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Mary Reilly (1996)
Faithful Adaptation of Another Faithful Adaptation
I read the book years ago, but seeing the film, nothing stood out as glaringly different. What both pieces manage to do, while inserting the Roberts character, is keep true to the feel and events of the original Stevenson novel. In fact, it manages to do this better than any adaptation on film or stage. Everything from event, to described layout for Jekyll's home and laboratory, to the various locations throughout London are presented in vivid detail on screen. That is an amazing thing for any film adaptation to do.
Roberts gets points for stepping into the role of Mary Reilly, thereby making this film the only movie in which Julia Roberts doesn't play Julia Roberts. It's definitely unusual to see her as a character so introverted, in a position where, while she sees almost everything going on, she must deal with her own disbelief and her station, which demands she not say or do anything about it.
This was actually my first Malkovich film, and that is really a credit to him. His versatile portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde leaves him both endearing and terrifying at the same time.
Glenn Close is also a treat as Ms. Farraday.
Definitely worth a watch if you're a fan of the original Stevenson novel.
Tries for Complexity but Misses the Mark
I've seen very few TCM films that were good. This is actually the first one I ever saw, though, as the choice film for a Halloween party many years ago, randomly picked by a gaggle of middle-school girls. Because of this I tend to compare; I'll watch and dislike another TCM and go "Hm. The Next Generation was funnier". Which is really one of the only defenses it has.
I'm not even completely certain this film takes place IN Texas like the other ones. The locale is obviously different (while there are some wooded areas in the original, location has always been key, and this place doesn't resemble the original in any way, shape or form; I would actually place this film further northeast).
Rewatching it several times and paying close attention, it seems to me that rather than this be the same family (or even one or two members of the returning family, plus some new ones), it's an entirely new one, in a different place. There's no real proof that these people show cannibalistic tendencies like in the first ones (the only thing you see them eat in this movie is pizza. And as the latest film, The Beginning, would suggest, they have alternative sources of food which the originals did not have.) The most I could make out of the conspiracy bit was that someone found a decent smattering of weirdos, threw them in a house together, and basically set this whole situation up to be a copycat of the old 70s murders -- more or less to keep the legend alive. (This is further validated by the fact that when the "leader" of this charade, after saving Zellweger's character and driving off with her, offers to drop her off at either a hospital or a police station, encouraging her to pass the word along.) With this in mind, I have no qualms with Leatherface showing up in a dress. Why? Because it's obviously not the same one.
With that out of the way, seeing this and knowing who figures like Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey are really adds this almost surreal quality to the whole experience. McGonaughey (Vilmer) is positively terrifying at times, and considering his lightning-fast mood-swings, and his constant and aimless acts of violence (even against himself), one has to wonder just what it is that he suffers from mentally. This attitude is likely what got him picked as the leader of this group to begin with, however.
Zellweger (Jenny) is almost unrecognizable at the beginning of this film, and the transformation that is attempted for her character almost works. Almost. If there'd been more background given to her, the change from shy geek to toughened victim of circumstance (a transformation that is key in most survival films) would have flown more believably. I have to say I always laugh at loud, though, when she announces she's leaving, and that nobody follows her. Leatherface starts to scream and fly into a rage, to which she responds "And YOU sit the **** back down!" ...And it works.
Funniest horror movie moment, EVER.
Short of Darla, Vilmer's girlfriend, all women in this film appear to have a serious problem with running upstairs when they should be going out the door. Zellweger does this twice, in fact. The other main female in the film, Heather, seems to be played up as a parody of all dumb bimbo chicks in movies. She is rude, whiny, badly acted, and constantly talking like she's psychic, but it's played with all the panache of a petulant five year-old.
All in all, watch it for the laughs, and to see what Zellweger and McConaughey were doing in their early years.
Moll Flanders (1996)
Loose Adaptation of the Book Works its Own Magic
This film, though nothing like the Daniel Defoe novel, was remarkably good. The tale begins with Flora, an orphan removed from her home in a convent in Europe, who is told that she is being taken to the Americas to become the ward of one Mrs. Allworthy, who is credited to have been the woman her mother served. Mrs. Allworthy's manservant and confidant, Hibble, is the one who is to both bear her to his employer, and also to read to Flora the diary of her mother, Moll Flanders, to explain her life to her.
Robin Wright shines as the lost and ever soul-searching innocent Moll Flanders, who despite making many wrong choices in life seems to find her way to kind places again and again. Her unconditionally loving future husband, credited "The Artist" on screen but listed as John Fielding on this site, is played by John Lynch. Stockard Channing is Mrs. Allworthy, who we come to discover is the owner of a Bordello and is a manipulative woman who can sway any man into her power. Lastly, Morgan Freeman plays the part of gentle and world-wisened Hibble, and I think this is one of his best roles, as he interacts so swimmingly with Robin on camera.
The movie is rated PG-13 for sexual situations, nudity and some violence. Despite the subject matter, the film charms the soul. I recommend lovers of Gothic literature to read it, and for people who love the book to give this story a chance as a separate entity.
One of the Best Literary Adaptations I've Seen in Years
**MILD SPOILERS** This film does not follow the books word for word, which is impossible to do. It comes amazingly close, however, and the scenes reserved for the events of each of the three books featured are staged with the greatest of faithfulness to the original text. Additions to the film include some strong exposition for the Baudelaire Orphan's family and the intrigue to come. The ordering was changed for the sake of melding the three books seamlessly. The ending for book one is moved to the end of the film, which I have no complaints for, seeing as how book one's ending seemed the most complete and the most thrilling.
What I appreciated most about this film was its strict attentiveness to NOT changing certain aspects of the books that might be considered unsavory in most cases: for instance, I thought the moment where Count Olaf struck Klaus in a fit of anger would surely be cut from the movie -- it's Nikelodeon, after all (and it is also removed in the PS2 version of the video game -- he just throws food). This is not so. The darker scenes of the books still exist and are portrayed in a manner which fits Snicket's narration oh so delightfully.
As for the actors: Nothing but praise, especially for Jim Carey, in a role that he was made to play (and for once his characteristic energy and ham did not make me wince for even a second). The character he has taken here is that of a hokey, but still cunning and resourceful actor. The perfect role for him, I'd say. His characacture (sp?). This is what Jim Carey would be had he just a little less talent, 2 pints more corn, and a subtly concealed bloodlust. Beautiful performance. The children are brilliant, the two portraying Violet and Klaus play off of one another beautifully, and Sunny was a joy to watch (and read!) and most certainly got as many laughs as Count Olaf.
This is not just a kid's movie, as some humor will be better appreciated by adults, and some of the darker scenes and subtleties may be better understood as well. There are one or two shocks that may make your younger kids jump (I took my six year old niece with me to see it, and she jumped and hid once or twice), but all in all it is a treat for all ages. I intend to see it again as soon as time will allow me.