Tag: based on book

Festival Review: The Congress (2014)


Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Beginning in an almost-real version of the real world, The Congress centers on Robin Wright, playing struggling actress Robin Wright, once-beloved star of The Princess Bride whose career has gone sour after years of missed roles and bad film choices. Now in her 40s, Robin devotes much of her time caring for her sick teenaged son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly losing his hearing and sight. When a cruel producer (Danny Huston) offers her an unbelievable contract, she decides to take it, resulting in her entire self being digitized. Her digital likeness is taken over by a studio conglomerate, which uses it to make new movies starring a younger, malleable, no-personal-melodrama version of Robin Wright, while the real one is no longer allowed to act. Twenty years later, she meets with the company to negotiate a new contract, but finds that the world is changing faster than she anticipated, with a new chemical process that allows humans to view the world as a cartoon, changing themselves and everything around them through drug-fueled imagination.

Positioning its characters between the contrasting poles of heartbreaking realism and completely bonkers fantasy, The Congress juggles a multitude of ideas but manages to present a fairly cohesive story. By grounding his tale with a real-life protagonist, the actress Robin Wright, Folman is able to gradually incorporate stranger and stranger concepts, with the final destination barely resembling the starting point. The world he creates is definitely weird, distinguished by its ever-fluctuating landscape and psychedelic colors, populated by people who are limited only by the reach of their imaginations. The animation retains the superficial sheen and flatness of Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir, but the visual style varies, overwhelming the viewer with different aesthetics and effects, conveying the befuddlement felt by Wright when she enters this unfamiliar animated world.


I loved it, but it’s not without its flaws. The animation just works, stringing together multiple influences and references but almost distracting me with that Flash-style feel, where everything is sort of disassociated. The story is all over the place, jumping across decades at different points to reflect the extreme changes in society, and attempting to simultaneously focus on Wright’s personal experiences of caring for (and later trying to locate) her son as well as the structure of this crazy future. But somehow it all mostly works, with Wright remaining strong as the protagonist whose confused perspective comes to mirror the audience’s. The whole thing is an emotional experience, weird and funny and satirical and inventive and honestly rather touching. I could tell that some people in the audience were left with a “Huh?” reaction, but I walked out feeling inspired and moved.


Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. I’m just drawing a blank here for any other movie, though I’m sure there are a few sci-fi ones that would be good. It’s up to you, I guess.

The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

But first! Read Part I!

So yes, the Thon is about halfway over, many hours have passed. I’ve lost some of my patience with the “Close the door” running joke, and the kids sitting behind me have been way too chatty, but I’m feeling awake, and excited about the next several films, and my companions have been staying strong. Plus I know I’ve got some Dunkin in my future, always a pleasant thought. (God, I’m, like, so New England.) So here we go.


7 The Truman Show (1998)

I always forget how good this movie is, but it’s like, really good. Jim Carrey stars as the titular Truman, a man raised from birth by a television station, with a huge enclosed studio built just for him to create the illusion of reality. Unbeknownst to him, he is filmed every moment of his life, all of the people surrounding him are paid actors, and he is broadcast to televisions across the world 24/7. After a series of strange occurrences, Truman begins to suspect that his seemingly perfect life is not actual reality, and he works to uncover the puppeteers behind it. It’s a strong, scarily believable premise with a great cast and funny script. There’s a lot to like: the blatant commercial satire, Truman’s goofy faces, suburban sitcom stereotypes, Ed Harris’s beret, Ed Harris’s huge face, Ed Harris’s self-imposed deification. And of course, that pitch-perfect final scene. Just gorgeous. This viewing I was struck most by all the people watching at home, as the film frequently cuts to Truman’s viewers and shows their reactions. It’s a good comedic trick, and of course a commentary on our obsession with televised stories, but my favorite thing was the adorable elderly lesbian couple who embroidered pillows with Truman’s face and generally were just cute fangirls in love.



8 Electric Dreams (1984)

I read about this movie ages ago when I was crushing on Bud Cort after my first viewing of Harold and Maude, but couldn’t find it anywhere and forgot about it. The Thon got a rare print, perfectly timed around the recent months’ discussions of Her. The story follows Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen), a nerdy architect who gets a computer and hooks it up to everything in his house but then gets mad at it one day and spills champagne on it and it becomes sentient. Naturally. The computer (voiced by Cort) develops a romantic attachment to Madeline (Virginia Madsen), the cellist who lives upstairs. But Miles falls for her too, and they start dating when Madeline hears the music the computer makes (inspired by her) and assumes it comes from Miles. A wacky comedy of errors follows, full of mega-80s music sequences, weird technology jokes, San Francisco scenery, and demonic computer freakouts. It’s a bizarre movie, simultaneously really bad and really great, endearing itself to me mainly through its totally 80s-ness. And von Dohlen is kinda cute. Plus the music! God, I’m still singing that theme song.



9 The Visitor (1979)

Ok here’s where I get a little (more than a little) pissy. Yes, I’m sleep-deprived and my butt hurts a bit from the seat, but I know I would have been annoyed regardless. So. Remember how I was super into The Visitor when it screened at the Brattle a few months ago, but I was sitting next to these really loud, inane guys who laughed uproariously at every single thing onscreen, like maybe they’d never seen a movie before and were just surprised by the moving images? Yeah so I was really excited to see this film again, on a big screen, with what I hoped would be a more appreciative audience. But instead, Major Tom, the Thon’s host, literally invited the entire audience to make fun of it in his introduction, thus spurring a lot of unnecessary running commentary for the film’s duration. Whatever. I still think it’s a wonderfully weird, inventive, visually stunning film, and I think it’s too bad everyone keeps going into it expecting a laugh. I know it’s not for everyone, but it seems to me people aren’t even giving it a chance because they assume it’s going to be stupid or bad before they even see it. Oh well. I did kind of tell off a dude in the screening room when he said it didn’t make any sense: I took it upon myself to explain some of the plot points to him and also to remind him that’s it’s a really awesome movie. Sorry if I was overzealous, there, stranger, I just have a lot of thoughts about The Visitor! The title links to my original review.



10 The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

This was another one I was really looking forward to, mainly because the concept of a last-people-on-earth movie from 1959 that stars a man of color is pretty neat. Loosely based on MP Scheil’s novel The Purple Cloud, the film stars Harry Belafonte as a miner, Ralph, who, trapped underground for a few days, manages to avoid the apocalypse. He comes up the (seemingly) last man on earth, makes his way to New York City, and does his best to make his lonely life bearable, getting things running again. He finds one other lost soul, a young woman named Sarah (Inger Stevens), and they form a desperate friendship, at times loving and others combative. Though he loves her, Ralph is convinced that race relations can’t change, even in their own new world, and he will always be on a different level than her because of entrenched societal prejudices. When a third survivor (Mel Ferrer) is discovered, Ralph seems content to push them into a romance to ease his own conscience. It’s a dark, somewhat nihilistic film with interesting racial commentary very much relevant to the period in which it was made. I loved the performances, especially Belafonte, who really carries the first half of the movie completely. It’s a bit slow-moving, as these types of stories usually are, but I was totally engaged. Good thing the last surviving people on earth are all so attractive; I really just wanted to see Belafonte and Stevens make out, oh my goodness. And it ends in an implied three-way, aw yeah.

NOTE: I slept through the next film, Irish alien comedy Grabbers. Sorry. I heard it was a fun one, but I was too sleepy.


children of men

11 Children of Men (2006)

I don’t think I’d seen this since it was in theaters, though I remember loving it, and damn was it fantastic to revisit. Set in the near future, the premise imagines a world where women can no longer give birth, and humans are suddenly faced with their own expiration date. Nations close their borders, placing blame on each other, and violent rebels fight for better treatment. When one young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), miraculously becomes pregnant, she knows that everyone will want a piece of her and her baby. She enlists former activist Theo (Clive Owen) to transport her out of England, hoping to find safe haven with an off-the-grid group called The Human Project. They must wade through betrayal, death, sickness, and massive destruction, but both are determined to fight for the survival of her child. Another great sci-fi film that touches on race and gender issues, it is a completely intense, dismal story that manages to be genuinely moving. It’s the kind of film that invites closer scrutiny because its world-building is so interesting (and realistic), but ultimately stays with you because of your emotional investment. I cried a lot. Thanks, Alfonso CuarĂ³n.


flash gordon

12 Flash Gordon (1980)

I get excited about this movie primarily for the Queen soundtrack, it’s true. I just hear that FLASH!… AHH-AHHHHH and I get so pumped up! The movie itself is not that great, it’s kind of boring but I do love the visuals. Based on the classic comics/serials, it stars Sam Jones as the titular football player, who winds up on a distant planet along with scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) and journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). Surrounded by psychedelic color schemes and sexy aliens, Flash must fight against Ming the Merciless, a cruel despot who plans to destroy the earth. Lots of people show up to help out, including the sensual Ornella Muti, Robin Hood-esque Timothy Dalton, loud and winged Brian Blessed, and Richard O’Brien for like five minutes. This is the only version of the character I’ve seen so I’ve never been able to comment on its merits as an adaptation, but on its own it’s ridiculous and passably entertaining pulp, notable especially for the amazing theme song and the elaborately trippy costume and set design. Also it really is weirdly sexy, like everyone is constantly talking about boning. I feel like Flesh Gordon didn’t have to stretch the story too far.

Ok all done, 24 hours of science-fiction, (mostly) bested yet again! See you next year!

Movie Review: The Monuments Men (2014)

monuments men

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

Gathering together a bunch of famous (white, male) faces and giving them World War II uniforms, George Clooney made a movie for his acting buddies and called it The Monuments Men. Vaguely based on fact but massively oversimplified and dramatized, the film follows a group of men drafted into the US army with the mission of saving artworks and historical buildings in danger of theft or destruction while the war rages in Europe. They travel around France, Belgium, and Germany attempting to track down works that the Nazis have stolen, as well as preemptively protect works that might be targeted. You see, Hitler hates art so much he wants to have it all for himself, but thank goodness George Clooney is there to save “our” culture, which is really what we’re fighting for, so it’s important even if no one else thinks so. Some of his friends die (there is a war on, after all) and everyone is sad, but in the end they uncover a lot of lost art and (spoiler alert) beat the Nazis, so it’s not in vain.

I know I’m not actually the audience for this film, I know too much about the subject. This is a film for people who aren’t really too knowledgeable about art and WWII, and want to learn about it while also being entertained, and who probably like looking at George Clooney and Matt Damon. And that’s fine, I get it. I’m always happy when a mainstream movie about art history comes out, because I think it’s a great way to reach a wide audience, including people who might not usually be interested in art but may find a new passion for it through the movie experience. I also love this time period, there are so many fascinating stories and figures involving World War II, so much that went on aside from battles and Nazi rallies. All those lesser-known heroes often have unexpected adventures, and I naturally like the art-related ones the best. The experience of the Monuments Men and related figures are genuinely fascinating, often uplifting, and significant. Instead of dealing with straightforward history, however, Clooney has taking the basic concepts and individuals and smushed them all together to create one of the most cliche-ridden wartime dramas I’ve ever seen.

Riddled with overlong, over-the-top voice-overs and never quite settling on a tone, The Monuments Men is basically any over-dramatized movie about a war, but there are a few more shots of paintings. The script hits every expected beat, every character is a just a composite of recognizable tropes, most of the dialogue doesn’t really mean anything- just phrases like “protect our culture” and “important” and “good men” and “fuck the Germans.” I didn’t really care about any of these people, even though I like most of the cast. It just felt like no one was trying very hard, they just sort of threw in their respective one-liners and receded into the white-and-tan background. Some scenes are funny- the interactions between Bob Balaban and Bill Murray, who are inexplicable frenemies, stand out- and some are manipulatively tragic, but it’s only the few actual historical points that really stand out. The discovery of Nazi treasure troves buried in underground mines, Hitler’s model of his planned major cultural center in his hometown of Linz, and the inspirational dedication of French museum assistant Claire Simone (played by lone female cast member Cate Blanchett, based on the real-life Rose Valland, who should just get her own movie really)… these are the moments I sat up and noticed, not anything that was character-driven.

The biggest failing of this movie, however, isn’t its cut-and-paste approach to filmmaking, but rather its priorities. For a movie that presents itself as a movie about art, there isn’t all that much art. And for all of Clooney’s melodramatic speech-making about how saving “our” culture is so important (by “our,” I’m assuming he means Western Europe? Especially all the white dudes of that region?), he never really communicates why this stuff is so important. The characters are meant to be people in the arts- architects, artists, art historians, curators- but few of them actually talk about art, or their part in it. The only time anyone seems to even be affected by a work is when Hugh Bonneville sees Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges, but the work itself quickly turns into a plot device so Clooney can go on with his heavy-handed storytelling. People keep asking, why are we prioritizing these artworks over human lives? Why should cultural artifacts be given any kind of notice in this massive global conflict? Who cares?

Well, we know Clooney and his friends care, and we know we should care, but we have no idea why. The majesty of these artworks, their fragility, their eccentric creators, the unexplainable emotional gut-punch that can come with simply looking upon something so singularly beautiful: this is never expressed on film. And that’s a real shame. Films about art should be making it accessible to more people, and should help audiences experience its unique effects and relevant context. The works discussed and sought after are so interesting and inspiring in themselves, as are the actual stories of the Monuments Men (and co.), that I wish Clooney had dedicated his efforts to sharing them, instead of throwing all these cliches into a movie blender, putting it all to hilariously banal music, and gathering together all his famous friends. It is not a terrible film, and in fact I found parts of it exciting and fun, but it’s so unexceptional, so bland. Nothing like the real thing.

And seriously, can we get a Rose Valland movie already? Jeez.


Pair This Movie With: Honestly, if you want to know about the intertwined histories of art and World War II, just read The Rape of Europa by Lynn Nicholas, which also has a documentary film version. I haven’t read The Monuments Men book but that’s probably good, too, just less extensive. And Rose Valland wrote a book about her experiences, but I’m not sure if it’s been translated into English.

Movie Review: The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)


Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection. Originally a gift from my friend Ben.

On New Year’s Eve my plans were unexpectedly canceled, and I ended up staying in by myself and it was actually really nice since honestly I’ve always found it to be kind of an annoying holiday. The only bad thing was all the technology in my house decided to stop working that night so my plan to watch some expiring Netflix instant movies didn’t pan out, and I couldn’t use our projector. In the end I decided to watch one of the many dvd’s I own but have never seen. The Adventures of Mark Twain promised to be a bit of claymation weirdness, which seemed a good way to end the year. The film is inspired by a remark from Twain that since he was born under Halley’s Comet, he’d go out with it too (and he did indeed pass away the day after the comet returned in 1910). In this fanciful tale, the aging writer travels to meet the comet in a magical airship, accompanied by three if his own creations: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher. During their journey the kids hear some of Twain’s stories and interact with some of his weirder characters.

I’ve gotta say I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this, and I think that worked out just fine. I’m not too familiar with Mark Twain or his work, and what I have read is the more folksy or mainstream stuff, so I did not expect all the full-on weirdness from his stories. The film starts out kind of dull, with Tom, Huck, and Becky chilling with Twain as he spouts adages and talks about a leaping frog contest. As I sat there unsure if this movie was actually interesting, it took a turn for the better during a funny segment about Adam and Eve, taken from his parody of Genesis, “Extracts from Adam’s Diary.” By the time we hit the section about Captain Stormfield’s arrival at a version of heaven for disco-dancing aliens, I knew this movie was for me. It’s funny and imaginative, strange and adventurous, and cleverly broken up into different visualizations of Twain’s short stories. The most memorable segment comes from his last manuscript, left unfinished when he died, and it’s got a terrifying demon/angel/alien creature who shows the children how fucked up humans are. This movie gets surprisingly nihilistic for a supposed “family” feature, but I guess with such a fatalistic premise it shouldn’t be a shock.

While I enjoyed the bizarre script and goofy storytelling, it was the animation that won me over. This was apparently the first full-length claymation feature, and the extreme talent on board is obvious. There is more expression and feeling in these clay faces than I’ve seen in any recent CG-animated film, and I just loved the animation style. There are some beautiful landscapes, and lots of really fun little moments. Twain’s airship has some great effects and painstaking attention to detail. The sequence with the Mysterious Stranger is dark as hell due to its unsettling visuals, while the whimsical shenanigans of the kids are made sillier by their exaggerated character design. Regardless of anyone’s opinions about Twain and his writing, this film is more than worth it for the animation alone. I’m still thinking about the end sequence where Twain merges with the comet and becomes this big, beautiful yellow cloud that encourages the children to fly the ship themselves. And there are some lovely things done with water. And seriously, the facial expressions: just excellent.

I may have been a bit bored at the start but I’m so glad I stuck around for this oddball bit of entertainment. The animation is wonderful and the writing is equal parts funny and darkly bizarre, which I appreciated. I kept expecting an awkward moment when the kids would discover that they were just characters in Twain’s books but somehow that never happened. I guess a juvenile existential crisis would have been a bit much even for this movie.


Pair This Movie With: I wanted more stop-motion adventure, so maybe something like James and the Giant Peach.

Movie Review: The Innocents (1961)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

When I fell in love with The Haunting a few months ago, several people recommended The Innocents, another atmospheric horror movie from the 60s, though with fewer gay undertones and more children. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, new governess to orphaned children Miles and Flora. Provided for by their wealthy uncle but rarely shown any affection by him, they live in a large country estate with various servants and caretakers. Miss Giddens is instantly smitten with her precocious charges, but feels there is an unfriendly presence in the house. After hearing about the recent deaths of the previous governess and a domineering valet, she becomes convinced that their ghosts have remained on the grounds and are exerting a dangerous influence on the children. Knowing their uncle will not want to be bothered, she sets out to save the souls of Miles and Flora by herself.

With ghastly apparitions and seedy undertones, The Innocents is as much as horror story as it is a twisted morality tale. Miss Giddens- a prim minister’s daughter who delights in the naivete and prepubescent bliss of children- is a force for Christian rectitude. She senses something unholy, some evil brought about by the distasteful sexual escapades of the two dead lovers, and is convinced their ghostly carnal desires are infecting her innocent charges. These kids have seen more than their young eyes deserve, and it’s clear that their experiences have forced them to mature quickly in some ways. How much of that may be the workings of two nefarious ghosts is hard to say, since most of the paranormal activity is only witnessed by Miss Giddens herself, who may just be overwhelmed by prudishness and a sudden (totally understandable) aversion to children. Of course, it all seems very real and I was willing to believe Quint and Miss Jessel were actually haunting this house, especially since their apparitions were pretty damned scary. Miss Jessel’s appearance in the marshes freaked me the fuck out. Their sordid tale and Miss Giddens’ reaction to it oozed spooky scandal, and regardless of the “reality” I was into it.

I loved the melodramatic flare and moody camerawork, the effective use of candle lighting and the antebellum costumes- it is a beautiful film in many ways. It is also unpredictable, and fairly horrific in its conclusion. Its suggestive sexuality is weird and unexpected as the script toys with this idea of promiscuous adults partially inhabiting the bodies of children. While I really appreciated all of these factors, I found I wasn’t wholly absorbed by the film. Maybe it was the pacing, which was too gradual and seemed to miss certain beats, or maybe it was all the unresolved issues. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something that keeps me from all-out loving The Innocents, though I can readily say I was really impressed by it.


Pair This Movie With: Well the aforementioned The Haunting is indeed a good pairing! Also, for more creepy stories with kids and big mansions, there’s The Orphanage and The Others. Finally, for something more film noiry, I feel like Night of the Hunter would be an interesting pairing because of its similar themes of children’s supposed innocence and adult influence.