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Two Readers Cough Up Their Thoughts On CHOKE!

Beaks here... Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's CHOKE premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January to decidedly mixed reactions, but the presence of Sam Rockwell is enough to draw my interest (even though I've been through with Palahniuk's one-note nihilism for years). Let's see what reader "JediMoonShyne" thought of this pitch-black comedy.
'Choke' Clark Gregg, 2008 California born Sam Rockwell is one of those actors whose free-spirited nature is always refreshing to witness, so much so that one almost wishes him to do more with a career that has included very few leading roles. With debutant director Clark Gregg's 'Choke', Rockwell plays sex-addicted protagonist Victor Mancini in what is the first adaptation of absurdist writer Chuck Palahniuk's work since 'Fight Club'. Despite the fact that both films are cynical products of the same man's twisted imagination, 'Choke' and 'Fight Club' are essentially completely different - especially comedically. While the latter employs a darker and altogether more rewarding breed of humour 'Choke' isn't without its funny moments. Most of which are provided by an in-form Rockwell as the egregious Victor, whose disillusionment and general hate towards all things normal is quite infectious. Victor splits his time between caring for his ailing mother (Anjelica Huston) attending sex-addict meetings for fun and conning willingly heroic diners out of a few dollars every month. In fact Victor's only objective in life besides satisfying his sexual appetite is to keep his mother alive and cared for, if only to finally discover his true birth origins. Director Clark Gregg (you know who he is, even if that name doesn't ring a bell) handles the screenplay here also, and perhaps this is where the problems stem from. The film seems more concerned with delivering an almost constant stream of crass and guffaw-inspiring jokes that get old pretty quickly, overshadowing and undermining what should be an intriguing spiritual tale. I saw 'Choke' at an open-air festival screening in central Rome, a venue that quickly filled with the smoke of all those people who can't wait to ruin others' lungs. So it was in quite a dizzy state that I struck up a conversation with one particularly satisfied punter not long after the film had finished. He delightedly informed me that my discontent was definitely down to a certain lack of knowledge of Palahniuk and his work - or what the writer is "trying to say". Maybe that's the case, I don't know. Either way 'Choke' didn't work for me on a comedic or dramatic level, and for long periods was held together by some quite incredible work from our scruffy lead. While the Victor character isn't a far throw from Rockwell's ballpark his performance here is, on first glance the best thing I've seen from him. We can only hope that this encourages a few more leading roles to be sent his way in the future. 5/10 Please credit JediMoonShyne if you use this, thanks!

And here's a thoughtful write-up from Fatboy Roberts...
It ain’t Fight Club. I’ll get it out of the way up front. This isn’t that movie. It’s not as good as that movie, it’s not as alive as that movie, it’s not as vibrant, as thoughtful, as mean-spirited and sneeringly smirky as that movie. It’s not as fun. That’s not to say Choke sucks. As a matter of fact, having read the book, the word I’d use to describe Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Choke is a word I’d never think to use about Chuck Palahniuk’s most messy novel: Poignant. Choke is the story of Victor Mancini, (Sam Rockwell) a guy who works at a Ren-Faire type of establishment, wearing revolutionary war era clothes and pitchforking hay from one spot to another. Victor is a sex addict who chokes on purpose at restaurants to collect get well money from the rich people who administer heimlichs to him. He scams these people to pay the 3000 bucks a month room and board for his demented mother Ida, (Anjelica Huston) who doesn’t even recognize him when he comes to visit at a Catholic Nursing Home. Her condition is deteriorating so much that the only possible cure involves violating his sexual sobriety with Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald.) To make things worse, his mother reveals that his lineage is not what it seems, and Victor needs to find out who his real father is before Ida shuffles off this mortal coil. The novel by Palahniuk is messy, in most senses of the word. It’s unruly, it meanders, it’s as untucked, greasy and sloppy as Rockwell himself looks in the film. I remember it being largely concerned with shit. It felt dirtier than some of his other work because of how sprawling, unfocused, and emotionally thin it was. There were thematic avenues Chuck was trying to drive down, and it read like drunk driving, pinging off curbs and flipping off pedestrians before finally running out of gas. I remember thinking Choke was the point that editors stopped really trying to cut down what he was writing, being more concerned with getting the stuff on the shelf to mint money with. Clark Gregg as a screenwriter does what Jim Uhls did to Fight Club: Pared it down significantly and trimmed out a lot of the elements that didn’t quite work. The movie still diverges pretty frequently, but it does so quickly, and neatly. That’s not to say the film castrates the smirking nastiness of Palahniuk’s work. Rather, it recontextualizes it by making the characters at the center feel a lot more human. Where Fight Club was about identity, superficiality, and the stupid allure of nihilism, Choke is essentially about a boy and his mother. Granted, it’s a fucked up kid with a batshit insane mother, but the issues at the center of their broken relationship are--underneath all the church-boning, jerking-off, vomiting and anal beads—relatable. Most of that comes from Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston. Huston bounces from gleefully manic to sadly confused in a way that reminded me of Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream. This movie isn’t anywhere near that heavy, nor is Huston’s portrayal that weighty, but it reminded me just enough of Burstyn to surprise me. She strikes no false notes, even if they’re mostly minor-key. Rockwell sells the weary self-doubt and self-loathing almost as well as Huston sells her performance. Even when he’s being flatly despicable to his masturbation addicted best friend Denny (Brad William Henke,) Rockwell doesn’t lose that relatability. He’s jealous, he’s pissed, he’s tired, but you never hate him for lashing out, and you hope to God The Father he gets it figured. A better example of how good he is in the movie comes during a sequence where he goes online to find a woman who can only O-Face while acting out a rape fantasy. We’re watching a man who is struggling against his lineage by looking to fulfill rape dreams online. The revelation of his possible father is sorta silly, and never worked in the novel, and only barely works in the film, which is a credit to Gregg’s adaptation, as is his axing of a lot of the support group scenes, which only serve to invite comparison to Fight Club’s opening. While the atmosphere of the movie, the pacing, and Gregg’s directing build to a point where this ridiculous sequence not only makes sense, but is almost gleefully anticipated, it’s Rockwell’s transformation of a character that is mostly shitty (literally) on the page, to a fully formed, multidimensional character that makes what could be a potentially disturbing scene into probably one of the biggest laughs in the film. The supporting characters are most notable for their ability to stay out of the way. Henke’s Denny is sorta slow and sitcommy, but he comes through more often than not. Joel Grey has a few nice moments as the head of the support groups both Victor and Denny attend. Kelly MacDonald is still doing that “if I talk really slow I can keep a hold on my American accent” thing that she did in No Country For Old Men, but she’s cute. Bijou Phillips as a milkmaid at the Ren Faire manages to keep her top on, which is pretty amazing in and of itself, and I think she got her snaggles fixed finally, leaving Patricia Arquette as the only actress left in Hollywood still rocking the sexy snaggletooth. I’m not counting Kirsten Dunst because last I checked Skeletor crossed with a basketball doesn’t equal pretty. Clark Gregg himself, as a manager of the Ren Faire, is probably the most solid supporting actor, securing at least one really big laugh every time he appears. Gregg’s biggest accomplishment with this film is not just making the book palatable and relatable, but making it feel effortlessly amiable. It’s got an easygoing nature about it that is absolutely necessary to set up the emotionality he’s going for. Again, he hasn’t really watered down the book too much – there’s more thrusts in this film than anything Atom Egoyan’s ever directed, for example. Or Paul Verhoeven, for that matter. Almost as many as Gregory Dark. There’s a lot of titties. Beautiful, supple. Also old. And I think goat, as well, I’m not sure. The big twist (it’s Palahniuk, after all) is preserved and works better than the book did it, although the climax still sorta just runs out of gas at the end, and the movie just essentially stops. My personal missed opportunity criticism: After Victor is arrested under suspicion of rape, Not having the detective played by Isiah Whitlock Jr, who played Senator Clay Davis on HBO’s brilliant “The Wire,” deliver a deliciously drawn out “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” after Victor finally passes his guilt onto a Police interrogation room floor. Choke is a minor-key triumph that improves on Palahniuk’s film and brings a depth to the work I didn’t think could have existed on the page. It’s not exciting, pulse-pounding, exhilaration captured on celluloid like Fincher’s Fight Club was, but it’s a solid, low-key, funny and oddly touching film that’s definitely worth seeing, if only for the strength in the performances and the interplay between Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston. Fatboy Roberts P.S. thanks again for the love from Alexandra DuPont regarding “Geek Remixed,” it’s much appreciated. Glad everybody seems to dig it.

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:06 p.m. CST

    by hike499

    I am still looking forward to this.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:06 p.m. CST


    by hike499

    looking forward.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:09 p.m. CST


    by Mr.Meanie

    Saw it at sundance earlier this year. Wasn't great...wasn't bad. Kind of forgettable.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:13 p.m. CST

    Saw it in Chicago..

    by Harold-Sherbort

    ..on wednesday thanks to this site. I thought it was great! Sam Rockwell definitly deserves to get bigger roles. For a first time director, Clark Gregg did a good job. It felt a little lite, but I think if it had gotten too heavy, it just wouldn't have worked. As it is, it's a 3 out of 4 for me.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:14 p.m. CST

    CHOKE is not that good

    by mefrog

    Saw it as well. Uninteresting. Plain. No creativity behind it, and the fact that the plotline shares too many similarities with Fight Club doesn't help. Mildly amusing, at most.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:32 p.m. CST

    One-Note Nihilism?

    by hebrokeaway

    Read Palahniuk's later novels (particularly Rant) and I doubt you'd consider them nihilistic. That's one of the things bothering so many of his former fans: the novels and lead characters are less anarchic and more about trying to rebuild.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 2:56 p.m. CST

    I'm a big Palahaniuk fan, and Choke wasn't my favorite book

    by dr sauch

    Someone needs to make Lullaby or Haunted. The latter, in particular, could be done as a horror anthology and could be just fucking amazing.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 3:01 p.m. CST

    I liked the book Survivor

    by bottombrick

    I can never get through the other ones, I find them so tiresome.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 3:09 p.m. CST


    by Thorstrongstone

    ".....a venue that quickly filled with the smoke of all those people who can't wait to ruin others' lungs."<br><br> I thought that this was a review, not an expose on how Jedi lacks a fucking backbone.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 3:18 p.m. CST

    Another big Palahniuk fan....

    by DiscoGodfather

    ...who has enjoyed the later works as much as the early ones. Except Lullaby, strangely enough... maybe I need to give it another chance. After all, I didn't like Diary until I read it a second time. I still havent read Rant or Snuff, but I really want to despite not hearing good things about the latter. But I agree, Survivor would make a fantastic movie, it just plays out so well. Though the ending might be a problem.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 3:35 p.m. CST


    by mrbeaks

    That's encouraging. Maybe I'll give him another shot. I can't deny his talent as a writer.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 3:37 p.m. CST

    I liked the book.

    by fastcars

    Saw a preview a while back, didn't seem like it captured the book's tone. Too breezy.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:12 p.m. CST

    no word on the score???

    by deadyounglings

    did these screenings have a temp track or the final score i wonder. i'd think most people, especially the palahniuk crowd, would be just as excited for new radiohead material as the movie. i am!

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:31 p.m. CST

    You know what Chuck book I'd like to see?

    by DOGSOUP

    Fugitives and Refugees. Yeah, yeah? Think about THAT.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:44 p.m. CST

    I am still looking forward to this

    by Broseph

    I really think i'll like this,but i thought i'd really like pineapple express and didn't.either way i'm still paying to see this and sneaking in to red eye

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:45 p.m. CST

    excuse me eagle eye

    by Broseph

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:48 p.m. CST

    survivor please

    by lex romero

    Choke was ok, though i agree with the reviewer that it felt meandering and unfocused. Survivor is the book we need to see an adapatation of. Could be awesome.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 4:48 p.m. CST

    Lullaby should be made into a movie?

    by Neil_the_Sheep

    Damn right it should...I really like that one...but to be fair...I haven't read any of Chuck's books that I didn't enjoy on some level.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 6:52 p.m. CST

    skeletor mixed with a basketball

    by juice willis

    that's some mean shit, man.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 6:59 p.m. CST


    by Harold-Sherbort

    I guess this would be a spoiler.........there are two Radiohead songs used in the movie. The one at the end is track 7 of In Rainbows. I can't remember the name of it right now. It's used really well. Of course, I think any Radiohead song can make a scene personally. Look at the beginning of Vanilla Sky, or Southland Tales. Excellent use there as well.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:14 p.m. CST


    by deadyounglings

    shut the smurf up, oh man is that disappointing. i read they were doing the whole score! are you sherrrr that wasn't a temp track?

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:16 p.m. CST

    radiohead link again

    by deadyounglings

    sorry, smurfed that one up big time

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:18 p.m. CST


    by deadyounglings

    ok just take the space out from between e and w, i'm thick. someone please delete my bullshit :-)

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:32 p.m. CST

    You know what?

    by Harold-Sherbort

    Come to think of it, there was what sounded like a musical reworking of said track, right before the final scene. As far as the whole thing, I don't think so. I was too busy being excited in my pantalones from all the face fucking, reverse cowgirl,and all the other crazy sex shit going on in the movie to notice if they did the whole score.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:35 p.m. CST

    Book was good...Trailers for this have been...

    by WhinyNegativeBitch

    ...Terrible. Beyond awful. Just sitcom tone.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:40 p.m. CST

    Ms. Dunst and other actresses

    by the podosphere

    In fairness - and perhaps some cinematographer can explain this - women who have unusually large craniums in relation to the rest of their bodies actually come off quite well on film. Kirsten Dunst - I've seen her in person, and the contrast in her case isn't even that extreme - is by no means alone. Salma Hayek's got a tiny tiny body compared to her noggin, but man does that work on the big screen! <p> Kirsten's talented. It's not her fault her cranial/skeletal proportions are non-standard.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:42 p.m. CST

    Lullaby would not make a good film.

    by Reelheed

    I enjoyed the book but it's waaay too Stevie Kingesque to make a film out of. <p>Unless it was cheap and straight to dvd. Eventually to be given away free with Sunday papers. <p>Looking forward to this tho.

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 7:51 p.m. CST

    fight club?

    by BadMrWonka

    if it was the same screenwriter adapting, or the same director, or even if there were one actor overlapping, I could see it, but there are none of those things here.<p> so why on earth does EVERY reviewer keep comparing these 2 films that have basically NOTHING to do with one another except that they're both derived from books by the same author?

  • Sept. 6, 2008, 8:08 p.m. CST

    The only thing they..

    by Harold-Sherbort

    ...they have in common, is that both deal with serious subject matter with dark humor. Don't go by what they're showing online. It is a fine movie that doesn't dissapoint. Just don't expect Fight Club all.

  • Sept. 7, 2008, 2:51 a.m. CST

    And the self-help groups?

    by half vader

    You didn't read any of that stuff up there, did you Wonka?

  • Sept. 7, 2008, 11:39 a.m. CST

    I want to see a capable director take on Rant.

    by beastie

    That was the only Palahniuk book that I've enjoyed thoroughly since Survivor. Everything in between is entertaining, but didn't do much for me on a thought provoking level. </p><p>I want to see someone with a grisley style do Rant. I'm thinking Eli Roth, but with better symbolism.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 4:30 a.m. CST

    I for one thing Kirsten Dunst has a rather striking skull

    by smackfu