If you don't like to see the prose of world's most beloved romance novelist altered, you may find reason to complain about the way director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach have abridged Austen's Pride & Prejudice. But if you're content to see classics abbreviated so you can escape the movie theater in less than three hours, well, you may join the chorus of critics raving about this film.
But critics aren't just comparing this version of Pride & Prejudice to its literary source. Wright's film, version, which stars Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, is being held up against what is considered the gold standard of Jane Austen adaptations—the popular, highly-praised, five-hour BBC adaptation of the same book.
Camerin Courtney (Christianity Today Movies) says, "The A&E/BBC version is like a family portrait—a stunningly lit, artistically framed photograph that captures the family so true to life. This new 2005 version is more like an impressionist painting of the family—less detail and depth, but when you look at it from different angles, various shadings and nuance catch your eye. It's the same lovely story, just a different artistic rendering."
She concludes, "The film certainly stands well on its own merit, and will most likely find the harshest critics in ardent Austen and A&E fans (or husbands who get dragged to the film, for whom this genre simply isn't their cup of tea). Sure, the film can't go as deep on issues of class and gender in a mere two hours. But what it lacks in depth of plot and character development (at least to the degree that Austen fleshed these out in her book), it more than makes up for in luminous visuals, subtle thematic statements, and fine acting."
"The MGM and BBC renderings were fine indeed, but the latest [version] is yet another splendid dramatization," says Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service). He praises the performances and direction, and concludes, "Apart from a subplot involving a rakish character who elopes with one of the daughters with dishonorable intent, there is nothing to preclude recommendation for all ages."
Michael Karounos (Christian Spotlight) says that non-Austen fans will enjoy the movie "because it is a good love story, with believable character development, interesting settings, and a brisk pace which makes the film's length seem shorter than its satisfying 127 minutes." Austen fans, meanwhile, will "concede that it's better than the 1940 Lawrence Olivier/Greer Garson, if not quite as satisfying as the fuzzy-lens romanticism of the 1995 BBC mini-series … that is everyone's favorite."
Mainstream critics are swooning.
Chris Van Allsburg's children's books are characterized by large, enchanting, imaginative illustrations. But they're not heavy on narrative. Screenwriters don't so much adapt his books as invent narratives that bridge the gaps between the images. Those who enjoyed Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express or Joe Johnston's Jumanji were probably surprised when they searched out the book and found much of the movie missing from the original text.
John Favreau's Zathura is similarly stuffed with embellishment. And, like the other Van Allsburg-inspired films, it dazzles viewers with wall-to-wall visual effects. But does it offer more than eyefuls of digital animation? Is there anything meaningful in this story of a house that blasts off into outer space? And what about the question on many parents' minds: Is it safe and entertaining for the whole family?
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "All told, Zathura is a reasonably diverting bit of family entertainment. Some sequences may be a little scary for particularly young children, and the language the boys use is occasionally a tad crude—though it's tamer than, say, the language in E.T. (the movie Favreau says he turned to for inspiration), and their dad does call them on it. But for those who love the majesty of the solar system, the thrill of space battles, and the adventure of finding secret passageways in old houses, this movie should be just the ticket."
"Zathura is violent and a bit intense in spots (and parents should consider that)," says Steven Isaac (Plugged In), "but because the intensity is used so effectively and toward such a good goal—to teach siblings to stop bickering and start cooperating—it's not what trips me up. My main quibble with Favreau is that he chose to include a mostly extraneous teenage daughter who derisively disrespects her dad, and he injected a couple of insulting crudities—spoken by kids. Those things aren't necessary."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) compares it to E.T. as well, and says, "E.T. was raw with grief over the breakup of the parents' marriage. Dad was a scoundrel for having abandoned his family and gone to Mexico with his new girlfriend, and Mom was just barely holding it together. … Zathura, by contrast, is a family film for the no-fault divorce age. One week it's three days with Dad, four days with Mom, the next week vice versa; the boys aren't crazy about it, but it's just the way things are. Regrettably, that's reality for far too much of the film's target audience; even the children of intact homes know children in Danny and Walter's situation."
Greydanus is displeased with "the utterly unsympathetic portrayal of Walter, and the one-note sourness of his treatment of Danny, for three-quarters of the running time. Like the book, Zathura is ostensibly about quarreling siblings learning to deal with their differences and get along, but Walter is so unsympathetic and lacking in affection for Danny that the inevitable rapprochement is too little, too late."
"Zathura falls short of the ideal family film," declares Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk). "Ten-year-old boys will likely love it, whereas their parents will be checking their watches. They will wonder what in the world is tying all the random sequences of destruction together, besides a magic board game with an unpronounceable name."
Bob Rossiter (Christian Spotlight) offers much more enthusiasm for the film, calling it "one of the best movie adaptations of a children's book I've seen. … The acting is good and the special effects excellent."
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "If Jumanji wasn't your cup of tea, give Zathura a chance. Director Jon Favreau … is proving he can deliver the goods. … He has fashioned another PG flick that parents and children can enjoy together. It's wonder-inducing for all ages, and the timing of the jokes certainly helps sell it for adults."
Mainstream critics are enjoying the game.
This year's favorite tabloid victim, Jennifer Aniston, gets to star in something fictional for a change in Mikael Håfström's thriller Derailed. She stars as a happily married woman who stumbles into an affair with a stranger (Clive Owen) on … of course … a train. When their secret rendezvous is interrupted by a dangerous thug (Vincent Cassel), they end up in snares of blackmail and deceit.
Todd Hertz (Christianity Today Movies) says that the film gives viewers the impression that it's "a portrait of a marriage broken. One may assume the movie will attempt to dissect the real-world pain and consequences of breaking the marital bond and a relationship's trust." But that's not what really happens. "There are consequences, but they aren't what you might think. And there is some wrestling over decisions and guilt, but not because of the choice to commit adultery. Instead, very early on the movie sells out its focus on a family broken by infidelity to set up a convoluted and unoriginal crime/revenge plot."
He concludes, "Every trick up this movie's sleeve has been seen hundreds of times in film—and done far better. This is one of those movies that forsakes real story for story-twisting surprises that lead to uneven storytelling. … But what finally derails the movie is that it thinks it's a lot smarter than it is."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "What could have been a smart cautionary thriller about the consequences of deceit is instead derailed by a predictable plot and a ridiculous, morally problematic ending, in which a character literally gets away with murder."
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) finds himself "wondering if this film could have been more powerful had the director shown more restraint." While the story explores one character's moral failure, Lyon questions whether the character actually learns anything from the consequences. And he doesn't find this thriller very thrilling. "The much talked-about surprises in the film just aren't all that surprising. In fact, in retrospect, several events felt extremely convenient in moving the story where it needed to go. But even if they had shocked me, twists and double-twists are never enough to make enduring sexual violence and a barrage of bad language worthwhile."
From the perspective of Sheri McMurray (Christian Spotlight), certain content disqualifies the film from being proper viewing for any Christians at all. "On a Christian level, no one should see this one anyway. The acting is good and the story is pretty well written, but the vulgar language … and explicit sex, violence and godless behavior should keep the concerned Christian far away."
Mainstream critics take this film about as seriously as they take the weekly Aniston gossip.
Another novel buzzing to the big screen this week, Myla Goldberg's Bee Season is drawing attention for the way it illustrates ideas central to Jewish mysticism.
This is the story of a religion professor (Richard Gere) whose wife (Juliette Binoche), formerly a French Catholic, converted to Judaism when she married him. Together, they must contend with personal crises and unexpected developments, such as their spelling-bee-champion daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) who has what seems to be a supernatural gift for spelling. Eliza's triumphs end up teaching each family member something, including Aaron (Max Minghella), Eliza's brother.
Camerin Courtney (Christianity Today Movies) says, "Though the acting is great and the special effects of Eliza's mystical letter-visualizing are a delight to watch, the film suffers from too much family baggage. Early in the film Saul explains the Jewish concept of tikkun olam: that the big bang of creation shattered God's divine light into a million little shards, and it's our responsibility to reassemble and fix what's broken. Similarly, this movie feels like lots of shards … that have yet to be gathered and crafted into a whole piece."
"The idea that words and language can serve as conduits to the divine is shared by many religions," says David DiCerto (Catholic News Service), "finding expression not only in Jewish mysticism, but in Buddhist chants and the Christian tradition of 'lectio divina.' Early on, Saul tells Eliza that 'God is in the words, God is the words,' echoing the Gospel of John: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Unfortunately, the movie reduces Saul's pursuit of transcendence to a spiritual study aid—a mystical Hebrew version of Hooked on Phonics. Several of the other story lines, including Miriam's meltdown, remain unresolved. … Ultimately, though intelligent and finely acted, Bee Season doesn't have much of a dramatic sting."
Mainstream critics are divided in their opinions—some find it emotionally affecting, others complain that they weren't moved at all.
Jim Sheridan, who has directed memorable meaningful films like In the Name of the Father and In America has now directed a giant ego trip for rapper 50 Cent, which presents his life as if it were an inspiring tale of redemption, but manages to glorify violence and the hedonism of rap culture. And sure enough, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is stirring up trouble. (One theater has already pulled the film after a shooting in the theater lobby.)
Moviegoers should probably expect this kind of thing from 50 Cent, whose lyrics regularly flaunt his ego, revel in violence, and encourage unhealthy views of women. But from Mr. Sheridan? The man who created such inspiring films about justice and family should be ashamed of himself for investing in a project as misguided as this.
J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) says the movie's "as predictable as a hip hop booty video. Young man can't stand living at home so he leaves, can't make it as a rapper so he turns to drugs, makes a name for himself on the street, endears himself to the neighborhood drug lords but alienates himself in the end, finally has to stand up for himself. Cue brutal violence and triumphant concert scene. The movie is so transparent that many people in the audience started leaving before the last scene, as if they knew not only what was coming but that they weren't going to miss much."
He concludes, "Get Rich or Die Tryin' is what I expected 8 Mile to be: sappy bio-pic narrative, stilted acting, overly glamorized criminal lifestyle. Unfortunately for 50 Cent and Jim Sheridan, Eminem's film raised the bar for movies starring a famous rapper."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says, "Director Jim Sheridan and screenwriter Terence Winter … certainly hit you between the eyes with the hardships of growing up on the streets. But by concentrating so hard on establishing that gritty environment, they end up celebrating what's wrong more than highlighting what's right. And that's the very thing so many gangsta rappers do with their music. 50 Cent is a prime example of this. He claims to have broken free from his gangbanging past, yet he brags endlessly about its violence in nearly every line of his lyrics."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) compares it to Hustle and Flow. "Both movies try to sell audiences on rooting for street thugs—a drug dealer and pimp, respectively—by casting them as sensitive underdogs who overcome odds, and in this case death, to embrace their inner poets. Sheridan tries to generate sympathy for Marcus by showing that, compared to the more vicious dealers, he is really a good guy … . But in doing so, Sheridan walks a thin line between fashioning a tale of redemption and glorifying the morally vacuous 'gangsta' lifestyle, summed up by one character as 'get paid and get laid.'"
Todd Patrick (Christian Spotlight) is dismayed. "Scores of teenagers idolize Fifty Cent. And what he preaches to them is violence, hate, drugs, and objectifying women. … Morality is slowly being siphoned out of the movies, leaving us with a cold, valueless society where nothing is judged as wrong. After watching Get Rich, I couldn't help but think of how many teenagers and young men (the target audience of the film) would see this fictionalized life story of Fifty as cool. Who would see nothing wrong with drug dealing, robbing, killing, and doing it all in the name of money. It's a very desensitizing film to sit through."
Despite Sheridan's reputation as a director, mainstream critics find 50 Cent's story "shockingly inert" and "crippled by a trite storyline."
More reviews of recent releases
Good Night and Good Luck: Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "But it's all empty glitz and razzle-dazzle, because it's all in service of a severely biased, deceitful film. And the only thing worse than a deceitful film is a deceitful film that claims to be telling the truth. Clooney's movie belongs in this pile, I'm afraid … a brilliant piece of cinema that obscures the light of the truth with too much shadowy journalism."
Jarhead: Matt Wiggins (Relevant) says, "It attempts to recreate the insanity of war as exposed in Apocalypse Now, but doesn't succeed as absolutely. Like The Deer Hunter, it hints at shattered post-war lives but rushes through that aspect. While based on real stories and experiences like Platoon, Swofford fails to find the redemptive aspects like Oliver Stone did. … It is a movie that aspires to much and acknowledges the greatness that has come before without quite stacking up."
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