Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Based on a TV Series

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can play along by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us a bit about them - it's so easy!

Oof, you guys.

As if things weren't bad enough in the world, this week we have to pick movies based on TV series. While not ALL of them are disasters (Guy Ritchie's recent take on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was perfect late-summer fun), pretty much all of the ones I can think of are.

With one notable exception.

What follows are, in order, a truly terrible adaptation that might as well not even be one, a pretty good adaptation that might as well not even be one, and quite possibly the greatest film adaptation of a TV  show ever made.

Lost In Space (Stephen Hopkins, 1998) As a child of 14, I remember thinking this was fun, but certainly inferior to such classics of cinema as Independence Day. Time has NOT been kind to it. It's a low point for pretty much everyone involved, but thankfully (nearly) all of their careers suffered barely a bit. The set-up is exactly the same as the 60s TV series, but updated with a lot more serious action and big VFX set-pieces. As they did in the 90s. But in its quest to be a blockbuster, the film abandons all of the charm of the TV series, becoming just another generic sci-fi film. Trivia alert: This (of all things) was the movie that ended Titanic's 15-week reign at the top of the box office.

Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) Look: the original Get Smart TV series is one of my favorite shows of all time, and if I'm being honest, this movie is almost as funny as that series. But it's ONLY because of Steve Carell as bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, perfectly riding the tone set by the legendary Don Adams from the TV series. The rest of the movie, though, is boilerplate spy stuff, with decent support from Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, and Terence Stamp. In other words: This didn't have to be an adaptation of Get Smart. It could have just been a spy spoof with that cast going by completely different character names. Nonetheless, I still enjoy this movie. It still makes me laugh, despite the fact that everything it did, Spy has since done better.

In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) An extrapolation from his successful UK comedy series The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci's In The Loop is the best political satire in AGES. It also has the filthiest language ("Why don't I pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your ass with a lubricated horse cock?"), the best one-liners ("Okay, fuckity-bye," "Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat fuck!"), and the single greatest, most hard-won punchline in recent years. Inimitable performances from Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, and of course Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the foulest mouth in the United Kingdom, make the already great script even better. What makes it such a brilliant adaptation is that it takes existing characters from a TV series and puts them on a much larger playing field while staying true to the feel of the series without feeling like a bunch of TV episodes stitched together (Sex and the City), a Very Special Episode (Veronica Mars), or like any other generic movie (Charlie's Angels). All of this feels completely true to the series that spawned it while also feeling like its own thing, which is difficult to do. Plus, it's GREAT on every single level.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Addiction

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I'm gonna be honest, guys. Tuesday night wrecked me. Wednesday has been a haze; even my office, usually abuzz with activity and chatter, was dead silent. My voice is horse from all the screaming. My eyes are dried out from all the crying. My feet are sore from all the marching in protest. And my spirit is somewhat defeated from not knowing what to do. I don't have it in me to write a whole lot about this right now, so please, forgive me.

Let's just dive right in, shall we? The subject is addiction. The movies are:

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011) Pretentious, only occasionally involving twaddle about sex addiction. Fassbender and Mulligan are the only reasons to see it and even then, I'm not sure they're worth the slog through every single goddamn well-trodden trope about addiction.

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945) Perhaps a bit over the top, but still powerful look at alcoholism. Ray Milland gives one of the best Best Actor Oscar-winning performances.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956) The best of these three, with the best lead performance, this time from James Mason as a schoolteacher who becomes addicted to cortisone. Nick Ray was a genius filmmaker, and this is well within his typical florid wheelhouse, which he turned into a sort of house of mirrors to critique the male-dominated American society of the 50s. Mason is nothing short of brilliant in the lead.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Middle Eastern Language Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Come join the motley crew of regulars by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a little bit about them!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're off on a journey to the Middle East!

I'll be honest. I haven't seen that many movies from this area of the world. HOWEVER! I have seen enough to make all three picks this week!

...and there was much rejoicing.

Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, 2001) Not quite as light-hearted as the trailer would have you believe, Late Marriage is about a Georgian Jew (Lior Ashkenazi, in a stunning performance) whose very traditional parents want him to just marry already! To the point where they're trying to arrange a marriage for him. But he's secretly dating a divorcée, which would be a big no-no. Late Marriage was Israel's submission for the Academy Awards that year, and I can't believe it wasn't nominated. It's really great.

Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman, 2009) Short and sweet, Eyes Wide Open is as important as it is beautiful. The story takes place in the Orthodox world of rabbinical students, where two men find they share a mutual attraction. Unfortunately, homosexuality is forbidden. The film is as humble as the buildings in which most of its scenes take place, and the simplicity (and borderline austerity) works very much in the film's favor, especially as the relationship between the leads deepens. An underseen gem. 

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) I almost never do this, but if you haven't seen A Separation yet, stop reading this and go watch it RIGHT NOW. No, seriously. RIGHT NOW. I'll wait. Asghar Farhadi's crystalline, prismatic portrait of present-day Iran is a flat-out, no-holds-barred masterpiece that couldn't possibly be better on any level - performance, editing, scoring, framing, it's all absolutely perfect. As a woman tries to get a divorce from her husband so that she can take their daughter and make a better life for themselves elsewhere, he hires a very religious woman to help care for his ailing father. There is an argument one day when the old man is left unattended, and from there things spiral outward. It's very nearly chaos, but Farhadi has the control of a master storyteller, detailing each scene and character in such a way that we can see all sides at once. It's a perfect scenario, one that plays out with the inexorable pull of classic Greek tragedy - the end was writ from the beginning, we just didn't know it.