Tag Archives: movies based on books

Disobedience

Ronit and Esti were childhood friends and young lovers but their Orthodox community forced them apart and Ronit left in disgrace and scandal, shunned by her Rabbi father. Years later, she returns upon his death and finds that her mere presence sets tongues wagging and old rumours flying. Esti is still there and has forged herself a new life within the boundaries of her religion. She is married to a mutual (male) friend and it isn’t terrible.

Old passions are reignited between Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who lives as a photographer in NYC, and Esti (Rachel McAdams), who wears a wig to cover her hair and has careful, kosher sex with her husband every Shabbat. But as good and devout MV5BN2U1ZjllMWQtYzBlOC00ZGQyLTg0YTUtNWQ3YmI3ZjYwNmIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_as Esti’s present life is, even the memories of her past with Ronit are scorching enough to make everyone nervous. In their community, straight marriage is the only option, and it’s not so much an option as an obligation. Esti stayed, and conformed; Ronit left, and flourished, though she has all but abandoned her faith.

Disobedience isn’t graphic or specific of pointed. It goes about things in a rounder, softer way, nuzzling up to the subject and laying at its feet. This movie gives you two Rachels for the price of one, and they keep things on simmer for a really long time. On screen like they’re magnets; there’s an electric current between them that’s full of little zaps but no big surges. I really liked Weisz’s choices in particular, how she subtly plays with her hair, reminding us that hers is on display while Esti must cover hers up. And how the uncovering of hair then becomes an act of intimacy, a form of foreplay, a zap in the movie’s current. It’s not just sexual repression that bubbles over in Disobedience; religion and culture are enmeshed in this story. And while the cast does an admirable job of making this feel true, I’m not sure this is director Sebastián Lelio’s story to tell.

Weisz and McAdams communicate a lot through glances and silence. Lelio’s interpretation is a little literal for my taste, but the women here elevate the material and make it something special.

 

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Savages

I spent most of the movie trying to decipher Blake Lively’s pronunciation of a lead character’s name: was it Sean, or John? And I grew annoyed with director Oliver Stone who was clearly too enamoured with Lively to give her any direction. No, Blake, not every line of the narration should be delivered with life-or-death huskiness. Too much, Blake. Still, in the end, I must admit that the Sean-John conundrum’s fault does not lay with Lively but with either the script writer or the casting director. The character’s name is actually Chon, but he’s played by the very white and very ordinary Taylor Kitsch. Does that make sense to me? It does not. But this movie’s about to get way, way more problematic.

Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are two halves of a very successful weed business in Laguna, California. Ben is sweet and idealistic and travels the world to impoverished communities where he can spend his profits on the people who need it. Chon is the messed up vet returned from his tours of duty to provide the business with backbone and an intimidation factor. O (Blake Lively) fucks them both – though it’s more of a love circle than a love triangle, if you know what I mean.

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Their business grows just large enough to pique the interest of a real cartel, run by Elena (Salma Hayek). She makes them a business proposition which they are stupid enough to believe they can turn down, and when they do, Benicio Del Toro shows up to kidnap the one thing they both love (well, after weed). Technically I should say Benicio’s character shows up, and yet I think we’ve all seen him play the creepy, threatening bad guy so many times that I’m starting to wonder if perhaps Del Toro really is running a drug empire and acting is just a clever way to launder money and divert suspicion.

Anyway, then it’s a mess of torture porn and “interesting directing choices” to prove that Stone is still the master of mindless violence. Which is a nice way of saying the first half is sloppy as hell and the second half has no heft. The movie believes itself to be slick and subversive and goes to great lengths to convince you of it too, but stops just short of actually being good. Overwritten and under-acted, this is indeed a return to Oliver Stone’s past, but probably not in the way he intended. Savages came out in 2012 mind you, and the only other film Stone’s done in the ensuing years is Snowden so I think it’s more fair to say he’s “done” than “back”.

Brain On Fire

Susannah is working her dream job at a newspaper in New York City, but just as it seems as though the 21 year old has it all together – a cute apartment, a musician boyfriend, and a hot assignment from her boss things start to go wonky.

A super caring (read: sarcasm) doctor diagnoses her with “partying too hard” based on the one glass of wine she cops to drinking occasionally but something’s definitely up and whatever it is, it ain’t that. She’s not acting like herself. She zones out. She convulses with seizures. What the heck is happening with Susannah?

MV5BNjE4OTcyZDUtN2Y0My00NzlhLWJhODgtMjZlMTNjNzU0ZDIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwNTM3OTA@._V1_In theory this is an interesting little mystery, but on tape it’s surprisingly boring. Chloe Grace Moretz “acts” a great range of symptoms by making crazy eyes and flaring her nostrils while we maintain a polite distance. In fact, there’s such a remove that’s built-in it kind of makes me feel like I’m visiting my own sick relative and just nosily eavesdropping on Susannah’s shit.

I read the book on which this movie is based and it didn’t really light my fire either. Not to make light of her disease, but I sort of think a brain on fire is preferable to what this movie did to mine, ie, turned it into pea soup. Now I’m going to have to stand on one foot and hop up and down trying to mushify those peas and get them draining out the various holes in my face. You know, best case scenario.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some weird network on television that airs diseases of the week, and that’ll be no worse than this, but your expectations should be more realistically aligned. This movie is just a no for me. I would have rather spent the time in the waiting room of my local ER – at least as long as there are KitKats in the vending machine.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Medina’s parents, Sandy and Phil Mason, have recently moved their family to Palos Verdes, California, for a fresh start. Phil (Justin Kirk) has always wanted to be a surgeon to the stars, but Sandy (Jennifer Garner) doesn’t fit the real housewives of Palos Verdes mold. Instead of fixing things, home only becomes more volatile, and Medina (Maika Monroe) and her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) seek solace in the surf outside. Or in anything else, including the kind of trouble teenagers will always get into.

Wowza do parents fuck up their kids. Although to be honest, having treated myself to Incredibles 2 this weekend, it’s this messed up depiction of fatherhood that feels more MV5BY2JiZWVlZDYtZmQ3YS00YzA4LTljM2QtNDBkYjE1OTEyNjY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTg4Mzk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1353,1000_AL_familiar to be, more comfortable: the leaving kind. The not caring kind. There is no Hollywood gloss on this depiction of family. The father is worse than useless, and the mother’s grief borders on insanity, and the children are forgotten in their wake.

And then a plague descends. Because things always get worse. This is what breaking points are made of. But movie wise, while it achieves a lot of separate pieces of despair, it struggles to stitch them together into something cohesive. The tone and pace are meant to be melancholic, yet it needs to be building toward something. The actors all do their thing rather admirably, but it always seems like the scene lets them down. Jennifer Garner, as the desperate housewife, is really something to watch, in a role I for one haven’t seen from her before. Her eyes flash with crazed rage, then go blank with hopelessness. I only wish the circumstances allowed a little more sympathy toward her.

The beautiful setting and cinematographer are gentle and constant reminders that the trappings of success are no inoculation against life’s disappointments.

 

Rebel In The Rye

J.D. “Juvenile Delinquent” Salinger gets thrown out of schools just to piss his father off. It’s his mother who encourages him to enroll in a writing class, while his dad doubts there’ll be a single paycheque in his future. In his writing program he meets professor Whit Burnett, a hard-ass he grows to love. “Jerry” writes because he’s angry and he needs to express it somehow. Burnett shows him how to do this without alienating his reader. He’s also the one who encourages him to turn Holden Caulfield into a novel, and the one who worries him when he goes off to war.

Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) returns from war a better writer perhaps, but messed up in other ways, unsurprisingly. Catcher In The Rye is an enormous hit. That messes him up lead_720_405too. I wondered how I’d come to miss this movie, with notable subjects and stars, but I didn’t have to wait long to figure out the why if not the how: Kevin Spacey. He co-stars as the beleaguered, bloated professor, which means the accusations against him would have left the producers scrambling, and they buried it in a shallow Hollywood grave.

But to be fair, Spacey’s involvement isn’t the film’s only problem. It’s too neat, too well-packaged, perhaps even too kind to the author, who no doubt was an interesting, tortured recluse. Hoult is fine as Salinger, and he plays well against the likes of Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, and even Spacey. But this is a pretty ordinary, banal biopic that’s a little starry-eyed about its subject, which dilutes its power and keeps us at arm’s length from the real artist, a man who loved writing but gave it up to live privately, to meditate for his mental health, and to avoid press at all costs.

It’s also, if we’re being honest, hard to reconcile a beloved and important work with so much pain. This movie is both too much (too broad) and not enough (no depth). Rebel in the Rye is more like Mediocre at the Movies.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Boy is this title misleading! It sounds like it belongs to the self-help genre, but if you’ve been standing awkwardly around the dip, wondering how to break the ice, calculating to the minute when it’s no longer rude to leave, well, I hate to tell you this, but this movie isn’t going to change your life.

It’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, which means I went in curious as hell. And director John Cameron Mitchell is an interesting guy, with some visually stunning work tucked into his artist fanny pack. But here’s the deal: Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young punk. That’s not my inner grumpy old man coming out, he’s a teenager in 1977 who thinks punk rock music is going to save his soul. He and his punk friends go out one night in the London suburb of Croydon and stumble upon a party that seems too good to be true: a sex den of beautiful exchange students.

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DJ James Murphy developed a new kind of EDM for this movie, one he’s described as “extraterrestrial dance music,” that still feels like a cousin to the Sex Pistols.  So you can imagine that John Cameron Mitchell has created a really cool vibe for this movie, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun. But it may have been a little ambitious to stage a punk rebellion musical. Okay, a lot ambitious. But that’s one of the move lovable things about it. Sure it’s unhinged, it’s messy, it’s campy, it’s weird. It’s a punk rock Romeo & Juliet. It mixes metaphors. It mixes genres. It’s not always successful but it takes big risks and paints with wild abandon. Plus, there’s Nicole Kidman looking like David Bowie in Labyrinth, which nearly stopped my heart. Maybe this movie is not for you. But I hope it finds its audience of weirdos. Weirdos gonna weird.

Total Recall (2012)

hero_EB20120801REVIEWS120739999ARIt’s been a while since I’ve watched the 1990 version of Total Recall, and yet it was still obvious to me that the 2012 version was the same in plot but different in setting. The setting change was particularly jarring. It is bizarre to me that Mars does not enter into the 2012 movie at all – Australia stands in, which is not really an even trade.  No offense, Australia, but a destination (/colony) I can reach by airplane is not nearly as futuristic-feeling as a colony on another planet. Also, is the fact they refer to Australia as “the Colony” in Total Recall a little too close to home?

As with all remakes, I waited for the 2012 Total Recall to justify its existence. And like a lot of remakes, it never did. The Total Recall remake is more serious and more down to earth than the original, and both of those are bad things. The original stands above, not just because it did everything first (including the three boobed prostitute) but because it did everything better (including giving a reason why there would be a three boobed prostitute).

The original is campy and dumb and fun. The remake is muted and sterile and dull. The difference between the two is exactly the difference between 80s Arnold (no last name needed) and Colin Farrell (no time period needed since to say he peaked would wrongly imply he was ever much good). No one with any sense would choose Farrell over 80s Arnold as an action hero, and likewise no one should watch 2012 Total Recall when 1990 Total Recall is either in your basement/garage or the basement/garage of a friend, gathering dust with hundreds of other DVDs.

Red Sparrow

I read the book and didn’t really like it, and in true adaptation fashion, the movie sucks the book’s balls.

What you need to know: Russia is selecting beautiful women and turning them into spies who fuck. Like, they literally get secrets by giving blow jobs. And there might be something to that. Jennifer Lawrence plays a ballerina who can’t dance anymore, so her uncle sells her into this program, and she becomes a Red Sparrow, the spy who shags everyone. In this particular case, she’s going to shag Joel Edgerton because he’s an American spy who’s hiding a Russian mole but maybe he’ll turn intoMV5BNWRjN2E5NWYtNzNjNy00ZmI3LTgzOGEtMzBlZDdjMjkxZjI4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5NjEzOA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_ a source himself or maybe he’ll turn her into a double agent, or better yet, a triple agent, or a quadruple agent, or just a woman who’s about to be assassinated by her own government, but not without blowing her way across the country first.

Does it sound sloppy? It is.

And the casting is confusing. I mean, first of all, Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t sell me a bottle of wine if I’d just found out Sean was my half-brother. Girl cannot carry a Russian accent. And in a movie where sex is everything, the sex was nothing. I mean, there was an abundance of sex scenes, and J-Law got straight down to bare hooch, but she and Joel have about as much chemistry as a couple of bologna sandwiches about to get in my grandpa’s belly. And then: the Russian characters are played by American, British, Belgian, Dutch, German, Ukrainian and Polish actors. The American guy is played by an Australian. This flaccid casting doesn’t exactly prop up a convoluted plot.

Like any good spy movie, the end is supposed to come as a surprise, but with such weak characterization, it’s hard to invest, and Red Sparrow attempts to write cheques it can’t cash. But for me the worst crime, you know, aside from the treason and murder and such, is the fake female empowerment. Just because she’s not getting paid doesn’t mean she’s not a prostitute.

Peter Rabbit

I’m not a Peter Rabbit purist and I don’t much care that the movie deviates conclusively from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s series. I do care, however, that this movie was 90% montage, more the sort of Youtube video my 6 year old nephew might put together than an actual movie made by an actual studio. The soundtrack must be in the neighbourhood of an astounding 37 discs, although who would buy them is a bit of a mystery. Most songs featured are older than the audience will be, lots even born in the previous century. And I realize that Galaxy of the Guardians banks on exactly this formula, and we can sit here and debate just how much the 80s deserve to be revered, but I’m nearly 110% certain that no one will be on the “pro” side of the same debate in honour of Len’s Steal My Sunshine, which cannot be forgotten soon enough and certainly didn’t need a Peter Rabbit remix.

Peter Rabbit and his friends are delightfully rendered in CGI, very sweet and cute looking, with just enough clothing to anthropomorphize but never enough to be very confident something rude’s not going on. But don’t let their looks deceive you: these bunnies are homicidal. They’re ruthless and entitled and they’re pretty shitty MV5BZjg0Mjk0NTUtYWU3NS00ZmVmLTk3ZmUtODEyN2FhMTA4ZmZmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_neighbours, to be honest. I mean, they have a whole forest they could forage for food, but instead they repeatedly pillage a garden lovingly tended by an old man mourning the death of his beloved wife. And they don’t just want to steal his cucumbers, they want him dead (although where would the garden be without a gardener, huh, bunnies, did you even stop to think of that?). No, the bunnies, who are obviously thoughtless millennials in this incarnation, only think of themselves, and their stealing is somehow justified.

And not to shock you, but they actually do succeed in killing old man McGregor – only to find that his nephew, who inherits the place, is much worse. So they set about murdering him too. Sure, they mistakenly bring a tomato to a dynamite fight once, but the rest of the time they aim to kill. Sean was pretty shocked when they knowingly choke the guy with food he’s known to be deathly allergic to. Too far, he thought, and yet this was only one small battle in a very long war savagely fought. These are no innocent rabbits. Of course, sweet Bea next door is appalled that anyone should deny her fluffy-tailed friends all the produce they can eat and waste, but not so appalled, I noticed, that she would bother to plant a garden herself. But of course, the rabbits aren’t stealing out of hunger, they’re doing it out of spite, and though it’s played incessantly for laughs, I just don’t know why we need these kinds of stakes in a kids’ movie.

To me, the children’s books were warm and gentle and sweet and the movie seems to strive to be the complete opposite: rude and obnoxious and totally devoid of charm.

The Clapper

Have you ever watched an infomercial? You can’t help but notice the overtanned, overenthusiastic, overcoked host who can’t wait to repeatedly demonstrate the practically-miraculous assets of their product, available for a limited time only for 3 easy payments of just $29.99. But have you ever noticed the audience? The host is always playing to a crowd, a crowd that’s just a little too into it. They’re hooting and hollering and applauding every third word. They ask deliciously leading questions like “Are you telling ME that for NO MONEY DOWN I could take that chamois home with me TODAY?” Those people are called clappers, and they’re paid to be there.

Eddie Krumble is a clapper; in fact he’s the clapper of this film, and if there’s anyone better in the whole wide world than Ed Helms to play him, I don’t know it and I can’t even imagine it. Eddie’s been through a bit of a rough time recently so he figured a move to Hollywood would provide the shake up he needs. But clapping doesn’t pay super well, and his only relationship outside of fellow clappers is with a gas station attendant, Judy (Amanda Seyfried), to whom he only speaks through a bullet-proof glass partition. Eddie’s mother calls him regularly after seeing one of this “shows” to critique his performance, and perhaps his product, but she’s the only one really paying attention MV5BMTEwNjQ3NjQyMDheQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDcwNzk1MDIy._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_until he catches the eye of a shameless late night talk show host who creates a nation-wide manhunt to find The Clapper. This little bit of notoriety embarrasses Eddie until it downright starts to ruin his life. When Judy suddenly disappears from the gas station, he agrees to ride his 15 minutes of fame, but only in order to find her. But he’s going to discover that late night television doesn’t exist to make love connections: this is going to be a shit show.

I loved Ed Helms in this. Eddie is a quirky character, a guy that would be easy to make fun of and yet director Dito Montiel stops short. I’m not sure Montiel knows exactly what to do with him aside from that, but casting Helms sort of lets him off the hook. And I love that the film is set in the dark, dirty corners of Hollywood, it’s seedy and scruffy and not remotely glamorous. And the film quietly exposes television, even the “reality” stuff, to be blatant manipulation. This is not the side of Hollywood we’re used to being presented, but this one is far more interesting, and actually kind of refreshing.

In all honesty, this is not a great film by any stretch, but I was tickled by Helms’ honest performance (and even by Tracy Morgan as his devoted clapper sidekick) and if Montiel didn’t always hit the target with jokes or satire, he landed closely enough to entertain me for 89 minutes. I like offbeat stuff, and this movie had a scuzziness to it that I found oddly attractive.