Tag Archives: movie review

Six Cozy Bookish Movies to Watch This Christmas

Sometimes you just need a good holiday movie, something not too fluffy but not too serious. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed watching, each with a literary connection:

84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

Anthony Hopkins plays a British bookshop manager who strikes up an accidental correspondence with Helene Hanff, an outgoing and enthusiastic bookworm from New York. Their decades-long friendship spans both book recommendations and the hardships of WWII, along with Helene’s life changes and a great yearning to visit Britain. This is based on a true story and very heartwarming.

The Anne of Green Gables trilogy

I don’t know if they still play this on PBS anymore, but the 1980s Anne movies (the first two particularly) were rewatches of mine growing up. While perhaps not a purist’s adaptation of the Green Gables series, the script nonetheless stayed true to the spirit of the books, and the cast was incredible.

Paddington 2

And now for something completely lighthearted! I never thought I’d love a Paddington movie (the books were “meh” for me as a kid), but on a whim I gave both movies a try and really enjoyed Paddington 2. Our well-meaning bear with the red hat goes through a number of ups and downs, at one point landing himself in prison (!!). The humor was more on point in this sequel, and Hugh Grant’s role as a shady actor (yes, actor) was hilarious. Give it a try; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Little Women (2017)

A couple of years before the Hollywood adaptation, PBS aired this BBC production of Lousia May Alcott’s novel. After watching it through, I had to admit it surpassed even my affection for the Winona Ryder classic. The script is quite true to the book, Emily Watson is perfect as Marmee, and the Christian themes were left mostly intact. I loved the costumes and felt that the movie struck a good tone between joyful and sober (Beth’s struggles are given more attention than usual, and rightly so). All in all, a lovely costume drama that will leave you feeling cozy-hearted.

Nancy Drew (2007)

If you’re not looking for a purist adaptation but just a cute movie with some laughs, Nancy Drew is fun to watch. Emma Roberts plays a quirky old-fashioned girl who moves to LA with her dad. Unable to fit in with the hip crowd, she can’t resist turning her attention to more interesting things, like solving the mystery of a deceased movie star. I love the innocent, quasi-90s vibe of this film and feel it’s underrated!

Finding Neverland (2004)

So of all these films, I would say Finding Neverland is the one I hesitated to add, since I had mixed feelings about it (3.5 stars). It’s basically a fictionalized portrayal of the friendship between J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and a widow and her sons, which becomes the basis for his Peter Pan story. While it’s unknown exactly how platonic the relationship was in real life, it’s an interesting basis for a movie, and Depp plays Barrie pretty convincingly as a man who lives in his own world, struggling to fit into social norms and yet yearning for friendship. Though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or anything, I’m glad I saw it.

The Great Gatsby movie comparison – 1974 vs 2013

Today we finished viewing the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. This production was directed by Jack Clayton and based on a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola (of The Godfather).

I say “finished”… yes, this was our second sitting. At 146 minutes, this is a loooooong movie for such a short novel. And we felt it. The script, to its credit, is extremely true to the source—much of the dialogue is word-for-word. But, as I’ve learned over the years, an accurate adaptation does not a good movie make, especially if it is lacking in the areas of cinematography or just editing. One reaches a point where you ask yourself, why not read the book instead?

I read the book again recently, and one thing is for sure, it is nice to see a tasteful film version. My biggest gripe with the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Gatsby was that it is anything but tasteful…a lot of vulgarity (to the point I turned it off halfway in embarrassment and finished it later alone ๐Ÿ˜…). By comparison, the 1974 movie is more refined, still glamorous but not raunchy. It’s just… poorly paced and boring in parts, especially the first half.

On to characters… The two Gatsbys are both convincing, but rather different. Robert Redford plays up the gentler, war-veteran side of Jay, the handsome first love with a wistful longing for Daisy. DiCaprio, on the other hand, exudes more of the bootlegger with a dubious past and dangerous obsession.

I really didn’t care for Daisy in either production. Nothing against Carey Mulligan or Mia Farrow, but neither one really has the screen presence and charisma that Daisy needs, IMHO. Between the two, I’d probably give a slight edge to Mia, but her affected way of talking is more annoying than endearing.

As for Nick Carraway, Sam Waterston’s performance (1974) blew me away. He really saves the movie in many ways from being a total bore. I couldn’t stand Nick in the 2013 film (sorry, Tobey Maguire fans!), but it may have had more to do with the cringy narration than the casting. There’s narration in the older film, too, but it’s done so much better, featuring more lines from the book instead of ramblings about alcohol.

My other critique of the 2013 script is that it is so… cartoonish, for lack of a better word. It’s a shame, because I did somewhat like the second half of the film, where things get more serious by nature of the plot. But as a whole, it’s just lacking the poetry of Fitzgerald, which, for all its faults, the older adaptation manages to convey.

Last thought… when it comes to aesthetics, the older version makes some effort towards “believable glitz,” while the newer film amps up the sets in a very theatrical/operatic style. I don’t like sets that look too pristine and orchestrated, even if that’s the intention, but a little style and art makes for a better movie. So I think my ideal Gatsby aesthetic is somewhere in-between the two… think Downton Abbey, or pretty much any BBC production from the mid-2000s. Indeed, if the 70s version had been made today, I think it would be right on the money. (um, no pun intended.)

That said, here’s a few stills from 2013 which certainly make for nice eye candy:

June, Lately

Reading

I am still reading (and enjoying) The Gate by Natsume Sลseki. I find more and more I enjoy books about historical zeitgeist, and this is exactly what The Gate embodies: Japan between the old world and the new.

I’ve also picked up Pictor’s Metamorphoses and Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. I was so impressed by Beneath the Wheel that it’s sent me on a mission to read the other Hesse ebooks my library has. The author’s note to Steppenwolf captivated me entirely, along with the first pages introducing a mysterious protagonist. The only reason I’m not well into it by now is because of life busyness. I hope to settle down with it for an hour or two this evening. Any other Hesse readers? I’m shocked he’s not more famous.

Watching

I watched Europa Report (2013) again with my mom, who hadn’t seen it before. I’m not sure if she enjoyed it quite as much as I did, but even on second viewing, it’s still one of my favorites! Told in “found footage” (webcams, vlogs), it reaches a level of plausibility that few sci-fi films can. Most of all, I love the subtle characterizations, social commentary, and gutsy female lead.

I recently reviewed two martial arts films on my other blog: The Swordsman and Shaolin. Both were excellent stories with sumptuous costumes, music, and cinematography. There is something so timeless about the “Robin Hood” story arc, central to The Swordsman and significant in Shaolin, along with the themes of family, love, and betrayal. It really shows you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you write a good story—you just need to put your own take on it.

And speaking of storytelling… Yesterday I watched Snowpiercer (2013) with my siblings. I enjoyed the trailer and the concept of the story: humanity’s last survivors segregated on a high-speed train during an ice age. I didn’t like the film itself… for me, there was too much unnecessary gore, socialist undertones, and unlikely scenarios, and the story was mostly told through expository dialogue. Your mileage may vary (no pun intended); my brother really liked it. I will say, it was a lot like the novel Blindness except significantly better!

Listening

I’ve been really getting into the band Deep Sea Diver lately, which is actually based here in Seattle. The musicality of the frontwoman, Jessica Dobson, is incredible. The songwriting also reaches that level of depth and philosophy I especially gravitate towards. Their music won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like rock, post rock, and indie folk, it’s worth a listen.

Personal

It’s been about two months since my grandpa passed away, suddenly. The last time I saw him, we were alone in a dark hospital room and I had to trust he could hear me because he couldn’t respond. I didn’t feel like writing about it online till some of the grief had gone. Well, it still makes me cry sometimes, but the reality of his absence has really solidified now.

He left behind a lot of books, many of which I’ve kept because he had excellent taste. He was a skilled learner, maker, and artist, though never one to boast. It faded as he struggled with memory loss in his last years. But what really stands out to me now, two months later, is that Grandpa is one of the few people I know who can be said to have left a true legacy, the family and home he cultivated and the faithfulness he lived. In that sense, he still lives on here on Earth, as well as in Heaven.

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Thoughts on The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Warning: This review is honest and critical. You may wish to skip it if you are a die-hard fan!

Today I finished watching Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is currently free to watch on YouTube. Previously I saw the 25th Anniversary musical production, and (in what feels like another lifetime) I once read Gaston Leroux’s novel.

For the uninitiated—The Phantom of the Opera takes place in 19th-century Paris. A young chorus singer, Christine, begins hearing a voice, which she thinks is an angel sent by her deceased father to look after her. The voice actually belongs to Erik, a musical mastermind who lives under the opera house and subjects everyone to his will. He gives Christine singing lessons and begins inserting her as the lead in the opera productions. When he finds out she has a boyfriend (Raoul), Erik asserts himself as her “protector” and determines to get rid of the boyfriend and anyone else who stands in his way.

I must be getting old and jaded because this movie did not strike a chord with me (pardon the pun).

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