Is Serena the Worst Book to Film Adaptation in the History of Cinema?

Serena

I picture the caption for the screenshot above to be something along the lines of, “Jenny, baby, look, we’re in one of the worst films ever made!”

I couldn’t help, while watching the travesty that is Serena, of the infinite monkey theorem (and believe me, thinking about the infinite monkey theorem is a better way to spend two hours than watching Serena), which states that if you sit 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually their random keystrokes while churn out the works of Shakespeare…or any given text, really.  Any given text.  Like Christopher Kyle’s feces covered script for Serena.  Had monkeys actually written the script for Serena, at least we could’ve said, “Hey, 100 monkeys at typewriters wrote that?  That’s not too bad considering it was monkeys…but let’s not try this again…like, ever.”

But it’s not just the script for Serena that is so bad.  It’s everything.  Every damn thing is awful.  Continue reading

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America by Walker Evans

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was undoubtedly one of America’s greatest photographers.  His black-and-white images stand as time capsules of an America now gone but still familiar.  Evans is best known for his iconic images of sharecroppers hit hard by The Great Depression as part of his work for the Farm Security Administration.  During my recent visit to Cooperstown, NY and the Fenimore Art Museum, I was able to see their amazing collection of Walker Evans’ photographs.  I was struck most not by his most famous images from the Dust Bowl and America’s Heartland, but by his images of America’s East Coast during the same time period.  His photographs of people and places spanning the hardened core of America’s original thirteen states from New York City to Atlanta captured an America that was shell-shocked but resilient, an over-developed and industrialized stretch of the Eastern Seaboard that was crumbling and decaying but populated by survivors — an America that would eventually pull through the Great Depression and produce the Greatest Generation defined by their heroic actions in World War Two.

Here are some of my favorite images from Walker Evans: Continue reading

A Review of Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”

Handsome Depp Gangster Flick Lacks Depth
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Johnny Depp (in a subdued cool swagger) is Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger, in director Michael Mann’s handsomely mounted but curiously distant riff on Depression Era Gangster Shenanigans.  Christian Bale is Melvin Purvis, the G-man hunting down Dillinger’s gang, but the cat-and-mouse game never reaches the boiling point some viewers will desire, resulting in a tepid film designed to make you think you have to admire it.

Lifting material from the true crime book by Bryan Burrough, the workmen-like script from Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman tries clumsily to weave in too many secondary characters while staying on point with the historical events.  There are some decent attempts to anchor the film with a love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (played by the French actress Marion Cotillard, who is wisely striking while the iron is hot in her first stateside role since her Oscar win), but there’s not much else in the realm of character development, and no one is given any backstory.  The writers start “in media res” to give it that classical epic structure, but it doesn’t work when you can’t even identify the peripheral characters from each other.  What results is a cavalcade of apparently great supporting turns from a large professional cast, everyone spot on with their period cadence and mannerisms but no one leaving any kind of lasting impression in the wake of the great turns from Depp and Cotillard, the only two in the cast given anything to work with.  There are also some missed opportunities to explore Dillinger’s Robin Hood mentality and the public infatuation with his “celebrity” — just two of the potentially great subtexts that are only given brief surface level treatments by the screenplay.

Cotillard makes a successful first stateside bid for stardom.

Cotillard makes a successful first bid for stateside stardom.

From a technical standpoint, there’s plenty to chew on here for thoughtful audiences.  Continue reading

Summer Reading for 2009

Wondering what to read this summer?  Well here’s a motley lot of books that have found their way from the shelves to my coffee table with the potential to satisfy your desire for trashy (and gory) beach reads as well as your need for some substance and perspective.

JUST FINISHED:

Hater by David Moody28 Days Later meets Fight Club meets The Road in this bloody mess of a debut from Brit David Moody.  The novel is of special interest for self-published writers as Moody originally published the novel on the internet before selling the movie rights to horror film producer Guillermo Del Toro and subsequently landing a major publishing contract.  I have to hand it to Moody.  He’s ambitious, and his success is the type all writers dream of.  That being said, Hater isn’t terribly well written.  The first person narration is clunky and repetitive, the characters shallow and poorly drawn and even I know better than to write entire chapters in italics.  However, the premise is interesting enough and taps into some timely discussions on the culture of fear and paranoia that permeates much of our culture.  It’s easy to see why Del Toro thought this could be good fodder for a film, and with Juan Antonio Bayona (of El Orfanato fame) on board to direct, the movie actually seems promising if they take a more psychological approach to the mayhem than the book did.  We’ll have to wait and see, meanwhile, the second part of this alleged trilogy should be hitting bookshelves soon.

CURRENTLY READING:

The Best American Short Stories – 2008 edition, edited by Salman Rushdie.  If you’re like me and don’t have the time to scour through literary magazines for your short-story fix, you can sample the best of the best with this yearly compilation.  I’m maybe half a dozen stories in, and so far my favorite is Danielle Evans’ humorous and quietly heartbreaking tale of why young girls do the foolish things they do, “Virgins”, which originally appeared in The Paris Review.  Evans’ story is the type of sharply observed “slice-of-life” piece that makes fellow scribes wonder what the hell they have been wasting their time writing about for the past year.  Seriously, what the hell have I been writing?

Loser Takes All  by Graham Greene.  No list of mine can exist without an entry from Greene.  One wonders why I didn’t take to this gambling-themed novel sooner.  Just looking at the roulette wheel on the cover makes me want to hop in the car and hit the expressway to Atlantic City.  Alas, this is one of Greene’s breeziest and slightest works, but, it’s still Greene, my friends.  With him I never lose.

IN THE QUEUE:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Yes, I know, I’m a few years behind the times on this one, and heck, I should’ve dived into this one a long time ago with my love of circuses and Depression Era stories.  Didn’t everyone read this in the summer of 2007?   Better late than never, I say.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Yes, I know, I’m waaaaaaay behind the times on this one, but no summer is complete without the tackling of at least one “big thick novel”.  I’m a huge fan of the John Ford 1940 film version, so I’m really looking forward to this Depression Era classic.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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So what’s on your reading list this summer?  Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment form! 

Happy reading!

A Review of Ron Rash’s “Serena”

With his ambitious novel, Serena, Ron Rash creates a new American legend.

The Great Depression enshrouds the nation.  In the Western Carolina highlands, George Pemberton and his indomitable new wife, Serena, are forging a powerful timber empire come hell or high water.  If someone or something gets in their way…there will be blood.  This is the milieu of dread where Ron Rash’s new novel, Serena, lingers.  Three things soon stand in Serena’s path:  her husband’s bastard child, Jacob; the child’s young mother, Rachel Harmon; and a groundswell of conservatism looking to incorporate the Pemberton timber tracts into a national park.  Thus two women come at a crossroads, both empowered by their innate wills to survive:  Serena feasting off her insatiable greed while Rachel is driven by the unstoppable love for her child. Continue reading