Tag Archives: movies based on books

I Saw The Light

This movie meant to be Hank Williams’ Walk The Line, but it fails in every way imaginable.

Tom Hiddleston, as the country-western crooner, is no Joaquin Phoenix, and I do mean that in the nastiest way possible. I’m never a fan of Hiddleston, but in this he’s charmless and unforgivably bland, though it’s at least as much the fault as writer-director Marc Abraham who apparently thinks Hank Williams is the most boring man on earth but decided to make a movie about him anyway.

It doesn’t help that Hank Williams just isn’t that interesting a subject. Oh, he drinks, you say? Cheats on his wife? Squabbles with his bandmates? As if we have seen MV5BMTg3MDcxNzc3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMxNDA1MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_exactly those issues in better movies than this a hundred times before. And Williams just doesn’t have the allure of Johnny Cash or the talent of Ray Charles or the magnetism of James Brown. He’s just an entitled white dude who made life rough for himself. He made some music and then he died. Hank Williams may be a legend, but you’d never know it from this movie. It makes him seem banal and tiresome. And that’s gotta be hard to do to a man known as the King of Country Music, influencer of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, prolific song writer, winner of a posthumous Pulitzer for craftsmanship.

Of course, the film itself is unstructured and just sort of plods along, dragging its feet through the obligatory musician-biopic tropes like womanizing and shenanigans on tour. Abraham seems to be a pretty dull fellow and he’s fully committed to bathing everyone else in that same flat light. The only thing consistent about I Saw The Light is how relentlessly lifeless it is. Neither Hiddleston nor Elizabeth Olsen can do a single thing about it, and you’d kind of expect more from a Loki-Scarlett Witch combo. There should be sparks at the very least. Instead, Olsen’s Audrey Williams (Hank’s first wife) has a heart full of self-interest and their turbulent marriage seems always to be two paths rapidly diverging. Only Hank’s semi-weird relationship with his mother (Cherry Jones) provides the slightest kindling, but that’s neglected and the smoke dissipates before there’s fire. Pity.

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The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.

The Jane Austen Book Club

I didn’t think I needed The Jane Austen Book Club in my life. Hollywood has taught me that movies based on book clubs just don’t really feel cinematic. But I saw that it was early (2007) Emily Blunt and I was tired of searching for something better, so I settled.

Lesson #1: trust your instincts.

Jocelyn (Maria Bello) has just lost her best friend and life partner, who happened to be a dog. Some may think the funeral is a little over the top, but Jocelyn’s grief is real, and her friends have gathered round to help her through a difficult time – only Sylvia’s husband MV5BMjMzNDc0MTI4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNTAxMzc3._V1_Daniel (Jimmy Smits) can’t seem to keep the snide comments to himself. Turns out, that’s not the only thing he can’t keep to himself as he soon confessed to Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), devoted wife of a quarter century, mother of his children, that he’s seeing another woman and that leaving the other woman is non-negotiable. So. Jocelyn sets aside her own grief to take care of her flailing friend. Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) moves back in so she’s not alone and pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has the genius idea to establish a Jane Austen book club to provide a distraction. Since there are 6 novels to discuss, they’re in need of 2 more members. Bernadette brings aboard Prudie (Emily Blunt), an unfulfilled French teacher yearning for more than this provincial life, and Jocelyn recruits a young man and virtual stranger, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), as perhaps bait to liven up Sylvia’s gloomy divorce.

You can already tell that the book club is mostly an excuse to bitch about men (and women), and then we occasionally follow the women home to watch them make their various mistakes in real time, which is charming. Hint: that was sarcasm. The ensemble work between the women is actually pretty good but it’s an otherwise formulaic, sentimental, maudlin piece of crap pushed by Big Kleenex to turn women into weepies. Plus, it can’t help but be compared unfavourably to the Austen works discussed in the film. And that they should have seen coming.

Mortal Engines

I can see how this might be a pretty cool idea on paper, and might have succeeded as a novel, or better yet, a graphic novel (in fact it’s a whole series). But as a movie, it’s really just a bloat of CGI and very little narrative. In the years beyond civilizations collapse (presumably), London is now a predatory city on wheels. So, you know, a very large monster truck of a city that…eats other hapless cities? The why and when and who and how are all vitally important but completely neglected. We’re simply thrown into a story already in progress with all the juicy details left out. Even Michael Bay devotes a full 30 seconds of exposition about where the Transformers come from and why they care so much about dumb little Earthlings. This movie just drops you into the middle of a battle scene expecting you to care but not really caring itself whether or not you do.

Film Title: Mortal EnginesHester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is a young woman with a scar and a secret. When her little city is devoured and destroyed by London, you might think she’d be crushed herself -emotionally if not physically. The rest of her citizens become refugees on London, but it turns out London was Hester’s destination all along, and she’s come to strike down its primary architect and greatest celebrity, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). We don’t know why Hester is so dead set against the celebrated Valentine, but her cause is joined by nerdy Tom (Robert Sheehan) and a dangerous outlaw named Anna Fang (Jihae).

Mortal Engines is crowded with visuals but devotes no time to character or theme. It’s so busy setting itself up for future sequels it forgets to be good right now. The actors aren’t bad but they’re main preoccupation is jumping over steampunk set pieces, with little else to work with.

Mortal Engines wants to be, and could have been, like Mad Max meets Snowpiercer, except those movies are good and this one is just 129 minutes that would have been better spent feeding quarters into a broken vending machine.

 

The Dirt

You may not even believe that the dudes of Motley Crue are literate, but in fact, they released their Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band in 2001. The chapters (because yes, of course I’ve read it, I’VE READ EVERYTHING) alternate between the guys, and everyone’s got a version of the story they’re selling. Lots of the details conflict. In fact, lots of the big stuff conflicts too, but that’s part of the book’s charm. The guys sort of interact within its pages, rebutting each other’s alternate versions and extolling their own. The Dirt is even dirtier than you’d imagine.

So it’s kind of surprising that it took someone this long to make a movie out of it, but Netflix has, and it’s ripe for the streaming. 

The film alternates its point of view between the band members but the story is a little more cleanly told than it is in the book. And while almost by definition the antics are somewhat toned down, you’ll still get plenty of the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that Motley Crue was known for. In fact, you won’t have to wait more than 3 minutes to see a woman squirting. Stay tuned for the heroin overdoses, vehicular manslaughter, and anonymous head.

Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly), Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), and Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) have some stories to tell. Tommy’s wholesome upbringing contrasts sadly with Nikki’s, while the other two get lost in the dust. The truth is, the 107 minute run time is brisk, and gives more screen time to trashing hotel rooms than it does to insightful backstory, because this is what draws the audience to any Motley Crue show: not the lessons learned or the underdog story, but the fights fought loud and proud and bloody. You come for the famous girlfriends and the venereal disease and the mountains of dope and the increasingly inventive use of leather. And fear not: director Jeff Tremaine delivers. He does best with those scenes of complete debauchery than he does with stitching them together into some cohesive story. And weirdly, the music is very nearly an afterthought. But if you’ve come for The Dirt, I promise you, you’ve found it.

Vox Lux

There are two acts to Vox Lux, and they’re both not great, but the first is at least sort of watchable.

13 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) barely survives a school shooting in 1999. Unable to translate her feelings into words for the memorial, she, accompanied by her sister El (Stacy Martin), instead perform a song, which launches a pop career. Somehow. Guided by The Manager (Jude Law), the girls grow up way too fast, but Celeste manages to translate the song into a video and the video into an album, which comes out more or less around 9/11 and manages to tap into a country’s, and in fact the world’s, collective grief. Celeste is a star, mostly because she was the one shot in the throat that fateful day, and her sister, the more talented of the two, had stayed home sick.

Fast forward to present day. Celeste is now 31 (and played by Natalie Portman), mother to a teenage daughter, Albertine (unfortunately played by Cassidy, again, in a performance not at all distinguished from the above). Celeste is as global a superstar as you can be, complete with a recent meltdown and nearly career-ending swerve. But she’s counting on this new album to get things on the right path again. She’s still drunk, though, and still perved on by the same greasy manager. And as luck would have it, just as she’s about to kick off her world tour, there’s another mass shooting wherein the terrorists wear masks from her first music video. And just like that she’s relevant again. But it’s a tragedy, right? Not a cancel the tour tragedy of course, because it happens overseas.

Anyway, the first bit reminded me a bit of Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique – by which I mean, it’s gritty and eerie and atmospheric. But it’s a copy, and not a great one. And that’s the absolute highlight of the film. It’s steeply downhill with rollerskates and a highly motivated dog from there.

Natalie Portman’s grown-up Celeste has no redeeming features whatsoever. She’s shrill and vacuous and we don’t see any of what happened to her in the interim to possibly explain away this complete and horrid transformation.

Clearly writer-director Brady Corbet means to say something about celebrity culture at the very least. But what is it? It’s tempting to say that the second half loses the MV5BMTkzNzAwOTYyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY5MjQ4NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_thread, but the truth is, the first half is boring enough that I don’t care about a lost thread because the whole damn sweater is garbage and a waste of good yarn. You know? Like, Sia worked hard on these songs. And the movie is slick looking, with cinematography just dripping its luridness all over the screen. But damn is it pretentious in a deflated, empty kind of way. And then the last 20 minutes or so are just concert footage, just full on Natalie Portman in a spandex body suit not quite nailing her choreography all over a stage full of unconvincing dancers. Was my jaw completely unhinged watching this or did it just feel that way? I can’t be sure. Sean tried to watch this with me, but it wouldn’t play when we rented it initially and he was gone off to work by the time I went back to it, and bully for him. I’m the one who watched it, aghast. This is Natalie Portman’s follow-up to what probably should have been an Oscar-winning performance in Jackie?

[I mean, to be fair, it’s not. She was also in Annihilation, and quite good in that, and Song to Song, which is not worth mentioning.]

Vox Lux is a derivative piece of junk. So, not unlike a pop song I suppose.

Virus Tropical

Virus Tropical is a black and white animated film celebrating the coming of age of a young Colombian-Ecuadorian girl in a close-knit family.

Paola’s conception is near-miraculous; her mother had her tubes tied and her pregnancy was initially diagnosed as a tropical virus of some sort. Nine months later, a third daughter was added to the family. Paola’s oldest sister is adoring and the middle sister is instantly jealous, having been so firmly bumped out of the baby position. Paola’s father is a former Catholic priest with many of the religious tendencies still intact, and her mother is a domino-reading fortune teller favoured by the president. It’s a mystical-sounding childhood that in fact turns out to be quite ordinary.

Paola is a kid like any other, struggling to be accepted by her peer group, finding her place among her sisters, rebelling against her parents. The film, based on Paola Gaviria’s (aka Power Paola’s) graphic novel of the same name, belongs in the bosom of the family, and rarely looks out toward larger social or cultural contexts. But even the mundane events are recounted with such attention to detail that they’re fully absorbing, the story rich and brimming with life.

The black and white line drawings are surprisingly effective, and director Santiago Caicedo has a knack for drawing in the eye with relatively simple art. The story itself is rather episodic, and the transitions between them aren’t always smooth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it felt, and how connected I felt to Paola and her family of strong-willed women. The film doesn’t aspire to make larger connections so you’ll have to be content with diary-style recounting rather than introspection; Virus Tropical is pleasant and interesting, but it isn’t particularly deep.