THE GIVER. The film adaptation of Lois Lowry's The Giver has been floating around Hollywood for years, always with Jeff Bridges attached. The dystopian young adult novel is a staple in a lot of middle school classrooms and it's apparently very close to Bridges' heart. After years of film limbo, the movie finally made it to production, and it was worth the wait.
Set during an unknown time, in an unknown place, The Giver is essentially a sci-fi coming-of-age story. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a community where everything is controlled. The weather is always perfect, there is always peace and every day is structured down to the minute. All the members of the community are content and unaware of life ever being different. When Jonas graduates and receives his job assignment as "the receiver," everything begins to change. He must work with "the giver" (Bridges) to receive all the memories of the way things were before the change. As he learns more and more about the way things used to be, about the experiences and opportunities that used to exist, it becomes apparent that he is the only one who can return the world to the old way.
The plot doesn't contain many surprises and the exposition is rough, but these elements aren't the driving force behind The Giver. At least 10 percent of the film is thematic montage, used to demonstrate the extent of the information Jonas is receiving from the Giver. There is a subtle bleed of color over time, as it begins to take over Jonas' black and white vision. The rest of the film is mostly focused on the emergence of sensation and perception for Jonas, making it more about emotion than story. This is a young adult story, after all; as a primer for future sci-fi readers, the ratio of plot to emotionality is the perfect introduction.
Bridges, unsurprisingly, nails his role as the weary prophet and Meryl Streep's portrayal as the chief elder is as perfectly executed. The rest of the cast is forced into a bland corner by the nature of their roles, making their performances less than memorable, but acceptable. This includes the small cameo from Taylor Swift as a naïve, musical ingénue.
Hats off to screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, who made a lot of tiny changes to the book's original plot, but didn't damage the essence of the story. Similar compliments to director Philip Noyce (Patriot Games); he wasn't too heavy-handed with the film's themes of love and pain, making it more accessible to an audience of a variety of ages.
Likely, The Giver will get lost in the swarm of recent sci-fi picks for teens and tweens, but hopefully its cult following as a book will help it stand out from the crowd. PG13. 97m.
BOYHOOD. Richard Linklater has an odd obsession with nostalgia; a fair portion of his films (Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused) focus on capturing the essence of an era or the mood of a moment. His newest film, Boyhood, doesn't deviate from his favorite theme; in fact, it kicks the theme into high gear and takes the audience on a nearly three-hour tour of childhood. No need to buckle your safety belts; it's a very slow ride.
The film starts with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) at 6 years old and follows him until he is 18. The plot doesn't deviate from what you would expect of a coming-of-age story. Mason's parents are divorced and he spends a majority of his time with his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and mother (Patricia Arquette). Through the years, Mason's father (Ethan Hawke) appears from time to time, sharing wisdom and laughter with his son before he leaves again. Boyhood's main focus is how Mason is affected by life changes and stressors, like dealing with his mother's abusive new husband or falling in love for the first time.
Depsite massive critical acclaim, Linklater's gimmick did little to elevate what is a typical story of a boy becoming a man. The film was shot over a 12-year span, using the same cast throughout. Linklater gets points for creativity, but his idea was better on paper. In actuality, Boyhood is a three-hour exploration of a fairly standard, privileged childhood and nothing more. By the two-hour mark, the film has long since become stagnant, the plot has become redundant and the discomfort of the theater seats wins out over the attention span. Boyhood is worth watching on DVD at home, where you can come and go at your own leisure. As a theatrical release, it feels more like a chore than a work of art. R. 165m.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL. Underdogs. Inspirational locker room speeches. Social commentary. Life lessons. Football. PG. 115m.
IF I STAY. Talented Chloë Grace Moretz is torn between a life of higher education or rock 'n roll love, but an accident forces her to make a tougher, spiritual decision. PG13. 107m.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. Oh. Look. Another Woody Allen romcom. This one wins worst poster design of the year. PG13. 100m.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR. Comic book ultraviolence sequel brings grit, darkness and plenty of ugly back to the big screen. R. 103m.
— Grant Scott-Goforth
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Stunning visual effects, intense battles and a story with an emotional authenticity generally unseen in summer blockbusters. PG13. 130m.
THE EXPENDABLES 3. Lats, abs, 'toids, and 'ceps re-form the gang for the third installment of the old-timers' action spectacle. This time, they bring in some (relatively) young blood, and old- and new-school don't exactly see eye to eye. PG13. 126m.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Unlikely heroes (including a tree, a raccoon, and Andy from Parks and Rec) guard the galaxy from boredom in this clever, edgy and dazzling sci-fi blockbuster. PG13. 121m.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. A fish-out-of-water story pits a family of Indian restaurateurs new to provincial France against a more traditional and established restaurant owner (Helen Mirren). Warm, sincere, nostalgic filmmaking. PG. 122m.
INTO THE STORM. Like Twister, but twistier. Great special effects make for a passable summer disaster flick. PG-13. 89m.
LET'S BE COPS. Two dolts impersonate cops to get free stuff and become popular. Poor timing for the studio, as cops are decidedly unpopular in parts of the nation right now. R. 103m.
LUCY. Director Luc Besson muddles an interesting idea with half-baked plotting, wasting Scarlett Johansson as a woman dosed with a drug that allows her to access the other 90 percent of her brain. R. 90m.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. Hollywood unwisely reinvents the origin story and the world's most fearsome fighting team is duller than ever. PG13.
WHAT IF. Twee rom-com pokes at the tropes of twee rom-coms, as Daniel Radcliffe seeks love in a boyfriend-sodden dream girl. From the writer of MVP: Most Vertical Primate. PG13. 98m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Grant Scott-Goforth