Tag Archives: books on film

Movies: Emma (2020)

I’m a fan of Jane Austen’s novels. And I enjoy a good period/costume drama. So I was probably already primed to like this most recent adaptation of Austen’s story.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Emma is about the titular character, a 21-year-old busybody who fancies herself a matchmaker. But by meddling in others’ love affairs, she actually goes about nearly ruining lives. Emma is often portrayed as having the best of intentions—a sweet but misguided nature. That is certainly the take they had in the Gwyneth Paltrow version, which is probably the best known. But in this one, Emma is really kind of terrible, almost even a bit unlikable. And it works. Because, in truth, to get the full character arc, Emma must start out as someone who needs to change, and she needs to come to that realization.

This take is beautiful to behold as well. The costumes, the sets—all lovely. I did find myself distracted by the fact Emma wore makeup and pretty much no other [female] character did. It was very obvious. But other than that, a mostly gorgeous sight.

In short, I do really recommend this version to fans of Austen or this genre of film in particular. I’m not sure the average viewer would love it, but it’s definitely worthy of attention from those predisposed to it. So glad that Universal chose to release it on demand early to those of us stuck at home.

Movies: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This was… It’s a movie based on a magazine article, for starters. I didn’t know that going in. I didn’t know much of anything about this film except: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. What else is there to know?

Well, I had wondered why Hanks had been put into the supporting actor category during awards season. The movie makes that decision clear. Rogers isn’t the real focus here. Instead, the central figure is the magazine article writer, here named Lloyd (actual article written by a guy named Tom). Lloyd has a difficult relationship with his father. Lloyd is given an assignment to interview Fred Rogers. What develops is a kind of friendship? I guess? But this movie is about Lloyd working things out with Rogers as a kind of gentle guide.

Did I like it? Not really. Did I find it moving? Yes, at moments. There’s no rule that says you have to find a movie that pulls at heartstrings to be wonderful. I didn’t really enjoy Lloyd’s story. The movie failed to make me care all that much about him, maybe because I mostly disliked him. The parts that touched me were the ones that brought back childhood memories of watching Mr. Rogers rather than anything about Lloyd and his personal problems.

A few years back we had that documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? That was wonderful. If you have an interest in Fred Rogers, that would be the film to watch. I’m not saying this one doesn’t have value… to certain viewers, looking for something oddly specific, maybe… It’s artistic? I don’t know. But overall it didn’t work for me.

Movies: Doctor Sleep

I haven’t read the book. Let’s get that out of the way first thing.

I have read The Shining. And it turns out all you really need to know in order to understand Doctor Sleep is that Dan Torrence was the little boy in The Shining and that, well, he “shines” (by which we mean he has psychic powers of some sort).

Here we pick up with Dan as an adult, coping as best he can with his past and his abilities. But it turns out there is a group of really terrible people who hunt and kill people like Dan in order to “eat” their magic. This allows the hunters to be nearly immortal, so long as they keep killing people who shine. They prefer children because their powers are purer and therefore stronger.

You can probably see where this is going, more or less. The film is equal parts disturbing and cathartic because there’s really nothing more satisfying than watching very bad things happen to very bad people. I’d say on the whole it’s an incredibly good movie because it’s effective. That’s more than I can say for most films these days, so many of which are just action sequence after action sequence until you’re numb. I felt this movie. It had impact.

I’m not much for horror movies; I can read the books but can not really tolerate the visual gore. This one manages to walk that line very carefully. I love a good psychological thriller, and Doctor Sleep definitely has elements of that. Tension builds. And there is blood, but not in excess. I don’t do splatter fests, and this isn’t one.

Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I do love Ewan, though, so that probably helped. I might even go ahead and read the book after all.

Movies: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

My kids were asking for a movie night, and this one was family friendly and streaming (the only two criteria). I vaguely recall reading and like John Bellairs’ book when I was younger, but I don’t remember the book itself in any detail… What, I wonder, does that say about it?

The movie is about Lewis, whose parents have died in a terrible car accident, so he has gone to live with an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Jonathan (played with aplomb by Jack Black) lives in a house as weird as he is, and with a platonic friend Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). I really enjoyed watching these two; they seemed to be having fun, and my nine-year-old son laughed like a loon at all the banter and physical comedy this movie had to offer.

This is, in fact, exactly the kind of movie I would have adored at that age. However, be forewarned that, while my youngest did enjoy it, he was also a bit “creeped out,” as he put it, and we had to take extra care putting him to bed for the night. The creepy stuff includes animated dolls/mannequins, which I must agree is the basis for many a nightmare.

The story itself is fairly linear and goes without any real surprises: at first Lewis thinks Jonathan might be evil, but then he finds out his uncle is simply a warlock. Magic ensues, things go wrong, etc.

The production values are quite fine, and the movie is fun to watch as much for the colors and visuals as for the the silliness of the actors. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t enjoy it (46% on Rotten Tomatoes, though critics gave it 67%). Were they expecting something more sophisticated? It’s a kids’ movie based on a kids’ book, so it came in as exactly what I anticipated—slightly better than I expected, actually, given the ratings.

In short, it’s a solidly middling film, neither amazing nor terrible, just a fair amount of fun. I’d give it three stars out of five and say it’s worth watching with your kids (if you have them, or any you can borrow); otherwise, I’m not sure whether, as an adult, you’d find it worth your while. Maybe for nostalgia value. In any case, that’s a call you’ll have to make yourself.