5 - 1
How do you make a movie out of a book that everyone considers unfilmable? Well, if you’re David Cronenberg, you toss out the rules and reinterpret William Burroughs’ surrealistic epic as a combination biography and commentary on the controversial novel itself. With a brilliant turn by Peter Weller as our author surrogate and the kind of complicated bio-horror that the director excels at, the end result is like someone struggling with heroin, hurt, and their own hidden homosexuality. By the end, even the animated roach typewriter with the talking anus and smoke graveled voice starts to make sense… somewhat.
Few outside her native New Zealand had ever heard of Janet Frame when director Jane Campion decided to turn her tumultuous life into a TV miniseries. Eventually released around the world as a single three part film, the novelist was portrayed as the victim of unthinkable personal tragedies. A misunderstood childhood, complete with the accidental death of two of her sisters, plus later years marred by psychiatric and personality issues rendered her career incomplete. Still, in Campion’s calm hands, we can see the start of something amazing. By the time Frame has grown and found some fame, we relish the relief.
Sure, he seemed like nothing more than an ungrateful curmudgeon arguing with a determined David Letterman over the typical pet peeves and problems in his life, but the late Harvey Pekar was much more than a poster boy for being pissed off. Without him, independent comics and the world of outsider narrative probably wouldn’t have existed. Instead of superheroes and fantasy, Pekar placed his own sad life front and center, turning his everyday travails into the stuff of myth. The movie does an amazing job of balancing the fame with fact, offering multiple interpretations of who this character was, including segments with Harvey himself.
Few have found a way to tap directly into the late Hunter S. Thompson’s terrifying Id like director Terry Gilliam. After taking over for a fired Alex Cox, he refashioned the sketchy script as a paean to the foundation of gonzo journalism. By keeping the archaic authors own words, and backing them up with fading ‘60s nostalgia, he crafted a misunderstood masterwork which flopped upon initial release, but that’s worshipped today. Of course, it helps to have the perfect actor in the leading role, and Johnny Depp gives the performance of a lifetime. Not only is he Thompson, he’s everything we believe Thompson to be.
When haunted homunculus Charlie Meadows screams “I’ll show you the life of the mind” to the frazzled title character, little did viewers know he was standing in for the blocked and baffled Coen Brothers. Stuck on how to wrap up their gangster masterpiece Miller’s Crossing, the duo delved deep into the world of writing and came up with this amazing deconstruction of inspiration, intention, and industry in-jokes. Part exercise in existential ego, part comic criticism of the populist grind of Golden Age Hollywood, this is a dense packed pearl that only reveals its many luscious layers upon multiple viewings and lots of free association.