Tag Archives: Book Adaptations

The Circle (2017): Just Watch “Black Mirror” Instead

      “The Circle” is an unfocused mess full of hack characters and no discernible theme. I hear the book is good so just read the book. I’ll go into why I went from disliking to hating this film in a moment because there is quite a lot to unload on this film, but the biggest parts are that lack of theme, half-formed characters and with all of that, failure to go full ham. If you are going to be cheesy you should bank on it and in doing so create your own form of malformed beauty.

  The film was directed by James Ponsoldt who was also one of the producers, written by Dave Eggers who also wrote the book and produced by Anthony Bregman and Gary Goetzman.

    The story involves Mae (Emma Watson) getting a job at The Circle (A facebookish tech. company) thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). She soon finds it is not the paradise it seems to be when the public sharing among the circle and constant call for interaction begins to unfold leading to dark consequences.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Concept – The concept is a lot like a “Black Mirror” episode. What happens when social media becomes a society and you are under pressure to reveal your life and what you are doing at all times? I like this concept but this isn’t the focus or the theme of the film, even though the trailers seem to set it up that way.

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks great, there are great uses of shadow and holograms to really illustrate the future. You can tell the director put a lot of love into this film…

The Cons: Hack Characters – Dave Eggars wrote the book, but apparently can’t write screenplays. None of these characters feel fully fleshed out. Mae the main character is almost set up to have a rise to power only to become a reformer…but the reasons with that don’t feel all that explored.

   She has an off the grid ex who is the “hero” of the film, which in turn shuts down her becoming a professional within her own life. He also gets harassed for his antler art? What the hell. He is a paranoid guy in the woods whose paranoia ends up being justified but we never get to know him. He is an idealized version of the off the grid blue collar hero. What the ever living hell…He’s not a character and they turn him into a martyr when people stalk him on a new program and he drives off a bridge. We are told they do things together or did things together, but we never see it. It is all tell and now show. Again, he’s an idea not a character.

Her best friend Annie is rising in the company and disappears. I wanted to see her rise and fall arc. But she is barely around…Same Ty Lafitte…John Boyega’s character who is fighting the Circle and invented another giant tech. media company…and finally Hanks’s Eamon, one of the founders whose agenda is never known and who is only around as a vague threat. These aren’t characters, these are concepts in a terrible script.

Social Media and Tech. Paranoia – We are told to fear tech. (her parents telling her not to trust the Circle and her ex being off the Grid) and we see how it turns her and Annie into monsters at times…but that is also contradicted with the ending. This is a vague theme that exists but doesn’t go anywhere and is never fully explored.

A Missed Corruption Arc – This is a hackneyed script in a hammy story…so knowing this, they should have just made Mae a villain. Her life is public, make her a Trump figure who can lampoon people she talks too and win by being horrible…since we see her do this a few times till “noble” ex gets the axe. I wanted her to take out the owners and gain control of the company. That would have made this film a beautiful disaster that is “So bad it’s good.” Sadly this potential is missed. They should have embraced tech and information as power that corrupts…what a waste.

Lack of any Theme – There is no core theme. There is a vague sense of distrusting smart phones and social media…but Mae makes everything public in the end to take out The Circle’s founders. So, what was the ever living point of this film? If you don’t have a purpose, why were you made? The sad thing is the author of the book was the screenwriter…A writer should know the themes they intend to explore.

  I don’t recommend this garbage. This was a film that could have been “So Bad it’s Good,” if it had been comfortable in tech. and information as corrupting influences of power theme, or it could have gone full revolution and had Boyega, Gillan and Watson team up early to take on the Founders. That’d be asking too much of this film though. This is a film that doesn’t know what it wants and doesn’t have any real characters, jut half formed ideas in a broken mess. Seriously, save your money and watch “Black Mirror,” you’ll get well focused themes of technology fears that have a clear focus in theme and character. This film is one of the worst I’ve watched in quite some time.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Arrival (2016): A Great High Concept Sci. Fi. Film That Just Needed More Heart

arrival

   “Arrival” is a film I really enjoyed but could have been better and more. Non-spoiler thoughts up front…at times it drags and there just isn’t enough heart as there are two characters we don’t really get to know which gives the film the detached feeling of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I’d still recommend it though.

   The film was directed by Denis Velleneuve, written by Eric Heisserer and produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde while being based off the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

   The story involves linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) being called onto the scene of First Contact as strange alien pods have touched down all over the world and humanity is attempting to communicate before other countries decide to attack them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! Countries act with fear but also with openness too as their societies crumble from the masses unable to take first contact, but they go forward anyway. This universe is full of stakes that make the importance of first contact all the greater. The aliens also have a cool squid like design.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially in how it presents the inside of the UFOs and the outside as they float above different areas of the world. It keeps the mystery and suspense up just seeing them as the music plays. Bradford Young did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Johann Johannsson did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that reminded of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and with it power and mystery as the aliens aren’t so much a threat as a great unknown. The soundtrack captures this beautifully in how limited it is.

Louise – Amy Adams is the best part of the film as it is her relationship with her daughter and those in the future that help her solve the problem of first contact in the present. She is really cool and I liked how human she was. She was anxious and nervous but went forward anyway because she wanted to and she knew what was at stake. The only thing that felt tacked on was her romance with Ian.

Cyclical Time – In this time is cyclical and it is events in the future that prep Louise to solve the problems in the past. From General Chang telling her what they talked about that made him call off his attack on the aliens, to her daughter and her marriage to Ian. This changes her as she now perceives time as the aliens do.

Okay: Ian – Ian is just kind of there. Renner does a good job with him but he is mostly a support character and he isn’t given the chance to really make his own decisions outside of how they relate to Louise, so more could have been done with him.

Colonel Weber – Whitaker does a good job with what he’s given but Weber’s motivations are never fully explored. He is supportive and antagonistic at different points but we never get why. He just represents the U.S. governments reaction to the project at the end of the day.

Okay/Con: The Ending’s Length – The ending goes on way too long and could have just ended with Ian and Louise starting their romance and it would have been fine, instead we see the future with them talking about having a kid (who we know will die of cancer later). It could have been cut down and been the more powerful for it.

The Cons: Pacing – Segments of the film drag, especially after first contact is made and they are figuring out how to ask the aliens for their motivation. The switch from understanding one another from not is really quick too which made the pacing all strange and didn’t help the film.

Detachment – The film is a bit too detached at times. For example we don’t learn anything about Ian until the very end when his romance with Louise is a major part of the film. He is still great and is given chances to shine but we never really get his motivation at first beyond Scientist Stereotype (loves science to science!). I think if there had been more of a core and less detachment the script would have explored that better.

   This is a film well worth your time. I wouldn’t consider it in my Top 5 of 2016, but it is still a film I’d highly recommend. The detachment of the narrative didn’t change the fact that I cared about Amy Adams’s character and was rooting for first contact to be successful. In that way it as a successful “Twilight Zone” episode as even though it was detached I found myself still really enjoying the story, even if at times it dragged. I you are a fan of sci. fi. like I am, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.1 / 10

The Mist (2007): Fantastic Exploration of Human Desperation but Writing and Acting Bring it Down

the-mist

     I am a fan of Stephen King. He has created some of my favorite books and adaptations, from “The Stand” to Kubrick’s “The Shining.” King is a writer who knows how to write what makes people go crazy and what it would take to bring out the worst in people. “The Mist” does that beautifully, while also sadly catching some of his more hokey dialogue and overused tropes. I’ll explain more of what I mean deeper in the review.

     “The Mist” was directed, produced and written by Frank Darabont, with the other producers being Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer.

   The story involves David (Thomas Jane) and his son trapped in a convenience store after a strange storm cuts off all communication and a mysterious mist moves in. From here he must try to keep the survivors from destroying themselves and figuring out what happened.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of a bunch of characters trapped in a small town convenience store is pretty cool. You have food, but limited resources, people want to get to those outside of the store and usual human personalities clashing since a store is still a confined space.

The World – The idea of another dimension coming into our own is pretty neat as well as the fear that would come with that from the populace as another world or dimension in ours is a complete unknown.

The Idea of the Characters – We have the artist father, the religious fanatic, the single mother, the old cynical man…these are all great ideas but they never feel fully realized. I do like the character ideas though.

Humans Under Fear – King excels at showing people going mad from a feeling of being trapped or attacked. We see this here as they all distrust one another, a fanatic rises from strange situations she manages to survive, people hang themselves and the main character does a mercy killing on his party so they won’t be killed by the monster that had already killed a few from the town already. People get angry, anxious and act irrational under fear…power plays happen and victims are chosen so there is someone to blame. All that is on display in this film.

The Ending – David kills the members of his party who manage to leave the store with him in his truck. He does this with their consent when they see the big monster and realize everyone they know is dead. What David realizes is after he tries to kill himself and fails since he is out of bullets is the army was only minutes away and all the pain and death could have been avoided with more patience, leaving him a broken man.

Okay: The Characters – The characters are all tropes and never get beyond it. We don’t know why the religious lady is crazy or religious, we don’t know why the old man is cynical, we don’t know why David became an artist or why any of the soldiers were serving on the base where the experiment happened. They exist only as tropes because of this.

The Monsters – The monsters are neat looking and look like Lovercraftian Dinousaurs as most have tentacles and wings. They were never scary though which is why I’m putting them at okay. The mist is scarier than the creatures.

The Cons: The Dialogue – Everyone tells rather than shows…it is part of why the characters only exist as tropes. They tell us their obvious motivation and we never get the why.

The Religious Extremist – Religious extremists in fiction are hard to write…as an agnostic who is pretty atheistic it is easy to make someone you disagree with a strawman and this film never gets beyond that. The extremist is never humanized and is the crazy from the get go. This was a disservice to the plot as she became an antagonist whose motivations were never fully explored.

  This was a decent movie. It wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination even though I really liked some of the situations the characters were put in. The problem is the characters never managed to get beyond the tropes they existed as. Not a single character was given more depth, they just were and reacted, which was safe but it didn’t contribute to the story in any way and just made some of the awkward dialogue even more obvious. If you are a fan of King, check out this film though. It does do a good job of showing what humans will do when they feel trapped and out of options and that is really where the film excels and manages to be a decent horror film and great contribution to “Horror Month.”

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

To Catch a Thief (1955): Great Leads But Story Is Only Decent

To Catch a Thief

     Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, but this is not one of his better films. The main leads are absolutely wonderful, but the script and dialogue doesn’t go anywhere at times and the motivations behind the villains is non-existent. All of this create a merely okay story that is good only because of fantastic performances by Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

     “To Catch a Thief” was directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and written by John Michael Hayes and based off the book of the same name by David Dodge.

     The story involves an ex-criminal and French Resistance fighter John Robie (Cary Grant), fighting to redeem his name and find the real thief. Frances (Grace Kelly) the daughter of the woman whose jewels were stolen works with and against him as the truth unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world of France is a fascinating place where we meet former French Resistance fighters and ex-pats who make up this world that exists soon after World War 2. So much more could have been done with all of this world and premise…

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I can see why it won awards. Hitchcock is great with visual and his cinematographer Robert Burks nails it.

The Leads – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are some of the best actors of all time and this film, which would have only been okay with other leads, becomes good because of their performances.

John Robie – Cary Grant like Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actors and he shows why in this. He is charming but you see the thief there and you get why he steals too as he explains that some businesses steal too, he is just more blatant about his robbery. We also see in this why he changed and why keeps holding onto what was. Being a thief who was never caught made him famous and he wants to be known for that, even while showing he’s changed because he wants trust and love.

Frances Stevens – Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actresses. The lady has charm and strength and her character Frances feels real. You get why she likes Robie and why she doesn’t trust him too. She is the person looking for excitement and she finds it with this ex-crook and shows that she is his partner in it all.

Okay: The Police Force – They are used for jokes but have some decent moments of humanity with Robie…I just wish we could have got more.

The Tension – The tension is okay but unlike “North by Northwest,” “Rear WIndow” and “Psycho” it never made me feel that the characters were in danger. There was the tension of the hunt for the criminal but it never rose beyond that.

The Cons: The Villains – The villains are weak, good villains could have made this film great but they aren’t given any motivation for what they do.

Danielle – Like her father, I don’t know why Danielle does what she does. She was a resistance fighter so why is she now a thief? I wanted to like her character but nothing is done to present her with depth or motivation.

Foussard – So he is friends with Robie and betrays…why? Why is he stealing in the first place? None of this is known and it is really annoying. The villainous mastermind has to have motivation.

   This is a film that you will probably enjoy if you like Hitchcock as I do. The problem is really the lack of tension and how the motivations of the villains are never explained or explored. This is a film that could have been so much more and I really hope the book at least went into why Foussard and his daughter Danielle became thieves. Check it out if you like Hitchcock, if you don’t it probably isn’t worth your time. It is strong in how he directs the leads and presentation in cinematography, but the script and story keep it from becoming great.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Re-Animator (1985): Doesn’t Quite Work, Though Good is There

Re-Animator Poster

    I like Jeffrey Combs, I’ve even found a that I enjoy camp bloody horror like “Hellraiser” or “The Thing” the thing is this film is unlike either of those in storytelling. There are certianly aspects of the film I liked, but the focus is all wrong. We follow the most uninteresting couple when there is the prime candidate to tell an interesting story right there…Herbert West.

     The film was directed by Stuart Gordon who also co-wrote the script along with William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli. Brian Yuzna produced the film and it is based off the story Herbert West-Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft.

     The story involves a medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) taking in Herbert West as a roommate. Things soon get more complicated as his fiance Megan (Barbara Crampton) is the daughter of the Dean of the College as Dan finds himself pulled into Herbert’s experiments in reanimation of the dead.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is pretty cool. Any movie with a mad scientist immediately has potential to explore the depths of mortality and why a person would want to bring back the dead or escape death…sadly we don’t get any reasons behind why Herbert West does what he does, but the premise gives us the potential for more.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are great! We get to see a re-animated cat, head and a few zombie bodies as well. This is really where the movie works and I wish we’d gotten more of it since the writing is really bad when things aren’t being brought back to life.

Herbert West – Jeffrey Combs can make anything good, even a poor script. We never get his motivation but his passion shows why even he could see the smallest of roles in “Star Trek” and make them interesting. His character is the reason to watch this and his acting owns this film.

The Ending – Dan the bland leads using re-animation to resurrect his dead fiance. That’s actually a pretty neat ending as the film establishes that being brought back warps your mind.

Cons: The Antagonists – Whether it’s the Dean or Dr. Hill these are men who only live to control and the reasons behind their insecurity and bullying is never explored in any way. They are crappy villains that bring down the story.

Megan – All she does is scream and she is only written into this film to be creeped on by all the male characters. She is nothing more than a prop that drives the protagonist (Dan) and antagonists’ (The Dean and Dr. Hill) actions.

The Structure of the Film – The structure begins with the past and Herbert West trying to bring back his mentor Gruber. It is so different from the rest of the film I am not sure why it was put in as West shows on multiple occasions he doesn’t care about people just what he can do with them after they are dead. From here we follow Dan’s story and it just goes down from there…so West’s motivations aren’t fully established and we have a weak lead…the hook fails causing the rest of the film to be weak in the process.

  This is a film that is alright and worth checking out if you are a fun of Jeffrey Combs and Lovecraft as I am. Sadly neither are given the chance to fully be in a masterpiece of his work as the film falls flat on a few occasions and the blandness of the leads and the antagonists only being one-dimension really brings the film down. For what it is worth though, I am curious if the other sequels are better.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

Black Mass (2015): A Decent Biopic about the Rise and Fall of “Whitey” Bulger

Black Mass Poster

    Biopics, specifically gangster biopics are hard to pull off. For one you are starting with someone who by the very nature of what they do is unsympathetic and it often times depends way too much on whomever the star is in order to carry the story rather than the power of the writing and story itself. These were the main issues with “Black Mass” that kept it from being great, though it is good to see Johnny Depp in form again and there is a lot to like about this film, even though it missed some great opportunities to raise stakes and humanize the characters.

      The film was directed by Scott Cooper who was also one of the producers and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk while the other producers were Josh Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson. It was also based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

      The story involves the rise of fall of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his relationship with his brother the Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their childhood friend who joined the FBI but stayed close to them John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and does a good job capturing the tone of the piece as we follow the life and times of the criminal Whitey Bulger. It never pretends to be anything but a crime biopic and the cinematography beautifully captures it. Takayanagi did a great job.

Whitey Bulger – Johnny Depp is great when he has the chance to play more than a Tim Burton stock character and we get to see him play a truly creepy and scary guy in this. He has relationships he cares about like his son, mother and brother but at the end of the day human life means nothing to him and we see that really well. His paranoia also continues to grow throughout the film as he becomes even more unstable than when we first meet him.

Billy Bulger – Cumberbatch does a fantastic Boston accent and is great as the brother who looks the other way and gives a good public face to the family as he is never corrupt as far as we can see, he is corrupt in how he hides his brother’s crimes by refusing to prosecute or do anything about what others bring forward. It is for this reason he eventually gets arrested we learn in the post credits scene when he stays in contact with his brother the fugitive.

Fred Wyshak – Corey Stoll does a fantastic job as the one who cleans house in the FBI leading to the eventual arrest of Connolly and Bulger and his gang. He is all about work and and it is great seeing him figure everything out, while holding it all close to his chest so that what informants Bulger has in the FBI won’t get out.

Charles McGuire – Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent trying to do his job on a corrupt force and does a good job of it and clashing with Connolly. Kevin Bacon was great doing the no-nonsense boss shtick.

Okay: John Connolly – It was hard to care about this guy as he was so blatantly corrupt that I was just waiting for the eventual ax to fall.

The Cons: The Minor Characters and Women – Most of the minor characters were completely unmemorable, be they part of Whitey’s gang or the wives of the FBI agents. They were nothing be scenery and for this reason it was hard to care about what happened to any of them. They weren’t given agency.

The War with the Mafia – We never really see the face of the mafia so the war that the FBI fights and the Bulger is fighting with them doesn’t mean anything. They are only ever mentioned and we get the fallout and that really took a lot of the stakes out of the film as we don’t really get tension until Wyshack appears and does all he can to clean out the FBI and catch Whitey.

  This was a decent film that is worth seeing if you are into crime dramas. Depp is memorable but the script needed work as the stakes aren’t executed well and the minor characters never rise above being stock crime drama characters. This is what kept it from being great and why I could see people not enjoying this film as you cannot count on stars to carry a film. “The Martian” worked because of the writing, directing and all of the cast being interesting. In this the only interesting characters are the main characters played by stars who are usually always good.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

“Elementary” Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Addiction, Loss and Joan Watson’s Agency

Pilot Elementary

    CBS did a good job when they created “Elementary.” The only way it is in any way like BBC’s “Sherlock” is the fact that it takes place in the present…everything else is different. From Watson having agency and actually facing her past and helping Sherlock deal with his addiction, to us being given a show that tries to have individual mysteries that stand on their own. There is no arc as of the pilot, no villain is established…(unlike Moriarty established at the end of “Sherlock’s” Pilot and we see that the main people our characters are facing are one another and themselves. This is what truly makes it great.

    The “Pilot” was directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Robert Doherty.

      The story involves Joan Watson being assigned as the sober companion to Sherlock Holmes, per his father. Together they must deal with another and reach an understanding while solving a home invasion and disappearance.

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is awesome! Actions have consequences and we see Watson and Sherlock change over the course of the episode as they face issues within themselves and how they relate to one another.

The Soundtrack – Sean Callery created a beautiful soundtrack that captures the mystery of the show and also the stress of Holmes’s addiction. It’s a wonderful score and one I plan to use for writing later.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing, just like in “Sherlock.” We get slow shots of action that show objects breaking as well as glimpses of scenes giving us a picture that is slowly put together over the course of the episode.

The Characters – Whether they are minor characters or major, all the characters in the pilot feel fleshed out.

Dr. Richard Mantlo – This guy is a great antagonist! He manipulates one his patients who has a sociopathic desire to kill red headed women and makes his wife change to fit the type…all of this so he can keep the money from the fortune. The man is just as disconnected as Sherlock which leads to a great contrast in how they relate to and treat others where Mantlo doesn’t care and Sherlock makes an effort.

Captain Thomas Gregson – Gregson is the American detective who helps them with the case and brings Holmes in as a consulting detective. He is a source of stability for both Joan and Sherlock as he is always laid back and is a calming present for both their anxieties. Aidan Quinn does a great job.

Joan Watson – Lucy Liu owns this role! In her we see that she is working through trauma too as she failed as a surgeon and that is what lead her to become a sober companion. Unlike other Watson’s she does’t put up with Holmes’s abuse and calls him out or leaves him which forces him to grow and change how he interacts with people so he doesn’t take them for granted. Holmes also helps her find confidence as she helps him solve cases through their conversing and she gives empathy to others that he only really gives to her.

Sherlock Holmes – Jonny Lee Miller plays a very intense Holmes. His Holmes took addiction to the fullest and is recovering from that. This makes him intense and rebellious (a very different but fun take) and leads to him having to relate to people as he doesn’t want to be alone after how he was burned in the past. To this end we see him learn to talk to others, specifically Joan Watson who he grows to respect over the course of the episode.

    This is a show that really did everything right. It took the essence of the source material and grew beyond it…it also remembered the core art of writing and the fact that actions have consequences and characters must change. There is no real problem with this episode but there is a greater problem I had with the series…after the Finale I tried watching Season 2 but I couldn’t get into the disconnected format, the lack of arc and with it the eventual filler that came is what turned me off from the show. In the future I will give the show a full watch and assessment, but for now I stopped watching it for a reason and I have no idea if Season 3 was able to become more solid and do less side quests.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s not really attached to the rest of the show, showing this series would have worked better as a mini-series not a 24 episode format.