Category Archives: Movies

New Trailer for The Giver Movie

This one (unlike the first one) addresses color as per the book. Whew.

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The Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle

300px-Dido_Elizabeth_Belle

I’ve long been interested in the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century. The child of the British admiral John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman (possibly named Maria Belle), she was sent to Kenwood House, the home of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield as a young child.  The earl was already raising his great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray who was the same age as Dido and so the two girls grew up together with Dido evidently becoming Elizabeth’s personal companion.  While in his rulings as Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Mansfield indicated his distaste for the institution of slavery, in his own household there is evidence that Dido was treated in demeaning ways, clearly not viewed as equal to Elizabeth and others in the family.  You can learn more about her here and here.

Now there is a movie about Dido, Belle, due to be released here soon. Variety has given a favorable review, noting that while it will appeal to Austen fans it doesn’t shy away from addressing the harsher topic of slavery.  The Guardian also weighed in, And below is the trailer. I’m eager to see it and learn for myself as to how successful it is.

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Playing with the Past

A few days ago I wrote a post about recent movies that play around with original texts. I was partly inspired after seeing American Hustle and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as they are both playing with something from before. I’d been delighted with the cautionary statement at the start of American Hustle that “some of this actually happened” and suggested it might be good to do this more often with movies that fiddle with the past and/or with iconic texts like Tolkien’s (saying at the start that “this is inspired by the original book” rather than submerging it, if it is there at all, at end of the credits).  Having seen a lot of dismay about Saving Mr. Banks in this regard I mentioned that as well. I also pointed to several articles where more is explored regarding the fictionalizing of Travers’ and Disney’s past as far as the creation of the Mary Poppins movie is concerned.

Yesterday I finally saw Saving Mr. Banks and ended up enjoying it while also seeing how much history was altered to fit a particular fictional story arc.  My enjoyment was very personal –the Mary Poppins movie meant a lot to me as a child. It came out while we lived in Germany and I, a massive Julie Andrews fan (still affronted that she had been snubbed by the My Fair Lady movie folk), had good reason to fear I would not get to see it. Not only did movies not go as far and wide as they do today, but in 1964 there were no DVDs, video stores, or tons of movies on television. Once a movie was no longer in theaters you were pretty much out of luck. Fortunately, my family spent the Christmas holidays in Amsterdam where I was thrilled to discover the movie showing in a gorgeous theater. What joy and what relief. (I also, by the way, enjoyed Travers’ book — that they were completely different didn’t matter to me at all.) And so my viewing yesterday was completely colored by my memories. Of being with my parents who are no longer around, my little sister, and about a very different time in my life.

My unexpectedly emotional response to the movie made me think once again about how much we are influenced by our own experiences when responding aesthetically. Because of this, it made me again feel so strongly that we need to be straight and honest all the more when we artistically fiddle with the past whether it is about the creation of a children’s movie or a crazy scam to entrap politicians.  In both cases the fair and honest statement to begin with is “some of this actually happened.”  Too bad they only did this with the Abscam adult movie and not the one about the kid author.

I admit I’m obsessed with this because of my own book. I tried and tried and tried to make it nonfiction and when it became fictionalized it was very important to me to make that as clear as possible. Why can’t movie makers do that too?

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Some of this Actually Happened And/Or Is in the Original Book: Movies Involving Children’s Stories and Their Creators

The making of movies is a tricky thing  when it comes to children’s stories.  Especially when those children’s stories are deeply rooted in adult viewers’ memories.  This season brings two such movies — Saving Mr. Banks and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

“Some of this actually happened.” As far as I know that disclaimer was not provided for Saving Mr. Banks, a movie I haven’t seen yet (ETA I have now*), but one based on the true story of Mary Poppins‘ author Pamela Travers in Hollywood during the creation of the Disney movie. Rather, that quote comes from the beginning of a very different movie, one also based on a true story, but absolutely not for children, American Hustle. I loved seeing that disclaimer and wish more filmmakers would start with some variation of it as it would be more honest of them. Certainly, it sounds like it would make Saving Mr. Banks go down a lot better with those who are not pleased with its fiddling with what actually happened. Now, again, I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, but I do think it is interesting how people are bringing their own childhood experiences with Mary Poppins to their viewing in a unique way.  That is, many only know her from Disney and those who later came across Travers’ version don’t seem to much like her.  So I’m guessing many are more sympathetic to Disney than to the author in this fictionalized movie version. For those interested in knowing more about the real story and Travers check out the following:

And then there is The Hobbit for which there is no disclaimer although there should be one along the lines of “Some of this actually is in the original book.” After seeing the first movie last December, I forcefully expressed my dismay about Peter Jackson’s decision to turn Tolkien’s charming book for children into something completely different in this HuffPo post, “Another Children’s Book Turned Into Young Adult: My Take on The Hobbit Movie (s).”  So my expectations were minimal when I went to see the second movie a few days ago. And, yep, it was pretty much what I expected — even more epic-izing of a children’s original fairy story and a whole lotta horrid orcs.  While I was happy to see Biblo here and there, especially with Smaug, I sure would have liked to see more of his clever repartee (say with the spiders). The pandering seemed even more pronounced this time — to fanatic Jackson LOTR fans (I agree with those who call this fan fiction),  to those who wanted a kick-ass female in Tolkien’s totally male world with a Gale/Peta or Jacob/Edward (take your pick) quandary in store, and to those who can never get enough battling orcs.  As for the final movie, I suppose some of it will have been in the original book — the battle and …no spoilers here…what happens to the dragon.

* I’ve now seen Saving Mr. Banks and my opinion about being honest when playing with historical fact hasn’t changed. I enjoyed the movie because it played on my nostalgic sensibilities big time (was tearful by the end), but can imagine how irritating it could feel to those who knew the players and the facts firsthand.

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Old Cult Movies

I’m fascinated by how and which films and filmmakers become underground hits. That is, not mainstream movies generally, but indies and such that become embraced and then recommended and screened in off-beat places.  For example, decades back when I was at Columbia, there was an organization that showed weekly art movies (the organization had a name that had something to do with a zoopraxiscope, but I can’t remember exactly what it was).  I recall Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s bizzare Un Chien Andalou, Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, Tod Browing’s Freaks, and Philip de Broca’s King of Hearts.  There were other cultish movies out and about at the time that I avoided because I suspected I couldn’t take their creepiness, say David Lynch’s Eraserhead, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, and Alejandro Jodorwsky’s El Topo.  It took me a while to finally attend a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Pictureshow, but I must say I had a great time when I did.

One of my personal favorites is Lindsay Anderson’s  If… (you can read a bit more about my feelings about it here) and I was thrilled to see that it seems to be a favorite of Neil Gaiman’s too as it is one of the films he has selected to screen in a brief series he and his wife Amanda Palmer are doing. And was further tickled to see that she had selected King of Hearts. I haven’t see it in years and wonder how I’d respond to it today.  I have seen If.. and still love it (partly…er…mainly…because of the young Malcolm McDowell), but do wonder how others will respond to it today what with the horror of school shootings.

What  movies speak to you this way?  I’m suspecting the films of John Hughes, perhaps?  Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings?  I’m curious.

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Ender’s Game, the Movie

Just came across this photo from the Ender’s Game movie with Hailee Steinfeld as Petra (loved her in True Grit) and Asa Butterfield (loved him in Hugo) as Ender.  So far so good, but you never know with movie adaptations, do you?

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Harry Potter: Now and Forever or Never More?

With the seventh movie of the first part of the seventh book about to open in the US and the second part to follow this summer — what does the future hold for Harry Potter?  His creator J. K. Rowling excited her fans recently by hinting that she wasn’t ruling out the possiblity of writing more about that world, dismaying Daniel Radcliff who told Sky News:

“Oh God, she promised me categorically that there wouldn’t be another book involving Harry,” said Radcliffe, who has been playing the wizard since he was 11.

Asked whether he wanted to be a part of any future film, he said it was “very doubtful”, adding: “I think 10 years is a long time to spend with one character.”

Ten years is a long time indeed and while Radcliffe may be done what about his character and his story? When the final book came out Rowling, who spent way more than ten years with the character, seemed pretty set that she was done with Harry and his world.  But now she seems to be having second thoughts telling Oprah that “I could definitely write an eighth, ninth, tenth… I’m not going to say I won’t. I don’t think I will … I feel I am done, but you never know.”  At the U.K. film premier she clarified that any further books were unlikely to have Harry as the central character.

If there is another book it, with or without Harry, certainly won’t be out for quite a while and so once the last movie is out it will be interesting to see what happens to our boy wizard.  Will he fade into obscurity or stay in the public consciousness for some time to come?  Will future generations of young readers latch on to his story as enthusiastically as those who grew up with him?  I’m guessing yes. After all there is that theme parkMuggle Quidditch on campusesfan fiction, conventions, and a huge online fan base.  Most of all,  the books are still very popular among younger kids; my fourth graders, for instance, are reading them with great enjoyment and agree with me that they will never go out of style.

So whether or not Rowling ever writes another book (ignoring those debating whether she should or not), I think the series will endure. Harry will hang around because he is one of the great characters of children’s literature and because his stories are good.  Really good.  The sort that will become classics of children’s literature.

Also at the Huffington Post.

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Review of Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars

Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars premiered on the Disney Channel this past Friday.  Feeling it was churlish to moan about it without seeing it I DVRd it and watched it yesterday.  So now let me roll up my sleeves and begin.  (And if Ms. Fitzhugh is reading this from on high — only do so if you want a laugh.)

So you’ve got Harriet, a rather pleasant high school student and her two friends, Janie and Sport. You’ve also got Marion and entourage. All in a Gossip-Girlish-looking high school, but without a smidgen of sex, amour, anything of that sort. No, no, no; they are all wholesome kids being mean in the mildest and Disneyish way.  We get brief vignettes of Janie and Sport being Janie and Sport (sort of) and a few more of Harriet spying (and I have to say the one with the painter is very creepy because it is about him preying on women, but of course it is totally unsexual as this is Disney), Marion rolling eyes, some bantering with the cook/trainer about tomato sandwiches, and various other similar badly-done references to the original book.

Notebooks, check. Disinterested parents, check.  Ole Golly, che…er…OMG…Golly, as she is now known, looks to be about five years older than Harriet and dresses more or less the same (well, no short private school skirt, but you get the picture, I hope).  I could deal with the kids being in high school and being so flattened out, but (Ole) Golly turned into a deadly dull drippy Nanny Diary ish nanny?  Who **spoiler** leaves Harriet to take over a coffee bar?  Jeez.

So anyway, Harriet is in a very lovely private school where there is to be a competition for a “class blogger.”  Evidently there is a tradition for one student in the class to write a blog just for the class.  Harriet and Marion are selected to vie for this; whoever produces posts that get the most hits and comments wins.  As a teacher in a very lovely private school who has been blogging with her students for some years this rang so false I can’t even tell you. It was lame, lame, lame. Schools do not do this.  They do not, they do not, they do not.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  So okay, I got that off my chest.

Now we go even further into the depths of horrid book adaptations.  Harriet’s father is now a movie producer and is doing one with a teen heart-throb.  Long story short — Harriet stalks the guy to get stuff for her blog to get the necessary hits to win.  Shenanigans on set and off ensue. Harriet is revealed as having exaggerated her relationship with the star and all are mad at her.  More stuff happens, more hijinks, and finally all is sorted out.  Harriet becomes class blogger, check.  Harriet’s friends come back to her, check.  Harriet’s parents hug her, check.  Golly hugs her, check.  Movie magazines hug her, check.  The end.

Final recommendation:  don’t bother.

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A Grand Day Out with a Few Award Contenders

Hadn’t planned it, but it is turning into movie week here at educating alice. All because Nancy Werlin directed my attention to the first film below, causing me to check out all the Oscar nominees for Best Short Film (Animated).  And so, here they all are in full or trailer form.

I like it much.  But it is up against my favorite human and dog sleuths, that intrepid duo, Wallace and Gromit.

And then this one that makes me think of The Triplets of Belleville for some reason. (Don’t know it? Calling on Matt to feature it over at Cockeyed Caravan.)

Death stars in this one.

And I’m not too sure what this one’s about, but it sure looks pretty.

Amazing that it is now possible to see them all online.  Not too long ago I only saw the nominees in this category on public television or in their teeny clips on Oscar night.

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And Speaking of Movies…

To be fair, I need to see the movies, but at the moment I’m cranky as hell about what I’ve seen so far about two forthcoming movies based on iconic books of my youth.  Yet again (Percy Jackson anyone?) they seem to have upped the ages of the two protagonists substantially.  What is wrong with true tweens?

First there is Harriet the Spy: BLOG Wars (via 100ScopeNotes).

And then there is this Ramona and Beezus poster.

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