A Dark Twist on an Old Story? Not Even Close

Okay, I know how I started writing about a 2010 movie based on a 2001 novel but I am not sure why I am posting an entry in my blog about them.

I guess it all started when I watched the Brit TV series based on the Jack Taylor novels by Irish writer Ken Bruen (an appreciation of Mr. Bruen’s unique – to me – prose style appears elsewhere in this blog.)

London - book

I noticed a second hand copy of London Boulevard at a book sale and since I had become an aficionado of Mr. Bruen’s works I picked it up. Okay, it wasn’t a Jack Taylor novel but the protagonist, a wary, volatile ex-con named Mitchell, his run-ins with former criminal associates, his relationship with mentally unstable sister, Briony, his reluctant affair with the aging but still alluring  reclusive actress Lillian Palmer and her enigmatic butler, Jordan. held my attention.

Then I became aware of a movie adapted from the novel.  Since it was written by William Monahan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who adapted the Asian box office hit Infernal Affairs for the Martin Scorsese-directed North American cinematic success The Departed (one of my favorite films) I had high hopes when the acclaimed screenwriter chose London Boulevard as his directorial debut. 

London - movie

Imagine my surprise when I looked closer at the back of the DVD dust cover and saw that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley had been cast in leading roles. While reading the novel I kept picturing Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren or Charlotte Rampling in the roles. (On the other hand, the casting of Anna Friel as Briony and Ray Winstone as Mitchell’s criminal nemesis, Gant, was spot-on.)

I understand the need to attract “name” stars to secure investors. However, the casting – and rewriting – completely destroys Mr. Bruen’s original intent: to write a British version of Sunset Boulevard, or, as it says on the front cover of the novel, “a dark twist on a classic story.” Imagine a version geared to a youthful demographic directed by Zack Snyder and starring, say, Scarlett Johansson as Ms. Palmer (renamed “Lily”) and one of the Hemsworth boys as Mitchell (MC Mitch?)  

Mr. Monahan’s second attempt at directing, the dismal Mojave. didn’t fare much better (24% Audience Rating). Perhaps Peter Howell of Toronto’s Globe & Mail (quoted on RT) says it best:  “Writer/director William Monahan won an Oscar for penning The Departed and he obviously needs the discipline Martin Scorsese brought to that picture.”

London - sign

DVD-A-Day: Unknown

"Wake Me Up When the Movie's Over"

I’ll say one thing about science fiction and/or supernatural thrillers: they don’t even pretend to exist in what we commonly perceive as the real world.

Maybe that’s why I’m willing to buy into the fanciful premise of a sci-fi flick with supernatural overtones like The Adjustment Bureau.

 On the other hand, I figure that thrillers should have at least a nodding acquaintance with reality to work.

I guess that’s why I have a problem with Unknown.

 Things start out promisingly enough with Liam Neeson as an American botanist, Dr. Martin Harris, newly arrived in Berlin, to give a lecture at a biotech conference.

His blonde trophy wife, Elizabeth (January Jones) snuggles up to him in the cab travelling from the airport to the hotel.

Oops! He has forgotten a bag of luggage.

On his way back to the airport he has a near fatal accident and awakens in the hospital.

When he finally makes it to the conference it seems that someone has co-opted his identity. Another guy (Aidan Quinn) claims to be him. To make matters even more perplexing, Elizabeth says she doesn’t recognize him.

What the …..

Okay, that’s an intriguing concept. However, the contortions the screenplay takes in order to explain what happened would make Steven Seagal wince in pain.

Diane Kruger plays a Bosnian taxi driver (no, I’m not making this up) and in one of the film’s many “aw c’mon” moments, the doc asks her to help him out.

I can just imagine how this pitch would go down in real life: Hi,  I’m the guy who was in the cab when you went in the river. Anyway, someone claiming to be me is at the hotel and even my wife says he’s the real deal. Oh, and, by the way, while you help me figure out who I am, can I crash at your place? My passport and all my ID is in the bag of luggage I left at the airport.

Nurse!

"Next time I see my agent .... "

Ms. Jones, familiar to viewers of cable TV’s Mad Men, is the kind of icy blonde Hitchcock woulda loved. But he wouldn’t have touched this script. And the less said about her, uh, performance the better for everyone.

Neeson earned his action stripes in Taken and he cuts an imposing figure here. The film also features the great Bruno Ganz (the angel who longs to be human in Wings of Desire) but even they can’t save this film from going off the road after one too many twists and turns.

Come to think of it, Seagal woulda been a good choice for the lead. At least with Big Steve’s direct to DVD thrillers you know you’re in for a long walk off a short dock.

And if you don’t you deserve everything you get.

"Hey, I resemble that remark!"