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Movie Reviews

Movie Monday | Words of Wisdom to Women of the Oscars

Guys, I’ve pasted my review of The Book Thief that I wrote for Insite below. But, since it’s my trusted friends and confidants (for the most part) who read this blog, there are a few thoughts that I feel like cannot be ignored forever.

First and foremost, it is way too hard to eat popcorn in a plush infinity scarf. Just don’t even try it unless you think you might need the extra snacks on the way home.

Secondly, I continually denounce my loyalty to Regal Theatres simply because the inadequacy of the concession line at the Atlantic Station theatre has gone on way too long. It’s a worse trend than the one of people thinking it’s okay to be late all of the time.

Okay, and for real now – I want to get your attention, Meryl. Your attention, Sandra. And you too Cate Blanchett and ladies whose names have been buzzing around the Oscar race prediction platforms. Sophie Nelisse, a girl who would rather be tumbling off a balance beam than auditioning for life-changing roles, is at your heels. And she’s about to bite.

Her performance in The Book Thief (a story I am still pissed at for not making a bigger presence in my Entertainment Weekly so that I would read it before watching the movie) is stellar. So much so that I would say before it, the actual fault in our stars was not naming her one yet.

She’s adorable, she’s dry and she’s not hiding anything. She’s also the perfect age where she can go from nine years old to blossomed teenager in just 131 minutes.

I think everyone should see this movie – men, women, children and butt-holes. It’s a story of redemption even in the darkest of times. It’s a reminder, a tiny tinkling bell that reminds us there are good people in the world, even when the situations were bleak and hopeless. There were people out there who still did good. That’s incredible, and enlightening. And inspiring.

I hope you guys get to check it out, once it releases. And if you can, read the book first, for the love.

The Book Thief 1 thebookthieftrailer

A Movie Worth More than a Thousand Words

The Book Thief proves some films do the originals justice

By Jennifer Smith Williams

The Book Thief is a long one. At 131 minutes, it has a similarly toiled tale as its original monumental manuscript by Markus Zusak (a 500+ pager). But, what the film lacks in conciseness, it completely makes up for in glorious yarning. The story is beautifully executed, incredibly cast and delivered in a way that coats the misery of Nazi Germany with something hopeful and redeeming. In fact, the story (which spent six years on New York’s bestseller list) is just as good as the paper read, reigns in the hands of the filmmakers.

“What was supposed to be a short novella slowly turned into this 563-page book,” Zusak says. “So, it was better to hand over the story to the screenwriters, because the result wouldn’t be as good if a movie turned out to be five hours long.”

And as his audience laughs at his joke, he points out that hearing you laugh at certain times of the movie is reward enough for him. It shows how we enjoy the stories, ones that he remembers from his own childhood.

“Honestly, I thought no one would ever read it,” he admits. “It was going to die a quick death and we would forget about it. Instead, now it’s a story that means the world to me. And since I’ve been living with it for seven years now, it means a lot that they did such a good job with it.”

Star Sophie Nelisse, Canadian-born and just 13 years old, provides a central artery to this story’s chemistry, pairing her with the gentle and humorous Geoffrey Rush and the equally pleasing Emily Watson.

Despite the fact that she thought she was going to be in a movie with Emma Watson and heard that Geoffrey Rush was “apparently a good actor,” she jumped into filming with gusto and a willingness to soak up all that she could from her costars and production team. (And once she saw Shine, she knew that, yeah, he was actually an awesome actor.)

“There was a lot of pressure in the beginning,” Sophie says. “I was really nervous, because if I was bad, then the movie would be bad and then they would blame it on me.

“Turns out I was working with all of these amazing people who I could learn a lot from. It really was a honor just be on set with them,” Sophie says. “Plus, we had a lot of fun. There are tons of blooper reels and everyone was always doing gags.”

We think Sophie is pretty amazing herself. The moment she comes on screen (not to mention walks into the room), you can’t help but light up. She’s mastered the act of balancing that fine line between being worn down, but not beaten up, downtrodden but still hopeful.

For the few viewers out there who haven’t read the book, the story is about a little girl, Liesel, who loses her brother on her way to a foster home, where she has to say goodbye to her Jewish mother on the run from Hitler. The tale is narrated by Death, but an eloquent version of Death, a Death with a rich, children’s storytelling-type voice, courtesy of Roger Allam.

He introduces us to her foster family who has a few secrets of their own, making their survival as suspenseful as it is endearing. We watch Sophie go from nine years old to sixteen, experiencing love, loss and the overwhelming awe of discovery that overshadows it all.

She loves books, but she can’t read, and her journey to literacy is one that mimics the will to survive the war. The story’s power goes well beyond the books, though. It delves into the words inside them, and illustrates how a word, or better yet, a group of words, can provide an idea of life outside the suffering—a trip into the creative imagination of a young girl that in turn relieves an entire community.

You might think a story about poor Germans and secret Jews living in basements would be a movie where people are dirty, sad and monochromatic. But alas, piggybacking on the redeeming qualities of Zusak’s novel, the film delivers toe-headed, rosy-cheeked children with perfectly parted pigtails and bright red sweaters. In fact, the dirtiest anyone gets is when the protagonist’s buddy covers himself in mud innocently impersonating Jessie Owens, “the fastest man in the world.”

The story matures right along with Liesel’s childhood, but matches every blow with a romantic, sun-drenched scene of unconditional love and forgiveness.

In the end, this is the best way to hear a sad story. Stereotypical “happy” ending or not, in my opinion, it’s a genuine ending that spreads a good message—a good feeling even—to a much wider audience than a harsher cinematography could.

The brains behind the operation, Director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey) looked for Sophie and his cast’s chemistry for a long time before he landed on this group.

Percival says, “You’ve really got to find the right pieces for your characters. The key to getting a natural performance is getting an actor that has a character close to the role they’re playing. You don’t want them to look like their acting. Sophie had that feistiness about her. She was a strong willed girl. This role allowed her to be rather than to act. Even though she is a brilliant actress.”

Surprisingly, when she auditioned, Sophie didn’t even really want the role. “I didn’t really even want to audition,” she adds. “I was in gymnastics. That’s what I was doing. I was doing gymnastics and wanted to be in the Olympics. But, I told myself, ‘whatever, just go audition because I am not going to get the part anyways.’”

Well, she got the callback, and by the time she read the script in LA, she was in tears and sold on the role. Obviously, she got it.

So gymnastics made way for art, to “give her more time to shoot in the afternoons,” and she dove into studying The Holocaust—something her school hadn’t covered yet in their curriculum. Just barely hitting double-age digits, she watched Shindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful and The Reader—material a lot of mature adults have a hard time sitting through. She read Anna’s Suitcase and covered a lot of ground in Berlin, studying the wall, the posters and monuments and visiting bomb shelters.

Was she overwhelmed by the emotional content? Hardly.

“Right when I read the script, I loved my character a lot,” she says. “I loved that she was sending a great message to all people, but especially to kids. And the cool part is that I got to play her over six years of time. So, I was 16 and then literally three hours later I was 10 again. Then, the next day, I’m back at 14.

“Emotionally, it changed a bit everyday. I was always really happy to be on set, but there were days where I would love the message so much that I would get home and just want to hug my sister. On other days I was a bit more depressed, especially the last day because I had to cry all day so I came home sad. Crying all day is hard, so when you get home you just want to cry some more.”

We’re crying too…over the premature bets we placed in the Oscar Race. This girl is one to watch.

See The Book Thief nationwide on Thanksgiving.


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