His Dark Materials
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The Pack (2015): 6 out of 10: Nature gone wild films are a particular pleasure of mine because they are, by their very nature, silly. The Pack, unfortunately, is yet another attempt to make a serious one.
Of all the horror genres, nature gone wild is one of the hardest to pull off in a serious role. Recently Liam Neeson's The Grey pulled this off reasonably well, but it had the advantage of well Liam Neeson. The Pack has the always stunning Anna Lise Phillips, who admittedly is a discount Radha Mitchell, but alas she is not Liam.
The Packs much bigger problem, besides tone and a lack of Liam, is a lack of cannon fodder. A good nature gone wild film needs people for nature to go wild against. The Pack has an entire cast of six people.
The main plot of The Pack is about a farmer who is isolated, in debt up to his eyeballs, has had all his sheep killed by wild dogs and whose entire family unit is straining to the breaking point. An evil banker comes by and offers him lots of money and debt forgiveness to "give up his land" and go live in a condo overlooking an Australian beach while his wife works at a nice vet clinic in a strip mall down the street. In grand movie tradition he, of course, kicks the evil banker off his land (the same guy he presumably borrowed money from before the movie started) and declares no one will take his property. (Which no one would if he would stop borrowing against it just saying)
This is a well-worn head scratching trope, and The Packs version is particularly silly. Anyway, the family is attacked by wild dogs. The wife, who is a vet mind you, forgets dogs have a sense of smell and goes for the stay still and be quiet approach. Dogs slowly walk around the house, looking menacingly. And that is about all because once again this is a nature gone wild film with six people.
Well filmed with an excellent cast but it takes itself too seriously and lets itself down when it comes to genre standards. There just isn't that much there, there.
Defiance (2008): 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its pedestrian script and subconscious racism. Also, The Last Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same endemic faults that plagued those two films. I was not able to brush the flaws of this time; I found them even more discordant as the film went on.
Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He seems like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht's cleaners. Even if you were able to accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber's brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.
Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber appears to be in the here and now with a robust subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig's performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as "Our vengeance is to live" and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith" while gazing at the camera with those, give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues don't help his cause either.
Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies.
I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you are guaranteed an Oscar ... That is why I am doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.
ï¿ 1/2" Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005
Defiance is Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel "Moses" Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out "I almost lost my faith, but you were sent by God to save us" and then promptly dies... oy vey. It is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is trying too hard.
The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. We have the nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Riefenstahl's traveling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness, Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup blond, blue-eyed Daniel Craigï¿ 1/2. Yeah, the movie has issues.
*No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins that will test any one's nerves.