There is something magical about the right kind of story. As a child I was drawn into other worlds for days on end, reading all I could get my hands on. The wonders we find in those pages that can transport us away from the harsh reality in which we live. “The Book Thief” captures this child-like wonder beautifully. Sadly, the film is not all lighthearted fun. The story shows some of the darkness of Nazi Germany and the horrors of war. John Williams’ beautiful music helps highlight the beauty and awe present. The lush melodies transport us away from the horrors even if only for a few moments. In the same way, the smiles Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) displays when reading a book help us escape with her from this dark world where books are burned and Jews hunted and killed.
The title here alludes to how Liesel borrows books from a wealthy neighbor in order to find something to read in a town where most of her neighbors’ parents are illiterate and many books have been burned. In a poignant scene early in the film we watch as Liesel’s adopted father admits to her that he is not so good at reading and that they shall have to help each other on this journey. The value of literacy and the power it brings becomes clear early on and continues to run as a theme throughout. I found it beautiful to watch the childish adventures Liesel embarks on with her friend Rudy, as they laugh and explore the world together. They each provide convincing performances signifying their acting talents.
Some might find it a bit overwhelming to watch another movie about Nazi Germany, especially one that highlights the brutality it brought. I’ve concluded that it was necessary to include such scenes in the film because it helps drive home how essential books were to Liesel and the other characters in the book. At one point later in the film, Rudy catches Liesel stealing a book and asks her why she would steal a book when people are starving. Why not steal some food? He asks. At this point it becomes clear that to her there are more important things than simply surviving. She needs to experience the worlds inside books in order to truly live. In an age where I can have access to hundreds of books on a Kindle it is easy to forget just how valuable a book is. If you can sit through some of the darker sections that accompany Liesel on her journey you will share her wonder as she escapes into books one by one.
The history of slavery in this country is a grim one and a movie chronicling the lives of them is inevitably going to be hard to watch. Steve McQueen succeeded crafting “12 Years a Slave” because it is not easy to watch. It follows the true story of a free black man named Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Eliofor) living in New York who was sold into slavery and treated like any other slave and his fight for freedom. He moves between plantations owned by Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). He also has some short encounters with a mean overseer named Tibbits (Paul Danno) and a strange abolitionist (Brad Pitt).
This is a fantastic breakout role for Eliofor. The film relies on him to carry the day and he does so handily. Fassbender is menacing in one of his darkest roles to date. It was refreshing to see Cumberbatch in a role different than what he has been in lately. Though Danno and Pitt both have small roles to play, they do a fine job as well. Musically speaking Hans Zimmer provides a different score than one might expect to hear. The music ranges from some of his darkest material yet to some of his most minimalist and emotional. It fits the film nicely though at times I felt it could have used more music.
The film is expertly written, with a script that is refreshing in its wit and sophistication. The cinematography is solid though some shots are a bit too close and others too long. I appreciate long shots when done right but some lingered much longer than seemed necessary. “12 Years a Slave” is a powerful film worth experiencing for those who can watch without turning away. It is a necessary reminder about a past that is rarely portrayed as brutally as it was.
With all the talk about boycotting this film I feel it is necessary to address some concerns from the outset. Some suggested that anyone who supports gay rights should avoid the film because Orson Scott Card, the author of the original novel, said some seriously offensive things about gay people. Then again, he is an old Mormon and a member of a church that still holds beliefs about gay people that I find offensive. If that is enough for you to pass on the film or the book that is your choice. I prefer to judge entertainment for the quality of the finished product, not the views of the creators. In the book and to a lesser extent in the film there are some positive themes that I think outweigh any problems with the author. Lionsgate has also said that Card had no involvement with the creation of the film. Beyond the initial money from the sale of the rights and any profits from additional book sales, the sales of tickets won’t give more money to Card.
Unlike most reviews, I listened to the audiobook of the source material close to the release of the film. So there will be some spoilers in this review of both the plot of the film and plot elements left out from the book.
“Ender’s Game” moves at a quick pace as it blazes through the plot and yet barely makes it under two hours. Though the book describes multiple battles Ender fights with each team in battle school, we only see a small number of fights on screen. The same can be said for the battles at command school. Though I will expand later on certain plot elements I was sad to see left out, I think the writers did a solid job packing in everything truly important and retaining the essence of the story. The big moral questions behind it still come forward at the end and the characters still develop and mature, even if it does feel a bit rushed.
Steve Jablonsky wrote a fairly typical epic score with synth elements that never gives us a solid theme or elevates the film beyond what is on screen. I expect most people would have a hard time distinguishing the music from similar recent film scores other than most of the ones it mimics have at least some originality. Despite its flaws, the music serves its purpose of telling the audience that they are about to watch something epic and there are some interesting musical ideas for the enemy.
The two biggest draws for the film are Asa Butterfield (Ender) and Harrison Ford (Colonel Graff) Butterfield makes a fantastic Ender and truly shines throughout the film. He is quite convincing as the cold, calculating battle commander. Harrison Ford does a good job as well though it isn’t particularly noteworthy. The supporting cast isn’t given much time on screen but they are good as well.
So what exactly is missing from the film? One of my favorite parts of the book was when Valentine and Peter (Ender’s siblings) become involved in the big political debates of the time, arguing over the role the Hegemon should have in the world and in the universe. We see Peter briefly at the beginning and Valentine is only seen slightly more. The relationships Ender develops with his squad is also seriously cut short. The strength of their bond is implied well enough but I would have liked to have seen it fleshed out more on screen. We also miss out on a lot of Ender’s battles with Dragon army. While in the book he engages in battle after battle, gradually increasing in difficulty, here we get one battle with Dragon army.
I recognize studio’s reluctance to make a film longer than 2 hours, especially with something as unproven as Ender’s Game, but it could have been a much more thought-provoking film if some of these ideas had somehow been added in. If you want some quick thrills, the film is a serviceable adaptation. If you want to enjoy a more intellectual take on the story, go read the novel, or listen to the audiobook. I doubt the executives will add in any of the politics in any future films so the only way to enjoy it is in the book.
In an early scene in the film, we watch as a cheetah chases down a jackrabbit in the desert. This serves as a foretaste of what is to come. To me the cheetah represents the character played by Cameron Diaz. She is so graceful and yet so powerful at the same time. Cormac McCarthy wrote a number of dark novels. Film buffs are likely familiar with the 2007 film “No Country For Old Men” . It blew viewers away when it came out with its uncompromising look at the dark side of humanity. “The Counselor” is similarly dark and yet more poetic in its cinematography, writing, and pacing.
Besides Cameron Diaz, the film has a number of well known actors and actresses who might independently draw viewers. Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, and Penelope Cruz are joined by Natalie Dormer to round things off. Each delivers a performance worthy of praise. Add to that the amazing cinematography, pacing, and writing and the film is nearly a masterpiece.
Daniel Pemberton wrote a solid atmospheric score that is used sparingly and fits the film perfectly. The music enhances the tension and always matches the mood. I should note that there are a few violent deaths and sex scenes that might shock the sensitive though the violence is largely restrained and tasteful compared to the excessive gore we see far too often. If you enjoyed other films based on books by Carmack McCarthy, you won’t want to miss “The Counselor” in theaters. It has a certain tension that you can feel from the start and never lets go.
I wasn’t very excited when “World War Z” came out. I wasn’t exactly sure why anyone should care about Brad Pitt’s character, or why the focus should be on him in the narrative. Once I started listening to the audiobook I started to recognize why people were complaining that the film was a complete departure from the book. I realize that the book is quite difficult to make into a film because of the perspectives through which we are exposed to The Zombie War. The book presents the story from the perspective of many different people around the world. It explains how different countries reacted to first the news of a zombie outbreak and then the attacks. Though I haven’t finished listening to the book yet I would suggest that anyone who enjoyed this film go read or listen to it. Sadly, the intellectual approach to the story that so engrossed me in the book did not come through in the film. In order to present the fast pace Studios believe modern audiences require, the story turns into a typical globe-trotting thriller. Perhaps the studios will redeem themselves in future films, but I am not getting my hopes up.
After a thrilling opening sequence, Brad Pitt’s character sets off on his own to search the world for some answers. There are plenty of well-shot zombie attacks and some particularly engaging segments in Israel. However, the film didn’t have an overarching narrative to hold it together. Part of the problem was I didn’t really care about Brad Pitt’s character or find it very believable that he was some experienced UN guy who had some unique abilities to do what he was doing. There were some typical zombie tropes that I was glad to see absent here. Most importantly, I was glad that we didn’t follow some random group of people who didn’t like each other and spend the whole film arguing like children (as you see in pretty much every major zombie film, and the film I will review next that is not a zombie film but close enough).
Musically, the film’s horror aesthetic is enhanced by a powerfully dark orchestral score by Marco Beltrami. The music doesn’t have any core themes but always manages to establish the immediacy of the zombie threat without resorting to synthesizers or electric guitar. “World War Z” provides some solid zombie action in a way that avoids many of the typical problems with the genre. Sadly, it has problems of its own that kept me from enjoying it fully. While the movie isn’t a complete waste of your time, I suggest reading the book instead, or getting the audiobook to listen to on your commute.
Some may say this is a pointless remake. This may be because of some affinity for the original version that is so strong it doesn’t seem possible to do any better. While I appreciate the original was well done and has garnered quite a following over time, I can’t think of a single movie that I would say should never be re-made. This review will judge the “Carrie” remake for how well it succeeds as a film compared to other films released in the same year, without any comparison to the original. It seems that is all other critics want to do, something I am not particularly interested in.
To make a successful film version of “Carrie,” it is important to have talented actresses for both Carrie and her mother. In this regard, the casting was a resounding success. I would probably have gone to see this film solely to see Chloe Grace Moretz play Carrie because she is a fantastic actress. Thankfully, Julianne Moore is fantastic as Carrie’s mother and many of the lesser-known supporting actors do a fine job as well.
Marco Beltrami is known for his numerous horror scores and he does not disappoint in “Carrie.” Sadly the music was mixed pretty low for the most part but it was always effective and fitting. The music captures the emotions under the film well. Kimberly Peirce does a fantastic job directing “Carrie,” and gives the film a modern feel in many ways. Though some might be able to enjoy the original for all the complexity it brings, others will appreciate a fresh look at this powerful story.
“Carrie” succeeds at giving the story a modern feel, while still remaining true to the characters involved. If you are considering checking out this new version of “Carrie,” it is worth watching for Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore alone. They capture the audience’s attention every time they appear on screen. If you are open to a fresh interpretation of “Carrie,” you will find a lot to enjoy with this version.
I didn’t go see “Insidious” in theaters because of a lot of negative reviews. I watched it when it showed up on Netflix streaming and really enjoyed it. I was surprised when they announced “Insidious 2″ because horror sequels typically suck and I didn’t think there was a lot of story left to tell from the first. Early in “Insidious 2″ it becomes clear that there is a lot left to learn about the story from “Insidious.” The things we saw in “Insidious” were just a taste of what James Wan has in store for audiences in “Insidious 2.”
The plot once again involves spirits of the dead interacting with the living. The family from the first film is back and things aren’t as normal as everyone thought they would be. The experts are called in again to investigate. With the experts’ help, we learn the identity of the woman shown briefly at the end “Insidious” and explore a darker world. The film wraps up nicely by the end,
Joseph Bishara returned to compose music for “Insidious 2.” The music retains much of its sinister feel, with sharp violins that almost sound like they are screaming. I am not familiar enough with the music from “Insidious” to say if there are many new elements in the music but the music is just as powerful and unsettling as before.
If you enjoyed the otherworldly adventure at the end of “Insidious” you will be in for a treat with “Insidious 2.” While “Insidious” spends a lot of time building towards its climax, “Insidious 2″ jumps into things much earlier, giving you a more in-depth look at the spirits. It is rare that a horror sequel is good and even more rare that it is as fantastic as “Insidious 2.” Horror fans should not miss this one.