Saturday, September 24, 2005

Everything Is Illuminated - The Movie

***SPOILER WARNING*** (etc, etc...)

I wanted to love this movie. At the same time, I went in prepared to be a bit disappointed...I knew going in that certain changes would have to be made in order to adapt the novel. That's always the case with any adaptation...

And I was disappointed.

First, I'll talk about what I enjoyed:

Eugene Hutz was amazing as Alex. I have to say that when I first heard he was cast, I was wary...but he played the role with such humor and honesty - not to mention the fact that he's kind of hot... ;) He really stole the movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lot more of him in other things...

Contrary to what everyone else seems to be saying, I really enjoyed Elijah Wood's performance. It's been called "boring" and "inactive" - but that's the way JSF is in the book! I thought his performance captured the character perfectly. The character is boring, but the way Wood played him, always interesting to watch. So many interesting choices were made in the way he sits, stands, moves, collects, speaks...I saw so much going on with him without him saying much of anything, and I was impressed.

I want it. There were so many cool sounding songs! I actually just bought the Gogol Bordello album "Gypsy Punks" - it's awesome!

The field of sunflowers, the wall of JSF's collectibles later mirrored in the wall of boxes at Lista's house, the transitions between the present and Grandfather's memories. Liev has a definite talent for speaking through pictures.

The potato rolling off the table, Lista telling the story of what happened to her sister, the time the three leads spent in the car. So many of the small moments were dead on, and successfully captured the spirit of the book.


Here's what I didn't like so much:

When I first heard that that was to be the case, I chalked that up to an adaptation necessity. The braided storylines were too unwieldy for a script. It makes sense that the story would need to be simplified, etc, etc. It was only after seeing the movie that I realized just how much of the emotional heft of the contemporary scenes is dependent on the scenes in the shtetl. Without a glimpse into Safran's life, how are we supposed to care about his grandson's search for him? Without showing us the world of Trachimbrod, how are we supposed to care about boxes filled with the belongings of its dead citizens? Showing us a plaque just wasn't enough. I should have felt more at the end, but I didn't - and I think it had to do with the fact that we didn't see the shtetl...

I was also partially disappointed in the way the character of Alex was handled. While Eugene Hutz was fabulous, and stole the movie, I wasn't too keen on the character actually being a clubber who's into hip hop and is actually cool. What was great about Alex in the book was that we saw that he put up a front. He said he was "carnal" often, and was always at the "famous discotheques", but as the book goes on we realize that this isn't him at all. He was lonely, and sensitive, and went to the beach to look at the water every night. So I felt like the film version of Alex was robbed of a layer...

GRANDFATHER'S SUICIDE - too, too abrupt. No preparation, and no emotion. We didn't really get to understand why he would do such a thing, and while this might be the "point" because Liev wanted to put us in Alex's place, I don't think it was the strongest choice. Again, this was an instance in which I feel like the audience was robbed of an additional layer.


The more I think about this, the less I like this choice...instead of Grandfather having betrayed his Jewish best friend by pointing him out to the Nazis, the film Grandfather is himself Jewish, is shot (but not killed), and turns his back on Judaism. It ends with Alex's family embracing their Jewishness - Alex and Little Igor in yarmulkes, etc....Don't really think this was a good call, and I left the movie going "huh?!" Part of what was great about the book was the understanding built between two different worlds. Grandfather, Alex and Co. being Jewish seemed pointless to me...

In short...I liked it, but I didn't love it. It was true to the spirit of the book, but it lacked some of its heart...I have to say, though, that Liev proved himself a talented director (if not necessarily an adaptive screenwriter, as most of my problems have more to do with the script than anything else...). I would look forward to his next project - (and this will sound harsh) as long as he doesn't write it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Wednesday Morning, 1AM - Epilogue"

Yet even albatrosses
must be cut -
slide, dripping from the neck
landing in a tattered heap
at my feet.
And yet,
the weight remains,
and yet,
the weight remains,
and yet,
the leaden weight remains

and it makes, at best,
mediocre poetry.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Currently reading: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by JK Rowling
Next up: undecided "classic" (possibly rereading "1984"?)

"I really do admire you a bit. You're an intelligent person of great moral character who has taken a very courageous stand. I'm an intelligent person with no moral character at all, so I'm in an ideal position to appreciate it." - Colonel Cathcart, Catch-22

I really appreciate it when a book respects the intelligence of its readership. If a book is going to be "experimental" in any way, I love those that throw you into a world with no explanations - a literary baptism of fire (ie: Orwell's "Animal Farm"). Catch-22 is one of those books, and that's part of the reason why I thought it was so amazing!

Catch-22 tells the story of a US Army squadron based in Italy during WWII, and a disenchanted pilot named Yossarian who thinks everyone is trying to kill him. (not an unreasonable assumption in a war) Except that it's not an Italy, a military story, or a world that we're meant to immediately recognize. There is a logic in the book that all the characters seem to accept, but that doesn't make sense to the reader. Or, alternately, it makes too much sense to the reader, and that's when the book hits you hard. You start falling into it. You start siding with people. Then all of a sudden, you realize that you're siding with the wrong people. You start thinking to yourself how could I be agreeing with this asshole?! How can I be laughing! My favorite books are the ones that elicit visceral reactions from chest gets tight, my stomach gets tied in knots, and I can't explain why I'm reacting positively/negatively - I just know that I am. There were so many of those moments in this book, I can't even begin to describe them all...
One of the things that impressed me most was the structure of the book - how all at once it seemed both haphazard, and entirely calculated. How each segment could stand alone, but that together they weaved an intricate, thought-provoking story...
If you like historical novels, if you like political novels, if you like in-depth characters, if you like humor, if you like to think - I would highly recommend this book to you.