Tag Archives: The Giver

My Year With Meryl: The Giver (2014)

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As Meryl continues to rack up awards and accolades, winning her third Academy Award for The Iron Lady and being nominated again for Osage: August County, one might assume she would stick to appearing in movies as the lead, and only the lead; after all, most people think of Meryl as a leading lady and not a supporting one. Despite winning the Supporting Actress Oscar for Kramer Vs. Kramer back in 1980, Meryl often plays the main female character in films like in Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Devil Wears Prada. Especially after the weirdly anticlimactic year of 2007, which brought audiences three underwhelming dramas with Meryl in lame supporting roles, it seemed likely that she would stick to lead characters. And she did—Mamma Mia, Doubt, Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated, The Iron Lady, Hope Springs, August: Osage County. All successful films, many of them highly acclaimed awards contenders.

And yet, Meryl is anything but predictable, which she proved yet again in 2014, when she gave us supporting turns in not one, not two, but three new movies, just like in 2007. She plays a cameo role in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman, and The Witch in Rob Marshall’s musical epic Into the Woods. First up in the year, however, was the adaptation of Lois Lowry’s beloved 1993 novel, which features Jeff Bridges in the title role, cute-as-a-button Brenton Thwaites as the main character Jonas, and Meryl in an icy turn as the Chief Elder, who runs a utopian community that has taken pain and anger away from its inhabitants and in turn ripped everyone of their emotions. At a heavily attended youth ceremony, one eerily similar to the one that opens the similarly themed Divergent, Jonas is picked to be the Receiver of Memory, a person who spends time with the Giver to receive past memories. When Jonas learns about what people’s lives were like before the society became so bland—and black and white—he turns against the system.

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Bridges had been trying to make this novel into a movie for twenty years. In 1994 he famously attempted to get a movie made that featured his father Lloyd Bridges in the title role, and his name had been tied to the project ever since. It seemed like it would never get off the ground, but then came the popularity of young adult adaptations—everything from Twilight to The Hunger Games to the aforementioned Divergent. When studio executives finally saw the potential they had with The Giver’s story, the project was greenlit, although with some required changes: Jonas’s age was bumped up from 11 to 16, there would be more action than the book, and the role of Chief Elder would be significantly beefed up for the adaptation (at least the effective black-and-white element of the novel carried over to the screen). Lowry herself was dumbfounded when Meryl signed on to play a part that had very little time and weight in the book, and only later learned that the role had been expanded for the movie. Good for all involved, given that Meryl’s chilling performance is one of the few memorable elements of a mostly dull and uninvolving production.

If Bridges had gotten the chance to direct his adaptation in the ‘90s, the result probably would have been more pure and faithful to Lowry’s book. Unfortunately, the 2014 version was made after the young adult revolution, so too much in it, from the ceremony scene, to the high-tech action, to the unnecessary teen romance, feel familiar and false; it’s especially sad given that the book came out more than a decade before any of the others before mentioned. For those who aren’t familiar with Lowry’s novel, this movie will feel like been-there-done-that, which is a shame. But even if one hadn’t seen the other young adult adaptations, this film feels pedestrian all the way through, with a lack of energy throughout, an anticlimactic ending, and two weird casting choices that are distracting. Katie Holmes plays Jonas’s mother, who is so much of a stiff, endlessly saying things like “Precision of language,” that the role brings her short period of Scientology worship to mind. Also, Taylor Swift pops up for a couple of insignificant scenes that add no emotion or depth to the story, and she looks so unlike herself that it begs the question of why she is a part of this.

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On the positive side, most of the other actors do a fine job, especially Bridges in the title role. It took so long for the movie to be made that he became old enough to take the part he had originally envisioned for his father, and he is quietly effective as the Giver, with his scarred psyche and husky voice. Thwaites, who broke out in 2014 with roles in The Signal and Malificent, is likable as Jonas, with a boyish face that makes the character appear even younger than he is, and Cameron Monaghan, so great on Shameless, has a couple of exciting scenes with Thwaites, as the best friend who turns on him. Lastly, Meryl does what she can as Chief Elder, starting with giving her a long gray bob that is one of her most unflattering haircuts in all her decades of moviemaking, but it must be noted that this is her most insignificant role in a movie since she played Corrine Whitman in 2007’s Rendition. At least a third of the movie she appears as a hologram, and at least another third she spends her time behind a giant throne, looking down on the others as if she’s some kind of God.

When asked in interviews why she agreed to be in the movie, Meryl said that she likes to play boss—she is the mother of four kids, after all—and that throughout her entire career she had always wanted to work with Bridges. He had been in talks for the Tommy Lee Jones role in Hope Springs a few years back, and so she latched onto the opportunity to work with one of the greats; it’s of course their few select scenes together that give the film the most tension. When she whispers to the Giver about an unfortunate incident that happened to his former Receiver of Memory, there’s an immediate sense of history between them, and when she completes a hologram message to him later in the narrative and says, “He’s lying,” the deception felt in her character cuts deeply. She has a little bit here and there throughout the rest of the film, but it’s her last scene, where she explains to the Giver how important it is not to revert back to the way the world used to be, that is Meryl’s best in the film, one that finally shows the character’s vulnerability, and her strict desire for no more change. While the film only works halfheartedly, Meryl does what she can with this underutilized villainous role, similar to one the equally brilliant Kate Winslet downsized her talent for in Divergent, but thankfully, Meryl would return as another, more complex villain in a better movie a few months following The Giver’s release—yes, Into the Woods was on its way.

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Top 10 Films to Look Forward To in 2014!

There are still plenty of 2013 films I need to see before awards season heats up, and before I write my top ten films of the year article later this month. Her. Inside Llewyn Davis. Fruitvale Station. Labor Day.

But even though I’m still playing catch-up, it’s not too early to look forward to what’s to come in 2014! Here is just a sampling of what I’m excited to see sometime during the next 365 days…

The Grand Budapest Hotel (March 7)

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Wes Anderson films are always worth watching, and his newest not only boasts one of his most impressive casts — including Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray — but also looks to be one hell of a fun ride, a period piece set in a famous European hotel. The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom remain my two favorite films of his. Will The Grand Budapest Hotel surpass either one?

Noah (March 28)

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Each new Darren Aronofsky film is an event, even if his newest has been plagued with some bad press and production delays, and even though it has the massive budget of the one film of his I didn’t care for — The Fountain. It’s true I typically prefer Aronofsky lean and intimate, like with Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. But this still looks fantastic, with a great cast that includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman. Yep, if A Beautiful Mind and The Perks of Being a Wallflower had a child… they’d name her Noah.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23)

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I haven’t been too pumped for an X-Men movie in about a decade, but there’s just too much to get excited about in the newest, imaginatively conceived installment, which blends the casts of both First Class and the original trilogy. Plus, Bryan Singer is back, having even just announced a follow-up to this film planned for 2016. My main worry is that there won’t be enough running time to hold this story and all of these characters, but my fingers are crossed it will work. This is my most anticipated movie of the summer 2014 season!

The Fault in Our Stars (June 6)

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How cool that a comedy romance about two teenagers with cancer is getting a major summer release date? John Green’s book has taken the world by storm over the last two years, so it’s not difficult to see why the studio has faith in this. The Fault in Our Stars was one of my favorite reads of 2012, but what really excites me for this is that it’s written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the screenwriters behind 500 Days of Summer, and it’s directed by Josh Boone, who made one of my favorite movies of 2013 — the underrated Stuck in Love. I can’t wait!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11)

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If there’s one other big summer movie of 2014 to look forward to — sorry, Transformers 4, I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm — it’s the follow-up to the surprisingly terrific Rise of the Planet of the Apes, from 2011. The new teaser is fantastic, and the possibilities for where this installment can go are endless. Matt Reeves, the mastermind behind Cloverfield and the brilliant Let Me In, is at the helm this time out, and it appears the omnipresent James Franco couldn’t find time in his schedule to make an appearance in this one. Long live Caesar!

The Giver (August 15)

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One of my favorite books from high school finally gets the big-screen treatment. After years stuck in development hell, producer and star Jeff Bridges finally got this project off the ground last year, with the talented Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American) directing, and with a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes… and Taylor Swift?!? I hope they know what they’re doing. I have a feeling this one will either be a home run or a colossal failure. We shall see in August!

Gone Girl (October 3)

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David Fincher could direct a film about dirt and I’d be first in line. Ever since I was dazzled by Fight Club at the tender age of fourteen, I have closely followed his career, and I have yet to be disappointed by any one of his projects. I finally got around to reading the book last summer, and it’s a superbly written page-turner that should make for a brilliant adaptation. With an eclectic cast that includes Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry (!), this should be one of the best movies of the year.

Interstellar (November 7)

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Christopher Nolan. Need I say more? Like Fincher, every one of Nolan’s films has absolutely floored me, and the secrecy surrounding Interstellar only makes the project all the more intriguing. Matthew McConaughey has had one of the most astonishing career resurgences in recent history, with his stellar work lately in films like Mud and Dallas Buyers Club, and that should only continue with his lead role in this film. With Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, and Jessica Chastain also part of this magnificent cast, Interstellar could well be Nolan’s greatest masterpiece yet.

Dumb and Dumber To (November 14)

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Here I give you the biggest question mark of the year. Dumb and Dumber is one of my top five comedies of all time, a movie I’ve watched so much I practically know the whole thing by heart. I happily avoided the 2003 prequel, but I certainly won’t be able to avoid an official sequel that re-teams Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, and brings back the directing duo Bobby and Peter Farrelly. The two actors have promised in interviews they weren’t interested in coming back without a great script. Will this be a worthy sequel? Or will it be one of the big disappointments of the year? I am certainly hoping for the former!

Into the Woods (December 25)

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Meryl Streep. Johnny Depp. Rob Marshall. Musical. Christmas. Five things that make me very happy, and they’re all rolled into one project! I don’t know much about the musical this film is based on, but I have a feeling this one will be a return to form for Marshall, who stumbled a bit with Nine. Of course the only thing that really matters here is that Meryl Streep plays a freaking witch. Just that is enough for me to plop my ten bucks down. I can’t wait to see this movie one year from now, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store at the movies!

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