Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Book to TV Adaptations

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies (or, on the last week of the month, TV shows) that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Sometimes, especially when dealing with a series of books, it makes more sense to adapt a book to TV than to a movie. The extra space gives the story the same room to breathe as it has in a book, and the episodic nature of TV mirrors that chapter structure of most books. And so, herewith, are two great adaptations and one terrible one, for contrast.

Game of Thrones (2011-present) OHMYGOD YOU GUYS THE FINAL EPISODES START IN JUST OVER A MONTH AND IT'S GOING TO BE OVER SOON AND WHAT WILL WE ALL DO WITH OURSELVES?!?!?!? In case you've been living under a rock for the past eight years, Game of Thrones is based on George R.R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, detailing the events of the fictional country of Westeros, where seasons can last for many years, in the wake of the death of the King's advisor. The novels still aren't finished, meaning that for the past... three seasons or so, I think... creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been working off an outline of events Martin gave to them. Some say that the series has gone down in quality of writing since then, and while I generally agree, I don't think the drop-off is as bad as they have said. Basically, Game of Thrones on a bad day is better than most other shows on a good day. The epic sweep of its stories, and its reckoning with storytelling conventions we have come to expect from stories like this, is unlike anything we have ever seen on TV, and it's downright stunning.

Younger (2015-present) Liza Miller has just turned 40, and has recently gotten divorced. Since her lout of a gambling-addict husband lost their savings and their house, she has to find a way to support herself, and her daughter's college education. So she moves to Brooklyn with her artist friend Maggie and starts hunting for jobs in publishing, as that's what she did before having her daughter. But twenty years out of the job market has put her right on the bottom, and no one wants to hire a 40 year-old intern or assistant. But after a smoking hot 26 year-old tattoo artist mistakes her for a fellow 26 year-old, she gets a brilliant idea. She lies about her age, and lo and behold, she gets a job as an assistant to chunky jewelry enthusiast Diana Trout at Empirical Press. If you can get past the absurdity of its premise, Younger is a fun show to watch, even addicting. Sutton Foster is a ray of sunshine as Liza, and Hilary Duff, of all people, is great as Kelsea, her ambitious young co-worker and new friend. The entire cast is fantastic, and the show is a well-appointed Sex and the City-style fantasy of New York life. The whole series is on Hulu, and you can easily binge it all in almost no time.

The Magicians (2015-present) Quentin Coldwater and his best friend Julia Wicker are a bit adrift in the end of their college days. Until, that is, they both end up taking an entrance exam at the mysterious Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy. Quentin, a lifelong fanboy of the fantasy series Fillory and Further, gets in. Julia does not. The show follows their respective journeys as an official and unofficial student of magic, respectively. I was a HUGE fan of Lev Grossman's trilogy of novels, a sort of American version of Harry Potter where Hogwarts was college instead of boarding school, thus making the stakes much higher. But the show made a large number of changes to the novels that were unnecessary and much to the story's detriment. Most damningly, while the books are a deconstruction of the "chosen one" narrative, the series fully embraces it. I hate-watched the first season before coming to the conclusion that there are just not enough hours in the day to spend time on something I hate. But really, this show is a mess, and the things that made the novels interesting and exciting are so dulled that it has almost no value.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Starring Real Life Couples

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 getting to this VERY late in the day, so I'll make this short and sweet: I know there are lots of other movie stars who have been in movies together while they've been dating/married, but when I think of couples who shared the screen together, there's really only one that matters. All the rest are pale imitations.

I speak, of course, of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Cleopatra (Joseph L. Makiewicz, 1963) Yes, it's Cleopatra! Life Magazine's "Most Talked-About Movie Ever Made!" The film that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox! And the film that everybody wanted to see, for the scandal of Burton and Taylor's affair, which began during shooting. Cleopatra was the biggest box office hit of the year in America, and won four Oscars from nine nominations, but talk of the stars' extramarital affair so dominated the headlines that Fox tried to sue them for causing damage to the film with their actions. And, well... there's a lot wrong with Cleopatra, but it's not necessary Burton and Taylor's fault (although Taylor is FAR from her best). It's a slog of an epic that buckles under the weight of its beyond-opulent sets and costumes. It looks fantastic, but the story and the telling of it leave a whole hell of a lot to be desired.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966) I know it's almost impossible to believe, but this MASTERPIECE was director Mike Nichols's FIRST MOVIE. You'd never know it from watching this, though. Of course, the source material of Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning play offers a pretty great starting point, but Nichols effortlessly transfers the thing to film, helped in no small part by Burton and Taylor, each doing the best work of their careers. Supporting players George Segal and Sandy Dennis are no slouches either, but perhaps Nichols owes his biggest debt to cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who provides some of the most stunning black & white cinematography in the history of the medium.

The Taming of the Shrew (Franco Zefferelli, 1967) Yes, it's true. Burton and Taylor were indeed made to fight onscreen. Indeed, their aggression was usually more compelling than their love! Taylor had never done Shakespeare before, and it shows a bit, but there's no denying that this slapstick-heavy version of one of The Bard's most controversial plays is still super entertaining. And Burton is a hoot as Petruchio, the Man's Man set to the task of subduing the fiery "shrew" Katherine as he makes her his bride. Yes, the ending lacks all but the slightest trace of irony that has become the standard - and that was even present in the silent version from 1929 starring Mary Pickford - but the sumptuous look and fun staging make this an enjoyable romp until that point.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Romantic Comedies

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!

So, the last time we talked Romantic Comedies on Thursday Movie Picks, I picked three terrible movies that, for whatever absurd reason, I love anyway. I know I can't possibly top that, so I'm gonna play it a bit safer this time around and just pick three of the All-Time Best.

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) Socialite divorcée Tracy Lord (the unbeatable Katharine Hepburn) is getting married again! But, sadly for her poor husband-to-be George Kittredge, not only is her lush of a former husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) back, but he has brought with him an incognito reporter and photographer from Spy Magazine. As the wedding approaches, Tracy finds herself still nursing an attraction to Dexter, and finds a growing affection for the journalist Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart). What a dilemma! Adapted from the stage play by Philip Barry, the dialogue sparkles, and the three stars form an irresistible love triangle through their considerable chemistry with each other (although originally, it was meant to be Clark Gable as Dexter and Spencer Tracy as Mike, which would have been just as delicious). Hepburn originated the role of Tracy Lord in the Broadway production, and bought the film rights for herself as a way to overcome her reputation as "box office poison". It worked: The Philadelphia Story was an instant classic, the fifth highest-grossing film of the year, and earned six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress. It won two Oscars, for Best Screenplay and Best Actor, for Jimmy Stewart (in what is CLEARLY a Supporting role).

The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) "Did you hear me, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you." "Shut up and deal." Perfection. Billy Wilder's depressive romantic comedy works almost in spite of itself, solely because of the star power of its leads. Shirley Maclaine is magical as elevator operator Fran Kubelik, in a relationship with married man Fred MacMurray, who uses employee Jack Lemmon's apartment for his extra-marital assignations. I've never found Jack Lemmon attractive EXCEPT for in this movie, in which he is downright swoon-worthy as he cares for Fran's broken heart. Nominated for 10 Oscars, The Apartment actually won Best Picture, as well as Best Director and Original Screenplay.

When Harry Met Sally... (Rob Reiner, 1989) One of the greatest screenplays ever written. When Sally drives Harry to New York from Chicago after they graduate from college, Harry asserts that men and women cannot be friends, because sex always gets in the way. Sally disagrees. Over the course of the next decade, they randomly run into each other a few times, and eventually settle into a kind of friendship... that eventually turns into a kind of attraction. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have a wholly surprising chemistry as the leads, and Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are even better as their best friends who fall in love at first sight.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Revenge

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!

Something horrible has happened to you. Someone has betrayed you, double-crossed you, committed an act of unspeakable violence against you and/or your family. You drag yourself out of the mud, effortfully pull yourself to your feet, raise your fists to the sky, and devote the rest of your waking hours in the pursuit of the one thing you yell to the heavens:


Or, at least, that's what characters in these movies did. I don't know anything about it myself. I SWEAR.

Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004) In the words of Uma Thurman's Bride: "Looked dead, didn't I? But I wasn't. But it wasn't from lack of trying, I can tell you that. Actually, Bill's last bullet put me in a coma. A coma I was to lie in for four years. When I woke up, I went on what the movie advertisements refer to as a 'roaring rampage of revenge.' I roared. And I rampaged. And I got bloody satisfaction. I've killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I have only one more. The last one. The one I'm driving to right now. The only one left. And when I arrive at my destination, I am gonna KILL BILL." Very few movies make me as giddy from sheer movie-making bravura as Part One of Tarantino's revenge fantasia. If Part Two suffers a bit in comparison, that's only because it focuses more on the characters involved than the action. I still long to see the "Whole Bloody Affair" cut that fuses the two parts into one whole, but it looks like we'll never get it.

Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002) A tale of revenge spun backward: We first see a man getting arrested for killing the wrong man, then watch him brutally beat that man to death, and then slowly learn why. Irréversible is a notoriously difficult film to watch, partially because of the sickening camera swoops and swirls that send the film careening backward in time, and partially because of one particular scene that occurs at the midway point of the film, wherein the murderer's girlfriend (played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) gets brutally raped and beaten to within an inch of her life in one unbroken nine-minute shot. This is sick-making cinema, and very much on purpose: There is a background noise with a frequency of 28 Hz (low frequency, almost inaudible), which causes nausea, sickness and vertigo, playing for the first thirty minutes of the film. If you can make it through, Irréversible is a unforgettable cinematic experience with fantastic performances and stunning, inventive camera work.

The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960) Adapted from a 13th Century Swedish ballad, Bergman's masterpiece was the basis for Wes Craven's notorious The Last House on the Left, although the two films couldn't be more different. Bergman's film is, unsurprisingly, focused on the spiritual aspects of the story, and the revenge-seeker's quest not just for revenge, but acceptance in the eyes of God. Max von Sydow gives a typically brilliant performance, but in some ways, this film is almost as difficult to watch as Irréversible - just in a very different, internalized way.