Tag Archives: movies based on books

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.

Black Beauty (2020)

Black Beauty has been adapted many times, but in Ashley Avis’ movie, Black Beauty is female, and so is the little girl who loves her.

When we meet Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet), she is a young Mustang running wild and free, just starting to be wary of new animals encroaching upon the land. Not wary enough, as it turns out; Black Beauty is captured and sent to live in a stable so she can be broken and sold. John (Iain Glen) who runs the stables and trains the horses isn’t a bad man, and he’s soon joined by his orphaned niece Jo (Mackenzie Foy). Jo is not your classic Horse Girl; in fact, she’s never ridden. But she must see a bit of herself in Black Beauty, who is also adjusting to new surroundings having just lost her parents and her home. Their bond is immediate and undeniable. Jo insists not on breaking Beauty, but on “partnering” her, based on friendship , respect, and gentleness. But the stables are a business, and Beauty is leased out to a wealthy family whose daughter is training to be competitive in dressage. Georgina (Fern Deacon) isn’t a natural horsewoman but makes up for what she lacks with spurs and whips. She is not kind to Beauty (nor to Jo), but sadly nor is she the worst owner that Black Beauty will encounter in her life.

Told from Black Beauty’s unique perspective (don’t worry, she’s not a talking horse, we merely hear her thoughts voiced by Winslet), we follow her as she’s transferred from home to home, owner to owner, many more pitiful or abusive than the last. Anna Sewell’s wildly popular novel from many moons ago opened people’s eyes to the mistreatment of horses, but it’s clear from Avis’ adaptation that things have not changed nearly enough for horses in nearly 150 years. Set in various modern American environments, Black beauty knows pain, overwork, and perhaps worse still, loneliness. The bond she shared with Jo endures and holding her memory in her heart is the only reason Beauty has the strength to go on.

I didn’t expect to like Black Beauty as much as I did. It doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative – Black Beauty is a horse, and though we inevitably anthropomorphize her, she isn’t asking to be pitied. But her indominable spirit is enviable and some pretty cinematography, we feel a sort of empathy, a sort of kinship with animals of all kinds, and an emotional attachment to Beauty herself, whose loyalty and resilience remind us of the four-legged family members in our own homes. Not without its flaws, Black Beauty is still a worthy version for 2020 audiences and a nice little treat on Disney+.

Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance has a story to tell – his own. Many would call it a rags to riches story, or perhaps a successful escape from an impoverished childhood; director Ron Howard and the movie studio went with “inspiring true story” but all of these seem slightly condescending. Vance himself went with “elegy,” a tribute to the place he came from and perhaps a lament to its end.

Older J.D. (Gabriel Basso) has overcome some rather humble beginnings to attend law school at Yale. It’s interview week, especially crucial to him because even with financial aid and 3 jobs he can’t afford next semester’s tuition without a summer internship. Meeting prospective employers over dinner, he’s overwhelmed by the trappings of etiquette and fine dining that seem to come so easily to others. It’s clear he doesn’t feel he belongs, and a phone call from back home only cements it. It’s his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), calling to say that mom Bev (Amy Adams) is in the hospital. Again. A heroin overdose. His help is needed, urgently.

Over the next 24 hours of trying to install Bev in yet another rehab manage a facility despite Bev having let her insurance lapse, J.D. is flooded with difficult memories from his challenging childhood.

Critics have been plenty harsh about Hillbilly Elegy, and I can appreciate their concerns. It delivers heavily on the Oscar bait melodrama, and instead of inspiring important conversations about cultural and economic gaps, it’s got some pretty soft platitudes instead of real insight. Not that a Netflix movie was going to solve the wage gap or cure the generational impacts of trauma.

No one can deny that Glenn Close and Amy Adams give everything to their roles. Close manages a bark that bites, with just a nibble of vulnerability, a terrific performance that just doesn’t have anywhere to go, there’s no arc, it’s mostly just an act of observation. Amy Adams’ character, on the other hand, is more like a series of attacks. She gnarls and gnashes her teeth and we get small glimpses or what triggers her explosions, but it’s not enough to piece together something truly satisfying. The characters lack insight and we can only guess that this cycle will be very hard to break.

Greyhound

When the Americans were finally self-interested enough to join WW2, they needed a lot of boots on the ground, and some in the air, and a few if by sea.

Captain Krause (Tom Hanks) is in command of an escort force protecting an Atlantic convoy consisting of 37 Allied ships on their way to Liverpool. They’re passing through the Mid-Atlantic gap, so called because no antisubmarine aircraft are able to reach them. They’re on their own. Still three days out of range from protective air cover, they intercept German transmissions. It is likely U-boats are near. This is merely the start of 13 back to back covers (or 52 hours) on the Greyhound’s bridge as Krause fights to save his ship, protect those in his convoy, and rescue those who succumb.

As a war movie, director Aaron Schneider makes very effective use of his 90 minute runtime, keeping the focus on a very intense combat. It’s basically a race against time, a fight for survival until they reach precious, essential air cover once again.

But the reason Greyhound really shines, as did its source material, The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, is in its fascinating and intricate character study of the man behind the wheel. Captain Krause has been a career Navy officer for many years. His seniority is unquestionable, but in truth, this is his first wartime mission. The other captains are younger and junior to him in rank, but they’ve been at war for two years already. Although we see him act in competent and level-headed ways, we are also privy to his self-doubt. The combat is relentless as the minutes and hours tick by, Krause unwilling to leave his post, and only the kindness of a mess attendant (Rob Morgan) ensures he doesn’t go hungry.

Hanks adapted the material himself, and though we never see the guy make an acting misstep, he is clearly suited to this character, slipping on the captain’s skin as if it were a comfortable, monogrammed slipper. You feel his fatigue, and inklings of inferiority, but with the weight and fate of an entire fleet on his shoulders, he never gives less than his best. The constant danger is exhausting, the many snap judgments that must be made while in command are overwhelming, and above all, we see Krause struggle with his conscience – muttered prayers for the souls on board, but also a refusal to celebrate enemy kills, a necessary part of war perhaps, but one with which Krause is not entirely comfortable. It’s a facet rarely explored in war movies and Hanks is up for its portrayal, but cleverly, the points are merely plotted, the lines themselves drawn by the audience.

I expect nothing less that complete satisfaction from the material Hanks is choosing, and he’s so unvaryingly good it’d be almost tedious if it wasn’t so wonderful. And this, too, is wonderful, and not even annoyingly so. Hanks truly is a master and Forester’s carefully observed novel cannot be over-rated.

The Outpost

In northern Afghanistan circa 2006, the Americans had a series of outposts to promote counterinsurgency and “connect with locals”. Camp Keating was nestled in a valley surrounded by Hindu Kush mountains in an attempt to stop the flow of weapons and Taliban fighters from nearby Pakistan.

The camp is an exhausting place to be with near constant firefight. It’s also nearly indefensible, and what personnel survive quickly burn out. But this movie primarily covers the Battle of Kamdesh of October 3, 2009, one of the bloodiest for US forces in the war in Afghanistan. They were assaulted by hundreds of Taliban insurgents who breached the bases’s perimeter defenses in just 48 minutes and lit the outpost on fire. There had been a systematic failure to adequately support the base, but the the troops on the ground repulsed the attack “with conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery.” Due to a lack of available aircraft and density of terrain, help was slow to reach them – most didn’t arrive until after the 14 hour battle was over. The small contingent of American troops lost 8 soldiers that day, with 27 more wounded; those that survived did so thanks to bombers arriving to coordinate airstrike.

If you like war movies, this one is well-made. If you’re prone to migraines, this one’s constant gunfire makes it a major trigger. Once the battle starts, it’s unrelenting, and it wasn’t exactly easy going before that either. The intensity is real, and the realism is ugly.

The movie thinks that SSG Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) is our hero, but he’s just the guy who wrote the book. Caleb Landry Jones, the much much better actor, as SPC Ty Carter, is the guy you can’t take your eyes off of. I dare you to try. Aside from Jones, I won’t say the acting impressed me much. The lesser roles are sprinkled with real-life soldiers, but they aren’t shouldering enough to ruin anything. It’s the Hollywood royalty who’s mucking things up, and I don’t just mean Scott Eastwood, though I definitely do put him first on my list. A smolder is not enough, Scott. A famous dad apparently is, and he clearly shares a tendency toward a certain kind of film as his old man. Milo Gibson is of course Mel’s son. James Jagger belongs to Mick. Will Attenborough is the grandson of Richard. Scott Alda Coffey is grandson to Alan Alda. And of course Orlando Bloom is Mr. Katy Perry. No one need win a role by merit here!

The unit from Combat Outpost Keating became the most decorated, though I doubt that’s much comfort: 27 soldiers were awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat, 37 were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with “V” for valor, 3 soldiers were awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and 18 others the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. Nine soldiers were awarded the Silver Star for valor. Two were later upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. The Outpost is a fitting tribute to the kind of hard work and heroism that earn those medals. For me, it was too much. It was non-stop violence while I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters. But I’m confident that fans of the genre will find a lot to like here – a stunning, expertly and respectfully made modern war movie.

True History of the Kelly Gang

The ‘true’ in the title is false of course, or debatable anyway, which I suppose means the ‘history’ part is too, although our story does take place in the past. Peter Carey’s vital and vigorous novel is a work of fiction, using many true aspects of the Kelly Gang story but inventing others as well. The film poses as Ned Kelly’s autobiography, mostly written and narrated by himself to an unborn child that Carey made up. But if Ned Kelly had had a pregnant wife, if she had half a brain she would have wondered if Ned would live to meet his daughter, and might have encouraged him to leave behind a written legacy, just in case.

The film is a departure not only in story but in tone and in telling, the violence crazed and stylized but the main concern more character than plot. You may already be familiar with the banks that were robbed and the cattle stolen, but this “true history” is more interested not in what they did but why they did it. The class struggle is palpable enough, the sense that there is no place for these young men, no future. There is real rage here, and a dangerous accumulation of testosterone with no constructive outlet.

Ned’s (George McKay) legacy has of course had a lasting impact on Australian culture; this film gives him a punk rock makeover for the 21st century and adds to the myth if not the man. With stunning cinematography, a gritty feel, and anarchic energy, there is much to be admired in Justin Kurzel’s film. Too bad I just didn’t like it. There was a lot of muck, a lot of exaggerated portrayals of machismo, and for me it was just too much crazy and not enough cohesiveness. But, if you’re looking for a western with a distinctly Aussie flavour, this one’s got that, plus lads in dresses, Russel Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Thomasin McKenzie, and Nicholas Hoult, if you needed more convincing.