By Scott Martin
Dorian Gray, UK, 2009
Directed by Oliver Parker
You would think that turning an Oscar Wilde novel into a sensationalized, nearly exploitative camp piece of pulp fiction might prove impossible, but Oliver Parker would prove you wrong; shamefully so, seeing as how his adaptations of other Wilde works, like An Ideal Husband (1999) or The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), have been rightly lauded. Even more amazing, Dorian Gray failed to find a distributor in the United States, and was doomed to a direct-to-DVD release here, after a theatrical release in the United Kingdom. As it stands, though, Dorian Gray is all about the atmosphere in this version, rather than the preservation of Wilde’s wit or the story itself. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what we’re left with at the end of the film; lots of pomp, but very little circumstance.
Honestly, it might be more accurate to consider this as a prequel to Stephen Norrington’s 2003 Alan Moore adaptation The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Of course, this is an adaptation of the 1891 Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but so little is done to honor the work that it seems cruel to connect the two. The ideas behind the two frames remain the same, but the results are entirely different. Dorian Gray (Ben Barnes), a youthful man of twenty or so, inherits a fortune after his father passes away. With that fortune comes the posh lifestyle of the early 20th century and a slew of new friends, the most important of which proves to be a man named Henry Wotton (an excellent Colin Firth), who teaches young Dorian to not be afraid of pleasure in all its forms, and another named Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin), who paints a wonderful portrait of Dorian and wishes to put it on display. Of course, he can’t. Why? Because the Dorian in the picture ages, rather than Dorian himself, and the life Dorian is leading – a life bitter with corruption and decadence – isn’t to kind to him. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Since M. Night Shyamalan’s much-ballyhooed 1999 feature The Sixth Sense, twist endings have gotten something of a bad rap, and usually with good reason. After all, in many cases they are a cheap way to add excitement to the climax of an otherwise dull story; sometimes they are a cop-out, negating all emotional involvement that may have been invested in a film up until that point; others seem to be the sole reason for a story’s existence, without which the whole thing crumbles. On the other hand, when they work, twist endings can make a good film great, and they occasionally even reward repeat viewings by revealing previously unseen layers that can only be recognized once the conclusion of the story is known.
As rightly reviled as are many recent examples of the technique, especially many of Shyamalan’s subsequent efforts, there are also many laudable examples to be found among some of history’s greatest cinematic achievements, old and new. Widely respected filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have successfully employed the well-placed twist to wonderful effect, and even Orson Welles’s immortal classic Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, concludes with what can only be deemed an elegant, emotionally rich twist ending. Read More
By Corey Birkhofer
Where the Wild Things Are, USA / Germany, 2009
Directed by Spike Jonze
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963) is arguably one of the most famous children’s books ever published. Its beautiful imagery and simple story touch on a desire in all of us that, even into adulthood, many of us never shed: the desire to go home. When I found out this incredible tale would be put onto the big screen, helmed by none other than quirky music video director extraordinaire Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), I was doubly intrigued. How would the images burned permanently into my mind be realized on screen? How would the wild things look? Would they just CG the hell out of everything and make a husk of a film with no soul? The answer to the CG question was boldly answered by Jonze, spending tons of studio money in the process on expensive Jim Henson Workshop-produced real working puppets and crazy wire-work stunts that have definitely advanced puppetry to the next level. And yet, despite the love and care that so obviously went into the crafting of this film, I still sat through it asking myself: “So when does the story start?”
I still sat there three-quarters of the way through the film saying to myself: “And now the little kid decides to just go home?” How could a children’s book that had no more than 10 sentences capture so much that a two-hour film could not? The answer is simple: a story. To me, Jonze’s film has none because a) Max (Max Records), the protagonist (if you could call him one) never changes and b) none of the problems of the characters in the film are solved. Instead, we have an attention-starved kid who rants and raves around for a couple hours amidst the strange relationships of some weird monsters, and then decides it’s time to go home after he can’t help them all get along and be friends.