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By Sandra Olmsted
Director Roger Donaldson’s The November Man closely follows the formula cold-war-era spy thriller, which will be new to younger audiences and familiar to older ones.
Coaxed out of retirement by his old boss, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) (a.k.a. The November Man) embarks on a mission to rescue Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), a CIA agent undercover and working for Russian politician Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who has a secret in his past that she has uncovered. Whoever controls the secret controls Federov, likely the next president of Russia, and the CIA wants that control.
by Sandra Olmsted As disaster films go, director Steven Quale’s Into the Storms delivers all those films promise: huge, exciting special effects and a human face on hope for survival against bigger-than-life, unstoppable disaster. Like other tornado disaster films since Twister popularized storm chasing, Into the Storm has a team of them. Head storm chaser Pete (Matt Walsh) wishes he hadn’t hired weather expert Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) because she keeps missing the storms, and he needs to get a tornado on film or loose his funding. His support team consists of experienced driver Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) and nervous camera operator Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), who wishes he was on a bench with a drink in his hand. Although she really wants to get home for her five-year-old daughter’s birthday, Allison sends the team toward Silverton and an ominous looking weather formation on the radar.
The Giver: Taken Away
by Sandra Olmsted
After nearly twenty years, director and star Jeff Bridges has finally succeeded in his struggle to get a film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver to the big screen. Jeff Bridges optioned the film in 1995, one year after Lois Lowry’s novel won the Newbery Medal, and he originally intended to cast his father, Lloyd Bridges (1913–1998), in the title role of the Giver. Now Bridges has taken the role of the shamanic sage for himself. The Giver keeps the memories of mankind’s violence, hate, joy, and love so that the community can live happily in a peaceful, drugged harmony without the problems created by passion, jealousy, etc. When the Giver must train a new Receiver of Memories, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), they begins under a cloud of a passed failure in the training of another Receiver, Rosemary (Taylor Swift), ten years earlier. The Giver opens with eighteen-year-old best friends, Jonas, Fiona (Odeya Rush.) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) heading to the last day of “high school” and wondering what careers that they will be assigned at an upcoming ceremony marking the end of their childhood. While Fiona graduates to Nurturer, like Jonas’ father (Alexander Skarsgard), Asher, the class clown, matriculates to Drone Pilot because he needs discipline. Assigned to be the Receiver of Memories, the most important job in the community, Jonas quickly learns he has permission to ask questions, even rude ones, and to lie, which is forbidden the rest of the citizens, and he never has to apologize, which the citizens do constantly. Meanwhile, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) keeps a watchful eye on The Giver and on Jonas as he progresses and breaks a few minor rules. Jonas’ mother (Katie Holmes), a rule-obsessed judge, and little sister Lilly (Emma Tremblay) complete Jonas’ family unit until dad brings home Gabe, a baby whose lack of development may mean he will be released to Elsewhere. Jonas quickly becomes attached to Gabe and begins showing him the joyful and beautiful images the Giver initially shares with Jonas in order to quell Gabe’s colic. Lilly occasionally overhears what Jonas says to Gabe, but can’t share the memories the way the Giver, Jonas, or Gabe can. When Jonas learns that release and being sent Elsewhere doesn’t mean going to live in a neighboring community, he decides to take action and try to breech the boundary of memory. The Giver encourages and helps Jonas in his quest because, if Jonas can get passed the boundary, the citizens will be released from their drugged complacency. Their black-and-white world and their emotionally flat lives will be changed forever, but only if Fiona and Asher also assist Jonas. While Bridges’ The Giver being shot in black and white harkens back to a similar theme in the film Pleasantville (1998) in look and theme, Lowry’s The Giver also draws on other work with philosophical underpinnings. Although certainly not a new idea even though it was published some six years before The Matrix was made, The Giver draws from the work of Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1973 “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984. Similar to Lowry’s novel where one person suffers the horrors of remembering the love and pain of being human, Le Guin’s short story focuses on one child suffering all the horrors of poverty so that the “utopian” society will have prosperity. The rigid control of birth and nurturing that Huxley explored echoes in the way children are treated in Lowry’s story, and Lowry’s The Giver also shares Orwell’s depiction of totalitarian mind control to achieve “peaceful utopia” and of one man challenging that control. Philosophical fiction challenges filmmakers to capture not only the message of the work but also the thrill of the struggle against dystopian control. While the film The Giver has moments of suspense and excitement, it can’t really be classified as a thriller, perhaps because it gets bogged down in the love story between Jonas and Fiona. A capitulation to the desire to draw the teen audience, the teen love story, however, doesn’t overwhelm the story or resort to trite teen angst. While not a thrill a minute, this loose adaptation of The Giver may encourage new readers of Lowry’s fiction but may displease existing fans of the book because of the many change. Release by The Weinstein Company, The Giver is rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence and runs 94 minutes. The Giver is in theaters now.
By Sandra Olmsted
Can a man who relies on reason really live without some sort of magic in his life, be that magic a belief in God, a spiritual wonder that some things can’t be explained, or real love for the first time? In Magic in the Moonlight, writer/director Woody Allen explores the need for a little “magic” in one’s life through the story of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who is a renowned magician and debunker of fraudulent mediums, and Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a preternatural medium, who might be the real thing.
Boyhood: Cumulative Effect
by Sandra Olmsted
Growing up is the cumulative effect of natural, health body processes and the experience the world writes on an individual, and that’s what writer/director Richard Linklater captures in his experiment in filmmaking, Boyhood. Filmed over 12 years, but, reportedly, for a low-budget-esque total of 39 days, Boyhood uses the same actors and actresses for the family at the center of the story and, thus, becomes a fascinating chronicle of aging and maturing, not just of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the title character in the film, but his entire family. Mason has a slightly older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who is both a sisterly confidant and tormentor while maturing along side Mason, and, with a slightly different edit, the film could have been called Girlhood just as easily. Their divorced parents, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), married young and for the wrong reasons, leaving mom with two kids, an absent ex-husband, and few prospects as the film opens. She soon decides to move the kids closer to her grandmother (Libby Villari) and a college she will attend. Apparently, dad hasn’t been providing much child support, emotionally or financially.
Get On Up, story of James Brown by Sandra Olmsted Director Tate Taylor delicately traces both the sources of James Brown’s musical influences and the reasons for his often erratic behavior, and, so that he could emphasize the reasons, causes, and sources of Brown’s failures and successes, Taylor wisely choose not to tell Brown’s story in chronological style. Although Taylor plays fast and loose with the facts of Brown’s childhood and difficult family life, he does present a theories about the emotional elements and long reaching ramifications, both good and bad, for Brown’s lonely, insecure childhood, his parents’ absences, and his musical experiences.« Previous Entries Next Entries »