The Giver (2014)

The GiverReleased: August 15, 2014. Directed by: Phillip Noyce. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. Runtime: 97 min.

Note: Sorry for the font inconsistencies – I really couldn’t figure out how to fix it. 

The Giver starts out exactly like Divergent; with a basic review of what this futuristic community is like, followed by a ceremony where occupations are chosen for each citizen at their 18th birthday (where those in the premise of Divergent were put into different groups of basic personality traits). The second similarity is a love story – which is interesting to think this was a thing in Young Adult literature circa 1993, so not much has changed – but it’s essential to the narrative. These similarities are where they begin and end.

This is a unique young adult novel adaptation because it depicts a perfect world (a utopia, rather than a dreary dystopia in The Hunger Games), one with no violence, pain, suffering, differences or choice. A young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in his first big starring role), is chosen as the Receiver, a position chosen every ten years or so – and it is a position in which he will become the future Giver – to assist the elders with making decisions for the community. You see, the Giver (a mesmerizing Jeff Bridges) has the most knowledge and experience in the whole community, because he holds all of the memories of the old world. The one with hideous violence, but also wondrous beauty.

I think Brenton Thwaites’ (OculusMaleficent) performance is actually memorable because he is different from his peers and not absolutely robotic. He brings some humour to his character, and hope to his peers. Jeff Bridges as The Giver is great because of his love of life and his need to get beauty back to the community. He also brought a welcome amount of humour to his character, though I am almost convinced he’s still stuck in the voice he used for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. A charming young Israeli actress Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) portrays Fiona, and is also notable for how well she captures her character’s fear and natural curiosity for change. Taylor Swift portrays one of those characters who play a crucial role in a character’s development but only show up for five minutes. A scene she shares with Bridges and a piano is just lovely.

I think these performers set themselves apart from the rest because everyone else just feels so plain. Especially Cameron Monaghan and Katie Holmes who are both quite boring. Alexander Skarsgård is still boring, but less so than the others. These characters, and every other cookie-cutter citizen, are all about never lying and using the precision of language – so for example, if you want to ask someone if they love you, you must ask instead if they “enjoy” you. At times I wondered if this is what the modern grammar Nazi sounds like.

One enjoyable technical aspect is the utilization of black and white film – which is about half of the runtime, but the other half is in colour. You might notice as the film progresses that B&W and colour are used more and more as a storytelling device to set the film’s tone. Black and white scenes are more robotic and plain, while scenes in colour are usually captivating and intriguing. The more it got into the heart of the film, the more I found myself enjoying it – after a very boring first twenty minutes (though the final minutes left me dissatisfied). One more comment on the technical aspect – the cinematography is absolutely stunning, in both B&W and colour. The Giver is filmed in South Africa, where the settings and nature complement the film’s quality and beauty.

It’s an ugly truth in this premise that in order to have no violence, one also has to surrender race, religion, uniqueness, decision-making, and emotions, among other things. This community is created by characters who focus on the hideousness of the old world, and want to shelter the citizens from it. This character – mostly the Chief Elder – is portrayed by an adequate Meryl Streep. However, the citizens are also being sheltered from the beauty of the world – namely colours, sunsets, and double rainbows. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society said, “…The human race is filled with passion… Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That quote does not describe The Giver‘s community, even though it is considered a “perfect” community. Even though our world has violence, one can escape in the beauty of everything around you. It has poetry, romance, love, beauty – but most of all – creativity, and that sounds like the true perfection to me.

Score67/100

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Shakes the Clown (1991)

Shakes the ClownReleased: March 13, 1992. Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring: Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, Blake Clark. Runtime: 87 min. 

Dark comedies are a difficult kind-of comedy to master. The Coen brothers have mastered the craft, as has Tarantino, and many other respected filmmakers. This is the attempt at a black comedy by an apparently funny guy named Bobcat Goldthwait, and I haven’t seen a movie prior to this that feels more like an Amateur Redneck Hour. You’ll also see no evidence of good comedy here.

The movie follows Shakes the Clown (Goldthwait) who lives in a town called Palukaville, where it seems that everyone is either a clown, a groupie for the clowns, or someone who gets jobs for the clowns. And there’s cops and mimes, too. Anyway, Shakes is a clown who is also a chronic alcoholic. He is threatened with unemployment if he cannot get his act together. Then, it gets really dark and someone frames Shakes for a murder.

There are many ideas to advance this plot, but the film-makers do not feel as if they run with those ideas. However, the unlikable characters make it very hard for the movie to be engaging. Shakes is a terrible person, but I guess that’s the point. Kathy Griffin and Julie Brown are the two main girls in this, and Brown has a terribly annoying voice.

Adam Sandler is one of the supporting characters. He doesn’t get many laughs. His character is afraid of women. There are many jokes related to bodily functions here, that show up within the first two minutes; but in Sandler’s own movies, he has the courtesy to wait more than two minutes to throw those at the audience.

This movie is like a pie in the face: unpleasant. It reminds me why I hate clowns. The clown world they live in is different, and I guess that’s the point of the movie; to be a different experience. But I’d also like it to be enjoyable. It gives viewers an insane portrait of Tom Kenny, the man who voices SpongeBob Squarepants.

I did chuckle about four times, but that’s not enough. You’ll have to decide whether or not you hate mimes or clowns more. Most are drunks, either way. This movie does get some points for an appearance from Robin Williams, and a lot of mimes get beaten up. Woo-hoo. It’s still a bland, stupid movie.

Score38/100

(August 21) Happy birthday Hayden Panettiere (23), Peter Weir (68) and Carrie-Anne Moss (45)

                                           Hayden Panettiere

The sexy New York native just turned 23 today. Hayden has a pretty impressive résumé. She was on the soap opera One Life to Live at the age of four and a half; and later appeared for four years starting at the age of seven on the soap opera The Guiding Light. She was the voice of Dot in A Bug’s Life, and the voice of Kate in the poorly acclaimed animated film Alpha and Omega. She’s appeared beside great screen presences like Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, and Tim Allen in Joe Somebody. She is also well known for being in Racing Stripes, and being the star on the TV show Heroes as the invincible Claire Bennet. And just last year, horror fans may know her for her role as Kirby Reed in Scream 4 (also called Scre4m, but I don’t like spelling it that way). She is pretty talented and also very attractive, and I just love watching her act.

Peter Weir

 This Australian director and sometimes writer just turned 68 today. He’s well known for taking great comedy actors and turning them into awesome dramatic actors, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. His latest project in 2010 was the star-studded (Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan) adventure drama The Way Back, which he wrote the screenplay for and directed. He has been nominated for six Oscars: one for Best Writing for Green Card; one for Best Picture for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and four for Best Director for the films Master and CommanderThe Truman ShowDead Poets Society, and Witness. Pretty impressive career.

Carrie-Anne Moss

This Canadian (born in Vancouver, B.C.) turned 45 today. She is best known for her role as Trinity in The Matrix trilogy, and also well-known for her roles in MementoChocolat alongside Johnny Depp, and in Disturbia.

   Happy birthday guys.