Haunted by Humans – The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Original Poster - from IMDB.com

The Book Thief – Original Poster – from IMDB.com

The Book Thief (2013)

Director: Brian Percival
Writers: Markus Zusak (novel), Michael Petroni (adaptation)
Stars:
 Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

I have been waiting and waiting for this film. It took me three gos to get into the book but once I did I fell in love with everything about it. It is now in my top five of favourite books and I was both excited and anxious about whether the movie would be anywhere as compelling. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is adopted into a German family just before the start of World War 2. She is inquisitive and quiet and strong. Her life is not easy, she has lost her brother and her mother and now finds herself in a strange home. She is intelligent but illiterate and so her Papa, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), teaches her to read and write. Liesel finds her home, her security, and her family in Hans and Rosa Hubermann. And the the war begins. A girl whose mother was a communist, who doesn’t understand why anyone would burn a book, and who holds a secret that can never be told, the Hubermann’s have a Jew in the basement. Max comes to them in the middle of the night, ill and seeking help. Hans has a debt to pay to Max and they give him refuge in their home. But they live in Nazi Germany. A secret this big, a war this loud, there is no escape from the sorrow and pain of  war. Except those small moments, when music, art, and stories are all that remain to keep hope in the air.

Brian Percival and Michael Petroni have brought Markus Zusak’s book alive in beautiful hues of light and darkness. This film ebbs and flows through the war with intent to give the audience the roller coaster of emotions. The stillness of sorrow juxtaposed with playfulness and laughter. This film made jolt from crying to laughter with the switch of a scene. Beautifully scored and directed, this film is the almost perfect representation of the book on screen.

4/5

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The unnecessary and the potential – The Wolverine

The Wolverine - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolverine – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback (screenplay), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

The Wolverine is the latest instalment for the X-Men film franchise. The Marvel comic book universe of X-Men has come alive on the screen over the last 13 years. There is always some issues in adapting a piece of literature to the screen, and especially so with comics as they come with a plethora of canon and decades of story lines intertwining. The X-Men movie franchise has been somewhat successful in creating its own world on the big screen. There are however issues with this latest instalment.

Wolverine (aka Logan, played by Hugh Jackman) is practically immortal. His immortality comes in handy every now and again but it is more of a burden and a curse than a blessing. The story begins with Wolverine saving a Japanese man in the Nagasaki blast in 1945. In the present day the man he saved, Yashida, is dying and requests that Logan comes to say his final farewells to him before he passes away. Logan travels to Japan to see the man but all is not as it seems. Yashida has been researching Mutants and in particular the adamantium metal that Logan has infused in his skeleton.

The story is interesting and moves along in a swift and compelling pace but it is how the story is formed that is troubling. The saying “sex sells” is put into action in The Wolverine. Jean Grey, Logan’s previous love interest, turns up in his dreams as his conscience, always lying in bed with Logan in a silky night dress. And then there is the granddaughter of Yashida, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who Logan saves from Japanese mobsters and then falls in love with as they escape from danger and work out how to stop the evil guys. If the story was more fully developed then these two love affairs, one in the past that Logan still holds on to and the new one he is trying to move on to, could have made more sense. But the lack of time spent and clarity of the underlying ideas behind these relationships was disappointing. Instead Wolverine comes out looking like he is only using Mariko to get over Jean. This, I am told by a dedicated fan of the comics, is not what it is meant to be. Yes, I understand that the relationship between Logan and Jean needed resolving but to throw Mariko into the picture without being clear on Logan’s emotional progression creates flaws in the fabric of this, otherwise good, comic book film.

There are some great female characters in Yukio and Viper, as well as Mariko. They provide some balance to the overload of male ninjas in the film and are spectacularly cast, especially with Rila Fukushima as Yukio and her execution of the line “I am you’re bodyguard” to Logan. Nice touch Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

All in all, The Wolverine is steady-footed film that helps progress Logan’s story to a place where X-Men: Days of Future Past (due out 2014) can really expand upon Logan/Wolverine’s role in the X-Men franchise.

3/5

The wonder of opulence, the sadness of greed. – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay) and Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based of the novel by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.

Who is Gatsby? The question that haunts and taunts throughout the novel and throughout Luhrmann’s film. Firstly, I have to admit that I love Fitzgerald’s writing but hate the story of Gatsby. It took me a long time to pick it back up after reading the first chapter and I struggled to get through it because I despised the characters, even Nick Carraway. Their selfishness, opulence, disregard for life and love, and use and abuse of the people around them made me sick. But that is what Fitzgerald intended to some degree. He slowly reveals our darkest secrets and shows us our reflection in each of the characters features and flaws. I was anxious going into the film. With Baz Luhrmann’s reputation for over the top theatrics and in your face metaphors it was hard not to be really, especially after watching the trailer for the film. And yet, from the moment the lights dimmed in the cinema and that title sequence began I knew it would all be okay.

The Great Gatsby is a film that transports you back to the mid-20s whilst keeping your feet firmly planted in 2013. The atmosphere, the light, the music, the sounds, everything screams at you with a haunting whisper of our reality. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is the ever hopeful and Carraway (Maguire) is the witness to the demise of hope and innocence. DiCaprio is brilliant. He shines so brightly and broods so grotesquely that there is rarely a moment that you can not believe that he is Gatsby. He is the lost soul who is trying to grasp something he never had a chance of possessing. Carey Mulligan is teamed with DiCaprio like the second side of his coin as the foolish Daisy Buchanan. Her flittering eyes, constantly on the verge of tears, and vacant looks convey the truth of Daisy.

But the man who really steals the film is Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist, bigoted, cheating husband. The slow brewing act of Tom is built throughout the film until the moment he takes Gatsby down in a small room of a hotel in New York. Edgerton’s performance is stunning. You are both repulsed by and drawn towards him like Daisy. You want to hate him but you know that in some small way that he is right about Gatsby, and you can’t fault him for that. Everything else, sure, he is a douchebag 100%, but he is right about Gatsby, and Joel Edgerton plays the balance remarkably.

The trailer to this film shows the opulence, the extravaganza, the pomp and ceremony of Gatsby, but what it fails to show is the great moments in between which make this film fantastic. It is the moments of slowness, the moments of Carraway’s reflections, the glimpses of Gatsby’s past, the brokenness of life in the world, and the calm before the storm that make this film great. Baz Luhrmann has managed to give life to Gatsby and Carraway’s friendship and to provide a film that shows both the wonder of opulence and the sadness of greed.

4/5

Perfect Portrayal – Hitchcock

Hitchcock - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Hitchcock – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Hitchcock (2012)

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson

I’ve never been able to sit and watch a thriller without getting scared out of my brains or laughing at how ridiculous it is. Alfred Hitchcock films are different though. I still remember watching North by Northwest as a young teen and not really understanding who made it or what it was meant to be, but it was in black and white so I was interested. It turned out I have a love/hate relationship with thrillers. I also studied Rope at university as part of a film studies class and from that moment onwards I was both enthralled and petrified of Hitchcock. So when my friend suggested we go see a movie about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho I wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but friends will make you do amazing things, and it was a very hot day…

I was blown away. Utterly and completely. Hitchcock is an incredible film about an incredible man. Strange and sometimes scary, Alfred Hitchcock – portrayed perfectly by Anthony Hopkins – is a man who needs to be in charge and who needs to be engaged with a project. The thing that is terrifyingly brilliant about this film is how Hopkins brings Hitch so much to life that you feel like you are watching the man himself. It’s not just the mannerisms or speech, it’s his air and the delivery of every second of every scene. And with Helen Mirren by his side as Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife and script editor/writer, the world of Psycho is lived out on screen for the audience. The perversity of Hitch’s obsession of his lead ladies and his want of control over their lives is very evident but done in such a way that you are both repulsed by him and pity him at the same time, but above all you come out with an admiration for a broken but brilliant man who was and still is the master of suspense.

Special mention needs to go to Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman) who held the supporting actor roles with such integrity that the film would not have been as convincing without them.

4/5

Icky and Delightful – What To Expect When You’re Expecting

What To Expect When You're Expecting - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Official Poster – from IMDB.com

What To Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

Director: Kirk Jones
Writers: Shauna Cross (screenplay), Heather Hach (screenplay), and Heidi Murkoff (books)
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Matthew Morrison and J. Todd Smith

Pregnancy is one of those both wonderful and icky topics of life. It is wonderful because it means new life has been created, but icky because when you think about it, it means you’re parents have had sex, probably a lot of it too. And that thought is just well, disturbing for most. But when the movies portray pregnancy as just the simply wonderful then you miss the icky. This film shows the diversity of people’s experiences in pregnancy. It shows the ups and downs of having a baby and the ways you can get pregnant or have a kid. The best thing about this film though is Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, 30 Rock). She is the thing that makes this film work for me. Of course the wonderful different stories intertwining are great and the stories from miscarriage to adoption to twins is delightful but Banks portrayal of a pregnant woman is exactly what I expect myself to be like when/if I have kids, except probably with a little more crazy. She plays the part of a struggling pregnant woman so well and I love it. Yes pregnancy isn’t always a struggle but it’s nice to see someone fall apart and for it to be okay. There are just so many moments when I belly laughed at one liners between Banks’ character Wendy and her shop assistant Janice (Rebel Wilson). There is something honest and real about the crazy world of pregnancy that Wendy lives in that is truly humourous.

The other part of this film that really shone out was the Dad’s group. The slo-mo entrance of the dad’s at the beginning and end made me laugh so much, mainly just because of the kid, Jordan, who was just adorable and slightly bizarre. It made me want to be a dad but it also made sense to me to see these dad’s complain about every little annoyance when they are with the guys because where else can they do that kind of thing but the reality is that they love their kids more than anything and there is a real beauty and honour in that simple fact. Yes dad’s get all the crap thrown at them because the woman pushed the kid out of their body, and yes they probably should take the crap, but they are also very much in their own rights to have a safe space where they can do what the women do when they get together: bitch and whine about how annoying their kids are. Of course this is what I imagine happens when mothers get together but please correct me if I’ve been lead to believe.

The humour, the love, the bellies, and the sweet moments of this film made me really smile at the end. It was a really enjoyable and fun movie to watch. It’s not the greatest film ever made, and it’s not the best romantic comedy out there but it is fun and funny and it’s a great film to see with some friends.

A Fandom I Happily Joined – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Hunger Games – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Hunger Games (2012)

Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (screenplay), Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

I have to confess before I start that I am a huge fan of the Hunger Games books and so I had quite high expectations of the film but I was also always going to love the film because I am a fan. Hunger Games has been the first film craze that I’ve actually jumped on the band wagon with. I missed the Harry Potter fan phase and didn’t even attempt to get into Twilight because vampires creep me out. Hunger Games though I started reading before I knew there was going to be a film and I fell completely in love with the books and the characters. It is my favourite style of book, dystopian young adult fiction with a strong female lead who is seriously flawed, it appeals to me in so many ways. I was pumped for this film and also really nervous because I wasn’t sure whether my expectations would be crushed.

There is always that nervousness when filmmakers take a book and make it into a film that it may be adapted too freely and won’t be true to the story but for a book that is narrated by the main character and a female that is so withdrawn into her own world, The Hunger Games really lives up to expectations. I was drawn in from the very beginning by Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss and the environment that they show for District 12. There is something beautifully tragic about the district that unravels as Prim is chosen for the games and Katniss volunteers. The eeriness of the crowd and their response to her volunteering, the abruptness of Effie’s selection of Peeta. My favourite thing about The Hunger Games, apart from Lawrence’s faithfulness to Katniss, was the soundscape and music. It surprised me how well the music fit with the scenes. The costuming, the landscapes, the evil career tributes and the beauty of Rue were other highlights for me. There was of course bits that were disappointing for a fan of the books, but there will always be with the adaptation of book to film. If you haven’t read the books then there are parts that aren’t as terrifying as they are in the books but the way they create the gamemakers headquarters is brilliant and I completely fell in love with Seneca Crane even though he was evil. The Hunger Games is one of those teen franchises but unlike Twilight, there are strong characters to be looked up to, deep subject matter to be considered and questions of morality and right versus wrong that need asking of our own society and culture.

The Hunger Games is a goo action adventure film all on its own and I would definitely recommend you see it. There are moments in the film which I wish were longer – the kiss in the cave was seriously underwhelming – and characters I wish we saw more of – Haymitch and Cinna – but it is the kind of film that I will watch over and over again and will find something new to appreciate each time. I just can’t wait to own it on DVD and watch all the extras like a good little fangirl.