Tag Archives: film

Messrs. Riggs, Burton and Miss Peregrine

One day I was about to go to lunch and realized I had nothing to read. The horror! I scanned the shelves at my branch and settled on a book whose cover had always fascinated me, but I’d never gotten around to reading. Also, kicking around in the back of my head was that it was being adapted into a movie by Tim Burton. But we’ll get to that later … The book was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

peregrineHere’s why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. For whatever reason, I always thought Miss Peregrine would be about circus sideshow performers, not unlike Geek Love. I literally have no idea why I thought that, but I went into the book with that mindset. Turns out I wasn’t that far off. Miss Peregrine follows Jacob, our sixteen-year-old narrator. After his grandfather dies, Jacob travels to an isolated island off the coast of Wales. There he finds the rundown ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a mythic place often mentioned in the stories from his grandfather’s salad days. Despite the school’s decrepit remains, Jacob soon learns that the unusual children from his grandfather’s stories may still be alive—and may still be children.

The book takes its time, but I was engrossed by the mystery. It does end somewhat abruptly, though, as it is the first in a series. If you don’t feel like committing to two more books of Peculiars, I’d sit this one out. Despite its shortcomings, what really makes Miss Peregrine stand out is the weird vintage photography interspersed between the pages. If you liked that aspect (or vintage photography in general), I’d advise you to check out a book of found photography that Riggs edited called Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past. At times sad, at other times hilarious, it gives you a feeling of nostalgia even if it’s for a time you weren’t alive for.

Normally if I read a book I like, I’ll order the audiobook version for my mother, but for this one I really felt that the photography added something to the book that couldn’t be conveyed in audio form. She usually likes what I recommend, the only exception being Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. That disparity caused such an argument that I’ve had to eat my sandwiches with the crust ever since. We’ll see how she likes this one.

As for Burton’s adaptation (I told you we’d get to it), when I began reading Miss Peregrine, I couldn’t picture it as a Burton film. I’m a fan, but the presence of (sort of) time travel and stories of Nazis made me think of a Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis movie. It wasn’t until I was well over one hundred pages in that I could see the Burtonesque potential.

Fans of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will notice some pretty obvious changes right away, but I’m optimistic. I’m probably more bummed that Burton’s frequent collaborator Danny Elfman isn’t scoring the film than I am about any disparities between the book and movie. The gruesome tentacle-mouthed Hollowgast and Samuel L. Jackson as a dead-eyed Wight both look particularly promising. And the titular children look like they walked off the pages of Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.  It appears that Burton turned Miss Peregrine into a concise standalone film more in the vein of Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish than Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows. In other words, a good Tim Burton film.

Have you read the books? Are you stoked for the movie? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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In Appreciation of Brie Larson

Last week, Brie Larson won her first Oscar for her performance in Room.

After I saw the movie, I was in such a funk that people actually asked me if I was all right. Like the book upon which it’s based, it compels you to watch, even if it’s uncomfortable at times. Despite the depressing nature of the narrative, I found the film to be more uplifting and, dare I say, more optimistic at its conclusion than the novel. For a great review of Emma Donoghue‘s book, check out Melissa F.’s post.

It would be hard at this point to find new arrangements of words to praise those involved with Room. The score is nuanced and wouldn’t be out of place on a Sigur Rós or an Explosions in the Sky album. I could fill pages about how great Jacob Tremblay is and can only hope he doesn’t go the way of a young Drew Barrymore. I’m super-excited to see him in next month’s Before I Wake. But it’s Larson’s award-winning performance that moors the whole film. As Jack’s Ma, she is both friend and disciplinarian, provider and confider, broken yet brave. She’s tender and tough, often in the span of a few frames. Like if a mountain was a teenage girl who was still a little unsure of herself.

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“I don’t care what you say, mom! Becky said this shade of lipstick draws attention away from my massive butte!”
Source

It’s always nice when the Academy, despite its myriad problems, deigns to give praise to an actress who isn’t Jennifer Lawrence. Hop on the Brie Larson Appreciation Train that I’ve been riding since late 2010 and check out her range in two of her older films.

Scspvtwott Pilgrim vs. the World
It was here that I first came across Larson. She plays one of Scott’s ex-girlfriends, Envy Adams, lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead. I loved her sexed-up, over-the-top performance, which wouldn’t be out of place in a movie like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. When she takes the stage and vamps through a pretty fantastic cover of Metric‘s “Black Sheep,” I realized that she might be more than a pretty, funny face. She could have played Envy as a shrill, one-note witch of a woman, but there’s a vulnerability beneath Envy’s rockstar facade that comes through in a surprisingly tender moment. Whatever the film’s problems are, her self-aware performance is never one of them.

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This hidden gem was one of the best films of 2013, elevated by Larson’s performance. Prior to Room, I’d have said that this was her best work. Doing a chameleonic 180-turn from her role in Scott Pilgrim, she gives a poignantly raw performance as Grace, a supervisor at a residential treatment facility for at-risk youths. Grace is the kind of character who deeply feels each of the kids’ problems, not to mention her own stack of issues as well. While she at least has the chance to resolve the tumult of her personal life, there will always be at-risk youths. Grace acknowledges this at the end of the film, flashing an almost Sisyphean grin, her resolve to do the work stronger than ever despite its inherent troubles.

In everything she’s been in, she’s made me care about her characters. She was one of many enjoyable surprises in 21 Jump Street. She was the best part of The Spectacular Now and Digging for Fire. She was delightful every time she cameoed on Community and stole every scene she was in in Don Jon despite hardly speaking. I’ve heard she’s good in United States of Tara and Trainwreck as well.

She’s a great actress that also seems like a genuinely pleasant person. Now, if you’ll excuse me, thinking about Room has made me sad, so I’m gonna go watch that Jenny Lewis music video where Larson sports a red tracksuit and a moustache. That’s my sweet spot.

Have you seen Room? How about any of her earlier films? Is there one I should check out? Sound off in the comments below.

–Ross

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10 Nontraditional Holiday Movies, Part 2

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Ah, what the he**; it’s Christmas!

— John McClane, Die Hard 2

Back in 2013 I shared my favorite nontraditional holiday films. These are films for people who either don’t care for It’s a Wonderful Life, or have seen it way too many times. Or if you love A Christmas Storybut are looking for something different this year, then look no further.

Here are 10 more nontraditional holiday films that you can check out and enjoy from the library:

Better Off Dead

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If you’re looking for a dark, twisted 1980’s comedy to watch this holiday season, you can do no better than this cult gem. Lane Myer has just been dumped by his girlfriend for the captain of the ski team, and this film chronicles his attempts to win her back or die trying. It also features some of the absolute worst Christmas gifts in film history – frozen TV dinners, and a framed photo of “Little Ricky” (trust me).

 

Christmas Evil

Christmas-Evil

Poor Harry had a disturbing episode with Santa as a child. He then grows up to become a vigilante Santa, rewarding “nice” children and punishing “naughty” ones. This is apparently John Waters‘ favorite Christmas movie, and depending on your tastes, that’s either high praise or a strong deterrent.

 

Die Hard 2

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John McClane is back to save Christmas, with more explosions and wisecracks.“Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a [beep] Christmas tree, a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this [beep] tin can.”

 

Edward Scissorhands

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A winter fairytale for fans of Johnny Depp and/or brooding. Edward, a young man with scissors for hands, is taken in by a suburban family after he is found living alone in an old castle. Initially Edward is embraced by his new community, before becoming an outcast and scapegoat for a robbery committed during the holiday season. Will love conquer all in the end? If you’re looking for a double feature, this will pair nicely with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Go

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For those who prefer partying (as opposed to brooding or fighting crime) this nifty triptych gets the job done. A trio of party seekers become involved with a drug dealer, two soap opera actors and some Las Vegas thrill-seekers after a night of raving and a drug deal gone wrong.

 

Happy Christmas

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A slight but well-observed look at what happens when your irresponsible younger sibling comes to visit for the holidays, and brings their baggage with them. There are some uncomfortable moments in this light comedy, but it’s mostly a sweet tale about family bonding and forgiveness.

 

Iron Man 3

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This movie came out in May of 2013, but oddly enough, takes place during the Christmas season. There’s a lot of holiday ambiance; twinkling Christmas lights, snow, wrapped packages and exploding Christmas tree ornaments. The director/writer Shane Black is known for setting his films during the holidays (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy ScoutThe Long Kiss Goodnight), and some have even commented on how this film is actually an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Albeit with things blowing up.

 

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

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This is like the indie, low-budget version of Iron Man 3. It is also written and directed by Shane Black, and stars Robert Downey Jr. as a wisecracking sort-of actor. Replace the superhero stuff in Iron Man 3 with a twisty noir plot, and that pretty much sums this film up. It’s a lot of silly fun.

 

Metropolitan

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Quite by accident, the middle-class Tom Townsend finds himself spending his holidays with a group of well-educated upper-class New Yorkers. If you like talky films featuring cultured, witty and urbane young people trading barbs, then you will enjoy Whit Stillman’s modern comedy of manners.

 

2046

2046

Are you pining over lost love? Filled with existential dread and regret? If your Christmas Eve plans involve sitting at a bar pondering over recent poor life choices, then boy, this is the holiday film for you!

Happy Holidays and Happy Viewing,

Tara

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Heaven Knows What

Harley is deeply in love with Ilya, despite his tumultuous personality. The only thing she loves more is heroin. When Ilya asks Harley to kill herself to prove her love she agrees without much hesitation, her mind muddled by the drug.

When I first saw the trailer for Josh and Benny Safdie’s Heaven Knows What, it looked like an update of Christiane F., another movie based on a true story about a young girl in the death grip of smack. I’ve come to take such proclamations of truth in regards to film with a mountain-sized grain of salt.  Nanook of the North was marketed as a documentary, but it’s fiction. The airport finale in Argo never happened. In Lee Daniel’s The Butler, the titular butler’s family life is made up and his name was changed, inexplicably. Nevertheless, I was curious to learn just how much of Heaven Knows What was true.

The answer is almost all of it happened to Arielle Holmes—who stars as Harley, a version of herself, in the film—and the story of her discovery is almost worthy of its own movie.  Josh Safdie met her while he was researching another film in the Diamond District of New York City. He learned that Holmes spent her days as a jeweler’s apprentice. She’d then head to a methadone clinic in Chinatown before spending her nights working as a dominatrix. Holmes talked about her life on the streets, about being homeless and about Ilya and the dark love that she described as epic.

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© RADiUS-TWC

Safdie was completely fascinated with Holmes, but he stopped hearing from her two months after their initial meeting. He wasn’t that surprised, what with all the wild bedlam that seemed to swirl around her. Two weeks later, however, he received a call from a pay phone. It was Holmes. She’d just gotten out of Bellevue Hospital after an attempted suicide—the same one that starts the film.

Both concerned for her well-being and taken with the narrative of her life, Safdie offered to pay Holmes for her story. Typing on computers in Apple stores she produced a document over 150 pages. It became her soon-to-be-published memoir Mad Love in New York City as well as the basis for Heaven Knows What.

Movies about heroin are difficult for me to watch, from the few scenes in Little Miss Sunshine to the arm-rotting scenes in Requiem for a Dream. They’re also riveting in a train wreck sort of way. There’s no glamour in this lifestyle, and the Brothers Safdie have given us a film that presents it as a gritty, dismal scene—a scene that’s not exclusive to New York City:  heroin is everywhere, including our fair city and region.

Heaven Knows What is not an easy film to watch, and none of the characters are exactly likable, but knowing that it’s an approximation of real life completely transforms it for me. There’s real pain behind Holmes’ eyes and her raw performance elevates the film from faux-documentary fiction to a hardstyle-scored cautionary tale, tragically cyclic though it may be. Hers is a story that will stay with you long after the final frame.

Despite all the misfortune and heartbreak that swarms around her, Holmes’ life is still a story of redemption in the making. She’s now an actress living in Los Angeles and can next be seen alongside Shia LaBeouf in the upcoming American Honey.

Not too bad for a formerly homeless drug addict.

–Ross

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Dysfunctional Fun for the Holidays

conte-noel

Family love is messy, clinging and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper. -Friedrich Nietzsche

This year, for the first time in many years, I am heading home for the holidays. Most of my family live in Oregon, and as much as I’d like to see them every year for the holiday season, I don’t like dealing with airports. Rare circumstances are bringing me home this year though, and I’m really looking forward to it — despite having to deal with air travel and lengthy flights.

 

I’m pretty fortunate in that my family is fairly low-key and drama free during the holidays. Sure, we have our political squabbles, but we mostly hang out and eat, watch movies and plays cards. [Side note: If I win at cards my dad will say it is “luck,” and if he wins it is inevitably due to “skill.”]

 

If you too are visiting loved ones this holiday season, take a moment to ponder how lucky you are that you don’t belong to the following families.
 

contenoel

A Christmas Tale

A bone marrow transplant, mental illness, self-injury, alienation, general family dysfunction and Catherine Deneuve. It’s a very French holiday film!

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City Island

The Rizzo family is sent into turmoil when the patriarch of the family brings home an ex-con to stay with them. Everyone in this family has a secret, but no one’s sharing, and the consequences could be incredibly uncomfortable.

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The Family Stone

The Stone family presents a united front when eldest son Everett brings home his fiancé, Meredith, whom they all despise. Feeling out of place, Meredith begs her sister to join her in the Stone household, setting off a series of further complications.

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The Family That Preys

Two families are torn apart by ambition, secrets and infidelity — in the end, will they come back stronger than ever?

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The Kids Are All Right

Two moms, two kids … and one sperm donor interloping with family affairs. This is a sweet comedy where the kids of the title may have it more together than the adults.

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Little Miss Sunshine

A dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupt family is brought together when the youngest member of the clan is accepted into a beauty pageant. Despite complications due to drugs, Nietzsche and a recent suicide attempt, the family ultimately triumphs.

idiotbrother

Our Idiot Brother

When idealistic and sweet-natured Ned is kicked out by his hippy girlfriend, he decides to visit each of his three sisters, quickly sending each of their lives into disaster.

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The Royal Tenenbaums

Cancer, resentment, secrets, depression, attempted suicide, unrequited love — it’s all here.

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Step Brothers

Two stunted man-children (Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly) must learn to get along after their mother and father  marry.

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Sixteen Candles

Poor Samantha. All she wants is for someone in her family to remember that it’s her sweet 16th birthday — unfortunately the only person who seems to take an interest in her is a nerdy boy named Ted.

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This is Where I Leave You

When their father passes away, four grown but stunted siblings return to their childhood home to sit Shiva with their free-speaking mother.

 

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Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

Successful talk-show host RJ Stevens was bullied and put upon by his family as a child. When he visits home he’s determined to show everyone how much he’s changed. Unfortunately, RJ’s Southern relatives have other plans.

 

Am I missing any of your favorites? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Happy Upcoming Holidays,

-Tara

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Ready for Ready Player One

When I find out a book is being adapted for film, that book jumps to the top of my TBR list, even if it was never on the list to begin with. I can read the book, get swallowed up in the hype for the movie, and when it’s released I can see it and say, with a smarmy air of superiority and a flip of my nonexistent bangs, “Oh, you haven’t read the book? You should tooooooooooootally read the book.” This may be why I have no friends.

Even cats think I can be too smug.

“Not this again.” Photo by ShayDee13 on Flickr. Click through for source.

That brings us to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and its upcoming adaptation by an obscure director you probably never heard of named Steven Spielberg.

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2044. Most of the world is in pretty bad shape (except for Columbus, Ohio—one of the signs that this is a fictional story). Literally everyone is plugged into a virtual reality utopia known as the OASIS. When OASIS creator James Donovan Halliday dies, it’s revealed that he left behind a series of puzzles leading to to a hidden Easter Egg. Whoever finds the Egg will win Halliday’s real-life fortune and control of the OASIS, like if Charlie and the Chocolate Factory took place inside The Matrix. Naturally, everyone wants to find the Egg, including an evil corporation (is there really any other kind in dystopias?). Our protagonist, Wade Watts, has made it his life’s goal to find the Egg and when he happens upon the first clue, everything changes—both in the real world and in the OASIS.

I’d heard of the book way before I learned about the adaptation, but I was turned off by the novel’s fantasy and gaming aspects. I can say with conviction that I’m not a fantasy nerd. In high school, I read a few Terry Brooks and R.A. Salvatore books and got about three-fourths through The Hobbit, but they weren’t for me.

readyplayeroneI missed out on the early days of gaming too, but when I got older I enjoyed the Nintendo 64 and GameCube and, like everyone in the 90s, I got swept up in Pokémania. I loved Guitar Hero and Rock Band and still find the LEGO video games immensely entertaining (probably because you get to destroy everything on screen), but I wouldn’t call myself a gamer.

Despite these facts, Cline has crafted a great book that I really enjoyed.  At the most basic level, Ready Player One is a love letter to all things 80s (there’s Ghostbusters and Oingo Boingo references within the first two pages). Halliday’s quest is filled with references to the 80s because he grew up in the 80s. As a result, everything that was popular during that decade experiences a resurgence in the real world because everyone is searching for the Egg. Here’s a handy list of all the references made in the book.

Some may find the characters a bit one-dimensional (bad guys and good guys are very clearly black and white) and be puzzled about just how the real world declined so quickly (we’re living in a time that’s only thirty years away from the events of the novel). While things with the evil corporation get wrapped up a little too neatly for my liking, it in no way lessened my enjoyment of the book. Plus, there are plans for a sequel so maybe some lingering questions will be answered there.

As for the adaptation, I have faith in this project with Spielberg at the helm. He had a part in practically every great movie from the 80s—director of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones trilogy; producer of, among others, Back to the Future, Gremlins, An American Tail, *batteries not included, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Land Before Time; and writer of The Goonies and Poltergeist. If you don’t unabashedly love at least one of those films, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

If Spielberg can bring us something like his 80s films or even a few of his 90s films (Jurassic Park anyone?), this could be a blockbuster in every sense of the word. He’s on the right track; he cast Olivia Cooke (about whom I’ve previously gushed) as the tough, sure-of-herself female lead.

Ready Player One opens December 15, 2017, so I have plenty of time to speculate wildly about the film and catch up on some of Spielberg’s films that I missed.

Have you read the book? Are you excited about the adaptation? Let us know in the comments below.

–Ross

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Reel Redundant

As I’m not a fourteen-year-old girl and it’s not 2009, I wouldn’t call myself a Taylor Lautner fan. Granted, I haven’t seen everything in his filmography, but he’s a relatively competent actor in everything I have seen him in. When I learned about his latest film Tracers, I was intrigued that the premise sounded so similar to 2012’s Premium Rush, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon. Both feature bike messengers, some vague Asian mafia, crooked federal employees and also act as how-to guides of what not to do when you’re biking around a city.

Tracers distances itself from Premium Rush by adding parkour into the mix. I thought they were going to build up to the parkour, but no, they drop it in without much explanation. Are there really gangs of at-risk youth doing parkour in New York City? If so, I need to buy myself a pair of American Eagle jeans and move there ASAP.

While both are fairly decent action movies, I gotta give the edge to Premium Rush. It opens with “Baba O’riley”, features the band Sleigh Bells and Michael Shannon’s gambling addict antagonist reaches Nicolas Cage levels of hilarious overacting. Still, Tracers is pretty solid. Neither are Citizen Kane, though.

Citizen Chain, on the other hand ...

Citizen Chain, on the other hand …
© Citizen Chain Cyclery

Anyway, watching Tracers got me thinking of other movies with similar premises. Often these movies get released within a few months of each other and can give audience members a case of déjà vu. Blame it on some kind of filmmaking multiple discovery theory, competing studios or Hollywood’s broken down originality machine.

We’ll experience such repetitive redundancy in 2016 with Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s musical version of The Jungle Book followed by Andy Serkis’ directorial debut of the horribly titled Jungle Book: Origins in 2017. It’s supposed to be a closer adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories–no songs or kingly orangutans. Favreau’s cast boasts Bill Murray as Baloo, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. Serkis, on the other hand, will be playing Baloo and has Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett portraying the other roles, respectively. This is one of the only times when I’m actually interested in both versions; the two casts are enough to get my butt in the cinema.

Here are some other movies from the last few years with similar premises. You be the judge on which one was better.

The Illusionist (September 2006) vs The Prestige (October 2006)

The_Illusionist_Poster

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Released about a month apart, both feature magicians magicking stuff up, but only one has Michael Caine. I’ve always wanted to but have not yet seen The IllusionistThe Prestige, however, is my favorite movie from Christopher Nolan and one that reveals something new with each subsequent viewing. With a box office gross $14 million more than The Illusionist, it seems like audiences liked The Prestige too.

Happy Feet (November 2006) vs Surf’s Up (June 2007)

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Both are computer animated. One features the voice of Robin Williams. The other features the voice of Shia Labeouf. Both are about penguins doing stuff that penguins don’t do, like winning the Stanley Cup more than three times. Oh snap! What do you put on a freezer burn? Because, you know, ice … This is why I don’t write about sports. Happy Feet made over three times as much as Surf’s Up, perhaps indicative that audience fatigue with penguins reached its peak that started in 2005 with March of the Penguins.

No Strings Attached (January 2011) vs Friends with Benefits (July 2011)

No_Strings_Attached_PosterFriends_with_benefits_posterBeautiful people don’t want feelings to get in the way of all the beautiful-people sex they have. Spoiler alert: feelings get in the way. It seems like by the time Friends with Benefits came out, audiences were tired of seeing physically perfect specimens on display; it made about $15 million less than No Strings Attached. Still, it probably made more than it would have if it had starred a pair like John Goodman and Roseanne Barr.

Mirror Mirror (March 2012) vs Snow White and the Huntsman (June 2012)

Mirror_Mirror_FilmPoster Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman_PosterOne features actual little people playing the seven dwarves, the other is a veritable who’s who of English actors portraying the dwarves with camera trickery. Both were largely forgettable and although Snow White and the Huntsman made more than twice as much at the box office as Mirror Mirror, it still came about $15 million short of making back its budget. Currently, there are no plans for Disney to remake its own version (yet).

Olympus Has Fallen (March 2013) vs White House Down (June 2013)

Olympus_Has_Fallen_poster White_House_Down_poster_with_billing_blockThe White House is under attack and only a beefy guy can save the president. Olympus Has Fallen not only made back its $70 million budget, but also out-grossed White House Down by a whopping near-$26 million. Kim Jong Un got upset about The Interview but these two films came out within just three months and featured wanton destruction of our nation’s capital and no one batted an eye. There’s some kind of commentary to be made about that, but I’m not the one to make it.

Do you find different films with similar concepts redundant or does it not bother you at all? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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