KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Violence, Drug Content, Language throughout and some Sexual Material

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Written by: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn

(based on the KINGSMAN comics by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons)

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood & Emily Watson

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was one of the biggest cinematic surprises of 2014 and became a huge hit for its over-the-top R-rated action, goofy comedy, colorful characters, and self-aware spy plot. It was essentially the KICK-ASS of spy films. Last year, we finally got a follow-up to KINGSMAN and saw the next chapter in the super-spy adventures of Eggsy and his secret agent cohorts. Like almost every sequel in existence, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is a step beneath the original film’s quality. However, there is still a lot to love about this ultra-violent, bombastic sequel.

A year after the events of the first KINGSMAN, hoodlum-turned-Kingsman-agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has been pulling off successful spy missions and wooing his Swedish princess girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alstrom). Eggsy’s world gets a severe shake-up when robot-armed Kingsman reject Charlie (Edward Holcroft) leaks information that destroys the Kingsman headquarters. With their former secret service in shambles, survivors Eggsy and tech-wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) make their way to the USA’s Statesman organization. Their main objective is to take down the head honcho responsible for all of the death and destruction: Poppy (Julianne Moore) who just happens to run the world’s largest drug cartel and is currently holding millions of lives in her hands. As you might imagine, zany spy shenanigans and gory ultra-violence ensues.

For a sequel that took three years to hit theaters, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE actually does a damn fine job of continuing its cinematic world. The tone, characters, and wild action sequences all jive completely well with the first film. I watched GOLDEN CIRCLE right after a rewatch of SECRET SERVICE and (though it falters in other areas) this sequel is completely connected to the first film in cool ways. Taron Edgerton plays the year-older version of Eggsy as more confident, but still a young man who has self-doubts and problems to overcome (besides saving the world again). Mark Strong receives considerably more screen time as Merlin this time around. Seeing as all of the marketing has already spoiled it, Colin Firth also returns as the presumed-dead Galahad and is just as fun to watch in his second go-round.

Besides having lots of returning faces (including a stand-out Edward Holcroft as a metal-armed henchman), GOLDEN CIRCLE throws a lot of new characters into the KINGSMAN mix…with uneven results. The best new additions comes in Jeff Bridges as the Statesman leader and Halle Berry as the Statesman’s tech-master. Channing Tatum seemed like he would have a big role to play in the proceedings, but sadly gets sidelined for most of the film’s long running time. Julianne Moore steals the spotlight in her scenes as the overly cheerful (yet extremely sadistic) drug cartel lord. However, Moore’s villainess needed more screen time to shine because she doesn’t receive nearly the amount of fun interactions that Samuel L. Jackson’s speech-impedimented villain had in SECRET SERVICE. Pedro Pascal is a ton of fun as lasso-wielding Agent Whiskey though.

GOLDEN CIRCLE truly begins to show its sequel wear-and-tear when it comes to the film’s frantic juggling of subplots. There are a lot of things crammed into the 141-minute running time and it feels like it’s just too much at points. We see Colin Firth’s subplot and Merlin receives his own story arc. Eggsy is facing pressures with his princess girlfriend, facing ethical dilemmas on the field, and engaging in cat-and-mouse games against Charlie. There’s also something involving President of the United States (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood). Of course, the Kingsman have been destroyed and there are repercussions from that. Also, there’s a plot for world domination from Julianne Moore’s drug cartel lord and an out-of-nowhere kidnapping plotline. Did that sound like a lot of stuff? It is…arguably too much and more interesting moments suffer as a result from the script’s overcrowding.

On a positive note, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE remains entertaining the whole way through. It’s just a very messy film…and I’m not solely referring to the film’s gratuitous violence (which remains ridiculously awesome) when I say that. GOLDEN CIRCLE’s many storylines occasionally stifle each other, even if they are each cool in their own ways. There are nifty twists that heighten tension and provide excuses for awesome action scenes (never a bad thing in this series). The laughs are just as plentiful as ever too, because KINGSMAN still doesn’t take itself seriously in any way, shape, or form. If you liked or loved the first KINGSMAN, you’ll probably enjoy this one a lot too. Just don’t expect this sequel to live up to the heights of the original and you’re bound to have fun!

Grade: B+

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Strong Violence, Language throughout and brief Sexuality

HellHighWater poster

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Katy Mixon, Gil Birmingham, Christopher W. Garcia, Dale Dickey & Kevin Rankin

I wasn’t exactly stoked for HELL OR HIGH WATER, though I had heard nothing but great things about it. The poster looked dull, the title was generic, and the trailer seemed to indicate this was destined to go straight to video-on-demand. In an unexpected twist of events, this film has gained a lot of momentum since its Cannes premiere, sports a staggering 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and is now playing in theaters across the nation. Having now seen HELL OR HIGH WATER, I can say that it’s a lot better than the marketing would indicate, but isn’t entirely free of clichés. From a sheer entertainment level, you’re not likely to care that much about its few minor flaws.

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Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father trying to save his family’s farm from foreclosure. Tanner (Ben Foster) is Toby’s ex-con brother who would do anything to support his family. Together, these two brothers hatch a nearly foolproof series of bank robberies that involve robbing the branches of the very bank that’s trying to foreclose on their farm and then paying them back with their own money. Every tiny detail (from the getaway car to trading the money at a casino) is carefully ironed out, but the pair didn’t count on determined Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) to come looking for them. Aided by his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), Hamilton is looking for one last hurrah before his retirement. The two lawmen and two criminals start on a path towards each other that can only end in violence.

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Despite having a premise that sounds like it packs plenty of action from start to finish, HELL OR HIGH WATER mainly focuses on its characters and the parallel storylines that feed into one another. The story of Toby and Tanner trying to save their farm through illegal means is highly entertaining and tense, but so is Hamilton and Alberto’s hunt for them. We see both sides of the conflict and our sympathies are undoubtedly tested when the two forces eventually collide. Though both storylines use a few well-worn clichés, it should be noted that the film often takes an unconventional route and indulges in quiet moments between the characters. This is especially true in the final minutes, which didn’t at all play out like I expected.

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The interactions and conversations wouldn’t be nearly as fun or tense to watch if we didn’t care about these characters. HELL OR HIGH WATER has stellar performances across the board. Chris Pine may struggle with certain accents (see THE FINEST HOURS), but he pulls off a convincing Southern drawl and makes Toby into a compelling anti-hero worthy of the viewer’s sympathies. Though he’s much more of a reckless psycho, Ben Foster’s Tanner has his share of emotional scenes and ultimately comes off as a complex character…even if he’s hard to like.

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Jeff Bridges is fantastic as Ranger Hamilton. This is the best Jeff Bridges has been in years (to say the least) and stands out as one of the best performances of his entire career. Gil Birmingham is great as Hamilton’s sidekick, who gets a lot of genuine laughs to ease the escalating tension. The constant “good” roles of Bridges and Birmingham contrasted with Pine and Foster’s “bad” roles make for an old-fashioned western feeling in an otherwise complicated crime thriller. The beautifully shot Texas setting (which is actually Eastern New Mexico substituting for West Texas) certainly lends to that as well, with isolation being a key factor in many scenes.

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HELL OR HIGH WATER has a few faults. A couple of plot developments are very predictable. After all, there are only so many ways that this story can play out. However, the conclusion left me surprised in a very pleasant way. The message about banks being the real bad guys is also a bit too heavy-handed. We see frequent loan ads and “for sale” signs on the road, a scummy bank manager is used as comic relief, bystanders commend the bank robberies, and the looming threat of foreclosure is omnipresent. I felt like these bits were laid on a bit too thick and momentarily smothered the script’s mostly clever nature.

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In spite of its problems, HELL OR HIGH WATER is a great piece of entertainment. The film has lots of witty banter, tense moments, quiet emotional scenes and complex characters worth rooting for (on both sides of the law). The cinematography has a naturalistic beauty that lends a classier feeling to the endearingly old-fashioned main conflict. Though clichés weigh the film down ever so slightly, HELL OR HIGH WATER is a solid modern western mixed with a tense crime thriller. If that sounds up your alley, then give this film a shot!

Grade: A-

My Bottom 10 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

During the past two years that I’ve run this website, I have created a “Best of” list at the end of each December. I neglected to make a “Worst of” list because of my misguided belief that I shouldn’t further shame the films that I’ve already ridiculed with negative reviews. In 2015, things have changed and I’ve decided (at least for this year) to make a Bottom Films list to go along with my Top Films list. 2015 was a great year for films overall, but also had more than its fair share of flops. The following movies made me want to pull my hair out in frustration and weep quietly in the theater for having wasted money. Before I post my Top Films of 2015, I decided it would only be appropriate to get my picks for Bottom Films of 2015 out of the way first.

There were ten movies this year that wasted precious hours of my life that I’ll never be able to get back. Before getting into those, I’ll begin with a few dishonorable mentions. 2015 brought me two very shitty found footage horror flicks in AREA 51 and THE GALLOWS. Though it was marginally better than its predecessor, INSURGENT was still a hot mess of every recent young adult novel combined. THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED came off like just another bland, generic action flick, making the Statham predecessors look like DIE HARD in comparison. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 was a piss-poor follow-up to one of my favorite comedies of this past decade. Finally, PAN was a letdown on pretty much every level. I mean, Blackbeard sings Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Captain Hook fights a kung-fu warrior. Enough said. None of those aforementioned films are on my bottom ten though. So, without further ado, let’s move onto my picks for ten worst films of 2015:

10. Blackhat

10. BLACKHAT: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time, Michael Mann made masterful films like MANHUNTER (the first adaptation of RED DRAGON), HEAT (the awesome pairing of De Niro and Pacino), and COLLATERAL (one of my all-time favorite thrillers). Mann’s latest thriller, about an international hunt for a dangerous hacker, seemed like it could be a relevant and exciting fun time at the movies. However, I was fighting to stay awake when I sat through this endurance test in an auditorium populated by a total of six other attendees. BLACKHAT is boring and when it’s not boring, it’s stupid beyond belief. One of the dumbest scenes of the year occurs in the final third of this film in which Hemsworth duct tapes magazines around his chest to create a make-shift bullet-proof vest. I think that scene speaks volumes for the film by itself.

9. Hellions

9. HELLIONS: I managed to catch three movies at this year’s Sundance film festival. Two of those were quality horror films and nestled in-between them was this abomination. The initial set-up sounds like a feature-length version of the final segment from TRICK ‘R TREAT. A girl is terrorized by demonic trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. I was hoping for something weird and spooky, seeing as the director behind this film created the unconventional zombie flick PONTYPOOL. HELLIONS is definitely weird, but not in a good way. A misguided attempt to shoot in infrared makes everything appear pink. The acting is wooden. The story goes nowhere and becomes incomprehensible after the first 20 minutes. At the very least, the film is so bad that it’s funny, but not enough to recommend this low-budget disappointment.

8. Lazarus Effect

8. THE LAZARUS EFFECT: For some reason, half of the movies on this list are horror films. That wasn’t intentional, especially since it’s been a pretty good year for the genre. However, THE LAZARUS EFFECT is about as generic and confused as a genre film can get. The premise is cool and sounds like a modern-day take on FLATLINERS. However, the screenplay just cannot decide which direction it wants to take with the material. Is this movie about hell and demons? Is it supposed to be a Frankenstein-like science gone wrong tale? Is the main villainess supposed to be the horror equivalent of Lucy from LUCY? Apparently, it’s all of these things…plus a string of cheap jump scares and a group of insufferably annoying characters.

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7. THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH: The first of four sequels on this list, WOMAN IN BLACK 2 was the first official wide release of 2015…and what a crappy release it was. I actually dug 2012’s WOMAN IN BLACK  as a spooky little ghost movie and hoped that this sequel would be more of the same. The ghost who kills children is practically handed a plate of potential victims and then does nothing remotely interesting with them. The visuals give a look of an atmospheric ghost story, but cheap jump scares and a bland script make this the epitome of everything wrong with modern big-budget horror movies.

6. Joe Dirt 2

6. JOE DIRT 2: BEAUTIFUL LOSER: Confession time. I like the first JOE DIRT. I really do. It’s a stupid, crude and moronic flick, but I enjoy it as a fun guilty pleasure. For whatever reason, I was sort of looking forward to this straight-to-Crackle sequel. Aside from three decent chuckles, the film is a long laughless slog of a sequel. It seems content to merely reference the original film, instead of tell its own white-trash story. The film moves from bad set-piece to bad set-piece for nearly two hours(!) before ending in the biggest cop-out conclusion imaginable. Not even an endless supply of buffalo wings and beer could make this film enjoyable.

5. Contracted 2

5. CONTRACTED: PHASE 2: A follow-up to 2013’s better-than-expected body-horror flick, this sequel was clearly made as a cheap cash-in for the small audience that enjoyed the original. CONTRACTED 2 is shoddily written and badly directed by people who clearly had no interest in the original film and it shows. Despite running at only 78 minutes, the experience feels agonizingly long. The first CONTRACTED was an interesting body-horror take on an overpopulated subgenre, while this sequel is just another terrible low-budget zombie flick. CONTRACTED 2 also has the balls to put in two end credits scenes that are clearly setting up for PHASE 3. Count me out!

4. Seventh Son

4. SEVENTH SON: Studio delays and February release date aside, I was hoping that SEVENTH SON would be entertaining. I wasn’t expecting high art, but I was expecting something watchable. My hopes and middling expectations were bashed to pieces by a lame fantasy that was dull as dirt. This flick stands alongside CIRQUE DU FREAK, ERAGON, and THE SEEKER as one of the worst young-adult adaptations to ever hit the big screen. Jeff Bridges is damn near incomprehensible as the drunk monster-killer, while Oscar winner Julianne Moore should be embarrassed for playing the cheapo looking evil witch. The effects try to be ambitious and cool, but come off as boring and unconvincing. This movie proves that a guy killing monsters can somehow be made boring. Yet another potentially cool young-adult film series bites the dust.

3. Mortdecai

3. MORTDECAI: Johnny Depp has a moustache and goofy teeth. Isn’t that funny?!? No? Well, that’s too bad, because the makers of this film seem to think it’s a riot. Based on a series of British comedic novels, MORTDECAI very well might be the worst film that Johnny Depp has ever starred in…which is quite a feat in and of itself. This bland caper comedy unsuccessfully tries to mimic a PINK PANTHER sense of humor, but doesn’t get any of it right. The laughs are dusty. The performers look like they want their scenes to be over as fast as humanly possible. If the movie had been about Paul Bettany’s bodyguard character, it would have been far funnier and more original. 2015 was a year that featured one of Johnny Depp’s best performances (BLACK MASS) as well this being his worst.

2. Human Centipede 3

2. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3: FINAL SEQUENCE: I didn’t walk into HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 with high expectations. I liked FIRST SEQUENCE and disliked FULL SEQUENCE. The FINAL SEQUENCE of the ass-to-mouth trilogy was set in a prison, starred the main villains from the first two films, and aimed for a comedic meta-approach to the material. It would be nice if we actually got a human centipede before the final 20 minutes of the running time. Up until that point, the viewer is subjected to a various list of on-screen atrocities which include a jar of clitorises being devoured, someone raping a kidney, a graphic castration and the list goes on. I can appreciate shocksploitation (I really enjoyed Eli Roth’s GREEN INFERNO), but HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 executes all of its gory gusto with the production values and “talent” of a basement porno. What could possibly be worse than this film?…

1. Fantastic Four

1. FANTASTIC FOUR: FANTASTIC FOUR is the worst superhero movie that I’ve ever seen. This dark, gritty reboot of the goofy comic series makes the 2005 and 2007 films look like classics in comparison. To be honest, this movie doesn’t feel like a movie at all, but rather a 125 million dollar excuse for Fox to keep the franchise rights away from Marvel Studios…which is appropriate because that’s why this movie was made in the first place. I enjoyed the director’s previous effort (CHRONICLE) and like a number of the performers here (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Toby Kebbell), but there’s no excuse for the unbelievably terrible quality of this film. FANTASTIC FOUR is a complete and total failure. I’d rather sit through BATMAN & ROBIN, ELEKTRA, and CATWOMAN in a marathon from hell than ever endure a repeat viewing of this movie ever again.

Here’s hoping for less bad movies in 2016…

SEVENTH SON (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Fantasy Violence and Action throughout, Frightening Images and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Sergei Bodrov

Written by: Charles Leavitt & Steven Knight

(based on the novel THE SPOOK’S APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney)

Starring: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Olivia Williams, Antje Traue & Djimon Hounsou

SEVENTH SON is yet another film in a long line of would-be franchise starters adapted from various young adult novels. What separates this YA adaptation from those of recent years is that the source material is actually an eerie medieval fantasy that favors mood, good character development, and disturbing villains over bombastic ADD-pacing and cheap cartoony battles. This cinematic adaptation of SEVENTH SON ignores every possible opportunity for a serious and well-written fantasy flick, while opting for D-level script that feels as if a whole book series was thrown into the space of single film (ala CIRQUE DU FREAK). It should really come as no surprise that SEVENTH SON is such a bad flick as the studio kept this abomination shelved for two years, but I was hoping for a bit of big dumb fun. Unfortunately, this forced fantasy epic is too dull to be fun.

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Tom Ward is of a rare group of men. He’s the seventh son of a seventh son and therefore gifted with the ability to fight the supernatural. Raised as a pig farmer, Tom finds his life upended when Master Gregory, the last remaining Spook (keeper of the supernatural), comes calling for his services as an apprentice. A blood moon is fast approaching and the evil Mother Malkin, a powerful witch, is planning to unleash hell on earth. Tom must learn to battle the supernatural, while distinguishing friend from foe. It’s up to this oddly coupled master and apprentice to stop an evil witch and her band of minions.

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As soon as SEVENTH SON begins, it seems in a rush to get itself over with. There is little in the way of introduction to each of the characters. We spend a grand total of less than 5 minutes getting to know Tom before his world changes. That’s not exactly a huge complaint as there’s nothing original to be offered here. The screenplay reminded me of other terrible studio bombs that seem similar formulaic set-ups, namely R.I.P.D. and JONAH HEX. An underdeveloped hero, aided by an unlikely sidekick, must take down some crazy person’s plan for world domination. In this case, the characters of Tom, Gregory, and Malkin fill in those blanks. To make things even worse, there’s nothing in the way of spectacle to be offered either. These effects look like they belong on the Syfy Channel and not in multiplexes nationwide.

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Seeing as there’s little effort put into turning any of these characters into someone worth caring about, there’s not much of an emotional reaction when something bad happens to them. One scene is absolutely laughable in execution as the person who we’re supposed to feel sorry for has received less than 3 minutes of total screen time and about 6 lines of dialogue. Ben Barnes is hollow as blank-slate hero Tom, but Jeff Bridges is downright embarrassing as Master Gregory. Bridges has been typecast as a drunken mentor with a silly voice in recent years (R.I.P.D., THE GIVER) and seems to be half-heartedly phoning it in. Julianne Moore is laughably over-the-top in as the scenery chewing Mother Malkin.

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The biggest issue with SEVENTH SON is the muddled, dreary script. There seems to be far too much material squeezed into 102 minutes with little in the way of developing certain plot points that definitely needed more time spent on them. A great example in showing just how crammed SEVENTH SON is comes in the villains. There are multiple big threats including a shape shifter, a ruthless assassin, a four-armed swordsman, Mother Malkin, and another underdeveloped witch named Bony Lizzie. While two (or even three) of these villains might have been cool, the screenplay packs all of them (including some faceless assassins) into the film for a climactic fight that becomes repetitive. The end result is a chaotically edited mess in which I didn’t care about who was killing who. There’s also a half-assed attempt at a romance between Ben Barnes and a young witch, but that story arc is just as clichéd and wooden as everything else in this film.

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There should have been something decent to say about SEVENTH SON. I initially imagined that watching a guy kill monsters could be entertaining, even if the movie was poorly made. However, SEVENTH SON doesn’t have a single redeeming quality that I can identify. It’s a hollow mess of a movie that was delayed for over a year with good reason. That time period only allowed even more promotional material to hit and this disaster to feel even more painful for audiences. At the very least, SEVENTH SON should have been slightly fun, but there’s not a single drop of fun to be had here.

Grade: F

THE GIVER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a Mature Thematic Image and some Sci-Fi Action/Violence

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Directed by: Phillip Noyce

Written by: Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide

(based on the novel THE GIVER by Lois Lowry)

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

I never read Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and can’t give a detailed description on if the book holds up to the source material. With the recent trend of young adult fiction turned into films that usually involve supernatural romance or a futuristic dystopian society, I can say that THE GIVER stands strong against the competition. It’s like a somewhat easier version of Orwell’s 1984. The film fumbles here and there, but ultimately winds up being a good flick that has befallen a similar fate to last year’s superior ENDER’S GAME. This movie isn’t doing well at the box office, nor is it receiving many good reviews. All this being set aside for the moment, I enjoyed THE GIVER a lot.

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In a community that is literally black and white, society has become less about people functioning and more about functioning itself. This community is absent of color, emotions and anything resembling a natural human instinct. It’s as boring a place as you can imagine where sameness is supreme and everybody is an emotionless tool living a pointless existence. Jonas is a boy living in this would-be utopia and has been assigned a unique job. He has become the new receiver of memories. This bland society has no idea about the history that led up to this point, the ultimate consequences of actions, or any feelings whatsoever with the exception of one person: the receiver of memory. Jonas is trained by the old receiver and learns about the past behind his world, joy and pain, along with the ultimate uselessness of a society populated with blank slates. As Jonas yearns to show others what they are missing out on, he becomes a danger to those in charge and discovers the darker side to this supposed perfect world.

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THE GIVER had me interested for the entire time it was playing out. Though it’s not the best young adult adaptation around (the underappreciated ENDER’S GAME still beats this by miles), it’s refreshing to see a film like this tackle a meaningful message in an effective way. There are shocking moments, including one revelation that takes things into very dark territory. Though some naïve tweens have taken to message boards ranting about how THE GIVER is ripping off DIVERGENT and HUNGER GAMES, it’s actually the other way around. GIVER was written in the early 90’s and echoes of Orwell’s 1984 nicely. The adaptation of THE GIVER never fully goes on into the utter tear-wrenching hopelessness that Orwell’s novel captured, but it’s still mighty bleak.

THE GIVER, from left: Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, 2014. ©Weinstein Company/Courtesy Everett Coll

One thing I noticed right away about THE GIVER is how believable this world was. Everything is fleshed out. The sets are incredible, along with some other nice additions to these (the design of something as simple as a bike shows the community for how truly bland it is). The color scheme also varies depending on whose point of view a scene is in. With emotionless dregs, everything is a stark black and white. As Jonas gets more training, the world lights up around him with various colors. Though only for a few scenes, the inside of buildings are great as well. I believed that I was looking into another world and that’s half the battle of getting a viewer engaged into this film.

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The rest of the battle is won with good writing and mostly solid acting. Brenton Thwaites has been criticized for being too old for the role of Jonas, but this element has definitely been changed from the book to film (kind of like ENDER’S GAME). Thwaites has thus far been in three different movies I’ve seen this year with three varying results: good in MALEFICENT, decent in OCULUS, and bad in THE SIGNAL. As Jonas, Thwaites proves himself to be a more than capable actor who can be a compelling character when given the right role. Jeff Bridges is getting older and it helps his character of The Giver (the old receiver of memories training Jonas), but Bridges also brings everything he has to the table for this sympathetic tragic figure. Alexander Skarsgard shines in the side-role of Jonas’s father. The other two young cast members are rather forgettable, though that might be attributed to their blank slate characters. As far as sinister forces go, I found Katie Holmes (Jonas’s mother) to be far more intimidating than Meryl Streep as the community leader. Holmes brought serious A-game to this role and got me to hate her by acting like a cold emotionless bitch (who her literally character was).

THE GIVER

THE GIVER is not without some issues. Some of the flashbacks/memories being seen on-screen can be a little cheesy. Parts of the movie (especially near the ending) feel rushed. The third act pushes plausibility to everything the viewer has been shown up to this point and doesn’t take its time to play things out into smooth transitions. Taylor Swift appears in a couple of scenes and doesn’t fare well as an actress. The ending is too tidy as well, complete with unneeded narration that also appeared throughout certain parts of the film from Jonas. The novel might have been written in this format of Jonas telling us the story, but the film would have benefitted from the viewer being shown this without knowing hints of the conclusion in advance.

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It’s ironic that an interesting and intelligent science-fiction flick adapted from a young adult novel is receiving so much flack from the same crowd that digs on stuff like DIVERGENT. THE GIVER is not without its share of problems (see the above paragraph), but it’s a well-constructed flick. I dug the world being shown, the acting was solid from nearly everyone, and cool ideas were presented in risky ways. One scene won’t be forgotten any time soon. I hope that THE GIVER and ENDER’S GAME both get the recognition they deserve in the future. Like ENDER, THE GIVER is an already underrated gem of science fiction tackling mature issues in a teen-friendly way. Check this one out.

Grade: B

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