Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I saw CHOKE at Sundance and really, really dug it. I know people who read the book before seeing the movie and they didn't like it as much, but I wasn't in that camp. Actually, Palahniuk just came into town and I didn't realize it until my little bastard brother came back showing off his signed books! The little sneak... damn... Anyway, Sundance has a continuing series where they show some of their movies in NY and two of our spies were there... our regular Bungion Boy and a new spy calling himself Xero. They both liked the movie to varying degrees and I'll start with the short but sweet review from Xero!
Hey guys, longtime reader, first time submitting anything. I just got home from what we were told (by the director himself, Clark Gregg) was the premiere of the final cut of Choke, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. It was part of the Sundance At The Brooklyn Academy of Music series, and as a big fan of both the book, and Mr. Palahniuk himself, the film is fantastic. Like any book-to-screen adaptation, there are going to be some differences, guaranteed, and there are a few here, but the film is also extremely faithful. The book's spirit is there in full force. Seeing the way the characters came to life, this was how I pictured them when I first read the book some time ago. I have no doubt in my mind when I say this: Sam Rockwell was born to play Victor Mancini. The man has it down to a science who the character is and why he does what he does. Every second this man is on screen, you're hooked. The rest of the cast is amazing as well, especially Kelly Macdonald as Dr. Paige Marshall, who brings an innocence to the role that few others could. Do not go into this film expecting something along the lines of Fight Club, as both books and both films are very very different. Hopefully this film will do well, and in turn help some of Chuck's other works onto the big screen sometime in the near future. Fox Searchlight definitely came through again with their big Sundance pickup for 2008. Like Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno before it, Choke has its audience, and whether they are familiar with the book or not, they will be quite happy come September 26th. If you use this, call me Xero
This really is Sam Rockwell's movie. The man's a powerhouse and this movie really does showcase how great of an actor he is. His comic timing, his dramatic acting... both are top notch in the flick. Below is Bungion Boy his isn't as glowing, but dug the flick. He has a much more detailed and lengthy review. Enjoy!
Hey Harry, Moriarty, etc. Bungion Boy here. I spent all of this past weekend at the Sundance at BAM festival in Brooklyn. You can read my report of the films I already saw here: (http://www.aintitcool.com/node/36937), but tonight I saw Clark Greg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Choke.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a review for this film. I figured that whatever I had to say would make certain people outraged. You see, I’ve never read a Palahniuk book. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but I just have not yet gotten around to him. I can only judge the film I saw so please forgive me for any misinterpretations or misunderstanding of the material. That said, the film is… not bad. Sam Rockwell plays Victor, a man with so many issues and problems that I couldn’t list them all here, but here’s a taste. He is a sex addict with no aspiration of recovery, he intentionally chokes himself in restaurants to get love (and money) from his saviors, and his mother is in a mental hospital and never seems to recognize him as himself when he visits. The main focus in the film is Victor’s relationship with his mother, played by the fantastic Angelica Huston. One day she lets slip that she’s been keeping information about the true nature of his conception from him so Victor then goes to great lengths to discover the truth about who he is. But the less said about his mother’s diary, the sweet doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who he gets to translate it, and an ancient foreskin in a jar, the better. I couldn’t spoil all the crazy places the story goes even if I wanted to. Gregg has clearly encountered a lot of backlash from Palahniuk fans for this film not being a completely true adaptation, and also being an independent film with a modest budget. In his Q and A after the film he apologized to any fans that might have been expecting “Fight Club 2.” Well at the start of the film, I really preferred the tone and style of this film to “Fight Club,” a film I like a lot, but don’t completely love. In Fincher’s film there was a kind of fantasy element that suggested that anything could happen. The lighting was harsh, dark, and accented the ugliness in every character. You could usually see and almost smell the sweat, blood, and urine of the settings. It was like no other film I had seen before. “Choke” not only looks like many films I’ve seen before, but it also looks like many places I’ve seen before. I mean this as a compliment. I believed that this story was taking place in the real world and that these were real characters living in it. Some of the old women who torment Victor in the hospital were comically crazy, but the sparse hallways and florescent lights looked like real environments. I saw these characters do strange and ridiculous things, but they seemed to be doing them in an honest setting, so I knew I could trust them to be real people with problems, and not interesting problems and character traits with a face slapped on them. However later in the film there were certain events that were so strange and unexpected that I think they may have required a more surreal touch and a larger budget. Gregg cited that one of the key events from the end of the book was filmed but then cut because it looked too small and staged. He said Michael Bay could have pulled it off, but who would want to see that film? The more strange and surreal the events in the film got, such as a late night trip to a zoo and violent hook up found on the internet, the more I wished Clark Gregg had a slightly better eye for the absurd. I was also slightly puzzled by Kelly Macdonald’s casting. I’ve always really loved her work in the past, but her warm, sincere attitude didn’t seem to change much throughout the film, which has her character become stranger and stranger, though this was not reflected so much in her performance. I’m willing to admit, however, that Macdonald’s performance might have been exactly what was required for the role in order to hide from Victor and the audience some of the mysterious secrets that her character holds. Gregg does play a small part in the film as well, and has some of the funniest moments as Victor’s ultra method nemesis at his job, a historical reenactment park, much like Colonial Williamsburg. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent as well. Huston gets to play a wide range of many kinds of crazy and is particularly good in the story’s flashbacks. The always interesting though often obscure Brad William Henke counters Rockwell nicely as his best friend. We also get some welcomed bit parts from Bijou Phillips and the great Joel Grey. But this film belongs to Sam Rockwell just as much as it does to Gregg and Palahniuk. I don’t know if another actor could have made the character and story more compelling. Like he did in films like “Snow Angels,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and countless other films, Rockwell gives a performance that you can’t take your eyes off of. He hides a real mystery under the surface of all his characters that he never lets you completely crack, so you never lose interest in his performance because you’re always wanting to learn a little more about him. Seeing him tonight made me wonder once again why he isn’t a bigger star, but maybe it’s a good thing he’s not. He might lose some of his allure if he was big enough to compete for bit parts in movies like “Transformers 2.” Clark Gregg’s Q and A after the film was a high point of the evening. Too often these days it seems that filmmakers are reluctant to give real answers about their own intentions. Instead of turning the tables on the audience and telling them that whatever way they interpreted the film was the correct way to view it, he talked in depth about what the book meant to him, why he changed certain things, and honestly and skillfully defended his choices that some of the die hard Palahniuk fans really took issue with. His explanations of why the ending was so different and why he left out this and that seemed to satisfy his critics and made me see some of the scenes I had problems with in a more positive light. Gregg knows how to handle a crowd, is very entertaining, and I look forward to a DVD commentary in which I can hear more of his thoughts. This is a funny film and one that kept me really interested and intrigued until the end, and yet there was something about it that never felt complete for me. At 89 minutes it is brisk, but certainly must leave a lot out from the book. There are many ideas that seem to be brought up to enable a gag or shocking moment, but are then never completed to justify their presence in the film. A subplot about rock collecting seemed to be meaningful to the story, and then ended up amounting to nothing. Sure enough, a friend explained to me, this was one of the subplots that was very important in the book, and here just reduced to a quirk. This friend of mine ended up being very disappointed that the film wasn’t as dark or true to the book. Will other Palahniuk fans have the same reaction? It’s possible, but there is also a lot of narration seemingly lifted right out of the book that pleased the audience a great deal. And while this film was not a total success for me, it made me think enough about it to make me want to see it again, and read the book as well. There’s still hope for me to become a bitter Palahniuk fan that believes he’ll never be fairly treated and represented on film. In the meantime though, I’ll just think of this film as a good Sam Rockwell movie, though maybe not a great one. -Bungion Boy