Tagged David Schwimmer

Apt Pupil is an Atmospheric but Watered Down King Adaptation

Apt Pupil. 1998. Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Brandon Boyce; based on the novella by Stephen King from the collection Different Seasons.
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell, Michael Reid MacKay, Ann Dowd, Bruce Davison, James Karen, Marjorie Lovett, David Cooley, Blake Anthony Tibbetts, Heather McComb, Katherine Malone, Grace Sinden, & David Schwimmer. Canal+/Phoenix Pictures/Bad Hat Harry Productions.
Rated 14A. 111 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Bryan Singer’s directing. Not that he’s bad. There’s something about his style that doesn’t always attract me. I’ve not seen his feature debut, though The Usual Suspects is a great film; slightly overrated, but great nonetheless. Sometimes I feel like Singer is a bit too focused on the look of things and forgets there needs to be proper substance.
Apt Pupil suffers partly because of that disease. In a quest to get the atmosphere and the mood correctly dark, as well as unsettling, Singer works off the adapted screenplay from Brandon Boyce, which is the first problem. The original novella by Stephen King is an intense, tight little tale that unwinds into an absolute massacre, both figuratively and literally. Boyce does the source material a disservice by both watering down some of the more disturbing aspects, replacing that with weak storytelling. However, resting the weight of the movie on the shoulders of Ian McKellen and the 14-year-old Brad Renfro was a wise casting choice that ultimately transcends what mistakes were made in the writing. The film is nowhere near perfect, definitely not close to being as good the novella. Yet I dig it. With an eerie mood and a feeling of pure evil hovering around every last frame, Apt Pupil is a wonderful character study of two men at highly different points in their life: one is a former Nazi Sturmbannführer that worked in the concentration camps during World War II named Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), now living in California as Arthur Denker and hiding his identity nearing the end of his life; the other, a young high school student named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) on the verge of starting his life, ready to graduate, and harbouring a darkness within that desperately seems to want to get out.
Pic1
The juxtaposed scene of Dussander at dinner with everybody then hearing his various conversations playing through Todd’s head is perfect. First of all we see how the duality of these type of men, former Nazis, is part of their terror. Dussander moved from a life of hideous war crimes to one of a quiet neighbourhood old man, the kind who can sit with normal people and talk with them while leaving that other life somewhere behind him.
Later on, Dussander starts to fall back into his old ways. This is where we see that whereas he’s able to hide his true identity so well there’s still only a very thin skin holding it inside. It all begins when Todd makes him put the SS costume on. Immediately we see the regression into that brainwashed state of marching, saluting, and this signals a change. Not long after Dussander tries to put a cat in his oven, though isn’t successful. Literally moving back to the ways of the concentration camp. There’s also a parallel between Dussander, his past, and the sinister intent of Todd. He is a little twisted; more so in the novella. But Renfro’s Todd is shown to be sick in his own way.
One of the scenes that gets to me most is when Todd showers at school, then finds himself transported to the showers of Auschwitz, the frail and skinny bodies standing around him. There’s a very King feel here. Ripped straight from the pages of his writing almost. I also think the brief with the cat is great because it shows that lingering feeling in Dussander that wants to start killing again; the fact he attempts to put it in an oven is scarily perfect. I’m also a huge fan of that last moment set to “Das Ist Berlin” (performed by Liane Augustin & The Boheme Bar Trio) – without spoiling anything overtly there’s this powerful use of the look in Dussander’s eyes, the editing with Todd and his guidance counsellor/the basketball rim (that gives a feeling of sport; in that the young kid sees his actions as a form of play). That whole finishing scene really puts a cap on the visual elements, as one of the better executed sequences overall.
Pic2
This brings me to my biggest problem: the writing. I know the original novella is risky, it’s a touchy story to try adapting closely. But I can’t help feeling that to be honest to the prevalent themes you’ve really got to keep many of the elements King put into the plot. For instance – SPOILERS FOR BOOK READERS AHEAD! – instead of Dussander forcing Todd into the basement where the kid is in turn forced to kill the vagrant (played fabulously by Elias Koteas), in the story Todd kills homeless vagrants, and the story takes place over about four years, so there’s this really monstrous side to the kid that comes out even more than in this screenplay. Most of all it’s the brutality we’re missing. In a story already tackling the Holocaust and the obsession many develop with it, I’m not sure why Boyce didn’t try to retain a few of the more intense, savage pieces. I suppose because King doesn’t do much, first or last, to make Todd Bowden too sympathetic. The film goes too hard at trying to humanise both men, slightly, instead of showing the monster within each of them, one that grows in a symbiotic sense as Todd and Dussander go on similar yet separate paths.
This film is due for a remake by a writer and director willing to go the full way. Singer’s effort captures a fascinating atmosphere, it contains two powerful performances that are worth EVERY second and every penny. Unfortunately there’s a lot lacking in comparison to what is a pleasantly shocking story by the master of horror, Mr. King. I’m not always a stickler for screenwriters keeping dead on with a novel or other source material. In this case the whole film would have been better served by circling more closely the original intentions of the author.

Advertisements

American Crime Story – Season 1, Episode 10: “The Verdict”

FX’s American Crime Story
Season 1, Episode 10: “The Verdict”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

* For a review of the previous episode, “Manna From Heaven” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 3.59.42 PM
Finally, the last episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson has arrived!
We begin as O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr) gets dressed for the big day. Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) advises him how they’ll proceed from here. In court, Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) is faced with letting O.J. address the court. Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) is not happy with that, believing the defense is trying to get facts to the jury improperly. Everybody watches on, as O.J. speaks awhile. Until Marcia shuts that shit down.
In the defense camp, death threats are rolling in for Johnnie – twenty and counting. He’s not concerned, though. Too busy rehearsing and writing his famous “if the glove doesnt fit you must acquit” speech that, as we all know now, was so Cochran-like. He love rhymes and alliteration, he had an almost theatrical quality.

 


Over in court, Marcia’s doing the best she can to convince the jury, one last time, that her sides is the right side. She pleads that the testimony concerning Dt. Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) not poison the well entirely. With her in court she has a nice board made up stating its UNREFUTED EVIDENCE that Simpson is the murderer. The jury is swayed, back and forth. Clearly many of them, especially the African-American citizens, are on the side of Cochran and Simpson. But Marcia makes a good case. She does, indeed. As much as Johnnie can talk the talk, Marcia can, too. She can walk that walk, as well.
More of Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), also pleading their case for the jury. He is another man whose passionate and plain way of speaking is an evident advantage as a prosecutor. But it’s the whole racial angle around the trial that’s interesting when considering Darden. He was faced with being a supposed Uncle Tom-like figure, when he was simply there on the side of justice: “This case is not about the Nword. It is about O.J. Simpson and the M word: murder.” Darden brings up many great points about Nicole Brown and her relationship with Simpson; his jealous, his anger towards her, the previous domestic abuse and the fact she filled up a safe deposit box with pictures of her injuries from those incidents, and so on.
Johnnie proceeds to stand on the high horse about domestic abuse. Ironic? Well, he moves on and gets loose, he orates like a man onstage reading Hamlet. Moreover, he again uses this as a chance to slag on the LAPD. He’s not only trying to get O.J. off, he wants to use this as a soapbox for the things he already fights against. He pops off the infamous glove line, then finishes up, the whole place hushed.

 


So now, they wait.
F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) is off to Laguna Beach, Johnnie has a flight to catch. Then Bob Shapiro (John Travolta) rambles about Oscar De La Hoya, and everyone leaves him all alone, almost without a word. They’re done with him and his bullshit, I suppose. Who wouldn’t be?
The jury starts to deliberate. Not Guilty keeps coming out, over and over. Out of the whole lot only two jurors claimed O.J. as Guilty. More of the black v. white stuff happening. Also there’s plenty of doubts about the trial itself, the weird things going on. But some of the Africa-American jurors are unwilling to budge, particularly because of racist Fuhrman and his absolutely despicable testimony.
Everyone’s surprised by the mere four hours the jury deliberated. Everyone’s worried, too. Naturally. Because it isn’t clear, at all, at any point what’s been about to happen in the trial. Meanwhile, Shapiro and Cochran are at each other’s throats again, as the latter has involved Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in their protection because of the volatile nature of the trial and its surroundings. For their part, Marcia and Chris try keeping a positive spirit, hoping the quick deliberation means the best for the prosecution.
In jail, Simpson preps for the “big day” – “biggest,” as he says. Even signs a ball for one of the guard’s kids. The guard also seems to give up a bit of good news from a friend guarding the jurors. Uh oh.

 


Everyone sits, waiting, hearts in every throat, pulse throbbing. Every single person looks stressed, both figuratively and literally on the edge of their seats. The verdict is handed over. Time slows down from O.J’s perspective. Each person watches the verdict pass over to the jury from the bailiff. Everything is by the book. This sequence is super tense, very well filmed and written, so as to draw things out. Even while knowing the verdict already it is still thrilling. The editing even cuts things to a higher level of intensity, too.
When the verdict is read out loud, everyone reacts in amazingly different ways. The racial tension is completely obvious. The editing cuts back and forth between jurors, family members, friends, the streets. An impressive little montage of edits within this scene that made the impact even more weighty. When one of the jurors holds up the Black Panther sign it comes as a whopper to both O.J. and Marcia; especially the former, who finally sees it wasn’t his supposed innocence that got him off, it was the fact he’s black. Therefore, nothing will change, people – some of them – will still see him as a cold-blooded murderer.
In the bathroom, Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) loses his lunch, clearly doubting his old dear friend’s guilt. So many reactions that it’s just a gumbo of different opinion all over the place. But even those closest to Simpson have their doubts. Hell, Shapiro was never sure to begin with, so it’s not surprising.

 


The fallout of the trial is different for everyone, as well. Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) feels his career will be defined by their loss. Marcia says she’s “ashamed” of herself. Darden wants nothing to do with going out and facing the press. But they stick together. Gil even compliments lark on her class, for not stooping to the level of the press, nor that of the defense and their tactics. Obviously, though, she feels the weight of the decision against her. Amazing acting in this scene, Sarah Paulson gives us more of her excellent portrayal of Marcia Clark; some of the highlights of the series as a whole in this first season.
Many are devastated by the jury’s decision. The Goldmans, The Browns, Garcetti and his entire team, many in the community. They can only pick up the pieces and move on from there, learn from their mistakes and errors in judgements. Clark and Darden do their best to give a press conference, under all the emotion they suffer. Another emotionally charged moment out of this great finale. Then from the crowd someone asks: “Gilyou gonna look for the real killer now?” Whoa. That is a big one, and it hits Garcetti off guard.

 


On the streets people celebrate. But so many, like The Goldmans, are left wondering how to move on. How can they reconcile what they feel they know deep in their hearts with the verdict? And after so much madness throughout the course of the trial.
Very interesting is the meeting between Cochran and Darden. The faith Chris has in the law doesn’t waiver, yet he has no faith in the theatrics of Cochran and his tactics. But Johnnie is able to sleep at night knowing he’s slightly changed things. When he sees President Bill Clinton on the news talking about the LAPD, the black experience, he knows things may shift. If only he were still alive today, he’d know nothing ever fully changes. Not when it’s embedded like racism.
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 5.01.14 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-06 at 5.02.23 PM
Darden: “This isnt some civil rights milestone. Police in this country will keep arresting us, keep beating us, keep killing us. You havent changed anything for black people here. Unless, of course, youre a famous, rich one in Brentwood.”
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 5.02.39 PM
Marcia and Chris lick their wounds together. Neither of them is totally sure how to process what’s happened, even if it’s something they understand, how it came about, what went on during the trial. We get some insight into Clark, though. She reveals to Darden her rape, years ago, in Italy at the hands of a waiter. She tells him how there’s a “thing” in her seeking “vengeance for victims“, and that is her idea of justice, to get the justice those victims deserve, that they need. Although, the Simpson trial is really shaking her to the core, her beliefs wavering in the face of such injustice for Nicole’s murder after all the domestic abuse, the fighting, et cetera. Sad to see a strong person like Clark beaten down by a major case.
Simultaneously, O.J. gets out of jail. Funny enough, the only person waiting is Kardashian. He can’t even hide his feelings, almost weeping right there. But they head home, bringing Simpson back to his place in Brentwood. Big party, a “rager” is about to happen ’cause O.J. wants to get down. Only the reception is not what he’d expected. People in his upper class neighbourhood aren’t happy. So he’s experiencing the many-edged sword of race. The predominantly white neighbourhood of Brentwood isn’t exactly impressed with the verdict, not like the reactions in the inner city.

 


There’s a neat juxtaposition of things at the end here in this finale. We inally see O.J. back at home – the first time we’ve really seen him free the entire series. But he is alone. He cries to himself. Even he doesn’t know exactly how to go on after everything.
At his party afterwards things are even more telling. The only person on his defense team that’s present is Kardashian, who doesn’t even stay too long. A moment with a waiter is also pretty interesting, revealing more racial undertones to every relationship which O.J. engages in. Also, his last look with Kardashian is extremely heavy, as Simpson can tell his good friend no longer has faith; at least in him ,anyways.
In the backyard, O.J. stares up at his statue, long and hard. A larger than life figure, both him and the statue. In his head are the sounds of his old days on the field, the crowd roaring. How far he has fallen.

 


An impressive series that I loved, start to finish. I look forward to seeing what they’ll do for next season, which is rumoured to be centered on Hurricane Katrina. Also dig the end where they showed everyone with their real life counterpart side-by-side. Lots of great writing, acting, editing, the whole thing was nearly perfect, only a couple rare missteps. I see some awards in this series’ future.