Tag Archives: adaptation

Ophelia

[3.5 stars]

Retellings of well-established tales have been all the rage for the last decade or two in books and film. And it’s about time, with the current climate, that someone gave Ophelia her due… especially as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern already had the opportunity decades ago (more than once). This movie is actually a double adaptation… first as a book, and then into this screen version by first-timer Semi Chellas; but it retains its deep roots to Shakespeare.

The movie is decidedly female-driven, with Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) in the title role. She brings a steeley mind and brave innocence to the part as she slips in and around the play as we know it. And Naomi Watts (The Impossible) gives life and layers to Queen Gertrude that I’ve never seen. She is far from the purely manipulating and unfaithful woman that Shakespeare suggested, though she is also aware and culpable. And Clive Owen (Gemini Man) gives them both a solid foil to beat against.

With this new perspective on the story, Hamlet himself, George MacKay (1917), is practically a cipher, though MacKay imbues him with some significant drive and levels with his brief appearances. Brief moments from the original play provide us milestones of where we are in the tale and set context for Ophelia’s perspective. Some jibe with what we think we know and others are informed by the skewed narrative. The relatively unknown Devon Terrell, as Horatio…always the naive explainer of all things Hamlet…adds some nice depth to the story and bridges the action for Ophelia. One nice surprise is Sebastian De Souza (The Great) in a loathsome role which he pulls off smoothly.

Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of surprises as the alternative perspectives unfold. The foreshadowing and clues are not very subtle. But, then again, there aren’t many surprises in Hamlet anymore either, it’s so well known. Ultimately it’s rather satisfying how it all comes together without having to change the original tale. However, watching this female driven story where the women control their own destinies, but not the world around them, is an interesting experience. It keeps the integrity of Hamlet as we know it, but finally provides a full sense of personhood about the women, who have always been so key to Hamlet’s tale.

Ophelia Poster

Emma. (2020)

[3 stars]

Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries) wrote a wonderful adaptation of Austen’s famous novel, which Autumn de Wilde directed flawlessly in her first feature outing. If you like Austen, you’re sure to love the result. If you like Austen. I’m fairly certain I’ve expressed my frustration with her work in the past. It isn’t a flat-out dismissal, but my bar is high for success.

I will say that I very much enjoyed the second half of this film. The first half was a rather tedious setup for the remainder. Not that there weren’t funny moment as we learned the characters. Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass) proves again what a range and depth she has as an actor as she dominates her house and neighbors. She is surrounded by many women of talent. Amber Anderson (Strike) and Taylor-Joy even perform their own music for the camera. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is completely sympathetic as the simpering and sad-but-dedicated pawn who is the secondary thread that ties it all together. And Gemma Whelan (The End of the F***ing World) and Miranda Hart (Call the Midwife) add some wonderful color to the world. As the quietly (mostly) ineffective head of household, Bill Nighy (Pokémon Detective Pikachu), of course, is hilarious throughout.

And then there were the suitors. Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country) and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick/Scrotal Recall) were wonderfully odd and oddly human, and the standouts. Flynn, in particular, bringing Knightley to life in a heart-warming way.

My personal tastes aside, I do want to acknowledge that, for a first feature for both Catton and de Wilde, the result is amazing. I’d certainly look for more of de Wilde’s work. Catton I’d be more reticent about. I tried The Luminaries and was bored out of my skull. Like the first half of this movie, it moved very slowly with little to chew on that wasn’t obvious or kept my interest. I appreciate period dramas that retrain their sensibilities, but I do also demand to be intrigued and entertained in a way my contemporary brain expects to some degree. Otherwise what you have is a museum piece, not a show.

So, again, if you like Austen, you’ve found a perfect piece for your dietary needs. If you’re not a fan, and have some patience, this does pay off during the downslope side of the tale. It is certainly a gorgeous production from a cinematography and costume point of view as well.

Emma. Poster

Les Enfant Terribles

[2 stars]

I know it’s a classic, but it no longer (if it ever) works. It comes close, but refuses to gel. Generally, the world agreed that director Jean-Pierre Melville and writer/adapter Jean Cocteau’s collaboration yielded an imperfect translation to screen. It made “classic” status as part of their bodies of work, not this particular work itself.

In all honesty, this wasn’t the movie I had intended to see. Way back in 1995 I was lucky enough to see Indiscretions on Broadway. That was an adaptation of Cocteau’s earlier tale and film, Les Parents Terrible.  A story that was a much more interesting, funny, sad, and dark tale of familial life and emotional incest. Over the intervening years, somehow the two titles got munged in my head and I ended up queuing Les Enfants. The two are not comparable.

None of the cast in this film really had much of a career. There is the nice curio that Cocteau himself provides the narrator’s voice-over. But nothing much else about the movie stands out as a reason to recommend it. Save your time and find some other french cinema of the era to sate your education and/or curiosity. Or, if you want, something newer that reflects that era, like The Dreamers.

Les Enfants Terribles Poster

Admission

[3 stars]

Director Paul Weitz (Bel Canto) loves the unexpected, whether in plot or in character. Admission is no exception. Despite being pretty much a standard trope, it manages to make its own path with some nice, unexpected curves.

The success of the story is also very much down to the cast; if not their particular talents all the time, certainly for their individual charisma and personalities. Primarily this is with Tina Fey (This is Where I Leave You), both her direct story and the interactions with Paul Rudd (Ideal Home). Nat Wolff (Leap!), pulled along in their wake, manages to make himself known as well.

Outside the main three are some great supporting characters too. Lily Tomlin (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Wallace Shawn (Vanya on 42nd Street), and Michael Sheen (Staged) sprinkle in a little magic in particular.

Writer Karen Croner (One True Thing) adapted the story. The result is a multi-layered comedy and look at life. It is still a broad comedy, but not over-the-top in ways that would normally turn me off. It has touchstones and core level of truth that makes the silly laughter a bit poignant while Weitz’s inventive presentation keeps it alive and engaging. And, of course, it has a wonderful sort of frisson with the current ways of the world where standardized test scores, like the SAT, are not being used for admissions for the foreseeable thanks to the dual pressures of the pandemic and recognition of endemic social inequality.

Admission

Homecoming (series 2)

[3.5 stars]

The first season of Homecoming was a twisted tale of mind-bending fragments that coalesced into something more pedestrian and down-to-earth. That wasn’t a bad thing…it was honest and logical. The perspective was from inside the mystery and it added great suspense and confusion. But now we know the truth.

What we get with the second series is a look at some of the peripheral aspects and the extension of the fallout as we follow the thread left by Stephan James’s (21 Bridges) character. And there are some interesting paths and aspects to explore.

But the best reason to see this second round is Janelle Monáe (Welcome to Marwen) and Hong Chau (Watchmen). They are natural and unforced as a couple. They also each have their own stories and arcs to travel. Chau’s starts in the first season, but this provides another angle on the wonderful final moments she is part of. And Monáe fits seamlessly into the twisted world we traversed as if she’s always been there.

Like the first round, there is a mystery to unravel, though with fewer surprises. And it is full of suspense with bursts of activity. I was with the story completely (despite some willful stupid moments) until the final 10 minutes or so.

The ending didn’t ruin the ride for me; I can understand the decisions that were made. However, it left me very conflicted. To my mind it was out of proportion in scope and depth for the plot. Basically, it violated my sense of balance and left me without sympathy for the characters we probably should have had some sympathy for. Was it a fair choice by the writers? Maybe, but it wasn’t the satisfying punch I think they were hoping for. More importantly, it makes me question whether the third round, assuming it happens, is something I want to see.

Homecoming Poster

 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

[3 stars]

While this Studio Ghibli film has echos of Spirited Away, it has neither the richness of animation nor the depth of story to compare. That doesn’t make it bad, but it does shift the audience to be decidedly younger. And, for a younger audience, it is likely quite magical and engaging; especially for girls since the main character is a young girl who gets to save the day.

Director and co-writer Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) knows the language of children, their sense of wonder, and their unrelenting drive. He captures that aspect well. But without more meat, like his previous When Marnie Was There, it is really just a pleasant distraction and long-form cartoon rather than a movie.

If you like Ghibli’s catalog, particularly the stories intended for their newest enthusiasts in your household, this is a great choice. It has just enough adventure and danger to keep it feeling exciting for them, but nothing permanently bad happens, making it safe. For adults, it will depend on your tolerance for the sillier aspects and overly-simplified plot in exchange for some of the more creative efforts.

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Some Girl(s)

[2.5 stars]

What starts as a semi-amusing, if navel-gazing, journey of discovery for Adam Brody (Damsels in Distress), quickly becomes something darker for the audience observing the discussion duets. Each vignette exposes another layer of Brody’s truth. I had expected something a little lighter and funnier, but this is not that film. The fact that Brody’s character doesn’t even have a name, unlike the women, tells you a bit about the focus and judgement of Neil LaBute’s (Some Velvet Morning) script that brings LaBute’s own play to screen.

Brody’s supporting cast is, frankly, more of what had me load up the film. They are quite the range of talent and styles: Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), Jennifer Morrison (Bombshell), Emily Watson (The Happy Prince), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), and Mía Maestro. Each encounter exposes an aspect of Brody, and each section is intended to have the viewer self-examine their own lives, at least just a little.

Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s direction was adequate. She adapted to each story and character well enough, but she never quite made the uncomfortable moments feel natural and real. There was still a sense of it being forced and heightened as if it was a filmed play rather than a movie. Some of that has to fall to LaBute’s script, but it was Mayer’s job to smooth that over.

As a sort of curious mystery and exposé of a particular kind of young male life, the movie has some value. But it doesn’t really come together so much as take us through part of an endless journey. Whether you want to take that journey will have to be up to you. None of the performances are exceptional, and the message is a little dark if you are hoping for light distraction.

Some Girl(s)

War of the Worlds (2019 v2)

[4 stars]

In a weird confluence there were two War of the Worlds adaptations recently. The 3-part BBC broadcast, which was quite true to the original material, and this updated version by Howard Overman (Crazyhead, Misfits), originally for Epix.

It’s important to remember that HG Wells’ source tale is allegorical, and so is also full of plot holes in the logic because it wasn’t intended as truth, but as example. It’s still a rollicking adventure with a message. Overman took that and then interrogated the story to ask the questions we all think (like: why invade? why approach it they way they did in the original? etc).  His rethink results in a solid bit of science-fiction and story-telling with interesting characters and unexpected twists and issues. It is also rather dark and unforgiving at times, which war is.

In addition, Overman gives us more than a single point of view of the invasion, with the action spread across France and England. We’ve a scientist in each locale, Léa Drucker and Gabriel Byrne (Hereditary), both following threads that lead to revelations. And, of course, we’ve survivors and families working their way across the devastation to various points and for various reasons, and finding others along the way. Stephen Campbell Moore (Red Joan) and Natasha Little (Absentia) provide one set of nodes. Elizabeth McGovern (The Wife) adds some nice variables, while Daisy Edgar-Jones is enjoying multiple notable performances with her concurrent role in Normal People.

My only gripe with this series is that it ends on a set of massive cliff-hangers with only the smallest bits of resolution. Given that it is still not renewed I don’t know if the story will ever be completed. Despite the ending, it is still one of the best thought through stories of its kind in a very long time and worth your time.

War of the Worlds

Fantastic Planet

[3 stars]

Despite being 47 years old, and highly stylized, this ground-breaking anime is still effective and, sadly, still relevant today. As René Laloux’s first feature, and one of his few releases, it is a hypnotic tale of humanity from the point of view of aliens. The look is a bit like Monty Python meets Yellow Submarine, but it manages to make you care and pay attention despite the rough edges of the art and movement.

The story is based on on a book by French science fiction author Stephan Wul and is presented as a surviving diary of the main character. Admittedly, it is a bit rushed and more than a little too on-the-nose at times. However, when you’re stuck at home due to a pandemic with fools running the response and idiots screaming that they should be allowed to go about their lives regardless of who it puts at risk, you can’t just ignore the lack of progress in humanity and the human condition.

At about 70 minutes, it is on the short side of feature, but it won notice at Cannes and from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) for a reason, and is still worth your time today if you enjoy anime on any level.

Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)

[4.5 stars]

Russell T. Davies’ (Years and Years) adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy managed something I’ve never seen in this play: a real sense of danger and motivation. Even Julie Taymor’s inventive take on it didn’t manage that. But Davies also had the courage to reconceive the story and edit it down to 90 minutes. Honestly, it is the better for it in this production. It helps balance the characters into a true ensemble and streamline the story without losing the intent. And director David Kerr took Davies’ script and ran with it.

From its opening, with John Hannah (Sliding Doors) blasting onto scene as a tyrannous Theseus, we know we’re in for something different. This Midsummer owes a lot to many films, from Richard III and Silence of the Lambs to Hunger Games and Wizard of Oz, and a slew of others too long to mention. Few of these are overdone, most are brushstrokes to evoke emotions. But it all works nicely.

Matt Lucas (How to Talk to Girls at Parties) and Maxine Peake (The Bisexual) as Bottom and Titania are two of the amusing standouts, though the young lovers acquit themselves well too, especially Matthew Tennyson (Pride) and Prisca Bakare. I wanted to like Kate Kennedy’s Helena more, but it is always a challenging role to believe, even with the changes that helped it this round. If anyone really got short-changed in this production it was Hiran Abeysekera, whose Puck is entertaining, but most decidedly a minor character rather than the typical scene stealer he has become over the centuries.

As a whole, this is probably the best interpretation, and nearest to perfect, I’ve seen of this play. It’s also one of the best riffs on Shakespeare as well, showing both reverence and a keen sense of its current audience to make it accessible and enjoyable.

Midsummer Night