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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: The Chocolate War

TheChocolateWarFilm

This month’s book club pick is Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel The Chocolate War. A film adaptation written and directed by Keith Gordon was released in 1988.

The film opens with fifteen-year-old freshman Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith*Weird Science) playing football while two students watch from the bleachers.

The two students are Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison). Both are members of The Vigils, a secret underground student society.

*Interesting fact Mitchell-Smith is now a Professor of Medieval Literature at California State University Long Beach.

Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)
Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)
Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)
Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)

Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task. Albie gives Jerry’s the assignment to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.

Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon (John Glover). His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.

Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)
Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)

The first two acts of the film remain reasonably faithful to the book. The ending of the film is changed to give the film a more optimistic ‘Hollywood’ style ending where good prevails over evil. The ending of the book is far bleaker.

First time director Keith Gordon was a teen actor himself (he made his film debut at 17 in Jaws 2) so he has a good understanding of a young actor’s process. He was also only 27 when he directed The Chocolate War. Other than are few issues, such as editing choices and the use of some fantasy sequences that don’t always work, it is a competent effort for a first time director and he largely delivers good performances from his cast.

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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: Tomorrow, When the War Began

Tomorrow When the War Began poster

This month’s book club pick is John Marsden’s 1993 novel Tomorrow, When the War Began. In 2010 a film adaptation was released written and directed by experienced screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Australia).

Former Neighbours actress Caitlin Stasey leads the cast as Ellie and delivers a strong performance. The remaining teens do at the beginning feel a bit like teen movie archetypes: best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), her jock boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), rebellious Greek Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), hardworking Asian student and restaurant worker Lee (Chris Pang), sensible church going Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings), townie Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) and stoner Chris (Andy Ryan).

Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), Lee (Chris Pang), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)
Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), Lee (Chris Pang), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)
Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin)
Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin)
Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)
Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings)

Beattie like Marsden does not identify the military force invading the town, which means the focus is on the young cast. Veteran Australian actor Colin Friels briefly appears as a dentist who helps the teens after Lee is wounded, but after patching up Lee he makes it clear the teens are on their own.

The film is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book. Beattie modernised the script with references to technology. Rather than recording the history in a journal Ellie speaks directly to camera, the characters also have mobile phones and internet. When they return to Wirrawee cell towers and internet are out. This modernisation works for the film.

The filmmakers put a lot of effort into the action, special effects and stunt sequences. At times it feels like it is trying to hard to be a Hollywood action blockbuster. As a result internationally it received critical reviews and unfavourable comparisons to the 1984 film Red Dawn.

Overall fans of the book will be pleased.

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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: I Know What You Did Last Summer

I_Know_What_You_Did_Last_Summer

This month’s book club pick is Lois Duncan‘s 1973 psychological thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer. In 1997 a film adaptation was released directed by Jim Gillespie.

A word of the warning – the film is very different to the book.  While the book is a thriller / suspense novel the film fits more into the horror slasher genre that was very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Duncan who was not involved in the film’s production has not hidden her dislike for the film. Readers of the book will understand that while the reveal of the antagonist works on page this would not work onscreen.

The basic premise of the novel is four high school teenagers, Julie, Helen, Barry and Ray are involved in a hit and run accident where a young boy is killed. The teens make a pact to never speak about it again until they begin to receive threatening messages suggesting someone knows what they did. The film uses the same four characters and this basic idea but after that everything else is original.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
I Know What You Did Last Summer

To me the film and book should be appreciated as separate texts. Scriptwriter Kevin Williamson (creator of TV series Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries) took Duncan’s idea and transformed it into something new. I Know What You Did Last Summer is not as good as Scream, his earlier entry into the slasher genre (released 1996 and directed by horror legend Wes Craven), which was a box office and critical success. The success of Scream is what undoubtedly allowed I Know What You Did Last Summer to be made and because of this critics and audiences tend to compare the two films. Scream, while playing homage and poking fun at the slasher film genre, is the film that revamped and reintroduced the genre for a 90s audience.

The film followed Scream‘s success of casting well known actors from popular television shows; Party of Five‘s Jennifer Love Hewitt played Julie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar played Helen. Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prince Jr. also star as Barry and Ray.

Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Ray (Freddie Prince Jr.)
Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Ray (Freddie Prince Jr.)
Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe)
Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe)

In the film the teens are stalked and tormented by a killer who wears a bucket cap and long raincoat and carries a shiny fisherman’s hook, which fits in perfectly with the horror film killer. Think Freddie Kruger and his knives for fingers in The Nightmare of Elm Street series and the white masked Michael Myers in the Halloween series.

Also like many American horror films it follows the tradition of being set around holiday – in this case the Fourth of July.

Fisherman Killer
Fisherman Killer

The film was followed by a sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998). A third film I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer was released straight-to-DVD in 2006 and did not feature any cast from the previous films. Sony has plans to reboot the franchise with Oculus‘ Mike Flanagan writing the script.

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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: The Giver

TheGiverMovie

This month’s book club pick is Lois Lawry‘s 1993 novel The Giver. In 2014 a film adaptation directed by Phillip Noyce (The Bone Collector, Rabbit Proof Fence, Salt) was released 21 years after the novel’s initial release.

It was a long journey for the story to come to the screen. Actor Jeff Bridges (The Giver) co-produced the film with producer Nikki Silver and manager Neil Koenigsberg. Bridges has had a 20 year long interest in the project. His original intention was to direct his father Lloyd Bridges, in the role of The Giver. The success of The Hunger Games and Divergent film adaptations paved the way for The Giver to come to screen. Unfortunately the success of these other dystopian young adult films make The Giver look like a recycled version of these many films. It really is a pity this film came a decade too late.

Jeff Bridges (The Giver) and Brenton Thwaites (Jonas)
Jeff Bridges (The Giver) and Brenton Thwaites (Jonas)

Australian actor Brenton Thwaites was cast as the protagonist Jonas. In the novel Jonas is twelve; in the film he is sixteen. This is probably a wise decision as an older actor will be able to work longer hours than a child actor, have more experience and ability in playing the role and a teenage actor will also have more appeal to the target teen audience. Also having Jonas being sixteen also means the film can explore Jonas’s first love with friend and classmate Fiona (Odeya Rush).

Brenton Thwaites (Jonas) and Odeya Rush (Fiona)
Brenton Thwaites (Jonas) and Odeya Rush (Fiona)

Meryl Streep plays the film’s antagonist role of the Chief Elder. This role has been extended from what is in the novel most likely to showcase Streep’s talents and use her star profile. It is a similar case of singer Taylor Swift being cast as Rosemary, the previous Receiver of Memory. Rosemary is quite a small part in the book but in the film has been fleshed out more in the film with several flashbacks.

Meryl Streep (Chief Elder) and Jeff Bridges (The Giver)
Meryl Streep (Chief Elder) and Jeff Bridges (The Giver)

The character Asher (Cameron Monaghan) in the novel was the slightly goofy, happy-go-lucky comic relief and best friend to Jonas. In the film the character is changed to a much more brooding, serious teen. This is to give the film more conflict but personally I miss the Asher of the novel.

Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgård, Emma Tremblay round out the supporting cast as Jonas’ mother, father and younger sister.

Cameron Monaghan (Asher), Odeya Rush (Fiona) and Brenton Thwaites (Jonas)
Cameron Monaghan (Asher), Odeya Rush (Fiona) and Brenton Thwaites (Jonas)

The film remains largely faithful to the themes of the book although many details of the book have been changed for film, which may disappoint some fans of the book.

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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: Paper Towns

Paper Towns
Paper Towns

Paper Towns, directed by Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank), follows the massive success of last year’s adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The novel Paper Towns was my June 2015 Book Club Pick. You can read my full review here.

Nat Wolff (who played the supporting role of best friend Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars) is brilliant as Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, the average and some what nerdy American teen, who has been infatuated with Margo Roth Spiegelman (portrayed by model turned actress Cara Delevingne) since she moved in across the road when he was a child.

Margo (Cara Delevingne) and Quentin (Nat Wolff)
Margo (Cara Delevingne) and Quentin (Nat Wolff)

This is Delevingne’s first lead role since her debut role in the 2012 film Anna Karenina. I will say it, Delevingne is not what I imagined when I read the book and some fans of the novel will not be able to get pass that. While Delevingne does not quite nail the part she is able to capture some of the essence of the alluring and mysterious teen. There is definitely more to her than her famous eyebrows.

The true chemistry is between Quentin and his equally geeky best buds Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith). Smith plays Radar straight with deadpan humour and is a good foil to Abrams who at times overplays the goofy loud mouthed vulgar teen. The trio are likeable characters and their onscreen chemistry is part of what makes the film a pleasure to watch.

Paper_Towns_01
Radar (Justice Smith), Quentin (Nat Wolff), Ben (Austin Abrams)
Quentin (Nat Wolff), Ben (Austin Abrams), Radar (Justice Smith)

The script is penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who co-wrote The Fault in Our Stars (they also wrote 500 Days of Summer together). They have done a good job being faithful to the spirit of the novel. A lot of the dialogue is taken directly from the book.

Obviously for timing reasons there are few minor incidents have to be cut or changed for the film.

The incident from the book where Quentin and Margo break into theme park SeaWorld is cut from the film due to the controversy that has surrounded SeaWorld in the recent years. The duo instead end their night at Orlando’s SunTrust building, which actually works better for the story.

Also in film Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) joins the boys and Margo’s friend Lacey (Halston Sage) on their road trip in their search of Margo. The decision to add a second female character to the road trip is probably to make up for Margo’s absence for much of the film, bar a few dream sequences. Sage brings a depth to her character and shows that Lacey is more than just the popular pretty high school teen.

Without spoiling the ending I did I feel the film had a more optimistic and feel good ending than the book.

Ben (Austin Abrams), Angela (Jaz Sinclair), Lacey (Halston Sage), Radar (Justice Smith), Quentin (Nat Wolff)
Road trip: Ben (Austin Abrams), Angela (Jaz Sinclair), Lacey (Halston Sage), Radar (Justice Smith), Quentin (Nat Wolff)
Best buds: Radar (Justice Smith), Quentin (Nat Wolff), Ben (Austin Abrams)
Best buds: Radar (Justice Smith), Quentin (Nat Wolff), Ben (Austin Abrams)

A word to parents and those concerned about adult content. There is some rear nudity when Margo and Quentin spring her ex-boyfriend Jase (Griffin Freeman) fleeing Becca’s house (The Fosters’ Caitlin Carver). Quentin and his high school nemesis Chuck (RJ Shearer) both have scenes shirtless and in their boxers. Ben and Radar also appear shirtless.

There is also underage drinking at unsupervised house party and some sexual references / language.

Overall fans of the book will enjoy this adaptation otherwise to newcomers it is a sweet, feel-good, coming-of-age part high school road trip movie.