Tag Archives: movies based on books

Alice In Wonderland

Alice may have avoided her unfortunate tumble down the rabbit hole had her mother not been such a bore. She’s reading to her in a tree from a book that doesn’t even have any pictures. Practically a textbook. No wonder Alice resoundly rejects it, and the boring, logical world that it espouses. She’s positively ripe for following a charismatic leader, or tardy hare, into a world of nonsense and nonconformity.

Alice, as it turns out, is a self-pitying, impetuous crybaby. She is such a little deviant, in fact, I wonder if 1951 audiences figured her for a commie. Now, as an adult, I can see her for the petulant spoiled brat that she is, but as I kid I was blinded by her pristine blue pinafore and her perfect blonde hair. I writhed with jealousy when my mother cast my youngest sister as Alice in our school’s entry in the Christmas parade one year. The theme was story books and our float was Wonderland-themed. My mother, god bless her overachieving soul, was determined to make a costume for each and every kid in the school who wanted to participate (not quite as terrible as it sounds: we had less than 100 students). There were caterpillars and psychedelic flowers, the white rabbit of course, and a mad hatter. And dozens of people trailed the float as either story books of a different ilk, or members of the Queen of Hearts’ playing card army. The Queen was played by the school’s tiniest, most taciturn teacher – a part she was born to play, but I don’t know how my mother proposed the idea without being threatened with her own beheading. Meanwhile, as the eldest daughter who routinely ‘took one for the team’, I walked in front of the float, just me and my childhood crush carrying our school’s banner. We were dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I don’t remember which one I was, but pictures would prove clarifying as my little propeller hat identified me rather firmly. We lacked a proper costume from the neck down and were compelled to wear matching California Raisin costumes for uniformity, and perhaps just flat-out maximum humiliation. My mother must have WANTED me to hate my sister. She made it fairly impossible not to.

Anyway, if I sound bitter in this review, it’s because I am.

Drinking helps, which is fortunate, because Sean, Matt and I are in Disney World for the forseeable future, where we’ll have ample opportunity to meet Alice, should we want to. She hangs out by the teacups ride which is actually called the Mad Tea Party, and is often accompanied by a Mad Hatter at the very least. When I visited the park with my sister back in February (NOT the one who played Alice), she turned an alarming shade of green as her 4 year old son put an extra spin on our trip. But should we miss her in Magic Kingdom, she also hangs out in Epcot, in the U.K. pavilion, directly across from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in The Tea Caddy Gardens. Mary Poppins can often be seen strolling about with a parasol on her arm in the U.K. portion of the World Showcase. Other countries have their own princesses: Belle in France, Anna and Elsa in Norway, Mulan in China, Jasmine in Morocco. There are no princesses in the Canadian pavilion, just a bunch of poutine and some maple-flavoured popcorn (though I sort of think Duke Caboom should hang out there, revving his motorcycle).

The World Showcase is fun in many ways, not least of all because you can literally drink your way around it, with each country providing many samples of their finest hooch. There are margaritas in Mexico and prosecco in Italy and Oktoberfest beers in Germany. Because I’m ambitious, and mean, I intend to subject Sean to this booze tour, so I’ll take the opportunity to suggest you visit our Twitter feed at @AssholeMovies because there are 11 countries and countless opportunities to get your drink on, including an alcoholic popsicle stand, and a Frozen-themed blue lemonade spiked with moonshine. I predict Sean will need propping up by the time we hit Japan.

Anyway, please pardon my little digression. Back to the movie. I’m still rather astounded at how much they got away with, stuff that feels like pretty blatant drug references to me, counterculture stuff that seems out of place in a Disney movie, especially one with a little girl for a protagonist. I mean, she literally eats mushrooms.

The Cheshire Cat sounds awfully familiar – like Winnie The Pooh really, without much embellishment. I check IMDB and I’m right: Sterling Holloway voiced both. He was also Mr. Stork, in Dumbo, adult Flower in Bambi, Kaa the snake in Jungle Book, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. Disney’s casting certainly was incestuous. Sean and I ate at the Cheshire cafe last time we were in Disney, and we can certainly recommend the Cat Tail, and the Wonderland slushy. This time we’ll be dining WITH Winnie the Pooh (can you stand the excitement?) – and his pal Tigger too!

This movie actually takes from Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (fun fact: I once saw a Looking Glass play in Stratford starring a young Sarah Polley, then known as Canada’s sweetheart for roles in Ramona and Road to Avonlea). Alice is here voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, who also voiced Wendy in Peter Pan, and continued to do so until her retirement in 2005 (reminder: this movie came out in 1951!). You can still hear Beaumont narrating the Mad Tea Party ride to this day in Disneyland. That’s her here, providing a live action reference for Disney animators.

And somewhere in the Disney parks, I am currently the live action reference for a grown woman having far too much fun.

[In fact, I believe today we are attempting to ‘Drink Around the World’ in Epcot. Epcot’s World Showcase has 11 country pavillions and we’ll be grabbing a drink in each one. Sounds like potential disaster! Why not keep tabs on us via Twitter – @AssholeMovies, and be sure to play along on the Disney Bingo card.]

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TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

TIFF19: Human Capital

Drew is an ex-gambler who has borrowed money he doesn’t have to invest in a hedge fund. When it tanks, he’s pretty desperate, with bills piling up and not one but two babies on the way. Drew (Liev Schrieber) also happens to be the father of a teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), who is dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger).

Jamie’s parents are rich, which gives Drew a lot of envy. humancapital_0hero-hr__1_2Jamie’s dad, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) just happens to be the manager of that hedge fund I was talking about, and he’s super stressed, selling assets to stop the bleeding. He’s not a particularly nice guy, it probably goes without saying. His wife Karen (Marisa Tomei) is fairly pragmatic about their flawed marriage, but she cries a lot. She recently bought a theatre to renovate and run, but with the hedge fund having a coronary, she’s about to lose it.

Jamie and Shannon are actually recently broken up because Jamie is gay and Shannon has a new boyfriend, a bad boy with a record. But for now, both families are together for a high school fundraiser, after which there will be a hit-and-run, and one of them will be responsible.

Human Capital is a tale of guilt and innocence, and how much they’re worth, and to whom. It’s about greed and compromise. It’s based on a novel, and another movie besides, and ultimately fails to justify its own existence. It’s moderately interesting and the performances are fine, but there isn’t a single aspect of this movie that distinguishes itself. Even the whodunnit feels beside the point.

With nothing to uplift it, it may as well have stayed on the page.

TIFF19: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel is David Copperfield – it’s an inspired bit of casting that’s instantly a perfect fit. In fact, the whole film is so overwhelmingly cast to perfection it’s almost embarrassing.

I worried about this film because though director Armando Iannucci’s previous film, The Death of Stalin, was extremely well-received by critics, it was not my the-personal-history-of-david-copperfieldcuppa, not by a long shot. As an introduction to this film’s premiere at TIFF, Iannucci informed/assured us the two films could not be more different. And while I’m not sure that’s true, I was relieved and elighted to find myself really enjoying it.

I hope it’s obvious that this movie is inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, though TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey rightly called it an “audacious” interpretation, and it is that. Iannucci was struck by how timeless the themes of love and friendship were, so though the film is undoubtedly a period piece, Iannucci reminds us that for the characters, it’s present day.

As for myself, I was most struck by how convincingly Copperfield is portrayed as a budding writer. Even as a child he’s wildly observant, with a knack for accents and a fondness for “collecting” lovely turns of phrase. The way this movie explores and plays with language is unlike anything I’ve seen onscreen. It was setting off fireworks in the verbal parts of my brain. And there are plenty of visual treats too – beautiful costumes, dingy apartments, bustling markets, whimsical seaside abodes, and blooming gardens teeming with donkeys.

Sean did not feel so positively about the film – though he liked it, he also found it boring and meandering. Well, he said slow. I thought meandering sounded better.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a funny, perceptive, and inventive twist on an old favourite. I can’t help but think Dickens would approve.

Coraline

It’s actually nearly impossible for me to believe I haven’t reviewed this one here yet because it’s such a treasure, one that continues to impress me in new ways every time I watch it. Coraline is 10 years old now and it’s safe to say the world of animation has changed in its wake. With Coraline, Laika showed that animated films could be more than just cartoons for kids. With gorgeous, artful sets, thoughtful stories, and dark themes, Laika has distinguished itself as a cut above, and Coraline has set the bar for so much that has come since. They weren’t the first to do this, of course, but they’ve certainly made the biggest impression on American box offices.

I happen to love stop-motion films because it feels like we’re so much closer to the artwork. 24 character puppets were constructed for Coraline, which kept 10 artists busy for four months. The Coraline puppet at one point shows 16 different expressions in a span of 35 seconds. When you stop to think about what that series actually means, the careful minutiae, the attention to detail, the willingness to expend so much work for a few seconds of film, you start to really appreciate the possibilities of stop-motion. Of course, there was no single Coraline puppet, there were 28 made of her alone, in different sizes for different situations. Her face could be detached and replaced as needed. The prototype would be molded by a computer, and then hand-painted by the modeling department. Each jaw replacement was clipped between Coraline’s eyes, resulting in a visible line later digitally removed. There were exactly 207,336 possible face combinations for her character. Just her character! Over 130 sets were built across 52 different stages spanning 183,000 square feet – the largest set ever dedicated to this kind of film.

I like to think about the different people on the set of a movie like this. One person was in charge of making the snow (the recipe calls for both superglue and baking soda, if you’re interested; leaves are made by spraying popcorn pink and cutting it up into little pieces). Someone laid 1,300 square feet of fake fur as a stand-in for grass. Another was hired just to sit and knit the tiny sweaters worn by puppets, using knitting needles as thin as human hair. You have to really LOVE doing this to dedicate your life to knitting in miniature. Students from The Art Institute of Portland had the opportunity to help out – what an amazing induction to a burgeoning industry.

Coraline is an 11 year old girl, recently moved to a new home, and her parents have little time for her. So perhaps she can’t entirely be faulted for falling for a grass-is-greener situation when she finds a secret passageway in the new house and follows it to an alternate universe where her Other Mother is attentive and loving. Of course, all is not as it seems – the Other Mother is trying to keep her there, permanently. It’s dark, but also magical, spell-binding. It absorbs you into this world, which remains in a state of disorienting metamorphosis. The Other World seems inviting at first – utopian, even, to a young girl. But as it unravels, the world looks and feels increasingly hostile; Other Mother herself begins to wear clothing and hairstyles more forbidding and harsh. It reveals itself in a dizzying, undeniable way, the best use of the medium, an unforgettable piece of film.

(The Problem With) High Fidelity

This is going to sound strange, so deep breath in, and bear with me. The problem with High Fidelity is John Cusack.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

You can disagree with me if you want. You’re wrong, but you can disagree. It is physically possible. It’s just not intellectually advisable.

There’s nothing wrong with John Cusack. He was just miscast. I mean, I get how Rob Gordon might seem like the grownup version of Lloyd Dobler, but he’s not even close. Rob Gordon is actually a pretty pathetic guy, but because he’s played by Cusack, some accidental, unintentional coolness is rubbed off. And I get how some underachieving young men might misguidedly put him on a pedestal. Rob is the ultimate fanboy nerd, but he’s the least losery of his friends, the least socially inept. And he puffs himself up by being snobby about his pop culture obsession. Fine. But the thing about Rob Gordon is: he’s not a good guy.

Nick Hornby makes that pretty damn clear in the book, and the character tells us this repeatedly himself in the film: “I am a fucking asshole,” he tells us, but then Cusack flashes those deep brown puppy dog eyes and we feel conflicted. He’s doing and saying pretty shitty things, but it’s Cusack, so he MUST be likable, right?

He’s not likable. He’s an ungrateful little shit. He’s a womanizer with a serious case of (male, as if it needs to be said) entitlement. He skulks about being a rude human being, a stalkery ex, and a very bad boyfriend. But Cusack is such a charmer, and he’s got such a sweet, sympathetic history with cinema, that we ascribe way more positive feelings toward this guy than the character actually deserves.

At one point, when he’s on a self-serving rampage of reconnecting with ex-girlfriends in order to reassure himself that he’s basically blameless, Penny tells reminds him that in fact, HE broke up with HER because she wouldn’t have sex with him (“I wasn’t interested in Penny’s nice qualities, just her breasts, and therefore she was no good to me.”). Her heartbreak led to what basically amounts to rape, and years of sex phobia, and he’s so relieved and satisfied with that answer that he’s spurred to pursue even more ex-girlfriends, never mind the fact that the one right in front of him has just run out of the restaurant in tears. The man is a sociopath and I’m not even kidding. The next ex-girlfriend he visits is thickly mired in depression, and he practically asks us to pat him on the back for not taking advantage of her.

Rob is jealous and possessive and harassing. He is the stuff restraining orders are made of. And he doesn’t even learn a lesson. In the end, the woman who dumped him takes him back because, having just suffered the death of her father, she’s simply too tired, too beaten down by his coersion, to fend him off. That is not a getting back together story that anyone should feel good about, and almost as fast as they can reconcile, he’s off chasing yet another manic pixie fantasy cunt because he can’t even for 10 seconds actually be the nice guy he pretends to be. This is the height of toxic masculinity, but because it’s wearing a cute and cuddly John Cusack body, we fail to see it. We root for him because he’s less of a greaseball than Tim Robbins’s Ian. But being 10% less of a douche doesn’t make you not a douche. It doesn’t make you a nice guy. It doesn’t make you deserving of anyone’s love. Rob Gordon is not a hero. He’s a romantic failure and a social liability and if we made a follow-up to the movie today, he’d be living in his mom’s basement screaming at her to make him some Hamburger Helper as he trashed-talked 12 year olds on League of Legends.