Tag Archives: movies based on books

Yes Day

Allison is tired of being the bad guy in her family, always the one to say no, to stop the fun before it turns into fights or unfinished homework or the destruction of public property. Moms have such a bad reputation for being the ruiners of fun, and somehow dads seem to get off easy, don’t they? So after one too many dictator jokes, Allison agrees to a Yes Day – a period of 24 hours where the parents have to say everything the kids propose. Yes Day!

Allison (Jennifer Garner) is a stay at home mom, husband Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) the typical overworked dad who likes to come home and take it easy. Their three kids think they’ve got it tough. Mom is SO strict! [Sidebar: I actually thought the mom was perfectly fine and I resent making mothers into villains just for attempting to raise their kids.] But this is why a no-nonsense mom like Allison would agree to say nothing but yes to angelic little Ellie (Everly Carganilla), troublemaker Nando (Julian Lerner), and rebellious teenager Katie (Jenna Ortega) for an entire day.

Now, technically speaking, this is a sweet little family film about getting your priorities straight and spending quality time together. But let’s be real: do you want to give your kids devilish ideas? I know my nephews are very impressionable, and I worried for my sister’s car when Big Ask #2 was driving through a car wash with the windows open. Are you curious now? Do you wonder what kids will ask for if given free reign? Will you lose sleep tonight worrying about what your kids are cooking up? Will they get you in a weak moment and extract a Yes Day promise you’ll live to regret? Or, god forbid, not live to regret? Will your kids be reasonable? Hahaha, just kidding. They will not.

So up to you: is 90 minutes of screen time so you can take a bath undisturbed going to be worth the price you may ultimately pay? If you need help deciding, here are bit a few of the consequences evident in the film: public humiliation, diarrhea, ruined upholstery, incarceration. Sound good to you? If you’re brave enough to continue, know that you’re going to get Jennifer Garner at her Garniest – goofy and super earnest and very believable as a mom who routinely embarrasses her children. She’s hard to resist. Pro tip: if your kids do start agitating for a Yes Day, keep in mind that’s what aunts and uncles are for. We’re physically incapable of saying no.

Moxie

I feel old, I feel embarrassed, and I feel inspired. In that order.

To the young women of today, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t get the work done. I’m sorry there’s still work for you to do. I’m sorry we didn’t break the patriarchy but got broken by it, bit by bit.

Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are introverts. They’re good students, quiet kids, girls who don’t make waves. But on the first day of school, Vivian is inspired by the new girl in class. Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) challenges English teacher Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz) on his syllabus of all white men. Lucy is interrupted by star quarterback Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who, being a white male himself, sees nothing wrong with maintaining the status quo, and belittling her simply for having an opinion different from his. Based solely on this, he starts a campaign of harassment against her, because females who speak their minds need to be put in their place. Vivian, who witnesses much of this, is quietly outraged, but it’s not until the football pep rally (when the whole school worships Mitchell jointly, despite the fact that the football team literally never wins), when the boys’ annual ranking of the girls in their class blows up everyone’s phone and suddenly a switch is tripped in Vivian’s brain. Taking a cue from her mother’s (Amy Poehler) old days of piss, vinegar, and protest, Vivian secretly starts up a zine called Moxie that ends up uniting and igniting the girls in their school (and a few of the more worthy boys). They’re mad and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Amy Poehler, fierce comedian, directs Moxie and shows some of her own. There are few people who can be this earnest and this funny at the same time, but she’s one of them. Although this film is about Generation Z discovering feminism on their own terms, it’s also a love letter to Poehler’s generation, and perhaps to all the women who have come before, women who failed to solve sexism but played a part in moving the needle. It’s also a call-out to adults who value obedience over truth and justice; Marcia Gay Harden plays the school principal who would rather look the other way than be responsible to resolving the actual issues presenting in her school. Madeleine Albright (and Taylor Swift) once said “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and I think it’s important to remember that today, womanhood and its consequences starts earlier and earlier. The patriarchy isn’t going to smash itself.

This movie is about a movement, but it’s also about friendship. These girls, who have been taught to see each other as rivals, realize they have a cause in common. They’re outgrowing the simplicity of childhood friendship and developing empathy and understanding. Moxie brims with hope and optimism. These young people aren’t waiting to inherit the Earth, they’re not afraid to bring change now.

Amy Poehler’s schtick is something like ‘sincere dork’, and there are plenty of those vibes in Moxie. She’s outfitted the film with a genuinely wonderful cast, including Robinson, Tsai, Pascual-Peña, Nico Hiraga, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Josie Totah, Sabrina Haskett, Josephine Langford, and Emily Hopper, who can carry the film’s uplifting message while still seeming like ordinary high school students. Streaming on Netflix just ahead of International Women’s Day, Moxie is the feel-good film of the month.

Sundance 2021: The World to Come

Picture it: mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. Life is hard; it’s round the clock, back breaking work just to stay alive. It’s dirty, full of drudgery, isolating, dark, and monotonous.

Dyer (Casey Affleck) is a poor farmer who will toil his whole life away and never have anything to show for it. His wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) works just as hard at even more menial tasks. Their relationship is predicated on hard work and common sense. Their life is colourless, hard-scrabble, and bereft after the loss of their only child. When another couple appears in the “neighbourhood” (which is to say, another isolated cabin miles and miles away), their dreary lives are cheered just a little bit by the ability to see another face once in a while. Abigail becomes particular friends with the wife, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), though Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a real stick in the mud, another burden to be borne, but worth the price of seeing Tallie.

If Dyer notices that Abigail and Tallie are growing closer by the day, he’s hardly the type to say anything, but Finney is much more jealous, and perhaps this isn’t the first time his wife has wandered over to someone else’s homestead. Abigail and Tallie relieve their loneliness and ignite something in each other’s company. Their relationship turns intimate, and physical, a balm on their otherwise psychologically taxing existence.

The World To Come is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical story of the same name, which is fine for a piece of literature but translated less well on screen. Katherine Waterston provides a poetic voice-over that grows tiresome very quickly, not to mention suspicious. Dyer, who eats potatoes for every meal of every day of his sad little life, hardly seems the type to have said that “contentment is a friend who rarely visits” although the sentiment, at least, rings true, the biggest excitement in his life provided by a molasses enema when he gets the flu.

Waterston and Kirby are wonderful together, and the setting is absolute perfection. The sense of longing and emptiness are well conveyed, and Waterston does a fine job embodying both Abigail’s stoic reticence and the private, flowery language of her journal. The World to Come has plenty of isolated aspects to admire but they amounted to a boring film and a frigid love story that I didn’t need to see (again: this is hardly the first of its kind). Mona Fastvold is an excellent director who picked a crummy script and failed to breathe enough life into the story to justify it or indeed to hold any emotional heft. This one left me cold.

 The World To Come will be released via video on demand on March 2, 2021.

Sundance 2021: R#J

I think every generation deserves their own version of Romeo & Juliet, and this film is definitely targeted at today’s kids, while maintaining the soul of Shakespeare. Told exclusively through online content like Instagram posts and stories and lives, and through text messages written entirely in 2021’s unique gif-heavy jargon, R#J is set in modern day but is still identifiably Shakespeare’s most infamous romantic tragedy, told in his unforgettable language.

The beef between the Montagues and the Capulets has bathed the streets of Verona in blood from both sides. Romeo (Camaron Engels) knows better than to attend a party at the house of Capulet, but Benvolio and Merc entice him out, where he instantly starts crushing on a new girl with an arty IG account. After lots of back and forth flirting, Romeo and Juliet (Francesca Noel) find out they are mortal enemies, and it’s crushing. But they’re determined to lead with love, hoping their relationship will blaze a new path toward forgiveness. Of course, we all know how it goes; their families aren’t ready yet to let bygones be bygones.

Adding this new filter of social media lets us explore this age-old saga in new light. Online bullying, the viral destruction of someone’s reputation, the loss of control of one’s story; director Carey Williams has the privilege of a bold and savvy script, and together they manage to make these new aspects seem like they’ve always been part of Shakespeare’s intention. I don’t think classics are necessarily untouchable, but this is Shakespeare, so if you’re going to be ballsy enough to to make changes, the changes had better justify themselves unequivocally. I am astonished that after centuries of retellings, Williams still finds new ground here, fertile ground, new facets of the story worth expressing. He gathers an ensemble of young actors as talented as they are beautiful, including Maria Gabriela de Faria, Siddiq Saunderson, and Diego Tinoco, most of them born after Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was released, who help reinvigorate a play they probably studied four days ago in high school.

I know the mobile media aspect has been done to death, but so has Shakespeare, but we always make time for the stories that move us. I’m excited that a new generation will discover Romeo and Juliet with this smart and sexy film, and I’m pleased that even an old biddy like me can still find value in a story about impetuous teenage lust.

Sundance 2021: Passing

This film is based on the electrifying 1920s novel by Nella Larsen depicting two former friends who run into each other randomly in New York City. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends in high school but haven’t seen each other since. Both women are biracial; Irene lives in Harlem with her husband and sons while Clare lives in Chicago with her own husband and child. The major difference being that while Irene lives authentically, Clare is passing for white. Even Clare’s husband John (Alexander Skarsgard) believes her to be white. In fact, needs her to be white, since, as he tells us, the only person who hates Black people more than he does is Clare herself. He’s even given her a “cute” racially-charged nickname that he loves to boast about. Clare lives deep, deep under cover. Irene sees the danger in the situation and resolves to stay away from her, unwilling to keep denying her own race to hide Clare’s.

However, when Clare and John move to New York City themselves, the two women reignite their friendship, despite Irene’s reluctance. Clare has been desperate for the unique comfort of being among her own people, but Irene is terrified of John, and of what might happen should he find out. But a mutual obsession grows the more time Clare spends in Harlem; they seem almost unable to untangle from each other even as their friendship threatens their carefully curated Truths.

Passing isn’t just about race. It takes on gender, sexuality, and importantly, class. Clare’s constructed identity revolves around her passing as white, but Irene’s identity is more wrapped up in her status. As the wife as a doctor, she strictly maintains her middle class boundaries, going as far as to isolate herself in order not to be mistaken for someone of a lower class, while Clare is much more comfortable straddling the lines and treating class as more fluid. Writer-director Rebecca Hall paints a beautiful portrait in which these two women exist, and develop, and she allows Negga and Thompson the space to explore who their characters are and why. Through lenses of happiness, jealousy, security, fear, and desire, we come to know these women and what guides them in their choices.

This is a fertile character study where psychology and motivation are layered in richness and depth. With its deliciously ambiguous ending, Rebecca Hall honours the masterful source material while also creating something impactful of her own.

News Of The World

Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks), a Civil War veteran, travels the landscape of 1870s Texas, bringing literal news of the world to all the towns on his route. For ten cents, he will read you the news from whichever newspapers he’s got in his saddlebag. He’s been on the road a long time; it’s a lonely life, and a dangerous one, but aside from missing his wife, he seems to embrace the solitude.

You see a lot of shit on the dusty roads between Texas towns, and one day he comes across a (Black) man hanging from a tree, his wagon overturned, and his ward cowering nearby. The little girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), was adopted by the Kiowa Indian tribe long ago, after the slaughter of her parents. Lately her adoptive Indian parents have also been killed, and she was being brought “home” to an aunt and uncle. Kidd somehow gets transferred this responsibility, and together they’ll travel hundreds of miles to deliver her to a home she’s never known, after being orphaned twice over. Johanna doesn’t speak English; she seems wild and almost feral, communicating in grunts and screams when her native language won’t do. She longs to go back to a tribe that no longer wants her, longs for a people to whom she never truly belonged, yet she remembers no other way.

The open road in 1870s Texas were no place for a child. They were no place for a man, either. The danger was grave, and constant. Tom Hanks, who goes full Daddy in the role, reunites with his Captain Phillips director, Paul Greengrass. If they thought the open seas were dangerous, they hadn’t tried to cross the harsh and unforgiving plains of Texas, where it’s hard to say whether human or natural forces are the biggest threat. If the marauders, thieves, and rapists don’t knife you and leave you for dead, the wilderness itself will be all too happy to claim your body and strip the flesh from your bones.

A slow and ambling western, Greengrass’s images have a quiet effectiveness to them, though they are frequently interrupted by rough and ready action sequences. Despite the bare-knuckled violence, the film is really about amiable companionship, and a steadfast faith in the importance of truth. Hanks channels his inner Eastwood and young Zengel is a marvel, communicating whole spectrums without the benefit of words. News of the World may be simple in premise but it is complex in character and superior in performance; definitely worth a watch.

The Crow

Can you believe I watched this for the first time this year? What attracted many has kept me away: the spectre of actor Brandon Lee’s actual death.

Brandon Lee, son of Bruce, was filming a scene like almost any other in the movie. It was a film about vigilante justice, heavy on violence. Michael Massee, the actor portraying Funboy, was required to fire a .44 magnum revolver loaded with blanks at Lee. The revolver had been inspected days earlier for a previously filmed scene in which it was not fired but needed to be seen loaded. Dummy rounds are used for this, which have a bullet, a spent primer, and no powder. One of the dummy rounds had a bullet, a live primer, and no powder. When test-fired, the primer propelled the bullet into the barrel, where it stopped. The gun was then rechecked, but no anomalies were found because the primer was now spent and the barrel was not inspected. Days later, the same gun was to be used again, without specific consent from or an additional inspection by the weapons coordinator, who had been sent home early. This time the gun was loaded with blanks, which are fully charged rounds but have no bullets. They make a convincing gunshot noise when fired, but no bullet is released – except in this case, there was a bullet, lodged in the barrel. A blank can still kill if used improperly, even without a bullet; the force of the exploding gas is enough to cause significant damage. But in Lee’s case, the exploding gas caught up with the bullet in the chamber and sent it straight into Lee’s abdomen where it lodged itself into Lee’s lower spine. The crew eventually picked up on Lee’s being slow to get up; he was rushed to hospital and spent 5 hours in surgery but was pronounced dead the next day, just 2 weeks before he was to marry his sweetheart, Eliza. His body was flown to Seattle to be buried beside his father. Production was shut down with an incomplete film and Paramount wrote it off. Entertainment Media Investment Corporation then bought the film and completed it using rewrites, body doubles, and ground-breaking (for 1993) CGI special effects.

So I feel a little guilty saying that I just didn’t like it. I suppose it was the Twilight of its time, its dark energy meant to feed the teenage need for rebellion and a certain morbid romanticism. But the whole thing’s a bit overwrought for me. Its moody, melancholic style doesn’t nearly make up for the wholly ridiculous things happening on screen. It’s about a guy who comes back from the dead in order to seek revenge on those responsible for murdering himself and his girlfriend, accompanied by – well, I’m sorry to say it, but it’s quite visibly a raven.

Despite Lee’s magnetic performance, the movie feels corny, and let’s face it – dated. It simply hasn’t aged well. Sean felt it was important that I see it, and since I made him watch The Craft, it was only fair that I succumbed. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Midnight Sky

We meet scientist Augustine (George Clooney) on a very bad day for humanity. The inevitability that climate change has been predicting for years is finally here, and in the end, it goes so much more quickly than we ever imagined. Augustine works at an Arctic station that is being frantically evacuated on this particular day, people rushing home to be with loved ones as they wait to die, and in a matter of just days, they do. The toxic air will take a few days more to reach the Arctic, so Augustine stays behind, alone. At least he thinks he is until he discovers a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind, but by the time she’s found, Augustine can no longer reach anyone else. These two may be the last humans alive on Earth.

BUT. There are 5 more humans still alive in space, astronauts that have been on a 2 year mission to assess a newly discovered planet for viability. And indeed it does appear to be the promised land, able to sustain human life. Except for everyone on Earth, it’s too late.

With his communications down, Augustine makes the difficult decision to try to reach another station. On foot. In the quickly melting, deteriorating Arctic landscape. Racing against toxic air. With a little girl in tow. Easy journey, you say? It is not. But Augustine’s got an urgent message for those aboard the starship: don’t come home. Turn back.

The five people aboard that starship are Sully (Felicity Jones), who is pregnant in space, her baby daddy and boss Adewole (David Oyelowo), plus Sanchez (Demián Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), none of whom knew they were signing up to be the last earthlings/the ones who would need to repopulate humanity. What an awful burden to put on anyone, but it’s either that, or death. Which would you choose?

Sean didn’t love this movie because he found it cold, and I don’t think that’s just a temperature thing (although poor George had to limit takes to 1 minute, and use a hair dryer to thaw his eyelashes between takes). There’s no room in the movie for recriminations but thanks to a subtle and clever script by Mark L. Smith (based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, Good Morning, Midnight), we know that Augustine is disgusted by humanity, by the fate we chose for ourselves. The movie very quickly divorces itself from Earth, which is over, and I can understand feeling untethered by that. I myself found it a fascinating corner of the human psyche to explore and discover.

Who are we at the end of the world? Augustine’s life’s work revolved around solving this problem, and now he’s watching it all come to naught. Were his sacrifices worth it? It is a powerful accounting of one’s life that takes place when it can be so starkly measured, and through flashbacks we sense that he’s feeling some regret. The astronauts too are facing a similar hardship. Imagine having come so close, having landed on a planet that could save humanity only to learn that they’re just a little too late. Oh, and that everything and everyone that they knew and loved are dead. And that they can never go home again, in every sense of the expression, that their fates now lie on a strange and unpopulated planet where, best case scenario, their kids will be committing incest for generations.

I love a movie like this that has me trying on so many different shoes to see how they feel. How it feels to fail on such a devastating scope. How it feels to actually face the extinction of the Earth, which seems like such a theoretical concept until the reality is burning in your lungs. And yet to also be in a place where guilt and regret no longer matter. Where not even grief and tears matter because we can only mourn what we have lost, or what we are leaving behind, and neither of those things apply when everything is blinking out at the same time. There are no legacies, no one to carry forward your story, everything will be forgotten, so none of it mattered.

Okay, I can sort of see why you might find this bleak. Yet I am choked with awe reconsidering it all again. George Clooney directs, and he correctly identifies that the end of the world will be markedly emotionless. We humans have no concept of an extinction level event. In 2049, when this movie takes place, we’ll have had – what, 70, 80 years? – of warning, and yet we still won’t see it coming, we still won’t be prepared, and we still won’t believe it until it’s too damn late. I can’t help but admire a movie that is willing to punch you in the gut like that.

The Midnight Sky streams on Netflix December 23rd.

Modern Persuasion

Wren (Alicia Witt) is started one day at work to find that her ex-boyfriend Owen (Shane McRae) has hired her firm to do work for his wildly successful company. Her firm has suffered some financial setbacks and has recently had to downgrade its offices to keep running, so there’s no question of turning this down. They need the money, and a win. But Wren and Owen haven’t spoken in years – things ended badly, and you can’t exactly blame Wren for not wanting to relive the relationship in front of her coworkers.

While trying to avoid Owen, Wren gets to know his right hand man, Sam (Dominic Rains), who is handsome, sensitive, and still tending his own wounds from a rather bad breakup. He’s basically irresistible. But Wren’s aunt Vanessa (Bebe Neuwirth) is pushing her toward someone else – Tyler (Christopher O’Shea) is handsome and fun and pushy enough to insinuate himself to the head of the pack.

Who we are and how we’re feeling colour the way we watch movies – they way we interpret any story, really. And the way I’m colouring things these days is in red and green. It’s Christmastime and I’ve been watching Hallmark movies nearly round the clock, some of which even star Ms. Alicia Witt. So I confess that a) I assumed I knew which of these suitors she’d end up with, based on the tried and true Hallmark formula, and b) at one point I got disoriented because I realized that none of the sets were decorated within an inch of their lives. It brought me back down to earth, where I spent the rest of the movie reminding myself that this wasn’t a Hallmark movie, and it didn’t owe me the ending I’d expected, or indeed a happy ending at all.

Of course, as a lover of books, I was also familiar with Jane Austen’s Persuasion, upon which this film is loosely based, in theme anyway, if not in faithful plotting. But I never did shake that Hallmark feeling. Is it possible that Jane Austen is the prototypical romance writer, and Hallmark’s just be cribbing her style this whole time? In fact, it is very possible, and Modern Persuasion might be the greatest evidence of the fact.

Overall, the movie is a pretty light affair. Its modernity is rather unsubtle and at times cringey, but you can always see where it’s coming from and how it got there. It’s not adding much to the genre, as undemanding as cinema gets, really, a big flimsy and forgettable, but I do see its use: in just a few days, the 2020 Christmas season will be over, and with it goes Hallmark’s slate of holiday romance movies for another year. This piece might be a welcome transition so you don’t have to go cold turkey. It should help with your Hallmark detox and bridge that gap between Christmas romance and Valentine’s romance, and we all know that January is indeed an overwhelming and icy gap, so warm your cockles with a dose of Modern Persuasion.

AVAILABLE DIGITALLY AND ON DEMAND FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18TH 2020
AND IN SELECT CANADIAN THEATRES

Angela’s Christmas Wish

Two years after we first met her, little Angela, an Irish lass living in the very early 20th century, is still known in her little town for having stolen the baby Jesus from the church’s nativity scene. It was pretty innocent, as far as thefts go; she only thought he looked cold lying there in his manger, and took him home to make him warm and cozy.

Nowadays the baby Jesus has a very nice knit sweater to keep him warm, but Angela still visits him in the church to pray and ask for help. With Christmas fast approaching, Angela has her eye on a fancy dolly in the storefront window, but her family is still largely impoverished despite her father having left for work in Australia over two years ago. Setting aside their own interests, Angela and brother Pat decide to use their Christmas wish to bring their father home – or rather, to go and get him. When digging to Australia doesn’t work, they start busking for a train ticket. Their plan is not the most efficient, but their hearts are in the right place.

Is there any chance that Angela’s family will find happiness this holiday? You’ll have to watch to find out. The characters are based on the writing of Frank McCourt. The animation is as sweet as it sounds. And at just 47 minutes, it’s a great little watch for a special pre-bedtime treat with the kids.