Tag Archives: movies based on books

The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

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Midnight Sun

Another day, another dying teen. Hollywood loves to kill off teenagers. Movies are the #1 leading cause of 30 year olds playing 15 year olds dying prematurely.

In Midnight Sun, Katie has xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, a rare genetic condition that means the sun is literally poisonous to her and could kill her in seconds. As you can imagine, she’s led a sheltered 17 years, sleeping by day, hanging out with her protective dad by night. But give a girl an ounce of outside contact, and she comes home with a boy, from whom she keeps her illness a secret.

This movie takes its cues from last year’s dying teen girl movie, Everything MV5BNTNkOTQ4ZjUtMjhiMC00MWNkLWJlMjQtYmY4ZmQ4ZDhkOTVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Everything, in which the girl is also confined to her house, but she wasn’t allergic to the sun, she was allergic to everything. Possibly including the sun. And she didn’t have a dead mother, she had a dead father. And she didn’t fall in love with the boy next door. Oh wait, she did. So yeah, beautiful teen girls with terminal diseases just waiting to die up in their castles until a boy comes along who’s handsome enough to make her risk it all. So she can die on her front lawn instead.

Why do teen girls want so badly to watch themselves die? I wonder if movies made to be watched while you’re on your period is a genre: movies that invite tears and ice cream binge-ing while making young women feel seen. But high school romance doesn’t need to have life or death stakes, and your first boyfriend shouldn’t be your last. I’m about 15 minutes past 17, which is way too old to sympathize with what’s going on here. Featuring Bella Thorne, star of all the straight-to-Netflix runners up, and Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold and Maria Shriver, with all the genetic talent you’d assume.

It’s astonishing, really, that a movie can work this hard at being this bad. Midnight Sun puts the jerk in tearjerker.

Bird Box

Imagine threatening very small children with their lives. Imagine threatening your own children with their deaths, their painful deaths, by your own hands if necessary. Can you even imagine a situation so dire that you would tell your kids you would kill them IF?

If you’re a fan of Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, Bird Box, the good news is,  you can always reread it. Netflix has adapted this “unfilmable” book (how many books have we said that about now?), and turned it into something bibliophiles will scarcely recognize. But that doesn’t meant it’s bad.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is in the impossible situation. She’s pregnant at the end of the world. This particular nightmare is the inverse of The Quiet Place – they had to stay silent in order to not die, and in Bird Box, they have to not see. The sight of something is causing people to almost immediately become homicidal and ultimately, suicidal. It’s a plague killing millions, killing billions, killing everyone around the world. The only way to survive is to not see, to never see. But food and water and resources inside are finite. MV5BMjE5Nzk1ODgwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5MTE2NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Malorie is living with a small group of people, strangers, really, who don’t always agree on the best way to exist together, or how to stay alive. Malorie’s not even the only pregnant one – Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is expecting too, right around the same time. The house’s other inhabitants (Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver among them) will have to make all kinds of hard choices to ensure the group’s survival. As you probably guessed, ultimately, Malorie will need to leave the relative safety of their shared home – and worse than that, she may have to sacrifice one child to save another. Doesn’t that sound like a fun little jam to be in?

Yeah, this is a horror movie, in case you’re not picking up on the obvious. The unknown, horrible, unseeable things remain unseen by us, but they’re a constant threat. Director Susanne Bier understands it’s way creepier to only suggest the worst, and let our own imaginations prey on our fears. A newborn baby is of course the most vulnerable creature in the world. What else could heighten a dangerous situation like a helpless baby? But what else would pose a greater danger? A baby, unable to look away, unable to understand, a baby who will only need need need, and take take take, and attract attention while putting everyone at risk. A baby, two babies, normally a blessing, but in this scenario, the worst possible thing.

Bier creates a tense atmosphere and Bullock keeps us riveted. Rather than jump scares, Bier gives us a character study, and Malorie’s humanity and the children’s inherent weaknesses gives some real meat to the film’s anxiety. But the film strays quite far from the book, and to no real advantage. Since this film streams for “free” on Netflix, it’s a no-brainer if you can take the heat (or rather the chill, the frisson). Squeeze your eyes half shut.

A Simple Favor

Emily (Blake Lively) is effortlessly cool and glamourous. She works a high-profile job in the city and has a handsome husband and an air of mystery. No one is more surprised than Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a single mom and mommy blogger, when Emily befriends her. Their boys are friendly in school and now the mums are friendly over martinis.

But just weeks after an unlikely friendship blossoms between Emily and Stephanie, Emily calls her with a request for a simple favor: a work emergency has popped up, could Stephanie pick up her son from school? Two days later, the son is still in Stephanie’s care, and no one had heard from Emily.

As the investigation into Emily’s disappearance deepens, Emily’s secrets unravel. Her MV5BMTUzNDc3NTM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzYxNTM0NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_husband Sean (Henry Golding) is very revealing. Turns out, Emily was a pathological liar and her past was very closely guarded. Stephanie doesn’t know what to think about her friend, but her doubts don’t exactly stop her from getting cozy with Sean…and eventually moving right in. Which seems like a bitch move from a grieving best friend, but then, the recent widower isn’t exactly objecting. Why is Sean not objecting?

Anna Kendrick is very good at being a pathetic loser, and Blake Lively is extraordinary at being a clotheshorse. This movie is exceedingly stylish. Blake Lively’s menswear-inspired wardrobe is to die for, but I swear I’m not the one who killed her. But no matter how you dress this thing up, it’s no Gone Girl, but that’s exactly what it wants you to mistake it for. Unfortunately, it can’t quite embrace any one genre. It often looks noir but goes for the easy laugh. Which one is it, truly? I admire that Kevin Feig went for a blend of both, but I don’t think he quite pulled it off. However, if you’re a fan of the Kendrick-Lively duo, they’ve never been Livelier or more Kendricky. They each know their strengths, and Feig gives them a beautiful stage on which to drip their special sauces.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

I did not think the world needed another Jungle Book movie. I felt the same about Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. I am too young to have any warm feelings toward the Disney cartoon – that movie felt old-fashioned to me as a kid, and I couldn’t watch it. We never read the books, and I was never a boy scout. And don’t get me started on this “live action” nonsense – this may be more sophisticated animation, a less cartoony cartoon, but this stuff is 95% computer-generated.

Anyway, as you may have gleaned: a “mean” tiger named Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) eats some humans in the jungle. He’s the menacing villain of the story, even though the tiger was only doing as tigers do. But white people think they own MV5BOWNjOGFlNTAtZDlmMS00ODdjLWFiMjQtYjMxNTUwYjY1OWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,732_AL_everything they see and touch and feel, and are surprised not be welcomed with open arms whenever they attempt to colonize new lands. The jungle was never meant for humans, and almost everything about the jungle makes that abundantly clear. Anyway, the dead humans leave behind a baby, Mowgli, who is accepted by and raised by a  literal pack of wolves. Mowgli is mentored by a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), and a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis). They try to teach him the ways of the jungle, but they also know the strange animal called man is edging in on their territory, and it can only be an asset to have one of them among them.

At PG-13, this is a darker, less family-friendly version of the Jungle Book. Mowgli’s story has always had something to say about fitting in, and whether how we look has ever been the best way to judge who is one of us, and who is not. But, we’ve obviously been told this story several times before, and Serkis’ version gives us nothing new, just some special effects and his trademark motion capture that actually brings nothing to the table. There’s no charm, there’s no heart. Andy Serkis may have donned the green suit to give life to Baloo, but he’s never seemed more cold and aloof. He’s not the same Baloo that people have loved for generations. This isn’t the same Jungle Book. It’s dark and it’s bloody – so, for the rare person who wishes beloved children’s books played more like war movies, I guess this is pay dirt – but for the rest of us, this is a miss.

 

The Little Mermaid (2018)

A young reporter, Cam, and his sickly niece Elle take a night off from closely monitoring her health (a persistent cough that causes her to fall to the floor ahem), to take in the circus that’s just come to town. Among the elephant and fortuneteller lurks an even greater mysery: a real live mermaid, Elizabeth.

She’s kept in a tank and it looks pretty real, but it must be some trick, right? Wrong. This mermaid is being kept in slavery by the evil carnival barker, and it’s up to Elle, who idolizes her, and Cam, who’d like to, um, romance her, to save her.

You might have been excited to know that a live-action version of The Little MermaidMV5BYzA5ODc3MTctNmQwNC00YjdhLTgxNTEtZTczYTQyMTQ4N2RlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjQ3NTcyNzQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,745_AL_ was hitting Netflix, but that would make you a fool. It’s an abomination. The plot is as poor as the production values. Seriously, the special effects were short-bus special, and the effect was that I hated it, and felt embarrassed on its behalf.

Pointless, absolutely, but also completely boring. Kids won’t have the patience for it, and parents won’t have the forgiveness. The rest of us are just chumps for watching. If I had a mermaid tail, I’d flip it dismissively as I swam decisively away. If I’d lost my voice in exchange for legs, I’d flip it the bird. If I suddenly used a fork as a comb, well, I’d get on the short bus because mermaids are the least of my trouble.

Dumplin’

Willowdean, aka Dumplin (Danielle Macdonald), feels like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Her aunt Lucy always had a knack for making her feel at home and helping her to navigate life greasier spots, but aunt Lucy is gone now. Thank goodness for her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), a fellow lover of all things Dolly Parton. Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), is practically a celebrity in their small Texan town. She was Miss Teen Bluebonnet 1991, and is the pageant’s current director. Their house looks like Miss America barfed all over it, except in aunt Lucy’s old room, still not empty of her belongings, but that won’t be true for long, if Rosie has her way.

MV5BNTIwODk1MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQxMzU3NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1301,1000_AL_Dumplin’ is based on a novel by Julie Murphy, and it’s kind of like a Love, Simon for fat girls (we deserve love too!). Willowdean doesn’t have the perfect figure, a fact all the more noticeable standing next to her mother, a literal beauty queen, and the town’s image of perfection. So it’s a mystery to her when Bo, the heartthrob that works with her in the local diner, seems to be interested in her. That can’t be right, can it?

Overweight women struggle to find acceptance in the world, and remain almost invisible, undepicted, in Hollywood. Weight will be the last taboo, clearly. So when Willowdean enters the pageant, it’s an act of rebellion. Her mother isn’t thrilled and the pageant institution wants to preserve its ‘sanctity’, but when Willowdean shows up, she’s like the Joan of Arc of fat girls, inspiriting several other ‘unsuitable’ girls to sign up.

It’s interesting to watch Willowdean struggle, to know in her head that people’s judgement about her weight is complete bullshit, but also to have internalized it, to use that bit of self-loathing as as a defense mechanism. It takes a lot of strength to confront these stereotypes, and to have Willowdean do it as a high school student, so young and vulnerable, keeps our compassion levels high – as well as our concern. It makes us watch with a critical eye. Who is complicit? Store that sell a minimum of (small) sizes? Magazines that wrongfully equate weight with health? Movies that would have you believe that a boy who likes a fat girl is a hero? The pageant system itself, which celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty and weighs intellect and swim suit wearing equally?

There’s nothing in the rules that says “big girls need not apply” but all too often, fat girls see barriers everywhere. Sometimes they’re just barriers we just mentally put there ourselves after being conditioned by society to feel somehow inferior or unworthy. Dumplin’ is asking us not to buy into that – not of each other, and not of ourselves. A number on a scale is incapable of determining beauty, and it’s not even close to measuring a person’s worth. The film doesn’t follow the book’s exact plot, and it wisely edits a lot of the romantic drama, because this story is most of all about self-acceptance, as every story should be.