Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

HOME THEATER : A SECOND LOOK

Check out their cinema ancestors

December 30, 2007|Dennis Lim | Special to The Times

The customary year-end movie release flood is upon us, and there's no reason the overindulgence can't continue at home. With that in mind, here are double-feature possibilities for four films currently in theaters. All suggested pairings are available on DVD.

IF YOU LOVED "ATONEMENT": Joe Wright's handsome adaptation of Ian McEwan's prize-winning, bestselling novel will most obviously put viewers in mind of swooning, British, Oscar-nominated romances, from David Lean's "Brief Encounter" to Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient." But without giving too much away, the interesting thing about "Atonement" -- or, according to detractors, its fatal flaw -- is its nagging self-consciousness as a story about storytelling. For a comparably knotty, rug-pulling lit flick, there's "The French Lieutenant's Woman," Karel Reisz's 1981 adaptation of John Fowles dazzling 1969 novel (itself an antecedent of McEwan's), starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. But to illustrate the difference between a movie faithfully based on a work of meta-fiction and a genuinely inspired meta-movie, better candidates are Michael Winterbottom's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," based on Laurence Sterne's 18th century granddaddy of postmodern novels, or better yet, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's "Adaptation" (Sony), a blithe and hilarious act of narrative sabotage that doesn't adapt so much as unravel Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief."

IF YOU LOVED "JUNO" Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's quippy teen-pregnancy comedy has been repeatedly described as "Knocked Up" from a female, if not quite feminist, point of view. For a more interesting counterpoint, though, go back not six months but six decades, to Preston Sturges' 1944 film "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (Paramount). The "miracle" is that small-town party girl Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), after a blurry night out drinking "victory lemonade" at a G.I. dance, finds herself in the family way. The larger miracle is that this delirious satire, taking firm aim at authority and piety, was deemed fit for release under the Production Code. The film that prompted critic James Agee to wonder if the Hays Office had been "raped in its sleep" is also the funniest movie ever made about an unplanned pregnancy.

IF YOU LOVED "SWEENEY TODD": If Tim Burton's gore-soaked interpretation of Stephen Sondheim's celebrated Broadway musical leaves you hankering for a sunnier exemplar of the genre, there's an entire MGM back catalog to choose from. But for an accompaniment that continues in the same mordant vein, close the circle and look to Sondheim's original inspiration: Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Weimar-era stage hit "The Threepenny Opera." A Marxist update of the 18th century ballad opera "The Beggar's Opera," this savage, caustic tale, set in the criminal underworld of Victorian London, was adapted for the movies in 1931 by the German master G.W. Pabst; a restored version is available on a newly released Criterion two-disc set. Pabst makes his material as stylized and cinematic as Burton does, but while Burton worked with Sondheim on radically trimming and reshaping the play, Brecht and Weill took the filmmakers to court. (Weill won on the ground that most of his songs had been left out of the movie.)

IF YOU LOVED "THERE WILL BE BLOOD": Paul Thomas Anderson's grand, anarchic epic of frontier capitalism belongs alongside any number of towering American classics. To start with, there's the John Huston subtext. Anderson has mentioned Huston's scalding gold-rush film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" as an inspiration, and Daniel Day-Lewis' superbly malevolent performance is partly modeled on Huston's chilling turn as monstrous patriarch Noah Cross in "Chinatown," which was itself, like "Blood," a dark, brooding vision of the struggle between man and the land. There are also thematic resemblances to the Orson Welles masterpieces "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." But for a more obscure choice, check out the underappreciated "Eureka" (MGM), a hallucinatory epic cum obsessive character study from director Nicolas Roeg ("Performance," "Don't Look Now"), starring Gene Hackman as a gold prospector who finds that money can't buy him happiness. Although less in control of its eccentricities than Anderson's ferocious film, it's every bit as potent a demolition of the myth of a "self-made man."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|