REVIEW: Son of a Gun

7 02 2016

Son of a GunSon of a Gun” is a film about…

Well, actually, I’m not sure I can finish that sentence honestly. Julius Avery’s film is not really “about” anything. It’s yet another installment in a type of cinema that I call “things happening to people.” These types of movies are not automatically or categorically bad, but they are the cinematic equivalent of the simple sentence. They have the bare minimum necessary to get by and cohere. Any complexity beyond that is absent.

I could imagine a film where the journey of Brenton Thwaites’ JR is compelling like “A Prophet” or “Starred Up.” Both feature young men who enter prison with little to no affiliation or grounding and carve out a unique place in its social infrastructure. JR falls in with Ewan McGregor’s Brendan Lynch and quickly gets in far over his head, particularly once he exits the facility and faces expectations of continuing his role in their criminal enterprises.

But “Son of a Gun” mostly just watches as JR moves from scene to scene like the alphabet proceeds from A to Z. Avery adds none of the features – strong characterization, thematic heft or virtuosic artistry – that can elevate a “things happening to people” movie. The film does have some nice chemistry between Thwaites and Alicia Vikander’s Tasha, a path for his redemption. But otherwise, it’s less watchable and more just passable. B- 2stars

REVIEW: The Giver

15 08 2014

The GiverIf there was any doubt that we’re reaching the point of supersaturation with dystopian YA adaptations, “The Giver” confirms that the tipping point has arrived.  I get that life in post-recessional America doesn’t exactly inspire hope, be you a teenager or an adult.  But I doubt real life could be any worse than escaping into this derivative and, often times, outright laughable film.

I first read the film’s source material, Lois Lowry’s Newberry-winning novel that is now a staple of middle school English curricula, as an impressionable 12-year-old in 2005.  At the time, the post-“Harry Potter” adolescent fiction boom had not begun to tarnish the newly bolstered reputation of writing aimed for emerging readers (not even the “Twilight” series had been published).  YA was neither a dirty word nor a marketing buzzword then; it was just my demographic.

Lowry’s book might have been relatively short, but it sure packed a punch.  “The Giver” can serve a crucial function in the escalation of material for language arts, providing a key stepping stone towards more weighty adult literature.  If you can place yourself in the position of a teenager, the dialectical push and pull between order and chaos as well as pain and pleasure are actually quite thought-provoking.

Yet no matter how deeply one might have regarded the thematic content of the novel, it’s entirely possible to discredit “The Giver” as little more than a compilation of shallow marketing hooks for a cookie-cutter dystopian YA film.  The very premise of the story loses sophistication and nuance as it’s forced to fit the mold made popular by “The Hunger Games.”  What made Lowry’s story special is largely discarded in favor the conventional, leaving behind a film that’s a shadow of its literary incarnation.

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