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Review of Jon Hamm and James Franco in Howl at Sundance 2010

Sundance Snapshot: Howl

Earlier in the week Jon Hamm made an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival for the world premiere of Howl. I was lucky enough to catch a screening of the film, which centers around Allen Ginsberg's life during the beatnik era and his controversial poem.

  • Who's behind it? Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman teamed up to write and direct the film, with James Franco, Jon Hamm, Bob Balaban and David Strathairn as the major players.
  • What's it about? The film takes its title from Ginsburg's four-part poem, Howl, and goes back and forth between the year it was written (1955) and the year it became a lawsuit (1957). The movie is cut together into four very distinct parts: we see an interview with Ginsberg (Franco) as he discusses his life and work in 1957, as well as Ginsberg reading his poem to an audience for the first time in 1955. When Franco's not on camera, we see some trippy animation portraying the poem in a literal sense or scenes inside the courtroom debate regarding the poem's obscenities and literary worth.

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  • What did I think? Overall, I really enjoyed the film. The components came together nicely and seamlessly, as a perfect blend of biopic, courtroom drama and artistic indie flick. Franco gives an impressive performance as Ginsberg, showing two sides of the poet: quietly introspective and incredibly passionate. Though the animation got to be a bit much for me by the end of the film, I appreciated the stark contrast it provided to the lawsuit. The animated version of Howl turns Ginsberg's so-called obscenities into beautiful imagery as we listen to lawyers and witnesses contemplate whether or not the poem is crude and derogatory. It's another great move for Franco's blooming career (especially since the film pulled him off of Sympathy for Delicious), and I have a feeling it will be a big stepping stone toward even more acclaim for the actor.

Don't forget to check out all of my reviews from the Sundance Film Festival!

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