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Confession time: I’m always just a little leery of film adaptations of recent best-sellers.

That might sound strange, coming from someone who reviews almost as many books as he does movies. And I’m not saying that recent books shouldn’t be made into films – there are plenty of quick turnaround cinematic adaptations that have worked very well.

However, just because a book is popular doesn’t mean that it will translate well to the big screen.

Such is the case with “Where the Crawdads Sing,” the new film based on the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name. Directed by Olivia Newman from a script adapted by Lucy Alibar, it’s the years-spanning story of a young woman who grew up largely alone and isolated in the marshes of North Carolina and the various trials and tribulations she endures, both due to her own actions and the perceptions of others.

Unfortunately, we never get much in the way of a settled tone. The emotional beats tend to whipsaw back and forth, from extremity to gentility and back, without much in the way of rhyme or reason. There are some strong performances and some beautifully atmospheric shots, but they aren’t enough to overcome the issues inherent to a film that can’t seem to stay out of its own way.

Published in Movies

As a rule, I do my best not to let the thoughts of other unduly impact my opinions about a film. That isn’t to say I’m above being influenced – we’re all subject to some extent to the constant firehose stream of hot takes, whether we want to be or not – but I try to keep my own counsel as much as possible.

Generally, my feelings about movies more or less line up with those of my peers – good, bad or indifferent – so it’s always fun when I wind up on the take less traveled.

This brings us to “Persuasion,” the new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Directed by Carrie Cracknell from a script adapted by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, it is an attempt to infuse the story with a bit of a modern sensibility. Now, I’ll concede that said attempt isn’t a wholly successful one, but I also found that, for me, it worked more often than it didn’t. It’s an opinion that leaves me very much in the minority.

But while there are plenty of issues at play here – and I’m certainly not going to go so far as to call this a great movie (or even a particularly good one) – I can’t deny that I was engaged by the effort and found some things to enjoy. Sure, it’s gimmicky and a bit of a mishmash in terms of tone and aesthetic, and yet … I enjoyed myself.

Your mileage may (and likely will) vary.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:11

Austen powers – ‘Emma.’

One never knows what to expect with literary adaptations. Guiding a story from page to screen is tricky business, packed with pitfalls both anticipated and unexpected. The degree of difficulty runs even higher when you’re dealing with a work that is both beloved in its original form AND has already been made into a well-received film.

This begs the question: why adapt Jane Austen’s “Emma” again?

That question is answered by first-time feature director Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma.” Working from a script adapted by Eleanor Catton, this latest incarnation of the tale offers a quirky, period take on the classic, bringing an unexpected aesthetic to bear alongside relatively straightforward storytelling.

(Note: Part of that quirkiness is the title itself – the period in “Emma.” is intended to indicate that the film is a period piece. It’s a fun bit of self-aware metatextual goofiness. That said, going forward, I’ll refer to the title sans period, just for clarity and logistical ease.)

Featuring the talented Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role, this latest incarnation of the story captures the spirited satire of the original while also freely indulging in a rampant tweeness that suits the story’s soul surprisingly well. It’s a smart and sharp film, clever and sweet and just strange enough – a take on the tale that will both satisfy longtime Austenites and serve as a worthwhile introduction to the work.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:46

‘Little Women,’ big feelings

No matter how voracious a cultural consumer we might be, the reality is that there’s just too much out there for anyone to experience it all. Too many books to read, to many songs to hear, too many films and plays and shows to watch. There will always be gaps.

For instance, I myself have a “Little Women”-shaped hole in my own cultural experience. Despite the relative ubiquity of Louisa Mae Alcott’s classic novel and its multitude of film and stage adaptations, I had never directly engaged with the story. I never read the novel, nor saw it on stage or screen. Yes, I had a very basic awareness due to its cultural presence, but it boiled down to basic timeframe, number of sisters and the plot point that Rachel spoils for Joey on an episode of “Friends.”

So I wondered what kind of experience I would have seeing this new “Little Women” cinematic adaptation. It comes courtesy of Greta Gerwig, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, and features an absolutely stacked ensemble cast. Obviously, the odds were in favor of this being a good movie. But would my lack of familiarity hinder my enjoyment?

Turns out I worried for nothing, because not only is “Little Women” a good film, it is a GREAT film. It is masterfully constructed and beautifully composed, featuring a wonderful period aesthetic and absolutely incredible performances. It stays true to the truths of the material’s history while also finding ways to endow those truths with elements tied to our own modern world. It’s an incredible feat of filmmaking, one that is almost certainly even better than you think it is, no matter how good you believe the movie to be.

Published in Style
Friday, 07 October 2016 09:39

Disorient express - 'The Girl on the Train'

Literary phenomenon transitions to the big screen

The Paula Hawkins thriller 'The Girl on the Train' was a wildly popular bestseller, a layered narrative rife with intrigue, sex and danger along with a wave of unreliable narrators and a big twist or two; in short, a perfect candidate to be adapted to the big screen.

Published in Movies

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