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book adaptation

Inferno (2016)

infernoDIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Ana Ularu

REVIEW:

If nothing else, Inferno might hammer the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s increasingly inexplicable determination to make Robert Langdon—the protagonist of Dan Brown’s pulpy book series—into a “franchise” headliner.  Dry, professorial Langdon isn’t exactly 007, and The Da Vinci Code was only a moderate box office success, while Angels & Demons didn’t do much business worth writing home about, but Sony insisted on forging ahead.  With Inferno already opening weak, it might be time to stop adapting Dan Brown books.  If you’re one of the seemingly relatively few people—including myself—who moderately enjoy these movies, Inferno offers up largely more of the same, but isn’t as good as the unevenly-paced but sporadically fascinating Da Vinci Code and doesn’t represent a compelling reason to rush to a theater near you. Continue reading

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Kim Dickens, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench

REVIEW:

If you’ve ever wondered what X-Men might be like filtered through the bizarre sensibilities of Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might give some idea.  An adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine is sufficiently off-kilter to represent a more fresh and engaging fantasy adventure than much of what populates the young adult genre, although it’s somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

tarzanDIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent

REVIEW:

Is there still a place for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Victorian-era hero Tarzan in the 21st Century?  Director David Yates and screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer apparently thought so, but their case isn’t entirely convincing.  A good old-fashioned vine-swinging adventure perhaps could have been salvaged out of this material somewhere along the line, but what arrives onscreen is a jumbled, muddled, half-baked mess that, like a depressing number of other entries among this summer’s “entertainment”, offers virtually nothing memorable.  The Legend of Tarzan might have brought the 104-year-old character swinging and whooping back into theaters, but is unlikely to launch a new franchise or reignite Tarzan’s name as one to excite modern audiences. Continue reading

The Danish Girl (2015)

danishDIRECTOR: Tom Hooper

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch

REVIEW:

The Danish Girl arrives in theaters at a time when it’s virtually guaranteed to be rewarded with Academy Awards attention.  Transgender issues are prominent in the news, and it’s easy to be cynical about feeling there’s something a little opportunistic in the timing and subject matter of director Tom Hooper and star Eddie Redmayne clearly aiming for what would be each man’s second Oscar, but more visible representation for the transgendered community in high-profile Oscar contender motion pictures isn’t a bad thing.  Based on the same-named 2000 novel by David Ebershoff, itself a somewhat fictionalized account of the true story of transgender pioneer Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, The Danish Girl, like Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, is a somber, stately, and sedate period film, and while its subdued tone sometimes mutes its emotional impact, it’s still a poignant and handsomely-filmed semi-biographical drama. Continue reading

The Martian (2015)

martianDIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover

REVIEW:

Following in the footsteps of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Christopher Nolan’s InterstellarRidley Scott’s The Martian, an adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, is the latest in a trend of “hard sci-fi” movies that make serious attempts to give a reasonably realistic portrayal of space and the challenges that come with it (like the earlier films, the filmmakers consulted experts, with NASA involved as technical advisers during The Martian‘s script writing and production).  For Scott, whose prestigious name has taken a hit in recent years with unimpressive entries on an uneven filmography, this is a welcome return to form, and raises the argument that perhaps Scott is most comfortable with sci-fi Continue reading

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodusDIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde

REVIEW:

Previously in his sometimes acclaimed but uneven career, Ridley Scott has directed two other lengthy historical epics in a desert setting.  The first, 2000’s Gladiator, was a rollicking throwback to the likes of Spartacus and other sword-and-sandal epics from Hollywood’s glory days.  The second, 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, did not live up to the same standards, likewise epically-mounted but narratively fragmented (apparently due to large chunks of the movie ending up on the cutting room floor, which Scott attempted to rectify in a reportedly superior director’s cut, but feeling so underwhelmed by what I saw gave me no motivation to seek out more).  Unfortunately, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott’s take on the Biblical story of Moses (with a healthy helping of “dramatic license”), bears more resemblance to Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator.  In fact, 1998’s animated movie The Prince of Egypt is a better version.  Exodus, while not quite as much of a scattershot mess as Heaven, bears the same hallmarks; visually epic but narratively disjointed, sporting some stirring scenes but not enough to consistently maintain interest over its 2 1/2 hour runtime.  Considering this is actually too short to tell the whole Exodus story (various elements are truncated or left out here), that’s even more telling of Scott again showing his troubling recurring issues with narrative focus and cohesion. Continue reading

The Giver (2014)

giverDIRECTOR: Philip Noyce

CAST: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift

REVIEW:

The Giver has taken a long, winding road to seeing the inside of a theater since Jeff Bridges (who serves here as both star and producer) bought the movie rights to Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel (which won the 1994 Newberry Medal).  Bridges’ original casting for the title role (his father Lloyd Bridges) passed away in the meantime, and funding was difficult to find.  But, over twenty years later, Bridges’ determination to get the film adaptation made has paid off, and while sticklers for accuracy to the book, a staple of middle school literature classes (I have vague memories of being assigned to read it in school), may grumble at some changes, overall it was worth the effort.  The Giver, while with some narrative weaknesses, is a thought-provoking and visually striking motion picture that proves “young adult” doesn’t have to be synonymous with the vapidity of something like the Twilight series.  In fact, this is a thoughtful movie with well-developed themes and something meaningful to say.  While the film soups up the book’s thin narrative with some tacked-on action and suspense, with mixed results, it gives equally important focus to the book’s messages of the dangers of conformity, the importance of individuality, and the need for emotion, even with all the pain it can bring, to live a truly full life. Continue reading

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Amanda Plummer

REVIEW:

Unlike inferior book-t0-screen cousins like the Twilight series, The Hunger Games, adapted from the popular book series by Suzanne Collins, proves that “young adult” does not have to be synonymous with vapid.  Halfway through the planned onscreen four-part saga, Catching Fire deepens and expands on themes in the first installment and takes it in darker directions.  Like The Empire Strikes Back, this is an example of a sequel that surpasses the original. Continue reading

12 Years a Slave (2013)

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

CAST: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti

REVIEW:

12-years-a-slave-posterA powerful and haunting film and a stirring and important historical document, 12 Years a Slave may do for American slavery what Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust, using one man’s true story to portray the incalculable horrors of an evil system. While this film does not quite match the power of Steven Spielberg’s epic, it brings the grim, stark realities of slavery home in ways that are hard-hitting and eye-opening.  Nothing is sugarcoated—nor should it be—and there are moments of jarring brutality depicted unflinchingly to the point of being difficult to watch. Continue reading

The Great Gatsby (2013)

carey-mulligan-600DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann

CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan, Jack Thompson

REVIEW:

 

I’ll get this out of the way right upfront: I have never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, now considered a staple of American literature (though it was received poorly at the time, perhaps partly due to its social commentary on 1920s excess), so this review will not include comparisons to the book or any previous film adaptation (the most prominent of which came out in 1974 and starred Robert Redford in the title role), merely review this as a stand-alone film.  Continue reading

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