The Book Thief is a real throwback to classic Hollywood filmmaking for the entire family. It becomes more powerful for its handling of a difficult subject in an innovative way. There are moments where the production lags a bit, but the majority of wonderful characters makes up for the occasional lull. These include people like blonde haired Rudy, the 10 year old boy whose Olympic idol is Jesse Owens or Max who paints over the pages of Mein Kampf to create a blank book in which Liesel can write. Sometimes an innocent sees the beauty of their surroundings first and slowly becomes aware of the ugliness underneath. In time, Liesel realizes the Nazi are in fact responsible for her brother's death and mother's disappearance. She doesn't necessarily understand the reasons why, but just that it has happened. She comes to the same conclusions as an adult, but from a different perspective. The Book Thief is an important drama that celebrates freedom of thought and love of humanity from the refreshing viewpoint of a child.
Drinking Buddies is highlighted by some nuanced acting, but the whole production is underwhelming. Minimalism can be refreshing, but nothingness is distressing. Occasionally the dialogue sounds as if they're making it all up as they go along. You keep hoping they're going to say something insightful about relationships, but that revelation never arrives. It sounds genuine and awkward at different times intermittently. I suppose part of the curiosity here is seeing attractive actors like Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston look so utterly disheveled in appearance. They portray hazily defined hipsters that will make your own friends seem like scintillating conversationalists by comparison. Watching this gang have a drink or two is a bit of a provocation. Drinking Buddies suggests alcohol is a motivator to act on one's true feelings. Watching the mundanity of these proceedings, it's probably only a matter of time before you'll start reaching for the bottle.
Frozen is a visually spectacular tribute to sisterhood for the entire family. It's a solid addition to their recent cannon. Granted Disney's tendency to favor a modern sensibility pales to depicting the actual time period. The studio's quest to subvert the traditional princess has been their ongoing mission for the last 20+ years so the way they tweak "formula" is nothing new. Its contemporary take on princesses is very much a product of our times. Idiomatic twenty-first century argot taints the proceedings. There are genuine moments of inspiration, however. One has Elsa, the Snow Queen building her snow castle using her own supernatural abilities. The sequence highlights the movie's signature song "Let It Go" a soaring declaration that says goodbye to the past, rejoicing that she no longer has to hide her gift. With arms outstretched, Elsa builds an ice staircase as she simultaneously ascends up to the sky, Snow flurries abound. She stomps the ground and a fractal image of a snowflake grows from under the foot. Then she raises her hands and a glittering shiny ice castle of frozen spires appears from all around her It's a positively gorgeous spectacle, among the best of the year, and a joyous reminder of the heights to which music and images can combine in a Disney film. Not since Superman & his Fortress of Solitude has a home been made so beautifully in ice.
The chronicle works best as a warmhearted rumination of a woman's journey to find her son. The dialogue isn't particularly deep. The odd couple pairing of devout mother Philomena with atheist journalist Martin Sixsmith forms much of the plot. This is a drama of human interaction between two polar opposites. In their conversations, there are times when Philomena is portrayed as na´ve and Martin as enlightened. The script manages to impugn the Catholic church (easy target) of 1950s Ireland as well as the Republican party (even easier target) of the 1980s. However The Magdalene Sisters is a vehement attack. Philomena is more good-natured and sweet in its tale. Thank Judi Dench for her dignified, sensitive portrayal. At one point she rebukes Martin for his lack of faith and forgiveness. At that moment she is the character with which we most identify. View the narrative as a testament to the undying bond that's exists between mothers and their children. Throughout it all Philomena remains a staunch supporter of Catholicism. This picture may be a manipulative crowd-pleaser. But it's also an emotional tear-jerking family drama with captivating flashes of anger, sorrow, humor and poignancy. Judi Dench makes the concoction pleasant.
Catching Fire does a brilliant job of taking a beloved work and turning it into a cinematic event. You've heard the adage "show don't tell." In scene after scene, director Francis Lawrence invigorates the words of Suzanne Collins' novel into a fully realized picture that exploits the possibilities of the visual medium. The evils of living in Panem are explored with an enlightened depth. The actors personify the victims of a single-party totalitarian dictatorship in the saga of an oppressive government. The anguish is authentic, at times heartbreaking. There is a scene in Catching Fire where Katniss takes a TV stage resplendent in a white wedding gown. She is unveiling the dress she was supposed to have worn in her upcoming marriage ceremony to Peeta. As the live studio spectators watch in rapt attention, she begins spinning. The outfit catches fire, engulfed in flames transformed like a phoenix. Her costume grows wings, becoming a mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion against the capital. The galvanizing spectacle will have grave repercussions later, but it's a heady display - an instant to share in the power of the collective experience. We're witnessing the manifestation of a star right before our very eyes - in the movie, but also real life. The fame of Katniss Everdeen parallels Jennifer Lawrence's own soaring career trajectory. Indeed life imitates art.