Tag Archives: movies based on books

The Circle

The Circle is THE company you want to be working for. It’s a blatant stand-in for Google; the ‘The Circle’ campus and work space looks identical, comes with all the crazy perks we’ve been jealously-not-quite-believingly hearing about for years: sushi bars, yoga workshops, nap pods, etc, etc. Mae (Emma Watson) is ecstatic when she’s hired for an entry level position – the salary is generous, room and board are included, the health plan is fabulous – it’s more than any millennial has the right to expect these days. The only thing The Circle asks for in return is a complete lack of privacy.

And in fact, The Circle doesn’t just ask that of employees, but of everyone joining their network. The Circle is a platform that would link all of your online accounts. You’d have one account, one username (your own, your real one), one password that links to everything, all your aps, your bank, your email, your work, social media, etc, etc. The m-442_circle_11286fdrv1rdream come true starts to feel a little…invasive to Mae. There’s no turning off, no going off-grid. Everyone participates in everything all the time! Horray! So the dream is turning out to be a bit much, but with her father (Bill Paxton) suffering from MS, it’s extremely hard to turn down.

Most of her The Circle colleagues are drinking the kool-aid but she finds a kindred spirit in skeptical Ty (John Boyega). He’s worried about how every single piece of our lives are being accessed and stored, analyzed and monetized, by The Circle: personal data is being mined to make a few people very, very rich. And if you have any presence on the internet at all, there’s nothing you can do about it.

The Circle is a terrific book by Dave Eggers. It’s an urgently fascinating story because our reality is probably only about one and a half paces behind what’s depicted in The Circle, and that’s just what we know about. We’re creeping closer and closer every day. Unfortunately it seems that Eggers’ brilliant books are not that easily adapted into films; A Hologram for the King was also a bit of a flop and that’s too bad because there’s some really thoughtful and thought-provoking material in there that’s getting lost.

The film asks more questions than it answers. In truth, it sort of lets some of the issues it raises fall away without doing them any justice. So that’s unfortunate. I still thought the movie was compelling and watchable, and Tom Hanks is of course irreproachable. I think it’s worth your time. But the book is even more worthy of your time, and if you read it, you’ll see the changes that Hollywood makes to make a story more ‘palatable.’ But I’m pretty confident that you can handle the truth. Right?

 

 

 

This was Bill Paxton’s final film. He died before it was released; a dedication in the closing credits reads ‘For Bill.” Glenne Headley, who plays his wife, died in June. She’s got a couple more movies in post-production.

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The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls lived a turbulent childhood: her parents bustled her and her 3 siblings from town to town, evading bill collectors, never quite having enough money for both food and her father’s insatiable thirst. Poverty and addictions pock her youth, but for all their struggles, her mother would never leave her father, and the kids soon realized they’d need to fend for themselves, each disappearing to the big city as soon as it was feasible (a real challenge when someone is constantly drinking up all the money).

Walls went on to write a memoir detailing the hardships she lived through, and that tgc_d02_00156_00157_comp_r2.jpgbook became this movie, though something was lost getting from A to B. The book pulls no punches. Her parents are complex characters, and their children have conflicted feelings toward them. The movie’s a little more pat, the trajectory a little more Hollywood. Someone decided to apply some spit shine to this story, a story that’s naturally very dark and brooding now has themes of hope and redemption that maybe don’t belong.

I can’t say what exactly is wrong with the film except it’s just too easy. The grit is gone. Sure Jeannette’s father Rex is charming but he’s also kind of a monster. He’s a negligent parent who abuses his wife and kids and helps keep family molestation on the down low. And of course he wants deathbed forgiveness. Meanwhile his wife is a “free spirit” who chooses homelessness over independence from the man threatening her family’s well being. Neither parent is capable of putting their children’s needs first, or of meeting those needs even if they ever did. Which they don’t.

But The Glass Castle is worth a watch for the performances alone. As Jeannette, Brie Larson lives up to her previous Oscar win, but it’s Woody Harrelson as Rex who you’ll remember. He’s tortured and endearing and inspiring and hateful. Is this the film he’ll win his Oscar for? I wouldn’t be disappointed if he did. But shame on Hollywood for trying to put gloss and a positive spin on childhood poverty. These kids were failed not just by their parents but by the system. And now their brave story is being watered down to make it more palatable for film audiences. Shame.

Museum

Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is having a rough go. He’s tired. His overworking, long a point of contention in his marriage, has finally culminating in his wife and young son leaving him. And now he’s got a serial killer on his hands.

A few things about this serial killer, because he’s unlike anything you’ve seen in film GAGA_C&C_A4_frontbefore, and yet draws from many familiar sources. The serial killer only works in the rain. He plans elaborate, gruesome kills that seem to be some sort of punishment to his victims. And – how do I put this – he also appears to be a man with a frog head. There. I said it. Moving on…technically, the source material here is the manga, Museum: The Serial Killer Is Laughing In The Rain. But you’ll find the movie remind you of Seven, Saw, and maybe even Oldboy. I can’t say that Museum is that caliber of film, but it’s plenty bloody.

The first half works much better than the second does. Once the serial killer is “unmasked,” for lack of a better word, a lot of the fun and the sizzle leeched out of the movie for me.  I worried that the frog head would seem cartoonish and silly but I did find it rather sinister and regretted it when we lost it. Some of the acting, though, veered toward cartoonish, and that’s particularly hard on North American audiences who are more used to subtlety.

Still, the Assholes managed to enjoy this one, more or less. It has a frenetic energy to it thanks to manic editing. And if you just give in to the weirdness, the slight foreignness, it’s a little fun to watch the whole thing go down. Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival focuses on “genre” selections, which means you always get something special. We get exposed to titles we’d otherwise struggle to find, and it’s honestly a lot of fun to be pushed out of our comfort zone once in a while.

The Lost City of Z

Percy Fawcett is a hard-working man but promotion eludes him due to his “unfortunate choice of ancestors.” This provides the desperate motivation in him agreeing on a mapping “adventure” deep in the Amazonian jungle. If disease doesn’t kill him, the hostile “savages” are likely to, but to restore his family name and support his family, off he goes…never to return.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunam) was a real British explorer who did get sent to the Amazon. While surveying there he believed he found a previously unknown, unfathomed advanced civilization. Back home he is ridiculed by his peers, but he’s obsessed, not just with a potentially huge discovery, but with proving himself. His fire is lit, his wife (Sienna Miller) supports him and his aide de camp (Robert Pattinson) enables him until one day he just disappears into the jungle.

Shooting a movie in an honest to blog jungle is difficult and uncomfortable. Director James Gray asked Francis Ford Coppola (who did the same for Apocalypse Now) for advice, and he was told “Don’t go”, which, incidentally, is the same thing Roger Corman told Coppola. Nobody listens, but it’s probably solid advice. If you do disregard it and trek to the steamiest of locations, make sure you don’t plan to film digitally. Gray was shooting 35mm thankfully, as the humidity shut down all the laptops and would have done the same to digital cameras. The actors and crew withstood and great deal of hardship – was it worth it?

The Lost City of Z (it’s pronounced Zed, you filthy Americans) has a meandering pace that reminds me of the epic adventure movies of 50 years ago or more. I can’t justify its runtime (141 minutes!) and I know exactly what I would have left on the cutting room floor, but I do love lots about the movie. I love the complexity that Hunam brings to the role. I love the subtlety and the refusal to exploit that Gray insists upon. I love the authenticity of the script, the honest portrayal of sacrifice, the bold ambition of the story. There aren’t exactly a lot of surprises to be had. It’s about finding oneself while literally losing oneself. But there’s a lot to enjoy along the way. The jungle itself plays a stunning role; tip of the old safari hat to cinematographer Darius Khondji who captured things no CGI could hope to emulate.

1 Mile To You

1 Mile To You is apparently just a nickname; you might find Life At These Speeds on its birth certificate. A movie by any other name would still be just as cruddy though.

The film is about a high school athlete named Kevin. He wins a major race at an event but then loses his entire track and field team (plus his girlfriend) to a bus crash that he’s MV5BMTU2Mjk5MjQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA1ODg2MTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_only spared from because he’d promised his parents to ride home with them. The grief is crushing of course, and he decides the only thing he can do is outrun it. Suddenly he’s even better than he was before, obliterating track records, leaving all his opponents in the dust. He attracts a lot of attention from the very best coaches and schools but none of it makes him happy because running just makes him remember. Grief is a complicated animal but thanks to an attentive coach (Billy Crudup), running becomes a coping mechanism rather than an escape, and we actually see young Kevin grow and develop, not just as an athlete, but as a young man coming to grips with a painful past. Can grief be a motivator? Can it be conquered? Can it be fuel?

They’re interesting questions in a not very interesting movie. Inner turmoil is difficult to show on screen I suppose, made more difficult by cheesy directing and the limitations of a young (though decidedly not young enough to play a high school student) actor. The film is inconsistent, and sometimes confusing. It has trouble deciding which characters are important, with certain members of the cast popping up at random times, as if it’s not so much a movie about grief and running as a curious game of whack-a-mole. Don’t worry though, there’s not enough character development to go around, so you won’t really care.

The Shack

Mack takes his 3 kids camping and only comes home with 2. While he was jumping into the lake to save his son from an overturned canoe, his youngest daughter disappears, presumably kidnapped and killed. The guilt and grief eat at him until a mysterious letter invites him back to the shack where her bloodstains and sundress were found. He goes out there alone, armed with a gun, and finds exactly what was promised but not what he expected. Are you ready to believe?

The Shack is a Christian movie. Sam Worthington plays Mack, the dad in mourning gallery-2who’d survived his own harrowing childhood and has his faith diluted along the way. Octavia Spencer plays ‘Papa’, the fond nickname Mack’s daughter had for God. Oooh, God is a black woman, how wonderfully liberal while still being completely conservative.

God’s son is there too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and also the “breath of wind” (Sumire Matsubara) and they’re all prepared to love him back to health and happiness. The question is whether you, potential viewer, are willing\able to swallow it.

I read the book because I read all the books. In it, Mack is described as “rather unremarkable,” “slightly overweight,” “a short white guy, balding, about to turn 56.” I bet Sam Worthington was over the moon when his agent sent him the script. It was a slightly uncomfortable read because its white author attempts ebonics, is kind of sexist despite the overt attempt to seem cool (but hello, black god is so 1997!), and constantly refers to “the trots” in the presence of god.

The shack is a literal place in the movie, but meant more as a metaphor for the house\prison you build out of your pain. As far as Christian movies go, well, this one doesn’t have Kirk Cameron, or, god forbid (ha! I made a funny) Nicolas Cage. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re a believer, really makes you feel all warm and fuzzily validated, and if you’re not, well, you may smirk a few times, but it’s a fairly harmless work of fiction. I can see how people would find comfort in it. It’s humanizing, non-threatening, non-denominational, and embracing. But it’s not going to convert a single soul.

I don’t believe in god, and I take issue with religion, but my main problems with the film were ones like: how is god not a vegetarian? And how on earth do you let her do dishes? I can’t even let my Grandma do the dishes, and Mack’s allowing himself to be waited on BY GOD. And where did the holy spirit get those cute sandals?

Yes, some of the metaphors reach too far, and yes some of the sermonizing hits you over the head like a rubber mallet. But you know what? Octavia Spencer couldn’t be any better if she was a god. She’s sublime and note-perfect, in this and in everything. The Shack is still too heavy-handed for me to recommend it, but I will say that if you believe, and you struggle to reconcile belief with life’s tragedies, then maybe this film can shine a little light in your direction. I’m not especially fond of The Shack, but if you’re looking for some spiritual guidance, you could do worse.

 

 

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright, I think I love you.

And Edgar Wright loves movies. It’s clear from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Wright pours love into his film by loading it with details that’ll take you several watches to truly absorb.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young dude in a band. He’s dating a high school student 9d0uzolbut is ready to drop her the moment he meets his dream girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The catch? Catches? Well, his ex-girlfriend is in town, giving him a serious drought of self-confidence, and Romona actually has 7 exes, er, 7 evil exes, whom Scott must fight in order to “win” her favour. The movie kind of asks: what would happen if a random guy suddenly had the ability to fight as if he were in a video game? And you know what? The results are pretty fantastic.

Edgar Wright soaks this movie in video game references. He got permission to use the 500fulltheme song from The Legend of Zelda by writing a flowery letter to Nintendo, calling it “the nursery rhyme of this generation.” The more you know video games, the more you’ll appreciate this, but even I can concede its greatness.

Moreover, Wright has a knack for casting that you can’t help but admire. He picked a whole bunch of young kids who would launch into stardom. Brie Larson went on to win an Oscar just a few years later, and Anna Kendrick a nomination.

Of course, my favourite part of the movie is how carefully Wright, an Englishman, preserves the Toronto locale. Toronto is a cheap place to make movies so it often stands in for other places, notably New York City. For once, Toronto gets to be Toronto, giphyunapologetically Toronto, with the TTC, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma, and even dirty, dirty Pizza Pizza. This movie feels like home. In a meta moment, a fake New York City backdrop is literally ripped open to reveal the glorious Toronto skyline. When Scott Pilgrim earns points, the coins that rain down upon him are loonies and twonies, Canadian style.

And Wright, who is an excellent curator of music, finds some excellent Canadian bands to do the heavy lifting for him. Broken Social Scene wrote two of the 4-second songs played by Crash and the Boys (“We hate you, please die” and “Im so sad, so very, very sad”). Metric wrote the song performed by The Clash at Demonhead. And Chris Murphy vocalist and bassist for Sloan, served as the music performance supervisor, which I think means he made sure the actors held their guitars the right way and stuff. (Non-Canadian Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb).

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is ultra-stylized and brilliant to watch. It’s incredibly fast-paced and feels hyper real. It’s almost unbearably quotable, fresh, and inventive. The script can’t always keep up with the film’s flash and charm but darn if it doesn’t try. I’ve been in love with this movie for 7 years or so, and a recent re-watch confirmed that I’m still crushing hard.

 

What movies do you love to re-watch?

 

Oranges and Sunshine

In the 1980s, British social worker Margaret Humphreys uncovered a secret. Her government had sent hundreds of children to Australia. Supposedly orphaned, these kids were sent to be adopted by Australian parents, though some wound up in orphanages instead. Turns out, the kids weren’t necessarily orphans. If their parents turned up to reclaim them, they were told their kids had already been adopted. In fact they’d vanished into a child migration scheme that was kept quiet for decades. Humphreys set out to reunite these displaced children,  scattered across Australia over decades, with parents who might still be living in Britain. Neither country wanted to take any responsibility, of course.

Margaret Humphreys is a real woman who took this on herself because she saw the MV5BNTk2MzYyMDA2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTAxMjg0NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_injustice, and people’s pain, and she decided to do something about it. She was threatened and abused because she was exposing some very dirty secrets covered up by some very powerful people. The only help she ever got was from the adoptees themselves, all of them different shades of broken, harbouring the wounded children within. The real Margaret was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993, and Commander of the British Empire in 2011 for her work, but as this film can attest, life was not made easy for her.

I believe that we can’t start healing from a trauma until the truth of the injury is admitted. This story was quite shameful on Australian and Britain, but they’re not the only ones with blemishes. Here in Canada we have our own sorrow. We call it the 60s scoop though it’s much broader than that. It refers to the over-eager removal of Aboriginal children from their homes. In some cases removal may have been appropriate, but others not, and in any case, the children weren’t just taken from their parents, but from the culture. They were raised off-reserve, losing their language and their identity, breaking social and familial bonds. Although not deported, these kids also lost more than just their parents.

In Oranges and Sunshine, Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, and she does the formidable woman justice. Watson always does, doesn’t she? Hugo Weaving plays Jack, the adoptee through whom we experience the grief and loss of the process. Seeing it from both their perspectives keeps the film balanced; this is not merely an interesting case, but a personal and painful journey that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending for everyone. It’s not a flashy movie. It’s mostly fact-based. But it is sincere and at times quite powerful.

Everything, Everything

Are you a teenage girl? Or perhaps you simply have the taste in movies of one (Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Fall)? If so, you can confidently add this movie to your lineup. For everyone else: keep moving.

It ain’t bad, it’s just not that good. It’s about a young woman, Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who has SCID, a disease that basically renders her immune system void. She has to stay in her sterile home just to stay alive. She has never left it. It’s a sad and sheltered existence without outside contact except for her mother and her nurse, Carla, and what she can observe from her window. When a cute boy (Olly, Nick Robinson) moves in next door, it widens her world by a tiny margin, but only makes her feel more keenly for what she’s missing.

MV5BMTU5ODEzNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU1MTQzMjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Their love story unfolds slowly, as it must when one person is physically removed from the other. In the novel they communicate by text or instant messaging. To make that play a little less boring on screen, director Stella Meghie imagines them within the architectural models that Maddy’s always working on. It’s a device that works while still reminding us that these conversations don’t actually take place in a face-to-face reality. Still, it’s a talk-heavy, plot-light movie that doesn’t move around too much. If you aren’t swooning over Olly’s too-long-locks, you’re probably going to find this long.

As you might guess, this relationship prompts Maddy to consider going outside for the first time in her life. She’ll be risking her tenuous health and the sharp disapproval of her overprotective mother. But what else is young love for, if not rebellion?

Anyway. As you know, Hollywood only thinks teenagers are good for two things: romance with vampires, and death. Or at least they’re only profitable doing one of those two MV5BM2UwNDlhNmUtOWRiYi00MzgzLWFiMzEtMDE2MWE2NWY0MzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkxOTY3MDY@._V1_things. Amandla Stenberg is very charming as Maddy, the brave, beautiful, but socially awkward girl next door trapped in a glass castle. She succumbs to the kind of romantic gestures no teenage boy would be caught doing and only a young-adult novelist could dream up. There’s some major eye-rolling to be had in this movie, and it starts rather early, when Olly first appears in his driveway, tossing his luscious locks in the unfiltered sunlight, shooting his pretty neighbour a cocksure grin while showing off on his skateboard. I was so sure he was about to eat it, and truthfully hoping he would, that it set a really weird tone to the movie for me. I guess my lusty teenage days are too far behind me. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on the calculation between yourself and your own misspent youth.

All We Had

Katie Holmes directs herself in All We Had, and proves she isn’t afraid to paint herself in an unfavourable light. Rita Carmichael is good at loving men but terrible at picking them. When another loser reaches his expiration date, it’s her daughter Ruthie (Stefania Owen) that knows it’s time to cut ties and get the hell out of dodge. The problem is that Rita and Ruthie are chronically broke. Rita self-medicates for her crappy childhood with nullcheap booze. Between men they live out of their piece of shit car. They have almost nothing going for them but Rita makes keeping Ruthie out of child services her top priority, and so far, she’s always succeeded.

This time, though, it’s going to be extra difficult. Their car breaks down literally in front of the greasy spoon where they just dined-and-dashed and it looks like they’re stuck in whatever crummy small town this is.

All We Had is not a great movie, but it’s not bad. It’s just that Katie Holmes is so hellbent on making this an inspirational story of redemption, she leans heavily on tired formula schtick. Addictions, childhood trauma, financial crisis: this movie has it all, everything except focus. All We Had is the kind of movie you’ll make excuses for – “it means well” you’ll say, and mean  it. But that’s not quite enough. There’s not enough skill here to pull meaning from the good intentions. But if you’re willing to watch Katie Holmes try, All We Had is good for 1 hour and 45 minutes of trial and error and smudged eyeliner.