33 Before 33 ~ Books into films

It’s been fairly slow progress on my aim to read ten books based on films; the ones I have read seem to have been accidental rather than by design! But I’m up to four already, with another one in progress, so I’m going to make a concentrated effort in the next few months.

First up, back in March, I read Under the Skin by Michel Faber. I’m not sure what put the idea in my head; I obviously knew about the film from last year, and though I haven’t seen it, I know that it is held in very high esteem. I loved the book; at first I found it impossible to put down, and then I really slowed up with it for some reason. I think that’s probably because ultimately it did make me feel uncomfortable, but not in a way that makes me think negatively towards it. More in a way that made me question certain things! In case you aren’t aware of the story, Isserley is a young woman who spends her days driving up and down the motorways of the Scottish Highlands, looking for male hitchhikers to pick up. To say more would ultimately ruin the story (though, if like me, you have listened to a review of the film, you probably already know the crux of the story), but it’s definitely a book I recommend. I haven’t seen the film, but I know it’s very different to the book.

Jurassic Park is almost certainly in my top ten favourite films. I have loved it from the first moment I saw it, and it’s one of my earliest cinematic memories (despite being ten at the time I saw it, and I know I saw many films at the cinema before this). So it’s somewhat surprising that it took me this long to get around to reading the book. I really don’t know why it took me so long, but after I had seen Jurassic World, and having watched Jurassic Park for the seventieth time, I ordered the book on a whim. (It’s rare that I actually buy books.) I raced through it, and I absolutely loved it. It has increased my love for the film, as I’m able to watch it through a slightly different prism now, and taken on its own, the book is just amazing. Slightly darker than the film, with similarly heart-stopping set pieces, it goes further in establishing some really well-written characters.

Four down, six to go on number four of 33 Before 33 – read ten novels on which films are based

 

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The One I Love

I chanced upon this on an alternative Netflix earlier this year, so I’m really pleased that it has popped up on UK Netflix now. It’s an odd film, telling the story of a couple, Ethan and Sophie, who head off on a weekend away at a secluded beach house to try and save their marriage. What follows is odd, but entirely engaging. I’m a big fan of Mark Duplass anyway, and will watch just about anything with which he is involved, but I’d definitely recommend this.

Big Hero 6

Films like Big Hero 6 are a good reason why I love having an Cineworld Unlimited card. I might not have seen this had I not; I missed the likes of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph at the cinema, so I’m really pleased that I got to see Big Hero 6. It was such a lot of fun, and was classic Disney in so many ways, while feeling completely modern and suitable for a 2015 audience. I want my very own Baymax now.

Selma

I’d been excited about Selma since I heard about it; American History and I have a long and loving history, and I’ve studied Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights moments of the 1960s. David Oyelowo plays King at a very specific point in his life; the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1964. The filmmakers didn’t have the rights to the actual speeches that King gave, but the alternatives are powerful and stirring, and Oyelowo’s performance is as good as you have heard it is. It made me cry, and this is a rare occasion when it was actual tears of sadness and fear, rather than tears of joy. The scenes on the Edmund Pettus Bridge are truly harrowing.

School of Rock

I had actually watched most of School of Rock years ago, but had never got to the end, so I thought it was finally time to watch it! I liked it a lot, of course; I can find Jack Black annoying at times, but it depends what he’s doing, and he’s on fine form here. There’s not an awful lot to say about it, given that pretty much everyone in the entire world has seen it, but it’s one I’d definitely watch again.

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is a film that I know I should have watched before now; it had somehow passed me by for all these years, but I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about it! I finally settled down to watch it on a Sunday afternoon, and I just loved it. I hadn’t realised that there was a framing device, and I really liked that aspect, and then I really liked the story – romantic, funny, action-packed – it has it all!

How to Train Your Dragon

Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about How to Train Your Dragon seems to have loved it more than me. I thought it was OK, but I just liked it. I think maybe it didn’t quite have my full attention, and that might be the reason for my lukewarm reaction to it, but I’m not sure. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s an animated film about a young man who lives on an island where dragons terrorise the residents by stealing livestock. Hiccup, the young man in question, manages to train the dragon, and the film follows his attempts to do that, along with his attempts to convince his father, and the rest of the island, that dragons aren’t all bad. Perfectly fine, but not really something I feel the need to shout about!

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Last week I hit my target to watch 52 films in 2015. Yeah, in May. Not great forward planning by me there – I knew I would end up exceeding it; between a Netflix account and an Cineworld Unlimited card, I knew I’d be watching a lot of films in 2015. But I hadn’t really accounted for how quickly I’d do it, and if I had thought about it a little more, I’d have aimed for 100. I’m not going to change it now, I’m just going to see how far I get.

Anyway, in reaching my goal, I realised that I hadn’t done an I Watched That roundup in ages. And ages and ages and ages. In fact, the last time I wrote about films was in February. So I’m remedying it, and I’m going to try and get up to date!

Pretty in Pink

I haven’t seen enough of John Hughes’ classic films; in fact, The Breakfast Club is the only one, as far as I’m aware. When I realised Pretty in Pink was available on Netflix, I thought it was time to remedy that. There’s something about an American High School film that I just love, particularly when they are well written, with engaging characters, as is the case here. I finally believe in Andrew McCarthy as the ultimate 80s leading man, and James Spader, who is always excellent in everything, is, as expected, excellent.

Albatross

I watched Albatross because it popped up on iPlayer, and I won’t lie, mainly because it involved a young woman having an affair with an older man. I really like Jessica Findlay-Brown, and she brings a wonderful insouciance to this role, along with enough vulnerability to ensure that you don’t think she’s a callous young thing for sleeping with her friend’s dad. Felicity Jones is also great, as ever, and I enjoyed Julia Ormond’s funny turn as the betrayed wife!

The Visitor

I think this was another one that I found on iPlayer, and a film that I knew nothing about until I watched it. It stars Richard Jenkins as a college professor who travels to New York to stay in his apartment there, only to find a pair of illegal immigrants living there. I enjoyed it a lot; Richard Jenkins is a fairly quiet actor, but his performances are always strong.

Ex Machina

i went to the cinema to see Ex Machina; ever since I read about Alex Garland’s directorial debut, I was intrigued. With a cast consisting largely of just Dohmnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, it tells the story of a young man who wins a prize to go and stay with his reclusive genius boss, only to discover that he making huge advances in the world of artificial intelligence. Oscar Isaac shines as the aforementioned boss, and Alicia Vikander’s performance as the robot is sad and compelling. I’m eagerly awaiting this film’s release on DVD, as I’d like to see it again.


Guardians of the Galaxy

I wish that I had loved Guardians of the Galaxy slightly more than I did. I mean, I didn’t hate it; it was fun, and funny, and just about everything you want a Marvel film to be. And I really enjoyed all the character interaction; the coming together of the troupe of heroes, and their interplay. But for me, there was slightly too much in the way of action – things crashing into each other in space. Maybe it would have been better if I’d seen it at the cinema. Great soundtrack, however.


Belle

Another film that I had been wanting to watch for a while, after it got all of the love from Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo on Wittertainment. It was worth the wait, as it’s a beautifully made film, telling the amazing true story of Dido Belle, a young mixed race woman who was raised in society by her uncle alongside her white cousin. Gugu Mbatha Raw is wonderful as the titular Belle.

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If I carry on seeing films at this rate, I’ll have reached my goal of 52 by April! Which is slightly ridiculous, but I knew that 2015 was going to be a much better year for films than 2014!

Birdman

Birdman is a film that I would never have seen if I didn’t have an Unlimited card. I’ve been hearing about it since before Christmas, and heard wonderful things, but if I had been paying for a single ticket, I wouldn’t have gone (which is why I love my Unlimited card!). Michael Keaton is on top form as Riggan Thomson, a man who is dealing with mental deterioration on a fairly major scale; regularly hearing the voice of, and seeing Birdman, the character he played earlier in his career. As wonderful as Keaton is (and I think he might just win the Oscar), the star turn, for me, belongs to Edward Norton. He’s really, really funny, and I think he’d be in with a shout for the Oscar if he wasn’t going up against J.K. Simmons. Emma Stone’s nomination is a bit more suspect to me; I can’t see what she does that is particularly award-worthy (though what do I know?). All in all, a month after I saw this, I’m still not sure how much I liked it. Maybe I need to see it again to make up my mind.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

When I spotted Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs on Netflix, I thought I’d give it a go; the directors went on to make The LEGO movie, which I loved, and I’ve heard pretty good things about it. I’m really glad I did watch it, because it’s really good fun. Flint Lockwood (a great movie name) is an inventor who doesn’t garner an awful lot of respect, but when he manages to make a machine that creates food-bearing clouds, his hometown (previously forced to eat nothing but sardines) suddenly love him. It’s a colourful and funny film, and I’m looking forward to seeing its sequel now!

Paddington

If I had seen Paddington when it was released, at the end of last year, it almost definitely would have been in my top three films of 2014. As it is, I managed to see it a couple of weeks ago when I did a double cinema visit on a slightly hungover Sunday, and I just loved it. Truly great family films are hard to get right, I think, but Paddington manages it. It has everything – great characters, funny jokes, actual peril, emotional family scenes, and a really great ‘performance’ by a small bear right at the centre. I can’t recommend it enough; whether you are a fan from years gone by or not, Paddington is a joy to watch.

Whiplash

I saw Whiplash on 18th January, and I can’t imagine seeing a film I’ll like better in 2015. From the minute I saw the trailer, I had an idea that I would love it, but it completely and utterly blew me away. Miles Teller plays a young drummer who is in his first year at a prestigious New York music school. He thinks his luck is in when he is selected for the jazz band that J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher conducts, but soon realises that the abusive Fletcher stops at nothing (literally) to get the success he believes he deserves. It’s a powerhouse of a performance from Simmons, and Teller holds his own as well. It’s wonderfully directed, written and acted, and I had a ball watching it.

Wild

Reese Witherspoon is one of my favourite actresses, but it’s probably safe to say that since Walk the Line, she hasn’t made the world’s best films. She always so darn watchable though, and I do think she’s probably a pretty awesome person. With Wild, she’s exhibiting a return to form (though frankly she’s never bad in films, she’s just sometimes in bad films), portraying the real life story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who decided to trek the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a trail that stretches for over 2600 miles along the west coast of the US, and it’s no mean feat. Strayed used the journey as a way to heal after various personal struggles, including divorce and addiction. I loved Wild; not only is Witherspoon’s central performance just entirely wonderful, the narrative structure of the film was perfect. It packs a very powerful punch by choosing a structure that weaves between the past and present, and it doesn’t restrict itself to a conventional use of flashback, preferring a stream of consciousness approach. It’s really wonderful, and it has left me wanting (and yet knowing I never could) to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

The Duplass brothers have long intrigued me, and this is the first film of theirs (as writers and directors) that I have actually watched. There’s something about the way that they work and the choices that they make that I really admire, and I was impressed with Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Jason Segal is the Jeff of the title, who continues to live at home with his mum (played by Susan Sarandon) into his thirties, choosing to get high and think about the deeper meaning of the film Signs rather than do anything substantial with his life. Ed Helms is his brother, who in contrast, seems to have his life in order, but is actually having marital problems that are heightened when he brings home a Porsche that his wife (the ever-wonderful Judy Greer) sees as the final nail in the coffin. It’s an odd film really, with some slightly strange story choices, but it’s very enjoyable all the same.

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January has been a great month for films, not least because of all the cinema visits. All this means that I have to be on top of my film posts, otherwise I’ll get way behind!

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The Rock

I’m not entirely sure why I watched The Rock. I’m not a huge fan of Michael Bay films (though I try not to be a Kermode-acolyte and just dismiss them out of hand), but I had heard that this particular film was one of the better ones. I didn’t hate it, but it was far too long. It got to a certain point, where I was sure that it would be ending, and then it just carried on for about another hour. Not one for me, I’m afraid; I love a nineties action flick, but this one didn’t do anything for me.

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The Titfield Thunderbolt

I watched The TItfield Thunderbolt because it was on iPlayer, and it’s one that I have been meaning to watch all the way through for years, as it’s a firm family favourite. It tells the story of a group of people who fight to save their branch line from closure. In true Ealing style, it’s ridiculous and absurd, but it’s such good fun, and full of some great character actors.

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20 Feet From Stardom

I’m trying to watch more documentaries, because it’s a massive hole in my film-watching, and when I spotted 20 Feet From Stardom on a Netflix, I popped it on for a watch. It’s about the backing singers that make many famous songs sound as good as they are, and it’s a really fascinating look at people that, by their nature, tend to get overlooked. Famous faces pop up, including Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger, but the focus is largely on a group of women who have truly amazing voices, but are relegated, for the most part, to the back of the stage.

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The Theory of Everything 

The Theory of Everything was my first cinema visit of the year, and it already feels so long ago that I saw it! It’s been everywhere, not least because both Felcity Jones and Eddie Redmayne (Redmaybe) have received Oscar nominations for their performances. It’s the story of the marriage between Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane, and it’s based on the memoirs of Jane herself. Many have lamented the lack of science, but I think there’s just enough, and given that it’s the couple’s story seen through the eyes of Jane, it was hardly going to be an analysis of A Brief History of Time. The performances are truly outstanding, with Eddie Redmayne transforming himself throughout the film, and Jones portraying Jane as a very sympathetic and engaging woman. The score is beautiful as well; be prepared to cry!

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Battle of the Year

I can’t believe that I have to include this film in my list, and this round-up. I watched it completely against my will, as I was babysitting, and I watched it in full, so it has to go on my list. (Can you hear me sighing?) It’s a terrible film, about a break dancing competition, starring Josh Holloway and Chris Brown. It took all my willpower not to tell the three small girls I was watching with just why Chris Brown is an odious human being while we were watching. Honestly, there is nothing to recommend it; it’s predictable, boring, and Chris Brown is in it.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’ve been wanting to watch this since it came out last year, even though I can’t honestly call myself a Wes Anderson fan, having never watched anything other than Rushmore in the past. I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel. It looks amazing, with a beautiful colour palette, and it’s really, really laugh out loud funny. Ralph Fiennes is a marvel; you would never guess he could put in such an accomplished comedic performance! The cast is great, with everyone from Tilda Swinton to Bill Murray putting in an appearance.