Tag Archives: movies based on books

TIFF18: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If you’re asking for forgiveness, Melissa, you’ve got it. Not that I really believe you have anything to be sorry for. The Happytime Murders was a misfire, but hardly your fault, and I admire any attempt to do something different.

With this movie, both Melissa McCarthy and the character she plays are trying something different. McCarthy is trying on a more dramatic role, and though Lee Israel has a teriffic wit, she’s got no slapstick about her at all. canyoueverforgiveme_0HEROMcCarthy only has her own skin to live in, face naked save for an inept smear of lipstick on only the most special of occasions (ie, when asking for money), hair constantly overdue for its next dye job, frumpy clothes in various shades of poop. But it’s Israel’s personality that poses the real problem. She’s abrasive and reclusive and just doesn’t really know how to exist among people, so she’s basically stopped trying. It’s just her and her cat – a daunting thought when it’s just her and a blank page. A once-celebrated writer of biographies, her agent nowadays can’t get so much as a $10 advance for a book on Fanny Brice that nobody wants.

Living in semi-squalor, Lee finds there’s good money selling literary mementos from great authors. Is it her fault that better content fetches higher prices? Isn’t it just good business sense to exploit her natural gift for writing and put it to use making money again?

Crime pays, for a while. And then the FBI gets curious about all the fraud and forgery and whatnot.

I love this script. McCarthy’s very first line earns a laugh out loud, and the script continues to reflect Lee’s caustic humour throughout. And McCarthy is just brilliant in the role, aggressively unpersonable, but also sympathetic. There’s a whole framework of supporting cast to admire too, particularly Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Marc Evan Jackson.

This isn’t just a film about forging letters, it’s about loneliness, and friendship, and purpose. It’s hard to say which Lee needs more – human connection or the sense that she is creatively fulfilled. Of course, when you’re crediting your best work to someone else, it’s plagiary of the heart and perhaps this is what hurts her most in the end. Lee Israel is not anyone’s idea of a hero, but her flaws are all-too-human, and it’s fascinating to slide down the rabbit hole with her.

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TIFF18: A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces is a technically competent (and occasionally impressive) film that lacks perspective and personality. In life generally and this festival particularly, we have been inundated with films about addictions and recovery. If you’re going to pile on, I expect you have a hot take, a fresh point of view. It’s not unreasonable to expect that A Million Little Pieces might have had one; several years ago (2003, in fact), James Frey released his memoir (of the same name) and it was a monster best-seller. But when questions of authenticity surfaced, Frey’s shooting star burned out quickly, thanks in large part to Oprah’s dragon-fire condemnation.

The film was relegated to back burner, then cold storage, then deep freeze as the controversy was allowed to cool. But now that people have all but forgotten his name, Sam Taylor-Johnson brings his story to the big screen but curiously leaves the scandal unthawed, with only a Mark Twain quote to excuse away his dishonesty.

AMillionLittlePieces_0HEROWhat’s left is a story without a single breath of uniqueness. Drugs are bad, behaviour off the rails, shipped to rehab against his will, detox makes you sick, “I don’t need to be here,” resistance, rule-breaking, temptation, uncovering trauma, cautious optimism. Insert new names and this could literally describe at least a dozen movies about addictions, and those are just the ones I can name and I can’t name shit. Although Sam Taylor-Johnson makes things pretty (save her own husband, with cracked teeth and a broken nose), this feels like a very familiar, very formulaic iteration.

Taylor-Johnson’s husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, co-writes the script with her (which seems not to be a strength) and stars as Frey. She has enormous faith in his abilities as an actor, and directs him well. He’s committed and intense, and would have been great in a great role, except they failed to write one, and this “Frey” character is bland and superficial. We hardly get to know him, and the few flashbacks are not informative or expository, they’re hardly more than images. That said, his costars, including Billy Bob Thornton, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, Charlie Hunnam, and Odessa Young, get even shorter shrift. Back stories? Ha. These people barely get front stories. They fill the obligatory sharing-circle chairs and that’s about it.

I think there might have been a little life to this story had they not shied away from the truth of it. But as is, it’s a million little pieces of ordinary that add up to 113 minutes of boring, minus the 40 seconds or so when Aaron rocks out with his cock out. With so many options at the cinema, this just doesn’t cut it. An easy miss.

TIFF18: Beautiful Boy

Wow, fucking Steve Carell, eh? What are we doing to deserve him?

Some say burying a child is the hardest thing a parent can do, but Beautiful Boy proves there are much, much worse things: watching your child suffer; watching him kill himself, slowly; having him cry for help and refusing; waiting for That Call; mourning him while he’s still alive. For years Steve Carell was America’s favourite clown, but his movie career has proven him equally capable in both the comedy and dramatic worlds.

Beautiful Boy is a memoir of sorts, written by a father in crisis. David (Carell) has always been close to his son, until suddenly he’s not. In just a matter of weeks he’s felt him slip away, and now he’s questioning whether he ever knew him at all.

Nic (Timothee Chalamet)was not an abused kid, was well cared-for during childhood. But he chases the high, craves it, needs it. And crystal meth is the absolute worst drug of choice, its use destroying nerve endings, requiring the user to need more each time just to feel the same high. Those escalating quantities worsen the addiction, making his body MV5BNTRmNjFlYzEtMzVhZi00NmEwLTgxYTktYTQ1OTgwNDc2ZDZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODE1MjMyNzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_crave it even more: a vicious cycle. It doesn’t always happen like this, but sometimes it’s a normal, happy, middle-class kid from a good and loving family who falls prey. Nic feels he’s disappointing his family. His parents feel they’ve somehow failed him. But now what? Do you support/enable him indefinitely, do you watch his teeth rot and his flesh waste and the life behind his eyes disappear? Do you allow his behaviour to tear your whole family apart, exposing younger siblings to it? Or do you cut him loose, not knowing where he is or if he’s safe, hoping every day that his rock bottom isn’t 6 feet deep?

I am astonished by the mastery of Steve Carell as he shows the impact of these decisions with his drawn, haggard face. He isn’t an overly emotive man, nor does he need to be to convey his agony. But the movie itself never quite comes together as successfully as the performances. I did appreciate the structure and how it mimics the highs and lows and false promises of recovery and relapse, but audiences may find it frustrating.

Beautiful Boy was never going to be a beautiful movie, but it works better as a portrait of a family in crisis than it does as a treatise on addiction. This story belongs more to the father, safe if worried in his warm, comfortable home. His son, who disappears for large chunks, is not shown in the direst of conditions in which he must live. If anything, the film nearly glamourizes drug use without being honest about the consequences for balance, which feels a little irresponsible.

This movie will be remembered for its performances, Carell’s especially, but not its content.

TIFF18: Wildlife

Joe Brinson’s family has just recently moved to Montana but his dad’s already out of work. You can tell it’s 1960 because father and son play football in belted khakis with their perfectly-pressed polo shirts neatly tucked in. Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) has a lot of pride and believes he’s “just too well-liked.” Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) swallows whatever disappointment she feels with her husband out of work again after yet another move to a place she doesn’t want to be, and still manages to ask politely for his permission to find work herself. Joe goes to work too, part-time, as his father slides into depression. But when Jerry finally gets off the couch and goes to work, Jeanette finally lets her anger erupt. He’s going to fight the massive forest fires for a buck an hour, and she doesn’t think that’s worth risking his life for. When he goes anyway, the crack in their marriage fractures perhaps irreparably, and Jeanette goes off the rails.

Wildlife is a movie about people on the brink. The Brinson family are on the brink of financial ruin. Jerry and Jeanette are on the brink of divorce. With fires ever raging, theMV5BZjhiNzJkZjctZjY2Ny00YTdjLWIxMjYtNjQwZjVmNjFiNGRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUxMjc1OTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,922_AL_ whole town’s on the brink of disaster. In 1960, the whole country’s on the brink of a sexual revolution, and women’s lib. But they’re not there yet. It’s shameful that Jeanette has to work instead of staying home with her son (who is 14 and never home). And they clearly don’t know how to do divorce; they forget the part about telling each other, and not committing adultery in front of the children. It’s a crazy time to be alive!

Paul Dano directed and co-wrote (with partner Zoe Kazan) Wildlife and the love and care show up on film, but he somehow holds back from showing us all the fancy tricks he can do, flexing his muscle with restraint instead. It’s impressive.

And given his pedigree I suppose it’s unsurprising how great he is with his cast. Carey Mulligan, to my  mind, turns out one great performance after another, but this still might be my favourite. It’s almost certainly the most complex. Jeanette is a woman ahead of her time. Her agency is startling, her behaviour a direct challenge to the values of 1960. The fact that her son (Ed Oxenbould) is a direct witness to her wantonness is often challenging, but Mulligan makes sure that Jeanette is given a humane treatment, while the script kindly paints the couple without heroes or villains – just two people forced to flaunt and rewrite the rules. It’s a sympathetic family portrait, if not quite an intimate one (we’re often at an emotional remove). And sometimes the story loses steam, but damn if Mulligan doesn’t just keep pulling me back in. All eyes on her.

Children of Men

It’s 2027 and the world’s youngest citizen has just died at the age of 18. People take it hard. With fertility down the tubes, humanity is staring in the face of its own extinction and it’s a pretty bleak picture.

Theo, a former activist, is kidnapped by some scary dudes (Charlie Hunnam, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who turn out to be working for his ex Julian (Julianne Moore). The two haven’t seen each other in 20 years, since their son Dylan died in a flu epidemic, but as the world’s countries have collapsed around them, Julian has led an underground rebellion, and she needs Theo’s help. They need to illegally transport a refugee, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and while Theo’s cousin can secure the necessary papers, they obligate Theo into accompanying her. Which ends up being just as well because shit goes down and Kee needs Theo. But the world needs Kee: turns out, she’s pregnant with the world’s first baby in 18 years. Now it’s up to Theo to get her safely to a refuge at sea, but no one, not the government, not the angry mobs, not Julian’s own people, are going to make it easy for him.

MV5BODQ4ZjMwMjEtMjc0Ni00MzA4LWE3N2ItODA3NmEwNDU3ZTE3L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDAxOTExNTM@._V1_First, this doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway: fucking Alfonso Cuaron. What a brilliant director. This is just such an astonishing work in film. The sense of urgency is brilliantly sustained throughout. There are so many scenes in this one movie that are best of career, highlight reel stuff that you can never quite catch your breath. There’s a long scene, kind of a car chase in reverse, where the car in question is specially outfitted so that a custom-rigged camera can rotate not just inside the vehicle, but outside the windshield as well. It’s fantastic, heart in throat stuff.

Cuaron stays away from exposition but the film never lacks. We aren’t told much about Theo but we’re shown quite a lot – nearly every scene contains an animal, and that animal is always drawn to him; he never touches a gun; his private cry for Julian; his aborted cigarettes; his seemingly unflappable response to crisis; his need to save others, even strangers. A character emerges without wasting a lot of time on formalities – that’s how you establish a frenetic pace.

And Cuaron’s setting of the film is second to none. It was filmed in 2005, just a few short weeks after London had its own terrorist bombing. Cuaron uses imagery from Pink Floyd (who often sang about oppression, war, and being) and Banksy, a guerilla street artist and political activist. At one point, the camera pans by cages with prisoners inside and one of them gives us a brief glimpse of the “hooded man” from the Abu Ghraib prison torture pictures, seen in the exact pose as the real pictures. There are specific calls to past wars, and political movements (Michael Caine has based his character on the fervent pacifist, John Lennon, Theo’s workplace is a nod to George Orwell’s 1984) but I was surprised how well it holds up, feeling every bit as relevant to today’s issues as those of a decade ago. Which is obviously not a good thing for the world but shows what a specific and visionary film maker Cuaron is. And meticulous. There are so many details, musical cues, religious references, nods to thematically-relevant literature that you lose count. You can’t even notice most upon first-watch, but you absorb them and get immersed in this gritty world and all of its noise and flaws and trauma.

With stunning lensing by Emmanuel Lubezki and astonishing, seamless editing by Cuaron and Alex Rodriguez, Children of Men is must-see moviedom in every sense. Cuaron is an immense talent; his is a filmography that must be discovered and rediscovered at every available opportunity.

On Chesil Beach

Two young people are trying to have sex, apparently on their wedding night, which is important to note because they’re old-timey virgins who are nervous and awkward and don’t really know where things go or for how long or how hard.

Somewhere between toes and tits, Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) reminisce about their entire relationship, through flashbacks. Spoiler alert: MV5BMmFlOTkyYjQtYWQyYS00ZDY3LWE3ZjktZDE4Y2Y5M2EyMzQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_they have a history! Their courtship was often influenced (often negatively) by their pasts, by their families, by what they know and what they don’t. Sound familiar? That’s probably because it’s true of absolutely every human who has ever lived. So how did this movie get made?

Well, Ian McEwan wrote a wonderfully descriptive book, as he does. The kind of book that languishes and meanders around in a poetic bath of language. On film, oh gosh, it’s beautiful, and Saoirse Ronan is luminous and wonderful, but there’s not a whole lot of action. Haha, even saying the word action in this context feels bizarre. I mean, on their hottest date, Edward chastises Flo for her lukewarm bird watching.

Anyway, if you find it hard to imagine what sex was even like in 1962, before the sexual revolution had really…revolved…well, consider yourself lucky. On Chesil Beach gives you an eyeful in all its pasty glory, which doesn’t actually involve any nudity because this is the generation that has never seen their partners naked. Anyway, the fumbling is real. Activities are prematurely aborted, or, well, not quite. Things are said. Things like: that’s revolting, which is hard to recover from. It begs the question: does sex just sometimes…not happen? ‘Frigid’ is another word you don’t recover from.

Anyway, the whole thing feels rather minor, and that’s not a comment on poor Eddie’s manhood. It’s just very introspective, and perhaps a visual medium is not quite the best path for this story. And the movie just stretches on and on, beyond what feels right or makes sense. Certainly beyond my patience, and beyond the tether of my empathy for these people. The film fails its characters and fails the audience by not having much of a bigger picture. At least with a book you can hurl it across the room – hell, I’m sure I’ve even broken a window or two launching a stupid book right through it, but a movie? Those faces loom so large and yet I cannot reach out and slap them, and that is the greatest travesty of all.

You Were Never Really Here

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled war veteran and basically a hired gun, specializing in the finding and retrieving of missing and trafficked young girls. He lives with his elderly mother (Judith Roberts), who is the only person left in his life. And once you start seeing what’s in his head, you’ll understand why. He’s haunted by flashbacks, riddled with PTSD. It’s rough stuff, and it’s hard to keep straight. It actually appears hard for him to keep straight, and as he grapples with thoughts of suicide and questions of sanity, it seems his past might be catching up with him.

But the present’s not much better. His next job is to rescue Nina, a 13 year old girl MV5BNDQwOGQyYTMtNTc2MS00Nzg3LTgyMjctOWFmM2YzZWE3YTBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_being held in a brothel. Her father works for the government and doesn’t want to get police involved. And if Joe could, you know, fuck up the men who did this to her, he’d be pleased. But walking a mile in Joe’s boots is never straight forward. He’s plagued by violent images, by death, by his own abusive childhood.

Once the killing starts, it doesn’t end, and Joe is basically a zombie, barely evading death, and barely caring. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay keeps us off kilter with static-y flashbacks. We’re as unbalanced as Joe is, and we’re unable to really trust everything we see. It’s disorienting and clever, unhinged and a little scary since we never know what we’re walking into. It’s gory, or course, likely enough blood to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but we start to feel anesthetized to it because Joe barely registers it. Joaquin Phoenix really sells it. He sells a man who stopped caring about himself a long time ago. Who doesn’t trust his own reality, and isn’t particularly bothered by it. He suffers from these violent memories but nothing really jolts him from his stupor. It’s a great performance. And Ramsay somehow manages to evoke sympathy for this wounded soldier. She makes this action movie something special, something worth watching, even if the finished product is rather like a nightmare.