Tag Archives: adaptation

Brave New World

[4 stars]

In a year with Watchmen, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, and Lovecraft Country, or even the competing War of the Worlds series (classic and reconceived), it’s easy to understand how this adaptation has been utterly missed. The fact that it’s buried on Peacock (literally, as it’s already been cancelled) probably hasn’t helped either.

The reality is that this story was always a dark mirror for society and, given how dark reality currently is, it was going to struggle this season. I give the creators and Peacock credit for cleaving to the book so closely in feel and intent, even when it veers off widely from the original. But its timing was probably way off for most people. Even though the story is ultimately a triumph for individualism and freedom, it’s a view of the world that isn’t fun to live through.

The cast, however, keep it all engaging. Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) plays a solid John the Savage to Jessica Brown Findlay (Victor Frankenstein) and Harry Lloyd’s (The Hollow Crown) privileged, if fraught, existence. And Demi Moore provides some nice flourishes as John’s mother.

Along with the main cast, Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Nina Sosanya (Staged) add some nice strong rolls. And Joseph Morgan (Immortals) has a quiet but intense hand in the plot evolution. But, while there are many male roles, this series is really dominated by the female performances.

Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World was published in 1932, pre-dating Orwell’s better remembered 1984. Both tackle many of the same issues even if orthogonally from each other. Which only tells you how little changes in politics and society. It’s an interesting mirror for the story’s resurrection that we are in the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression and drowning in both information and electronic oversight. But I will say that that the story was nicely tweaked to better match the trajectory of society and technology without abandoning the book and its intention.

It may be a dark road to ramble, but this incarnation of Brave New World is fascinating and well-done. And even though it is set up for a never-to-appear second season, it manages to stand on its own as is. Timing could have been better, but they delivered a solid mini-series, and certainly the best adaptation of the book to date.

What the Constitution Means to Me

[3.5 stars]

Heidi Schreck isn’t widely know in film and TV, but her semi-autobiographical play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is topical, educational, and funny amid the points. And there is likely an awful lot of information your social studies/government studies, or whatever passes for those classes these days, left out.

While we sit around waiting for the results of the 2020 election, and shortly after we’ve had yet another “originalist” sat on SCOTUS, this play couldn’t be more timely or appropriate. It isn’t perfect…the structure is a bit odd, the moments don’t always flow perfectly from one thought to another, and capturing the play for film wasn’t done particularly well, though it certainly works. But the overall points and the raw emotion that Schreck can dredge up are worth any moments of weakness. And, given where we are as a country right now, this is a must see 100 minutes for everyone (though, be aware it does contain some adult subject matter and language).

So, while we wait to see what direction we may end up pointing, take a break and gain some additional perspective for what’s to come and what could come.

What the Constitution Means to Me Poster

Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)

[3 stars]

War sucks. Men are greedy. Money’s pointless. Women can save us (at a cost to themselves). Love is forever. Fate’s a bitch.

That about sums up this 1953 adaptation of classic fables by Kenji Mizoguchi in one of his last films. Basically this is a ghost story, in the traditional Japanese sense, which made for some appropriate October viewing.

But I can’t say I recommend the film other than to film buffs or historians. While beautifully filmed, it’s slow, marginally acted, and barely gripping. Some of this is style choice, to be sure. However, that doesn’t mean it survived the years well. This one is definitely a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.

Ugetsu Poster

Over the Moon

[3 stars]

I don’t know a parent who hasn’t sweated the two really big conversations with their kids: sex and death. Over the moon takes on the latter in a very accessible and relatively honest way without losing the magic of the tale. The story, by the late Audrey Wells (The Hate U Give), doesn’t shy away from many of the issues and feelings while also not making it overly depressing; she was targeting tweens and younger. The result of this latest Netflix drop is definitely a movie for kids, but with a delightfully odd mix of story and craft that kept me interested.

On the craft side, it is an odd mix of high-end CGI and flat animation. And, generally, the flat animation is used for the fantasy side of the world rather than the Fei Fei, our intrepid and driven heroine’s world. It makes for an odd experience, but it somehow works.

The story, however, is probably the more interesting of the choices. It brings in science as a way to focus the action, but then leaps into fantasy without apology. It also tackles some real life challenges.

The voice talent is adequate, but nothing that really stands out, despite some recognizable names. And the music is good, but never quite finds a song that will stick in your head…it’s close, but just misses. I will, however, give them props for some of the lyrics and script being at least a bit honest about how complicated families and life can be.

Over the Moon is fun once for adults, if you like anime and particularly if you like seeing other myths than we’re used to catching in English. Kids will likely enjoy this more, and perhaps even more than once, though I’m not a great predictor when it comes to that. But it is certainly a solid achievement and a funny and poignant tale.

Over the Moon Poster

American Utopia

[4 stars]

Back in 1984 David Byrne and David Lynch gave us unequivocally the best concert film ever released with Stop Making Sense. It is the bar by which I judge every concert film and, unsurprisingly, even more appropriate in this case. So, here we are 36 years later and Byrne has teamed with Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) to capture his Broadway concert and bring it to the masses.

First off, the music and musicianship are great. But that’s no surprise. Byrne has a wealth of music to draw on and has always gathered capable artists around him. The shape of the concert, however, isn’t quite what he managed with Stop Making Sense.

There is a shape. But unlike Stop Making Sense, which builds on the music and performance, American Utopia focuses on message. And, oddly, that message comes most into focus most powerfully when he performs Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” rather than his own songs. But while there is a thread of connective tissue thematically to the song choices and presentation, it never quite has the build and completeness of the earlier movie. Lee got lost in angles and points of view the audience didn’t have rather than just making the story on stage work. It isn’t poorly done, but it feels more like a filmed performance than it does a story.

If you have any love of The Talking Heads or Byrne’s music, this is a must-see concert. But if you’re hoping for a career topper after such a long gap, you may be a bit disappointed. Go for the concert and leave  your expectations set appropriately. You won’t be sorry you spent the time. Byrne can still control a stage and his message is a timely one for our world.

David Byrne's American Utopia Poster

Lovecraft Country

[4 stars]

The origin of this series is the book of the same name by Matt Ruff. The book is a perfect match for our times all on its own, and predated the explosion of outcries that have swept the nation in a prescient coup when it was published back at the top of 2017. The book even predates Get Out. Like the HBO adaptation, it’s also episodic by design and full of adventure amid the message. And Jordan Peele (Us) is the perfect match for overseeing series that Misha Green has created. Much like Watchmen and Penny Dreadful: City of Angles, this is an entertaining commentary that is impossible to look away from and devastating to run through.

From the beginning the show separates its action from the book, but manages to retain the sense and direction of it entirely. It’s quite a feat of adaptation. There are reasonable arguments to be made that they tried to do too much, overloaded the metaphors with too many examples and storylines. But I enjoyed the additional layers; the arc of this series builds a house of cards through its 10 episodes that we get to asail in the finale. How it all plays out is completely open till the end which helps add to the suspense. And, of course, there is setup for what could be an even wilder ride for a season 2 (read more about that here after you’ve seen the current series). However, one of the impacts of the changes from the book is also a much less likeable cast of characters. None of them are wholly positive, and all of them are often prickly to the point of being nasty.

The story itself is a quietly complex and intense tale that slips in and out of the world we know and a world that only haunts nightmares. More impressively, it makes horror, well, feel more real. It isn’t about making you jump, it’s about making you metaphysically ill and uncomfortable while making the characters truly afraid. Despite the wild situations, they all feel very grounded in truth, be it real humans and their repugnant ways or ghosts and elder gods and their swinging tentacles and many eyes. Look, in particular, at the third episode, “Holy Ghost,” and consider these aspects.

Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Birds of Prey) are the primary focus pulling us along. Their relationship, and tension in that relationship, evolves over the stretch of the story and serves as the backboard against which so much else bounces.

Smollett-Bell is also just one of many powerful women in the story. She is joined by Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk), Wunmi Mosaku (The End of the F***ing World), and Abbey Lee (The Dark Tower) who serve as example and preachers to the plight of women and the taking of power. Even Courtney B. Vance (Project Power) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Motherless Brooklyn) take backseats to their storms.

There are too many amazing episodes to call out, though “I Am” certainly ranks up there requiring a special call out…if nothing else for its audacity given the mainstream audience target. In a good year of content creation, Lovecraft would have stood out as something special. In the year of the pandemic where new material is fairly restricted, it towers over most of the rest. Much like Watchmen’s sweep of awards last season, watch for Lovecraft to dominate nominations, if not also taking home many awards.

Lovecraft Country Poster

Sonic the Hedgehog

[3 stars]

Thanks to the pandemic, it’s taken ages to get my hands on a copy of this silly romp. Frankly, it was better than I expected; though far from a good film, it was entertaining for its intended audience.

And the intended audience is young. Fortunately, the cast truly committed to the story and, in context, it works just enough to let an adult get through it with a knowing smile. It doesn’t have the edge of Pokemon: Detective Pickachu, but it’s self-conscious enough that you don’t have to groan through it all.

James Marsden (The Female Brain) and Jim Carrey (Kick-Ass 2) really carry the story, though Ben Schwartz’s (Standing Up, Falling Down) Sonic knits it together nicely. Marsden actually outshines them both thanks to his guileless delivery and charisma. Despite the likes of Tika Sumpter (Old Man & the Gun) in the cast, women are notably absent in driving roles.

This is director Jeff Fowler’s first real foray directing. But when you realize he’s working with writing team Pat Casey and Josh Miller, best known for such tightly written gems like Transylmania and Golan, the Insatiable, you gotta cut the guy a break on what he could accomplish.

Basically, this is safe for kids and not boring for adults. It isn’t a great film, but it is a reasonable translation to screen for a game…but that isn’t too high a bar, is it?

Sonic the Hedgehog Poster

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

[3 stars]

It’s rare when a TV show makes the leap to big screen, even in limited fashion. Certainly Miss Fisher was a solid candidate, with great characters, delightful dialogue, incredible costumes, and fun mysteries. However, this leap wasn’t quite able to stick the landing.

The original series was huge fun and ended way too soon. What made it work was the combination of sass and characters. While Deb Cox (from the original show crew) retained the sass in the script, going global really robbed the story of the wide range of characters and interplay we were invested in. And, sadly, even for the characters that had returned, the magic just wasn’t there anymore. The tension of will they/won’t they between Essie Davis (Assassin’s Creed) and Nathan Page, which had been ramped up over 3 years plus the wait for this tale, didn’t feel satisfying, or even all that interesting. And new characters like Rupert Penry-Jones (Charlotte Gray) never built up any flesh on their bones.

The main issue is that director Tony Tilse pushed for more of an action movie pacing, moving from moment to moment with small quips from characters to stitch it together. It made for almost no character building…and with only two main characters that we knew, that meant almost no characters at all that were fleshed out for us to connect with. Basically, Tilse wasn’t able to navigate the leap to feature film from small screen directing for their first go-round.

The movie isn’t a total loss. It has some fun moments and Fisher in multiple (unnecessary and unexplained) costumes. The dialogue, when it works, is at the standard you’d expect and the vistas are filmed quite nicely. My disappointment/frustration was in the anticipation. I loved the original series, and still rewatch it. After such a long wait, this wasn’t the result I’d hoped for. Originally there were three or four movies planned, and certainly this first sets up another. Hopefully they have learned from this initial foray and can improve going forward…assuming they go forward.

Unknown Origins (Orígenes Secretos)

[4 stars]

One of the best geekfests since Deadpool, and considerably more down to earth. I could explain more, but it would give away the fun.

Director and co-writer David Galán Galindo walks a very difficult line to deliver an odd buddy-cop movie that somehow rides the border of absurd without ever quite losing control. And while a lot of that is due to the script, it is in large part thanks to his cast.

Brays Efe, begins as a clear riff on Jack Black, but evolves into his own, becoming someone quite a bit more as we learn about him and as the plot demands. And Verónica Echegui (Fortitude) starts off equally absurd, but quickly proves her abilities and status. Even Ernesto Alterio’s slightly gleeful and dedicated coroner pushes edges but never loses credibility. The story is helped by the solid center of Antonio Resines as the outgoing guard and the incoming Javier Rey, who are both more traditional detectives, thought at very different ends of their careers. Rey’s earnest nature provides ample foil for the rest of the cast while he finds his way.

Somehow the grabbag of strange characters comes together into something believable enough to entertain and be taken almost seriously. It is definitely more than the sum of its parts and aimed squarely at a particular kind of audience. While it may work generally, the more you know of the superhero or comic world, the more you will enjoy the tale. Anyone with a leaning in these areas should make time for this; you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and don’t miss the bonus scene at the end of the credits for a final treat…

Enola Holmes

[4.5 stars]

Was there ever any doubt that Millie Bobby Brown (Godzilla: King of Monsters) had the chops to carry a movie? And what a wonderful vehicle she has found. Not only does she own the screen with her charisma and chops, but her character drives the tale, pushing her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock to the periphery, making it a decidedly female-driven story.

Sam Claflin (Charlie’s Angels) is a perfectly uptight Mycroft, while Henry Cavill (Witcher) is the thoroughly self-absorbed, but surprisingly available Sherlock. Throw in Helena Bonham Carter (Ocean’s 8) as their rather unique mum, and you’ve a family to be reckoned with…and likely a good salary for a mental health professional. But all their performances are tightly controlled under Fleabag  director Harry Bradbeer’s entirely capable hands.

Despite these lofty names in her family, the story really focuses more on her adventures with the young Louis Partridge; Enola’s master-in-distress. The story manages to both lean into and avoid the young love tropes without making it insulting to either of them. And with Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim: Uprising) constantly at their heels to push along the danger, there are adventures to be had.

The cast is also chock full of other great talents to help buoy the film. Adeel Akhtar (Murder Mystery), Susan Wokoma (Crazyhead), Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve), and Frances de la Tour (The Lady in the Van) help fill out the film with known and unknown characters from the Holmesian universe.

But it isn’t just all fun and games (afoot). Enola Holmes is a timely flick, in more than one way…and the fun is watching all that play out. The adaptation from Nancy Springer’s series by Jack Thorne (Radioactive) is wonderfully on point for current needs. And the result is also an example of what Netflix can find when it really tries, though it’s a shame this never saw the big screen. I think this film could have found an audience. Certainly the cinematography was with the larger format in mind, though it plays perfectly well on a home setup.

Make time for this one, whether you’ve a young woman at home with you or not. It’s fun, wry, sly, and full of adventure; perfect for a light escape that won’t insult your intelligence. And to see Brown beginning to come into her own just adds to the icing on this slightly savory confection.