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.
Hugs and kisses,
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.
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!
(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.)
Wow, how did I miss this?
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!
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.
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.
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, aristocrat 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.
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.
The American is a beautifully shot, beautifully acted film that takes many of the conventions of a spy thriller and uses them to evoke paranoia in the viewer’s mind. The very first few scenes exploit the viewer’s expectations: in one shot, the scene cuts to a view from a high, wooded area onto the very exposed figures of Jack (George Clooney) and his lover Ingrid (Irina Björklund) in the snow. I instantly thought, “Oh, what an exposed area. This would be a perfect viewpoint for a sniper.” But the music hadn’t changed. After a few tense moments (for me) the movie cuts back to a medium close-up and I breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly the music just died. And then I realized that something was going to happen, something I had known was going to happen but ignored simply because the music didn’t fit what I predicted.
Jack, an assassin, or a spy, or a gun manufacturer, is a man without a home. After the disastrous events in Sweden he makes a measured retreat to Italy, where he meets up with his handler Pavel (Johan Leysen) who tells him to lay low in a small town in Italy.
Jack is a quiet man. His life in Italy is a quiet one, except for those few moments in which unspeakable violence unfolds around him. He is an assassin, or a spy, or a modifier of guns. He is a man desperately fighting against the advances of old age: Clooney’s still fit form is marred by a slight stoop in his shoulders. Jack is getting old. His moniker, “Mr. Butterfly,” is amusing and apt.
This film is filled with silences and spaces. Director Anton Corbijn uses the general silence of the film to great effect. Small noises become distinct. The music fades in and out so seamlessly that when the music invokes tension one is only aware of it after it is gone. Corbijn uses these tools to illustrate the tense and (bizarrely) mundane life of a contract killer. The setup of each shot beautifully evokes claustrophobia: one scene in a café has one shot where Clooney is placed in the lower right of the shot, the walls and window stretching into the rest of the screen, the window giving us a view of the suspiciously parked car outside. We are contained, just as Jack is contained, in the café, forced to wait for something that never happens.
Somehow this film perfectly captures that nameless paranoia that arises when walking home alone at night. The small panics that arise when we hear footsteps, the darting looks we shoot over our shoulders, the desire to run or to scream or to remain silent.
The characters around Jack are almost archetypes: the fatherly priest with a secret, the sensual yet strangely innocent prostitute, the gravelly-voiced handler, the femme fatale. I say archetype instead of stereotype because these are not exaggerated characters, not over-simplifications. These characters are raw, pure forms of what we imagine them to be.
The fact of the matter is, The American will be disparaged more than many of its fellow summer movies. Part of the problem is the marketing surrounding the film. Recognizing the financial issues that come with producing a more contemplative film, somebody up high decided to spin this film as an action thriller. Let’s get one thing straight. There are three action scenes in the entire movie. Less than 10 people die in the entire film. Yet this film is so visually and emotionally arresting that I immersed myself in it and could not escape.
The only reason this movie is not receiving five waffles is because the plot is simply too strained to hold all of these details together. A simple plot is fine, but a simple and unbelievable plot detracts from the excellent atmosphere. I cannot believe that Jack, who foresees so much in this film, would be unable to foresee the “twist” at the end. Other than that small issue, this is an excellent film.
Now that I got that pretentious, artsy-fartsy review out of the way, I have two points. For those who complain that this movie is pretentious: I fail to see why. Sure, you can analyze this film, but the fact of the matter is that this movie can be enjoyed purely because of the way it is filmed. Or if that doesn’t appeal to you, you could enjoy the character development. Are you calling this movie pretentious because it forces you to think? Or merely because you don’t like it? Comments are welcome.
Secondly, for those who thought that this movie was boring: I can’t really tell you that you’re wrong, because you were obviously bored. I can say that it is incorrect to say that “nothing happened.” On the contrary, lots of things happened. People were killed. Of course, unlike The Expendables, Jack doesn’t kill over 9000 people, but I think that he can be forgiven this little sin. Jason Bourne is an international fugitive. Jack doesn’t even have a last name.
Hugs and Kisses,
Upon deprivation, sensory perceptions become hyper-sensitive. In the case of “The American”, this comes in the form of sound: there is almost no background music throughout the movie; most of the sounds come from daily noises – breathing, machines cranking, car doors opening and closing. This was a beautiful, thoughtful, and meticulous film about loneliness and love.
In “The American”, George Clooney plays Jack, who seems both an assassin and a mechanic. In this movie, Clooney shows none of his characteristic charm, instead focusing on the grim and serious expressions that were glimpsed in “Michael Clayton”; he does an excellent job. Jack is a man fearing for his life – in the very beginning of the movie, he was the target of an assassination attempt, and the whole movie is filled with superb tension.
In one scene, Jack takes a woman, Clara, out on a picnic. When she asks if anyone else comes to the location, the audience can imagine Jack thinking about witnesses for potential murder, but it becomes clear that Clara only wants privacy. The film is set in a small town in Italy, and Clooney spends much time walking the cobblestone streets and ducking beneath bridges to lose followers. The mountains of Abruzzo are beautiful, and the town seems small, quiet – the paranoia Jack feels really has room to fill and occupy all the free space. Even once Clooney has exited a frame, the camera stays focused on the scene – a doorway, for example – as if to say, ‘here, the world will go on even once you have passed through’.
Most of the time, bored, I will start composing a review during a movie. This was the first movie in a long time where I truly felt drawn into the world, the last time probably being “Avatar”. After the movie, I was still blown away; I couldn’t get over how great the movie was. Yet, many of the people around us seemed disappointed – comments of “boring” and “what a lame assassin” rang out around us. (Orion and I agree that this is due in part to the trailer targeting the wrong audience – see below.) But I think that was the fundamental point of the movie: the loneliness of being a killer, even a good killer at that. Clooney plays a strong lead, and the movie is beautiful.
Overall – 5/5; elegant filming and sound, Clooney’s superb acting, a love/loneliness story told in a most interesting and intriguing way.
Doors slam, voices are heard shouting but no one figure is on screen; a man is seen shouting through a glass window, but his words are unheard. “The Ghost Writer” is full of these little suspenseful details, but the difference is that it is an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Ewan McGregor stars as the Ghost Writer, a man hired to write the memoir of a political figure accused of war crimes. While filled with the same tense scenarios of an spy-thriller, there were no high-speed car chases or major stuntwork; the Ghost thinks he is being followed and frantically checks his rearview mirror, he calls an unknown number only to hang up immediately.
The movie does a good – though simple – job of playing up sinister aspects. The music is composed of bell-like sounds, the house where the Ghost goes to work is composed of strange, blockular architecture. The environment is dull-lit, and the days are cloudy, wintery and bleak. There are people who are strangely nice, or people who seem to have ulterior motives – it reminded me a lot of the wives in “Raise the Red Lantern”, how you never know who is on the protagonist’s side, or who the protagonist should be telling things to. These parts were all well done.
I’m not sure how I felt about the actors. Ewan McGregor kept making me think of Obi-Wan Kenobi; the Ghost was originally supposed to be played by Nicholas Cage. (Isn’t it always strange to imagine roles with their originally intended actors?) I don’t know if this was supposed to be due to the character of the Ghost, or due to McGregor’s acting, but the Ghost felt weak. He seemed fragile, clumsy, and even a little stupid. At the same time, I felt Olivia Williams, who was excellent as Adelle DeWitt in TV series “Dollhouse”, did a great job as ruthless wife Ruth (no pun intended); she manipulated everyone around her, all the while seeming the most trustworthy and natural. Tilda Swinton was supposed to play Ruth originally, but I think Williams was well suited for the task. The only bad casting in this movie was Kim Cattrall as an assistant, running around with a fake British accent.
So why such a low rating for this movie? In the end, it came down to pacing. The movie took a long time getting off the ground; I was extremely bored by the middle. Even when the action began taking off, it didn’t compensate for the first part. I know I am impatient by nature, but I think for this kind of real-life thriller, too much idleness is unacceptable.
Overall – 3.5/5; great details to play up ‘ordinary’ suspense, average acting, but a slow tempo.