The Giver • Code Black
The Expendables 3
August 21, 2014
The Giver (** ½) PG-13
The Giver is one of those films raising more questions than it answers. That troubled me, especially during the film’s final half hour when it becomes readily apparent that the audience needs answers it simply isn’t going to get. For instance, why is Jeff Bridges’ character, the ‘Giver’ of the film’s title, even needed at all? And what exactly does the main character, Jonas, hope to find when he leaves his utopian existence anyway? There are others but I’m sure you get the point. The Giver, in spite of all its good intentions, had me scratching my head on more than one occasion.
Bridges is not only one of the stars of the fil, he’s also the producer and it’s been a well-known labor of love of his since he first encountered Lois Lowry’s young adult novel some two decades ago. Originally the role of the Giver was intended for Bridges’ actor-father, Lloyd, but the actor couldn’t get the film made for one reason or another until now.
Bridges, left & Brenton Thwaites, in The Giver
And that’s why it’s so puzzling that The Giver isn’t the home-run one would expect considering how much love was obviously behind the film’s source material. One would think that in two decades the story kinks would be satisfactorily worked out but that isn’t the case here. Instead, what we get are a few truly moving moments lost in one of those typical, teens save the world from the wicked adults of the Hunger Games variety.
Jonas is played by Brenton Thwaites in the film. In the original book, he was an eleven-year old boy but as the film opens he’s about to graduate high school and filled with worry because he doesn’t seem to fit in. This type of angst normally wouldn’t be a problem, except in Jonas’ society, which has recently recovered from some unnamed cataclysmic event. In Jonas’ world everyone is assigned a predestined role. Everything is now perfectly planned to the point where everyone is given a drug that promotes sameness and suppresses emotions. The character of the Giver is the last member of this society who can actually feel things and Jonas, due to his uniqueness, is assigned the role of being the next Giver. Once Jonas begins to experience emotions such as love, fear and hate for the first time, passed on to him by the current Giver, he begins to question the decisions of his elders, leading to complications.
It must be noted that veteran director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Rabbit Proof Fence), along with his cinematographer, Ross Emery, bring some visual inventiveness to the proceedings by choosing to keep things in black and white, until Jonas starts to acquire memories, which are depicted in color. This unique approach is one of the film’s strengths. The film is also filled with great supporting actors such as Meryl Streep and Odeya Rush. It’s just a shame that the considerable talent didn’t fulfill the promise that film’s material seems to offer.
Code Black (*** ½)
In a publicly funded hospital, or at least in the case of the renowned Los Angeles County Hospital, the term ‘code black’ is used to describe a situation wherein the waiting room is at its peak. We learn in the searing new documentary Code Black, which takes its name from said situation, that when this occurs many of those waiting for a physician’s care have wait times of up to eighteen hours. It’s only one of the multiple problems that both patients and physicians face here and, most likely, in other publicly funded hospitals in the country.
Code Black begins by giving the viewer some background on the history of Los Angeles County Hospital. The original building was replaced in 2008 when the old building was deemed unsafe due to its proximity to an earthquake fault line. There is quite a bit of time given over in the beginning of the film to explain C Booth, which was basically the 520 square foot center of the old facility where life and death decisions were regularly made. No one seems to really know what the C stands for but its significance becomes apparent when the film delves into what’s going on at the current LA County Hospital, which is what the film is really about.
Ryan McGarry is one of the doctors at the current facility. He’s a resident physician there but he’s also the director of Code Black and is therefore able to give a unique perspective on things.
Code Black: Director Ryan McGarry, center, in C Booth
We learn that McGarry himself was, at one time in his youth, a track star at the top of his game when it was discovered that he had lymphoma. McGarry’s family doctor immediately sent him to an oncologist who successfully treated McGarry’s condition. The point McGarry seems to making by injecting this bit of information into the proceedings is to make the contrasting point that he had access to top notch medical care but many of those he treats do not and he feels he has somewhat of an obligation to give back.
During the film’s unspooling, the audience is witness to patient deaths on more than one occasion. It’s quite evident that time is of the essence for many of the hospital’s patients and if the wait times of 12-18 hours could be reduced the mortality rates would likely drop to some degree. The doctors do come up with a plan at one point to cut times in half but the hospital is so understaffed and underfunded there’s only so much that can be done.
Many of those who turn up in public hospitals such as the one profiled in the film have no other choice. The law states that no hospital emergency room can turn down a patient but the problem here seems to be the follow-up care, which most of these unfortunate souls simply can’t afford. It’s a maddening and confounding problem with no easy answers but thankfully, Code Black illuminates the challenges we face in our current medical system. When it comes to solutions, knowing what the problems are is as good a place to start as any.
The Expendables 3 (**)
I’m not sure how or why it happened but I had a most surprising experience during the screening of the third installment in the Expendables franchise. For some strange reason, and on more than occasion, the latest exhibit in this geriatric action star sweepstakes managed to hold my attention without my having to make the usual Herculean effort to focus on the onscreen shenanigans transpiring. That’s not to say that it’s a great film, mind you. To expect anyone who’s had to sit through all three of these films to have the ability to articulate a valid reason as to why one installment is better than another would be akin to splitting hairs and I won’t go that route. Suffice it to say that The Expendables 3 does have enough good will and good actor chemistry to overcome some of the foibles that have befallen the previous installments. It’s still not a great movie but it’s a definite improvement over most non-Expendables projects that the film’s star, Sylvester Stallone, has been involved in during the two years since the last film came and went.
The plot here picks up, presumably, not long after the events of the last Expendables film. In the opening pre-credits action sequence, the Expendables gang are attempting to rescue a new addition to the cast (Wesley Snipes) from a speeding train.
Schwarzenegger & Ford in Expendables 3
The character’s fate is never in doubt, of course, but when the boys make a mess of the next assignment, Expendables leader Barney (Stallone) decides that perhaps it’s time he recruit some new blood. He breaks up the old gang and assembles a new gang with the help of an old ally (Kelsey Grammer). Their mission is to capture the pic’s villain (Mel Gibson), whom Barney’s CIA boss, (Harrison Ford, taking over the Bruce Willis role from the previous films) demands be brought in alive. Of course, you know it’s only a matter of time before the new gang gets into trouble and Barney will have to rely on his old friends for backup.
Once again, it’s the novelty of watching Stallone and all of the action stars of my generation’s misspent youth of the ultra conservative 1980s going through their usual paces, in spite of being either near or over the age of seventy. The plot, as usual, is implausible and generic stuff. Most of the thrills the film does offer come from the real fears audiences might have that Stallone and company could shatter a hip or something along those catastrophic lines during the film’s numerous action set pieces. No such thing occurs, but now, come to think of it, that could make for an interesting plot development in the Expendables 4.
The Giver and Expendables 3 are playing everywhere and at the Carmike Cinema in Hickory.
Code Black is playing in Charlotte at the Regal Park Terrace Stadium Six.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.