Tag Archives: movies based on books

Polar

Duncan is two weeks away from a cushy retirement. He can’t wait. But his former employer is thinking better of letting him escape to Florida, or whatever it is that ex-assassins do when they’re all used up. So they pit him against an elite army of young killers and hope nature will take its course.

I kind of love how director Jonas Åkerlund introduces his team; the film’s opening scene makes me shockingly optimistic that I may actually enjoy this film. Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) is very much the classic, gritty assassin, but many of other characters seem to belong to some heightened reality. Åkerlund isn’t afraid to establish Polar as a little mv5bzdcyn2iyywutmzy0ny00mza5lwfhmgutmgy5ndqwmdbiotizxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntcwmti4mtc@._v1_sx1777_cr0,0,1777,875_al_outside the normal bounds of action thrillers, and I admire that, though I quickly lost my patience with his clumsy stabs at auteurism. And I don’t mean to imply that he shouldn’t have the opportunity to put his flashy  mark on things, only that you have to have 110% of the talent and style to pull off such a ballsy attempt.

The movie is overstuffed with cartoonish deaths and gruesome flashbacks, including a crucifixion that Jesus Christ himself would find cruel and unusual. It’s so busy being cool and shocking and weird that it mostly forgets to be a movie that makes sense or is watchable. If you think that kind of thing is overrated, then hey, Netflix is catering to your dark and closeted fantasies. I wanted to celebrate Polar’s oddball tendencies, but it does as much to alienate even the most open-minded audiences as it does to stoke our need for something we haven’t seen before.

Despite my misgivings, I must admit that Mads Mikkelsen exudes mustachioed magnificence. If you don’t mind wading through the hot mess, or if you have an appetite , not to mention a high tolerance for, the strange and unusual, this role is truly something special for him.

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Juliet, Naked

Annie and Duncan are in a weird holding pattern. They’re not exactly unhappy as a couple, just sort of bored and boring. Stuck? She’s beginning to realize that he’s in love with someone else, sort of. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with Tucker Crowe, a musician who hasn’t made music in decades. But Duncan is passionate about Tucker Crowe like nobody’s business; he runs a blog that talks about nothing but. Annie (Rose Byrne) feels like the third wheel in her marriage and it only gets worse when some new stuff (well, unheard early versions of an album) surfaces. She can’t compare to the mythic singer who blew the world away with his soulful music and then disappeared. And Annie starts to feel just resentful enough to leave a nasty comment on the blog, which breaks poor Duncan’s heart.

But her comment garners feedback from at least one sympathizer: the man himself, mv5bn2i5zgq1mjqtoduwyi00mdmyltgzodgtowqynwq3mzzjnjdhxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynti2oda2ntc@._v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). Tucker is living a quiet life in seclusion, sleeping in his ex-wife’s garage and caring for their son (while neglecting his other children, including the one about to make him a grandfather). They strike up quite a correspondence, an “email affair” she calls it, but don’t worry, Duncan surprises us by having an actual “penis in the vagina” affair first, and so they split up. Which leaves Annie free to meet Tucker – and let’s face it, is there any better revenge than hooking up with your ex’s idol? Although, for Tucker, this has got to be next level groupie shit. She’s the first lady of his fan club.

This movie felt immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY familiar to me. There was no review for it on our site, and it would be unusual though not unheard of for me to watch a movie and not have a thought or two. Finally I decided it was just a very faithful adaptation of a book I’d read (I read everything) (by Nick Hornsby, by the way), and left it at that. But the deeper truth is that the plot is also just a little worn. We pretty much know where it’s going before it’s left the station. But in this case, it really is about the journey. Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke have this easy chemistry – satin and sandpaper that just sort of work. And you know how I feel about Chris O’Dowd. Or maybe/probably you don’t. I luuurb him. He’s the chicken AND the waffles. So maybe this movie isn’t super meaningful, but it’s easy watching with a side of gravy.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Lewis’s parents are recently deceased, so his uncle Jonathan, previously unknown to him, takes him it. It seems the peculiar apple (Owen Vaccaro) does not fall far from the odd tree (Jack Black). At first glance, it seems that Jonathan’s house merely has clocks on its walls, but there is some sort of magic afoot. The next door neighbour, Mrs. Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is always around, and she and Jonathan seem to be in cahoots…but what are they hiding? The ghost of Lewis’s mother seems to corroborate his feeling that something’s not quite right, and a kid at his school lets it slip that his uncle’s house is known to neighbourhood kids as The Slaughter House. When Lewis finally mv5bmzq2mtlkmgmtodrmni00ztq2lwiwnwetzmmyowjkmduyy2qwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndqxnjcxnq@@._v1_resolves to flee in the middle of the night, he finds the house to be very uncooperative. Turns out uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are a couple of witches, and the house is indeed haunted by the previous owner, himself a warlock, or at least haunted by the clock that he left in its walls. Every night, Jonathan searches the walls for the clock that’s driving him nuts, but so far no luck.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls may manage a PG rating, but it packs more fright per square inch than most kids’ movies. Credit director Eli Roth for that; a master of the horror genre, this might be his first movie that’s not an automatic R. Luckily Jack Black is on board, and his silly antics temper the scary stuff. He’s quite good, actually, and Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing, a vision in purple. But I think the plot is a little overdone, so we lose some of their effectiveness in its convolutions.

The House With a Clock In Its Walls has the potential to be a beautiful tribute to weirdos, even if it loses its own thread about half way through. For me, there was no way I wasn’t going to watch Cate Blanchett and her flawless hair, and I’m not sorry I watched this, not at all, but I am sorry it didn’t quite translate. Eli Roth has some fun transferring his skills to a family-friendly film, but it’s not quite enough, he doesn’t quite strike the right tone, and this movie ends up being just okay – this despite Blanchett’s mighty spell.

 

 

 

 

Far From The Tree

Early in the documentary Far From The Tree, Andrew Solomon says of the book he wrote by the same name “In telling these stories, I was investigating the very nature of family itself.” What he researched, and what the film explores, is children who are very different from their families, and the impact this has in their homes. Solomon grew up gay in a household that believed homosexuality was a sin. He was rejected by his mother.

The documentary, by Rachel Dretzin, visits with 5 families. Jason is a 41 year old man who loves Frozen and has Down Syndrome while his parents of course do not. He lives with a couple of roommates (the Three Musketeers, they call themselves) and a caregiver, but spends a lot of time with his mother. He grew up something of a celebrity, the poster child for “retarded” kids who could learn to read and write and socialize beyond what was normally credited to them. Jack is a 13 year old kid who has severe autism. He doesn’t speak but he’s clearly very intelligent. Though he has little control over his body, he has overcome numerous obstacles just to communicate with his parents. Loini is a bubbly 23 year old woman with dwarfism whose only wish is to be more independent. A convention where she’s finally able to meet other little people is like a welcome eye-opener; finally, someone understands. Leah and Joe are a married couple, both with dwarfism, who give birth to a baby with normal stature. What will parenting be like with a child who quickly outgrows you?

Though these “differences” in the children are nothing more than anomalies of nature, many parents originally blame themselves or feel some sort of guilt – was it a medication taken during pregnancy? a lack of sleep? the bed rest? The film, however, doesn’t give blame any space. Instead it shows parents going to great lengths just to connect with children they don’t necessarily relate to. The paths to love are in many ways the same (Jason’s mom recalls being told that her newborn was a “mongoloid” and that it was best to remove him to an institution immediately, “before a bond could occur” – while of course Jason’s mom had loved him since the moment she learned she was pregnant). In order to thrive as a family,these parents have become devoted to finding ways to connect with children they don’t necessarily relate to but love nonetheless. Love just as much. Leah and Joe talk about how they love each other for their “isms” (dwarfism) not despite them. I can see how this would be a balm to Solomon, who never got that from his own mother. That we can indeed have meaningful relationships with people who are not like us.

The last family (have you realized yet that I’ve only listed 4 of 5?) is a bit different. Their son, Trevor, murdered an 8 year old boy when he was just 16 himself. Can we still apply the lessons we’ve learned from the previous families to him? Can we accept that this is just how he was born, can we not blame his parents for who is he? Certainly, his situation is much different. Perhaps he was born with violent tendencies. Psychopathy may even be hereditary. But murder is still a choice, while Down Syndrome is not. The documentary takes up the same position though: that Trevor’s parents are not to blame. They’re still his mom and dad, they still love him, they still struggle to keep their family intact. But after falling in love with Jason, and having your heart melt over Jack, Trevor is a challenge. Can we, the audience, find the same empathy? Are we meant to?

I like a documentary that challenges me, and lining up Trevor besides these other individuals is indeed a test.  I don’t believe it’s pass or fail, but we’ve all got room for improvement, and if this kind of confrontation leads to more empathy, it can’t be a bad thing.

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.

 

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.