In anticipation of HBO's upcoming miniseries adaptation of Elena Ferrante's internationally bestselling novel, My Brilliant Friend
, Film Movement has put together a lavish box set featuring vibrant transfers of the only two films ever adapted from the pseudonymous author's novels as well as a collectible thirty-two page booklet of correspondence, interview excerpts, and lush photos. Curated in reverse chronological order across the two-disc set, I traveled to Ferrante's Naples through my Blu-ray player to learn more.The Days Of Abandonment (2005) AKA: I giorni dell'abbandono
From an eerie opening sequence which informs us that – especially in Roberto Faenza's film – we can't always believe what we see to an early line of dialogue where our protagonist Olga (Margherita Buy) describes the tawdry book she's translating to a friend which serves as a gender flipped foreshadowing of events to come, symbolism is everywhere in this over-the-top adaptation of Elena Ferrante's novel.
An initially intriguing spin on Anna Karenina
, Madame Bovary
, among other classic works centered on women whose love lives threaten to be their undoing, shortly into Days
the seemingly happily married Olga finds herself in the titular hell of abandonment after her husband announces he's unhappy and walks out on his wife and two children.
Numbed by disbelief, Olga goes through all five stages of grief before she eventually loses a grip on both reality and her sanity with the discovery that her husband Mario (Inspector Montalbano
's Luca Zingaretti) didn't just have an existential crisis but a classic midlife one, trading his educated elegant wife in for an eighteen-year-old he'd already begun molding as her tutor.
As Olga's internal struggles become external, her luck goes from bad to worse. Taking on an allegorical Book of Job
like quality, soon phones that connect her to the outside world break and a lizard as well as ants enter to her apartment, which causes her to go to extremes in order to protect her children. Giving into the depression by staying inside her apartment, eventually things get so out of hand that the home she considers her sanctuary literally traps her inside.
Discarding supporting characters and ideas introduced only moments earlier in favor of increasingly outrageous sequences that must've worked better on the page, Days
, which is credited to seven screenwriters on IMDb, reinforces the long-held belief that the internationally beloved, best selling pseudonymous Italian author’s ouevre is nearly incapable of being adapted successfully.
Embracing wild moments of Magical Realism that distract from the film as a whole, as Olga's growing desperation and near psychosis after being jilted forces her to lash out at Mario and his girlfriend, Days
comes across as disturbingly anti-feminist rather than humanist on the screen.
Pulling us in a myriad of directions, as noted in the thirty-two page booklet of letters and interview excerpts included in the double-disc set, out of a handful of characters to focus on, curiously the one in particular that Faenza set out to humanize from his aloof literary incarnation was Mario.
Yes, empathy is always important especially when dealing with an emotionally fraught subject in such a psychologically driven work with shades of Roman Polanski's Repulsion
throughout. However, humanizing Mario more than Olga has the (hopefully) unintended side effect of pushing the characters of the husband and wife to even greater extremes by highlighting sexist stereotypes about "hysterical" women and strong men.
And rather than provide a balance between the two personalities, as she chases after her husband in a car or rips the earrings off of Mario's girlfriend in the street, Days
transforms Olga into a clichéd Fatal Attraction
-esque tormentor victimizing Mario as opposed to a woman sent spiraling after her cold husband ghosted her, when the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Disappointingly, Faenza's identification with the stabilizing male figures continues as Olga begins a tentative relationship with Damian (Goran Bregovic), the supportive musician neighbor who always fancied her but who was forced to keep his distance by an extension of Mario via his loyal dog.
And in spite of what feels like an artificially tacked-on moment of liberation where she finds a little bit of strength in herself before promptly passing out, opting to turn the neighbor into a veritable savior only augments the idea that all an Italian woman needs is a man to snap out of her depression.
Not alone in my belief, and regardless of my enjoyment of Bregovic, in one of the letters to Faenza included in the set, Ferrante urged the director to reconsider this intersection of character, theme, and plot point as well.
The type of film one can imagine would be handled quite differently if it had been written and directed by a woman, while I'm sure the filmmaker's heart was in the right place, despite some real moments of true artistry and outstanding performances within, there's little to recommend the film overall. Better left on the page, sadly had I not been watching Days
for review, I would have certainly abandoned Olga as well, which cannot have been what Faenza or Ferrante had in mind.Troubling Love (1995) AKA: L'amore Molesto
Chronologically the first of only two features to be made from Elena Ferrante's books ahead of the HBO miniseries adaptation of My Brilliant Friend
, Troubling Love
does a much better job of executing the way that women's experiences are handed down from one generation to the next.
One of the more interesting thematic threads that Roberto Faenza introduced in Days
before ultimately abandoning it like his male lead Mario who hoped for something better, Troubling Love
's Mario – writer-director Mario Martone – wisely turns the memories of its female characters into an overarching mystery, which begins to unspool prior to the suspicious death of our protagonist's mother.
Having received a series of odd, brief, and seemingly intimate phone calls from her mother just before her body is found in the sea, following the funeral, Anna Bonaiuto's young, reserved comic strip artist Delia leaves her home in Bologna to return to the Naples of her youth.
Flooded with memories of her parents and especially their gifts of creativity – from her father's painting and mother's work as a seamstress – which seem to have been passed on to their daughter, Delia begins to dig deeper once she reaches her hometown and enjoys a literal walk down memory lane.
Grabbing a slice to eat, Delia's Neapolitan reverie is soon interrupted by the predatory, overtly sexual behavior of men aimed her direction while she simply walks down the street (which seems even more disturbing to the eye today). Shot almost like a De Palma horror movie as Delia is followed, Martone puts us into our protagonist's shoes and we become acutely aware of the eyes of every male passerby.
Leaving us wondering if there's a link to her mother Amalia's death or if Martone is alluding to something bigger about Delia herself, both of these ideas come to fruition when our lead comes face-to-face with secrets and lies from her family's past including those she hasn't even begun to face herself.
An exploration of sex and gender roles that could inspire conversation around the globe, as fascinating as it is, Troubling
is as narratively troubling as it is tonally inconsistent. And as Delia's mood shifts with each new discovery and interaction, the film strikes a much stronger chord as a psychosexual surrealist mystery a la Eyes Wide Shut
than a traditional drama.
Yet whereas Kubrick’s Eyes
takes place at night and deals with the unstable bond between husband and wife, save for a creepy, symbolic scene early on when a man comes for her mother's "dirty laundry," Troubling
is set largely in the day and deals with the kaleidoscopic memories of guilt and betrayal between mother and daughter.
Trying to send us in another direction altogether, Martone (via Ferrante) throws two supporting male characters into the mix as potential red herrings. And although we inevitably predict the truth about what it is that Delia discovers she's really facing as soon as she steps into a revealing red dress left behind for her as a gift from her mother – the seamstress still dressing her beyond her grave – the disturbing yet fascinating path there makes for compelling viewing.
While those hoping for a conventional mystery or even a typical three act structure are sure to be disappointed (and the film should come with a trigger warning as it's sure to bring up a lot of issues), there's a lot here for viewers to unpack in what seems to be a much more faithful interpretation of Ferrante versus Faenzas's film.
Alluding to that in the extensive, lengthy letters written to Martone by Ferrante included in the set's informative booklet, despite Troubling
's overall success when contrasted with Days
, both works signal the struggle to successfully bring the author's books to the screen.
Proof of the uneasy disconnect between her writing’s heavily internalized structure and the show-me medium of film, although Bonaiuto is outstanding in a difficult and evolving role, just like with Days
, we still find ourselves startled by Troubling
's freewheeling approach to logic, structure, and of course, gender.
A superior adaptation nonetheless, while it still hits hard today (and doubly so in the era of Me Too and Time's Up), Martone's film will inevitably play differently in its native Italy given the depiction of the tug-of-war between the sexes.
And while I can only hope that the next time someone tries to bring her books to life, it's a woman, in the end I would say that if you're looking for more Ferrante on Film
(following My Brilliant Friend
), you should pass up Days
and stick with Love
Coming off the heels of a string of smash successes centered on talking toys, bugs, monsters, and fish, Pixar's sixth feature film was a radical departure for the always surprising computer animation house.
Revolving around not only human beings - who in 2004 had only ever been in the periphery of other Pixar releases up until that point – but superheroes at that, Brad Bird's The Incredibles
managed the impossible task of delighting children with its fast-paced excitement as well as adults who undoubtedly appreciated the film's emphasis on family overall.
Though a focal point of other superhero fare including the Justice League, X-Men, or Avengers, which were subtextually built upon the idea of choosing your own surrogate family, Bird's Incredibles
took the term 'family picture' to a new literal level. And in doing so, he dared to make the ordinary extraordinary, which is the theme carried over in this 2018 sequel which picks up precisely where the previous film left off in spite of a fourteen year gap.
"Done properly, parenting is a heroic act," my favorite supporting player, technical super suit designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird) says to a stressed-out Bob Parr aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) in Incredibles 2
Not allowed to moonlight as a "Super" anymore, in the film, Bob experiences a role reversal with his wife Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) after the superhero program is shut down because, as Rick Dicker (now voiced by Jonathan Banks) explains, "politicians don't understand people who do good simply because it's right."
Recruited by the private sector in the form of Bob Odenkirk's telecom giant Winston Deavor who, along with his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) is working to "make all supers legal again," with his connections, lobbyists, and by embedding super suits with tiny cameras for a PR campaign, soon Helen is employed full-time because she causes less property damage than her Incredible spouse.
Enjoying the perks of the job from a new Elasticycle to a luxurious temporary home for her loved ones since the Parrs are still in hiding since their last adventure, though initially cautious, soon the former stay-at-home Supermom falls back into the routine of her younger mohawk days, which amazingly Bird and company didn't bring to life in flashback.
And as Bob juggles solving complex math problems for son Dash, inadvertently embarrassing daughter Violet in front of her crush, and realizing Jack-Jack's alarming and quickly out of control super powers, Helen takes center stage in the lightning paced sequel’s most impressive sequence as she races to stop a runaway hovertrain.
While the action in the original feature was one of its benchmarks, following Brad Bird's work directing one of the most jaw-dropping Mission: Impossible
films yet via Ghost Protocol
in between the two Incredibles
, Elastigirl's adrenaline pumping, highly cinematic hovertrain rescue thrills on the same level as a live action tentpole movie.
Although admittedly, one fight scene amid blinding white flashing lights later on in the film should necessitate an epilepsy warning before the film even begins – and indeed movie theaters alerted attendees during its initial run –Incredibles 2
never lets the epically executed action get in the way of its family-centric message.
Working together literally and metaphorically, as the rest of the Parrs including Samuel L. Jackson's "Uncle" Lucius aka Frozone predictably jump into the picture's ultimate showdown, the film still drives home the picture's overarching theme while reinforcing the lesson of its predecessor, namely that the family of distinct individuals are – like the rest of us – stronger when united.
Comprised of two Blu-rays, one DVD, and a code for a digital copy of the film, Disney Pixar fills the three disc set with a wide variety of bonus material such as behind-the-scenes featurettes, mini-docs exploring multiple characters and more, which has been the studio’s M.O. since the beginning.
And given that the production schedule was moved up a year after Pixar flipped the release date of Incredibles 2
with Toy Story 4
, some of the disc’s extras (including ten deleted scenes) hint at storylines and ideas Bird has acknowledged he had to cut for time, which cast members are hoping might pay off in a third entry.
More about the people behind the quest than the quest itself, even though there are nods to previous genre favorites like Burton's Batman
and Raimi's Spiderman 2
, Incredibles 2
is a refreshing variation for those suffering from superhero overload.
Using the opportunity of a new release to showcase another stellar short film, in addition to Bao
, be sure to look for the delightful Incredibles
short Auntie Edna
that – fitting into the overall narrative – plays like a five-minute deleted scene and gives us a chance to see Edna and Jack-Jack in action.
Amusing enough to make me think that Edna (and therefore Bird) could follow in the footsteps of Finding Nemo
's Dory and have their own fabulous spin-off, even if this isn't the case, it's safe to say that with their history of Incredibl
y outside-the-box thinking, whatever Pixar cooks up next will be sure to blow our minds.
Encouraging his tap students to stay together, Miles Bryant (Louis Gossett Jr.) gives them an important lesson right off the bat in Breaking Brooklyn
"Let’s sound like one family," he tells them, moments before he sees the face of homeless, twelve-year-old aspiring dancer, Aaron Davis (Colin Critchley) pressed up against the glass in order to better observe the class.
Intrigued by the boy's obvious passion for dance and perhaps seeing a little bit of himself in the young man –
after his father is arrested and the car he lives in is towed away –
the former Broadway legend takes in both Aaron and his rebellious older brother Albee (iCarly
's Nathan Kress) rather than let them spend their holidays in foster care.
Discovering that Miles is on the verge of losing his own home above a beautiful old Bedford Stuy theater he purchased with his reclusive brother Greg (Vondie Curtis-Hall) who lives downstairs in a dressing room after an accident drove the two apart, Aaron decides to enter the upcoming Best of the Boroughs contest to help Miles keep a roof over their heads.
From training montages to the obligatory big show, while Breaking
works in all of the main plot-points that dance picture fans (including yours truly) know by heart, Breaking Brooklyn
has much more on its mind than showstopping tap.
The tale of two fractured families who attempt to form one over the course of a life-changing holiday, acclaimed choreographer Paul Becker tries to blend two distinctly different storylines together in his ambitious feature filmmaking debut, co-written with Rory Owen Delaney.
An earnest character driven work fueled by conflict, unfortunately as much as I enjoy watching newcomer Critchley dance, the film is far more fascinating when it skips past his slightly protracted storyline (that gets usurped by other things halfway through the movie) and instead focuses on the Bryant brothers.
Knowing that Brooklyn
would be pretty quiet with them tiptoeing (or soft-shoeing) around one another, the pair's decades old rift is humored by their angelic voiced teenage granddaughter Faith (Madeleine Mantock), who lives with the two and routinely delivers meals down to Greg.
Nonetheless missing a far more organic plotline hiding in plain sight (which would be if Faith entered the contest rather than a kid they met days earlier), while the entire cast is excellent and it's easy to see why developing the relationship of a second pair of brothers has a nice symmetry to it, in a roughly one hundred minute movie, it just doesn't flow as naturally as it should.
Likewise, the decision to season the film with just enough grit to garner a PG-13 rating –
instead of either toning it down enough to attract a much wider family audience or focusing more on the authenticity of life in the streets –
calls far more attention to the inconsistencies in tone and dialogue than likely intended.
Roughly average but with real potential, it's still a sweetly entertaining film overall. And despite a rushed finale and rather sudden end to a big internal character conflict, thanks to some terrifically crowd-pleasing choreographic nods to Singin’ in the Rain
in Aaron's first big solo dance in the theater, Brooklyn
For Audrey (Mila Kunis), the only thing worse than getting dumped by text message right before her thirtieth birthday – which also happens to be her one year anniversary – is only hearing from her ex-boyfriend after her best friend threatens to burn his stuff, and discovering that the one thing he seems to care the most about is his fantasy football trophy.
Of course, little does Audrey realize that the trophy isn't really the end result of her ex Drew (Justin Theroux) trading names with friends on the computer but is of actual global importance if, that is, she manages to get it to the right people in a cafe in Vienna.
Told this by Drew in the middle of a gunfight which breaks out early on in Susanna Fogel's The Spy Who Dumped Me
, Kunis's stunned Audrey serves as the stand-in for the audience. Although as we watch her process what – without the backdrop of a fast-paced shootout – would otherwise have been a pretty blunt expository "info dump," we realize we might be a few steps ahead of her.
Given a cover job as a hybrid jazz and economics themed podcaster that's just boring enough that Trader Joe's cashier Audrey wouldn't have given it a second thought, the imperiled spy who dumped our straight-laced lead manages to persuade her to take the film's Hitchcockian MacGuffin trophy and run... along with her uninhibited, oversharing best friend Morgan (played by Kate McKinnon).
While obviously there's nothing quite like carnage in your own kitchen to convince you to flee, in Audrey's case, Morgan's question, "Do you want to die having never been to Europe?" serves as the ultimate selling point.
Unfortunately for Audrey and Morgan but enjoyably for us, more near-death experiences await them in Europe as Spy
morphs into a much better action movie than a comedy, thanks to some inventively choreographed sequences boasting the same stunt coordinator behind Jason Bourne
and Mission: Impossible
in the form of Gary Powell.
Admirably keeping up with the action (at least for a little while), McKinnon tosses off the quick-witted one-liners written in Fogel and David Iserson's script as well as she improvises her own and shines alongside the affable Kunis in these moments of fast-paced situational comedy. And this is best epitomized in a scene where – following an outrageous shootout in Vienna – backseat driver Morgan asks Audrey why she's using a turn signal in the middle of a car chase since she's literally telling the people after them where they're going.
At her strongest when given clear direction and fully focused on the events at hand, while McKinnon's flighty friend provides Spy
with some moments of levity throughout, far too often the gifted comedian distracts viewers rather than makes us laugh by spinning off into ridiculous tangents.
Perhaps enjoying the performance in the moment as opposed to worrying about how it would all flow together onscreen, although it's clear that Fogel has a soft spot for Morgan (as we do too because it is, after all, McKinnon), from the end of the first act, Morgan begins to get in the way of the plot.
Further straying from course, rather than serve up a cool, classy female-centric comedic spin on a globe hopping spy tale, The Spy Who Dumped Me
's overreliance on unnecessary scatological humor to appeal to the lowest common denominator needlessly bogs it down from time to time.
Yet, wise enough to put the friendship of these lovely ladies first, from the bullets flying overhead to the ex-boyfriends who cross their path, Fogel doesn't let the women get sidetracked by anything for long, which includes costars Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, Gillian Anderson, Jane Curtin, and Paul Reiser.
While not nearly as effective as James Mangold's woefully underrated Knight and Day
with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz or Paul Feig's sequel worthy Spy
with Melissa McCarthy, it's still refreshing to see two female outsiders work together in an action movie rather than turn into rivals or be relegated to date bait.
Though eager to see the filmmaker helm more solid action movies in the future, for Spy
's sake, I wish Fogel and company could've spent as much time choreographing moments of genuine, well earned laughter as they did executing the perfect stunt.
Ideal at home or as escapist airplane entertainment when you just want something mindless to watch to pass the time, while my current favorite Saturday Night Live
star amuses less than she annoys, she helps buoy her costar all the same. And as such, Fogel's film offers further proof that – especially when employed as a relatable comedic foil to a wackier sidekick – Kunis is an ensemble comedy MVP who viewers will follow like a turn signal in a car chase.
Alternate Title: Phoenix Wilder and The Great Elephant Adventure
Working as a writer, editor, producer, and director (oh my), when it comes to crafting tales of adventure that are suitable for the entire family, Richard Boddington is a veritable jack-of-all-trades.
Returning to the same Gary Paulsen-like premise of an unprepared child lost in nature that made his 2013 picture Against the Wild
such a refreshing surprise, although An Elephant's Journey
isn't as good as Wild
, (which spawned a sequel
), it's still sure to thrill young viewers graduating from animated adventures to live action stories with heroes their own age.
Grander in scope both in terms of its African setting as well as Boddington's decision to one-up the horse in Flicka
or dog in Disney classics by giving his young lead, Phoenix (Sam Ashe Arnold) an elephant friend, as Journey
begins, the recently orphaned Phoenix moves from Texas to Africa to live with his sweet-natured Aunt Sarah (Elizabeth Hurley).
Eager to explore his new surroundings by accompanying his Uncle Jack (Tertius Meintjes) on safari the very next day, after he gets distracted by a small animal during a short break, Phoenix is panicked to find that the parade of vehicles has left him behind.
Lost in the wilderness just twenty-four hours after setting foot on a new continent, while it requires a pretty big suspension-of-belief to imagine that Jack would've let him out of his sight long enough to get lost, Boddington makes the confusion more believable as the frightened Phoenix wanders further into the bush rather than simply staying by the side of the road until his uncle returns.
And as his guardians work alongside local military search and rescue to retrace their steps, Phoenix settles in for his first long night in a new land, only to find an unexpected ally a day later after he frees a bull elephant from a trap.
Both guarding Phoenix and giving him someone to talk to, the boy’s bond with the elephant he dubs Indlovu (which means "The Unstoppable") strengthens even more when they come across a group of ruthless poachers and vow to rescue the animals held captive in their camp.
While his ability to train Indlovu with an orange well enough to ride him to the level of a circus act is probably only going to work on the youngest audience members, the majestic blend of beautiful scenery and large animals freely roaming the land make it an agreeable enough fantasy, at least initially.
Unsure just how far to take the villainous threat, especially when a predictable but inefficiently explained twist is revealed that makes the situation all the more personal for Phoenix, as Journey
continues, it spirals off into four distinctly different strands of plot that never quite weave back together into one.
Rather than pull us in for the rest of the movie, Elephant
moves uneasily back-and-forth between the lost in the wild adventure, Flicka
like coming-of-age tale, drama about a family trying to come together as one, and a thriller that doubles as a message movie about the evils of poaching and guns. And although together, the first three or last three storylines could've easily evolved into something stronger, in the end An Elephant's Journey
suffers from the lack of a cohesive plot.
However, the film's dedication to sharing the truth about the vanishing African elephant population to young viewers who will be in a position to help save these amazing animals someday proves once again that, despite Journey
's problems overall, much like Phoenix, Boddington's heart is in the right place.
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