Monday, March 29, 2021

AfterLUNCH | Mystery Movie Night - Planes, Puns, and Paramedics

Mystery Movie Night moves to AfterLUNCH! For this inaugural episode on the new feed, Evan picked Empire of the Sun (1987), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), and Sacro Gra (2013). 

A reminder for listeners who haven't seen all the movies and want to avoid spoilers, here are the time stamps for each review, including the guessing part in case you want to skip straight to that: 

00:05:37 - Review of Empire of the Sun (1987) 
00:23:18 - Review of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) 
00:36:32 - Review of Sacro Gra (2013)
00:49:49 - Guessing the Connection 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Turning (2020)

Finally wrapping up this Turn of the Screw project with the movie that started me on it in the first place. The Turning was one of the last movies I saw in the theater before lockdown and I wasn't sure what to make of it. That got me wanting to re-read James' book and see some other adaptations so that I could figure out if I was missing something. And whether or not the project helped me understand The Turning, I knew it would be fun.

When I saw The Turning, it had been a couple of years since I'd read and grown fascinated with the book, so all I really remembered was that it was ambiguous about the actual existence of the ghosts. I was curious about whether The Turning would interpret it as a straight-up ghost story or mundane psychological horror. And I left the theater disappointed that The Turning apparently tried to have it both ways with a couple of conflicting endings: one supernatural and one psychological. Rewatching it, I'm less confused about the ending (it's not actually two endings, but a fake out and then the real one), but it still doesn't work. I'll come back to that in a second.

The Turning updates the setting from the Victorian English countryside to the United States in the 1990s. The time period was something else that confused me when I first watched this, because I couldn't figure out what difference it made. This time, I went searching for an interview with director Floria Sigismondi and found this one she did with Collider where Tommy Cook asks her not only about the setting, but also tries to dig as much as he can out of her about the ending. Cook seems to be as confused by the ending as I was.

Sigismondi's response about the time period is basically that she wanted to modernize the story without having 21st century technology create questions she didn't want to answer. She also kind of came into her own creatively during the '90s, so that period seems to hold a lot of nostalgia for her. I don't think it's the best reason to pick that decade, but it's fair enough.

Besides the setting, the biggest change The Turning makes is shifting the focus of the story slightly so that it's very much about how the experience affects the governess (named Kate and played by Mackenzie Davis). The governess goes through a lot in the book and the story is all from her point of view, but at the end it's really about how her reaction to the experience affects the children. The Turning, on the other hand, is about toxic masculinity, how it's passed from one generation to the next (Quint to Miles, in this case), and what affect that has on women like Kate and the late Miss Jessel, or even little girls like Flora. 

For the record, I think that's not only a valid take, but a very cool one. And Sigismondi and Davis are excellent at pulling me into Kate's gradual deterioration into paranoia. It's mostly an effective, spooky thriller. The ghosts are clearly real, but that makes Quint's lingering presence even more threatening. 

What doesn't work is the suggestion that Kate's mental illness may be inherited from her mother (as nice as it is to see Joely Richardson in that role). The film is plenty capable of driving Kate nuts just with ghosts and and a highly frustrating household (Mrs Grose is no ally to Kate in this version). There's no need for an additional explanation or the twisty, ambiguous ending that Sigismondi settled on.

Two out of five frazzled faculty.

Monday, March 22, 2021

AfterLUNCH | After Dinner Lounge, Mar 2021

Rob, Evan, Pax, and I gather for another after dinner conversation sparked by what we've been reading, watching, thinking about, and - new with this episode - listening to. Discussions start from the following topics, but meander:
  • Relationships with music
  • Books like the Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Gerserchi, the Jane Austen detective series by Stephanie Barron, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.
  • Comics like Aster of Pan by Merwan Chabane and Joshua Williamson’s Flash run.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters and movies about Queen Elizabeth I.
  • TV shows like The Clone Wars, The Expanse Season 2, Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, Queen’s Gambit, WandaVision, and the 90s Flash series.
  • And finally, real talk about Family, Loss, Identity, and Spring.
Download or listen to the episode here.

Monday, March 15, 2021

AfterLUNCH | Enterprise, Season 1

Having discussed humanity's first contact with the Vulcans, our Star Trek Trek panel reconvenes to talk about the souring of that relationship and how it affects Earth's first human-populated mission into deep space. Delaney, Evan, Rob, and I talk about how the first season of Enterprise fits into continuity while also getting around to what we think of the various characters and episodes. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Long Riders (1980)

Pax and I discuss Walter Hill's Jesse James biopic featuring three families of brothers playing the real life James, Younger, and Ford brothers.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Através da Sombra (2015)

Através da Sombra is a Brazilian adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. The literal translation of the title is Through the Shadow, which I guess sort of describes the journey the governess goes on. "Through" implies that she comes out of the shadow on the other side, though, and I'm not so sure she does that in any version. The only one that spends any time exploring her life after Bly is the 2009 one with Michelle Dockery and she's still in pretty rough shape even then. On the other hand, I don't guess "through" actually implies that she comes out unscathed, so it could be an accurate, evocative title.

Através da Sombra is pretty straightforward except for its relocating the setting from England to Brazil so that Bly is now a large coffee plantation. Virginia Cavendish's governess is named Laura and her backstory is tweaked a bit so that she grew up an orphan in a convent, but the result is the same as other versions. She's been sheltered and the combination of her naivety and her strict, religious upbringing makes her overconfident and unprepared to deal with the trauma in the house that she's walking into.

This one really plays up the overconfidence and she's quite convincing for a while; almost Mary Poppins-like in her poise. But she's also visibly affected during the interview with the kids' uncle when he touches her hand and persuades her to take the job in spite of his requirement that she not contact him for any reason. (Incidentally, there's a lot of hand touching in the recent adaptations of this scene that I've watched. It's a subtle, intimate way for the uncle to influence the governess and I've almost come to expect it now when I watch a new version.)

Anyway, cracks continue to show in the governess' façade, especially when she thinks about her employer. She frequently imagines and even practices conversations with him. At first I thought it was just a cheap writing tactic to allow the audience into her head, but as it continued and intensified, it became apparent that the film is methodically revealing her to be unhinged.

As for the children, it's clear earlier on in this version that they've suffered some kind of trauma. In other versions, it takes a while for the governess to see past their sweet exteriors, but Elisa (this version's Flora) is painfully shy and distant right away even though the Mrs Grose character (everyone is renamed) insists that Elisa has been excited for the governess to arrive. She eventually warms up, but both she and her brother Antonio are always a bit off.

I've stopped trying to figure out if the ghosts are real from one version to the next. I no longer think that's important. I've settled my mind that they're always real and a threat to the kids, but that the greater danger to the children is the governess' attempt to save them. It's just a horrible situation and a powerful metaphor for how complicated it can be to minister to someone who's been through severe mental or physical pain. 

That's why I prefer movie adaptations that have the governess be directly responsible for Miles' death. The book is vague about what exactly happens, but it's thematically beautiful for her to literally smother him while trying to protect him. Sadly, Através da Sombra doesn't go that route. Instead, it has Antonio drop dead while running away from the governess, implying that Bento (the Peter Quint character) is responsible. It still works - he's running from Laura who's kind of madly pursuing him - but it also kind of lets her off the hook a little. The story's more powerful when she's directly responsible.

Three out of five sad schoolteachers.

Monday, March 08, 2021

AfterLUNCH | Greetings from SciFi World!

Rob and I are joined by Joanna from Bloody Popcorn and my frequent podcasting partner Dan Taylor to create a science-fiction-themed amusement park with lands devoted to Twilight ZoneFirefly, the works of Philip K Dick, and Planet of the Apes

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Turn of the Screw (2009)

The BBC's 2009 Turn of the Screw adaptation came out a year before the premiere of Downton Abbey, but has a surprising lot in common with it. Most noticeable of course is Michelle Dockery as the governess, but Turn of the Screw also features Sue Johnston (aka Miss Denker, Maggie Smith's lady's maid) as Mrs Grose. And there's even a brief, but important role for Dan Stevens as a doctor who tries to determine whether the governess is sane after her experiences at Bly. As a big fan of Mary and Matthew Crawley, it was lovely seeing Dockery and Stevens in scenes together again, even if they predate what I know them from.

Bly itself may not be the same scale of grandeur as Downton, but it's still an impressive estate with lots of servants. And then there's the resetting of the story to the 1920s, a time period also covered by Downton, so the clothing styles and technology look very familiar to Downton fans. It's kind of amazing to me that the Turn of the Screw adaptation came first.

Putting the story in the '20s isn't the only change this version makes. It fully embraces the ghost story aspects of Henry James' novella, so that as soon as governess Ann enters Bly, she starts hearing and seeing things. The kids are played up to maximum creepiness from their Village of the Damned light blonde hair to the sinister looks they give behind Ann's back. They're not just affected by past trauma, they're almost certainly literally possessed. 

It's not as interesting or deep an issue as the book or other adaptations deals with, but it's a fun, exciting take. Having the governess' sanity under evaluation is a nice framing device, too, since it lets her and her doctor speculate about and interpret what she's seen. 

But even though its being a straight ghost story is a nice change of pace from the usual heavy darkness of implied or explicit abuse, this version doesn't particularly stand out as a great ghost story. Having seen a lot of spectral Quints and Jessels so far, my favorites are the ones with the least special effects. That approach usually supports the story best, since the governess isn't sure what she's seeing and it helps not to have any visual cues that she's definitely witnessing something supernatural. But just from an aesthetic standpoint, I'm creeped out much more when I'm just seeing a person standing unnaturally still off in the distance, staring at me, than I am when that person is transparent with a computer-generated blue aura around them. 

Three out of five Downton denizens.

Monday, March 01, 2021

AfterLUNCH | Chatting with Kelly Thompson

Rob and I talk with one of our favorite writers. Kelly Thompson has written novels like Storykiller and The Girl Who Would Be King, but she's most known for great, funny, character-driven comics like Marvel's A-Force, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel as well as series featuring popular characters like Jem and the Holograms, the Pink Power Ranger, Nancy Drew, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Kelly shares huge aspects of her writing process, but also geeks out about other things that she's enjoying watching and reading.


Related Posts with Thumbnails