On the Road (Film Review)

On the Road (Film Review)

It always seemed like it would be impossible to adapt Jack Kerouac’s sprawling, seminal, stream-of-consciousness novel about the freedom of the road and the adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty without losing some of the basis of the novel. Some of the feel; some of the freedom.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to make On the Road, perhaps the most important work from the Beat Generation, into a movie. There were a bunch of different casting choices, some of them seeming pretty good and interesting, and a whole bunch of different directors who were poised to stand behind the camera to bring this important work of American literature to the silver screen. But it never panned out, for differing reasons. One being that it was always too hard to get a story on the screen that could encompass what Kerouac penned in the early 1950’s, finally getting published in 1957.

On the Road is a book about escape and freedom. About getting away from what the world expects, and getting out there into America, or all the things that America can be, and looking for something else. Something better, perhaps, but something different. It is the desire for adventure.

Sal and Dean in Mexico.
Sal and Dean in Mexico.

Newly added to the Netflix lineup, the film adaptation of On the Road is worth a watch. The reviews for it are not surprisingly mixed, but the writers, director, and actors manage to do their best to bring life to the words in the book.

For those who don’t know, the story is basically about the struggling writer Sal Paradise (a thinly veiled version of Kerouac himself), and his travel adventures with his friends across America. Namely, with the crazy, adventurous, love-to-hate him and hate-to-love him Dean Moriarty. Throughout the story, they travel the country, getting themselves in a number of wild situations, always fueled by cigarettes, booze, and benzedrine. Our characters were willing to push the limits of what their bodies were able to handle, the amount of fun and craziness they could endure, but at the same time, their goals were often simpler. To see what their country really was.

The main characters are played by relative unknowns, Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund, but the supporting cast is filled with bigger name actors, who play minimal roles in the film. Kristen Stewart has a larger role as one of Dean’s girls, Marylou, and there are appearances by Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Elizabeth Moss, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buschemi. A pretty good cast, but some of them are painfully underused. Our main actors do a good job, however. Riley, with his deep raspy, accented voice, brings a strong look to Paradise, allowing us to see him as an observer, a follower of Dean, never quite able to step into the foreground of his own life. Hedlund, as Moriarty, is able to bring the wild coolness that we could only expect of his character. He is charming and vicious, all at the same time, and it is difficult to watch him make poor choices that lead to his sad downfall towards the end of the film. He lives on the edge of his own crazed ideas, and he hooks those around him into his lifestyle. He is memorable to the point that all of those who know him will drop their lives, just because Dean is in town. He has created a legend for himself, and this comes across well with the casting of Hedlund.

Kristen Stewart, usually the sullen, mopey, teenager, excels in her role in this film. I would like to have seen more of Marylou, even though she was just a secondary character. A free spirit with simple values, Stewart bring life to her role, and it was nice to see her letting lose a little bit, away from her single expression used in the majority of her other films. To see Stewart laughing, smiling, and dancing during a great New Year’s Eve scene was something to behold, like we were truly seeing someone else on the screen instead of the famous Twilight actress we have become used to. She was good, and with the little screen time and dialogue she was offered, she was able to complete the character of Marylou. She seemed to embrace the character, the ex-wife of Dean, still drawn to him despite knowing that he would never stay with her. Stewart went all in for the role, doing her first nude scenes on film, which does help out who Marylou is.

Perhaps Kristen Stewart's most memorable scene.
Perhaps Kristen Stewart’s most memorable scene.

The supporting cast is all strong, again, despite their miniature roles.

Some of the strengths of this film include the musical soundtrack, which is incredible at bringing to life the music of the Beat Generation, the thumping bass and angst-riddled saxaphone of the jazz bands, the pulsating tunes that helped guide Paradise on his adventures in sex and drugs. This would definitely be a soundtrack worth owning, it is that good. A highlight is the New Year’s party. A sweaty, drunken gathering, with blaring music, dancing, and singing along to songs. It defined the film, and put a stamp on the idea that for the people of the time, this was a defining moment in their lives.

As a defining moment in the film, however, one feels that it should have been as the title suggests: On the Road. While there was plenty of great, and well-shot scenes of the group being actually out hitchhiking, or driving, it seems that too much of this film was based in the confines that our characters were trying to escape. Perhaps they could have elaborated more on Sal’s days out picking cotton, instead of having him in houses, or apartments. This type of freedom is the very defining theme of the book, after all. Eventually, there is a fair amount of time spent in the car, literally on the road, but it feels like it could have been more about their discovery of America. For me, it seemed that the characters were always on their way somewhere, when reading the novel, I always felt that they had no agenda, and would get home whenever they ended up getting home. Perhaps this is only my interpretation of it, but on the ultimate road trip and journey of self-discovery, they didn’t really discover much about themselves. This is the point of an epic road trip, is it not?

There is little doubt that this novel would be difficult to turn into a film. But here, we have what I would call a pretty good version of it. Paradise struggles to write the book that he so dearly wants to create, Carlos Marx struggles to find his voice in his poetry, Dean leads a life of wildness that leaves him broken and alone, and Marylou is seeking a simple life of love and family among the craziness of the people she knows best, and loves the most. On the Road is probably only a film for those who have read the book. It would seem almost nonsensical for those who haven’t, especially as minor characters are thrown at us, and we are pretty much expected to know who they are, as we had met them first in the novel.

Watching this, you are not going to get the feeling and the passion of Kerouac on the screen. But there is something there, a feeling of the era, that is able to take us away. Not a perfect film, not a perfect film adaptation, but something worth watching.

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

The friendly confines.

Wrigley Field is, without a doubt, one of the most legendary stadiums in baseball, and in all of sports. It was with this ballpark in mind that I drove thousands of kilometers to see a game.

Wrigley_field_720And it did not disappoint.

Wrigley Field is nestled in the beautiful and charming Wrigleyville area of Chicago, where shops and restaurants line the street, and hey, look, there is a baseball stadium on the street corner there. Walking into the park, and through the tunnel, you can’t help but feel awe when you first see the green grass of the diamond.

During my trip there, (it was in May), the famous outfield ivy was not fully grown, and clung to the outfield walls like brown death, but it was still cool to see in person. The stadium has earned its nickname, as the place really does feel cozy and friendly. The views from the seats are incredible, and even though I was in Row 30 or so, it felt like we were still on field level, getting a fantastic view of the game. It was incredible. The  slope of the seats is quite gradual, so even if you are sitting further back on the first level, you don’t feel like you are a mile over the players. It all feels pretty equal, and this helps with that “friendly confine” feeling.

wrigley2And the day I was there, it was a perfect day for baseball. The Cubs eventually lost the game to the Florida Marlins, thanks to a blown save by Carlos Marmol and an implosion in extra innings, but it was truly a magnificent experience.

The people there, while not the most outgoing of fans that I have ever come across, love their Cubs, and die a little with each of the many, many losses they have garnered over the past one-hundred-and-some-odd years. Who knows what would happen should the Cubs actually win a World Series one of these days. Chicago wouldn’t stop partying until the next season began, I’m sure.

The park is easy to find, and the public transportation to get there is great. You can essentially get dropped off right across the street from the stadium. It is far more convenient than the more distant US Cellular Field, where the cross-town White Sox play. There are tons of great places for a snack, meal, or beer before or after the game, and the whole area around the park is bustling before game times.

Since Wrigley is so old, having opened around the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there are many ancient things in there that come across as charming, since this field has been through so much history, to the point where it has become history. The washrooms are small and cramped, with long lines, and nothing more than a long trough to pee in (nothing like really getting to know your neighbors and the person across from you, I guess!). There is no electronic scoreboard, which is fantastic, since I have found these multi-million dollar HD scoreboards to often be a distraction from the game. Wrigley doesn’t need the flashiness. You are there to see baseball, and you can really maintain your focus during the game. The whole idea of the rooftop seats is one of the coolest things you might see in any major league stadium. Across the street, you can buy a ticket, sit on a roof and watch the game take place. Sure, they wouldn’t be the greatest view in the world, but it has that hip factor to it in the same way that the Monster Seats in Fenway do. For those in the stadium, seeing the buildings across the street peering over the outfield grandstands is one of the great, and classic, views in all of baseball. So many stadiums have now developed these outstanding scenic cityscapes in the outfield, but one cannot argue with the fact that Wrigley was one of the first to have it done. It is great to look at, and to see the sun set over the legendary park.

wrigleyFor me, Wrigley was all about the personality. This stadium has it. It is not a common, modern stadium where everything is amazing and shiny and new. There are not high end restaurants and massive team shops all over the place. Wrigley is a baseball stadium, in the truest sense of the word. There are hot dogs and beers, and small places to buy Cubs gear, but in the end, you come to Wrigley to cheer for the Cubs, and little more. It is a park that has that magical quality to it that you see in movies about baseball. It is a place where legends have played for 100 years.

And it was well worth the drive to get there.

At the Ballpark: US Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)

At the Ballpark: US Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)

Chicago is a great American city, one that is deserving of all the kudos and reviews that it receives. It is a start where there is tons of art, great food, incredible music.

And, Chicago is one hell of a sports town.

The NBA Bulls had their magical run of championships with Michael Jordan at the helm, creating a modern dynasty with two 3-peats in the 90’s. The Cubs, despite their century of futility, are still one of the most popular ball teams in the States, and have provided some memorable moments over the past years, finding new and impressive ways to lose. The Blackhawks of the NHL have come back from the depths of brutality to become a true force in the league, winning Stanley Cups in two of the last three years. The Bears may not be winners, but they are a consistently strong and beloved team in the city.

white soxOh yeah, there are also the White Sox. The forgotten team in the great city. Sure, they are more successful than the Cubs, even winning an improbable World Series in 2005. But they continue to be the second team in a two-team baseball town.

While the Cubs are nestled in the comforts of Wrigleyville, the White Sox are stuck out seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The stadium is near a subway station (or semi-near, anyways), and a massive parking lot, which takes away from any surrounding splendor that so many other modern ballparks are becoming known for. Even though it isn’t, The Cell seems like an old concrete beast reminiscent of the stadiums built in the 70’s and 80’s. It is really far nicer than they were, but being in such an open space gives off such an appearance.

Walking into the stadium, there is a lack of the same sense of awe that other ballparks have created. It is a nice place, and doesn’t at all seem dated even though it was built in 1991 (which is now considered to be an older stadium, with so many teams getting brand-spanking new parks in the last decade).

One major flaw with the stadium, is the brutally chilly winds that soar in from the outfield. Granted, the day I watched a game there, it was already a cold May day, but the wind made it frigid. Instead of consuming my usual amount of beers (a lot), we were forced to drink coffee and hot chocolate to warm ourselves and our freezing cold hands. In fact, it was so cold that day, that even though there was a double-header, we could only muster the first game against the Seattle Mariners. This was coming from a couple of Canadians who were definitely used to the cold.

The amenities at The Cell are fine. The food is solid, and it was a pretty sparse crowd there, so the lines were always quick and reasonable. The team shops inside were pretty good, although much smaller than I had seen at other parks. If there were a sellout during the playoffs, or another highly intense and important game, I could see it getting a little ridiculous in there.

As far as pricing went, it was a far cheaper place to see a ballgame than at Wrigley Field. The tickets are definitely reasonable, as we had decided on seats along the right outfield side, not the usual up-close and personal seats we had become accustomed to. The sightlines were solid, and the seats themselves were as comfortable as anywhere else.

US. Cellular FieldOverall, there is nothing to complain about at the New Comiskey. Wandering through the outfield, there are some cool statues and things to look at, but it really did lack the panache of other parks.

While the White Sox have been better than the Cubs over the past decades, based on their home, it is understandable why they are the more ignored of the two teams. A good stadium, a solid team, but it truly seems to lack soul.

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.