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Tag Archive: Road to Perdition


Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Numbercruncher

“Dying young, a brilliant Mathematician discovers a way to cheat the terrifying Divine Calculator.  He schemes to be endlessly reincarnated in the life of the woman he loves, no matter how often the violent bailiffs of the Karmic Accountancy cut short each life.”  

Yet the delivery of this quirky story is delivered through the voice of a foul-mouthed British thug in such a way that it… actually works.  Numbercruncher asks questions involving the biggest topics of life and death yet balances humor and despair in a pretty stunning and imaginative way.

Bastard Zane is a thug.  A dead thug.  He speaks in the local accents of the street kids in Attack the Block or Daniel Craig in Layer Cake, and could easily fit into the crime noir world of Road to Perdition.  And he’s experiencing the real afterlife, not one of angels and pearly gates, but of accountants running the grand show—it’s like the worst case scenario for those afraid of tax men and accountants: heaven is run by numbercrunchers.  Writer Si Spurrier quickly gives us his set up in a way that puts this story alongside the afterlife treatments of Steven Spielberg’s Always, Albert Brooks’s Defending Your Life or even the Philip K. Dick-inspired The Adjustment Bureau–and far better than Jerry Zucker’s Ghost.  And then he proceeds to let his characters chase each other down.

Numbercruncher page

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It’s like the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies said in their hit song:  It’s all been done before.

But of course it hasn’t.

We sometimes tell ourselves that when we run out of ideas.  But just as much as there are always going to be millions more stories for writers to tell, there are stories out there already created that are waiting to reach a new audience.  Stories we love, but stories that we’d really love to see transformed into another medium– onto the TV or silver screen.  These are the film adaptations.  And they are a key part of movies of any genre.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even has their own Oscar for adapted screenplay that often coincides with the Best Picture winner.

What are your favorite stories?  Have they all been made into movies?  Do you wish that any of them would be turned into a movie?  Do you wish most of them hadn’t been made into movies?  What stories would you like to see that have not yet been adapted to film?

You can adapt anything into a movie if you’re creative enough.  The biggest source for adaptations are books.  The result?  Some are good (Jaws, Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jurassic Park) and some bad (like every live action film based on Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel, who must be turning in his grave at what happened to his franchise after his death), or even hopelessly bad (like The da Vinci Code, which should probably not have merited a novel in the first place).   A painting by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer inspired a novel and then a film adaptation—The Girl with a Pearl Earring.  The movie Ever After takes a fairy tale and merges it with a painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s Head of  Woman to create both a retelling and an alternate history of sorts, placing Leonardo himself in the middle of the fairy tale.

The Phantom of the Opera was turned from a theatrical musical into a movie (and even the reverse happens, as Sunset Boulevard went from film to musical).  The video games Tron, Doom, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider all have been adapted into movies (how about Pitfall?).  Even the Parker Brothers games Clue and the Milton Bradley game Battleship have been adapted into film (wouldn’t it be great to try again with the characters in Clue?).

Wait long enough and even classic TV gets made into movies, like The Dukes of Hazzard, The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, and the new Johnny Depp adaptation of Dark Shadows.  Last week the BBC reported that Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks is currently being made into a movie (and the album itself was even inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekhov), and the story of the song Amazing Grace (with Ioan Gruffudd and Benedict Cumberbatch) hit theaters only a few years ago.  Then there are adaptations of a writer’s angle on some famous or infamous figure in real life, like Schindler’s List—the biopic or historical adaptation is everywhere–but usually starts with the novel.  And even newspaper articles can end up as the original source for an award winning film, like All the President’s Men.  Certainly last but not least, comic books and graphic novels are the current rage, with movies adapted from Road to Perdition to Cowboys & Aliens to the soon to be released Avengers.

Source material for film adaptations is virtually unlimited.

We’ve asked our four borg.com writers not what the best adaptations are, but instead what are their picks for what should be the next adaptation from Hollywood.  What are the top 5-10 books, comic books, video games, or characters, etc. you’d like to see adapted into a movie—that haven’t been adapted yet?  We’ll start with Art Schmidt’s take on would-be adaptations tomorrow.