Rewatching Little Women


Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) is on Amazon Prime Video now. I watched it twice in the theatre last year, now rewatching it at home gives me another kind of pleasure: more intimate, easier to observe nuances, and replay memorable lines on demand. It remains one of the best films I’ve watched in recent years.

Reposting here my review. Hope you have a chance to watch it.

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Little Women is not just about heart, but mind, aesthetics, and other enjoyment

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is a joyous celebration of family and life. It’s an innovative feature, and a worthy rendition keeping Louisa May Alcott’s story intact and her spirit alive. The storytelling is shifted from linear to juxtaposing the timelines of seven years apart, from the March sisters’ teenage years to adulthood. A break from traditional adaptations of the novel, and a structure modern movie goers are familiar with.

So, instead of waiting for two hours to see what have become of the girls, viewers get to see how they’ve turned out from the start and throughout the film as the timelines switches back and forth. One effect is the intermingling of memory and present reality, adding texture to just linear storytelling. The editing is smooth as music and sound often overlap the changes of scenes like a visual dissolve.

The Oscar nominated director (Lady Bird, 2017) has surpassed herself in crafting an exquisite piece of artful creation. Unlike most other movies nowadays, Little Women is shot using 35mm film rather than digital technology. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux offers viewers the inherent aesthetics of the medium, a grainy, more subtle visuals that augment picturesque New England in the exterior shots, and the depth and mood in the low-light interior. The picnic scene at the beach is pure delight. Mixed with Alexandre Desplat’s original music, the film is a beauty to behold.

Alcott’s 19th century American classic (1868-9) has been transposed to the big and small screen many times. No matter what your previously held memory is, Katherine Hepburn as Jo back in the 1933 first adaptation, or Elizabeth Taylor as Amy in 1949, or the 1994 adaptation with Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March and Wynona Ryder as Jo and a few up-and-coming youngsters such as Kristen Dunst, Claire Danes, and Christian Bale (as Laurie), Gerwig’s 2019 rendition is worthy to be the definitive version from now on as we head into the third decade of the 21st century.


The story is told from the point of view of Jo (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring writer in New York at present. She reflects upon her path so far and reminisces on her family life, the cacophony of sisterhood in a busy household in Concord, MA, during the Civil War.

A single woman author pitching to publishers, Jo’s struggles parallel Alcott’s, a woman writer in a man’s world. As well, it would be apt to refer to Gerwig’s own challenges as a female writer/director in the present day movie industry.

The film is an alchemy of authentic, period backdrop and set design, stylish yet down-to-earth costumes, fused with a fresh and contemporary synergy. Credits go to the four young actors bringing to life the March sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) as they live through hard times while their father has gone with the Union Army as a volunteer chaplain. Their neighbour and friend Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) remains a perpetual presence in their lives. Their altruistic mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), holds the family together and extends her care to those in need outside their home. She is the example of love and heart for her daughters to emulate. Her screen presence is comparatively small though as Gerwig lets her girls shine, especially Jo and Amy.

A touch of surprise for me is that Gerwig has kept the historic period and setting authentic without adding any postmodern quirks to shock or provoke. Her script allows Alcott’s points to flow out through the dialogues and characters within context. This is not fiery feminism, but an intelligent depiction of the status of women in the historic period. It’s an updated version doing justice to Alcott’s astuteness in her social critique which is, alas, still relevant today.

Kudos to Gerwig in bringing out the youngest sister Amy, not so much as a foil to Jo, but a worthy rival. Amy proves that even though bratty and capricious as a child, she has grown up to grasp a clarity in seeing the worth of a woman in her society, which is, not much. The realistic and rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep) has a firm view of this: it’s a lost cause with Jo who says she will not marry, or Meg who falls for a poor teacher and has to curb her material desires, and Beth’s ill health, she has put her hope on Amy to marry rich to dig the family out of poverty. Amy who has lived with her Aunt for a while when Beth is sick with scarlet fever understands her own situation with a cool head as she articulates it to Laurie. Knowing that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a truly great artist––she whose stance is to be great or nothing––Amy sees her predicament clearly. It all comes down to economics:

And as a woman, there’s no way for me to make my own money. Not enough to earn a living or to support my family, and if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine. They would be his property, so don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you, but it most certainly is for me.

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own comes to mind as she argues that economic disparity between men and women systemically disadvantages talented women to become successful.

In her research, Gerwig delves into Alcott’s other books as well as letters, thereby knowing her from a deeper perspective and not just from the novel Little Women. This understanding and appreciation is translated into the screenplay, capturing Alcott’s sharpness of mind and the sensitivity of her soul. Here’s a poignant scene as Jo pours out her heart to Marmee after rejecting Laurie’s marriage proposal. Has she made the right decision? In an interview, Gerwig says the words are all Alcott’s, from her book Rose in Bloom, except the last sentence added by Gerwig herself, equally brilliant, piercingly clear, and very Dickinson:

Women have minds, as well as just heart; ambition and talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying love is all a woman is fit for. But I’m so lonely.

The March family has had their share of misfortune. But life can be beautiful for those who behold it as such and deem it meaningful to pursue one’s own dream or simply to enjoy one’s passion, no matter how short the allotment of time. Despite challenging personal and social reality, it’s a bliss to be alive, and yes, even better when one succeeds. Gerwig has effectively brought out this theme with both sensitivity and heart. The ending scene speaks to this truth. 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Related Posts:

Top Ripples of 2019 and the Decade

Women Directors of my Favourite Films

Certain Women: To Connect on a Vast Landscape

Recent Movies and Series Directed by Women

Yesterday while driving I heard the stirring theme music of the movie The Piano (1993) played on CBC Radio 2. Memories flooded my mind. I recalled watching it in the movie theatre way back then. A deaf-mute unable to speak but can overwhelm others as she plays the piano to express herself.

I thought of Jane Campion, writer/director of the film, marvelled at her skills in conveying thoughts and emotions via the visual medium, and thought of other women directors who’d helmed many of my favourite films. I’ve had two previous posts on Women Directors here and here. Now taking stock mentally of the recent movies and series I’ve watched on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Kanopy while home-staying, I notice several of them are created and/or directed by women.

The Piano

Consider the following list with my capsule reviews an update of my previous Women Directors posts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Amazon Prime) – Directed by Marielle Heller 

Director Heller and the screenwriters transport Mr. Roger’s child-friendly, essential human wisdom to realistic, adult situations. The film isn’t so much about Mr. Rogers but the real-life story of journalist Tom Junod’s life-changing encounters with Fred Rogers for a magazine assignment. Tom Hanks is ideal as Mr. Rogers, and Matthew Rhys is effective in playing journalist Lloyd Vogel.

Who’s Matthew Rhys, you might ask? I highly recommend you watch “The Americans” series. Or, if you’re an Austen spinoffs fan, he’s Mr. Darcy in the mini-series “Death Comes to Pemberley”, adaptation of the novel by P. D. James. And, if you were around to watch the original Raymond Burr detective series on TV, the Wales-born actor is the new Perry Mason in our time.

Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon Prime) – Created and screenplay by Liz Tigelaar, Directors Lynn Shelton and Nzingha Stewart. 

The 8-Episode mini-series is the screen adaptation of Asian American novelist Celeste Ng’s second novel. My full book review can be found here. The thematic elements of race, motherhood, family secrets, clashes of generations and values are visualized and made more acute as Kerry Washington is cast as an African-American artist playing against Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Richardson, the gatekeeper of the white upper-middle-class community of Shaker Heights, OH. The artist Mia Warren in Ng’s novel isn’t black, but turning her into one makes the conflict of the story more timely and pressing.

Four episodes are directed by Lynn Shelton who sadly died in May, 2020. Another female director Nzingha Stewart helmed two.

Never have I Ever (Netflix) – Created by Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling. Directors Linda Mendoza and Anu Valia 

Here’s a recent trend that’s encouraging. Movies and series are created to feature minority cultures in America. The talented Mindy Kaling, who wrote the screenplay and co-starred with Emma Thompson in Late Night (2019) plus many other credits, created this comedy series about high school girl Devi’s experience growing up Indian-American, something Kaling knows full well. Many LOL situations and dialogues throughout the ten episodes. Kaling scouted Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in Mississauga, ON, Canada, to play Devi. A fresh look into the multi-cultural humanity that our North American population comprises. In recent years we talk a lot about representation. This is a humorous and realistic look into a vibrant sector.

The Half of It (Netflix) – Directed by Alice Wu

Here’s another lens to look into our younger generation growing up bi-cultural. The full length feature directed by Chinese-American Alice Wu is this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature winner. A shy academic ace, Ellie Chu, earns her pocket money from writing essays for her fellow classmates. When one day, she’s recruited by the school jock Paul Munsky to be a ghost writer of poetic love letters to a girl he tries to date, Ellie begins to feel a moral dilemma. The characterization and storyline make this feature a contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Humor is situational with some poignant scenes, making the film all the more enjoyable.

Unorthodox (Netflix) – Created by Anna Winger, Directed by Maria Schrader

Inspired by the memoir of Deborah Feldman, who broke away from her strict Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY, and escaped to Berlin where she changed into a new persona and started a different life. I haven’t read the memoir but I know the four-part mini-series take the liberty to re-imagine how she goes about changing her life while in Berlin. The series is captivating as viewers are introduced to the Hasidic, male-dominated and authoritarian community. Again, there are many cultural sectors in our society and through films we get to know a little bit more of how others live and the struggles they go through.

Ophelia (Netflix) – Directed by Claire McCarthy

Adaptation of the book by Lisa Klein, screenplay by Semi Chellas, Ophelia is a re-imagined story of what happened in the royal castle of Elsinore and in particular, Hamlet’s sweetheart. Lots of liberty in tweaking and twisting but still interesting to watch, albeit a lightweight Hamlet compared to the original. Notable cast includes Naomi Watts as Gertrude, Clive Owen as Claudius. Hamlet is played by George MacKay before his titular role in the WWII movie 1917, and Ophelia is Star War‘s Rey Daisy Ridley.

Hamlet (Kanopy) – Film Direction by Margaret Williams, London Stage Direction by Sarah Frankcom

A filmed recording of the play performed in Royal Exchange, Manchester. This Hamlet is a fresh take with Maxine Peake as the emotionally devastated and revengeful Prince of Denmark. Only after watching that I Google search to find the first female to play Hamlet dates back to 1796 in London Drury Lane, then 1820 in New York. Several others had followed since. But this is my first time watching. Maxine Peake’s performance almost instantly cast away all my preset feelings. She’s high-octane energy; her voice, physical stage presence totally captivate, convincing yet delicate. She’s herself and not an impersonator. Modern costume makes it more natural and, love her haircut. Peake makes me look at her not as a female taking up a male role, but a superb actor playing the ‘Everest of roles’.

More Films by Female Directors

Let’s continue to celebrate women beyond just one day or a weekend.

Previously on Ripple, I posted a list of my favorite films that happened to be directed by women. Here’s another list, not a personal favourite list but one just to show the variety of movies female directors have helmed, to shatter the myth and misconception that some might hold: ‘if we leave it to them, they’ll only churn out chick flicks.’

In alphabetical order, not ranked, director and year released in brackets, a list to hopefully inform, remind, and maybe surprise. There are many more, of course, but I’ll just stop at 65. How many have you seen? Which other ones you’d like to add?

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, 2019)

A Thousand Suns (Mati Diop, 2013)

A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay, 2018)

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

The Arch (Cecile Tang Shu Shuen, 1970)

The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2020)

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)

Bend It Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002)

         Big (Penny Marshall, 1988)

Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan, 2020)

Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019)

Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999)

Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018)

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018)

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden, 2019)

Captain Marvel's Carol Danvers

Charlie’s Angels (Elizabeth Banks, 2019)

Chocolat (Claire Denis, 1988)

Cloud Atlas (The Wachowskis co-direct, 2012)

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)

Frozen / Forzen II (Jennifer Lee co-directs, 2013 / 2019)

High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

The Hitch-hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019)

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011)

Late Night (Nisha Ganatra, 2019)

Leave no Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

The Matrix / Reloaded (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1999 / 2003)

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Miss Julie (Liv Ullmann, 2014)

Money Monster (Jodie Foster, 2016)
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Jodie Foster directs

 

Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

Mulan (Niki Caro, 2020)

Mustang (Deniz Ganze Ergüven, 2015)

My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong, 1979)

Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013)

Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2009)

Pay It Forward (Mimi Leder, 2000)

Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks, 2015)

Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)

…….The Prince of Tides (Barbra Streisand, 1991)

Queen and Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019)

Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair, 2016)

Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975)

Selma (Ava Duvernay, 2014)

selma-bridge

Shrek (Vicky Jenson co-directs, 2001)

Something’s Gotta Give (Nancy Meyers, 2003)

The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion, 1996)

The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, 1993)

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)

Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008)

Unbroken (Angelina Jolie, 2014)

Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012)

Washington Square (Agnieszka Holland, 1997)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)

What Women Want (Nancy Meyers, 2000)

Winter’s Bones (Debra Granik, 2010)

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (Niki Caro, 2017)

 

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Women Directors of My Favorite Films

In 92 years of Oscar history, only five women have been nominated for Best Director:

Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1976), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, 2017).

How many of them had won? One. Kathryn Bigelow in 2010.

Does that mean there aren’t many women directors around? Definitely not. It just reveals how things are for these artists striving under the glass ceiling. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative research is a good frame of reference for annual facts and trend of women in the film industry. According to their newest study entitled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair: Analysis of director Gender & Race/Ethnicity Across 1,300 Top Films from 2007 to 2019” (Jan. 2020), female directors of top-grossing films reached a 13 year high in 2019: 10.6%, breaking an average of just 4.8% throughout the past 12 years. Maybe studios have begun to see women can be trusted to make profitable movies after all.

Yet, how many women are nominated for Best Director in the 2020 Academy Awards?

None.

This is not a post of protest, nor of analysis, but of reminiscence. I’ve made a mental inventory of some of my favorite films, ones that have stirred some ripples in the Pond, and found many of them are directed by women. Their works might not have made it to the ‘top-grossing’ list… but, this just shows where my interests lie.

Varda by Agnes
Agnès Varda in the director’s chair. Photo Courtesy: TIFF19

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Here they are in alphabetical order, with my favorite films bolded. Links are to my reviews:

Kathryn BigelowThe Hurt Locker (2008, Best Picture Oscar, Best Director), Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Bigelow is the only female to have won an Oscar in Directing. She has shown that when a woman takes on a military movie, she can master the conflicts both external and within.

Jane Campion – The New Zealand director is one of the five women in Oscar history to be nominated for Directing. The Piano (1993) is visually stunning and bold in its depiction of the yearnings of the human heart. Campion is the first (and only, so far) woman to have won the prestigious Palm d’Or at Cannes with this film. Bright Star (2009) is a lyrical portrayal of English poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne before his untimely death at 25. A beautiful tapestry weaving together the visual and the word.

Nora Ephron – I miss Nora Ephron. It seems with her passing in 2012, romantic comedies aren’t the same anymore. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) will remain iconic from a period that still valued face-to-face meeting over the telephone or emails. And for some reasons, Meg Ryan seems to have gone out of sorts too. Hopefully she’ll make a come-back like Renée Zellweger did with Judy (2019).

Sarah GavronBrick Lane (2007) prompted my interest in the British director with her focus on a Bangladeshi wife in London; Suffragette (2015) depicts women’s personal struggles against a monumental period of British social history, but Rocks (2019) is the gripping, down-to-earth drama following a black teenage girl being left alone to fend for herself and take care of her little brother when their single mom deserts them, achingly real.

Greta GerwigLittle Women (2019) is a production that I’d enjoyed far more than Lady Bird (2017) for which Gerwig got a Best Director Oscar nom in 2018. It’s plain snubbing of her achievement in this year’s Academy Awards where the slate of Directing nominees are all males. Recognized at the Oscars or not, Gerwig’s Little Women will remain a definitive and worthy contemporary adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic.

Mia Hansen-Løve – In Things to Come (2016), the French actor-turned-director Hansen-Løve presents a woman at the crossroads of life. Isabelle Huppert plays a philosophy professor whose husband leaves her for a younger woman, while her elderly mother with dementia needs her constant care, her publisher finds her text book no more relevant, and her two children have grown and lead lives of their own. What are the things to come for her?

Mira NairThe Namesake (2006) is the movie adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel. A delightful and humane look at the generation gap within an immigrant family from India, and the clash the son has to face being caught between his present American life and his cultural roots.

Sarah Polley – Polley adapts Canadian Nobel Laureate Alice Munro’s short story for the film Away from Her (2006). At age 27, the Canadian actor-turned-director wrote the screenplay of an elderly couple facing separation as the Alzheimer stricken wife has to move away to live in a care home. Polley’s directorial debut sent veteran British star Julie Christie to the Academy Awards as a Best Actress nominee, and Polley herself for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Dee ReesMudbound (2007) is the adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel set in the American South at the end of WWII. Two military men, one white, Jamie, and one black, Ronsel, came back from Europe’s war zone to their home in Mississippi, each faces a different predicament. And for Ronsel, a decorated soldier who had fought under General Patton, home is a totally new battlefield.

Kelly Reichardt – Reichardt’s styling is naturalistic, casual but nuanced. Certain Women (2016) is a triptych of three short stories by Maile Meloy. Against the vast landscape of Montana, lives can be very ordinary, but Reichardt shows there’s no ordinary life. Similarly, Wendy and Lucy (2008) is a simple narrative about a young woman looking for work drifting through the Pacific Northwest with her dog Lucy. Reichardt has major stars in her cast who all look very comfortable being anonymous.

Lone Scherfig ­– Scherfig’s forte is her pleasant styling even when depicting a troubling story. Their Finest (2016) is England in her darkest hour during the Blitz in WWII but with the mood of a romantic comedy. And in 2009, Scherfig tells the story of an innocent teenage girl and her parents being duped by a man in An Education (2009). Carey Mulligan in her breakout role, landing her with a BAFTA win and an Oscar nom for Best Actress.

Agnès Varda – In her last film shortly before her death in 2019, Varda by Agnès, the French New Wave icon stated three crucial concepts in her filmmaking: Inspiration (the why), Creation (the how), and Sharing. The soft-spoken but astute artist has left us with a treasure trove of works, albeit not readily accessible in N. America. I’ve been able to watch several, including my favorites Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) and Faces Places (2017).

Lulu Wang – The premise of the Chinese American director’s real-life family experience in The Farewell (2019) could be shocking to Western viewers, but that just shows the divides separating us who are framed by different cultures: to tell or not to tell an elderly family member of her terminal illness diagnosis. What Wang has ingeniously achieved in her film is to bridge the chasm separating the two sides with a human touch that transcends borders. Amazing feat.

Chloé Zhao – I hope this is a new trend, that is, let Asian Americans, or any underrepresented Americans of various cultural roots, to have the chance to showcase deserving works. The Rider (2018) is a poetic narrative of a contemporary cowboy–a rodeo bronco rider– recovering from debilitating head injury. Chinese American director Zhao is an unlikely person to tell the story; yet this is her vision after befriending the Sioux community in a South Dakota reservation.

 

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‘Parasite’ Makes Oscar History and more…

This morning you’d probably waken up to Parasites everywhere. What is Parasite, you might ask. In case you’re one of those who avoids watching the perennial award show of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after 92 years, they have opened their door and allowed a non-English film to win the top prize, Best Picture of the Year.

 

Parasite
Looking for Wi-Fi connection are brother and sister Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park, a scene in “Parasite”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the South Korean, genre-bending dark comedy directed by Bong Joon Ho garnered four Oscars. Other than Best Picture, it won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Haven’t heard of Best International Feature Film either? It’s the new name for the old category Best Foreign Language Film, an effort to dispel the awkwardness of the term ‘Foreign’. Even within the continent of North America, many languages are spoken.

Previously, no non-English film had ever won Oscar Best Picture even though nominated: Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1974 Oscar), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Michael Haneke’s Armour (2013), Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2019). Parasite makes a monumental win in Oscars’ 92 years history by being the first non-English language film to reach the highest prize.

By opening this door, the Academy begins to reach out to tap its potential, international stature. The closest I can think of is Cannes. The most prestigious film festival in the world that takes place annually in the small resort town in the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has maintained its status of bestowing the highest cinematic accolades across national borders.

About borders, director Bong’s vision is global: “I don’t think it’s necessary to separate all the borders of division if we pursue the beauty of cinema.” Referring to Chinese American filmmaker Lulu Wang’s Indie Spirit Best Picture win for her film The Farewell just the day before the Oscars, Bong said: “Like Lulu, we just all make movies.”

When it comes to breaking down barriers, Bong’s own acceptance speech at the Golden Globes is succinct and spot-on. As translator Sharon Choi relayed in English, the director’s commentary on differences and the language that unites is inspiring for our divisive world:

“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films. Just being nominated along with fellow amazing international filmmakers was a huge honor.” And in English, he added, “I think we use only one language: the cinema.”

I’ve had the chance to enjoy some refreshing cross-border collaborations at Film Festivals. Just to name a few from last year:

Frankie – the Cannes nominated American Ira Sachs directing two veterans of the cinema, French actress Isabelle Huppert and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson in a film shot in Portugal. Language: English, French, Portuguese.

To the Ends of the Earth – Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa shot the film in Uzbekistan (a former Soviet republic close to the Eurasian border) on a commission to celebrate the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Uzbekistan. Language: Japanese, Uzbek

The Truth Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda directing the legendary Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke (no need to declare nationality, I think you got the idea) Language: French, English

Maybe the art of cinema could well be the lingua franca to unite us all.

 

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Related posts on Ripple Effects:

My review of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell

 

 

More Movie Adaptations 2020

Previously on Ripple, a list of movie adaptations coming out this year was posted. Here are a few more, not only from books, but Broadway musicals (not as scary as Cats, so give them a try), and a Chinese poem.
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Emma by Jane Austen

EMMA

While there have been many TV miniseries, and the modern-day spinoff, Clueless (1995), the only full-length movie adaptation of Austen’s Emma is back in 1996 with Gwyneth Paltrow as the heroine, Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley, and Toni Collette, Harriet Smith. The 2020 version stars Anya Taylor-Joy, born the year the last Emma adaptation came out. This 24 year-old rising star has already won acting awards in the US, UK, and at Cannes. This updated version sees Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, Bill Nighy, Mr. Woodhouse, and Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown, S3) as Mr. Elton. Do you want to see a new full-length movie adaptation of Emma? Or another Austen book?

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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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THE TURN OF THE SCREW
Movie title is The Turning, perhaps to take in the vibes of the horror classic The Shining. Why this genre is so popular is beyond me. Back in 1898 when Henry James published his horror novella as a serial, he couldn’t have imagined his writing would be turned into a motion picture projected on a huge screen 122 years later. Directed by Canadian photographer/filmmaker Floria Sigismondi, who’d made music videos for Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, and many others. Her disturbing style just might be what James had intended. Cast includes TV Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project, 2017).


Deep Water
by Patricia Highsmith

Deep Water

Highsmith specialized in psychological thrillers. Several of her novels had been adapted into successful movies: Strangers on a Train (1951), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and Carol (2015). Coming out this year is a marital thriller that Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn had identified as her favorite book and is, in her words, “a thriller about a suburban couple bent on mutual destruction.” Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, 2014) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out, 2019) star. Directed by Adrian Lyne, also a marital thriller specialist, whose works include Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Unfaithful (2002), which was the last film he directed until now.
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West Side Story by Arthur Laurents, Broadway musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

WEST SIDE STORY POSTER (1).jpegSteven Spielberg directs this remake of the Bernstein/Sondheim musical (1957) and the 1961 Jerome Robin/Robert Wise movie for our time. In Dec. 2020, we’ll witness a new version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. A cast of 130+ will join the Spielberg team with screenwriter Tony Kushner (Lincoln, 2012) and cinematographer, 2-time Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan, 1998 and Schindler’s List, 1993). Additional new music by David Newman. Ansel Elgort plays Tony; Maria is Rachel Zegler, chosen from 30,000 auditioned. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 movie, also stars in this remake.

 

 

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In the Heights
by Lin-Manuel Miranda

IN THE HEIGHTS.jpeg

Before Hamilton, there was In the Heights, Miranda’s breakout musical that won 4 Tony Awards in 2008. The musical is based on the book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, who now writes the screenplay transposing it onto the big screen. Miranda stars in this story set in the Hispanic-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in NYC. The movie is shot on location there. Directed by Jon M. Chu, whose Crazy Rich Asians became the summer sensation of 2018, showing Chu could create some spectacles. Would Miranda fans want to see a movie version of his works? In the Heights could well be a pilot project, as Hamilton the movie is currently in development.


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Mulan
, legendary heroine from “The Ballad of Mulan” (in Chinese: 木蘭辭)

Hua Mulan.jpeg

According to the legend described in the narrative poem “The Ballad of Mulan”, Hua Mulan (Chinese: 花木蘭) is a female warrior in China during the Northern Wei period (386-536). To fulfill the conscription for military service for every family and for love of her ageing father, Mulan disguised as a male to join the army in her father’s place to protect her country from their northern enemies, the Huns. The rhymed verses in “The Ballad” provide vivid descriptions of Mulan’s determination and how she goes to nearby towns to buy a horse, a saddle and a whip, equipping herself for military service. After 10 years of fighting, she comes home to her overjoyed parents a decorated military commander.

Disney had wielded its creative license to introduce imaginary characters and songs in its original 1998 animation. Now 22 years later, a live-action feature film carries the legend further, albeit with no place for an actual pet dragon, so, no Mushu. Helmed by New Zealand director Niki Caro (The Zookeeper’s Wife, 2017), it should be noted that all four screenwriters are non-Chinese. No matter, at least the heroine and her purpose is true to the source material. Top-notch Chinese stars are on board: Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, screen veteran Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma from The Farewell, and Rosalind Chao from The Joy Luck Club, to name a few. Playing Mulan is multi-talented Liu Yifei who reportedly was selected after a five-continent search and auditioning a thousand candidates. Braced for a Westernized version of the age-old Chinese legend.

 

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Top Ripples of 2019 and the Decade

Best of the decade lists have been sprouting up everywhere now that we’re wrapping up  the second ten years of the 21st century. As Ripple Effects has been around for over 12 years now, I too have the privilege to post my own decade favourites, with links to my reviews. A disclaimer is, obviously, I can only rate films that I’ve seen. For 2019, I’ve yet to see 1917 and Bombshell.

But first off, before looking back to the decade, here’s the list of

Top Ripples of 2019:

  1. Little Women
  2. A Hidden Life
  3. Varda by Agnès
  4. An Elephant Sitting Still
  5. Pain and Glory
  6. The Farewell
  7. Parasite
  8. Marriage Story
  9. American Factory
  10. Rocks

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Top Ripples of the Decade:

  1.  The Tree of Life (2011) –– Director Terrence Malick’s visual treatise on life, death, and everything in between… and after.
    .
  2.  Roma (2018) –– Nothing’s too mundane for a filmmaker, especially with childhood memory. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical work that won him 3 Oscars, Best Directing, Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.
    .
  3.  Ida (2013) –– Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski’s gripping depiction of a young woman’s choice of the sacred or the secular.
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  4.  An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) –– A last outcry of a young talent, the first and last masterpiece of Chinese writer/director Hu Bo who took his own life after making the film at age 29.
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  5. Little Women (2019) –– No matter what your previously held memory of the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is, Greta Gerwig’s 2019 rendition is worthy to be the definitive version from now on as we head into the third decade of the 21st century. Surely lots have to be left out in a 2 hr. movie; take it as a good prod to go read the book.
    .
  6.  A Hidden Life (2019) –– Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter gave up everything to stand by his conviction, refusing to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler. Terrence Malick’s newest film is a meditation on the meaning of life, and death.
    .
  7.  Silence (2016) –– Martin Scorsese’s epic adaptation of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s novel, a harsh and audacious look at the persecution of Christianity during 1600’s Japan. Similar to Malick’s A Hidden Life but depicts a totally different choice and outcome for its protagonist.
    .
  8.  Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) –– French director Olivier Assayas’s mesmerizing tale of being famous, ageing, becoming obsolete, and the young rising. Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart offer interesting interplay, but it’s Stewart who stands out.
    .
  9.  12 Years A Slave (2013) –– Two Brits takes over the American story: Director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays Solomon Northup. I wrote this in my review: the subject matter may be ugly, but the medium depicting it can be artistically gratifying, thus, conveying the message with even greater potency and inspiration.
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  10.  Certain Women (2016) –– Director Kelly Reichardt has chosen three short stories by Maile Meloy to form a cinematic triptych. The seemingly mundaneness of life is actually the very essence of it. The women are what make this film quietly impressive: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Kristin Stewart.
    .
  11. Pain and Glory (2019) –– “The child is father of the man”, iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s autobiographical sketch of his childhood, later life and career up to this point. Beautifully shot, a film for artists.
    .
  12. The Farewell (2019) –– Chinese American director Lulu Wang has put her family story on screen and captured the hearts of many, making Awkwafina the rising star this awards season. To tell, or not to tell, that is the question… and the answer is obvious depending on where you’re from.
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  13. Faces Places (2017) –– Agnes Varda at 89 goes on a road trip with photographer/artist JR, adorning dilapidated buildings and unlikely places with human portraits larger than life.
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  14. The Rider (2017) –– Chinese-American Chloé Zhao tells the rarely told story of a modern day cowboy’s existential crisis after he suffers a debilitating head injury. How she tells it is poetry on screen.
    .
  15. Arrival (2016) –– Admirable collaboration: French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s adapts Chinese American sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, rendered with sensitive performance by Amy Adams. A film packed full of ideas, condensed sentiments, yes, like poetry.
    .
  16. Frances Ha (2012) –– Noah Baumbach has created a character that’s a perfect fit for partner Greta Gerwig, an aspiring dancer trying to find her place in NYC. The scene of Frances running and dancing through the streets of NYC has become an archetype for freedom and exuberance. (Look for it at the beginning of Little Women)
    .
  17. Varda by Agnes (2019) – The only female director of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda had left us with an inspiring legacy. This is her summing up, her last work wherein she went through every film she’d made, commenting with valuable insights and wisdom.
    .
  18. Our Little Sister (2015) –– I’ve to say this could well be my favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda movie. Koreeda is a master in filming family relationships, reminiscent of Ozu but with contemporary scenarios. This is a heartwarming film for the unhurried heart to savour.
    .
  19. Life of Pi (2012) –– What Canadian author Yann Martel has succeeded in literary form, Ang Lee has realized in this visually stunning cinematic offering, filming what is considered the ‘unfilmable’. Aligned with its magical realism, Lee ventured into flashy 3D.
    .
  20. The Past (2013) –– Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi elicited some amazing
    performance with this absorbing story. The film came out two years after A Separation, his Oscar winning film. I’d enjoyed The Past more.
    .

 

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Other Top Ripples not on the above lists can be found on the sidebar. Click on the image to read my review.

 

 

 

 

‘A Hidden Life’: A Film for the Season

For over 10 years at Ripple Effects around this time, I’ve a Christmas post entitled Reading the Season. That’s when I post a book or collection of poetry that I find relevant for Christmas. This year I’ve something different. It’s a film that could offer some quietude among the cacophony of the season.

I first saw A Hidden Life at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It’s now showing in selective cities.

**

Written and directed by Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life is the story of an unsung hero, Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), a conscientious objector who refused to take the oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler to fight for the Nazis in World War II, for he saw Hitler’s war unjust and evil.

A Hidden Life
Valerie Pachner and August Diehl in the film A HIDDEN LIFE. Photo Courtesy of TIFF.

The title alludes to George Eliot’s ending of Middlemarch:

…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

A quest for spiritual meaning is the signature of the reclusive director’s works. They are often expressed in whispered voiceovers from the characters, revealing their doubts and questions, anguish and insights.

Days of Heaven (1978) establishes Malick’s aesthetic style of using natural light to shoot his films, every frame exudes cinematic poetry. The Thin Red Line (1998) begins his signature whispering voiceovers to express inner thoughts and spiritual quests. But it’s The Tree of Life (2011) that makes such whispers monumental as Malick situates the microcosm of a Texan family within the cosmos, and asks questions of the Creator the problem of pain and death, the struggle with human nature, with love and hate, and despite all human failings, the presence of grace.

Since The Tree of Life, Malick has produced several ‘misses’, films that are not well received as they are elliptical and experimental but visionary no less. To the Wonder (2012), Knight of Cups (2015) and Song to Song (2017) all point to one common quest: in the materialistic world of the rich and famous, what makes life meaningful? And, can true love be found?

A Hidden Life is Terrence Malick back to his form in a more traditional style of filmmaking, and more explicitly spiritual as he tells the story of a faithful, historic figure, Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter of St. Radegund, a village in Upper Austria. Before Germany’s ‘annexation’ (Anschluss) of his country, family life is blissful and easy for Franz. He farms the land among natural vistas, stays rooted in a close-knit community, happily fathers three young daughters, and is deeply in love with his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner). The arrival of a conscription letter in 1943 changes everything.

Franz knows he cannot join Hitler’s military, but the refusal to do so means certain death and the risk of endangering his family. He struggles hard to deal with the dilemma and seeks guidance from his Catholic church, but his priest tells him patriotism is what’s demanded of him. His village folks ostracize him; the mayor urges him to comply with Hitler’s demand, for one traitor among them can endanger them all. But Franz stands his ground even with the consequence of execution, a stance reminiscent of the Christian pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died under Nazis hands for refusing to let Hitler’s doctrine to supplant his church.

In this way, A Hidden Life offers an opposite stance different from Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016), adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel. Here we have a courageous conscientious objector willing to suffer the loss of everything and the risk of harm to his family and kinsfolks in defying a ruthless ruler. A Hidden Life is a real-life testimonial of a believer while in the face of persecution, still refuses to step on the Nazi fumie to renounce his faith.

After incarcerated in the German military prison near Linz then transferred to Berlin to await trial, Franz is allowed to write one letter to Fani every month. The love the couple share in the film has its basis on these poignant letters which have since been compiled and published by Orbis Books. Franz’s absence from home brings Fani back-breaking hardships on top of social ostracizing. Her mother and sister come to live with her to offer whatever support they can give.

Capturing mainly natural light for his filming, Malick contrasts the idyllic family life in the beauty of the natural landscape of Franz’s home setting with the harshness of his imprisoned existence. What’s more tortuous though is his internal struggle. While in prison, his captor Captain Herder (Matthias Schoenaerts) says to him: “What purpose does your defiance serve? No one knows about you.” Yet Franz is convinced that his action isn’t to please others or to glorify himself, but to do what’s right in the eyes of his God. Franz’s own hidden spiritual life empowers him to stay strong.

In his trial, again he is being challenged: “Will anyone outside this court hear you? No one will be changed.” Yet he says nothing in his own defence, an allusion to the One who had stood trial in front of a ruler and said nothing in the face of death.

In a voiceover we hear these inner thoughts, Franz’s words to Fani:

“Time will come when we’ll know what all this is for, and why we live.”

There are plenty of quiet moments, long takes and slow pacing for viewers to think and ponder. The 174 minutes of screen time offers an opportune respite from the hustle and bustle of the Season, a quietude to evaluate, if you will, now that we’re at the end of another decade and in a time of tumultuous change.

The soul-stirring music is another reason to sit down in the theatre and quietly let the story unfold. Film composer James Newton Howard has created a full orchestral score complementing the cinematography, not only in capturing the beauty of the vistas but in his own words: “… to focus on the emotional journeys and crises of conscience of the characters—writing music to reflect their story.” Listen for the solo violin representing the sentiments of Franz and Fani, masterfully played by the Canadian violin virtuoso James Ehnes.

What’s hidden could be more precious, like treasure in jars of clay. And these words came to mind as I give A Hidden Life further thoughts:

… we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Reading the Season Posts:

2018: Madeleine L’Engle’s Poem The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

For my review of The Tree of Life and Silence, click on the links embedded in the titles.

 

Original Screenplays Written Directly for the Screen: What to Watch in November and December 2019

The Academy has separate award categories for writing: Screenplay adapted from another source and screenplays written directly for the screen. My last post is a list of movie adaptations coming out this fall/winter. In this post is a list of some highly anticipated features based on an original screenplay, all poised for the Awards Season, eyeing the 2020 Oscars race.

 

1917

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Director Sam Mendes takes a fragment of a story his grandfather Alfred Mendes had told him and wrote this original screenplay. During WWI, two young privates (one apparently represents his grandfather) race against time to deliver a message deep into enemy territory to save 1,600 British soldiers from heading into a death trap. In real life, Alfred Mendes was given a Military Medal for his bravery in taking up the mission voluntarily. So, the movie has a particular personal meaning for the younger Mendes. The Oscar winning director (for American Beauty) has an exceptional track record of top features including Bond movies Skyfall, Spectre, and the adaptation of Richard Ford’s Revolutionary Road. In 1917, Mendes has a stellar cast to work with, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Mark Strong. Roger Deakins just might get another Oscar nom for cinematography.

 

A Hidden Life 

A Hidden Life

Here’s another hero’s story but of a very different nature. This time in WWII during Nazi occupation of Austria. Franz Jägerstätter is a farmer in a small village, leading a simple and idyllic family life. Everything changes when he’s conscripted to serve in the German army. Jägerstätter refuses to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler as he considers Hitler’s war unjust and evil. Not a pacifist, but a conscientious objector due to his Christian faith. The consequence of refusing to take the oath is death. Director Terrence Malick after The Tree of Life offers us a poignant and beautiful meditation on this hidden hero, bravery no one would have noticed, on the contrary, bravery that is met with spite and hatred even by his own village folks. I watched this at TIFF and can attest that these could well be the most meaningful 3 hours in this holiday season.

Harriet

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Yet another hero’s story. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and became an abolitionist and leading ‘conductor’, helping many slave families to freedom. During the American Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army in various capacities. Director Kasi Lemmons researched and wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. This is the kind of movies where historical facts and dramatization would usually come under scrutiny. In an interview with IndieWire, Lemmons has made this statement: “Of course I embellished, I’m a screenwriter… I added to the story because anybody that’s a writer that approaches a real story has to embellish.” Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet, Leslie Odom Jr. and Joe Alwyn co-star.

 

The Aeronauts

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British duo Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite for another scientific venture after their Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of EverythingThe Aeronauts has these two stuck in a hot air ballon 40,000 ft. above ground. The movie is loosely based on the real-life feats achieved by James Glaisher and Henry Tracey Coxwell, who, in 1862, flew higher into the atmosphere than anyone had ever done before. For story appeal, Coxwell is replaced by the female balloonist Amelia Rennes. Looks like the dramatization of historical discoveries and scientific breakthroughs has developed into a genre of their own, such as The Current War, The Imitation Game, and Hidden Figures. Directed and co-written by Tom Harper. In N. American theatres Dec. 6 then on Amazon Prime Video Dec. 20. But looks like this one should be watched on the big screen.

Marriage Story

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Back on the ground, a very realistic depiction. Noah Baumbach has written an insightful script on the dissolution of a marriage. I watched this at TIFF. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver a superb performance as a couple going through a divorce. You’d think the process involves the husband, the wife, and the child only. But no. It looks like the lawyers are the major players in our adversarial legal system. Things get much more complicated and pricier than the couple have first thought and uglier than they’d wanted to go. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda are the lawyers, solid casting. A strong Oscar hopeful. After a limited release in theatres, this will go straight to Netflix.

The Two Popes

The Two PopesFor originality of a screenplay this probably is a good example. Imagine the conservative Pope Benedict XVI meeting the relatively more progressive Pope Francis I as they hang out with each other, a few years before Francis became Pontiff. Maybe a get-to-know-you, pre-screening interview for the Pope-in-waiting. Anthony Hopkins plays the conservative and Jonathan Pryce, the liberal. Helmed by acclaimed Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles whose past works include the Oscar nominated City of God and The Constant Gardener where Rachel Weisz won her Oscar. Screenplay by Anthony McCarten, 3-time Oscar nominee for Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, and The Theory of Everything. Again, Netflix will have it after a limited theatrical run in December. 

 

 

 

 

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Related Posts:

Movies Based on Books in Nov. and Dec. 2019

David Copperfield: From Book to Film

Downton Abbey the movie not just for fans

Movies based on books in November and December 2019

Here are several films coming out this fall/winter that are based on books. Usually features given a release date during this time come with some buzz as the awards season has kicked off. Surely there are also those that are from original screenplays, a few are highly anticipated titles as well. Another post for them.

Here’s a list of upcoming book to screen features. Some are in theatres already.

 

The Good Liar

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This is an interesting premise: From an online dating site, two people meet, each having an agenda of his/her own. They are octogenarian con artist Roy and his seemingly easy, slightly younger prey Betty, a wealthy widow. Played by two veterans of the stage and screen, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, just to watch their performance would be pleasure enough, not to mention how the plot thickens. Bill Condon directs. Based on the debut novel by Nicholas Searle; the name BTW, is a pseudonym. The author is a former UK intelligence officer before turning full-time writer. Now that’s intriguing.

 

The Irishman 

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A highly anticipated Scorsese movie and it’s based on a book; many of the director’s works are.  This one is adapted from Charles Brandt’s true crime novel about the ‘Irishman’ Frank Sheeran, the hitman who murdered Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Screenplay is by Steven Zaillian, the Oscar winning writer who adapted Schindler’s List for the big screen. A Scorsese cast with Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin. Limited release in theatres, then on Netflix, which makes it another potential clash with studio gatekeeper Spielberg.

 

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit Movie Still

 

Winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2019. The award has always been cited as an indicator of Oscar Best Picture, like last year’s The Green Book. But just like last year, the feature is embraced by viewers but received mixed reviews by critics. Billed as an ‘Anti-Hate Satire’, the farcical rendition is helmed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi who also stars as Adolf Hitler, a caricature and imaginary friend of 10 yr. old Jojo going through tough times towards the end of WWII. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell co-star. The movie is loosely based on the book Caging Skies by New Zealand-Belgian novelist Christine Leunens. How much has Waititi taken out from the book and how much is his own imagination? A good case study of the boundary and definition of movie adaptations.

 

Motherless Brooklyn

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Edward Norton has wanted to make the movie ever since he read Jonathan Lethem’s detective novel, a 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award winner. So, it’s taken him 20 years to do it, himself being the screenwriter, director, actor, and producer. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder which afflicts him with involuntary tics. While keeping the location in NYC, Norton has changed the time to the 50’s from 1999, thereby introducing some nostalgic designs and costumes, and noir for taste. Cast includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Defoe, Bruce Willis, and Alec Baldwin.

 

Little Women

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It has been 25 years since the last full feature adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. This updated remake is in the hands of Greta Gerwig, whose Lady Bird (2017) brought her two Oscar noms, for Best Director and Original Screenplay. But what left an indelible memory for me is her role as Frances in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012). Now thinking back to her character Frances, a young dancer striving on her own in NYC, it shares the spirit of Jo March in Little Women: independent, fresh, and authentic. Great cast with Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep. A film I most look forward to this holidays season.

 


Cats

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For all ye ailurophiles and musical lovers. Based on T. S. Eliot’s collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is hailed as one of the biggest hits in theatrical history on their website. Director Tom Hooper has another musical-turned-movie under his belt: Les Misérables (2012) which won 3 Oscars. Attractive cast in Cats the movie: Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Taylor Swift.

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‘Parasite’ is an Entertaining Wild Ride

Parasite won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this May. I watched it at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and reviewed it for Asian American Press in September. I thank AAPress for the permission to re-post my full review here on Ripple Effects. The film is now released in selective theatres.

Parasite
Brother and sister seeking Wi Fi reception in Parasite. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF19

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho can make social statements in the most unconventional ways, like through the friendship between a child and a giant pig in Okja (2017) to draw awareness to our meat-obsessed economy, or, environmental warnings in the apocalyptic action thriller Snowpiercer (2013).

His latest work, the 2019 Cannes Palme d’Or winning Parasite, has its Canadian Premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival in September. Its subject matter––the gap between the rich and the poor in contemporary Asian society––had been covered by two acclaimed productions at Cannes last year, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, and Burning, which brought South Korean Lee Chang-dong a Best Director win. Under Bong’s helming, the subject matter is approached with a fresh, new take showcasing his signature audacious and inventive handling.

With Parasite, Bong has surpassed himself by delivering a genre-fusing feature, confronting economic disparity in his home country of South Korea. It opens as a dark comedy filled with funny tricks and clever twists, then develops with rising suspense while still keeping its comedic styling, eventually rolling into a chaotic mayhem of an action thriller.

Living in a cramped and squalid semi-basement unit, the Kim family takes up odd jobs to scrape by. They are father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mom Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang) and their adult son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park). The son has failed the university entrance exam four times. As we learn in the film, in a society where an opening for a security guard position could attract 500 university level applicants, the Kims have no luck but to share the plight of unemployment.

One day Ki-woo meets an old school friend who is going away for a short while. He recommends Ki-woo take over his tutoring job at the rich Park family to help their daughter with English. Mr. Park (Sun-kyun Lee) is the president of a high-tech company. Ki-woo accepts the challenge with apprehension, but knowing the opportunities this could open up, he forges ahead. With a little help from his artistically inclined sister, Ki-woo heads to the Parks’ residence and presents his best self to the lady of the house, Mrs. Park, the beautiful but naive wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo). Ki-woo is hired on the spot and thus begins a life-altering adventure and mishaps for both families.

The Park family of four lives in an architect-designed residence, with lush grounds and gardens. As he gets to know the teenaged Park daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and her younger brother Da-song (Jung Hyeon Jun), the quick-thinking Ki-woo begins to pave a path for his own family members to benefit from his new position. Anything more mentioned here will be spoilers to some clever and funny plot lines.

Another crucial character living in the luxury abode is the housekeeper Moon-Gwang (Lee Jung Eun). A long-time resident in the estate as she has been working there since the previous ownership. She is an indispensable help to the Parks’ daily living. Moon-Gwang gives the impression of a Mrs. Danver type of character as in Hitchcock’s Rebecca. With Bong’s script, there’s always something more than the appearance conveys.

A distinguished feature of the film is the original soundtrack by Korean composer Jaeil Jung. Classical styling from full orchestral to piano, harpsichord, strings, and percussions, the music in Parasite is a major force augmenting the suspense and the overall storytelling, as well as enhancing the production with a touch of elegance. Just listening to the soundtrack is an enjoyment in itself.

Parasite is slick and smooth-pacing, towards the end, it turns into a Bong-style action thriller, bloody and graphic. Snowpiercer comes to mind. Can the rich and the poor live peacefully together? No answer is offered here, for nothing is as simple as it appears. What Bong presents with Parasite is a scenario provoking the imaginary. The bottom line could well be just the wild wide of pure entertainment.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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My other related reviews on AAPress:

Shoplifters

Burning

 

Toronto International Film Festival 2019

In the coming weeks, I’ll be in Toronto covering the 44th TIFF taking place Sept. 5 – 15. TIFF is my annual destination away from the Pond, my chance to immerse in the celebration of film arts, world premieres of new works, festivities on King Street, and be swept up by the excitement of crowds catching a glimpse of the talents and filmmakers converging there.

For those inclined towards numbers, here are some figures: TIFF19 will screen 333 titles in total, including 245 features, 86 shorts, and 6 series, selected from 6,866 international and 1,059 Canadian submissions. There will be 133 World and 71 North American Premieres. 84 countries are represented with 36% of titles directed, co-directed, or created by women.

It’s a major task to organize one’s own viewing schedule. Films that I want to watch have time conflicts. After several days of juggling and regretful eliminating, I’ve finalized my list, more or less.

The following are some of the feature films on my To-Watch List (All images courtesy of TIFF):

A Girl MissingA Girl Missing directed by Koji Fukada (Japan) North American Premiere. Fukada’s previous film, Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner Harmonium (2016) grabbed me as a concoction of Hitchcockian suspense and poignant family drama. Excited to see his newest work at TIFF.

A Hidden Life (1)A Hidden Life directed by Terrence Malick (USA, Germany) Canadian Premiere. Based on the true story of Austrian farmer and conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to join the German army in WWII. I expect this newest Malick film to be another soul-stirring work.

The AuditionThe Audition directed by Ina Weisse (Germany, France) World Premiere. Women play major roles in this production as director, screenwriter and cinematographer. But the main attraction for me is actor Nina Hoss, whose riveting performance won her high acclaims in the German films Phoenix (2014) and Barbara (2012).

Coming Home AgainComing Home Again dir. by Wayne Wang (USA/Korea) World Premiere. Wang brought Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club to mainstream cinema in 1993, telling generational stories of Chinese-Americans. His newest is based on a personal essay by acclaimed writer Chang-rae Lee about a son coming home to his ailing mother. 

David CopperfieldThe Personal History of David Copperfield dir. by Armando Iannucci (UK) World Premiere. As a book-to-movie enthusiast, I won’t miss this one. What more, the cast looks impressive, and postmodern. Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) fame will play Davy, Tilda Swinton as Betsey, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, and Ben Whishaw the villain Uriah Heep. Turning a 800+ page classic into a two-hour movie is as daunting as Davy’s life journey. But I reserve my judgement.

THE GOLDFINCHThe Goldfinch dir. by John Crowley (USA) World Premiere. The adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is helmed by the same director as Brooklyn (2015), with adapted screenplay by Wolf Hall and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy scribe Peter Straughan. Looks like a top-notch collaboration.

Hope GapHope Gap directed by William Nicholson (UK) World Premiere. This is Nicholson’s second directorial feature which he also wrote. His other screenplays include Les Misérables (2012) and Gladiator (2000) among many others. But what draw my attention are the duo who play a couple at the brink of a marriage breakdown, Bill Nighy
and Annette Bening.

Parasite (1)Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho (S. Korea) Canadian Premiere. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. From the description, it echoes Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, last year’s Cannes winner. But Bong’s audacious and creative styling could make this a fresh approach to the subject of social inequality. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) also comes to mind.

Varda by Agnes (1)Varda by Agnès directed by Agnès Varda (France) Canadian Premiere. After watching the late French New Wave auteur Agnès Varda’s documentary Faces Places (2017), I’d been looking for this, her last work. Excited to know there will be a special event at TIFF 19 with the screening of Varda by Agnès plus a bonus post-film discussion by a panel of filmmakers.

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For the full lineup, schedule, and tickets go to tiff.net

My reviews of the above plus other TIFF titles will be published on the websites Asian American Press, Vague Visages, and here at Ripple Effects.