Tag Archives: movies based on books

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Richard Linklater managed to get his hands on best-selling source material (the book, by Maria Semple, spent a year on the New York Times bestseller list) and systematically removed everything that was good and charming and unique about the novel to produce a bland and facile piece of film.

In the book, Bernadette is a reclusive but loving mother who suddenly disappears. Her husband and daughter believe her to be dead. Her teenage daughter Bee more or less narrates the story, mostly told through uncovered documents of her mother’s, piecing together her mother’s life, and discovering hidden depths and wells of sorrow. In the film, Bernadette’s whereabouts are never in question – we witness her escape and follow her on her adventure and see things through her eyes. You can hardly blame Linklater for this transition; with Cate Blanchett in the role, it would feel almost sacrilegious not to. But it does change the nature and structure of the story significantly, not to mention negates the mystery completely.

But that’s hardly the film’s only problem. I mean, the characters are just not likable. Bernadette, of course, is not meant to be likable – she has retreated from society, she burned out on humanity and doesn’t suffer fools, or many non-fools either. But her husband (Billy Crudup) is a workaholic, disloyal asshole. Her neighbour (Kristen Wiig) is an entitled twat. Her assistant is a scam artist. His assistant is a homewrecker and a gossip. Their therapist (Judy Greer) is an unprofessional over-stepper. It’s an unrelenting parade of unappealing characters, the only bright spot daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) and we’ve already discussed how Linklater chose to shine the spotlight elsewhere. Oof. But only a few of these characters are without sympathy. Mostly the problem is that Linklater never takes a stance. His indecision is stamped all over this movie. He clearly wasn’t up to making the book spark on screen so he neutered it, shot it very conventionally, and then acted surprised when no one was overly impressed by his mess.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is actually about what happens to a creative genius when she stops creating. That’s the core theme in the book: Bernadette lost her creative outlet and just started wilting. But in the movie, she just comes off as a crazy lady who has a mental breakdown and then flees to Antarctica on some hair-brained mission. And her husband makes so many poor decisions you just wish someone would throw him overboard and give the narwhals a hearty lunch.

The only thing that remotely saves the movie is Cate Blanchett, who is luminous and quirky and vibrant, doing much of the heavy lifting that realistically, both Linklater and a solid script should have done for her (and frankly, for us). She is a delight to watch but you never shake the feeling that this film should be so much more than it is – and that’s true even if you haven’t read the book and you aren’t watching it next to me, a person who is loudly bemoaning the very substandard adaptation. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is sadly lost in translation.

I Lost My Body (J'ai perdu mon corps)

I forget sometimes that I speak French. Well, maybe not forget so much as don’t think about it. Much like I don’t specifically think about speaking English. I just do. If I hear or see French, my brain understands without me having to engage anything in particular. It’s just effortless. Growing up we spoke both at home, both at the same time, every sentence seasoned with both languages, choosing whichever words or expressions suited us most. So when I started watching this French film on Netflix, I listened without thinking, and since I was also doing work on my laptop, I didn’t even realize there were subtitles, and may not have consciously realized it was French until I glanced up and my brain shuddered: the subtitle had a mother calling her son “sweet pea” when in fact what she called him was a “soft caramel.” Soft caramel isn’t really a thing in English. I mean, it’s a thing you can eat, but it’s not a term of endearment. So the subtitles substituted for something that made more sense but wasn’t a direct translation. This happens all the time of course, sometimes with hilarious results, but when you’re understanding both at the same time, it can be a little jarring. I’m positive Netflix must have an option for turning off the captions but I’m also positive that about 4 minutes of bumbling through buttons netted no results.

So here I am, watching an animated movie with two tracks, basically: spoken French and written English, and the two are in basic agreement. It’s about a little boy named Naoufel who dreams of becoming a concert pianist and an astronaut. And about the same young man, grown up, who is a pizza delivery guy. Which I feel is supposed to be some sort of humbling come down, but what has an astronaut ever done for me? And yet the pizza guy routine brings joy, hot and cheesy, to my front door. My life would be worse without him. Anyway, Naoufel isn’t exactly the most exemplary of deliverymen, and one night when he’s struggling even more than usual, he just gives up, gives in, sits down in an apartment lobby talking to a woman on the intercom while he eats her undeliverable pizza. He falls in love and devises an elaborate scheme for stalking/wooing her.

Meanwhile, across town, a disembodied hand escapes from a laboratory fridge. The hand goes on an epic Parisian journey through the city’s gutters, fending off pigeons and rats. The hand is sad, I think.

Yeah, it’s weird. That might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written here. It’s damn weird to have a stalker love story be intercut by a dirty roaming hand. And all the dirty, greedy flies who follow it. And yet it is strangely beautiful, poetic, almost hypnotizing. The animation is soft, subtle. The story is intimate and sad, truly something unique and unforgettable.

Alice In Wonderland

Alice may have avoided her unfortunate tumble down the rabbit hole had her mother not been such a bore. She’s reading to her in a tree from a book that doesn’t even have any pictures. Practically a textbook. No wonder Alice resoundly rejects it, and the boring, logical world that it espouses. She’s positively ripe for following a charismatic leader, or tardy hare, into a world of nonsense and nonconformity.

Alice, as it turns out, is a self-pitying, impetuous crybaby. She is such a little deviant, in fact, I wonder if 1951 audiences figured her for a commie. Now, as an adult, I can see her for the petulant spoiled brat that she is, but as I kid I was blinded by her pristine blue pinafore and her perfect blonde hair. I writhed with jealousy when my mother cast my youngest sister as Alice in our school’s entry in the Christmas parade one year. The theme was story books and our float was Wonderland-themed. My mother, god bless her overachieving soul, was determined to make a costume for each and every kid in the school who wanted to participate (not quite as terrible as it sounds: we had less than 100 students). There were caterpillars and psychedelic flowers, the white rabbit of course, and a mad hatter. And dozens of people trailed the float as either story books of a different ilk, or members of the Queen of Hearts’ playing card army. The Queen was played by the school’s tiniest, most taciturn teacher – a part she was born to play, but I don’t know how my mother proposed the idea without being threatened with her own beheading. Meanwhile, as the eldest daughter who routinely ‘took one for the team’, I walked in front of the float, just me and my childhood crush carrying our school’s banner. We were dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I don’t remember which one I was, but pictures would prove clarifying as my little propeller hat identified me rather firmly. We lacked a proper costume from the neck down and were compelled to wear matching California Raisin costumes for uniformity, and perhaps just flat-out maximum humiliation. My mother must have WANTED me to hate my sister. She made it fairly impossible not to.

Anyway, if I sound bitter in this review, it’s because I am.

Drinking helps, which is fortunate, because Sean, Matt and I are in Disney World for the forseeable future, where we’ll have ample opportunity to meet Alice, should we want to. She hangs out by the teacups ride which is actually called the Mad Tea Party, and is often accompanied by a Mad Hatter at the very least. When I visited the park with my sister back in February (NOT the one who played Alice), she turned an alarming shade of green as her 4 year old son put an extra spin on our trip. But should we miss her in Magic Kingdom, she also hangs out in Epcot, in the U.K. pavilion, directly across from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in The Tea Caddy Gardens. Mary Poppins can often be seen strolling about with a parasol on her arm in the U.K. portion of the World Showcase. Other countries have their own princesses: Belle in France, Anna and Elsa in Norway, Mulan in China, Jasmine in Morocco. There are no princesses in the Canadian pavilion, just a bunch of poutine and some maple-flavoured popcorn (though I sort of think Duke Caboom should hang out there, revving his motorcycle).

The World Showcase is fun in many ways, not least of all because you can literally drink your way around it, with each country providing many samples of their finest hooch. There are margaritas in Mexico and prosecco in Italy and Oktoberfest beers in Germany. Because I’m ambitious, and mean, I intend to subject Sean to this booze tour, so I’ll take the opportunity to suggest you visit our Twitter feed at @AssholeMovies because there are 11 countries and countless opportunities to get your drink on, including an alcoholic popsicle stand, and a Frozen-themed blue lemonade spiked with moonshine. I predict Sean will need propping up by the time we hit Japan.

Anyway, please pardon my little digression. Back to the movie. I’m still rather astounded at how much they got away with, stuff that feels like pretty blatant drug references to me, counterculture stuff that seems out of place in a Disney movie, especially one with a little girl for a protagonist. I mean, she literally eats mushrooms.

The Cheshire Cat sounds awfully familiar – like Winnie The Pooh really, without much embellishment. I check IMDB and I’m right: Sterling Holloway voiced both. He was also Mr. Stork, in Dumbo, adult Flower in Bambi, Kaa the snake in Jungle Book, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. Disney’s casting certainly was incestuous. Sean and I ate at the Cheshire cafe last time we were in Disney, and we can certainly recommend the Cat Tail, and the Wonderland slushy. This time we’ll be dining WITH Winnie the Pooh (can you stand the excitement?) – and his pal Tigger too!

This movie actually takes from Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (fun fact: I once saw a Looking Glass play in Stratford starring a young Sarah Polley, then known as Canada’s sweetheart for roles in Ramona and Road to Avonlea). Alice is here voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, who also voiced Wendy in Peter Pan, and continued to do so until her retirement in 2005 (reminder: this movie came out in 1951!). You can still hear Beaumont narrating the Mad Tea Party ride to this day in Disneyland. That’s her here, providing a live action reference for Disney animators.

And somewhere in the Disney parks, I am currently the live action reference for a grown woman having far too much fun.

[In fact, I believe today we are attempting to ‘Drink Around the World’ in Epcot. Epcot’s World Showcase has 11 country pavillions and we’ll be grabbing a drink in each one. Sounds like potential disaster! Why not keep tabs on us via Twitter – @AssholeMovies, and be sure to play along on the Disney Bingo card.]

Update: Watch the Assholes accept the Drink Around the World Epcot challenge – and watch us demolish it???

TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

TIFF19: Human Capital

Drew is an ex-gambler who has borrowed money he doesn’t have to invest in a hedge fund. When it tanks, he’s pretty desperate, with bills piling up and not one but two babies on the way. Drew (Liev Schrieber) also happens to be the father of a teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), who is dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger).

Jamie’s parents are rich, which gives Drew a lot of envy. humancapital_0hero-hr__1_2Jamie’s dad, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) just happens to be the manager of that hedge fund I was talking about, and he’s super stressed, selling assets to stop the bleeding. He’s not a particularly nice guy, it probably goes without saying. His wife Karen (Marisa Tomei) is fairly pragmatic about their flawed marriage, but she cries a lot. She recently bought a theatre to renovate and run, but with the hedge fund having a coronary, she’s about to lose it.

Jamie and Shannon are actually recently broken up because Jamie is gay and Shannon has a new boyfriend, a bad boy with a record. But for now, both families are together for a high school fundraiser, after which there will be a hit-and-run, and one of them will be responsible.

Human Capital is a tale of guilt and innocence, and how much they’re worth, and to whom. It’s about greed and compromise. It’s based on a novel, and another movie besides, and ultimately fails to justify its own existence. It’s moderately interesting and the performances are fine, but there isn’t a single aspect of this movie that distinguishes itself. Even the whodunnit feels beside the point.

With nothing to uplift it, it may as well have stayed on the page.

TIFF19: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel is David Copperfield – it’s an inspired bit of casting that’s instantly a perfect fit. In fact, the whole film is so overwhelmingly cast to perfection it’s almost embarrassing.

I worried about this film because though director Armando Iannucci’s previous film,¬†The Death of Stalin, was extremely well-received by critics, it was not my the-personal-history-of-david-copperfieldcuppa, not by a long shot. As an introduction to this film’s premiere at TIFF, Iannucci informed/assured¬†us the two films could not be more different. And while I’m not sure that’s true, I was relieved and elighted to find myself really enjoying it.

I hope it’s obvious that this movie is inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, though TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey rightly called it an “audacious” interpretation, and it is that. Iannucci was struck by how timeless the themes of love and friendship were, so though the film is undoubtedly a period piece, Iannucci reminds us that for the characters, it’s present day.

As for myself, I was most struck by how convincingly Copperfield is portrayed as a budding writer. Even as a child he’s wildly observant, with a knack for accents and a fondness for “collecting” lovely turns of phrase. The way this movie explores and plays with language is unlike anything I’ve seen onscreen. It was setting off fireworks in the verbal parts of my brain. And there are plenty of visual treats too – beautiful costumes, dingy apartments, bustling markets, whimsical seaside abodes, and blooming gardens teeming with donkeys.

Sean did not feel so positively about the film – though he liked it, he also found it boring and meandering. Well, he said slow. I thought meandering sounded better.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a funny, perceptive, and inventive twist on an old favourite. I can’t help but think Dickens would approve.