Tag Archives: book

Movie Review: Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010)

To be honest, I had never heard of the bestselling Tomorrow series (total of 7 bookss) by John Marsden until the film of the first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, started making waves in the headlines.  I was intrigued by the teaser poster, which has a girl with her back turned, looking out into the vast, empty plains.  It gave me the feeling that this was going to be a promising blockbuster, and I was utterly shocked when I discovered that it was Australian.

Anyway, I went and checked it out over the weekend, harbouring some moderate expectations.  And I am glad to say, at a basic level, the film delivered — an intriguing story, teenage angst, and a fair amount of action.  While it was clearly not at the level of most Hollywood blockbusters, with a budget of just $20 million, I think Tomorrow, When the War Began was a solid domestic effort.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a bunch of teenagers from a small Australian country town that decide to go camping, and while they are away, Australia is invaded by an unknown foreign enemy.  How will they respond?  Will they hide, or will they fight back?  (I think we all know the answer).

The film is written and directed by Stuart Beattie, who worked on 30 Days of Night, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Australia and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. As Marsden’s book was first published in 1993, several changes were required to make this a ‘modern’ adaptation.  I haven’t read the book yet (recently bought a copy), but from what I have heard the film is quite faithful to the original source.

What I enjoyed about the movie was that it was, for the most part, pretty entertaining.  There’s nothing like a story about a bunch of average youngsters of various backgrounds and personalities who find themselves tossed into a perilous situation and must band together to overcome their prejudices and weaknesses in order to give themselves a chance to become heroes.  We’ve seen it done before plenty of times, but for me, it never gets old, as long as it is well executed.

Yes, most of the stuff that happens in the film beggars belief, but it didn’t bother me at all.  I accepted the gaps in logic and just went along for the ride.  Even though there were very few surprises throughout the film, I still found many sequences to be tense and exciting.

And of course, we’ve got quite a cast of stereotypical characters — the strong, independent protagonist Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), the naive but loyal best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), the local bad boy Homer (Deniz Akdeniz) the wimpy jock Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), the dumb blonde Fi (Phoebe Tonkin), the token hardworking Asian Lee (Chris Pang), the token religious freak Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings), and the token stoner Chris (Andy Ryan).

I didn’t have a big problem with the characters themselves, but it pains me to say that the acting from the young cast was somewhat uneven.  Without naming names, I will simply say that some of the acting was cringeworthy (though the majority of it was passable).  Again, I can’t discuss the book as I haven’t read it yet, but I would put some of the blame on the dialogue.  Corny?  Yes.  Realistic?  Not even close.  The interactions between some of the characters also felt strained and unnatural.  I could see what they were aiming for but they couldn’t quite pull it off.

So that was my impression of Tomorrow, When the War Began.  A solid Aussie action flick (gosh there are so few of them), but ultimately nothing special.  Nevertheless, the film has been doing very well across Australia and New Zealand, which means sequels could be forthcoming.  If so, let’s hope they can turn it up another notch.

3.5 stars out of 5

(A couple of nice touches in the film were the little jokes about the book and the subtle references to Australia’s invasive past)

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

I first came across the 1963 children’s picture book by Maurice Sendak when I was far too young, but the innovative and intriguing furry monsters on the page remained firmly etched into my mind.

And so when I saw the poster for the live action film based on the book directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), I became curious.  How were they possibly going to pull this one off?  What was the storyline going to be?  Wouldn’t the monsters look really silly?

Well, I finally got to watch Where the Wild Things Are, and I was both amazed and a little disappointed.

The visuals were fantastic.  Absolutely fantastic.  The monsters came to life in a way I never expected they could.  I couldn’t tell whether it was CGI or giant puppets or both, but regardless, you could have fooled me into believing that they were real.  They weren’t identical to Sendak’s original creations, but make no mistake, you can tell immediately that they are from the same mould.

The look and feel of the film also recaptured that sensational I felt when I first read the book as a child.  It was grey and cold and just as I remembered it.  You could even say it was kind of magical.  Trust Spike Jonze to be able to deliver this type of unique, creative vision.

On the other hand, where Where the Wild Things Are let me down a little was the overall enjoyment level.  It was hard to tell whether this was supposed to be aimed at children (though it is far too dark and scary for young kids), or at adults (though it feels like there isn’t enough substance for the grown ups).  It’s a simple story, but at the same time it felt inexplicably complex, as though we were missing something from the irrational behaviour of the monsters.   There was some fun, but on the whole the vibe I got was depressing and negative.

Maybe I didn’t really “get it”, or perhaps I need to see it again, but it didn’t engulf me the way I wanted it to.

I can’t bring myself to give Where the Wild Things Are an average rating because it is so unique, so groundbreaking; I’ve never seen anything like it before and probably won’t again (until perhaps Jonze’s next film).  But did I enjoy it as much as an engaging drama, a thrilling action movie or a hilarious comedy?  Not really.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Book or Movie First?

Shutter Island is about to start at the movies soon.  I also happen to have the novel (by Dennis Lehane) on which it is based at home.

Except in very rare situations, I usually find the book to be superior to the film version.  A friend told me to watch the movie first, because then when you read the book, you can take your time to properly digest it.  And because the book will be more in-depth, it’s like adding to the movie experience.

On the other hand, watching the film first could lock up certain images in your mind (whether it be the way a character looks, talks or acts), which could be detrimental to the reading experience.  In other words, it limits the ability of your imagination to envisage the scenesor characters in your mind (eg, like seeing DiCaprio’s face all the time!  Argh!).

Just to take a few recent examples.  I read The Road first before seeing the film, whereas I saw Revolutionary Road first before reading the book.  Did it really affect either experience?  Not really.  Each had a different feel to it.

So what should I do?  Read the book first or watch the movie first?