Before I give the actual reviews of the week, I have to admit that I paid for a movie called “Let’s Be Cops.” Under no circumstances should anyone see this movie. It was beyond terrible. Please, for the love of everything you hold dear, don’t see it! And don’t think this is reverse psychology either. It’s not. Let’s Be Cops is meant to be a comedy, but you won’t laugh. You’ll just add it to the list of deathbed regrets.
Now, having said that, let’s move on with the reviews for The Giver and Expendables 3.
Now, some of my older readers may have completed grade school before the early ’90s. The Giver novel came out in 1993, when I was 12 years old. It immediately became required reading for every school age child. When I read it, I was the same age as Jonas. I was soaked up in the world where everything was meant to be fine, but there was a hollowness at its core. Jonas’s rebellion became my literary rebellion. I read this book well before I ever discovered the work of George Orwell and it was my first exposure to dystopian novels. I’ve read the book several times since then and it still holds up as a simple, but powerful story of discovery and deception.
The Giver was released in a time where it stood out, even if it did borrow from older stories like The Lottery, Brave New World and 1984. Now, nearly every YA book is about some malicious dystopian government or supernatural love triangles. Sometimes those are even combined.
The most prominent comments about this movie is that it will seem like a rip-off. Just take a step back and realize that there would be no Divergent or Hunger Games without this book. Get past thinking that you’ve seen this alternate world in other works before. This is where they came from.
Brenton Thwaites plays Jonas. He is slightly older than the written character, but it doesn’t matter. He, along with his two best friends, Asher and Fiona, are happy living their naive lives in their protected and perfected colony. Everyone living in this colony receives daily dulling injections and lives in a state of ignorant happiness.
Jonas and his friends have reached the age where they find out what calling/career is meant for them. Jonas is singled out and given the extraordinary calling of The Receiver of Memories. He must handle the burden of knowing about the pleasure and pain of the world that came before. However, that new knowledge makes him see the flaws of the perfect society he currently lives in.
I never wanted The Giver to be adapted for the big screen. Much like its main character, it’s innocent and simple, yet explores deeper themes of free choice and emotion. I am not sure how audiences are going to react to this largely black and white world where the simple memory of riding a sled on a snowy hill is exhilarating. The pacing of this story almost needs to follow that of a artsy French film. How appealing that may be to audiences is to be decided.
Many people, including me, freaked out when they saw drones and spaceships in the trailer. It has been marketed as a high-intensity underground retaliation movie. They almost had to show that in the trailers to get certain crowds excited. We are at the tail end of summer after all. Thankfully, that drone was only shown for a few minutes in the actual movie.
The Giver closely follows the plot of the book. It’s honestly one of the best novel adaptations I’ve seen. That said, there are scenes and events added for dramatic effect. They added a romantic angle. However, it doesn’t mar the film. I’ll also let you know that the movie ends with the same shot as the book explained, but there is some wibbly wobbly non-explained deus ex machina action that happens right before the end.
The final third is when the movie started to lose me. I didn’t mentally check out altogether, but I knew that they were dumbing it down for audiences. That said, I went in expecting this movie to be a train wreck and kind of ruin my adolescence, but it immediately grabbed me and kept my attention for most of the movie.
I appreciate a movie that follows its own rules. The Giver opens with its Pleasantville-esque black and white color palette. The first time we see vibrant color is the first time Jonas experiences a memory. The more information he receives, the brighter and more colorful his reality gets. The scenes where Jonas is not around are shown in B&W and muted colors.
What brings this movie a notch above the rest of the dytopian fare is the caliber of actors. Jeff Bridges plays The initial Receiver/Giver. He plays it very old and effectively. You can see his inner struggle when it comes to revealing too much past pain to Jonas. Meryl Streep plays the semi-villainous Chief Elder, that will sacrifice anything in order to maintain a perfect society. She adds plenty of credibility to the film. Jonas’s parent’s played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes were fine but not given enough to do. Holmes especially. This movie only furthers her already icy perception. Not exploring Skarsgard’s character a little more feels like a wasted opportunity.
It’s difficult to say if people who never read the book will appreciate this movie. It is truly meant for those who grew up reading it. It captures visuals exactly as I pictured them while reading. It may actually be a weaker movie than it is a quality adaptation.
I was pleasantly surprised at the level of quality in the cinematography, acting and reliance on dialogue to carry the movie. This isn’t a must see big screen movie, but if you’re a fan of the book, you will go regardless. As a grade, I’d give it a B+.
The Expendables 3
It’s not as if it’s trying to win Academy Awards for writing or acting. In fact, the series’ longevity is due to the fact that they’re having fun and blowing stuff up. I wrote stuff instead of Sh*# because this movie is the first of the three to have a PG-13 rating. In the other two movies, blood, guts and gunplay were the norm. Now, when the bad guys get shot, dust clouds come out of the wounds instead of blood.
The Expendables also works because pop culture is currently king. Even if you didn’t grow up in a time when Steven Seagal was Hard to Kill, Jean Claude Van Damme was a Kickboxer or Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Commando, you can still appreciate the campy nature of ’80s action movies. It was a simple time when the hero could single-handedly wipe out an opposing army and not be grazed by one bullet. You know, sort of like a Marvel movie…
Personally, I love watching these aged action stars because it reminds me of Saturday afternoons. Back in the day, random action movies like Rambo 3 or Predator would play on TV. My dad and I would just relax and watch the bulked-up hero save the day while spouting glorious one-liners.
The movie that captured that nostalgia was actually The Expendables 2. The first one tried, but took itself too seriously. The second time around, they were in on the joke and hilarity and excitement followed. The third Expendables need only follow the same formula and it would have been a great ride. For better or worse, it’s a mix of the first and second movie.
Not that plot really matters, but we’ll cover it here anyways. The movie starts out as Stallone and his small gang of geezers free Wesley Snipes from captivity after years of imprisonment. His explanation for being in maximum security? Tax evasion (pretty funny). The Expendables go on a mission to retrieve bombs or something, when Stallone sees former partner and traitor to the group, Mel Gibson.
Stallone realizes that his group of mercs is probably too old to take Gibson down and recruits the Baby Expendables. They are comprised of Kellan Lutz, of Twilight fame, and some random Ultimate Fighters. This group of youngsters are more tech-based than the older Expendables, who prefer to just walk into a building shooting rather than covertly hack the network.
This movie starts off with a fun scene, but then takes its time to get fun again. It attempts to preach a morality tale about how family is all about the people who stand next to you in a war. I’m fine with that, but the audience is paying to see fighting, get to it. No one is asking these guys, who can barely speak English, to talk more. Especially with lines like this between Statham and Snipes –
Statham: Are you that good with knives?
Snipes: The best. You can call me the knife before Christmas…
Eye roll. This movie is full of eye rolls. That’s okay, because it eventually gets to a bombastic final battle that pays off. The combined teams take on an Eastern European army, tanks and helicopters. And once again, not a single hero is hit by a bullet. The end is surprisingly well choreographed.
What really saves this movie are the cast additions. I could take or leave Snipes. It’s Mel Gibson, who adds gravitas to an underwritten villain. He chews the scenery in the best way possible and acts circles around Stallone (and everyone else). This was a great role for Gibson. Also, Antonio Banderas adds necessary charisma to the ever-expanding Expendables. He plays an aging but spry man who has always dreamed of joining the mercenary team. Without those two actors, this movie would be incredibly boring.
As it stands, this is a worthy follow-up to a series that relies on camp and nostalgia. There will surely be an Expendables 4 in two short years and I’ll be in line to see that as well.
Expendables 3 is not the best in the series, but it’s not the worst. The addition of Gibson and Banderas makes this movie above average, but not a must see. Rent this movie and watch it on a Saturday afternoon. C+