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Never Let Me Go – Orion’s Take

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s unfair to compare a movie based on a book to the original.  Despite this, Never Let Me Go will largely be judged on how well it captures the essence of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel.  Unfortunately for the film, it comes up short in this regard.  While the novel studies nostalgia that endures despite the onrushing darkness, the film fades into deep sadness, almost depression.  The novel is delightfully subtle; the film too often relies on direct reveals to drive the plot.  These flaws nearly wreck the film: if not for the excellent performances of the cast and a strong finish, this movie would be forgettable at best.

The film follows three young students, Kathy H, played phenomenally by Carey Mulligan, and her friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) at a special boarding school named Hailsham as they grow into their destiny.  Like the book, the film is divided into the three main parts of their lives: their time at Hailsham, their time at the Cottages, and in the world at large.  But these are not three normal childhood friends.  They were made with one purpose, one they cannot escape.

The main problem with this film is its lack of coherency, especially in the first two parts.  These are fragmented, painfully baffling.  The script cuts out whole parts of the novel essential to understanding the title.  Many of the shots are bleak and washed out, further highlighting the morose tone of the film.  Most damning of all, the first two parts fail to provide any reason for Kathy to remember her time at Hailsham with fondness.  It is only when bleakness has already overtaken the characters that the movie shows some power.

The third part of the film is far better than the rest: the potency of some later scenes lingered in my mind, reminding me how disappointing the rest of the film was.  One particular scene caught my interest: Tommy screaming in the dark, no longer frightening, merely pitiable.  And we do pity them, despite the unrelenting depression of the film.  For that reason alone, this movie deserves some commendation.

3.5/5 Waffles.

Hugs and kisses,

Orion

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Categories: Movie Reviews

A lack of story here: Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go”

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I have to start off this review with this disclaimer: Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors and “Never Let Me Go” is one of my favorite novels.  That being said, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the semi-controversial topic of making books into movies.  Sometimes this turns out beautifully (“Lord of the Rings”), and sometimes this turns out hideously (“Beowulf”).  “Never Let Me Go” falls somewhere in the middle, but I hope readers understand that this mediocrity is the most treacherous fate that could have befell (befallen?) Ishiguro’s masterpiece.

The movie features a series of stars, namely Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Kathy and Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Atonement) as Ruth; I have to admit that the two are well-paired opposite each other in a frenemy dynamic.  In movies, it’s hard to watch a lifetime, as actors need to be found for each age of the character; this was a problem in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” also, and here, the problem is solved by giving us only one glimpse into youth.  As children, Kathy and Ruth were students together at a school named Hailsham, along with Tommy, who is the love interest for both characters.  While the book skates around the edge of a secret, the movie presents it in a straightforward manner: (SPOILER) the children are clones, created specifically for Donations of their vital organs, and will all die young.

It’s true that each individual scene in “Never Let Me Go” was well done, meticulous and obviously carefully chosen.  However, you can’t just take all the best moments of a book, paste them together in a movie and expect to convey all the subtlety and elegance that makes the book so great. My mentor used to say, “Just because events happen chronologically doesn’t mean it’s the best way to tell a story,” and I think that’s exactly the case here.  Fragmented, full of pieces that didn’t come together, the film is mostly composed of flashbacks that mean nothing by themselves.

Overall – 2/5; the film has beautiful physical locations and good acting, but is nothing except slivered shadows of the story from which it derives its name.  See it if you’ve read and want a visual imagining of the book, but otherwise, don’t waste your time.

Best regards,

Apple; http://appleandorion.com

Categories: Movie Reviews

Paper is legit.

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

This year, Apple and Orion are proud to be working in conjunction with Northwestern’s Daily Newspaper, writing a column in the Thursday Weekly Entertainment section.

If you are around the Northwestern University campus, please pick up a copy and let us know that you think!

http://news.collegemedianetwork.com/opinion/movie-reviews-with-apple-and-orion

(Don’t worry, we’ll still continue with online posts!  Look for definite posts on Thursdays, and also for reviews of older movies earlier in the week.)

Update:

Categories: Uncategorized

He’s back!

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Wow, how did I miss this?

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter/roger-ebert-presents-at-the-moe.html

Roger Ebert returns to public television!   I remember watching previous incarnations of his show when I was younger; Ebert is the only film critic who I follow on a regular basis, and so far, still my favorite.  Orion bears a thick grudge against him due to the controversial “video games aren’t art” comments, but will admit to his points being well made.

My favorite thing about Ebert is getting those “aha!” moments when reading or watching his reviews – like reading Virginia Woolf or Leo Tolstoy, there’s a great feeling that something has been perfectly articulated.

Looking forward to January 2011, when the program is due to air!

Categories: Uncategorized

Shockingly, “Let Me In” has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

And no, it wasn’t just one person.  Can we dare to hope for a good remake?

Comes out October 1st.

Categories: Previews

I like to have a good cry at the nail salon: The Town

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The Town is a polished and well-executed thriller that could be something more.  I say “could” because despite all the elements of a good movie (excellent direction, great casting/acting, beautiful cinematography), The Town somehow falls short.  It’s a strange thing: after a string of bad movies Ben Affleck comes out with a movie directed, written and acted by himself that is compelling yet also disappointing.

Doug M (Ben Affleck) is the son of an infamous bank robber and architect of several armed robberies in the part of Boston called Charlestown, an area known for its abundance of car thieves and bank robbers.  When he and the three other members of his crew hit a bank at the beginning of the film, a brave manager named Claire (Rebecca Hall) resists in whatever way she can. The crew abducts Claire as a hostage for a brief period of time.  The event leaves Claire traumatized and the robbers with a loose end.  Thus begins a strange relationship between Doug and Claire, one that is intimately related to the FBI’s attempts to apprehend the crew.

The cast is excellent in portraying the emotions and desires of the characters, though their motivations are rather unclear.  Is it greed that drives them?  Pride in their work?  Inability to find other avenues of employment?  Some characters are also not fully realized: though Doug and his best friend get lots of emotional development, the other two members of the crew, the old flame, and the father have much less substance.

The main flaw of this movie, however, is its inability to coalesce or explicate its ideas.  This movie is about choice and change: despite this it fails to offer any insights into these themes.  This movie is supposedly about Charlestown, yet nothing is really concluded about Charlestown.

4/5 Waffles

Love,

Orion

Despite a trailer that seemed heavy-handed, Boston heist-drama “The Town” was surprisingly light-footed.  A large portion film time was devoted to the robberies, involving car chases, shootouts, and spy-like planning; these were very well executed, balancing silence with sudden violence.  But the best thing about “The Town” was the setup – its details were actually believable, from Doug and Claire coming together, to the series of robberies, to the dynamics of Charlestown.  Unfortunately, “The Town” failed in living up to this excellent premise, and by the end of the movie, became regretfully ordinary.

Affleck was involved in writing, directing, and acting, and it shows through in the movie.  The action centers around his character, Doug, and his relationships with the other characters.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  It allows the actor to know exactly what the director’s visions is, but on the other hand, the director’s goals may be blinded by the actor’s.  An example: Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker) stars opposite Affleck as his best friend, his brother.  Renner’s performance is very strong, perhaps too strong for his character Jem, whose loyalty to Affleck’s Doug shows how one-sided their relationship is.  Is this the casting team’s mistake, or the director’s?

Speaking of casting, Blake Lively plays Krista, and puts on a heavy accent for the part.  Why are actors cast and trained for voice-roles that don’t fit their natural patterns?  Is it so necessary to have this particular actor?

I placed a lot of emphasis on the bad points of this movie, but in fact, it was very entertaining.  I wasn’t bored and thoroughly enjoyed the action.  There were some cute bits of humor as well.  Ben Affleck has really expressive eyebrows+forehead. See it under most conditions!

Overall – 4/5; great action, well set up, but doesn’t carry through with the punch – “The Town” should have been a really good movie, but it lacked the maturity and complexity of truly great movies.

Best regards,

Apple

Categories: Movie Reviews

Of youth and mastery: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The poet Frank Bidart once wrote, “As you grip the things that were young / when you were young, they crumble in your hand.”  I first watched Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” when I was ten years old; I remember feeling the drumbeat echo in my pulse during the fight scenes.  I left the movie theater awed, speechless; it is one of the few movies I watched multiple times, and each time, it seemed there was something new in the movie that I had not noticed before.  Yet, when Orion and I sat down to work on our “Returning” series this weekend, I found myself disappointed.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was released in 2000, and that year was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It tells the tale of a young, bored, aristocratic girl named Jen (Zhang Ziyi); she is a martial arts prodigy, but is unguided in her education.  Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) is a master of Wudan, but struggles with his feelings for Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh).  These three form a constantly shifting triangle of amity and animosity, the dynamics of which provide the foreground for a beautifully shot and masterfully rendered tour de force.

It’s true that the politics in this movie are superb – each character has his or her own goals, and there are so many dynamic relationships throughout the story.  Yet, I couldn’t help but be frustrated by the heavy-handed acting, upset because the movie was not the piece I remembered it to be.  Why does this happen, and why to the movies that we love the most?  Have I grown cynical in my old age, or is this just the destiny of a return?

Overall – 4.5/5; (partially for old times’ sakes), a beautiful musical score, cinematography, and a gripping story.

Best regards,

Apple

I must say, given the reputation of this movie I was somewhat disappointed by the taste it left in my mouth, though perhaps that was the result of a disappointing ending.  After hearing Apple gush over this movie’s romance and fight scenes, I was expecting something quite different from what I received.  Watching the movie, I felt neither awe nor sadness, only an interest in the reasons for why things were done the way they were done.

As Apple mentioned, this movie circles around three martial artists, each with a unique struggle.  Jen struggles with her past and her future, Li Mu Bai struggles to express his feelings, Shu Lien struggles to repress her feelings.  These struggles drive the movie in an interesting way: the plot follows logically from the interaction of the three martial artists, so that when fights happen, they happen not as mere devices to entertain the audience but rather as extensions of the struggle within each character.

The wirework, though excellent, has visibly aged, as have the special effects.  But one doesn’t watch this kind of movie for that kind of reason.  I was interested in the relationships between the characters, the way individual actions rippled across the tapestry of the whole, and Ang Lee manages to capture the causality of life quite beautifully.

This movie works best when the characters’ feelings burst to the surface, when they confront each other in battle, when the pure and beautiful intensity of the fight shines through and obscures the flaws of the movie as a whole.  When the drums are beating, when the steel flashes together, you forget for a moment the reasons and watch the dance, hoping that it will never end.

4/5 Waffles

With Love,

-Orion

Categories: Movie Reviews