Dark River (2017)

Respectfully and effectively capturing the process of healing from childhood trauma is no simple endeavor. This depiction of a sexual abuse survivor is equal parts bitter and sweet and The Moors provide the perfect backdrop for a brooding woman to return to the scene of many painful memories. Her brother is reluctant to surrender control of their late father’s farm, especially to someone he never understood. But their differing approaches– modern clashing with traditional– leaves precious little breathing room; eventually, unexpressed questions and insightful explanations bubble to the surface.

The Little Stranger (2018)

A fast- fading mansion with seemingly temperamental qualities is as much a character as the moody people that pass through its rooms. Both lend a consistently brooding tone without resorting to typical genre tropes (e.g. explanatory soliloquies or intrusive graphic flashbacks). The few instances of blood are preceded by obvious horror to the characters, who see it before the audience; the lack of shock value in such a familiar element serves to heighten the film’s uneasy tone. Periodic disclosure of important details keeps the story engaging, despite being enigmatic, and by the end manages to deliver a satisfying revelation.

Mortal Engines (2018)

How to describe such a unique fantastical premise…

Entire societies are mobile; each hierarchical city functions within its own feat of engineering (think interlocking collapsable compartments). These giant robotic apparatuses roam the globe vying for power, forcibly assimilating anyone who gets in their way. The plucky young heroes could’ve been in The Maze Runner!

Until now, such an imaginative book series couldn’t have been adapted for the screen. Fortunately, The Peter Jackson specializes in bringing fictional worlds to life via intricately detailed sets and props enhanced by state-of-the-art computer animation.

Never Let Go (1960)

What’s a struggling salesman to do when his new car– the key to improving slumping sales– gets stolen? All the charisma in the world won’t help John Cummings retrieve it from the chop-shop if the police are more focused on catching the crooked garage owner than finding an individual vehicle. Cummings wants to provide for his family but as his obsession with retreiving his stolen property grows, taking matters into his own hands jeopardizes more than his own safety.

The Foreigner (2017)

The depth of the story drew me in and made me want to follow the main character further. Too bad this wasn’t a TV pilot! To cast a movie that could so easily have been yet another formulaic action flick was no small feat; actors we’ve seem before were wisely utilized for their specialty while being given enough room to break out of their characatures. Moreover, their experience and professionalism allowed the seamless fusion of cultures to tell a story that’s a genuinely fresh perspective on the balance between Justice and Revenge.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

You never realize just how formulaic the movies you typically watch truly are until you see something completely unique, such as this one. Considering how eager studios are to remake everything, I’m surprised this wasn’t of interest to anyone. It’s probably just as well; they would likely turn it into a slapstick comedy. I’m sure […]

Much Ado About Nothing (1993 & 2012)

This one’s a two-fer!

Shakespeare is tricky by any standards. Many universally human traits brought out by timeless situations are easily lost in translation from a long-gone language into modern culture. Fortunately, Billy the Bard still inspires story-tellers the world over. It continually surprises me that such a wide range of demographics appreciate his plays, though it shouldn’t, considering his original audience: the rich had plush seats up high with a stunning view of the entire stage while the commoners, who had to stand on the floor down in front got to hear all the bawdy jokes, i.e. something for everyone.

As filmmakers often attempt to adapt a classic play for the screen, it’s interesting how a scholarly approach and a layman’s view can be two sides of the same coin. When it comes to sifting through antiquated vernacular to interpret its meaning, just as much is overlooked by over-analyzing as by lack of context. With this in mind, both a classically-trained European thespian and an American Sci-Fi scriptwriter/ director have different yet complementary versions of what is widely considered William Shakespeare’s funniest comedy. Kenneth Branagh’s pre-millennium period piece and Joss Whedon’s post-millennium modern retelling (inspired by a wine-and-cheese reading party with friends) will turn anyone into a fan of Shakespeare.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Director, Tim Burton’s name alone should give away the tone of this movie, which is an adaptation of a young adult novel inspired by some odd vintage photos its author found at a flea market. It reminds me of Stephen King, not only because it’s a dark fantasy (Burton considers it “a scary Mary Poppins”); the author admits the movie version of his story is better. Screen writer, Jane Goldman tightened it with various character modifications/ amalgamations and plot elucidations.

Perhaps vaguely similar to the founder of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster or Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Miss Peregrine nurtures and protects a unique troop of children stuck in a time loop. They’re discovered by an unsuspecting young man on a research trip with his scientist, father. The beauty of this film is both in its minimal use of digital effects as well as in the infusion of subtle details, which are either foreshadowing, references to aforementioned history, or homages to Burton’s prior work, none of which distract from the plot or compromise its consistency.

Emma (1996)

Though many people understandably attribute pop culture classic, Clueless to this movie, both were inspired by the 1815 novel, “Emma” by Jane Austen. Many of its leads said this particular story gave them a greater appreciation for Ms. Austen’s work. In fact, the director of this version had his own plans to adapt it for a modern context, not realizing “Clueless” was already in the works. I’ve heard that the Jane Austen Society of North America (of which I am not a member) likely frown upon this adaptation. However, we the uncouth masses, enjoy how approachable it is. Simple and sweet with the right amount of drama, this film is delightful in every way. In my mind (interpret that literally), the 19th century version of the classy sophistication embodied by legends, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.