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Movie Review: The Book Thief

d326e3e8deb69479ae2a56a451ab07e8Based on the book by Markus Zusak.

Version: 2013; starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson

Genre: drama, WWII

Plot Summary: Liesel Meminger has been orphaned by the circumstances of WWII and adopted by a new set of parents in a different town.  She is also new at school and ashamed to admit she cannot read.  But Papa helps to educate her as he learns to improve his schooling as well.  Meanwhile, there are other things to be learned while living in Germany during the time of the Third Reich.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This was a film that had my interest from the first, but I didn’t have a chance to watch it until a little while ago. The trailer looked so intriguing, and I guess I get my interest in WWII history from my mom.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it included the actor Geoffrey Rush in a major role.  His voice is one of my favorites (he played the voice of Nigel the Pelican on Finding Nemo).

The Book Thief was interesting in that it followed the story of a German civilian (Liesel) throughout the duration of the WWII.  Because of the perspective, it sort of reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, another film I would recommend.  Liesel is involved with the Hitler Youth and other activities just like many other young people her age.  Her adoptive parents aren’t too particularly anti-Hitler, but aren’t entirely for him, either.  However, they go with the flow as many do and keep the peace.

That is, until a young Jewish man enters their home and they are compelled to hide him in their basement. Liesel doesn’t completely understand what is going on, only that Max is her friend and she wants to protect him.

1ea864bc74e07178ed875aaca980711bI really did enjoy this movie, but I get a sense that the book was probably better. There were parts (mostly at the beginning) that I didn’t understand.  Why was Liesel’s mother taken away?  What exactly happened to her brother?  What was the burgermeister’s reasons for banning Liesel?  What’s the deal with the abstract narrator called Death?  Although the story was called “The Book Thief”, that really wasn’t so much of the plot.  It was hard to suspend disbelief when several years go by, yet Liesel and her girlhood crush Rudy don’t appear to get any older.  But I did get a kick out of the Christmas scene in the basement, where the family smuggles in snow, has a snowball fight and builds a snowman.  “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!” Rosa states.  😀  I also really liked the scene where Liesel enjoys a good book at the burgermeister’s library.  The colors, mood, and design are something I would like to replicate someday for my own personal library.

Another thing I appreciated is that the end of the story takes a different twist that I did not expect, as real life sometimes does. It was sad, but not altogether so.  There is not really ‘content’ issues.  This film is based on a YA book and I was glad to see it kept age appropriate.  But there is what you would expect in a story that takes place during such a time as 1940’s Germany, and there are beatings, bombings, etc.

I would recommend this, but parents will probably want to watch it with their kids and decide what age it’s appropriate for.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: Les Miserables

928283ab6e774bf98c29d851f4efc1ddBased on the book by Victor Hugo.

Version: 2012; starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne

Genre:  drama, musical

Plot Summary: In the times between post-Revolutionary France and the Paris Rebellion of 1832, an inconsequential criminal -Prisoner 24601- is set free from penal servitude.  Can a thief receive grace and have another chance in life?  Some would think not, particularly a strict, tow-the-line, “black & white” law enforcement officer like Inspector Javert.  But others, –like the trusting little girl Cosette and the idealistic activist Marius,– choose to open their hearts to the man remade into the new Jean Valjean.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

Yeah, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a good story is a good story in a book or on film no matter when one happens to experience it. I’ve never read the book (somehow never could convince myself to begin a 2,783 page opus [see recent post]), but I have seen the earlier 1998 version with Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean.  I’m not sure I enjoyed that one.  But I’ve also listened to the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s excellent audio production of the story and highly recommend that.

Les Miserables is a classic tale that contains so many human elements that speak deeply to us—love, hatred, forgiveness, compassion, revenge. That’s why it’s a classic.  The drama, the pathos, emotion pull us in and won’t let us go.  I found myself being deeply engrossed in this newest film version of Victor Hugo’s epic story.  Believe it or not, I’d never seen or listened to the musical, although a few songs sounded familiar because of how they’ve infiltrated our pop culture (I Dreamed a Dream, Bring Him Home).  At first I wasn’t so sure this story could be presented seriously as a musical, but I was proved wrong in one of the earliest scenes (when Jean receives the gift of forgiveness from the priest).  And by the end of the movie, I was blubbering away into a soggy Kleenex.

I had avoided watching it when it first came out because of watching the trailer and hearing others’ reviews. I’d heard that so and so shouldn’t have been cast in this role because somebody else would have done so much better…  Another person was snubbed for not being cast…  This actress completely ‘ruined’ the movie… That person couldn’t sing… etc. etc. etc.  I’d heard the film was too ‘gritty’, too ‘gorey’, too ‘indecent’.  I watched the trailer and saw too much skin.

untitledI’m not a musical aficionado. Maybe so and so could have sang the part better.  All I know is Fantine sang as though her life was at the bottom of a sludge pit and Valjean sang through weary tears.  Cosette sang like a bird in love, and Marius like he’d found the treasure of his life.  If I could be so thoroughly convinced this story was real, I think somebody was doing their job supremely well.   Probably the only one who didn’t have me convinced of his role was Russell Crowe as Javert.  He felt uncomfortable and limited in the part.

Gritty? Yes.  Gorey?  It was a reflection of the time and era in which real people lived.  Not all of humanity has lived in pristine Downton Abbey.  Indecent?  Yes. Humanity is messed up.  But we live in a  place where true love shines like a jewel amidst the dirt and grime of a perverted world.

Yet, there are some indecencies I would prefer not to expose myself to, and there were some content issues I’d warn about. I have better things to do than count swear words and describe raunchy scenes, so you can read a more detailed review here if you are in need of one.  But I will say that there were at least two places I wanted to be careful about: 1)  Fantine gradually falls deeper and deeper into the backalley ways of the underworld, not out of any desire on her part but out of pure desperation.  As she sings her song, she is led into a dark room where one gets the idea of what will happen next without having to see it.  I didn’t watch, but continued to listen to her heart-rending song.  I wouldn’t fast forward through it if it can be helped because the music is some of the best of the musical and it’s well acted.  2)  The Thenardiers are the picture of the world taking delight in degradation.  The rowdy song that takes place in their inn, where they celebrate the pleasures of sin is one that can be skipped (IMO).  It is definitely NOT a family scene!  I got half way through and decided I was too sick to watch the rest and clicked through to the next scene.

Only one thing I wish could have been improved upon and that is I would have liked to have seen more of the beginning developing relationship between Jean Valjean and the little girl Cosette.  This is a weakness in the original story itself I think, and that is that Cosette’s character is too trusting.  This could have been strengthened in the movie, and their getting to know one another was rather missing.  It would have helped to cement my emotional attachment further.

But for all of that, I wish I had not waited so long to watch this wonderful story illustrated with so much emotion, music, color and drama. The sets and the details blew my mind.  I don’t often like to rewatch movies, but this is one I will want to have in my collection to go back to every so often.  I truly thought it was a good piece of art, though I know there are enough who debate me there.

What are your thoughts on this film version of Les Miserables?  I’d like to know what you think!

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: Arthur & George

a132774421c11e3ae8cb67a56f895dcdBased on the book by Julian Barnes.

Version: 2015; starring Martin Clunes; Hattie Morahan; Michael Gregson

Genre:  mystery; period drama; biographical

Plot Summary: George Edalji is the son of a respectable vicar from India, under suspicion of murder.  Sir Arthur is a famous mystery writer grieving the death of his wife.  The two are fatefully connected and the latter takes it upon himself to clear Edalji’s name so he and his family can live in peace.  But things are not so clear cut and simple as they seemed at the beginning.  The details of the case get weirder and weirder, and the body count rises.  Can Arthur Doyle solve the mystery in time, or is George really guilty of the crimes?

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I’d been seeing the book at the library lately, and was itching to watch something other than Downton Abbey on PBS, so I gave this movie a shot. I’m so glad I did!

Atmosphere, suspense, historical period setting—all the ingredients for the perfect mystery are present in this Masterpiece film! Everything from creepy music, tweed suits, Clunes’ Scottish accent, the glow of candles, and the crunch of autumn leaves contributed to the mysterious atmosphere that pervaded throughout all three episodes of the story.  It kept my attention well, and although I had to rewind to catch certain details and may not have followed the plot/motives entirely, I still highly enjoyed watching it. I’m not sure how much was based on actual truth or if it was pure fiction, but I found the actors believable, and Martin Clunes especially so in the role of Dr. Doyle.

During the course of the story, we discover that Sir Arthur is filled with remorse over the fact that he had an admiration for another woman while his wife was still living. I appreciated this element.  Later, Doyle pursues a relationship with the woman he loves, and when accusations are thrown against it, he insists he had never used her as his mistress.  The rest of the film is pretty clean, except for perhaps mild swearing, some unsightly animal killings and a rather gruesome death at the end.  Probably the most unsettling is the pervading sense of unease throughout, which I found to be quite fun!

If you’re in the mood for a spooky-strange mystery, I’m sure you will enjoy this Victorian-era flick!

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

eb573d1180cc7b5cbff9aae960b7398fBased on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2008; starring David Suchet.

Genre: mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] “A pair of photographs are the only clues that Poirot has to solve the murder of a village charwoman, and to prove the innocence of the victim’s lodger.”

My Review: To be honest, it’s been a long time since I read this particular Poirot mystery.  I remember it had a lot of female characters, and it was the first time I had read anything where the character Ariadne Oliver made an appearance.  I also remember I enjoyed the mystery a lot, because it featured a common storytelling technique of Christie’s, which is to involve a mystery with roots beginning far back decades ago and the detective must piece together how the current generation of characters are affiliated with the past.  I couldn’t recall the details, however, such as who was killed, who had done it or why.

This is one of the more recent Poirot productions starring David Suchet, compared with when they first started filming them in the 1980’s. The quality of it is very good, and I loved the creepy atmosphere of the film!  The period set contributed heavily to this, along with a swirl of yellowed dead leaves, and the signature Poirot music.  Love, love, love it!

Another thing I appreciated was that this murder mystery wasn’t gorey and it didn’t make me feel too uncomfortable. On the flip side, it could also be considered predictable.  I cannot verify if it stayed true to the book, but to the best of my memory I believe it was for the most part.  Poirot was his lovable old self, and the new role of Ms. Oliver (played by Zoe Wanamaker) was totally convincing as the Agatha Christie-herself-inspired character.

This movie makes for great autumn entertainment, so grab a comfy blanket, slippers, and hot cocoa, and have fun some evening!  🙂

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2

05a3d4c36d4d45f823f66e9baf196029Good grief– it’s taken me forever to get around to posting this!

Do you love Shakespeare?  I can’t say I’ve been an avid aficionado, especially when it comes to reading him (though I have done that).  His plays were mainly meant to be watched/heard rather than read in any case.  I have enjoyed watching some very well done films of his plays, including As You Like It, King Lear, and Hamlet. 

But while watching the PBS series, “Shakespeare Uncovered,” I brought deeper into Shakespeare’s wonderful stories by professors and lovers of literature, and actors who played (with various interpretations) the different characters.  I absolutely loved the first season (which I posted about here), and so I was thrilled to learn about the Season 2.  Both are playable for free here.  In this season, many of Shakespeare’s stories featuring strong female leads are the focus: Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Different hosts of the show include Morgan Freeman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugh Bonneville and Christopher Plummer.

I would urge some caution for younger viewers on some of these, as Othello features some violence, Romeo and Juliet a bedroom scene, Taming of Shrew touches on some sexual explicitness, Midsummer discusses bestiality.  Also, playactors take liberties in a public elementary school where they switch male and female roles in the Taming of the Shrew (male actor wears female clothes and vice versa).  It is interesting that the children, who had formerly been enjoying the hilarious play, grow suddenly quiet and uncomfortable when the costumes are changed.  It’s sad when adults mess with children’s minds in this way, twisting the nature of gender.

Despite these few issues, I really did enjoy these a lot and think you will as well.  I’m looking forward to perhaps more seasons in the near future!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Movie Review: My “BEN-HUR” Experience

b64a44c9e00fd891e11b829d49fa28fbBased on the book by Lew Wallace.

Version: 2016

Genre: drama, Christian, bible era

Plot Summary: Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a Jewish nobleman.  Mesala is a Roman who grew up orphaned.  The two share a bond as (adopted) brothers but a misunderstanding takes place turning their affection to hatred.  As Judah is sent to the prison galley slave ships and Messala rises in military rank, all looks as though there is no place for God, peace, or love in this world.  But Judah is given a second chance, to either choose faith in a Carpenter from Galilee, or seeking revenge in the Roman circus.

My Review: I have awaited this day for so long.  The day when Ben-Hur would be brought to it’s full glory and excitement on the big screen with a full-blown budget!  I remember staying up late into the night the summer I was fifteen years old when I was staying at my grandparents’.  The cause of my insomnia was the novel, “Ben-Hur,” by Gen. Lew Wallace.  The book has remained among my top favorites, though I’ve read hundreds over the years.

I’ve seen the old 1959 Charlton Heston version. And contrary to most people’s opinions, I’ve never cared for it.  I’m sure it was a huge deal when it came out back then, breaking records with being the  biggest budget film and using the most paid actors’ of its time.  But watching it after the era of The Lord of the Rings… it just failed to get my heart racing.  And Charlton Heston fails (IMO) to look the part of Judah Ben-Hur; too old and he’s just not how I imagined him.  So many things needed improved upon.  I didn’t even bother with the 2010 tv movie, having heard how certain themes I don’t agree with were inserted into it.  And I’ve seen a couple of scenes on TCM from the ancient 1907 one, but even though I’m sure it was a big deal 109 years ago… I mean, come on.

That was when I began to wish and pray for the epic remake. And I was thrilled earlier on this year to find out that was the case (see my post here).  It was a rainy day today and made perfect for having an adventure at the movie theatre!  And so I got my wish.

I went into this having read a review preparing me for the fact that this version leaves a lot of the Christian gospel out. I was disappointed to hear that, but I still wanted to go see it.  I’m sorry to report that despite my excitement over it, I came away rating it only 3 out of 5 stars.  I will write my pros and cons of it below.  Be aware there it is riddled with spoilers:

serveimagePROS: Oh, boy! Was it ever exciting! Movie-makers really outdid themselves when it came to recreating a gigantic Roman circus arena, a nail biting Roman sea battle, and a heart pounding chariot race.  If that is what attracts you about the book, then by all means you’re going to love this!  Drums, hoofbeats, fire, drama, peril, battles, horses, crashes, crowds, roars!  This movie is not lacking in adventure!

Costumes and props are so beautiful to look at. Loved the women’s hairstyles, and Tirzah’s pink evening toga.  Bright colors and gorgeous jewelry.  I’d watch it again just for that!

I felt the characters were well-cast. Although Mesala (Toby Kebbell) wasn’t quite how I pictured him in the book, I thought he was the best actor out of the whole movie.  I would be interested in seeing him in future movies.  Judah looked right for his role.  Esther was how I’d always pictured her, and Tirzah and Mrs. Ben-Hur also were gorgeous actors.  It was also enjoyable getting to see Morgan Freeman as the sheik  Ilderim and loved how they featured him as narrator in the opening scene.

I am happy to say that there are no sex scenes to worry about! The trailer is actually more suggestive than the film.  Anyone watching based on this hope will be mightily disappointed.

serveimageCons: This is where the 3 stars come in. It all boils down to how a story is told, and this film version got a lot of things wrong in this area.

Let’s start with how it holds up to the book. I am not one of those who believes movie versions should be exactly like the original book.  However.  A lot of liberties were taken with this story and it doesn’t do it any justice.  It just makes things confusing and unbelievable.  I ended up not caring too much for the characters like I’d wanted to.  I didn’t feel emotionally involved with them.  I was just there for the chariot race.

Some of my favorite characters were left entirely out. There’s no Quintus Arrius.  There’s Amrah.  There’s no Iras.  QA is one of my favorites because he provides the story with heart.  He is the kind Roman captain of the slave ship Judah is sent to, who Judah ends up saving during the battle, and who adopts Judah and leaves his inheritance to when he dies.  Judah comes back to Jerusalem like a bible era Count of Monte Cristo. I can see why the movie scriptwriters decided QA was expendable, but I genuinely missed him.  Amrah is Judah’s old nurse, who also provides heart in the book.  The character that is NOT expendable is Iras, the wily daughter of Egypt who tempts Judah from his goals and what is good.  She is in cahoots with Messala and creates a rivalry against Esther for Judah’s affections.  Why does every film version leave this character out?  Not that I’m wishing for it, but if Hollywood wanted steam, they could find a way with this ‘Cleopatra.’

Which leads me to the romance between Judah and Esther. I must say it was a lot better than the old Heston version in which man sees woman, man kisses woman.  The end.  But whoever rewrote Ben-Hur this time around completely killed any suspense they could have made with plot element as well.  They marry them off too quickly… in the beginning!  Now, we loyal Ben-Hur fans know that Esther doesn’t come into the novel until somewheres in the middle.  I get why Hollywood would introduce her earlier in the movie, but where’s the tension?  There’s tension in a story where Esther waits and hopes for 5 long years and then finds Judah again when he comes back, but he’s not the same anymore being filled with hatred for Messala, and meanwhile Iras is fighting for his attention. What will happen next?  Will love conquer all?  But no, they completely ruined the tale by rewriting it.

Where they snipped the romantic tension in one area, they tried to add it in another. Tirzah and Messala are now lovers.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, except that it makes for a completely unbelievable situation when Messala all of a sudden orders Judah’s sister crucified.  Why, when he had genuinely seemed to love her?  And at the end when everyone is hugging and cuddling and crying, and Messala hobbles up on his one existent leg, Tirzah doesn’t seem to mind a bit and it’s assumed the two get together in the end anyway.  Yeah, I’d totally if a hot man ordered me to death by crucifixion!

Other motives didn’t seem to make much sense. Like Druses’ saving Judah’s family’s lives after Judah threatens to kill him.  Huh?  And then there were certain other smaller parts of the film that came across as being hokey, like Judah’s sister and mother suddenly being healed of leprosy… by being rained upon.  No, no, no!  In the book it was Jesus who touched them and had compassion on them!

I went into this having read a review that prepared me to not expect to see a gospel presentation here. OK, I don’t have to have preaching.  But I do need a reason why Judah’s heart and life was changed.  I was glad to see parts of the story of Jesus portrayed, and Judah’s encounters with him, especially when he is a witness to Jesus’ death at the cross.  But without the resurrection, there is no meaning to it all and there is no purpose to us forgiving and loving one another.  And that is one of the biggest ways in which this movie fails big time: the lack of the Resurrection.  It’s not even hinted at.  There can be no inspiration for a changed life by seeing a man hanging on a cross, simply because there is no life at all.  But by faith in the living Jesus and with His life at work in us, we know that this life is not all there is and can therefore have peace and joy, and his victory and power enable us to forgive and love our enemies.  None of that came across in the film, and I’m afraid anyone who knows little about this spiritual aspect of things would fail to make the connection.

The worse, from a storyteller’s point of view, was the ending. This may come across as sounding pretty terrible, but I felt it was ruined because Messala lived and forgave Judah and all became one big happy family again.  That is cleaned-up Hollywood.  In the original book, Messala becomes paralyzed/crippled for life and ends up killing himself.  Judah does gain the ability to forgive him, but Messala’s life is not changed.  To see the ‘two brothers’ flip their attitudes toward each other on a dime, after they each tried to murder each other by various cruel and unusual punishments, is totally unbelievable.

Lew Wallace was a storyteller, you know? There’s a reason why his book has been well-loved for a hundred and fifty years.  Why must Hollywood think there’s a need to rewrite it?  And then they’re a surprised when it’s a ‘big box office flop.’  I’m sorry for that, but they asked for it!  You can’t just bank on a big budget to make an excellent film.  You have to tell a good story.  A believable one, where viewers identify with the characters and can empathize with them.  But this was not that story.

Would I recommend it? It depends on how much of a stickler you are for the original.  If you’ve never read the book and just want a clean, exciting flick, I think you could enjoy it.  (Be aware there are some gruesome battle images, and scenes that include crucifixion.)  But if you’re too much of a loyalist like I am, you might want to wait another 55+ years for them to do the tale justice.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: Murder on the Links

f4da3d317fb63eb8f390f3f3b1dedbd9Based on the book by Agatha Christie. [See my review of the book here.]

Version: 1996

Genre:  mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] “While Poirot and Hastings are holidaying in France, a businessman tells Poirot that his life is in danger. The next day he is found stabbed to death on a nearby golf course.”

My Review: While down and out with the flu, I watched this Poirot flick since I’d read the book a few months previously. Some of the finer details of the mystery had escaped me, so I was still kept in some suspense throughout the story.

Overall, I believe it was a decent adaptation of the book, with some minor things changed around. As any avid Poirot fan knows, Captain Hastings is a complete sucker for the ladies, and this excursion to the French countryside is no exception. SPOILER ALERT: This time the story has been rewritten in that Hastings finally gets the girl (though where she is in the next episode is beyond anybody’s guess).  The movie ends with Bella in Hastings’ arms, a slight deviation from the original story, but nothing major to ruin the key plot. END OF SPOILER. As this is an earlier Poirot film, it escapes a lot of gore and one needn’t worry about offensive scenes.

As always, no one can match actor David Suchet’s superb interpretation of the eccentric character he plays. Costumes are a little dated and hint at the ‘90’s decade in which it was filmed, but in general it was a decent production and I would recommend it.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

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