The Little Prince – 108 min, animation

THE LITTLE PRINCE

A book is not a movie, and a movie is not a book. People equate film and literature all the time because they are the media through which stories are told, but the means they use to tell these stories are very different. A book is at liberty to say, “Anything essential is invisible to the eye” (Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince), but film at its core is visual, based on action: things that people do, things that people say. Literature on the other hand can enter the realm of the mind, probing into the minds of its characters, laying bare their thoughts to the reader, who in turn sees it all in their own mind’s eye. In order to adapt a book into a film fundamental changes must be made, something that fans of a book can find hard to understand sometimes. You cannot just transcribe a book into screenplay format, it has to be condensed, restructured, and made visual, but what must remain in a good adaptation is the spirit of the book. That is what is sacred, and that is what needs to survive any cuts, changes and alterations. It is this fact that makes adaptation a very tricky art. Mark Osborne’s new film of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved The Little Prince (coming to Netflix August 5) balances on this high wire. Continue reading

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Trollhunter – 103 min, comedy

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Some films change your life; they say deep and abiding things about human nature, and make you think long and hard about the world. Trollhunter is not one of those films. The mock-documentary about three student filmmakers who stumble upon a Norwegian government secret while trying to make a film about bear poachers is at its heart deeply silly. Trollhunter succeeds though because it plays its premise completely straight. The temptation in a film about a man who hunts trolls for a living would be to camp it up with a knowing wink at the audience, but to the credit of director André Øvredal and star Otto Jepersen everything is laid before you simply and solemnly; the humor is found in the context, or in the words of Øvredal, “[it adds] to the absurdity of everything to insist so intensely that it’s real.” (Chris Eggertsen Bloody Disgusting, 5/6/11Continue reading

Middle of Nowhere – 97 min, drama

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Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere

It’s not easy to get a film about the interior life of a black woman made. In 2003 director Ava DuVernay, best known for her stunning 2014 Martin Luther King film Selma, wrote a script about a young med student putting her life on hold when her husband is incarcerated for weapons dealing. At the time DuVernay was a Hollywood publicist, working on the Laurence Fishburne/Derek Luke action film Biker Boyz. While on set she got to know the director, Reggie Bythewood and his wife Gina Prince-Bythewood (director of Beyond the Lights). They read her script and wanted to produce it. “So we went out and we attached Sanaa Lathan and Idris Elba and shopped it in the traditional way that you did in 2003 when you were in black Hollywood. You’d go to the studios and it was, ‘Oh, wow, great script, but we don’t make movies about the interior life of black women. If you want to make that, make that, and then we might be interested in an acquisition, right?’ That’s what we heard everywhere. Gina and Reggie were great. They got me into these rooms. The bottom line was the rooms. They weren’t ready then, and they still ain’t ready now for this type of story.” (Nekisa Cooper Filmmaker, 11/1/12) Continue reading

Chicken Run – 84 min, comedy

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“It’s The Great Escape… with chickens.”

The pitch meeting for Chicken Run must have been rather out of the ordinary, but by the time the directors, Nick Park and Peter Lord of the Bristol based Aardman Animations Studio, sat down to lunch with DreamWorks founder Steven Spielberg in 1997, they had six Oscar nominations between them, resulting in three Best Animated Short Oscars for Wallace and Gromit director Nick Park. That kind of hardware comes with a certain amount of leverage, plus they were lucky – Spielberg owned chickens. “We hit it off really well. Our first meeting with Spielberg was in a restaurant eating chicken, talking about chickens,” Nick Park recalled when the film was released three years later in June of 2000. (Paul Fischer Dark Horizons, 6/23/00) Continue reading

Laura – 88 min, thriller

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Gene Tierney and Vincent Price as Laura and Shelby Carpenter in ‘Laura’, directed by Otto Preminger.

When discussing Film Noir it never takes long for the term femme fatale to come up. The idea of a woman who through duplicity and self-interest destroys the men who love her has always held particular sway in the genre, and one might think that the titular Laura in Otto Preminger’s 1944 film fits the archetype. But what makes Laura so special is that actually she is a woman surrounded by fatal men. Men so fatal in fact, that when the movie opens she is already dead. It is a bold thing to kill off your main character as soon as the opening credits finish rolling, and Gene Tierney, who was cast as Laura, quipped in her autobiography: “Who wants to play a painting?” (TCM, Laura Article) in reference to the large portrait looming over the living room of Laura’s fashionable New York City apartment. Still it is the flesh and blood woman, rather than her ghostly portrait, that in the end the movie is concerned with. Continue reading

Exit Through the Gift Shop – 87 min, documentary

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Sometimes a film can subvert expectations that you didn’t even know you had going in. The first time I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop I thought that I was a pretty blank slate. All I knew was that it was a documentary about Banksy, and quite frankly at that point I wasn’t all that sure of who Banksy was, but from the first few seconds of the opening credits all expectations were upended. Here was a documentary, ostensibly about graffiti, opening with the smooth lounge-inflected voice of Richard Hawley, whose song “Tonight the Streets are Ours” so perfectly complimented the ebullient footage of street artists at their nocturnal rituals that you never question how radical the selection is. Banksy’s work is about the unexpected; the serendipity of turning a corner to find something beautiful, or challenging, or funny in the mundane mix of city-walls and pavements. Exit Through the Gift Shop is no different, but what Banksy found was Thierry Guetta. Continue reading

Beyond the Lights – 116 min, drama

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Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights

You may have noticed that when I write about films I don’t generally say too much about what they are about. The obvious conclusion is I just don’t want to spoil the movie before people have seen it, and it’s true I like to let people experience the film as it happens, but the main reason I don’t talk too much about the plot is that I actually believe that in the end it doesn’t really matter. Any story can be done well, and any story can be bad; it is the execution that makes or breaks it. Obviously some stories are more intrinsically interesting than others, but without good writing, without a well-chosen cast, and without a director who can capture the subtleties, you aren’t going to enjoy the ride. On the surface Beyond the Lights is the stuff of melodrama, a depressed pop star falls for the cop that saved her life, but in the hands of the writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood and her two stars, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, it becomes a nuanced exploration of relationships and identity. Continue reading