The Book Thief (2014)

The Book Thief (2013) PosterGenre: Drama, War

Director: Brian Percival

Writers: Michael Petroni, Markus Zusak (novel)

Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Rating: ★★★½

The Book Thief is an adaption from Markus Zusak’s award winning novel of the same name, with an inviting and heart-felt tale of a story turning into life and movement on the big screen.  It is polished with some great acting from the main cast, making for a bunch of really likable characters and journeys to follow.  The Petroni and Percival adaption is also entertaining whilst at the same time being very solemn and sad, something excellently complemented by a great soundtrack.

“One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever.” The Book Thief starts with that very line, from then onwards we know as an audience this won’t be the happiest film of the year. The story follows the journey and events of a young girl called Liesel who’s subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany. She’s inquisitive and that nature leads her to her greatest solace of stealing books. Due to a pre-war Germany Liesel is adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) a married couple in a small German village.  It is there where we follow her life; aged 9 she attempts to settle in with new parents, friends and school but what we see develop most is her love for books.  Befriending local boy Rudy and settling within her new home, she is then interrupted by a Jewish refuge Max on the run from Nazi’s and Hitler. Max brings to Liesel’s attention the action of Hitler and Germany, and sparks again her inquisitive nature. Ill and on the brink of death Liesel forms a special bond with Max, as he lays hidden and unconscious most nights in their basement Liesel reads another stolen book in the hope that they’ll survive another night and avoid capture.

Zusak’s original story is very intriguing and somewhat pleasant but on screen The Book Thief is somewhat depressing and the opening sequences establish this. However my issue is not with the tone or mood portrayed, but with the plot ruining narrator which kills the story’s emotion. Introducing himself as death the narrator (Roger Allam) tells Liesel’s story whilst also commenting on the other main characters who’s “souls” he has met informing us that there will be no happy ending and more to the point our characters all die. It did take away some emotion and a huge deal of surprise however the story which does get told is one which is powerful and exciting. Scenes where a young Liesel begins to settle and form bonds are pleasant, whilst those which see us nervous as we watch Nazi’s inspect basements are tense and exciting. The story also captures some humorous and comedic moments, something achieved by Liesel’s adoptive mother Rosa which together with other aspects of the story keep The Book Thief entertaining enough.

The acting was something which was creditable and a highlight; the two young stars playing Liesel and Rudy were very effective and captured great performances.  However the most warming and my personal favourite performance was  Geoffrey Rush as Hans, who at times provided laughs but mainly warmth as he helped Liesel learn to read and write and showed bravery and strength.  Percival’s direction alongside his grey and white pallet reflected and complemented the film very well and although nothing too eye-catching, something still effective yet simplistic. Finally the last element which definitely deserves a mention was The Book Thief’s soundtrack which was made up from various soft soothing piano pieces, something deservedly recognised from the Oscar Committee.

Despite the flaw of death being the narrator, The Book Thief was also hard to understand at times due to the inclusion of German dialect and contextual terms which confused me on a number of occasions making it hard to understand what was happening. More so the film’s running time was for me, too long as the film struggled to entertain and stay intriguing in its final act and I actually thought the end credits were going to scroll twice before they actually did.

The Book Thief although not flawless thrives of a real touching story and one which finds itself having a lot of heart as it showed strength and woes of those Germans affected by World War II, especially children who witnessed and went through many horrors. Impressive score and acting furthermore makes it very easily watchable and despite some minor criticisms entertaining, although falling short of being a “must-see”, The Book Thief definitely deserves some recognition.

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Seven Samurai (1954)

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto ,  Hideo Oguni

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

Rating: ★★★★★

Seven Samurai is possibly one of the best and most popular Japanese films to be released until this present day with such a great deeper meaning behind an entertaining, touching and comedic story. Akira Kurosawa’s classic shows off some great directing and acting too from what was at the time an iconic and popular cast. Seven Samurai is a film that is must-watch not just for some entertainment but for appreciation of classic Japanese cinema as well as cinema as a whole.

The story of Seven Samurai follows a group of farmers who each year allows bandits to take their women, food and crops as they invade doing their expected “duties”. However they call for a time of change and for others to take action. Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) a young farmer demands that his fellow farmers must stand up and protect their land so they set off to their local town to hire seven Samurai to defend them from the bandits. Finding the Samurai is not easy for the farmers; those who pass have masters or better values than to serve peasants with the wage of a bowl of rice. Despite this they acquire their Seven Samurai returning to their farm, they begin to form a strategy and a plan to defend and defeat the bandits. When the bandits attack the Samurai and farmers stand brave and strong, but in a battle there are always fatalities and the farmers have to pay a price for their land.

Seven Samurai has a much more deeper meaning than what first meets the eye, the film is actually a metaphor for the battle between Japanese Society and the Military in 1954 Japan as post-war to American a big paradigm shift took place, something I will separately post about when I analyse Kurosawa’s classic. There’s so much depth to the story and characters that you seem to form a connection with so many and route for them all the way. The individual characters of the seven Samurai are brilliant, Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune) is my personal favourite as he offers so much in the sense of comedy and for entertainment, and he also delivers such a powerful and meaningful speech. The character of Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) a skilled samurai is also brilliant, as at one point he arrives back with his sword telling the leader Kambei (Takashi Shimura) to cross off another two dead bandits. In a whole all the cast give great performances and even more than 50 years on they are still as believable and effective, like the film itself. A huge amount of credit is deserved and should be directed towards the writers for such amazing development of characters as well as conveying that important hidden meaning and additional message.

The directing from Kurosawa is also something that is excellent, something that makes Seven Samurai such a classic. The battle scenes are entertaining and a real treat, what I find remarkable is how at the time to manage to capture rain on the camera they had to use black dye and buckets full of water had to be constantly chucked over the set and actors. When you realise the effort they all went to, it is actually amazing. The way he also chooses to shoot certain scenes are interesting, especially when delivering those important messages which again help to emphasise arguments and values.

Another aspect I find a real positive is how Seven Samurai is a staggering 202 minutes,  in the present day that isn’t a common runtime but what I find remarkable is how despite that enormous length of time you stay so engaged and entertained, something I don’t think many modern day films could even achieve in short amount of time.  Since 1954 it has become a real classic and furthermore a “template film” in terms of structure and story, with films such as Antz (1997) playing a complete homage.

Seven Samurai is certainly my favourite Japanese film of all time, a real classic too and there’s no surprise it ranks so highly among IMBD’s Top 250. The story, directing and acting are just brilliant but once you analyse the film and truly see its excellence everything becomes a work of art. It brings great action, comedy and entertainment making it a real “must-watch” and an enjoyable experience so I would recommend it greatly.

 

Lone Survivor (2014)

Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, War

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (book)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

Rating:★★★★★

Lone Survivor is extremely entertaining and impacting bringing a much needed refreshing change to the genres taking up the new release spots in the cinemas at the moment. It came as a huge surprise to me that how this release can be so great and somewhat flawless even though the man behind the camera brought the shame of Battleship to Hollywood not so long ago. However it seems that Peter Berg has fully recovered and I hope that his newest film will get the credit it so deserves. Perfectly executed alongside great performances, The Lone survivor will most definitely be up there as one of the best films of the year, despite it still being early January.

The Lone Survivor is based and adapted from the real life failed mission “Operation Red Wings” which saw a team of four US Navy Seals attempt to kill notorious and dangerous Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Mark Wahlberg is Marcus Luttrell, the team’s leader and inspiration who we see alongside Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) racing back to the barracks attempting to break their record times in competition. Out of breathe and planning a forfeit Luttrell is soon interrupted and stopped, being told he must brief his team and set upon Operation Red Wing. Marcus Luttrell alongside Danny Dietz, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) start their mission and set off to find and execute Ahmad Shahd.

In overlooking forests just outside a local village which Shahd and other Taliban members are operating in, perimeters are set and the team can only wait for further orders. Sleeping in the bushes at their posts the team are then intruded by a herd of goats accompanied by their farmers, Luttrell’s and his teams position and safety, along with the mission has been comprised, knowing that any option will eventually lead to combat they release the two farmers and scout back to higher ground. Desperately trying to reach their home base by radio for extraction their attempts fail leaving them off the grid and alone. It doesn’t take long until they are found and hunted down by firing Taliban members, Luttrell’s Navy Seals now have to put all their training into use as they are up against impossible odds but with skill, precision and pride the team won’t give up without a fight.

In simple terms and to the core Lone Survivor is just another American War film, however the impact and final product is very different and refreshing along with the way in which its been crafted. Peter Berg creates so many brutal and bloody scenes which have been crafted with excellence, the shot types and the quick pace cutting make for a tense and thrilling encounter whilst at times the long scenery shots are breath-taking. Each death is powerful as we see the full extent and gruesome consequence something many “action” films fail to achieve. The film has also been recently nominated for an Oscar due to its sound, which is truly amazing and definitely deserved, the mix between loud drones to soft melodies really reflect the scenes as well as the emotions.

The opening scenes of Lone Survivor establish the relationships between the team members in the typical “bro-mance” way, however as the film and story develops the relationships and bonds on show are really heart-felt and emotional. Many have claimed that Lone Survivor really does capture the true and realistic bonds that soldiers form with each-other resulting in a big family of brothers. The credit has to be given to the outstanding performances from Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and the way in which they portray such emotional heart-breaking bonds. The horror of Lone Survivor though that makes it most impacting is that it’s based on a real-life true event which when reflected on leaves you speechless and even teary, especially following the credits which host tribute to the fallen Seals of Operation Red Wing.

Lone Survivor is really one of the best “war” films I have seen in recent years maybe dating back until Saving Private Ryan. It’s typically brutal and violent but it’s the emotional and crafting aspect of Peter Berg’s newest film that is truly flawless. Mark Wahlberg again displays a fine performance whilst the supporting cast is outstanding. Lone Survivor is sure to be a big hit as it is easily watchable, entertaining and action-packed making it a must-see upon release.