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book adaptation

Dumbo (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

REVIEW:

Dumbo began life as a children’s story published in 1939, written by the husband-and-wife duo of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. In 1941, Walt Disney, looking for something that could be slapped together quickly and cheaply to shove out into theaters to help offset mounting costs of his expensive flop Fantasia, bought the rights and the Dumbo animated film debuted in theaters, running a slim 64-minutes. While remembered fondly, it was arguably the most simplistic and juvenile of the Disney animated features of the time, so while this remake (of sorts) is the latest in Disney’s line-up of live-action recreations of its animated classics (following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast and soon to include Jon Favreau’s The Lion King and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin), the brevity of the source material required Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger to do a lot of padding. The result, as one might expect from a padded-out reimagining of a simplistic and juvenile cartoon, is a middling affair that contains enough special effects and lively sequences to entertain children but whose generic and uninspired narrative has less to offer for their parents. Adults accompanying their children may be sufficiently engaged to not be suffering in silence for their children’s sake (which alone bumps Dumbo up above some other theatrical options for family movie night), but adults attending alone may be less enthralled.

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Mortal Engines (2018)

DIRECTOR: Christian Rivers

CAST: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Leila George, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

REVIEW:

“From the producers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy”—though it was actually directed by Christian Rivers, not Peter Jackson—comes the latest YA fantasy book-to-screen adaptation.  Mortal Engines is decidedly style over substance, but unlike Divergent, which has robbed of a cinematic final chapter and left hanging due to declining box office returns, it at least shows the good sense to tell a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end (there’s three more novels in Philip Reeves’ series), ensuring audiences will get a satisfactory stopping point in case no further films are forthcoming (a wise move, as a weak reception makes this a likely one-and-done).  A smorgasbord of CGI-heavy eye candy and pretty visuals only partially compensates for a generic and underdeveloped narrative, but Mortal Engines is still a fun and interestingly unique ride, even if a shallow rushed feel keeps it from ascending to true epic fantasy.

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Boy Erased (2018)

DIRECTOR: Joel Edgerton

CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton

REVIEW:

Boy Erased, the second directorial feature of actor Joel Edgerton and based on the memoirs of Garrard Conley (with names changed to protect both the innocent and some not-so-innocent), is not a feel good viewing but a worthwhile and important one.  Conley’s memoirs, and now the film adaptation, shine a light on the long-running practice of so-called “conversion therapy”, a phrase which may not even be familiar to some viewers.  Performed most often on underage children, and roundly debunked by virtually every reputable psychiatrist as both ineffective and unethical and psychologically harmful, conversion therapy aims to “convert” an individual with homosexual or bisexual inclinations into a heterosexual.  To this end it uses a step-by-step program of indoctrination including techniques amounting to both psychological and physical abuse.  While increasingly a discredited practice and banned in a growing number of states, conversion therapy remains legal on the books in thirty-six states.  By telling one former patient’s story, Boy Erased offers both a frank condemnation of the insidious quackery of conversion therapy, and the dramatically compelling true story of one young man who emerged triumphant on the other side.

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez

CAST: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

“Generic” is not a word that should be used to describe Lisbeth Salander, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web brings her close.  An adaptation of the book, the latest installment in the so-called Millennium Series, continued by David Lagercrantz from where late crime journalist and author Stieg Larsson left off, and a soft reboot quasi-sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted to film both in Sweden (by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist) and in an English-language remake (by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), The Girl in the Spider’s Web continues the series transition in Lagercrantz’s hands from dark, serious, slow burn murder/crime mystery into more straightforward action/spy thriller territory, sacrificing some depth and character along the way.  The result is a watchable and engaging action/spy thriller but arguably a poor Lisbeth Salander story. Continue reading

Ready Player One (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Philip Zao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg

REVIEW:

Ready Player One might be the biggest special effects extravaganza since James Cameron’s Avatar nearly a decade ago, and while it won’t necessarily go down as a classic on the level of Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films, it resurrects some of the old Spielbergian magic that many thought flickered out a long time ago (his last attempt at hearkening back to the lighthearted sense of fun he once possessed before Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, felt low energy and tired and only flirted with recapturing it in fits and starts).  Many movies aspire to be referred to as “eye candy”, but it’s well-deserved here.  Ready Player One might not be the most consequential movie Spielberg has directed in a long time, but it’s easily the most fun. Continue reading

Red Sparrow (2018)

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Mary-Louise Parker

REVIEW:

For those seeking something a little less action-oriented and a little more nitty gritty than James Bond without being as cerebral as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Red Sparrow (an adaptation of the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews) is an unflinchingly hard-R, unglamorous espionage thriller that serves up enough twists, turns, sex, and violence to hold the viewer’s attention for its 140-minute runtime. Continue reading

Annihilation (2018)

DIRECTOR: Alex Garland

CAST: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi

REVIEW:

While a sci-fi fan, I confess to a certain weariness of this kind of pretentiously obtuse existential variation on the genre that, like Arrival, seems to feel maddening ambiguity makes it look unfathomably complex and intelligent (both films had critics falling all over each other to praise them as exactly that).  Alex Garland’s first film since his directorial debut Ex Machina and an adaptation of the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation boasts some nice visuals and creepy moments, but mistakes ambiguity for its own sake with profundity, and strings the audience along for non-answers that are neither illuminating nor narratively satisfying enough to make the winding journey worth undertaking.  “I don’t know” is a line uttered repetitively throughout the film, and walking out of the theater, many audience members may say the same when asked what they just watched. Continue reading

Peter Rabbit (2018)

DIRECTOR: Will Gluck

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, David Wenham, Sia

REVIEW:

Devoted fans of Beatrix Potter’s gentle children’s stories will likely be appalled at how it’s been souped up with Home Alone-esque action, sometimes crude humor (though nothing that pushes the family friendly envelope very hard), and busy pop soundtrack, but Peter Rabbit keeps the action and comedy flying fast and furious enough that it will probably entertain small children while being at least passably enjoyable for the adults accompanying them.  It’s not the most high-brow family friendly entertainment to be found, but parents on the lookout for something to take their children to that’s not an endurance contest for themselves could do worse. Continue reading

It (2017)

DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti

CAST: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton

REVIEW:

The big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel was a long time coming.  A TV miniseries has existed since 1990, but the low budget, made-for-TV quality, and (apart from Tim Curry’s gleeful scenery-chewing) dubious acting level held it back and left plenty of room for a definitive rendition.  The movie which has finally ended up in theaters lingered in pre-production for six years (at one point set to be directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Will Poulter as “It” before they eventually departed the project).  Now that It has finally arrived, fans of King’s work can be pleased to know his novel—-or at least part one of two—has largely been done justice. Continue reading

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

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