(UK 1987)

“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

— Lasker-Jones

I’m not usually a fan of period pieces, especially those set in Victorian or Edwardian England. Somehow, they tend to be stuffy, grandiloquent affairs that warrant a great big yawn — and they turn me off. James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice, however, is an exception.

I caught a 30th anniversary screening, and something crucial struck me: Ivory and cowriter Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s screenplay is downright daring even for the time when Maurice came out (no pun intended). A sort of forbidden romance that one character sees as the love of his life while the other tosses it aside as the folly of youth, I was moved by the frank depiction of gay love as a tender yet treacherous battlefield, no different than any other love — measured by intensity, law, or social construct. For this, Maurice stands way ahead of its time, even today.

Maurice Hall (James Wilby) is essentially Oscar Wilde at Cambridge circa 1910. He makes a move on social climbing classmate Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), who surprisingly welcomes his advances. They can only go so far, though: Clive doesn’t want to jeopradize his social standing, so the two maintain a platonic relationship. This is the key to Maurice, and the thing that makes it monumental: this is a film that attacks appearances.

Time goes by, shit happens, and Maurice ends up with Clive’s gutter cleaner, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who looks like a plebeian Paul Young). This upsets Clive and sends Maurice to therapy. In the end, Maurice makes a choice that so many of us gays have: to be gay, or not to be.

Maurice operates on a strange platitude, one that isn’t clear at first. Maurice is vulnerable, almost stupid. Clive is chilly, reserved, and completely repressed. Both skirt around their issue. I found myself rooting for and actually admiring Maurice, who stays true to himself — class, law, and sexuality be damned. That last look on Clive’s face in the final scene is devastating…for him.

With Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Godfrey, Mark Tandy, Kitty Aldridge, Helena Michell, Catherine Rabett, Peter Eyre, Helena Bonham Carter

Production: Merchant Ivory Productions, Film Four International

Distribution: Cinecom Pictures (USA), Enterprise Pictures Limited (UK), Concorde Film (Netherlands), Cohen Media Group (USA)

140 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B


(USA 2008)

“We let the world tell us whether we’re saints or sex addicts. Sane or insane. Heroes or victims. Whether we’re good mothers, or loving sons. But we can decide for ourselves. As a certain wise fugitive once told me, sometimes it’s not important which way you jump—just that you jump.”

—Victor Mancini

I’m not sure why more Chuck Palahniuk novels haven’t been made into movies—his style might not be for everyone, but his stories and characters certainly lend themselves to film. Easily. As it stands, two of his novels have been adapted for the screen: Fight Club, which most probably know because of its stars (Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, even Meat Loaf) and director (David Fincher); and Choke, which is relatively unknown—likely because it’s a much lower key (and lower budget) project. I recently learned that Palahniuk has something new coming out—a coloring book called Bait—and it got me thinking about him. On a rainy morning, I downloaded Choke, which I saw one time during its short original theatrical run almost exactly eight years ago. I was thrilled when it finally came out then, and I wanted to see how it reads now. Overall, the film works despite some minor bugs, but the story is still more satisfying as a novel.

Director and screenwriter Clark Gregg—who also has a minor role in Choke—is faithful to the book. Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a despicable mess. A medical school dropout, he’s a sex addict who hooks up with pretty much anyone who will have him. Possibly his most disturbing partner is Nico (Paz De La Huerta), a fellow member of his sex addiction support group, who disappears from meetings with him to have filthy (and in this film, very graphic) rest room sex down the hall. Victor supports himself as a tour guide of sorts in a colonial-themed park by day and faking choking episodes at restaurants by night. Long ago, he devised an elaborate scam to elicit pity—and money—from the people who save him. He uses the funds to finance his mother, Ida’s (Anjelica Huston), residency at a Catholic mental hospital, where she’s suffering from a form of dimentia and dying. Her doctor, Paige (Kelly Macdonald), has a crazy plan that might save her—if only Victor wasn’t falling for Paige.

The book is usually better than the movie, and Choke is no exception. Like all of Palahniuk’s novels, there’s a lot going on. Gregg makes an artistic choice to emphasize the subplot involving Victor’s mother and their relationship, apparently to unpeel Victor’s many layers. It’s a good idea, but it ends up downplaying other plot elements (and sometimes omitting plot developments)—like the choking scenes, some of the sex addiction, and things at work—and as a result they seem superfluous in the film. Victor comes off as hollow, more case study than character. The casting is really good, though—Brad William Henke is totally likeble as affable chronic masturbator Denny, Gillian Jacobs is dippy smart as stripper Cherry Daquiri, and Heather Burns is wonderfully cunty as Gwen, Victor’s online hookup with the rape fantasy and the silk bedspread. Actually, these three are along the lines of what I pictured when I read the book. Joel Grey makes an odd but well placed appearance as a support group leader. I love that Gregg keeps Victor in a pathetic light and toys with the theme of salvation, and I’m relieved that he doesn’t change the ending and save anyone. The great thing about Palahniuk is that he’s not sentimental, which Gregg honors.

I’ve heard through the years that many of Palahniuk’s books are being adapted for film (or in one case, television): Invisible Monsters (, Rant (, Survivor (, Haunted (, Snuff (, and Lullaby ( So far, none have come to fruition, so I’ll believe it when I see it. If nine years (the length between Fight Club and Choke) is an indicator, then next year we should see something—my guess is Lullaby.

92 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) B


(USA 2015)

What’s to say, really? Kenneth Branagh’s reboot of the classic cartoon was pretty much what I expected, Disney milquetoast and all. Lily James makes a good Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett makes an even better evil stepmother. Two things I enjoyed: the backstory the original did not tell and the prince’s (Richard Madden) junk showing through the white tights he wore in every scene. Helena Bonham Carter, downright magical as the fairy godmother, stole the show; her scene was by far the best if only for how giddy it made me.

(AMC 600 North Michigan) C