Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Color Out of Space

Spoiler-free!

This is a weird one, and that makes me happy. Modernizing the horror short story by the master of cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft, Color Out of Space tells of a mysterious event that takes place on an alpaca farm, where a meteorite lands and begins to alter the life around it.

Directed by Richard Stanley.

The event is witnessed by Ward (Elliot Knight) who stumbles across the farm as he does a survey of water tables in the secluded woods of Arkham County. The farm residents are the Gardner's, father Nathan (Nicholas Cage) mother Theresa (Joely Richardson) daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and two sons, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). After the meteorite crashes in their front yard they begin to experience an exponential growth of strange and disturbing happenings, that we know will lead nowhere good.

We don't get many straight-up H.P. Lovecraft movies, so I knew I was going to watch this no matter how bad it was, but I am genuinely impressed at how good an adaptation this is. It's set modern-day and there are a handful of other detail changes done, but with Lovecraft, the appeal isn't in exactly what happens, but the feel evoked -- and this felt every bit like the Lovecraftian menagerie of epic unknown terror that it should. The horror has that insane edge to it, and it creeps up slowly, focusing on the way the mystery effects the characters' mental states.

I loved this wobbly effect visible in the background.

It also withholds, but not so much that you feel cheated. You imagine, and then you get to see for yourself. And the effects are pretty darn fantastic. Sometimes in the vein of John Carpenter with practicals, sometimes with almost experimental digital -- rendering madness, and the indescribable. And it is cool. Violent and cosmic cool -- both in the concept and the way it is pulled off. As someone who doesn't like to be actively scared during a film, it was ideal for me. When you see how terrifying it must be for the characters, but are amazed, amused, and entertained yourself.

Despite having a fairly low budget, the movie doesn't lack anything, due to the original story dictating a remote location and tiny cast of characters. The woods and farm in the area are beautiful, and are made up in small ways to have an otherworldly vibe even before the changes begin. A lot of thought was put into the layout and details of the sets -- they stick in your mind with clear and unique imagery. And besides Nicholas Cage, no one is a big name, but they all sell the weird and the horror plus some. My favorites were Lavinia and Ward. Cage is like the cherry on top that brings out the crazy. Like he was born to play Lovecraft characters.

I would love to see more adaptations in this vein.

This film goes for it. The changes made are only to modernize, and to make the happenings film-able. Though Lovecraft's stories are not very cinematic, the solution, this film knew, isn't to try and "fix" the story. It fleshes out the characters and has to make up narrative scenes, but they are all in service to doing justice to the tone and nature of the story -- which is what's important. I was in awe by the end. It was wild and beautiful, disturbing and gleeful, and epic, and mad -- a true Lovecraftian film.

Monday, March 9, 2020

On the Hallmarkies Podcast!

Today my Twitter friend Rachel (@rachel_reviews) invited me onto her podcast to talk about the new Emma film (read my review here!) and how it compares with the four other versions that already exist! It was a fun conversation (talking Jane Austen, so how could it not be???) so if that sounds like a good listen to you, give it a listen below!


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Emma (2020)

It is my firm belief that Jane Austen's books should see a new adaptation every ten years or so, and so far, filmmakers have been very dutiful in humoring me with this work in particular. Emma is the most broadly appealing of the Austen works, playing out as a sharp and lively rom-com in regency-era settings. It has been adapted to film five times by my count, and this fifth one, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, is keen to not feel repetitive.

And so, it's directed with style, by Autumn de Wilde.

It is a faithful adaptation. And honestly that's all it needs to be to earn my seal of approval. But it goes beyond that, too. In its eagerness to make itself stand out from the pack, it puts much effort into its visual style, and also focuses down on a few key emotional and thematic elements to make the story stick; which as a side-effect means that elements that don't involve those key parts can be left wanting. Attention is mostly given to the character of Emma; to see how far into her flaws you can delve before she loses her appeal and charm. In that case Anya Taylor-Joy was the perfect choice to play her -- at least for me, since I am already biased to like her. The movie is upfront about her flaws, but successfully allows us to also see the good heart underneath too, as she works tirelessly, yet misguidedly, to improve the lives of those around her.

And yet, little of the film's focus is on acting. Casting was done, it seems, with stress on appearance, and the result is mixed; characters who look right on surface might occasionally feel out-of-sync with the characterization. I wasn't enraptured by any of the performances but think positively of them all. The characters that were explored deeper sometimes seemed squished to fit a mold that the direction laid out, but worked beautifully when the natural charm of the actors would shine through. Especially with Mia Goth as Harriett. Taylor-Joy is a commanding and charming lead, but some of the emotions Emma expresses are intentionally simplistic. The only way I can account for this is in the assumption that the film cared more about being different from other adaptations than it cared to be natural or instinctive about the character's thoughts and reactions.

It didn't want to copy anything -- but that's a hard task when so much has been done already.

And then some characters were only explored on surface level. This isn't any fault of the actors, but the result of a script that simply doesn't have time for them all. That's the eternal problem with Austen adaptations: you can't reasonably expect any theatrically released romantic comedy to be over two hours, but unedited, Emma's plot is too complex to fit into less. So, adaptations rise and fall on what they choose to leave out. This one leaves out a few things I would have wished to see -- like more of the truth behind Frank, or a more groan-inducing look at the detestable characters such as the Elton's -- but it also includes at least one part that none other adaptations have as I recall, and some small, original moments that serve to build the film's emotional core in the desired direction.

If it lacks one thing for sure, it is cheerfulness. While often funny, the humor is more cynical than light and gleeful, and moments of negative emotion are handled with more care. Again, intentionally directed focus. It's more interested in seeing the error of these people's ways than basking in the humorous ridiculousness of human folly. I love that Jane Austen was able to take things lightly, and I missed that sense of unadulterated enjoyment here. Small quibbles involve some bizarre choices made: the men's collars coming too high on their faces, an unexplained moment where someone's nose bleeds for no reason, and one or two off-putting moments of undress. I will always find that kind of thing unnecessary in Austen films -- but will likely never escape them.

I wasn't wowed by the style, but didn't need to be. Style or no style, it hits the right notes when it should.

The camera placement is hard and bold; sometimes to the detriment of the scene, when it cannot find a reason for its actions. Too often the style was done for the sake of style itself and contributes little to the overall quality -- as nice as uniquely pretty costumes and bright green fields are to see. It doesn't integrate itself into the story. Lines are often ripped from the pages which I love, but then occasionally there were silences between those lines, meant to be charged with emotion and context, that came up dry. And Austen's dialogue, ready-made and sparking with wit, was sometimes delivered almost as a side salad to the high-brow slapstick comedy the film invents for itself. A bizarre disconnect.

The scenes that do meld, and do connect -- which make up the majority -- are wonderful and innate. I wish the film could have found that stride throughout its run time, but I think it opposed itself too often and tripped itself up from time to time. It is funny, it does have moments of great charm, thoughtful sincerity, and smile-inducing romance -- but most importantly, it's a solid adaptation of Jane Austen's winning story. Not quite perfect, but no matter: we can't all be as perfect as Emma.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Upcoming Movie Roundup - March

I did go to the theater in February... to see 1917 again. I may or may not have a problem. But I didn't go for anything else only because Emma doesn't have a wide release until next weekend. So I'll definitely see a 2020 movie this month, and very much looking forward to it!

I also caught up with Parasite just before it took Best Picture at the Oscars. A fascinating film, if not one I feel in love with on a personal level. You can read my review of it here!

I think I might be sliding into 2020 mode now. So let's got to those March movies! What are you planning to see this month?



Onward
In theaters March 6th; PG
Between the releases Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4, I've been interested in exactly one Pixar film: Incredibles 2. So I'm surprised that they have my attention again with the original Onward. I hear tell it's not as "great" as Pixar is known for, but I've been disenfranchised with the franchise for roughly 10 years. So either this is even worse, or maybe everyone else not falling for it is a sign that I will. Because I really love fantasy. And adventures. And this has both in spades -- and flaunts it. I don't think the plot will need to be fantastic for me to enjoy it, which is all I want. I also like the cast of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in the leads. Maybe it won't be Great Pixar, but it at least looks like Pixar that's successfully catered to me.




The Way Back
Normally I'd write this kind of film off instantly; sport plots rarely appeal to me. Sport dramas even less. And if it must be sport dramas, basketball is not recommended. I've had enough of that in my lifetime. And I do not care for Ben Affleck. But. The director is Gavin O'Connor, who made Warrior, a sport drama that broke the mold for me, so despite all the marks against this one, I'll keep an eye on it because of that.




Bloodshot
In theaters March 13th; PG-13
I will watch anything with Toby Kebbell in it, and that's as complex as this needs to get. If the plot, action, and Vin Diesel are good that'll be nice, but it doesn't really matter to me. But... I kinda wonder how this premise could be any good without a R-for-violence rating. And for some reason I thought it was a Netflix film, and so I'm disappointed that I'll have to wait to see it streaming. And Toby Kebbell doesn't even appear to be the main villain. But like I said, those things are irrelevant to whether or not I'll see it.





A Quiet Place Part II
In theaters March 20th; NR
Do I wish they'd have just stopped, left great enough alone and not made more at the risk of ruining everything? Of course I do. I will I see this sequel anyway? Yes. Yes, I will. And what's more I will be relatively excited for it -- because John Krasinski must have heard about my reservations and decided to distract me from them by adding Cillian Murphy to the cast. A cheap trick, that is working beautifully. I'll probably see it in theaters. But gosh I hope it's a worthy sequel. Those things are a rarity these days.




Mulan
In theaters March 27th; PG-13
Until the remake Atlantis: The Lost Empire or Treasure Planet, I will not be excited for a Live Action Disney Remake. But this has potential to be the best one since Cinderella -- simply because it doesn't appear to be a paint-by-numbers copy of the animation. It still looks like a Disney movie, but also like it'll maybe try to be a good film, too. So hey... maybe it will be. I won't get my hopes up. But it has a better chance than most, I think.