Tag Archives: Literary adaptation

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno, Stephanie Azpiazu

Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman (Based on: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

Music by: Jay Wadley

Cinematography: Łukasz Żal

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I read some background information online about Charlie Kaufman’s latest film adaptation for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), and there is a leaning to describe it as a psychological horror. Of course, in order to market their films, studios write copy to entice an audience for their film. However, this adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel is far more than a psychological horror. It has elements from a whole plethora of genres including: surrealism, comedy, romance, thriller, arthouse, road movie, and even dance, animation and musical genres. Safe to say that once again Charlie Kaufman has delivered yet another ingenious cinematic smorgasbord that defies easy categorization. But is it any good?

The film opens gently with the lilting voice of Jessie Buckley’s voiceover. We hear her character deliver a set of poetic existential queries, and her mantra throughout the film: “I’m thinking of ending things. . .” over a set of seemingly unconnected images. She waits for her boyfriend of a couple of months, Jake (Jesse Plemons), as they plan to meet his parents, portrayed by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, for the first time at their farm. So far, so straightforward; kind of. However, as Jake and the young woman’s (whose name changes during the film) drive through picturesque and snowy landscapes, Kaufman intercuts to an elderly Janitor going about his cleaning duties at a high school. How these juxtaposed situations eventually marry together is open to many interpretations. While certainly obtuse and narratively impenetrable to many, I really connected with Kaufman’s surreal trip. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is certainly as much about the journey than the ultimate destination.


As he has demonstrated since his debut feature film screenplay, Being John Malkovich (1999), Kaufman has an urgent desire for original invention, sight gags, existential examination, exploration of mental health, relationship breakdowns, non-linear structure and intellectual discourse. The respective journeys of characters like Jake and the young woman are taken by road and in the mind. Whose mind the film is in and out of is also open to question. The car journey is treacherous both due to the weather and the anxious tension between the couple. This is brought about by the young woman desiring to end things. Is it her life or her relationship she wants to end? Or is it both? Things between the two aren’t made easier by the surreal visit to Jake’s parents’ farm. Thewlis and Collette inject much humour and pathos into their characters. Their performances, a succession of visual punchlines and the brilliant dialogue combine to really bring the film to life during the middle act.

After the couple leave the parents’ farm and head back home, events get even stranger as connections with the aforementioned Janitor intensify. An extremely anxious pitstop at an ice-cream parlour, an animated pig and a ballet dance sequence threatened to destabilize the narrative. But once I had suddenly interpreted my truth and understanding of Iain Reid’s and Kaufman’s vision, it all kind of almost made sense. Indeed, compared to Kaufman’s surreal meta-fictional masterpiece, Synecdoche, New York (2008), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is arguably more accessible, funnier and less bleak.

Having said that, given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout. Kaufman’s takes risks structurally, visually and thematically and I congratulate him for challenging the audience. Lastly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) has a wondrously cinematic look, sound and dreamlike feel to it. Plus, in Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, Kaufman has cast two exceptional acting talents, who are certainly worth going on the road with. However, bizarre and twisted that road may be.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born

Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.

Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.

The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.



Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.

The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.

Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Produced by: Megan Ellison, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy, Barry Jenkins

Based on: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Pedro Pascal etc.

Cinematography: James Laxton

Music: Nicholas Britell

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** 

Barry Jenkins is clearly a talented filmmaker who is striving to transcend the boundaries between art and craft where cinema is concerned. His second feature film Moonlight (2016), was a critical smash and a sleeper box office hit, subsequently going on the win the Best Film nod at the Academy Awards. Whether it was worthy of such as award is another matter, but it was certainly a tremendous work of cinema. The rites of passage story was delivered by Jenkins with imaginative choices in casting, structure, look, music and all-round filmic endeavour.

His latest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, is equally stylish and artfully rendered, but not as emotionally impactful as Moonlight. Indeed, while this is in fact his third feature, Beale Street seems to suffer from classic “2nd album syndrome”, inasmuch as Moonlight set the bar so high, it was going to be a difficult act to follow. Moonlight felt like years of heart and passion thrusted upon the screen, as Beale Street struggles to maintain that said peak. That isn’t to say that the film is not without its virtues as Jenkins once again proves himself a brilliant director.

Barry Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Set in 1970s, Harlem, New York and based on James Baldwin’s novel, the main protagonists are young working class couple Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James). Very much in love we open with Tish’s poignant voiceover and a wonderfully lush score supporting the urban and industrial, yet beautifully shot, imagery. Immediately, we realise Jenkins, while basing his story in realism, is presenting his film poetically. Further, Tish’s voiceover lilts and glues the elliptical, non-linear narrative together.

As with Moonlight, Jenkins uses direct address, the characters looking straight back at us drawing us into their emotional core. One may argue the device is over-used and at times distances us from the pace of the story. As Tish recounts events of her and Fonny’s relationship from childhood friends to their currently plight, you really feel a palpable sense of love, but sometimes it moves so painfully slow. Furthermore, the non-linear structure and stylistic devices also undermined the drama of the piece. Indeed, the best scene of the film in my opinion is near the beginning when Tish and Fonny’s family clash over her pregnancy. In this scene the insults spark and spit off the screen; but alas this conflict is sadly under-developed and not revisited later in the film.

Overall, there is a great story here involving: love, romance, social unrest, police brutality, unlawful arrest and injustice, racism, family strife, hope and loyalty; however, Jenkins artistic desires build the narrative in a way that diverts emotion into the cinema style, more so than the characters. Having said that, he is a filmmaker of some brilliance and he gets fantastic performances from the fine ensemble cast, notably the magnetic Regina King. Ultimately, while the story is told slightly pretentiously for my liking,
If Beale Street Could Talk, is a finely tuned work of poetic realism. 

Mark: 8 out of 11

COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW


Directed by: Wash Washmoreland

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Pamela Koffler, Michel Litvak and Christine Vachon.

Screenplay by: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Wash Washmoreland

Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

In a coincidental twist of cultural fate I only recently became aware of turn-of-the-century novelist, libertine, bohemian and society trailblazer that was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. I’d been listening to a brilliant audio-documentary by Adam Roche, which was about Audrey Hepburn’s early life prior to becoming a Hollywood star. Interestingly, it was an elderly Colette who spotted the then unknown Helpburn filming a supporting role in Monte Carlo. Furthermore, it was Colette who insisted Hepburn was, despite her lack of stage experience, the ideal person to portray her famous creation Gigi on Broadway. Thus, even in later life Colette was to the fore of the cultural aesthetic; both a major talent and celebrity ripe for respect and admiration.

From her Claudine (1900) novels, to La Vagabond (1910) to Gigi (1944), Colette was a prolific writer of many books and short stories. She was also an actor, dancer and mime, who seemingly delighted in confronting the stuffy middle and upper classes of French society. Unashamed by on-stage nudity and choice of sexual parters, Colette had love affairs with both men and women. Not only did she break down sexual taboos, she also furthered gender equality and would be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Denise Gough stars as Missy and Keira Knightley as Colette in COLETTE
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street

The cinematic version of her life finds Keira Knightley portraying the titular character with a committed energy, verve and magnetism. Knightley has never been the most nuanced of actors but she is a striking movie star, delivering a fine performance here. Likewise, the ever reliable Dominic West is on excellent form as Henry Gaulthier-Villars – AKA ‘Willy’ – Colette’s first husband. West represents him as a charismatic cad with an insatiable lust for women, gambling and booze. While able to wow publishers with his sales pitches he relies on others to do the writing, while happily wasting the advances and royalties.

Willy sweeps the naive country girl Colette off her feet and introduces her to the artistic and literary circles of Paris. As such it is his connections which enable Colette to gain her first publishing success. However, it is Willy who takes all the plaudits, publishing under his own name. This authorial switch inevitably creates a dramatic schism as Colette fights for her name to be on the books. Willy refuses, highlighting both his own egomania and the sexist prejudice of the day. Like the similarly plotted biopic Big Eyes (2014), this film illustrates the nefarious nature of dominant masculinity; however, it also made me consider whether the artists would have been successful if it HADN’T been for these dastardly blokes. Who can tell? One would hope the talent of said artists would shine through come what may.

Structurally, Colette is very linear representing a “greatest hits” of how Colette progresses creatively, romantically and sexually. As aforementioned Knightly gives a fearless performance and the period setting is beautifully evoked within an excellently directed production. My only criticism is a fair amount of time was spent on Colette’s sexual exploits when I would have preferred more drama relating to her authorship battles with feckless Willy. Nonetheless, as period biopics go the film stands as a stylish and admiral tribute to a trailblazing feminist and literary icon.

Mark: 8 out of 11