The Book Thief should be a much better movie than it turns out to be.
All the ingredients for an epic are in place, from a compelling story based on the best-selling book by Makus Zusak, to Academy Award winning actors, to on location shooting in Germany, adding to the film’s authenticity.
However, the end result of what seems like an overly long 131 minutes is a muddled re-make and re-run of exhausted themes we seen many times before, set against the backdrop of the horrors of World War II. More simply put, this is “Holocaust Lite.”
A little girl (played by Sophie Nelisse) is adopted by a working-class German family during the late 1930s. The adoptive parents are played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. This is a coming of age story, with an 800-pound gorilla about to enter the picture. Of course, that’s the war, which is about to turn a blissful childhood completely upside down.
War seen through the eyes of children can be a powerful vehicle, as we’ve seen many times before. From Life is Beautiful to The Boy the in Striped Pajamas, the violation of innocence is a universally powerful concept, worthy of empathy. But it just doesn’t work here, as the angelic child fails to move us to the point of caring much what happens.
The major reason why this film fails is in its Disney-infused treatment of the war. Despite the constant terror, the bombings, and death all around, we know nothing too graphic is going to be shown. The conflict becomes insular. Sorry, that’s not the way it is.
Moreover, the treatment of Nazism becomes almost comic book. Everything in the small town is plastered with red flags and giant swastikas, constantly reminding us of the evil of this regime. If the Germans really spent so much time and so many resources putting up as many brand new flags as we see in this movie, it’s no wonder they lost the war. Realism is lost with unnecessary exaggeration.
The performances are fine, but no one really stands out. The marvelous Geoffrey Rush has very quietly become an actor to watch in just about every project he attaches himself to, but this is far from his best work. It’s not his fault, really. The milquetoast script hardly gives him a chance to Shine.
The movie does contain some nice moments, and a few surprising plot twists. Most compelling is the narration, which guides us to a destination unknown. Unfortunately, I felt the script and dialogue could have used a bit more polishing. It’s as though the movie went into production with a rough first draft and then the editor viewed the footage and walked off the job. In short, parts of the story are a mess. Characters wander in and out of the story, and we never seem to really know much about them.
True to it’s name, The Book Thief feels like a total rip off. There’s a good story and a wonderful movie somewhere within the pages, but this isn’t it.
The subject of adoption is sure to be a hot button issue — especially for those who have either been adopted, given up a child for adoption, or parents who have adopted.
Indeed, the rights and responsibilities of bloodlines can’t be addressed with a single approach. There are no easy answers when it comes to the complex web of those separated and wishing to reconnect.
However, there are rights and wrongs when it comes to how adoptions have occurred in the past, particularly when carried out under the auspices of morality. Sadly, gross institutional injustices have kept real people apart for decades. Harrowing moral judgments held against mothers and children have caused immeasurable pain. Naturally, at the center of all this misery is the Catholic Church, once again.
Philomena is based on a book about a woman named Philomena Lee. It’s the true story of an Irish Catholic girl who grows up in England, who becomes pregnant after a short teen romance, and is forced against her will to move into a religious convent in order to avoid the terrible “shame” of bearing an out-of-wedlock child. The film’s director is Stephen Frears, best known for The Queen.
The title character is played by the marvelous Judi Dench, consistently brilliant is just about every performance, and this role is no exception. Showing range we haven’t seen from her before, Dench softens her usual tough and smart typecast for a much softer and more pedestrian character, utterly believable given the very real story of this teen girl who was forced to give away her child due to the grotesque moral judgments of English society during the 1950s.
Flash forward to the present. Haunted by memories of what happened at the convent, and curious about the fate of the child she lost some 50 years earlier, Philomena enlists the help of a down-on-his-luck journalist who’s in search of a good story. Steve Coogen finds that compelling narrative in Philomena’s tale of heartache and longing to reunite. And so, her journey to find her long lost child, now presumably living somewhere as an adult, begins.
The search takes both of the central characters across the Atlantic to Washington, D.C. where, after some painstaking investigation and a bit of luck, we learn what did become of the child given up involuntarily so long ago. We’ll leave it at that and move on so as not to ruin the surprise.
But the final mystery and ultimate conflict rests with the convent and Catholic Church, which essentially lied to everyone involved and exploited a difficult situation for maximum gain. Once again, this is based on a true story, which does grant the filmmakers an extra dose of heavy-handedness towards those who sinned.
Unfortunately, what could have been a wonderful mystery with a surprise twist in the end gets completely derailed by the film’s advance mixed marketing. Philomena is advertised as a light comedy-drama. However, this is very much a sad (and disturbing) movie from start to finish. A few giggles at the awkward interplay between Dench and Coogen (in the previews) in a few scenes hardly justifies the obvious attempt to draw in more viewers by making it appear this is a lighthearted film. It’s not. Rather, it’s filled with tear-jerking moments a conclusion warranting serious backlash. Perhaps even a criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit.
Philomena gets an “above average” grade from me, primarily for successfully capturing the raw emotion of a mother seeking her child, and Dench’s convincing ability to deliver on that premise. Nonetheless, some of the latent political and religious messaging is grossly overplayed in this film and is utterly unnecessary. We really don’t need the Weinstein Studio preaching the liberal gospel to us in every single film it bankrolls, and that opinion comes from me — one of liberalism’s staunchest disciples.
Were there no other film to adopt, then I’d take Philomena. But during a busy season of movie releases filled with some captivating titles, there are far too many more interesting and compelling film options to stand in line for this movie, which should be long gone from theaters by Christmastime.
All Is Lost is a one-man show.
Taking minimalism to the extreme, the entire 100-minute film consists of a lone actor, a few scripted lines, on a single location.
Such a no-frills approach could and should make for a compelling story and watchable movie. But the end result of writer-director J.C. Chandor’s (Margin Call) second major motion picture ends up as a pointless film that — like the life raft aimlessly adrift at sea — goes nowhere.
Robert Redford gives an admirable effort as a yachtsman-adventurer who’s sailing around the world in what’s presumed to be the twilight of his life. Now 77, Redford looks and plays this role effortlessly. He’s an amateur seaman who gets in way over his head when his boat suddenly strikes an object in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and begins taking on sea water.
Even though we all know what’s going to happen (two words – abandon ship!), watching Redford’s every reaction to the mounting crisis is mesmerizing. The drama here is intentionally low key, building to a frightful climax, which is Redford in a life raft drifting across the Pacific Ocean.
Two things keep us connected in the story. First, the excruciating details of every element of survival makes for constant intrigue. As we watch, we also wonder — “what would I do if that happened to me?” Second, and more important, we want to know what will eventually happen to Redford. Will he survive? If so, how will his life be saved?
The trouble is — there’s not much here that’s revealing. Not about life. Not about danger. Not about the very distinct possibility of death. It’s a movie devoid of a message. As a wannabe adventurer bit by the bug of wunderlust who decides to circumnavigate the globe, Redford squarely put himself in this predicament, and happened to get unlucky by having a maritime accident. Too bad for him he’s stuck drifting across the ocean, 1,500 miles away from the nearest sight of land. Sure, there’s a curious fascination we all have with the survival instinct, like ways to capture clean drinking water. Or, how to stay afloat in a tiny raft during a terrible storm. Or, how to navigate the open seas only by using the sun and stars. But National Geographic can give us those details in an 8-page article. In a movie, we want and need more.
Unfortunately, All Is Lost provides nothing more than some mindless adventure which just so happens to be watchable for the duration because it includes what’s likely one of the last performances of a movie legend.
If there’s anything remotely interesting beyond watching Redford and the science of survival, it’s the final scene when the hero appears about to be rescued. No spoiler is coming here. Let’s just say that you must watch the final minute or so very carefully in order to understand what really happens to Redford, and even that’s open to different interpretations.
Too bad there wasn’t more intrigue like this interspersed throughout the film. After watching this film however, all that’s lost was some free time and the price of a matinee ticket.
All Is Lost is marginally interesting, but not recommended.
What book has impacted you the most?
Mull that question over for a moment or two.
Pretty tough, huh?
Try to choose a single book, among the many thousands of titles out there, which changed the direction of your life in some way. Perhaps the book you’re considering made you think about yourself differently. Maybe it changed the way you see the world, or took you to a different time and place.
Then again, choosing a favorite book is probably an impossible task. Like asking a parent to pick out their favorite child. Unconscionable, even. Indeed, all books are unique. Books not only mean different things to different people, they’re also open to different interpretations at various points in our lives. A book read at age 20 might not seem like the same book at age 40 — since that book is likely to have a completely different impact. But the book hasn’t changed. We change.
Andrea Bocelli has taken his rightful place as the world’s premier tenor.
It’s too bad he chooses to play in a venue that has all the charm of a giant slaughterhouse. More on the MGM Grand, a junction of chaos and confusion towards the end of this review.
With Luciano Pavarotti’s passing six years ago, and Placido Domingo now in the twilight of his years as a stage performer, befittingly the torch has since been passed to the next operatic maestro in line, the unquestionable equal of his two highly-revered predecessors, both in charisma and global transcendence.
Now at age 55, Bocelli is in his prime. Accordingly, he’s a virtuoso who takes his responsibilities seriously as a master (some might say — protector) of the classics. Undeniably, he’s become the world’s vocal gold standard, the next tenor in an exemplary lineage of maestros which initially began with Enrico Caruso nearly a century ago as the first modern-age performer, crooning many of the same arias which continue to mesmerize multiple generations across borders in so many different languages. Music is the universal language — something Bocelli seems to not only to know, but cherish as fact.