Yesterday, I posted my review of Nick Hornby’s novel A Long Way Down. As it was the first book that I finished this year, it only felt right that I also watch the film adaptation for today’s post. The fact that it also stars Pierce Brosnan was just a wonderful benefit. Although, I’m always up for watching Bronhom is anything and there’s a brief scene of him dancing in this one. Yep, even after the first Mamma Mia! film he still thought it was perfectly acceptable for him to dance on screen. Say what you will about his acting but, boy, does he have a great of confidence for a man born without rhythm. I must say that I’m incredibly jealous. I’m also a terrible dancer despite all my best efforts. I wish I was able to give as few fucks does about what I look like on the dance floor and just went for it.
I know that it might seem that my dislike of Enola Holmes was mostly because of how much a fan I am of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary creation. That I’m some sort of traditionalist who can’t see the character in any other way than a Victorian gent. But that’s not true. I’m always willing to give it a chance. After all, we’ve seen enough of the same old adaptation over the years. And I know that I was initially dubious of Sherlock but that’s got more to do with Stephen Moffat’s writing skills than anything else. I long for the day that we see a Sherlock Holmes that we’ve never seen before. It was the reason that I really wanted to see Ian McKellen playing an older Holmes. I had always expected to watch it when it came out but life never quite pans out as you expect.
Now that Henry Cavill has played Sherlock Holmes, does that mean that Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr. are going to play Superman? It would only be the fair thing to do. Although, they’d have to play him as a side character in another person’s film. For Cavill is mere a bit player in Netflix’s adaptation of Nancy Springer’s YA series about his younger sister. It has garnered an awful lot of attention thanks to the fact that Stranger Thing‘s Millie Bobby Brown has been cast in the main role. Brown has become quite the darling since she became Eleven. There was little doubt that people would rave about his film but how much of it is about her rather than the film? I guess I had to find out for myself.
There was a point yesterday when I wasn’t sure that I’d get a chance to write this review. We had a power cut at about 5 o’clock in the evening and it made everything a bit difficult. For one thing, I had to use my mobile as a hotspot to finish my work for the day, which was a nightmare. For another, I hadn’t actually watched my TBT film for this week. The last few weeks have been pretty stressful and I’ve just been a bit off. Thankfully, my internet came back and I was able to get everything done. Except write the review, which I’m having to do quite late on Wednesday night in the knowledge that I have to get up early for medical appointment. Part of me just wants to forget it but I don’t want to start setting that precedent for myself.
I’m no Dickens fan. I don’t necessarily see why he’s the granddaddy of English literature. He’s the Victorian version of those clickbait articles that drag out a really boring story for about 5 pages to keep their stats up. I get that he was basically being paid by he word but did he have to make it so obvious. Then there are the bloody names. Every time anyone talks about Dickens they bang on about how funny his characters names are. Really? They’re like bad dad jokes at best. I don’t hate all of his novels of course. A Christmas Carol is a fantastic book and I have a certain love for Great Expectations. That’s about it though. It’s been years but I’m still bitter about having to study Hard Times for my A Levels. It’s such a boring book. With all of these negative feelings swimming around my head, you’d be forgiven for thinking that an adaptation of David Copperfield wasn’t the top of my list of must-see films. Well, it turns out that Armando Iannucci can make anything palatable.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m far too stubborn about certain things. I’ve discussed it before and I’m sure it will come up again. When it comes to certain topics, I’m sticking to my guns regardless. One of those things is YA fiction. I’ve had such terrible experiences when reading YA fiction that I now avoid it at all costs. I’m not going to say that it’s bad but it’s not for me. And it’s not just books. Whenever I see another adaptation of a Young Adult novel, I just roll my eyes and ignore it.I rarely give them a chance because I just assume it won’t appeal to me. Although, I’m also someone who is something of a glutton for punishment. I’ve given plenty of YA fiction a chance. That’s the reason I’ve been disappointed so often. So, why not films? I decided to give one a chance as it really was the best companion for Dating Amber this week.
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.
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 read a headline recently that suggested that The Call of the Wild marked the return of the dog film. I wasn’t entirely convinced about how good a thing this was. There have been plenty of great dogs in films but films about dogs aren’t always that great. For every Homeward Bound, there are about 10 Snow Dogs. For every Beethoven, there are 7 increasingly dreadful Beethoven sequels. Then there’s the fact that dog films always like to give their canine protagonists the powers of thought and reason. They have to anthropomorphise them to a certain extent to create a story and make the audience really care about them. You can’t just have an animal following its natural instincts. What would the children do when faced with a fluffy creature ripping apart a rabbit with blood dripping from its fur?