As soon as you hear the title, you can probably guess what kind of film The Book of Eli is going to be. Yes, it is the story about a man named Eli (played by Denzel Washington, who is also one of the film’s producers), who has a book; it is also about the Bible, which in this case seems to provide not a set of beliefs but simply the hope that humanity has a future.
The films of Austrian director Michael Haneke offer no easy answers. Haneke presents the time, place, characters and backstory before eventually revealing a problem. This might or might not become the film’s focus: other problems pop up, new characters materialize, and various possibilities present themselves.
Back in 1994, when Peter Jackson was a relatively unknown director, he made the small but brilliant Heavenly Creatures, a tale about an “unhealthy” friendship between two teenage girls in 1950s New Zealand that led to bloody matricide. It remains my favorite film by this extremely talented filmmaker.
It’s 1967 in Minnesota, and life is getting more and more difficult for physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). Despite his best efforts to be a good man, a respected member of his Jewish community, a bona fide mensch, the structure of his life is collapsing like the walls of Jericho.
In the make-believe world of The Invention of Lying, everyone strictly obeys God’s ninth commandment. Alas, in spinning this ambitious morality play, the filmmakers violate a screenwriting commandment: thou shalt not get cold feet in the third act.
Bright Star is a die-hard romantic’s romance, eschewing tawdriness in favor of shy smiles, stolen glances and soft kisses. It helps, of course, that half of its pas de deux is John Keats (Ben Whishaw), the frail Romantic poet who died of tuberculosis in 1821 at age 25.
The idea of bartering or battling with the devil for one’s soul is an old one. Cold Souls, a low-budget independent film written and directed by Sophie Barthes, is the first tale I have encountered that deals with soul “storage”—the idea that souls can be removed, stored and transplanted.
Halfway through Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, about the time I should have been engrossed in the tommy-guns-a-blazin’ battle between bad guy John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and good guy Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), I found myself staring at the beautiful overcoat Dillinger was wearing, the hip sunglasses he had on and the way Purvis’s stylish hat was nattily cocked upon his head.
The first feature-length film by video installation artist Steve McQueen (no relation to the late actor) presents a detailed and disturbing look at conditions inside Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison in 1981. Angry members of the Irish Republican Army were jailed—some for relatively minor offenses—denied political-prisoner status and subjected to regular beatings by British guards.
A well-established French cinematic tradition is to spin out a story that seems to be about very little—until you get a peek beneath the surface and can see it is about a dizzying number of things. Then the themes and symbols rain down, forcing you to watch and listen carefully lest you miss one of the clues that helps explain, perhaps even solve, the tale.
The low-budget English production Is Anybody There? is now reaching screens in the United States, thanks to the presence of Michael Caine in the lead role. The action takes place at Lark Hall, a family-run nursing facility. As one aging resident dies, another arrives to take over the bed—a cycle of life and death accepted mostly with a nod and a shrug.
An old Senegalese proverb says, “An elder who dies is like a library that burns.” This belief is at the heart of the small but moving independent film Goodbye Solo, directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani. It’s also the conviction that drives the main character, Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané), an upbeat Senegalese immigrant to the U.S.
Nominated as Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards and awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Gomorrah chronicles the violent activities of the Camorra, or “the System,” the sprawling crime syndicate in Naples and surrounding provinces. The film, directed by Matteo Garrone, is based on a 2006 book by Roberto Saviano, which was a best seller in Italy.
Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is a homeless woman driving cross-country with her dog, Lucy, and sleeping in her car at night to save money and stay warm. One morning, her car won’t start. Her funds are limited, and she finds herself at the mercy of the local mechanic (Will Patton). She panics and shoplifts some dog food. She is caught and arrested.
Bernhard Schlink’s 1995 novel The Reader is a tricky book to adapt to film. The plot—about how Michael Berg, a teenager in Germany in the 1950s, falls in love with an older woman with a mysterious past—may seem neat and tidy, but the story is actually about fear and guilt, ethical responsibility and moral ambiguity.
The story of the proud and vital man who has lost his power and nobility is a recurrent theme, especially at the movies. Films have specialized in showing us the washed-up boxer (The Set-Up, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Fat City) and cowboy (Red River, The Gunfighter, Unforgiven).
It is commonly assumed, and regularly taught, that the key difference between playwriting and screenwriting is that the former tells the bulk of its story with words (it is dialogue-driven), while the latter relies more heavily on images (it is camera-driven).