The Giver (2014)

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Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift

Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

The hotly anticipated adaptation of the dystopian novel The Giver has arrived and initial response has not been great. What did I think? Well, wouldn’t you like to know?

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, Maleficent), who lives in a normalized version of reality set some time in the future. His world is one of plainness, of emotionless life filled with routine followed by more routine. It exists without color and without free thought. Life is good. Jonas is about to go through a life-changing ceremony along with friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan, TV’s Shameless, Click) and Fiona (Odeya Rush, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, We Are What We Are). This ceremony grants each of them jobs in their society, and Jonas has just been granted the most important role of all as Receiver of Memory, a role of passing down information from a man known only as The Giver (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, R.I.P.D.), who has some very valuable information for Jonas.

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The Giver isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a rough one. I get the sense that this movie wasn’t fully completed. I also feel as though the book, through fantastic, was not made to be adapted. There is just too much that feels like it would work until you actually see it.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the titular role, and he should be, as he has been trying to get the film out of development hell for almost two decades. He even previously filmed a version using family members in the roles to prove that the film was doable.

We also get some great, though very underutilized work from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods) as the Chief Elder, a woman who has her own secrets and doesn’t really trust that Jonas will stick to the guidelines of his role, just like ten years previously when a young girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day, The Lorax) failed as the Receiver of Memory.

Brenton Thwaites is passable, though very underwhelming at times. The saving grace is Odeya Rush as Fiona, a girl who helps inspire emotion with ease.

As for the parental units, Father (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood, The East) is pretty good while Mother (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Jack and Jill) poses too many questions, the most important being, “How does Katie Holmes keep getting work?” Seriously, I haven’t seen a passable performance since…wait, give me a minute.

As for Taylor Swift, come on. Not good. Not horrible, but definitely not good.

This adaptation was trouble from the start. The entire civilization is without emotion so much so that watching it would be kind of boring. Then again, add any noticeable emotion and people will claim that it breaks its own rules.

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I personally enjoyed myself over all, but the film is not without its problems. That much I can promise you. I just keep thinking. It could have been so much more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Trapped in Paradise (1994)

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Director: George Gallo

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Screenplay: George Gallo

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some rude language.

 

Christmas is just around the corner, so I thought it fitting to jump into the Christmas spirit by talking about a classic (at least on Comedy Central) that came to screens twenty years ago today. I’m talking about a little black comedy called Trapped in Paradise. It stars Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Left Behind) as Bill Firpo, the rightest of the three Firpo brothers, and the only one who can mostly ignore his temptations to commit crimes. His brothers Dave (Jon Lovitz, Happiness, Grown Ups 2) and Alvin (Dana Carvey, Wayne’s World, Jack and Jill) cannot ignore theirs, and are being released from prison due to overcrowding. Bill is begged by his paroled brethren to head to Paradise, Pennsylvania to visit the daughter of an incarcerated friend and ask her to visit her dying father. Bill eventually goes along, and for reason, he is most easily convinced to commit a bank robbery. The bank robbery goes somewhat awry, and the boys are now stuck in the town to a sweltering blizzard hitting town. They must survive being trapped in Paradise. See what I did there?

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Nicolas Cage is just terrible here. He yells and screams and Cages everything in sight. His is one of the most unlikable performances in his career. He thankfully gets outshined by Lovitz and Carvey who provide a few laughs and have good chemistry, but altogether become more of a chorus than active members of the family. They provide a hokey commentary on the events going on without really bearing much weight on the story.

And what’s the deal with this bank robbery? Cage’s character Bill spends most of the film trying to keep his brothers from committing petty theft before being easily swayed into robbing a bank? C’MON! Totally unbelievable and uninspired. Prove it to me, unheard of director George Gallo! Prove it!

I enjoyed some of the tertiary characters in this film. They play as caricatures of picturesque small-town people. If the film were set a bit more to the west, I could call it Minnesota Nice to the extreme.

Director Gallo (Middle Men, Double Take) sleeps through this film. I didn’t find myself swept up in any of the events of the film. His screenplay offers far too few laughs and far too much fluff (and this isn’t good fluff, it is crap covered fluff). Even the cast in the film looks like it isn’t having any fun in this “funny Christmas” film. They referred to it as “Trapped in Bullshit” for the entirety of the strained shoot, and it shows here.

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Part of me is drawn to Trapped in Paradise once every couple years, and when I finish it, I’m still not sure why. The film is dark and unfunny, it isn’t beautifully shot or acted, and it isn’t a plot that I can connect to in the slightest. This film exists somewhere above the Hallmark film releases but dreadfully below most anything else.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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