Tag Archives: movies based on books

My Cousin Rachel

Philip (Sam Claflin), receives distressing news from his cousin and guardian, who adopted him as an orphaned baby. While recovering from an illness in Italy, he met and married a woman and now has regrets. If his strange and hasty missives are to believed, this woman, Rachel (Rachel Weisz), is trying to kill him. Philip rushes off to intervene but his guardian is dead before he arrives. He swears vengeance on the widow but she has conveniently disappeared.

Philip returns home, to the estate he will now inherit once he comes of age – and luckily, MV5BMDYxOTU1ZDItYjJkMC00ZTVmLWFhZDktNDFiODRlODI1MzQ4L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDcxNzU3MTE@._V1_his required 25th birthday is right around the corner. But before it can be celebrated, the ballsy widow shows up for a social call. Draped in black, she looks like a grieving widow, but passionate kiss shared between the two perhaps belie other motives. Of course, this particular widow does not look like the wicked witch of Philip’s dreams, but seeing how she’s played by the enchanting Rachel Weisz, probably looks more like the woman in a different kind of dream altogether.

So the film’s central mystery unfolds: is Rachel trying to seduce young Philip into sharing his inheritance (the will was never changed to reflect her at all), or are there genuine feelings here? Whichever way you lean, this is a dark romance at best. A bad romance (roma, ro-a-a?). Which of course is intoxicating to stupid virginal Philip who will follow his cock just about anywhere it seems.

Gothic and moody, Rachel Weisz is a commanding and alluring black widow. Unfortunately, director Roger Michell has less of a firm grip on this Du Maurier mystery. Did she or didn’t she?  Either he doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. So it’s less satisfying than it should be. But ambiguity would have been just fine by me; it’s what allows us to contemplate Rachel’s precarious position and explore the feminist slant – is a woman left penniless and powerless acting in her own self-interest really all that shocking or evil? In any case, Weisz is the reason to watch. Her every moment on screen is magnetic.

Advertisements

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I read this book not long ago and was really taken by it, inspired by it, moved by it. It’s non-fiction by Rebecca Skloot about a woman named Henrietta Lacks who had cells taken from her without consent while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. She died shortly after but her cells lived on and live on still. They’re known as HeLa cells and they’ve been sold to labs the world over because hers were durable and prolific. Nearly every medical breakthrough since 1951 has used her cells in research and trials. Hela cells are the oldest immortal cell line in medical history. But Henrietta never knew, MV5BZjkxMTVmMDQtYTE3OS00NjBhLWJlNjQtYjI1M2VkNzE3ODA2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAyNzI2OTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1444,1000_AL_was never asked. Her family didn’t know either. And when they found out, decades later, they were mortified. Without the education to understand what those cells really meant, they wondered if part of their mother was indeed still alive, being kept alive cruelly in labs, being shot into space, or injected with disease. And why had so many profited from the sale of HeLa cells while Henrietta’s family languished in poverty?

The book tackled issues of informed consent, and ethics of race and class in medical research. The film, starring Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta’s haunted daughter, Deborah, and Rose Byrne as writer Skloot, loses some of what makes the book such a great read. But it’s still a great if upsetting introduction to Henrietta and the family that still grieves her. Deborah grew up without a mother, while thousands of scientists handled her cells on a daily basis. She knew almost nothing about her mother but now learns that her legacy includes the vaccine for polio, gene mapping, and cloning. Scientists have grown some 20 tonnes of HeLa cells, which have featured in over 60 000 research papers and 11 000 patents. Not a dime ever went to the Lacks family.

Winfrey gives a stirring performance as a heartbroken woman. Byrne is commanding as well. But for my money, the book is where it’s at – pick it up.

The Breadwinner

Not all men are bad, not even all Afghan men. That’s important to remember. Not all of them want to treat women like garbage, but the taliban sure does. It’s not enough to cover women head to toe in burqas, but new rules in Afghanistan prohibit them from leaving the house at all, except in rare cases when accompanied by a father, husband, or brother.

Parvana’s older sister hasn’t left the house in so long she’s forgetting what it was like. Parvana is “lucky” because her father lost his leg in the war and his livelihood more recently, so she assists him down to the market where they try to sell their possessions in order to eat. Her father respects his daughters, educated them, and wants better things for them, things he can no longer give them with the oppressive taliban regime patrolling with guns and indignation. When the taliban inevitably hauls him off to prison for no reason, suddenly the family is left without an escape clause. Parvana’s mother andMV5BMDg0ODM5NTYtMjNkMS00NDQ3LWI5MGYtMDg3ZTQ5MDE0OTRlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NjA0ODM@._V1_ sister and baby brother could literally starve to death waiting for a man to come release them from their own home so Parvana does the only thing she can think of to save them: she cuts off her hair, wears the clothes of her dead brother, and to taliban eyes, becomes a boy.

You may recognize The Breadwinner as a recent high-profile screening at TIFF; Angelina Jolie is a producer and her red carpet appearance really shined the spotlight on this important film. People were equally excited to celebrate it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It played to a packed house and I imagine it will again on Saturday so if you haven’t got your tickets, get on it!

The Breadwinner’s animation is stunning.  Stunning. Like, I want to get tattoos of it on my body. That’s really the highest praise you can give, or that I can give, an animated movie, a compliment I haven’t given before or even thought to. The story is kind of perfection. It’s by no means an exact replica of the book. It diverges significantly from it but still feels like an authentic and spiritual distillation of it.

If The Breadwinner isn’t talked about come Oscar time, I’ll be shocked and outraged. Not taliban guy seeing a woman “calling attention to herself” by merely being outdoors outraged, but outraged. It’s a great story coupled with the most amazing animation but it also could not be more essential viewing at this moment in time.

TIFF: The Wife

I chose this movie because it’s based on a novel of the same name by a fantastic writer, Meg Wolitzer. I read it several years ago but I can confidently tell you it was an interesting and provocative read. Why then, did I feel the movie was kind of a bore?

It’s about a woman, Joan (Glenn Close), who is thinking maybe she’s had enough of her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) just as he’s about to win a Nobel prize for literature. She’s supported him and his career for years but being the supportive wife is just not a role she’s comfortable with anymore. It’s kind of bad timing, especially since they’re being trailed by a hungry writer (Christian Slater) gunning for juicy details for his unauthorized biography.

They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Being a woman, I absolutely MV5BY2E1ZDU1ZDEtNzRkMi00M2U1LWIzZTItZWU0YmFiYWQ5MDMzL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTA0OTQ3NDY@._V1_loathe that sick expression, but you know who hates it even more? Joan. And you’re about to find out why. I won’t give anything away, but I think the “reveal’ (which is a bad word for what it actually is, but let’s just say there’s information being withheld) comes too late – it would be a way more interesting story if this little tidbit was part of the journey. What we do know is that she literally runs his life: she checks his beard for crumbs and sets his watch for pill time and does nose hair checks because she’s a goddamn boss and he doesn’t deserve her.

The truth is, this whole thing is a very weak. The story is so diluted that it lost all interest to me. Sean felt a smidge more positively about it, perhaps because he wasn’t comparing it to the book. The acting is good, very good actually, Glenn Close is a queen, which really just made me all the sorrier that this film couldn’t step up and be the thing she deserves.

I imagined that The Wife is perhaps a bit of a TIFF bookend, with Battle of Sexes being the other end. Bille Jean King is reminding people just how different it was for women when she was playing tennis. At the time (1973ish), women still couldn’t have their own credit cards – the applications needed a male signatory. In The Wife, too, women are being held back. Joan should have had her own career as a writer, if only editors, publishers, and critics weren’t all male. She was stifled, and that’s how she became merely The Wife.

The Dinner

As a book, I very much enjoyed The Dinner. It’s fascinating and controversial but hard to talk about without giving everything away. Same goes for the movie I suppose, but the most important takeaway is that the movie is very, very bad. Read the book. It’s a gut punch page-turner. The movie fucks it all up.

First, the book is Dutch. The movie of course makes the characters and setting American (even though half its stars are Brits). It’s about two couples who meet at a very fancy schmancy restaurant to discuss their problematic children. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher with some mental health problems; his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is a cancer survivor. It’s hard to say who is more protective of whom. Paul’s older brother hero_Dinner-2017Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician poised to become an even more powerful politician, as evidenced by the aides who can’t quite allow him a moment of peace or privacy during the dinner (not that he objects); his wife, aka, his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises his kids so that he can govern unencumbered and expects to be rewarded. Their sons have recently been involved in a crime that is making its way around Youtube. They are thus far unidentified but now the parents must decide how to handle things should they found out – or should they remain undiscovered.

The dinner is filled with tension, not just because of what their boys have done, but because of the strained family dynamic between Paul and Stan. And because Paul is uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the haute cuisine. The dinner is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, many of which actually detract from the story. The book is really about morality and the thin veneers we hide behind in “civilized” society, and the tension ratchets up as more and more secrets explode like bombs dropped among the gold-rimmed china. The movie doesn’t manage to retain much of what makes the novel great. The characters are repugnant because they’re stripped bare of any pretense. The worst has happened, their primal, parental instincts have been activated – anything can happen.

But the movie just drops the ball. It’s a complete waste of time that doesn’t even know what to do with itself. It has maybe the worst, most abrupt ending that I’ve ever encountered, and it made me want to interrupt their dinner by swinging an angry cat around by its tail. Fuck y’all.

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

Lean On Pete

1477639665404_0570x0400_1477639692033

“It was just so unrelentingly bleak,” Jay sighed as we divvied up our review assignments after a busy day of films in Venice. That’s exactly right. Lean On Pete is misery from start to finish. Parents are thrown through glass doors and wind up in hospital. Teenagers have to take shitty jobs instead of fuflilling their athletic potential. As part of those jobs, teens see slow horses being sent to Mexico for slaughter. Nice aunts who may be able to help those teens have disappeared from phone books after fighting with teens’ parents. Will teens have to live on the street while they search for those nice aunts?

Having just mentioned horses being slaughtered in Mexico, is it in bad taste to say that Charlie Plummer is the glue that holds this film together? Well, either way, that’s the word I’m going to use, because Plummer is amazing as the teenager, Charley, who would have no luck if not for bad luck. Plummer more than holds his own against screen veterans like Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny and Steve Zahn (none of whom stick around for too long). His strong performance and natural charisma will make you root for him.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every conceivable thing goes wrong for Charley in this movie. It’s horrible. Even as I warn you, I know you cannot be prepared for what is about to happen. Charley seems smart, and he’s clearly a hard worker, but he keeps getting dealt the worst possible hands, against all conceivable odds.

Plummer’s strong performance makes it so devastating to see what happens to this poor kid, especially because you know there are real kids out there with similar luck to Charley’s, stuck in a bad situation without any path out. Life isn’t fair, and Charley’s journey is evidence of that, because Charley doesn’t do anything to deserve the lifetime’s worth of misery he experiences during Lean On Pete’s two hour runtime.

There is something uplifting to be found in Charley’s resilience. In the face of all the misery he’s subjected to, he does not stop. He gets to where he wants to go, and maybe even gets a happy ending. Hopefully. After suffering with Charley, I need to tell myself he did, and the film is kind enough to let me believe it happened. I’m not sure the lift at the end was enough of a boost to put me back to level, but a cinematic reminder of how charmed a life I lead is never a bad thing when it’s this well put together, even if it’s this unrelentingly bleak.

Our Souls At Night

Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife suddenly in April 2016. He was very vocal in his grief following her death so it took people by surprise when he announced his engagement barely a year later. Some were critical. I, however, wish him nothing but the best, and I’d wish the same for Sean if he were ever in the same spot. I know a little about love and grief, and how they are not mutually exclusive. I’d also never want Sean to feel lonely.

That’s how Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda) are feeling when we first meet them – lonely. Both of their spouses are long dead and they’ve each been leading pretty Fondasolitary existences up until Addie gets up the courage to ring Louis’s doorbell and invites herself in for a chat and a little proposal. Why not sleep together, she suggests. No, not sex. Sex doesn’t interest her. But the nights are long. Very long. Couldn’t they come to some arrangement? After thinking on it, he agrees, so off he goes in his best blue plaid shirt, to have a platonic sleepover with a neighbour he’s lived alongside for decades but never really known.

I’m often critical about movies starring senior citizens. So many feel demeaning, unworthy of their subjects, but I must admit, this new one from Netflix feels invigorating and authentic. Addie clearly has agency. They both have plenty to offer. Of course they’re not immune to aging but they’re also not done living, and that was fantastic to see on the big screen.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford both accepted Lifetime Achievement awards here at the our-souls-at-night'-will-reunite-'barefoot-in-the-park'-stars-robert-redford-and-jane-fondaVenice Film Festival, in a ceremony preceding the screening of their new film. They’ve co-starred in movies before: The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), and The Electric Horseman (1979); this is their first in 38 years. To mark the occasion, Fonda said “It was fun to kiss him in my 20s and then to kiss him again in my almost-80s.” I have to say, it was fun for the audience, too. Yes, it’s great to see mature faces getting meaty roles, but you’re also getting a masterclass in acting. These two make it look easy. Their chemistry feels effortless.

nintchdbpict000349666861Of course, if you’re looking for classic, cheesy romance, this isn’t it. Louis and Addie are too wise for that. They have responsibilities, baggage, obligations. Kent Haruf, who wrote the novel upon which this film is based, knew a little about that. He wrote his book under a death sentence: he was 71, and he finished it just months before he died of lung cancer. The novel was published posthumously, so Louis and Addie are his legacy. Fonda and Redford would have made him proud.

This is an excellent movie from Netflix that will be available for streaming later this month.

Victoria & Abdul

31victoriaandabdulIs there anything more awkward than finding out the guy you recruited as a token Hindu is actually Muslim? There is, actually – it’s far more awkward when the guy you literally shipped from India as a parlour trick starts getting special attention from the Queen, more attention than you and all your fellow white sycophants combined. The worst part? He doesn’t even seem to be trying to play your game, yet he’s still beating all of you at it.

Victoria & Abdul tells the (mostly) true tale of the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, the former being the head of the Empire that oppressed India for nearly 100 years, and the latter being the guy who was sent on a two month boat ride to present a ceremonial coin to the Queen.

Director Stephen Frears and writer Lee Hall do their best to find humour both in Victoria’s self-involvement and in the shockingly blatant racism that Abdul is subjected to at every turn. That approach works very well, mainly because of the strong performances by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in the titular roles. Dench’s Victoria is smart and self-aware even in her self-indulgence and stubbornness, and Fazal’s Abdul is such a capable, charismatic individual that at every turn he exposes the ridiculousness of the hate directed toward him. Perhaps in another hundred years our great-grandchildren will find today’s racial turmoil similarly humourous, ideally without seeing similarities to their time’s headlines. One can only hope.

One shortcoming, though, is that we are left to guess at Abdul’s motivations. Presumably, he would rather put up with cold, prejudiced England than live in impoverished, subjugated India, but we don’t ever see his home life so never really know why he puts up with being treated like dirt by every white character other than the Queen. Even so, Abdul is still a character I invested in despite knowing so little about him.

Beyond the stellar core performances, Victoria & Abdul is fairly by-the-numbers, playing out exactly as it must. There are no narrative surprises here but despite its predictability, this film kept me invested from start to finish, and that’s not an easy task for a 9 a.m. screening five days into a film festival!

Victoria & Abdul likely won’t end up in my top tier of films from Venice but I’m glad I saw it, especially for Oscar pool purposes – Dench should be a strong contender for Best Actress. And while the rest of the film doesn’t match the high standard that Dench sets, it’s an entertaining film that you won’t regret watching.

The Hippopotamus

Based on Stephen Fry’s raucous novel, The Hippopotamus is about a drunken poet who hasn’t actually written a poem in decades. Spectacularly fired from his more recent newspaper job, Ted Wallace (Roger Allam) is hired by his ex-girlfriend’s daughter Jane to investigate a mystery.

Wrangling an invitation from his godson David (Tommy Knight) to Swafford Hall, Ted’s off to the English countryside to look into a strong of recent…miracles? Jane was on her 1227022_The-Hippopotamus-600x337.jpgdeathbed with cancer when she first went out to Swafford to convalesce in a peaceful setting. Instead, she experienced a miraculous recovery, her health and strength returning until she seemed to be in complete remission. She’s not the only one talking about these spiritual healings, so in addition to Ted, Swafford is welcoming all kinds of guests who are sneakily looking for their own miracles.

Turns out that it’s David who’s responsible for the “laying on of hands”, only he’s not just using his hands. The, erm, colourful assemblage of guests are pretty desperate and ready to swallow just about anything, so the whole household’s a twitter with whatever’s going on. Ted, ever the skeptic, is determined to get to the bottom of it. He’s sure it’s a hoax, but we’re sure he’s a drunk, bumbling fool, so who’s right?

Dubbed a “comedy of manners” it does have a distinctly English feel to it. I usually adore British comedies but I didn’t have the patience for this one. Sure there are some great zingers but it’s really kind of a mess and all the characters besides Ted are cardboard cutouts, which means tonnes of voice-over explanation is required, and that gets quite tedious. This film lacks energy and this viewer was left bored.