Tag Archives: movies based on books

The Lost Husband

If you were hoping for a mystery based on the title, allow me to deflate your expectations: the husband is not lost. In fact, he’s the most definitively located husband you can get, ie, buried 6 feet under. His widow, Libby (Leslie Bibb), is the one who is lost. And their home too, lost to the bank thanks to him leaving them destitute. So Libby’s been rootless ever since, and has just bopped from her mother’s house to her estranged aunt’s, with her two kids in tow.

But aunt Jean (Nora Dunn!) isn’t so much welcoming house guests as exploiting free labour for her little farm. Farmhand James (Josh Duhamel) sure could use the help since he does sing to each goat individually. But don’t thinking he looks like a rugged, gruff romantic interest for our newly single Libby. He’s got his own wife to contend with, only she doesn’t have the decency to die. Oooh, yeah, okay, I heard that. It sounds a little crass. But she had a stroke and is either comatose or incapacitated, in any case hospitalized for life, and he’s her devoted caretaker even though we’ve already been given moral permission to hate and dismiss her.

This is a romantic movie with a subtle western flavour. It’s got B-list stars, a Hallmark script, and a truly Texan pace (picture a bow-legged cowboy sauntering unhurriedly in the heat, with a piece of straw hanging from his mouth, a squint in his eye, his thumb hooked behind that oversized belt buckle). Sean calls it slow and boring. A more generous soul might call it unrushed and indulgently lengthy. No matter how you separate the wheat from the chaff, writer-director Vicky Wight delivers an old-fashioned romance, the kind with little heat, chemistry, or passion, but plenty of milk glass, burlap chivalry, and rustic charm.

Nothing in this movie is going to wow you, nothing elevates the material or pushes the genre forward. It’s a very standard, safe entry into the romance genre and should please people already predisposed and win over absolutely no one.

[Confidential to Popular fans: keep your eyes peeled for a Carly Pope cameo.]

Animal Crackers

Zoe and Owen are enthusiastic circus goers when they meet as children, and the circus is the background of their courtship growing up. But when Owen (John Krasinski) is ready to settle down with Zoe (Emily Blunt), he heeds her father’s advice, leaving the circus behind in favour of the family dog biscuit business. It’s not his passion, not even close, but it pays the bills and seems befitting of a family man. It takes a tragedy – the untimely death of Owen’s eccentric, long-lost uncle Buffalo Bob, who bequeaths to him his circus.Unfortunately, the circus is not at its best. With aging performers, absentee animals, and a ledger in the red, it’s definitely past its prime.

Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?

The good news is that Owen finds Buffalo Bob’s recipe for success, one that’ll guarantee amazing animal acts and paying butts in the seats. But he also remembers that he has not one but two long-lost uncles. Uncle Horatio (Ian McKellan) owns the largest chain of circuses in the world, and there’s no way in hell he’s going to let his dweeby nephew Owen threaten his empire.

Animal Crackers has an all-star voice cast, which is the entire list of things it has going for it. The script is clumsy, the story unremarkable, the songs subpar. It’s not going to knock the clown socks off anyone. But since we’re experiencing a movie drought due a certain global pandemic who shall remain nameless, this might just about fit the bill for a family film night. Hand out the Cracker Jack, or dare I suggest – animal crackers? – and I can promise you that young kids won’t hate it. Neither will you, of course. It’s completely harmless and completely forgettable. But it’s new and it’s available for streaming on Netflix, so step right up, put on your red nose, and prepare to be whelmed.

The Old Guard

Andy (Charlize Theron) is one weary warrior. She leads an elite team of mercenaries but when they’re called for a new job, she hesitates. She once believed they were doing ‘good’ but as she scans the news channels and her friends’ faces, she can no longer find any proof. The world isn’t getting any better. Is it even worth it? But client Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is insistent: a bunch of young girls are being trafficked and only the very best team – her team – can save them. So Andy swallows her cynicism and leads Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) once more into battle. Except Andy’s instincts were right: it’s a trap.

Copley’s been secretly tracking her team all along, on behalf of “the youngest pharma CEO ever” (Harry Melling). Eager to make a splash, not to mention a billion dollars, he wants to study Andy and her team to see what make them so special – and to replicate it, of course. Because humans are both greedy and vain and we never, ever learn a lesson.

This could have been a fairly by the numbers action movie, even if the action is pretty impressive. Of course, it kind of has to be these days; John Wick went and raised the bar on that, and now even a fairly trash movie like Extraction needs some intensely choreographed and inventive sequences. And of course, somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron has become a bonafide action star. But what makes The Old Guard stand out from the rest is its philosophy, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s instinct to slow things down and instead of asking ‘what’s next?’ asks ‘why?’

It’s hard to know whether to categorize The Old Guard as a sci-fi movie or a super hero movie or a straight up action adventure. But like Wonder Woman, a film easily among the best in any of those genres, this movie doesn’t just explore the extent of their so-called super powers, it wonders when to use them, why to use them, and if they should be used at all. If Andy’s Guard isn’t quite human, the people they fight, and the people the save, are. The cost is high and the price is grief; Andy’s body may be strong but so is the emotional toll. And when new Guard member Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the whole group has to decide whether it’s all been worth it.

The Old Guard isn’t a perfect movie but it dares to depict heroics occurring somewhere between survival and sorrow. It shows us not just its true cost, but both the weighing of it, and its weight.

Hamilton (!!!!!!!!) (exclamations my own)

However much you thought I was looking forward to seeing Hamilton on Disney+, double it. Then cube it. Then add 10 000 more. Then halve it. Then times it by 13.24 million billion. Then you’d at least be within a three planet range of my excitement supernova.

Hamilton: the hit Broadway play that no one could ever get tickets to, and now you don’t have to! I mean, still do, if you haven’t already. There’s an electric current to a live performance that streaming can’t quite replicate – but this one sure comes the closest. This is not a film adaptation of a play, it is the stage performance itself, taped in front of a live audience, with so many cameras and angles and microphones even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s own mother can’t get seats this good.

Miranda disrupted Broadway with his follow-up to the very well-received In The Heights. Hamilton is a very old story told in a very fresh way. American founding father Alexander Hamilton is perhaps not the most enthusiastically remember by history, but Miranda gives just cause for his placements among the greats, and pays tribute to him with his own unique blend of culture, politics, and son. The actors portraying contemporaries such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are from diverse backgrounds, representative of today’s American population, and reflective of the period’s influx of immigrants. The costumes are relatively period-appropriate, with just a kiss of the modern to still feel true to the hip-hop-heavy numbers.

The original Broadway cast appears on stage, performing together one last time before many of them dispersed to other projects (the musical itself of course lives on, or it did before COVID darkened Broadway’s lights). This show was so electrifying that it blew up every single person in the cast – making the likes of Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Leslie Odom Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Renée Elise Goldsberry household names, or pretty near. Certainly they were the toast of Manhattan and all have continued to find fame and fortune beyond the shadow cast by Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda is chief among them of course, tapped by the folks at Disney to write songs for Moana, and to co-star in Mary Poppins Returns.

Disney was so exuberant about Hamilton that it paid a record-setting $75 million for its distribution rights, and set it for a fall 2021 release. However, COVID-19 reared its contagious head, shutting down stage and cinema alike. So Disney made the decision to bring Hamilton to the people, and Miranda made family viewing possible by sacrificing two of his 3 f-bombs (only half of one remains, the f word started and implied but not completed).

Hamilton is such startling and tasty treat it simply must be seen. Director Thomas Kail makes sure this film feels just as vital and urgent as any live performance. The actors, having rehearsed their roles on Broadway for an entire year before filming in 2016, are at the very tops of their game; besides Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, and Renee Elise Goldsberry all earned Tony nominations. Of its unprecedented 16 nominations, Hamilton won 11, including, of course, Best Musical. And it really is.

The Handmaiden

During the 1930s Japanese occupation of Korea, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) lives on a large countryside estate with her abusive uncle. A new handmaid, Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) arrives in the house to assist her, only the two bond in unexpected ways.

But what Hideko doesn’t know is that Sook-Hee was raised in a den of thieves – and pickpockets, forgers, human traffickers, and so on. A fellow criminal, playing the long con and posing as Japanese gentleman Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), came to her with a proposal. Lady Hideko stands to inherit a vast fortune. If Sook-Hee agrees to help Hideko fall in love with him, they’ll rob her of her money and have her locked up in a madhouse. Sook-Hee accepts. But as she encourages Hideko’s seduction, she herself is falling for the lady, but her poverty and pride won’t let feelings get in the way of fortune.

The Handmaiden is an exceedingly beautifully-shot film with a score that sounds an awful lot like Downton Abbey. It’s loosely based on Sarah Waters’ crime novel, Fingersmith, but director Chan-wook Park (yes, the very same who gave us Oldboy) has his fingerprints all over this adaptation. His interpretation is visually luscious, of course, and the story more complex than it seems. This one too cleverly hints at the various power dynamics at play – between sexes, classes, and even colonized and colonizer.

While the erotic scenes are somewhat familiar and cliched, one bathtub scene involving a thimble will go down in the history books as a delightfully powerful lesbian maneuver. The Handmaiden is lush and decadent and often disturbing.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is a series of quite beloved fantasy novels written by Eoin Colfer. If you are a fan of the books, may I suggest you put that aside right now and meet Artemis Fowl the movie as a similarly titled but only loosely based third cousin twice removed type situation.

Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12 year old genius rambling about his big old house in Ireland with only his definitely-not-a-butler manservant/bodyguard Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) for company. He learns from TV that his father (Colin Farrell) has gone mysteriously missing (is that redundant? i think yes) and also, I think, that he’s behind some major art-thievery. Which is when Alfred Mr. Butler gently guides young Bruce Artemis down to the batcave secret lair and lays some truth on him: he comes from a family of criminal masterminds. He’s meant to be some sort of prodigy villain, and so donning the batsuit and sunglasses, he receives the obligatory ransom call and gets down to saving the world or maybe just his dad, I’m really not sure, this part wasn’t entirely clear to me.

Meanwhile, keeping in mind that Ireland is apparently quite magical, we’re introduced to some non-human characters such as Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a felonious oversized dwarf who seems like he would have bad breath, Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), who I think is a fairy, and her boss Commander Root (Judi Dench), who’s in charge of making sure magical creatures don’t mix with humans, and Juliet (Tamara Smart) who is some much younger relation of Mr. Butler’s and whose presence I never quite understood. Also various goblins, elves, trolls, Italians, and even a centaur with a sexy little canter. Most of these…beings…are technically enemies. Well, enemy is a strong word for people who don’t even know each other. Maybe “non-belligerent” is a better term for it, a term I picked up mere moments before watching this film thanks to a Spike Lee movie about the race discrimination and the Vietnam war (who knew these two movies would have so much this one thing in common!). Anyway, it’s hard to keep track of who’s on who’s side and what that side wants and why. And then there’s you know, alliances made and broken, objectives intended and abandoned, just stuff. Presumably. I don’t really know. There’s magical force fields/space-time continuums (?), dislocating jaws, and a coup against an 800 year old stickler for rules.

The movie is kind of a mess. This is a kid’s movie and I’m struggling to relay any of the plot points, and I’m frankly not even 100% convinced there were any, it may have just 90 minutes of pure pixie chaos for all I know. It hurt my brain to try to keep up, but on the other hand it wasn’t really interesting enough to pause let alone rewind.

Those who have read the book(s) will of course bring important supplemental information to the film, which will either a) make it a more pleasant, sensical viewing experience or b) make it that much more frustrating, just a big old soak in a bath of disappointment. I’m guessing it’s b but let’s not marinate in negativity. Let’s optimistically assume that you subscribed to Disney+ hoping for a child’s version of Men In Black where the aliens are now fairies and the good parts are now the suck and the idea of a sequel both frightens and confuses you.

If you wanna hear more, and you know you do: Youtube!

365 Dni (365 Days)

Laura is kidnapped on her 29th birthday by a criminal who saw her in a vision after being shot. The criminal’s plan is to hold Laura captive for one year and wait for her to fall in love with him. And in the meantime, force himself on her at every turn. Essentially, this is a Beauty and the Beast situation, if Beast was a sex offender.

msemail_days__5_jpg-JS575478900The worst part is this guy clearly believes Laura will love him despite his abuse, or possibly because of it. Has he been watching too much Disney, too much porn, or both?

The second worst part is the English, the low quality of which seems like it’s dubbed, but it’s not. This is a Polish film that uses three languages, Polish for Laura, Italian for the criminal, and “English” for when they talk to each other. I’m almost positive you will recognize many of the phrases in this film, such as:

“Who the fuck you are?”

Or, “I’m not a bag of potatoes.”

Or, “If you feel like running you should wear a different pair of shoes.”

Or, “Why are you looking at it? Do you want to touch it?”

And that’s just a small sample of the prose that’s on offer. Naturally, the “it” in that last one is the rapist’s penis. And naturally, we shut off this movie at that point, much later than we should have. Here’s hoping I can save you from making a similar mistake.

Extraction

Happy weekend, everyone! Shall we celebrate with Netflix’s new action flick starring Chris Hemsworth? Let’s discuss.

The plot, such as it is, can be summed up in only one word, which they’ve helpfully made the title: extraction. Picture this: two rival drug lords, one imprisoned and ruthless, the other not currently imprisoned and also super ruthless. The unimprisoned one kidnaps the imprisoned one’s kid, even though the imprisoned drug lord seems not to be the most doting or devoted of fathers, but it’s the principle of the thing, and he’s pissed. Pissed enough to take it out on his own people, threatening to execute their children if they fail to retrieve his. His henchman is a little more fond of his kids, so he goes straight to the best in the biz, Australian Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), a fearless black market mercenary.

Rake drops into India like it ain’t no thing, yoinks the kid (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) out of the evil clutches of his kidnappers, but then has the nearly insurmountable task of navigating an incredibly dense city teeming with an underworld of weapons dealers and traffickers where good guys, if there are any, are indistinguishable from the baddies. Also: Tyler Rake is a sad and broken man, so he may not be as motivated to stay alive as you’d normally like your rescuer to be.

Sean thought this movie was “not very good” and I thought it was “definitely an action movie.” It should be said that Sean generally likes action movies and I’m a little harder to impress. Evidence you’ll need to decipher whether this particular action movie is for you:

1. Hemsworth is only shirtless once, from behind

2. great close combat scenes, very slice and dicey

3. no time wasted on “story” or “character” or “reality”

4. 12 minute long single-take action sequence that really satisfies the bloodlust

5. based on the graphic novel Ciudad by Ande Parks and the Russo brothers

6. the violence is graphic, aimless, and relentless, and often perpetrated by (and against!) children

7. feels a bit like a first person shooter game

8. the stunts are pretty spectacular

9. if you squint hard enough, an assault rifle sorta looks like Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer)

10. doubles as psa for road safety

Call of the Wild

This is the story of Buck, a behemoth St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd mix, a sweet pup enjoying a life of dog luxury in California when he’s dognapped all the way up to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. First he’s conscripted into a dogsled team for a mail delivery service, running across Canada’s northern frozen tundras until the telegraph makes his work obsolete. Next he becomes companion to John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who takes him out to the Arctic Circle where Buck can rediscover his primal roots.

Devoted fans of the 1903 Jack London novel will notice that neither Buck nor his dog colleagues closely resemble their characters in the book. In fact, the other sled dogs are also largely mutts, not the traditional Husky, and their personalities seem based upon the seven dwarfs. I’m not sentimental about the book so I don’t really mind the liberties taken with the literature so much as I mind the liberties taken with dogs. Because for a movie about a dog, and several of his doggie friends, there are no actual dogs in the movie. They’re all CG. And not only are they computer-generated, their expressions, especially Buck’s, are hyper real. Cartoonish. So they look out of place and they make it harder for me to relate to their characters. Buck and his pals get into some real danger. And of course, even out in the wilds, man is always any animal’s greatest threat. It’s likely too scary for very young kids, and yet it didn’t move me half as much as you’d expect from a bleeding heart with a recently deceased, dearly beloved dog. Because Buck’s movements and responses never feel real.

I have a slightly smaller pack now, but even with three dogs I’m very familiar with their methods of communication. If you live with a dog or a cat, and many times even a smaller pet, a bunny or a bird, then you’re likely pretty good at reading their expressions. You know what a tentative paw means, or a head tilt, or a lowered tail. You don’t need some ridiculous CGI eyebrows giving you Scooby Doo vibes. The constant reminder that these dogs aren’t real dilutes the story’s warmth and reduces our interest and empathy.

Ford is pretty solid, especially since he was almost always completely alone, perhaps acting only opposite a tennis ball on a stick that he had to imagine was man’s best friend. There’s a good story under all the effects, I think, but much like Tammy Faye Bakker, the message is lost, and the only story reported is the bad makeup.

Sergio

When we first meet UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello (Wagner Moura), he’s just been injured in a bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. How did he get there and how will he get out? The film rewinds three years or so to trace his path as a high ranking special representative of the United Nations. Previously he’d worked to make East Timor an independent state, learning valuable lessons in open and honest communications with the very people he’s trying to help. It’s also where he meets Carolina (Ana de Armis), a woman so special that she’ll follow him to him to his next posting, in Iraq.

It’s 2003 and the U.S. has just declared war on Iraq. It’s a war neither Sergio nor Carolina believe in, but Sergio believes in his work and believes he has one last contribution to make before retiring to Brazil with his new love. Setting up headquarters in the Canal Hotel, he dismisses the U.S. troops guarding the building, taking pride in the fact that Iraqis would feel welcome to approach their offices. He was adamant that the UN remain neutral, unaffiliated with the US invasion. But this decision left the building vulnerable, and Al-Qaeda seized the opportunity, using a suicide driver to detonate a bomb under his office’s window. The blast injured over 100 people and killed at least 22. Sergio and Gil Loescher (Brían F. O’Byrne), a consultant to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, are alive but trapped in the rubble. If nothing else, it gives Sergio plenty of time to reflect on his past.

Sergio de Mello is clearly important, if mostly unknown, and his peace-making ideals are admirable. It’s clear director Greg Barker wants to pay tribute to the man but in doing so, the story splinters. The love story is given equal if not more screen time than his storied political career, which inevitable gets simplified, complex situation distilled into soundbites, which actually seems to be the antithesis of what de Mello stood for.

Still, it’s an incredible performance from Moura and a competent one from de Armis. It is likely worth watching for that alone. It’s surprisingly slow at times for a movie that starts with an explosion, and I wish we knew more about the man and his motivations. But since this bombing resulted in a profound and lasting change to the way UN administers its practices globally, this event is worth commemorating.