtree, appears. His performance captures Chabron's Crabtree, which is an interesting feat considering that, unlike Douglas and Maguire, he doesn't much resemble the physical appearance of Crabtree in the book. Nevertheless, that spark that makes him such an interesting figure is common to both the novel and the film.
Robert Downey Jr. perfectly cast as Terry Crabtree
Frances McDormand turns in her usually outstanding work as Sara. It was her interview on the DVD supplement, in which she mentions that there is more about the character in the book than in the screenplay, that actually sent me looking for the novel. Sara is pretty idiosyncratic, and it is perfectly believable in the film that she would have seen Grady as a breath of fresh air, a figure of youthful abandon despite his age.
It is true that one finds out more about Sara in the novel, but the truth is that one finds out more about things she has said and done, but who she is is conveyed with great economy by McDormand.
So, while some of the details about the characters may have been elipsed, the essence is there for all of them. Aspects of characters in the novel that adds shading to their cinematic counterparts follow through in interesting ways. Grady's boarder, Hannah (played by Katie Holmes in the film), always wears red cowboy boots. In the book, there is one moment when he finally sees her without them, and it is actually an interesting turning point in the novel.
Katie Holmes appears mostly as eye candy.
I didn't say that was a bad thing.
Wonder Boys, both the novel and the film, are about a man way too old to be searching for maturity being forced by circumstance to do so. The story takes place over the course of a weekend, and is in many ways about how the quiet, sometimes random invasions of one person into another's life can have far-reaching effects.
The novel, being a novel, however, has the ability to do something that the film can only touch upon. The fact that these characters are writers gives the book a further dimension; while James Leer is certainly established as a storyteller, the book makes it clear that Grady is as well (it is told in first person), and the fascination with the written word is a major element of the book.
The dynamic trio.
I'd love to see them do another film together.
Check them out.
I was hoping for Milo or the Purple Snorklewacker.
Here is another picture of Katie Holmes, illustrating...
She's really cute, ain't she?