I have a copy of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Girl somewhere on my bookshelves. Obviously, I haven’t read it yet but I haven’t read a lot of the books on my bookshelves. A friend gave me a copy of How To Be A Woman for Christmas one year but I haven’t read that either. It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that there are so many other books in the world. Being a reader is like having the worst case of FOMO imaginable. There are so many books that have already been published and plenty still to be published. Of course, you’re always going to be wondering if the book you’re currently reading is the best one that you can get. It’s understandable that certain books and authors are going to miss out and, unfortunately, Caitlin Moran was one of them. I had thought about waiting until I’d read the book but if I did that I’d never have watched the film. It probably goes against the bookish code but it had to be done.
Jumanji: The Next Level film might be the third film to include Jumanji in the title but it is actually the fourth film in the whole franchise. It’s easy to forget that Zathura: A Space Adventure is part of the same universe. Mostly because both the writer of the original books, Chris Van Allsburg, and director, Jon Favreau, wanted to distance it from the Robin Williams film. Favreau, in particular, didn’t like the film at all and wanted to make sure that people knew it. Yet, the studio was keen to show that both films were connected and Zathura is officially the second film in the Jumanji franchise. I’d never actually seen it, though, as I was 17 when it came out. It definitely wasn’t the kind of film the 17-year-old me would have been comfortable admitting to wanting to watch. So, I decided it was finally time. After all, it got a much better critical reaction than the first Jumanji film even if it didn’t do incredibly well at the box office. The opposite of Robin Williams’ film. Was the space adventure actually better or was this another time when the critics were way off in their assessment?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Downey Jr. as much as the next person but, let’s be honest, he’s been playing the same character for years now. The actor was getting his career on track during the early 2000s but it wasn’t until Iron Man that he really became a person to watch. Since that point, it’s kind of felt that we’ve been getting the same thing in almost every film. He’s basically just playing a hyped-up version of himself. The major difference between his Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes is a hundred or so years. Now I think RDJ. is a great guy but there’s just no surprise any more. When you see that RDJ is in a cast, you can be pretty sure about the kind of character he’s going to play. Yeah, I understand that Dr Dolittle is a pretty odd guy but he’s inherently British. He’s described in the books as a well-respected and quiet man. Not an absurd comic figure of fun. I just couldn’t see how a big Hollywood adaptation with RDJ in the titular role would work as well as the classic 1967 film did. But I was willing to be proven wrong.
Last night, I attended my first virtual book club meeting. Despite being a massive book person, I’ve never actually been part of a book club before. So, to attend my first one on Zoom wasn’t great. I’m awkward and introverted at the best of times without adding being uncomfortable on camera as well. But, of course, it was mostly fine. I’d read the book in time and, as you’ll have read in my book review on Monday, I really loved the book. I knew before going in that it had been adapted into a film for Netflix but I didn’t want to watch it before reading. Fearing that it might alter my opinion of the book or something. Once I was finished, it seemed like the perfect choice for my TBT film this week. After all, any chance to watch Jane Fonda is something is welcome.
Last year, Netflix proved that it had some great things to offer the world of animation. Both Klaus and I Lost My Body were worthy Oscar nominees at this year’s Oscars. It’s just a shame that Toy Story 4 knocked them out of the park. But it did go to show that Netflix was willing to push boundaries somewhere at least. Yes, the comedies weren’t exactly anything to write home about but they were clearly picking interesting animated projects. So, I was interested in their new animated film even before I knew anything about it. I didn’t know the book it had been adapted from or what to expect. It looked pretty interesting from the trailer so I decided that it would be worth a chance. It looked like Henry Selick but with added rainbows. At the very least, I figured that it would be a pretty film.
Imagine a world in which the Baudelaire orphans aren’t orphans but they’re parents were both as awful as Count Olaf. That’s the best way I can think of to describe the premise of this story. The four Willoughby children were born to two parents that had no interest in raising children. Mother and father Willoughby were so in love with each other that they had none left for anyone else. So, when their children come along, they just leave them to fend for themselves. Tim, the eldest child, always tries to live up to the Willoughby name. His family used to be full of great people with even greater moustaches. He tries to instil these traditions in his younger sister and twin brothers but they just want to get as far away from their family as possible.
Which is how the group come up with a plan to get rid of their parents once and for all. They send them off on a deadly adventure in an attempt to orphan themselves. They are left in the hands of Linda, a caring and happy nanny. The three younger siblings fall for Linda’s charms but Tim doesn’t trust her. To the extent that he calls Orphan Services and the children get taken away. All are sent to separate homes and are even more miserable than before. Can Tim come up with a plan to get the family back together? And just what does the orphan baby left on their doorstep have to do with it all?
The Willoughbys is a very original and exciting narrative. It might look sickly sweet on the outside but there is plenty of darkness here. The story has definite Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket vibes to it but it has enough rainbows and love to make it work. It is also pretty fast-paced. The narrative moves along at such a pace that you won’t have time to get bored. It’s constantly moving forwards and it is packed full of references. This is an energetic film that will keep younger viewers engaged and it has enough originality that parents won’t be too put-out having to sit with them.
Yet, compared to Netflix’s past animated offerings, it just feels a bit lacking. There is a sense that the darkness doesn’t quite work for the audience this film is aimed for. Or at least, that it could have gone further had it not been for the young audience. It brushes with death and darkness which is fine but it feels a bit childish still. The film opens by claiming that it won’t have a happy ending but there’s never a real sense of danger here. No matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise. It would be interesting to see what could have been made had this film been pushed towards an older audience. It could have been more like A Series of Unfortunate Events instead of seeming like a pale imitation.
This is an interesting film but it feels a little fragmented. This is the main explanation for Ricky Gervais’ role as narrator. Playing a cat who oversees everything, the narrator is the thing that keeps all of these things together. Otherwise, the film would have the feel of a series of sketches instead of one complete narrative. I understand that, when adapting a book, having a narrator can feel natural but I’m not sure the cat added anything. It was Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais again. It felt weird and out-of-place. I would have prefered the narrative to flow naturally without it.
Although, this is still an enjoyable film. The voice actors are all energetic and fantastic in their roles. The characters come to life on screen but its limited thanks to the pace of the storytelling. There’s plenty of fun and it is a visually great film. It’s just that there’s too much going on and it all happens too quickly. You can’t really sit back and enjoy the good bits because we’re skipping from bit to bit. It also means the overall emotional message gets lost a little. The film’s final act lacks the punch that it needed. It should have been a lovely moment but it’s just a bit flat. The Willoughbys isn’t the worst thing Netflix has ever created but, compared to some of their other animated films, it just can’t compare.
I always worry when American actors take on roles in English period dramas. It just gives them free rein to use received pronunciation in that stereotype that they seem so keen on. The stuff of Downton Abbey. The kind of accent that doesn’t have a hint of geography or personal context. Add Gwyneth Paltrow to the mix and it makes everything even more uncomfortable. I’m still haunted by Sliding Doors where she tried to convince us she was British by saying the word “shagging” on repeat. It just didn’t do it for me, so the idea of her getting her Austen on did kind of fill me with dread. But I also felt like I should watch it. After all, I’d already reviewed Clueless back in 2015. As much as I wanted to rewatch that absolute gem of an adaptation, it felt like I was cheating a bit.
I keep reading articles posted by people in the film industry pleading with people to keep going to cinemas when the lockdown is over. Now I love going to the cinema and think it’s a great experience. Yet, there is a part of me that thinks all of this desperation is a bit misguided. It’s okay for people who work in the media or in the film industry to say all this but it perhaps also shows a misunderstanding of how “normal” people live. The truth is, it’s not always easy or possible for people to go to the cinema these days. And, if they do, the cost of taking a family might not be plausible for people. It’s also evidence of the cultural elitism that exists in London regarding the rest of the world. But that’s something that deserves a whole post to itself. As much as I don’t want cinemas to shut down, it’s definitely time that we start thinking about the future of cinema. So, when the Covid-19 forced Universal to release their new films online, I was kind of excited. Until I saw the price. £15.99 to rent Emma.? It’s clear that streaming new releases is the future but it can’t work at that price. Yes, they need to make their money back but that’s the price of a BluRay but for a rental. It’s insane and will most likely put plenty of people off. Especially during a time when so many people are worried about money. It seems particularly tone-deaf. But this is Hollywood. When have they ever given a shit about the people watching their films?
I’ve had Disney+ since it arrived in the UK on Tuesday but haven’t had much chance to use it yet. Work is still open because, apparently, football kit is now classed as essential. I’m glad to still have my weekly routine but it has prevented me from really getting to grips with the new streaming service. All I’ve done so far is watch random episodes of The Simpsons. Not that it’s a problem because there are some gems in the 31 seasons. However, I’m not really getting the most out of it. So, I decided to watch something from there for my TBT. As soon as I’d finished work today, I searched the list of films. I got to the first one and stopped. It’s been ages since I saw this film and, as a teenager, I played the soundtrack on repeat. How could I not?
As far as I’m aware, Mr Rogers was never a thing in the UK. I’ve heard of him but only thanks to references in American TV and movies. This lack of awareness would normally have caused me to miss a film like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It is based solely on the proposition that Fred Rogers is one of the greatest things to ever happen to children. I’m sure he probably is but films like this tend to rely on a certain nostalgic sentimentality that I just don’t have. It wouldn’t hit on all of the levels that the filmmakers intended. But, thanks to Tom Hanks being Tom Hanks, it was an Oscar-nominated film that I had to try and watch before the ceremony.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that this week I’ve gone a bit Oscars crazy on the blog. Every year I watch all of the Best Picture nominations before the ceremony and this year, as I was already well ahead, I decided to get through as many as possible. This meant that I was faced with a load of films that I wanted to review. With my schedule as it is, I’d still have been reviewing my Oscar watches two months from now. So, I decided to just go with it and get them done this week. It’s not been easy but I’m getting there. This weekend is going to be interesting but I’ve come this far. As of today, I’ve only got a couple (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Pain and Glory and Richard Jewell) left to watch. I’m not going through foreign films, short films, or documentaries otherwise I’d probably die. And I know there are two films nominated for technical awards only that I haven’t seen (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and The Lion King) but I’ll have to live with that. Despite that, I’m going to talk about my winners for the main categories. That is the people I’d like to win not who I think will win. We can talk about that before the awards on Sunday when I’ve seen everything I’m going to see.