Tag Archives: movies based on books

Rebecca

Lily James plays a lady’s companion, a woman paid to accompany her mistress as she travels about Europe, but when Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) gets sick, her companion, used to attending to her mistress’s every need, suddenly has a lot of time on her hands but few options to fill it. As paid staff, Lily James’ character isn’t allowed to use the hotel’s amenities intended for guests. Luckily, the handsome if brooding Maximus de Winter (Armie Hammer) comes to her aid. A mysterious young widower, Max and his beautiful estate Manderley are often gossiped about, and it is whispered he has been terrorized by grief since his wife’s sudden passing a year ago. But on outings with the lady’s companion, he’s a perfect gentleman and charming company. Sadly, Mrs. Van Hopper eventually recovers only to catch wind of her companion’s secret rendez-vous, and she immediately books them passage back to New York. Facing a sudden goodbye, Max de Winter proposes to the young, naïve girl of lowly station, and they share a passionate honeymoon before he brings her home to Manderley.

Rebecca is a ghost story, written by Daphne du Maurier and newly adapted for Netflix by Ben Wheatley. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by two malevolent forces. First, the house itself, which is demanding in its size and responsibilities, and isolating too. Manderley is spooky because it is simply too large for just two people. It never feels like it belongs to her, in part because it’s been passed down for generations by the de Winter family, and partly because Rebecca, the dearly departed former Mrs. de Winter, had so confidently left her mark. Manderley is also a symbol of a growing class divide. It reminds us that not long ago, our young protagonist was staff herself, but even as a lady’s maid she’d never worked in or even seen such a massive estate. As its current mistress, she is uncomfortable in the position and feels out of place among Max’s friends and family. And then there is the spectre of Rebecca herself. The new bride experiences two very different encounters when it comes to Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), the housekeeper, seems nearly obsessed with her, and speaks reverentially of Rebecca. Rebecca’s routines and methods and preferences are considered by Mrs. Danvers to be the ‘right’ ones, and the new Mrs. de Winter can never quite measure up to a ghost. Max, on the other hand, will never speak of her, and loses his temper when the subject is broached. His new wife is cowed by how much he must still love Rebecca to be so sensitive, and realizes that there are perhaps 3 people to this marriage.

It’s a brilliant gothic exercise in gas-lighting and gender roles, and Ben Wheatley’s added some drop dead visuals to the mix, taking full advantage of every second they’re not in that house. It kind of feels that Ben Wheatley, known for his twisted, psychological horror films, went in the opposite direction, flexing new muscles with a talkier script and dazzling production values. However, because it was Ben Wheatley attached to direct, I imagined dizzying psychological warfare, and on that he under-delivered. Directing for a broader Netflix audience for the first time, he’s erred in favour of conservative and pretty. But Du Maurier’s source material is actually a good match for Wheatley’s usual directing style. I would have loved to see him seize on the madness, make Manderley as sinister and foreboding as High-Rise. Manderley is haunted, if not by Rebecca’s ghost, by secrets and resentments and insecurity. The house feels like a prison, and gender norms are the new bride’s shackles. Between her husband and the housekeeper, she is made to feel crazy. There is so much potential for psychological horror that went wasted.

Ben Wheatley, you are a talented man with a unique directorial voice. The world is improved by your personal brand of weird, and I wish that Netflix money hadn’t robbed you of the courage to just be you.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

Kelly (Tamara Smart) opts out of the class-wide Halloween party but isn’t exactly thrilled when her mother books her a babysitting gig instead. Five year old Jacob (Ian Ho) is a bit high maintenance, with his 3-hour bedtime routine, but Kelly would likely have preferred a 5 hour routine, even a 10 hour one, compared to what she got. Which was a visit from the Boogey Man himself, the actual Boogey Man, and his trollies, who’ve come to kidnap Jacob, who has the ability to make nightmares come true.

Thankfully Liz (Oona Laurence) shows up, chapter vice president of the Order of Babysitters, charged with protecting special dreamers like Jacob against the Boogey Man (aka Guignol, played by Tom Felton), and his little monsters. The Order of Babysitters is James Bond lite – all the cool tech, fun gadgets, and special ops, but none of the booze or women. In fact, now that I’m hearing myself say it, scratch that, the Order of Babysitters is like James Bond 2.0: all the spy stuff without the misogeny.

The film looks slick and is packed with action-adventure, although when a battle of sorts is taking place at a children’s indoor playground, the worst part is just imagining the gallons of COVID-19 that probably lurks in your average ball pit. Ew. What I’m saying is, the peril is never too overwhelming, and the monsters are, with a few exceptions, actually pretty cute, endearing enough you have to struggle to remember they’re bad guys. Kelly is a great protagonist and well portrayed by leading lady Tamara Smart. Liz is a little more mysterious, having just been dropped into the action from literally out of nowhere. The Order of Babysitters headquarters is production design eye candy, and introduces us to some fun supporting characters, as every secret service needs an M and a Q, and whatever other alphabet R&D people are necessary to keep their organization running smoothly.

The Grand Guignol’s lair is where the real work goes down. Guignol is trying to extract something from Jacob’s dreams, but I guess someone didn’t hear about that infamous 3 hour bedtime ritual. I don’t know much about Tom Felton, and I’d wager he’s all but unrecognizable in this, but he is clearly enjoying the eccentricities of the role, he’s playing and flexing and savouring being larger than life. He’s generous enough as an actor no to steal the scene from our teenage protagonists but he is a true source of animation and energy.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is half Babysitter’s Club and half Artemis Fowl, the best of both, an entertaining watch fit for the whole family.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

You know what they say – “don’t wait for college to start having fun” – or at least that’s what Sarah’s crush tells her out of no self-interest whatsoever. He’s inviting her to some show that Sarah (Madison Iseman) can’t go to because she’s locked down all week between the writer’s block hampering her college essay on fear, and babysitting her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and his friend Sam (Caleel Harris), who are running a secret junk removal business to bolster their true aim of treasure hunting.

Of course the mysterious old lady who contacts them for junk removal refers them to an undoubtedly haunted house, completely abandoned and filled with dusty junk but also an actual treasure chest! Disappointingly, it contains only an old book. Until it suddenly also contains a creepy ventriloquist puppet that is not only sentient, but make shit happen (like homework, and revenge on bullies).

But, because this is a Goosebumps movie, you know this puppet isn’t exactly going to work out like a genie in a magic lamp. This puppet (his name is Slappy) has his own ambitions, and you bet your candy stash they’re evil. So poor babysitting Sarah is going to have an awful lot of trouble on her hands and you know she’s not getting paid nearly enough for this shit (like most oldest sibling babysitters, she’s probably not getting paid at all).

This movie has just been added to the Netflix library, so if you missed it the first time, it’s perfect for your Spook-tober movie nights – family movie night, at any rate. It’s got a PG rating and does have some scary monsters, so depending on the kid and the age, it may not be appropriate for everyone but it will appeal to most kids, at least in the 7-11 range. We’re diving quickly toward our second wave of COVID-19 here so I’m not sure exactly what Halloween will entail this year; trick-or-treating may be off the table. But you can still plan for a special evening (it helps that it’s a Saturday this year!) and a movie like this might be just the ticket. One note, however: while we at Assholes Watching Movies 100% endorse movie snacking, you may want to leave gummi bears off the list, just this one time.

Enola Holmes

Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) has had a strange but delightful childhood, raised and educated by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) in a manner perhaps inappropriate for a fine young lady of her time, but according to Eudoria’s own standards. Eudoria valued intellect and wit of course, but also independence (hence Enola’s name, alone spelled backwards) and a free spirit. They were happy together, not even lonely though Enola’s father had passed and her brothers left home years ago. But waking on her 16th birthday Enola finds that her mother has disappeared and left her no choice but to summon her older brothers.

Brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is a bit of a famous detective – maybe you’ve heard of him? And Mycroft (Sam Claflin) is the persnickety one who finds his sister’s lack of social graces to be untenable. He lines up a finishing school to send her away to, so of course she absconds, not unlike her mother has. Enola has gone to London of course, not just to find out where her mother is, but who her mother is, or was. To do it, she’ll have to stay one step ahead of brother Sherl, who is a a bit of a sleuth himself, and not easy to outwit.

The part suits Millie Bobby Brown to perfection – plucky, canny, charming and engaging, she adds a new dimension to the already beloved and fully realized Holmes universe, not only proving her worth but making room for herself and room for change. Sherlock has always lived very much inside himself, apart from and above the rest of the world, of whom he takes little notice unless they’re part of the case. Enola, however, is very much a product of and a force of change in England, which is already in flux when we meet her in 1884. Though she spent her early years in near isolation with her mother, her future is very much her own to make of it what she will.

The Postcard Killings

Jacob’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) daughter is newly married and on her honeymoon in Europe when he gets an awful call. She and her new husband have been murdered in London, their mutilated bodies posed with chilling exactitude and drained of blood. Jacob flies over to identify the bodies but he doesn’t stop there; he’s a brash New York detective and can’t help but step into the case. Interfering is what London authorities call it, but it turns out they’ve got a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer who’s targeting young newlyweds and posing them like famous art pieces.

The murders are sprinkled throughout Europe and heralded by a postcard sent to a journalist, which means Jacob’s got a trail of clues to follow and a new police force to pester every time. Along the way he meets a German detective (Joachim Król) and a Swedish journalist (Cush Jumbo) who are willing to bend the rules to help him out as the killer continues to evade authorities. The murders are gruesome, each fresh kill linked to the last by a dismembered body part. Jacob’s daughter’s hands still haven’t been found.

Director Danis Tanovic gives us a paint-by-numbers “thriller,” and Tanovic is no Bob Ross – there are no happy accidents here – just another uninspired entry into the serial killer mystery genre. And not much of a mystery either, since the story is told from the point of view of both the killer and the grieving father/detective. It’s based on a James Patterson novel, which just about explains it: pure pablum, an easy airport read that basically repackages the same story over and over, only changing the names of characters and swapping out, say, a knife for an ice pick, Munich for Stockholm, that kind of thing. It’s a thrill-less thriller but the crimes are extra brutal to make up for it. If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed.

TIFF20 Penguin Bloom

The Blooms are a happy Australian family on vacation in Thailand when life changes forever. A broken rail on a rooftop lookout is nearly deadly, leaving Mom Sam (Naomi Watts) paralyzed and when eventually back home, terribly depressed. Both ailments keeping her confined to bed, husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) is basically a single father, barely handling life with 3 rambunctious boys, at least one of whom blames himself for his mother’s life-altering injury. Sam’s mother Jan’s (Jacki Weaver) support is of questionable value and Sam sinks deeper and deeper into an identity crisis told deftly between flashbacks to her active part in life and motherhood, and disturbing dream sequences that illustrate the yawning gulf between Sam Now and Sam Then.

Would you believe me if I told you that a magpie named Penguin is what healed her? Well, a wounded bird named Penguin AND a human woman named Gaye (Rachel House) who got Sam out of her chair and into a kayak. The kayak gave her freedom of movement and some independence; Penguin gave her hope.

It sounds like Oscar bait because it IS Oscar bait. Do I say that like it’s a bad thing? Maybe just a little. I hope Penguin won’t take this the wrong way, but you know that old saying, birds of a feather flock together? Well, so do movies about people overcoming catastrophic injury. There are a LOT of them.

This isn’t a bad one, and surprisingly, not an overly sappy one (note: I said overly). Sam is privately bitter and sometimes selfish. Son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) is harbouring secret guilt and putting way too many eggs into one penguin’s basket. But the emotional trajectory is trending upward since that little magpie first chirps with only a few unconvincing, by-the-book pauses along the way. Watts is terrific. The magpie is terrific, if just a little too cute to be entirely believed. Director Glendyn Ivin isn’t doing a darn thing wrong, he’s just another guy telling an inspiring, heart-warming story about churning anger into triumph through the redeeming values, of hope, faith, and family.

Maybe you’re in the market for an uplifting movie with lots of heart and some solid performances. Maybe you’ve got a surplus of tissues and are looking for any excuse to cry. Maybe you just always thought it would be cool to see a bird wear underwear on its head. For me this was too pat and predictable. I always hope for something a little meatier from a world-renown film festival (no offense, Penguin, poultry is fine too), but a bird with a broken wing is just about as ham-fisted (or should I saw chicken-winged) a metaphor as you can get.

All Together Now

Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) and her mother Becky (Justina Machado) are down on their luck. Things spiraled after the death of her father; Becky’s job isn’t enough to support them and unless they live with one bad boyfriend or another, they’re homeless. Like many high schoolers would, Amber struggles to keep this secret from her friends while working a multitude of after-school jobs to put cash in the kitty toward renting an apartment. That’s the dream. But she’s a senior in high school, so her dreams also include pursuing her music, and possibly pursuing the guy with the melty brown eyes (Rhenzy Feliz).

Amber is obviously a remarkable young woman. Her time and heart are splintered between many obligations. She’s got great friends but keeping her secret is an obstacle that stops her from really leaning on them for support. Auli’i Cravalho (you may know her as the voice of Moana) is a great choice for the role because her beaming smile lights the way through her hardships and sacrifice, and when that smile slips even the tiniest bit, we feel it immediately. Amber is juggling school work and work work and if she’s lucky, she sleeps at night illegally in the back of a cold bus, eating whatever her mother could flirt her way into acquiring, and trying to support her mother’s tenuous sobriety. But the next day at school she looks like any of her peers. It’s an interesting reminder that the face of poverty is not always what we expect.

With Cravalho, Fred Armisen, and Carol Burnett in the cast, we hardly needed any further inducement to watch All Together Now on Netflix, but then we realized Brett Haley was directing, and he alone would have been all the reason we needed. He is such a talented writer and director and I’ve been a fan of his since he shone his light on Blythe Danner in 2015’s I’ll See You In My Dreams and then he blew me away completely with Hearts Beat Loud. He’s got a real talent for raising up the everyday and finding moments of raw glory in ordinary people. Haley and frequent collaborator Marc Basch help Matthew Quick adapt his own novel, Sorta Like A Rock Star, for the screen.

Together they’ve crafted something special. Haley’s movies are thoughtful, sensitive, and measure. They reflect feeling rather than sentimentality. Amber is proud but if she’s shielding anyone from shame, it’s her mother, not herself. But Haley et. al show us the dignity in accepting help, in allowing our friends and family to get close enough to see the need and the opportunity.

All Together Now is a spirited film with a strong cast and a sweet story. It was a real pleasure to watch, a rare treat from Netflix.

Chemical Hearts

Grace is the mysterious new girl in school who limps along with a cane and nearly stole the school newspaper editing job right from the stranglehold position Henry’s been leveraging throughout his entire high school career. Of course he can’t resist her. She’s broken. He wants to fix her, in that grand tradition of teenage boys the world over. Haha, only kidding. Only books and movies think teenage boys lust after loner girls. In real life I’m pretty sure it’s the outgoing cheerleader types, the girls who do most of the work for them.

But then again, Henry (Austin Abrams) is not your typical leading man. Millennials redefined masculinity, and our leading men have reflected the change – think Adam Driver, Paul Dano, Domhnall Gleeson, Dev Patel, Robert Pattinson, Ezra Miller – men who have pushed back against the beer swilling, no feelings having, sexism propagating pigs Hollywood has excused for years. Millennial men ask for consent. They manscape. They try. They like your friends and meet your mother and declare their intentions on IG. Think of 21 Jump Street when Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum first meet Dave Franco’s character. Hill and Tatum are likely borderline millennials themselves, but in this movie, Franco engendered the new man: he cared. He held hands. He waited until you were ready. And now we have Henry, a Generation Z leading man – in fact, a Gen Z leading person, because Gen Z is progressive and inclusive and they know that gender’s a social construct and not tied to a binary system their grandparents were content to force themselves into. Gen Z is diverse and aware; they’re digital natives used to personalized content but not fond of labels. They’re also overwhelmed and lonely. They’re moving away from traditional notions of beauty (well, at least for men) – yesterday’s hunks were broad, buff, and weren’t content with just a 6 pack but had upgraded to an 8 pack. Gen Z’s leading men, like Tom Holland, Finn Wolfhard, and indeed Austin Abrams have leaner, rangier physiques. Even comparatively fit Noah Centineo was body-shamed on Insta for not having abs – though people were quick to come to his defense. Abrams has a mopey, droopy-haired, anemic look about him, handsome in a hurt kind of way, like Kurt Cobain if you’ll allow the reference to – ew – Generation X.

So maybe kids these days really are turned on by chicks with mobility issues and a preternatural affinity for disaffected solitude. At any rate, Henry cannot resist. He’s smitten. But Grace (Lili Reinhart) truly is the walking wounded, and she’s got more ghosts than a teenage boy, even a very sensitive, very vulnerable one, is equipped to deal with.

Even given that I am bad with titles, it still took me a minute to figure out that I’ve read this book, and fairly recently too. It’s a fairly forgettable work of YA and is equally forgettable as a film. Tragic teenage love stories are a well-worn genre and even if Gen Z’s cardigans are slim-cut and their haircuts gender neutral, their love stories still follow the tried and true emotional roller-coaster we’ve all been through. Young love is still young love. Abrams and Reinhart have as much chemistry as their hearts promised in the title. Director Richard Tanne takes the trauma of teenage heartbreak very seriously, as does everyone who’s ever had one. Maybe a little too seriously – the film is coated in apathy and despair, leaving little room for growth or agency or change. I don’t feel we get to know the characters very well, and I was disappointed Henry’s friends get such short shrift in the film compared to the novel. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film, it just relies too heavily on all the old cliches and fails to stir up much beyond sympathy, which gets tiring after a while. Check out Chemical Hearts if you’re a fan of these actors, or are in need of a genre fix, but otherwise, this movie is missable.

The One and Only Ivan

At the big top mall and video arcade at exit 8, Mack (Bryan Cranston) is the ringleader of a tiny circus inside a shopping mall. Home to animals including elephant Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren), baseball-playing chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), mangy mutt Bob (Danny DeVito), Murphy the firetruck-driving bunny (Ron Funches), a neurotic seal named and most impressively, the headlining silverback gorilla, the one and only Ivan (Sam Rockwell). But the truth is, both the mall and the circus within it have fallen upon hard times. The crowds aren’t filling the seats anymore, and the circus is barely making enough money to keep the animals fed.

Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to reinvigorate the show, but even though she radiates cuteness, she’s not enoujgh to save the circus. That role, as ever, belongs to Ivan. But for the first time in his life, he’s wondering if maybe circus captivity isn’t the best or only option. He’s not concerned for himself so much as for baby Ruby, who deserves to be in the wild, a concept he can hardly recall or imagine.

This movie is based on the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, which in turn is based on the true story of Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who spent 27 years living inside a mall enclosure in Tacoma, Washington, never setting foot outdoors. You don’t have to be good at math to figure how emotional this one’s going to be.

A live action/animation hybrid, this movie looks slick, and seamless enough not to detract from its sweet but simple story. The movie, directed by Thea Sharrock based on a script by Mike White (the very one who produced scripts as varied as Beatriz at Dinner and The Emoji Movie), isn’t quite sure where to take its darker themes but it draws some very sympathetic characters and a heartwarming tale about family and home. Cranston seems to be morphing into Ian McKellan before our very eyes, but it’s little Ariana Greenblatt who steals the show and all her scenes as Julia, the arty and intrepid zookeeper’s daughter who just wants her friends to be happy. The One and Only Ivan stole my heart and quite a few tears – a small price to pay for a solid, family friendly option new to Disney+.

The Secret Garden

1947: India and Pakiston are separating. It is a time of violence and unrest. When little Mary (Dixie Egerickx) is left alone in a big house, she remains undiscovered for quite some time. When no parents reappear to claim her, she is sent to England, to live with an uncle she’s never met. Housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) warns that when,or indeed if, her uncle should greet her, she’d better not stare. That’s as warm a welcome as she’s likely to get.

The staff, even sweet Martha (Isis Davis), think her a spoiled brat, and even if it’s true, she can’t help how she’s been raised, and she’s certainly not being corrected here. And she is, after all, a young orphaned girl living in a cold stranger’s house with no one and nothing that’s familiar or kind. Perhaps in 1911 (when the book was first published) it was acceptable to be both judgmental AND neglectful of small children who’ve done nothing wrong except exist, and to ignore the childhood trauma they’ve so recently survived. Our understanding and common sense today is a lot more sympathetic, but the movie is careful not to show it, staying true to its source material. Mary is therefore so lonely in this new place that she makes friends with a mangy dog named Jemima even though she’s clearly afraid of her. But in the complete absence of other children (or so she thinks), a dog will do.

Likely you know the rest. It’s a goddamn classic. Mary finds a beautiful secret garden, makes some friends, they change each other’s lives, and she wins the heart of her reclusive, anxious uncle Archibald (Colin Firth).

My sisters and I loved the 1993 version of the film and I wondered if that would be a hindrance to my enjoying this one. I can’t say for sure of course, whether I’ve managed to be unbiased or not, but I never quite felt this film justified its existence. Hopefully it allows a new generation of kids to discover the book, and perhaps the universe simply needs to reboot stories like this periodically. It’s a criminal under-use of both Colin Firth and Julie Walters, but that’s just being true to the story. Are the kids cute? Sure they are, and not bad actors either, and it’s not a bad move introducing even just a bit of colour to the cast. Hello, 21st Century.

It’s not a bad adaptation, really, I can’ t say anything negative about it. I was, however, surprised to find this particular garden to be more magic than secret – the film uses CGI pretty liberally to make that garden come alive. I didn’t remember “my” movie being like that, but when I took a quick look at the trailer, it in fact did have the early 90s version of CG, I’d just misremembered. It makes sense – if you had a magic garden, you’d be best to keep it secret. Well done, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Cheers, girl. But that’s the trouble with nostalgia, isn’t it? We confuse our memories with emotion, and it ends up infused with a warm glow it may not technically deserve. The real thing never quite matches up with the way we remember it, so new iterations don’t stand a chance.

I also felt this story deserved/needed updating if we were going to be bothered with it once again. It took me a minute but eventually realized it WAS updated – though rather trivially. Burnett published the novel in 1911; Mary was said to be living at the turn of the century. This movie moves the story forward – to 1947, for no real reason, except maybe they couldn’t procure a wheel chair that was old-timey enough? But what a waste: kids today can’t relate to estranged, wealthy, hunchbacked uncles, or hiding “crippled” children away in the attic and denying their existence, or de-colonizing “British India,” or the proper way for a child to address a servant. This movie fails to add anything new to the conversation; with at least 11 previous adaptions across all platforms, we hardly needed another.Harping on a little less about a beloved skipping rope hardly qualifies as a fresh interpretation. Heck, this isn’t even the first time Colin Firth’s been in a Secret Garden film! Maybe these incessant, unoriginal reboots need to make like Mary’s parents and die in an epidemic already. Oddly, that’s the only part of the material that still has relevance today, and I think if one thing has united we 7 billion people, it’s that we’re not terribly fond of them. Let’s find a vaccine for COVID-19 and then transition directly to finding one to inoculate against horrible retreads and a perverse lack of imagination.