October 2015 Media Round-up (Movies, Part 1)


A Room with a View (1985)

I watched this before reading the book, but I did end up reading A Room with a View in the time between watching the movie and writing this post, so my perception of the movie is now almost definitely colored by that, in a way that it wasn’t when I watched it.

So Helena Bonham Carter was like 19 when this was filmed and, well, it shows. Young HBC1 is adorable, but her acting is…questionable. After reading the book, I understand more what Lucy Honeychurch’s deal is supposed to be, but it was not super clear from HBC’s portrayal how Lucy felt about any given situation, other than confused and/or petulant. Which is sort of correct, but doesn’t really capture the nuances of her emotions and personal development over the span of the novel.

Also not quite captured in the movie:

  • What the Emersons’ deal was. In the book, they’re socialists and a lot of the pensioners actively disapprove of them. In the movie, however, they’re just sort of free-spirited? But not in a way that comes across as especially political, I think.
  • What Mr. Beebe’s deal was. I mean, I don’t even totally get what his deal is in the book—maybe we’ll work on that in the October books post. He’s certainly more pleasant and benevolent in the movie. Which is an okay cinematic choice, probably, if not in the spirit of the book. I’m not sure I could handle more on-screen passive-aggressive behavior2, given that we already have to deal with Charlotte, and it’s somehow the sort of behavior that’s more stressful to watch than to read.
  • The consequences of Lucy and George eloping. As in, there are no consequences in the movie. Which, again, is super pleasant to watch, because yay, unambiguously happy endings! In the book, though, Lucy’s family is disappointed in her for lying to them about her motivations to break with Cecil and go to Greece, and Mr. Beebe is disappointed in her for…not living up to a particular ideal of womanhood, I think? Anyway, Forster makes it clear that although this eloping with George is a victory for Love (yay!), it has damaged Lucy’s other relationships, “perhaps for ever.” Interestingly, the movie probably does a better job of establishing how close Lucy and her family (particularly her brother) are, so the bittersweet ending might have been even more effective, had the filmmakers chosen to go that route.

Maybe this sounds negative so far, but I really did enjoy A Room with a View, like, a lot. It’s just harder to convey omg, I want to live in this movie’s aesthetics. The scene transitions using the chapter titles form the book were very cleverly done, and a solid source of humor. All of the sets were perfect, especially the Very Important Field in which the Very Important Kiss occurs. And I mean, that whole romance is pretty swoon-worthy. I also really enjoyed all of the cute moments between Lucy and her brother, because I am a sucker for fictional adult siblings actually acting like siblings.

Howards End (1992)

In this case, I read the book before seeing the movie, which I think is not the best approach if you intend to do both. In general, a movie will be a reduction in complexity from the book in a lot of ways, due to the constraints of the medium (in time, perspective, etc.). If you watch the adaptation first, you go into the book already invested in the plot and characters, presumably, and so any additional details that the book provides will probably be of interest. But when you go from book to movie, you end up being too busy worrying about what scenes will get cut, how certain characters can be done justice without, say, a constant voice-over narration of their thoughts, whether this Very Key Moment will go down the way you envisioned it, etc. and it’s hard to enjoy it in the way that you would a non-book-based movie.

So, I don’t know. Howards End is probably a Good and maybe even Great movie by whatever means you use to measure that—it has a 92% on RottenTomatoes, it was nominated for a shit-ton of awards, Roger Ebert liked it, etc. I wish I could have seen it as just a movie.

As an adaptation of the novel, it’s, like…adequate, I guess? Especially compared to A Room with a View. I’m not sure which adaptation is actually more faithful, but I feel like A Room with a View is more self-contained, if that makes sense? The adaptational changes in A Room with a View do feel like they add to the movie in a pleasurable way, even if they diverge from the spirit of the book. Whereas the changes in Howards End feel like they make the story shallower, although they might not ever actually contradict anything in the book. Again, this might just be a result of reading the book first for Howards End and not for A Room with a View. But movie!A Room with a View is legit more clever and playful, I think, in a way that captures Forster’s narrative voice better than the more Prestige Drama style movie!Howards End does, even though book!Howards End shares that sardonic voice.

Emma Thompson won an Oscar for her role in Howards End, but I feel like she was sort of questionable casting for Margaret. I guess Thompson was, at the time, like, the go-to actress for Less Hot Sister in a Period Drama roles, and yet, I don’t know. Part of it is maybe that she’s a bit too lively? It’s true that book!Margaret is pretty extroverted, but she also has the thing where she lets Mr. Wilcox think that he’s controlling her when she’s actually manipulating him, and that doesn’t really come across with Thompson’s natural level of Feisty and Independent Period Heroine.

Helena Bonham Carter is a very good Helen, though, and the 7 years since A Room with a View seem to have improved her acting skills enormously. On a more shallow level, she also just looks so good in this movie. Perhaps 25-year-old HBC in Edwardian dress is the ideal HBC.

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

I mean, this was pretty awful. Obviously3. I don’t know why I did this to myself.

The evil European a cappella group actually had some surprisingly good numbers, because the Eurotrash industrial style is always going to appeal to me, even when it is a cappella-fied. Plus, they do one of the, like, three Muse songs that I actually really like, so there’s that. Whereas the main a cappella group’s victorious final number incorporates a song that the new freshman member wrote herself, which…ugh. It bothered me when the original song thing was a plotline on Glee4 and it bothers me for similar reasons here, namely: does anyone (but especially people judging a competition) actually want to hear an a cappella group performing original music? Doesn’t a pretty big part of the appeal lie in hearing how a group has arranged an existing, well-known song? Using completely original (i.e. not just mash-ups or arrangements of existing properties) compositions by the group members in this context just seems really self-indulgent and not like the sort of thing that would actually give them the win. Especially since this particular original composition was super bland and generic. But then again, I’ve never been to an a cappella competition (THANK GOD) so how would I even know what the judges or audience would value.

The new freshman member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), in general just doesn’t really work as a character, I think; it would seem like she was only there to be a prospective lead for the next entry in the franchise, as it would make less and less sense to keep pretending that Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, et al. are still college-aged, but according to Wikipedia, Kendrick and Wilson are set to appear—although unclear in what capacity—in a sequel5 slated for a summer 2017 release, so who knows. I mean, it’s not like Kendrick’s protagonist, Beca, was a super well-written character either, but Kendrick’s charisma >>>> Steinfeld’s charisma, and somehow that allowed us to deal with Beca’s whole “I’m too alternative for college! I just want to go be a DJ!” thing better than we could deal with Emily’s “My mother was a Barden Bella so I’ve literally wanted to be in this a capella group my whole life! But hahaha I’m so awkward! And also I’m like a songwriter?” thing.

The jokes were mostly pretty stale and doing that “We’re being un-PC on purpose! It’s edgy!” thing that rarely6 produces solid comedy. At least no one projectile vomited in this one? Nor did anyone make snow angels in puddles of the aforementioned vomit because that is somehow a thing that happened in the first movie and OH GOD WHY?

Sicario (2015)

I don’t know that I enjoyed this movie, although I did respect it. Like, I’m pretty sure it’s a Good Movie, but was it a Fun Watch? Not so much:

  • The narrative method of not providing the audience with any more information about what’s going on than Emily Blunt’s character, Kate, has at any given time is a totally respectable cinematic choice—it forces the viewer feel some fraction of Kate’s frustration at being kept in the dark. But it is, well, super frustrating.
  • It’s just…relentlessly dark. Within the first five minutes or so, we see all of these FBI agents driven to vomit after discovering dozens of corpses hidden in the walls of a house owned by the cartel, and that really kind of sets the mood for the rest of the movie. There are a few moments of levity between Kate and her partner (the always charming Daniel Kaluuya), but mostly, nope, everything is fucked up and terrible. One of our main takeaways was “Man, that was not flattering to the CIA.”
  • This is not a badass female-led action movie. Based on, I guess, the one paragraph blurb that comes up on the side of Google when you search “sicario,” I thought this would be an “Emily Blunt kicking ass and taking names” movie, and it is very much not. Which isn’t to say that her character is poorly written. It’s not even that Kate is weak or incompetent—we see her being super capable at her job in the opening sequence. But she’s placed in a situation that’s completely out of her depth and she handles it realistically, which is, you know, not just brazenly Badass-ing her way through everything without facing any consequences, even though that may be more fun to watch.

The other main takeaway was “When Alejandro (Benicio del Toro7) tells Kate that she reminds him of his dead daughter, is he implying that he wanted to fuck his daughter?” Because holy shit, there was so much sexual tension between those characters that ultimately just went nowhere. Maybe it’s sort of refreshing that none of the male leads ended up being love interests for Blunt’s character, but I don’t know, given that dynamic between Alejandro and Kate, it’s sort of like ending a tonal piece with an unresolved 7th and walking away8.

[1] Also known as Pouty Lips to my parents. I finally get it, but it still seems pretty reductive. ^
[2] It has come to my attention that this might not be quite the correct term. At least not given its definition on Wikipedia. But I can’t come up with a more appropriate term to convey the sort of specific type of selfish manipulation under the guise of politeness/helpfulness that I’m thinking of. ^
[3] I have a whole ranking system of instrumentation for musical arrangements, but suffice it to say that an all-French horn ensemble is at the top while a cappella and whiny dude on acoustic guitar are tied for the bottom spot. And yet I watched Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2  of my own volition—like, by myself on my laptop with no social motive or whatever—because…the generally compelling on-screen presence of Anna Kendrick? The comparisons to Bring It On? The prospect of a comedy set in college that doesn’t revolve around Greek life? Masochism? I don’t know! ^
[4] I quit after season 2. I’m not sure I even watched season 2 in its entirety. But the question remains: why have I seen a non-zero amount of Glee^
[5] That I will almost definitely watch. Fuck me. ^
[6] I think part of the trick there is to fully commit to that and go so ludicrously offensive that the joke can longer offend (e.g. Springtime for Hitler, although apparently even that genuinely offended people), but that in itself probably isn’t even quite enough. In any case, it’s perhaps too much to expect from Pitch Perfect 2.  ^
[7] Is Benicio del Toro somehow hot in this despite definitely not being hot in photos? Maybe! How do we feel about that? Unclear! ^
[8] Yeah, I know that’s a very “Look! Look! I took one music theory class in undergrad!” analogy but I couldn’t resist. ^


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