If I Stay

Warner Brothers

Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes

A Life Hangs In The Balance In Adaptation Of Bittersweet Best-Seller

Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a bright 17-year-old full of the bloom of youth. Between playing the cello purely for pleasure and dating the doting boy of her dreams (Jamie Blackley), the happy high school senior considers herself truly blessed.

She is even lucky enough to have the perfect parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) who support the idea of her majoring in classical music, whether she gets into Juilliard or simply sticks around Portland to attend Lewis & Clark College. Mia is also very close to her only sibling, Teddy (Jakob Davies), a cute kid who absolutely adores his big sister.

However, fate intervenes, or so it seems, one snowy day during a family outing when a car coming in the opposite direction veers across the highway’s double lines. Right then, in the blink of an eye, their fortunes are irreversibly altered by an unavoidable head-on crash.

By the time the ambulances and paramedics come to the rescue, all four are in grave condition, and there is a chance that none might survive the tragic accident. Mia, who has suffered a collapsed lung, a broken leg and internal bleeding, slips into a coma.

At that instant, her spirit miraculously separates from her body, and she is suddenly able to observe situations and eavesdrop on conversations like an invisible ghost. While a team of doctors struggle to stabilize her vital signs in the hospital, she watches a nurse (Aisha Hinds) lean over and whisper that “living or dying is all up to you” into her ear.

This suggests that Mia, ultimately, must choose between ascending to Heaven and returning to Earth to face a host of challenges on the road to recovery. And suspended in this state of limbo, she’s afforded the unusual opportunity to reflect and reminisce during the critical next 24 hours before making a decision.

That is the surreal setup of If I Stay, a bittersweet flashback flick based on Gayle Forman’s young adult novel of the same name. Although this unapologetically sentimental tearjerker will undoubtedly resonate with teens in the target demographic, the film’s surprisingly-sophisticated, thought-provoking exploration of such themes as family, friendship, love and spirituality ought to readily endear it to audiences in general.

Directed by R.J. Cutler, the movie basically revolves around introspective Mia’s contemplation of her future while factoring in her family’s grim prospects, nostalgia, and the bedside manner of visitors like her grandfather (Stacy Keach), boyfriend and BFF (Liana Liberato). Although reminiscent of The Lovely Bones (disembodied teen narrator), The Notebook (love story with a syrupy finale) and Twilight (star-crossed romance set in the Pacific Northwest), If I Stay is nevertheless a unique adventure with a tale to share all its own.

A poignant portrait of a life precipitously hanging in the balance which pushes all the right buttons to open the emotional floodgates.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 106 minutes

 

 

The Giver

The Weinstein Company

Rated PG-13 for action, violence and mature themes

Streep And Bridges Co-Star In Screen Adaptation Of Haunting Children’s Novel

Despite being born in the same year and enjoying overlapping enduring careers, Oscar winners Meryl Streep (for Kramer Vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady) and Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart) never made a movie together prior to The Giver. Such a long overdue collaboration proves well worth the wait in this haunting, sci-fi adventure set in a deceptive dystopia masquerading as heaven on Earth.

The film is based on the Lois Lowry best-seller of the same name which won the Newbery Award as America’s best children’s book of 1994. This author-approved adaptation was directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games) who tapped fellow Aussie Brenton Thwaites to portray the young hero, Jonas.

The picture’s point of departure is the young protagonist’s graduation day, when he participates in a coming-of-age ritual during which 18-year-olds are assigned a profession by the elders of their idyllic community. Jonas’ BFFs Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) soon learn that they’ll be trained as a drone pilot and a nurturer, respectively.

Jonas, however, long recognized as special, because of an uncanny ability to see things differently, is designated the “Receiver of Memories,” the protégé of the “Giver” (Bridges). In that capacity, he quickly becomes aware that the whole society is a charade which shields its citizens from the fact that there is suffering in the world by injecting them once a day with a drug which keeps them naïve, obedient and blissfully content.

Truth be told, evil does exist in their midst, though invariably veiled, such as how the sick and the old are “Released” in a fashion that gives no hint that they’re actually being euthanized. And Jonas experiences a crisis of conscience in choosing whether to obediently follow in the Giver’s footsteps or to upset the apple cart by letting the cat out of the bag about how everybody’s mind is being controlled.

Among the factors influencing his critical decision is the unexpected pleasure associated with the “Stirrings,” the formerly-suppressed pangs of sexual awakening he suddenly feels for Fiona. Another involves the impending euthanizing of a baby with a birth defect (Alexander Jillings) he’s already bonded with.

Besides the historic pairing of Streep and Bridges, the film features sterling performances by the trio of emerging thespians playing the leads, as well as by Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift in support roles. A thought-provoking meditation on mind control offering a valuable lesson about the virtue of challenging any totalitarian authority.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 94 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening August 22, 2014

 

Are You Here (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use) Road comedy revolving around a couple of lifelong friends’ (Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis) return trip to their hometown so one can collect an inheritance from his recently-deceased, estranged father. Featuring Amy Poehler, Edward Herrmann and Jenna Fischer.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (Unrated) Eagerly-anticipated sequel, based on the second book in Frank Miller’s series of graphic novels, finds the denizens of the seedy metropolis crossing paths with some unsavory characters. Ensemble cast includes Josh Brolin, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta and Lady Gaga.

 

When The Game Stands Tall (PG for mature themes, brief smoking and one scene of violence) Overcoming-the-odds sports saga recounting the real-life exploits of Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), the legendary coach of the De La Salle High Spartans, the football team he turned from perennial also-rans into gridiron titans with a record-setting 151-game winning streak. With Laura Dern, Michael Chiklis, Ser’Darius Blain, Stephan James and Alexander Ludwig.

14 Blades (R for graphic violence) Martial arts drama, set during the Ming Dynasty, about a member of the imperial guard (Donnie Yen) on the run from an army of assassins after being betrayed by colleagues. With Wei Zhao, Chun Wu and Kate Tsui. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

 

I Am Happiness On Earth (Unrated) Homoerotic drama, set in Mexico, about an aspiring filmmaker (Hugo Catalan) who cavalierly seduces and abandons a vulnerable dancer (Alan Ramirez) who already entered the relationship damaged goods. Co-starring Gabino Rodriguez, Andrea Portal and Ivan Alvarez. (In Spanish with subtitles)

 

Jersey Shore Massacre (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, drug use and graphic violence) High attrition-rate horror flick about a weekend gone bad for a group of young revelers who end up on the run from a serial killer in the Pine Barrens after losing possession of their oceanfront rental. Ensemble cast includes Danielle Dallacco, Angelica Boccella, Giovanni Roselli and Chris Lazzaro.

Love Is Strange (R for profanity) Dream deferred drama about a gay couple (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) that finally gets to tie the knot after four decades together only to have to separate when they lose their home. With Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson and Charlie Tahan.

 

The One I Love (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Romantic comedy revolving around a couple (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) whose weekend getaway intended to revitalize their flagging marriage instead has them confronting an unexpected dilemma. With Ted Danson and Oscar winners Marlee Matlin (Children Of A Lesser God) and Mary Steenburgen (Melvin And Howard).

 

The Prince (R for violence, profanity and drug use) Crime thriller, set in Las Vegas, about a retired hit man (Jason Patric) who enlists the assistance of his BFF (John Cusack) to rescue his daughter (Jessica Lowndes) from the clutches of a former rival (Bruce Willis). With 50 Cent, Rain and Gia Mantegna (Joe’s daughter).

 

Salvo (Unrated) Mob drama about a Mafia hit man (Saleh Bakri) who rethinks his line of work after being befriended by his latest victim’s blind sister (Sara Serraiocco). Support cast includes Luigi Lo Cascio, Mario Pupella and Jacopo Menicagli. (In Italian and Sicilian with subtitles)

 

See You Next Tuesday (Unrated) Dysfunctional family dramedy, set in Brooklyn, about an unemployed, pregnant woman’s (Eleanore Pienta) toxic relationships with her mother (Dana Eskelson), her lesbian sister (Molly Plunk), and her sister’s live-in lover (Keisha Zollar). Support cast features Taylor Dior, Stephan Goldbach and Michele Meises.

Winter In The Blood (Unrated) Screen adaptation of the James Welch best-seller of the same name, set in Montana, about an alcoholic Native American’s (Chaske Spencer) self-destructive spiral in the wake of a series of family tragedies and personal setbacks. Cast includes David Morse, Gary Farmer and Julia Jones.

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