The Giver

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“Salt”)
Written by: Michael Mitnick (debut) and Robert B. Weide (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

As we become more and more removed from our days in the classroom, the passage of time withers away and degrades our sense of detail and we’re left with general remembrances of our learning experiences. A dozen years ago in 7th grade, I read the dystopian young adult novel “The Giver.” I can recall enjoying the book, but reflecting back on my days in middle school and especially walking into the theater to see the film adaptation, I remember nothing about the plot or content. I can only hope that the movie is just as easily forgettable.

In a seemingly utopian society, everyone is given pre-determined jobs and their place within a family. Unbeknownst to the citizens, they also live in a society without feelings, emotions, or even color. The only connection to the previous world is a man known as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges), who has memories of life in the past. As he is on the precipice of becoming an adult, 16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to be “The Receiver” and have the memories transferred to him. But when what starts out as discovering a whole new life turns into something different as Jonas discovers the darker parts of society he decides that everyone needs to know.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but in order to buy into “The Giver,” you have to ignore a plethora of absurd plot holes, most of them big enough to ride a standard issue futuristic-looking bike through. Details about climate, injections, and a general sense of how the citizens are stifled are completely murky and hard to follow.

The citizens of this buttoned-down and manipulated community are meant to be lacking in feelings and emotions, which gives it some leeway in the sense of almost vacant performances. The problem is, the line delivery in “The Giver” is so bad that one might think that the teenagers in the film accidentally stumbled onto the set after filming an infomercial. Equal blame should be put on the screenwriters whose pedestrian and simple screenplay contains a lot of dialogue in the form of questions in a way that would make Alex Trebek proud. It’s extremely difficult to keep a straight face as a character, with complete seriousness and no irony poorly delivers the line “what is love?”

The character design is also particularly awful. Thwaites as a lead has nearly negative charisma and if you’re going to introduce a character as the funny guy who could always make everyone laugh, you might want to have him say something remotely funny a minimum of once in the film, or at least make him more personable than a bag of hammers. Bridges and Meryl Streep are pretty much the only members of the cast who show any semblance of acting, though they seem generally disinterested throughout.

Loyalties to the source material aside, the premise is only mildly intriguing, with exactly one truly interesting plot line and image that is quickly done away with and wasted. Everything else feels completely trite, as director Philip Noyce searches to find deeper meaning and a way to tap into emotions and finds nothing. The one saving grace of “The Giver” is that at times it is so bad that you can have some laughs at its expense. Whether it is faithful to the book or not seems to be a moot point as “The Giver” is a completely unmemorable slog with no personality, no interesting characters, and no real reason to exist.

Salt

July 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen”)

It might be a studio’s biggest nightmare when a megastar like Tom Cruise drops out of your potential summer blockbuster, but when you’re able to secure someone with just as much celebrity power as Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, having to go back and rework the script to read “she” instead of “he” is a welcomed endeavor. (Yes, we realize there is probably much more to it than simply replacing pronouns, but it is well-received news nonetheless).

While screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Law Abiding Citizen,” “Street Kings”) was able to adjust his script according to gender for the film “Salt,” he doesn’t take the opportunity during the rewriting phase to fill in any of the plot holes or enhance some of the foolish dialogue. Despite its shortcomings, however, “Salt” is entertaining, unpredictable and a much-needed albeit moderate kick to the less-than-stellar mainstream summer action flick lineup. Even on that thinly-built frame of hers, Jolie can still carry a movie on her own.

When CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is pegged as an undercover spy by a Russian defector, her escape from custody leads to lively foot chases, illogical assassination plots, and some terribly choreographed fight scenes. On her trail are her friend and colleague Ted Winter (Live Schreiber), who assumes she is innocent, and counter-intelligence officer Peabody (the always reliable Chiwetel Ejiofor), who does not.

The ambiguity of Evelyn’s character is what keeps the pace of the film at frenzied levels. It’s also what makes it so fun despite its number of implausible scenes. Still, it is nice to have a hero who isn’t tweaking on testosterone or afraid to break a nail. When Jolie is leaping off highways and onto the tops of semi-trucks it’s kind of hard not to pay attention.

Directed by Phillip Noyce, who is best known for a couple of those Harrison Ford-as-Jack Ryan flicks back in the 90s (his best work are his more dramatic films like “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), “Salt” might feel like another Jason Bourne offering at times. But with Jolie taking the lead there is a distinctive dynamic that comes with featuring a female Hollywood sex symbol that can kick as much butt as the boys.

As far as ridiculous thrillers go, it’s highly unlikely the summer is going to produce anything with more flavor than “Salt.” But even if films like “The Expendables” or “Machete” do end up proving to be more enjoyable, there definitely won’t be a scene in either movie where Sylvester Stallone or Danny Trejo do what Jolie does and outmaneuvers their adversaries with a pair of panties.