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?
Tuesday 28th January marked the 207th year since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published. The novel is one that is beloved by so many bookish people. I’ve never been a huge Jane Austen fan. I’m one of those people whose favourite Austen novel is Northanger Abbey. It’s fun and Catherine is, by far, the Austen heroine I most identify with. She’s a little foolish and lets her mind get the better of her. She’s always felt like a real teenager. Okay, a normal teenager from a completely different era but just because a teenager was living in the 1800s doesn’t mean they’re not going to be stupid. I’ve never really felt that about Lizzie and the others. It’s the same reason I don’t empathise with anyone in John Green novels; they don’t act in a way I feel people of that age would. I get that she’s got a brilliant mind, she’s independent and strong-willed. She’s a powerful female character but she’s almost too good to be true. And yes, I know she has flaws, it’s kind of the point of the story. But even her flaws are somewhat perfect. She’s pretty but not too pretty. She’s polite enough and rude enough to be accepted by nearly everyone she meets. She isn’t really too much of anything. How can you live up that?
Sometimes it sucks living in certain parts of the world. Jojo Rabbit came out in October 2019 in the US. In the UK, we had to wait until the New Year before we could see it. Talk about unfair. By the time I finally saw the film, it felt as though I’d been waiting for years. Of course, when it was released a lot of people in America thought it was tasteless to release a comedy film about Hitler. It’s such a ridiculous notion. There is a strong history of satirising figures like Hitler. Look at the propaganda that came out of World War 2. Look at Charlie Chaplin’s The Dictator. Look at The Producers. We use comedy as a way to belittle and take power away from these people. The ability to see comedy in situations like this is important. For one thing, it helps us learn from them and see these moments in history for what they are. I’m not saying you should go too far or get too offensive. It’s important to be respectful. But, if you can’t find the funny in Taika Waititi wearing bright blue contacts and pretending to be Adolf Hitler, then I don’t know what you’re looking for in a comedy film.
This weekend saw the 77th Golden Globe awards take place. Unusually, the winners were pretty much the people you’d expect them to be. Well, apart from Olivia Colman winning for her work on The Crown. I love Colman in anything but she wasn’t given anything to do in that series. I know the Queen isn’t exactly a highly dramatic character but she was the least interesting character in her own show. But the most interesting thing to come out of the evening was the massive snub of Netflix’s two major award contenders. Neither Marriage Story or The Irishman walked away with any of the awards they’d been nominated for. Was this just a vicious snub by the HFPA or should Netflix be worried for the Academy Awards? If not even Scorsese is a guaranteed winner then who knows what will happen? Although, I’m sure Sam Mendes is a deserving winner. 1917 looks fucking amazing. But Netflix really had put massive work into getting the Oscar they so clearly deserved with Roma. Is this really proof that, no matter what they do, Netflix will never be accepted by the awards committees?
Anybody who has ever read the name of this blog will probably be able to guess that I bloody love Die Hard. It’s not only a great Christmas film but it is still one of the greatest action movies of all time. It is peak Bruce Willis and it introduced Hollywood to the talents of Alan Rickman. Die Hard is a legendary film that I watch at least once every year. I look forward to watching it before Christmas and I feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t. What I’ve never done, is read the book it was based on. I’ve had a copy of it for years but never dared read it. As book lovers, we expect the novel to better but, as I’ve said before, there are plenty of contradictions out there. Reading Jaws after seeing the film is crazy but at least that has something going for it. And I love Jaws but it’s doesn’t hold as dear a place in my heart as John McClane’s skyscraper adventure. This year, I decided to be brave and opened the pages. That was at the start of December. It took me until last night to finish it. That should give you enough of an indication about my views on it.
As bookish people, we like to think that the book was always better. We’re sure that there is no way that a film can ever convey the real meaning of a story. Plus, if it’s a book we love, you know that we have the perfect image of what everyone looks like in our heads. In some respects we’re right. There are some books that are so insular and deep that no film can ever do them justice. Like any attempt to adapt an Ian McEwan novel. His books just get inside the main character’s head and no novel will ever be able to portray the complexity that we always find there. However, it is wrong to say that all books are better than their films versions. I’m sure there are plenty of bookish folks who would never admit it but there are plenty of films that make their source material better. I decided to present my favourites for this week’s Friday Favourites. There are plenty of films out there that I would describe as just as good as the book but that’s not the point of this post.