★ / ★★★★
I had high expectations from this movie because the premise of it was interesting: a man named Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) who was a “Silvertongue” had the ability to bring book characters to live simply just by reading about them out loud. He did not always have such an ability (or was he aware of it) so over the years, the disparate characters from the books were taken to the human world–some of them good (Paul Bettany as the fire-wielding Dustfinger and Rafi Gavron as Farid, a sort of Aladdin-like character) and some bad (led by Andy Serkis as Capricorn). One of my biggest problems with this movie was its dialogue. It was so uninspired and it lacked a sense of wonder that movies like the “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” innately have. Since this was based on a children’s novel by Cornelia Funke, I expected it to be at least entertaining by way of enchancing the audiences’ imagination. Instead, we got this overly long exposition, chaotic action scenes that did not amount to anything, and characters that were not exactly likable or memorable. I usually love watching Helen Mirren’s elegance but I think she was completely miscast as the grandmother who loves books and the indoors more than other people and the outdoors. Her character’s attempt at humor made me feel sort of ashamed because none of them were even slightly amusing. There were many points in the film where I just felt bored and wondered about the technical things. For instance, I thought about the repercussions that would happen in the book if the characters were suddenly taken off the pages. I thought of the “exchange” that had to happen–if one was to be transported into the book, wouldn’t it make more sense if someone comparable would be taken out of the book? There were a plethora of plotholes and by the end of it, I was just tired of being disappointed. Perhaps with a better direction other than Iain Softley, the translation from novel to film would have been better. I suggest not to waste time with this one. Even the kids would be bored out of their minds.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, this animated film showcases a charming tale of a girl named Shizuku (Youko Honna) and her passion for writing. I liked the fact that as the picture went on, we got to see how the lead character evolved from a girl who spent most of her time reading books (and not studying for her high school entrance exams) to a girl who wanted to do something with her talents so decided to pursue writing a book. Of course, side stories were expected such as her relationship with her best friend, the boy from the same grade who likes her, and the mysterious guy who checks out the same books as her named Seiji Amasawa (Kazuo Takahashi). I also enjoyed watching another layer to the story by showing us the dynamics in her home–an overbearing sister, a literary father, and a mother who is going to school–because it explains why Shizuku is such a self-starter, naturally curious regarding her surroundings, and has a natural taste for adventure. Since it was written by Miyazaki, I have to admit that I thought there was going to be more fantastic elements to the story. There were some of that, such as the strange coincidences and when the audiences had a chance to see what the lead character was imagining. But I was glad that this was grounded in reality and it really showed how it was like to make that transition from being a child to being an adolescent. Questions such as what she wanted to do in her life began popping up in her head when she met Seiji, who knows exactly wanted to do with his life. I admired her persistence in turning her insecurities into achievements. There were definitely times when I was inspired. My one problem with it, however, was it did, in fact, run a little too long. Perhaps if twenty minutes were cut off, it would have been much more focused and powerful. Regardless, I am giving this a recommendation because it made me think about where I am in life. It was sweet but not sugary; though it had its sad moments, it was never melodramatic.
The Reader (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
If Kate Winslet doesn’t get nominated and win two Oscars for her performances in “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader,” I would be very disappointed with the Academy. Having seen pretty much all of the films that generated the most buzz in the Best Actress category, I can vouch that she’s the one who truly deserves it. In “The Reader,” Winslet shines as a woman who gets sexually entangled with a fifteen-year-old boy, played with such vulnerability and innocence by David Kross. Strangely enough, even though their relationship is taboo, I’m willing to admit that I did find chemistry between the two of them. In the first half of the picture, Stephen Daldry, the director, was smart enough to focus on the two leads’ hunger. That hunger is presented both emotionally and physically but never completely separate. Both of the characters intentions are never completely clear which makes the film that much more interesting. I was often questioning myself about who was really using the other. Just when I thought it was about to lose its focus, the second half was able to summon all of its power and give its audiences reasons why they should care for the Winslet and Kross (played by Ralph Fiennes as time went on). Even though the two are deeply flawed, we relate to them in many ways because they tend to choose the more difficult path in order to keep protecting their secrets. Such secrets may seem so simple at first glance but there’s a lot of shame in those secrets, especially those that belong to Winslet’s character. Some of the best scenes of “The Reader” are its silent moments when the images do not require an explanation. Having said all of that, I think this film would’ve been much stronger if the last thirty minutes were more fluid. I thought there were many “final” scenes where the film could’ve ended. The “choppiness” could’ve been taken care of with a little bit more time. I’m giving this a high recommendation for the reasons mentioned previously but especially for Winslet’s performance. But the real surprise for me was the newcomer Kross, who I hope to see more in the future. He’s so brave for deciding to star in a film of this caliber. He not only sheds his clothes but ultimately his soul–which is far more challenging for any actor his age.