On the Road

Bella Swan, you're all grown up!

Bella Swan, you’re all grown up!

(2012) Drama (Sundance Selects) Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Danny Morgan, Marie-Ginette Guay, Steve Buscemi, Joe Chrest, Terrence Howard, Coati Mundi, Michael Sarrazin, Ximena Adriana, Tetchena Bellange, Kim Bubbs, Tiio Horn, Giselle Itie, Giovanna Zacarias. Directed by Walter Salles  

The classic Jack Kerouac Beat Generation novel On the Road has literally been in development for decades. Nobody really knew quite what to do with the book. It finally got made and was released in late 2012; was it worth the wait?

Young Sal Paradiso (Riley), a stand-in for the author, meets Dean Moriarty (Hedlund) – who stands in for Neal Cassady – through mutual friends. Sal, grieving for his father and a writer stuck in a horrible case of writer’s block, is instantly taken by this young man who is full of life and not especially concerned with convention, rules or…well, anything that gets in the way of him having a good time. Charming and literate, Dean and his 16-year-old wife Marylou (Stewart) serve up alcohol, sex and marijuana with equal enthusiasms. When it’s time for Dean and Marylou to head back to Denver, Sal is invited to come visit.

It takes some time for Sal to get together the gumption and funds to go – even in postwar New York there aren’t a ton of jobs – but he finally does. He rides busses and hitchhikes across the pre-Interstate America and eventually gets there, only to find that Dean is cheating on Marylou with Camille (Dunst). Sal heads back, stopping briefly to pick cotton and have an affair with Terri (Braga).

Later, after Sal has returned to New York, Sal and his mother (Guay) are visiting Sal’s sister and her husband for the holidays in North Carolina when Dean turns up with Marylou and friend Ed Dunkle (Morgan) and offer to drive Sal and his mom back up to New York in exchange for a place to stay for the night and a meal. Sal’s staid sister and family aren’t quite sure what to make of the intruders.

After getting back to New York and spending some time partying, Sal decides to accompany the three back to Denver. On the way they stop in New Orleans to pick up Ed’s wife Galatea (Moss) and to visit Old Bull Lee (Mortensen) and his wife Jane (Adams). They continue crisscrossing the country and as they do Sal noticed that women are getting left behind quite regularly both figuratively and literally not only by Dean but by all of them (the lone exception is Carlo (Sturridge) who is gay and is one of those left behind by the bisexual Dean). After a disastrous trip to Mexico in which Sal contracts dysentery, at last he will see Dean for who he truly is – and find inspiration in the process.

In all honesty I’ve been less a fan of the writing of the Beat Generation and more of…well, admirer isn’t quite the right term. The Beat writers were full of bullshit, but it’s an honest bullshit, a young man’s bullshit. This is a movie about self-fulfillment in all its forms. I have to admit I haven’t read the book; okay, I might have but it was so long ago that I don’t remember it and so it adds up to the same thing.  Therefore, I’m not really the one to evaluate whether the spirit of the book was captured so we’ll leave that as a N/A for now.

Salles, who is no stranger to road movies having directed the Che Guevara quasi-biopic The Motorcycle Diaries has a firm hand here and allows the allure of the road to shine through; the endless stripes passing by through landscapes mostly desolate but wonderful in their emptiness. However, keeping in mind that the movie runs about two hours give or take, that can only sustain a film so much.

The characters here are so incredibly self-involved that it’s difficult to find a lot of sympathy for the lot of them. Mostly they’re about indulging whatever hedonistic pleasure grabs them at the moment, and Dean is the mainstay in that regard. For Dean, friends and lovers are to be exploited, discarded when the need for them diminishes or when boredom sets in. He wants to meet people who have something to say that isn’t the usual postwar pabulum of pandering prattling polemic, empty of soul and emptier of head. That’s all well and good but what does interesting companions really do for you if you make no connection to them?

Admittedly the relationship between Dean and Sal is the centerpiece here in that there is more or less a relationship of mutual respect and debauchery but in the end Dean uses Sal just as thoroughly and just as despicably, maybe even more so than the others. Hedlund gives the performance of his career thus far in capturing Dean’s natural charisma and sensual charm that attracted both women and men to him like moths to a flame. Riley, a British actor who’s turned in some really incredible performances in his young career, is solid here as the yin to Hedlund’s yang, and to my mind it’s a generous move because by not shining quite so bright he allows Hedlund’s glow to be more noticeable and the movie benefits from it.

You can only take so much self-indulgent behavior and there’s really a whole lot of it here. There’s an amazing amount of smoking and drinking, not to mention a ton of sex and drug use. I don’t begrudge anyone who partakes in any of those things but it’s a bit more boring to watch than you’d expect.

This is a generation that is not unlike the 20-somethings that are out there right now; people trying to find their own way in a world that doesn’t really get them much, so they are forced to reinvent the world to fit their view. I can commend the ballsyness of the strategy but it doesn’t always make for good cinema unless of course these are your people too.

They aren’t really mine. There just isn’t any appeal in watching people indulge their most hedonistic and basic whims while forgetting to make any connection to other people. It’s an ultimately empty and meaningless pursuit. Life is about connections, not so much about carnality. It’s a lesson that the young learn as they get older, although some never learn it at all.

Some will look at these characters and see heroes bucking the system and living life on their own terms. I see people who screw their friends over and whose only concern is having a good time. One must grow up sooner or later (you would hope) and to be honest, watching this is like watching children acting out. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt – sorry if that means I fail the coolness test.

REASONS TO GO: Some good performances, particularly from Hedlund. Captures the allure of the road and the essence of the era.

REASONS TO STAY: Characters far too self-indulgent to connect to.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of sex, swearin’ and smokin’ of weed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Francis Ford Coppola originally bought the rights to the novel in 1979 and has been attempting to get the film made since then.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100; the reviews are lukewarm at best.



NEXT: Admission

New Releases for the Week of March 29, 2013

GI Joe Retaliation


(DreamWorks) Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrienne Palecki, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, D.J. Cotrona. Directed by John M. Chu

The Joes are decimated by a sneak attack but are shocked to discover that the strike was ordered by their own government – by the President, in fact. It becomes clear that the government has been infiltrated by Cobra, their arch-nemesis and at the highest levels. In order to survive and stop Cora from his evil plan they’ll have to call on some extra help – the man who started it all, G.I. Joe.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language)

The Host

(Open Road) Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Diane Kruger, William Hurt. The Earth has been invaded by parasites that take over the human body and erase their memories; the parasites are winning as the free human numbers are dwindling. A brave young girl will risk everything for those she loves and in doing so give hope to the human race that love can indeed conquer all. From the novel by Twilight series creator Stephenie Meyer.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)

On the Road

(Sundance Selects) Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams. A young writer’s life turns upside down when he meets a brash Westerner and his girlfriend. The three of them embark on a cross-country road trip to escape a world growing ever more conservative and conformist. Based on the classic Jack Kerouac beat novel.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, drug use and language) 

Tyler Perry’s Temptation

(Lionsgate) Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams. A marriage counselor whose own relationship is rocky decides to be with another man. The repercussions of her choices send a ripple effect from her life to the lives of those around her. Based on Perry’s stage play Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.

See the trailer and a filmed version of the play the film is based on here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sexuality and language) 


Sam Riley as Ian Curtis is definitely not in Control.

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis is definitely not in Control.

(Weinstein) Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara, Craig Parkinson, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson, Harry Treadaway, Toby Kebbell. Directed by Anton Corbijn.

One of the most influential bands of the late 1970s was Joy Division. While the name remains unfamiliar to many Americans, the band’s bleak, angular sound would go on to inspire bands around the world and essentially create the alternative rock genre. Their career was brief and ended in tragedy, but their legacy is without question.

Ian Curtis (Riley) is the very picture of disaffected youth in the industrial city of Manchester. He listens to Bowie and Iggy Pop, smokes incessantly and writes not so much poetry but ideas for poems in binders he keeps in his school desk. Deborah (Morton) is his girlfriend, one who shares his enthusiasm for music. They attend a Sex Pistols concert and Ian’s idea of what a rock band should be is transformed.

Ian and Deborah marry as teenagers, a move Ian is clearly not ready for. He is suffused by a Keatsian melancholy that makes Edgar Allen Poe look like Dr. Seuss. He gathers a group of musicians around him – Bernard Sumner (Pearson), Peter Hook (Anderson) and Stephen Morris (Treadaway) and they write songs that carry the punk ethos in a new direction – lacking the aggression that bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were famous for, but flouting the conventions of the music anyway. More like punk versions of Ian’s heroes Bowie and Bryan Ferry.

The group begins to achieve some notoriety in their performances, attracting the attention of Rob Gretton (Kebbell), who brashly offers to be their manager, and later of Tony Wilson (Parkinson), a television presenter in Manchester who also owns Factory Records, a nascent label that has already achieved a reputation for releasing really good music. The band’s fortunes are most definitely improving.

In the meantime, life is taking a downward spiral for Curtis. He has developed epilepsy, which plagues him with seizures and further depresses him. He quits his civil service job to devote himself to his band, putting financial pressure on his wife Deborah to earn more in her job which puts a strain on their marriage. The couple have a baby, Nicole (the real Nicole Curtis appears in a crowd scene at the Derby Hall sequence in the film) but the final nails in the coffin of the marriage are pounded in when Ian has an affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honore (Lara).

The band is getting ready to tour America and Ian is torn in different directions. Part of him wants to resuscitate his marriage, while another part of him wants to pursue Annik, and the larger part of him wants to be a rock star. However, his seizures are getting worse and his depression correspondingly deepens, until he hangs himself the day before Joy Division is to leave for their American tour.

This story is told not by Hollywood veterans who are painting a picture meant to be entertainment, but by people who knew the real Ian Curtis well. The movie is based on a book written by Deborah Curtis (who also serves as co-producer on the film, as does Tony Wilson who passed away shortly before it’s release) and directed by Anton Corbijn, a Dutch photographer who is closely associated with not only Factory Records but also with Synthpop band Depeche Mode (Corbijn directed many of their videos) and Irish rockers U2, whose  album covers he shot for more than a decade (he also directed their concert film Rattle and Hum).

Corbijn shot the movie in color, but transferred it to black and white in post-production, a very wise move. The movie takes on a more documentary feel, and the stark shadows and grays make it more visually striking than it would have been in full color. With his experience shooting music videos and concert films, the live sequences stand out and are compelling, something that Hollywood rock movies tend to lack.

Riley is a revelation as Curtis. Largely unknown, Riley captures Curtis’ curiously detached vocals and gives him an emotionless air. Curtis was far from being morbid in real life, and Riley avoids the temptation to make him so onscreen. Riley plays him as a tortured individual who was unable to commit to anything but his muse. The movie rides largely on his performance and he does a terrific job here.

I was never a big Joy Division fan, although I adore their last single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” but Control gave me a chance to re-examine their music, and I’m glad I did. While they only were to release two albums in their lifetime, songs like “Atmospheres” and “Transmission” hold up surprisingly well today, nearly 30 years after the fact. The surviving members, along with Morris’ girlfriend Gillian Gilbert, would form New Order, who would achieve commercial success and acclaim but would in many ways always labor under the shadow of Joy Division. While that band is no longer active, they did score the movie.

This is a movie heavily invested in time and place, and Corbijn’s visual sense. It has the courage of presenting the subjects in harsh, unwavering light that doesn’t make any of them appear like saints, yet doesn’t have the epic sense that made Johnny Cash appear more of an archetype than an actual human being in Walk the Line. This is, quite simply, one of the best rock and roll biopics you will ever see.

WHY RENT THIS: A compelling biography of a seminal band that is not well known on this side of the Atlantic, but has influenced bands from U2 to Nirvana to Bloc Party. The acute visual sense of director Anton Corbijn makes this a visual delight.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you are not into alternative music, this may hold no interest for you.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language and the depiction of suicide, although the act itself and the body are never shown.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The actors playing Joy Division actually learned to play the songs and when they are depicted playing live, are actually playing their instruments and singing.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Extended concert sequences that show the actors playing their songs in their entirety, as well as live and promotional material of the original Joy Division, as well as a video of The Killers’ cover of “Shadowplay” that plays over the closing credits.


TOMORROW: Watchmen