However long ago, you were in seventh grade, you were assigned, begrudgingly began to read, and then almost instantly fell in love with the great Lois Lowry tome The Giver. A work of allegorical fiction that built a dystopian future around humankind's desire to preserve "sameness." Identical individuals in identical family units leading identical lifestyles... until one kid who was just special enough (the Katniss, the Harry, the Tris, the Ender, the Mortal Instrumentalist) learned the truth and lay waste to the customs of his corrosive society. It was a great book. One we all knew, eventually, would be granted cinematic form. And one we all knew wouldn't get the justice it deserves.
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Silver lining: at least we can probably say we were right. The new trailer for Jeff Bridges' Giver adaptation doesn't look too promising. We're inclined to hold out judgment until the film actually hits theaters, but we can't help but foster pessimism considering the abundance of issues we've taken with the first promo:
1. It's in color. A major conceit of The Giver was that nobody, except Jonas (eventually) could see color. It was part of the government's suppression of creativity and imagination and hope and the free-wheelin' crayon industry. This would have been a super easy thing to convey onscreen — easier than in the book, even.2. Jonas' age. Lowry's main character was 12. In this thing, he's played by a genteel looking fellow named Brenton Thwaites, who is pushing 25.3. Jonas' eyes. All Receivers (Jonas is a Receiver — that's like being a Divergent, or a Girl on Fire, or a Boy Who Lived, or a Mortal Instrumentalist) are supposed to have uniquely light eyes. I'm not quite sure how this compromised with the general lack of color, but I don't remember having too much of a problem with it.4. The Giver. What's he doing out of his secluded mountain house? Why does he appear to be interacting with Meryl Streep? Go back inside, Giver. You only talk to Jonas.5. The injections - "morning injections." This one's a two-parter. Voice-over here suggests the existence of "morning injections," suggesting them to be a regular part of the routine for all living citizens. But injections in the book were lethal, and as such not regularly scheduled.6. The injections - the "release." What is that young lady doing getting a release injection? Those are for babies and old people only! Only the Giver's daughter (Taylor Swift) got a mid-life release. Oh, and that brings us to the next issue...7. Taylor Swift. Hm.8. So much action! Please don't let this turn into an action movie, Phillip Noyce. It's a cerebral, temperate, emotional drama. A C.T.E.D! Relevant...9. The post-escape chase. In the book, one Jonas gets out of his society and into the territory of "Elsewhere" with baby Gabriel in tow, he's all set. Smooth sailing until the ambiguous ending signifying plausible death. But here, he's hotly pursued!10. The spaceship. There's a spaceship in this trailer. I don't feel good.
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Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.