Tag Archives: movies based on books

Ferdinand

Ferdinand is a big, beefy bull who accidentally destroys a village and gets branded a beast. The biggest, most monstrous bulls get chosen by the matador for bullfights, MV5BZWQ5ODZiMWMtYjM1Yy00ZDlhLTkwYzctNTQxNzE5MDRhNmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0MTc4OQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,738_AL_but Ferdinand has never aspired to such fame. He’s a gentle soul, really, a pacifist. The other bulls are quite judgmental about his lack of fight but Ferdinand stays true to himself.

And that’s all I really have to say about it. This is not Pixar; it’s not intended for adults, or particularly bright children. Ferdinand is forgettable. It doesn’t even try to surprise you. But John Cena as Ferdinand is pretty okay and Kate McKinnon as a “calming goat” is sometimes nearly funny, so I guess there’s that. It just feels lackluster, and lazy.

 

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Lady Macbeth

Katherine is a young bride, sold into marriage by her father and sent to live with her new husband and father-in-law in 19th century rural England (I mean, she doesn’t time travel there, it’s a period film).

It’s hard to say who is more cruel, the husband who “cannot” sleep with her but likes to masturbate to the sight of her behind, or the father-in-law who continually admonishes her for failing in her wifely duties. Both men are cold and heartless so let’s just say Katherine isn’t exactly heartbroken when they both leave her “alone” at home. “Alone” in the 19th century of course means there are still dozens of servants 06-lady-mackbeth.w710.h473(slaves? I think maybe yes – employees are much less likely to put up with the flogging and being locked in cellars and such) about, and eyes are everywhere. Sebastian, a new groom, catches Katherine’s attention, and as they ignite a passionate affair, she actually seems to come alive for the first time. But then her father in law returns and everything goes to hell. You might guess the nature of this hell by the name the film (and the novel on which it is based) is given. Lady Macbeth will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

I’ve heard the film described as a character study and I’m not sure I agree – for much of the film, Katherine’s emotions are impenetrable, to us and possibly even to her. She seems almost to have gone numb to the degrading circumstances of her life. Florence Pugh gives an absolutely riveting performance but I’m not sure we ever come to know Katherine’s inner workings or her motivations. What we do get is a taste of the subordination of women of the time. The oppression is as weighty as Katherine’s voluminous skirts, and it weighs everyone down. As she escapes from under the thumb of her horrid life, Katherine then becomes horrid herself. The movie burns with sex and murder but is icy in its remove.

Lady Macbeth is measured and quiet. It’s an unusual film and it’s not going to be for everyone. What I enjoyed most is that it dismantles the romanticism of other period films – “corset films” as Keira Knightly, who has built her career on them, calls them. The horse-drawn carriage rides through fields untouched by time look awfully nice, but the truth is these times were still savage for anyone not a wealthy white man. Lady Macbeth may be a “lady” in name, but Katherine is a sociopath by circumstance. It doesn’t excuse what she does, but it does make you wonder whether you mightn’t have done it yourself.

November Criminals

Addison is a precocious high school student who is only too happy to take time out from grieving his recently deceased mother to lose his virginity to elusive beauty Phoebe and apply to college. But while he’s pursuing these quintessentially teenaged dreams, a friend of his gunned down in a nearby coffee shop. Kevin is well-liked, a good student, an inquiring mind, but because he’s black the cops seem to dismiss the crime as “gang related” and Addison is crushed that no one is looking for his killer.

If it works at all, November Criminals has two likeable leads in Ansel Elgort and Chloe Grace Moretz; their chemistry makes up for some of the defects in their characters which are ENORMOUS AND UNFORGIVABLE. Ansel Elgort is tasked with playing a thoroughly hero_November-Criminals-2017unlikeable kid, and Grace-Moretz simply gets assigned the not-fully-realized female costar who heals his sadness by touching his penis. It’s not remotely their fault but November Criminals is maybe the most undercooked movie I’ve ever seen – like, on a scale from rare to well-done, it’s a bloody, oozy, thoroughly blue kind of undercooked that’s bound to give you worms. I’ve read the novel upon which it is based and half-remember it, and even that half-memory is more fulsome than the script for this thing, which feels like it’s missing about 75% of its content and 100% of what would make it understandable or good. The film offers up a small slice of the story, with an inadequate beginning and hardly any end, and such an abbreviated middle you’ll wonder if perhaps we’re still in the opening credits. But while the movie needs at least another two hours in order to tell its story, the mere thought of having to sit through a single moment more than its 85 minute run time is upsetting. This film never justifies any reason for its existence and wastes every frame of its film.

Even in a post-hipster culture, teenagers who willfully carry beepers are just knobs. White kids who become vigilantes for their black friend’s death out of sheer boredom are intolerable. This movie serves up so much that is objectionable I could hardly stand to see it all the way to the end. Maybe the teenage angst coupled with a murder mystery was supposed to invoke Veronica Mars but the movie is troubled, voiceless, neutered. Don’t bother.

Goosebumps

20151007fdGoosebumps.6c5f8Turns out, it’s Jack Black week around these here parts. Today’s instalment is Goosebumps, a movie written for (and possibly by) people a third of my age or less. And those damn tweens must have seen this one a LOT of times because a sequel is coming out this fall just in time for Halloween.

First things first: Goosebumps is not scary at all. Planet Earth II is more harrowing.  Though in fairness, the Planet Earth segment with the snakes chasing an iguana is one of the scariest things ever:

There is no chase sequence in Goosebumps that even comes close to that level of terror, but that’s by design. Goosebumps is completely non-threatening right down to its protagonist, who you might recognize as the non-threatening guy from 13 Reasons Why if, like me, you watch too much Netflix.  He is perfect for Goosebumps because in his spare time he is a singer/rhythm guitarist for a band that got its break at a social inclusion and autism awareness concert (that’s right, two non-threatening causes at once)!

There are monsters in Goosebumps but they are the kind that chase you with a smile on their face. The kind that Jay would adopt and make me build a shelter for in our backyard. The kind that I can watch with my nephews and not get dirty looks from their parents. The kind that must make Goosebumps author R.L. Stine pat himself on the back for being as non-threatening as the guy from 13 Reasons Why (it helps immensely that Stine has written dozens of joke books and G.I. Joe choose-your-own-adventures under the pen names “Jovial Bob Stine” and “Eric Affabee”).

The only way Goosebumps will give you goosebumps is if you watch it while your furnace is broken. But I’ll take that over nephew nightmares any day of the week.

 

Call Me By Your Name

Seventeen year old Elio is facing another season at his parents’ summer home somewhere in boring, idyllic Northern Italy when the clouds part, the angels sing, and a yellow ray of sunshine pools on the golden head of a god, arriving by taxi. Actually it’s Oliver, a grad student about to spend the next 6 weeks helping out Elio’s father, a professor. Elio is immediately smitten.

It’s complicated, though, and it’ll take those full 6 weeks for the two young men to reach the peak of their affair. It’s the summer of 1983 and neither one is ‘out’; what we see is their friendship, the confidences they share, the fumbling flirtation. It’s a quiet movie, as 913a movie must be between two characters who are still learning about themselves, and in some cases, learning to repress. The pace is languid, but after 132 minutes, I’m thinking more about what’s left out than what is covered. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) share a mostly silent passion. Have they ever been attracted to men before? Are they afraid of being seen? Their affair exists within a bubble – isolated in a small village, surrounded by intellectuals, sheltered. But there’s always a sense that the affair cannot last.

We feel the blush of their first love. But director Luca Guadagnino does not want us to see much more than that, does not want the reality of gay sex to change the tone of the movie. Why doesn’t he trust us? In an otherwise beautiful film about desire, theirs is the only physical intimacy that we don’t see. When one of them hooks up with a woman, we eavesdrop on their thrusting and grunting. We even get fairly graphic with some person-on-peach sex. But when Elio and Oliver come together the camera looks away. The only real nudity is female.

And that has left me feeling off-balance. I can only praise the performances by Hammer and especially by Chalamet – his energy, his wit. Although Elio is the younger of the two, and voices more self-doubt, we actually see them negotiate a balance in their relationship that feels very healthy and mature. And though Oliver is adamant that he wants neither of them to get hurt, we see how woundable Elio really is, how vulnerable. This isn’t just love but self-discovery, mutual discovery, only some of which will be lasting.  Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) counsels him to stay this way, thin-skinned, to not close himself off to pain, even in heartbreak. And Oliver wonders if that’s the real difference between the two: not their age or experience, but their parents. And we’re left to think on that as the credits roll. Who might they have been had they both had supportive families? It is in these final minutes of the film when we finally feel emotionally connected to the material, and to the characters. This is the beating heart of the film. It’s just too bad it’s saved for last.

The Mountain Between Us

You know that snooty, fake, half-pouty smile an airline employee gives you right before they tell you the bad news?

Ben and Alex are both trying to get home – he’s got an important surgery to perform in the morning, and she’s got a wedding to attend (her own). The snow says no. The goddamn airline employees deploy their sorry-not-sorry smiles. So Ben and Alex, 620x349strangers in an airport, devise their own workaround: they’ll hire a small plane to get ahead of the storm and deliver them to their destination. But as you can probably guess, this was not the cleverest of plans. Their plane goes down, and thanks to some handy plot devices, no one even knows where they are. Help isn’t coming. They can either stay where they are and starve\freeze to death, or they make the mountain their bitch.

I read and enjoyed the book and then I watched the movie and didn’t quite know what to make of it. This is a story of survival. Of two strangers becoming dependent on each other, knowing they will most likely die and having to make really tough decisions together. Kate Winslet is good and Idris Elba is good but together they have the chemistry of two half-wilted house plants. The movie takes an against-all-odds story and turns it into romantic schmaltz, but these two characters (and these two actors) don’t pull it off – and it’s an insult to humanity anyway. I mean, yes, IF I have to get into a horrific plane crash where my injuries make it difficult to escape but do not in any way mar my perfect looks, I HOPE it’s with Idris Elba and I HOPE we fall in love despite the fact that I have a perfectly good husband at home and I obviously haven’t shaved my legs in days or weeks or months or whatever. I’m just saying it’s not exactly probable.

The film isn’t a complete waste of time because it is Kate and Idris and even when they’re at their worst they aren’t half bad. And there’s a lot of frozen Canadian landscapes to keep your eyes busy and your mind hopefully engaged elsewhere, because if you stop to think about this plot for even a second, it all turns to mush.

 

 

 

Interview with the Vampire

It’s that time of year again: Sean and I have fled cold, snowy Ottawa to celebrate his birthday in warmer or at least more exotic climes. Last year we were in Hawaii but this year we’ve set our sights on New Orleans, so you can count on the next several reviews carrying on in that theme.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles came out in 1994, which means it may be older than some of you. Based on the best selling novel by Anne Rice, herself a New Orleans native.

So the premise is this: a reporter (Christian Slater) is interviewing a 200 year old vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt). He was formerly a plantation owner who lost his wife in childbirth, which threw him into a depression. This is when he met a vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise), who turned him and taught him vampire ways.

Tom Cruise was not supposed to have been cast; when Rice wrote it in 1976, she had  Rutger Hauer in mind. The book was optioned a few years later with John Travolta attached but a glut of other vampire movies (Dracula, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Love at First Bite, all in 1979) put the project on pause. When the wheels started turning again, Travolta was deemed too old. Rice met with Tom Hanks instead, but interview-with-the-vampire-kirsten-dunst-brad-pitt-hughe turned it down for Forrest Gump. Daniel Day-Lewis was cast but then dropped out just weeks before filming. Then it was offered to Johnny Depp, who turned it down. And finally it went to Tom Cruise, which made Anne Rice livid, certain he could not handle the part. Of Cruise’s casting, she said “it’s so bizarre; it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work” and “the worst crime in the name of casting since The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Rice recused herself from the production but when she eventually forced herself to watch it, she was so impressed by Cruise’s performance that she wrote him a letter of apology.

Jeremy Irons had also turned down the part because he didn’t want to spend hours in the makeup chair again, and he wasn’t wrong. The vampire makeup took hours to do, in part because the actors were required to hang upside down for up to 30 minutes at a time, allowing the blood to rush into their faces, making veins bulge out. The makeup artists would then trace the veins to create the vampire’s look. But then the blood would disperse and the process would have to be repeated several times. To keep the vampire look secret, Tom Cruise ordered the set to be completely private, necessitating tunnels to be built to shuttle the stars to and from the set.

Makeup is not the only reason Brad Pitt was completely miserable on the set and tried his darndest to get out of the contract. He also hated his costumes and coloured contacts, but most of all he hated playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise – ahem – both on and off the set.

Christina Ricci, Julia Stiles, Evan Rachel Wood, and Natalie Portman all tried out for the part of Claudia but it was a young Kirsten Dunst who won the role. She had her first on-screen kiss in the film – her 12 year old self to Brad Pitt’s 30 years. She wasn’t even allowed to watch the film when it came out; it was R-rated, and her parents thought her too young.

Speaking of age discrepancies, there was also a height discrepancy, and it forced Tom Cruise to act atop crates to try to appear level with the other vampires. Cruise has said that he watched videos of lions eating zebras to prepare for the role. In unrelated news: Tom Cruise is a strange man.

Christian Slater took over the role of Malloy upon the death of River Phoenix. In his honour, Slater donated his salary to two of Phoenix’s favourite charities. The film has a dedication to him at the end of the credits.

Rice was originally worried that the movie would never get made because the novel contained allusions to a possible sexual relationship between Lestat and Louis. Not only was she prepared to write this out of the script completely, for a while she even turned the part of Louis into a woman, and had Cher in mind to play her. Ultimately the two roles remained male, and Cruise and Pitt earned a Razzie for worst screen couple. Conversely, the movie was also nominated for two Oscars, but lost those – Best Art/Set Direction went to The Madness of King George, and Best Original Score went to The Lion King. Cher had actually written a song for the movie, called Lovers Forever, but because of that dicey word Lovers, it was rejected – but eventually appeared on an album of hers in 2013!

The film supposedly inspired a real life crime shortly after the film’s release. On November 17, 1994, Daniel Sterling and his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen watched the film together. The next day, Sterling stabbed Stellwagen seven times in her chest and back and sucked the blood from her wounds. Stellwagen survived the multiple stab wounds and Sterling was arrested. He claimed the film influenced his plan but the jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder, among several other charges.

Lots of the 1700s vampire stuff was filmed in and around New Orleans. River scenes were fudged by removing modern items like the Greater New Orleans Bridge and surrounding radio towers in post-production. The Old Coliseum Theatre was used for on-location shooting but sadly burned down in 2006 so Sean and I won’t be able to visit. The city and the businesses were quite cooperative to the film crew – they agreed to turn out their lights for the duration of the filming to preserve the illusion of the film’s time period.

You may recall that the film ends up in San Francisco, where Malloy drives across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sean and I are not visiting that esteemed city this trip but we have before, and reviewed the movies to prove it. The crew received permission to shut down 2 lanes of traffic on that bridge, which is reportedly very hard to get.

 

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favourite spots? Any favourite movies set in the city? Predictions as to what I’ll review next? Be sure to check our Twitter feed for updates from the city – @assholemovies

The Man Who Invented Christmas

My bosom is glowing. That’s what we used to call boobies when I was little: bosoms. Pronounced bazooms, of course. My grandmother told us that eating our sandwich crusts would result in big bazooms and I gobbled mine up greedily, and those of my sisters, if they left them.

Is it a digression if I lead with it? Back to my glowing bosom, which is a line I lifted from the movie itself. It’s the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. He’d gotten a taste of success with Oliver Twist and was determined to live 58dd47c10c48e-e2i2h1u1qk5henceforth like a gentleman, but his next three attempts were flops – poorly reviewed, scarcely read. He was really under the gun to write his next best-seller and you know what pressure does to a writer: it blocks him. He pitched a vague idea for a Christmas ghost story to publisher and was laughed right out of the office, Christmas being a “minor” holiday and all. He determined to self-publish and gave himself the daunting deadline of just 6 weeks hence – a release just barely in time for Christmas. The only problem aside from funding was that not a word had been written.

The film follows Dickens (Dan Stevens) on his frantic quest to write a wildly popular novel without the merest hint of a concrete idea. He agonizes over the creation of characters and then is haunted by them, literally. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) mocks his attempts and grumbles when he isn’t given enough lines, or enough good lines. Dicken’s father (Jonathan Pryce) is visiting and provides constant distraction. If you have even a passing knowledge of A Christmas Carol, it’s kind of fascinating to watch its author draw inspiration from his own life and everything around him, turning ordinary things into ideas that have permeated our culture and helped to define how we celebrate our holidays. While director Bharat Nalluri of course takes some dramatic license, the spirit of the thing is largely accurate. 

Dan Stevens is well-cast as Dickens, and it gives me great pains to send any praise his way because I’ve always held a grudge for how he treated Lady Mary when he left Downton Abbey the way he did. But in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he brings Dickens alive, a man for whom his characters were more alive to him than his own loved ones, and though Scrooge et al literally do speak to him (and offer criticism), his genius and vivid imagination are not to be discounted. But if the film merely existed to give us Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, that alone would be enough. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, the man still has performance in his bones. He won his first Oscar at the age of 82 for Beginners, and it is possibly not his last – he’s got 4 movies in various phases of production, including his hasty replacement of Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World. This movie is a perfect example of why Plummer is still in demand. He turns an invented character into a real, flesh and blood man.

Wonder

Auggie is a very special little boy. Born with a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, Auggie’s facial deformities are the least threatening of the complications but they’re what make him look so different. He’s most comfortable when he’s wearing an astronaut helmet that keep prying eyes and hurtful comments at bay. For the first ten years of his life he’s had countless surgeries and has been schooled at home, but he’s about to start middle school for real, and a classroom of students is more daunting to him (and his mom) than any operating room.

Wonder is based on the wonderful YA novel by R.J. Palacio, which you should, should, should definitely, definitely read. But happily, this is a rare case where the movie does MV5BMTIwOTUwNTEtYzMwNS00N2YxLTg0ZWYtNzM0YzVjOWYwZWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg5NDY3Mw@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_the book justice. And even happilier, the movie doesn’t suck, period, which was a major concern of mine. It seemed far too easy to just let it coast on its sentimentality. But while director Stephen Chbosky doesn’t have a lengthy track record to ease my worrisome nature, he does have one credit under his belt that’s all I really needed to hear: he adapted and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which he’d also penned.

Wonder is a much different beast, however. First, it necessarily involves casting the perfect but very young star. A bad child actor in a lead role will ruin the whole thing, and in this case you have to find someone who can convey a whole range of complicated emotions from underneath a mask of scars. Chbosky went with Jacob Tremblay who’s already proven his chops with the most trying and powerful of roles in Room; Chbosky calls him “a once-in-a-generation talent” and I think he may be right. But we can’t discount the fact that Chbosky surrounds Tremblay with talent.

The secret to Wonder’s success, both in novel and in film, is that yes, it tells the story from the perspective of a sweet and brave 10 year old boy who’s been through hell and is still going through it. BUT it also shares the stories of the people around him. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has had to pause life itself in order to become his warrior. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) copes with humour and cries by himself. His big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels like a mere planet revolving around Auggie, the sun. A disease like Auggie’s is a family affair, energy-stealing, all-encompassing, leaving no one unaffected. And no one likes to complain about that because it seems petty in the face of something life-threatening, but it’s true and Palacio’s book as well as Chbosky’s film really add legitimacy to a family suffering as a unit. Even Auggie’s only friend is untouched – being his friend is a social sacrifice most 10 year olds won’t be strong enough to make. Another formidable young actor, Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe, lands and aces this role.

Wonder is not about the suffering though; that would be too easy. It’s about overcoming that suffering, in ways that are clunky and ungraceful and sometimes accidental. That’s why Auggie’s family seems so real, and why so many real families with sick kids can relate to the material. It’s emotionally raw stuff and you may find that it touches a nerve. But it’s got a takeaway message of positivity that’s irresistible, and will help justify the numerous soggy kleenexes in your lap.

Murder on the Orient Express

Hercule Poirot is a world-renowned detective, known almost as much for his venerable mustaches as for his excellent deductive skills. On the way home from solving yet another case successfully, his train gets stuck in the middle of nowhere thanks to an avalanche, and that’s not the worst thing that’s happened aboard the Orient Express. Overnight, there has been a murder most foul. One of the dozen or so passengers is dead, and another must be his murderer. With Hercule Poirot unluckily aboard, can his or her identity remain secret? It seems unlikely.

MV5BMTU4NjU5NDYxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyODg0MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Kenneth Branagh directs himself as Agatha Christie’s famed Poirot, and he’s equally right in both roles. He leads an all-star cast including Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and more. The only thing you can complain about with such an ensemble is that we spend precious little time with any one of them – Dench is particularly underused.

Branagh shoots on 65mm film and the result is luxurious and beautiful; I could barely take my eyes off the scenery, and indeed, the script gave me little reason to. I’m still not sure what genre of movie Murder on the Orient Express was trying to be. There might be a mystery at its core, but the audience feels no particular sense of urgency in solving it. There’s almost zero tension, which seems like a failure when a murderer is trapped among a gaggle of vulnerable potential victims, each with a neck ripe for slicing. And though I commend Branagh’s attempt at making Poirot sag a little under the pressure of his special skill set, the character seems largely untouched by the story unraveling before him. Leached of the emotional heft probably its due, the story never delivers any punch. There’s no real suspense. So while every shot is perfectly composed and the film is a stylistic triumph, it just doesn’t do justice to Christie’s plot.