Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Double Feature: The Reader and Valkyrie (Movie Talk)

So, I am a little late with this one. Pretend it is Monday, only let's make it so I don't have to actually work through the entire day again as if it were, okay? In fact, maybe by the end of this post it will be Thursday evening, time for my weekend to begin. Wishful thinking, I know. Anyway, this is all Sheri's idea. She hosts Monday's Movie over at A Novel Menagerie each Monday. Hopefully she will forgive me for being tardy with this post.

If movies counted toward the War Through the Generations Challenge, I would have been able to knock two off my list. One Saturday earlier this month, my husband and I took in a double feature. It was more for my benefit than his, although recent reviews were enough to get him at least a little curious. Therefore, I did not have to twist his arm too hard.

Let me say here that as much as I love movies, I cannot review them. I sat down many times to write down my general impressions of the films and ended up deleting each and every attempt. I don’t know why I have such difficulty with it, I just do. I’ll give it one final try, and you and I will just have to live with the results.

Movie: The Reader
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Runtime: 2 hrs. 2 min.
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Stephen Daldry
Writers: David Hare (screenplay) & Bernhard Schlink (book)

Having really liked and been moved by Bernhard Schlink’s novel, The Reader, when I read it years ago, I was eager to see it come to life on the silver screen. It helped that one of my favorite actors, Ralph Fiennes, played one of the leads.

Brief Summary: Set in post World War II Germany, a 15 year old boy, Michel Berg, had an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz. Ten years later, while taking a seminar at law school, Michael discovers that Hannah is on trial for war crimes.

My Thoughts: The Reader as a book was my first real exposure to the turmoil Germany and its citizenry faced in the years after the Second World War. And really, not just Germany, but all those who were under German control at the time. How did the average person reconcile what was done in the name of the Nazi party, whether that person was involved with the war effort or not?

The movie version of the book was amazing on many levels. The performances by all of the characters, especially that of Kate Winslet, Robert Kross and Ralph Fiennes, were exquisite. The setting felt real and true. It has been years since I read the book and so I cannot account for accuracy, I am afraid. I came to care for the characters, particularly Michael’s character.

Kate Winslet played the role of Hanna Schmitz, and she couldn’t have done a better job. She was guarded and came across as cold at times, and yet somehow vulnerable. Her inability to read was a badge of shame for her and she had learned to hide it well over the years. I felt pity for her at times, but not enough to ever really like her or excuse her for what she’d done. What I did take away from her character was how ordinary she was. And how ordinary people were among those who committed some of the most horrific crimes. We all would like to think that we would have acted differently in the same situation. Maybe we would have. I want to believe that I would have. It’s something to think about, regardless.

The story had the promise of being powerful and yet somehow was underwhelming when all was said and done. My husband suggested that it may be a result of Michael’s passive role throughout the movie—as a main character, he took very little action in the film; rather, he took a back seat as events unfolded around him. I am not sure if that was it for me as well, only that I felt something was missing from the film. I wish I could put my finger on it. It was a beautiful film, and oh so terribly sad.

Rating: 4 Bags of Popcorn (Very Good)

Movie: Valkyrie
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Drama
Runtime: 2 hrs.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander

I like Tom Cruise in most of the roles he undertakes but sometimes it can be hard to separate the actor from the public image that has been out there in the media in recent years. That image has not been very favorable. Still, I was eager to see Valkyrie, a movie set during the Second World War, a time in the world’s history that draws me like a magnet.

Brief Summary: Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man to plan and initiate the final attempt on the Fuhrer’s life. He is disillusioned with his country’s leadership and fears that if things continue as they have been, it will be the downfall of his beloved country. He is willing to risk being labeled a traitor in order to do what he feels in his heart is the right thing. After being injured in a battle in North Africa, he is enlisted in a plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the government. His efforts are not easy, conflicts arise and even the best laid plans can go awry.

My Thoughts: I was drawn into the movie and, even knowing how the story would end, I found myself wishing for a different outcome. My only complaint? The accents. The German officers in the movie had a number of accents, including American and British. It didn’t in any way ruin the film for me, but I did find it amusing. Still, all in all it was an entertaining and powerful film.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn (Good +)


  1. I am happy to read your posts, no matter how late! I love double features, but I don't get to partake very often (and even then it is usually kid-friendly film). These are certainly two that I've been told you need to see before Oscar night. My husband has actually been to see the bunker of the assassination attempt, so he is Jonesing to see the movie. My sister, a movie critic, hated it, although I think she has personal baggage when it comes to Cruise...

  2. It's good to read your reviews of these movies - both of which I want to see. However, I didn't read The Reader yet (on my shelf) and doubt I'll read it if I see the movie first.

  3. Hi Wendy,
    Well now I really want to read The Reader, but I love kate Winslet, so I'll probably see the movie first.

    On Valkyre, I agree with you entirely. The history is so powerful, and before the film, I had no idea the coup was so well planned, so it was definitely worth seeing.

    But there is just something about Tom Cruise that doesn't translate. I'm not sure it's his personal personna, I think it's just his wholly American aura. Even with the eye patch. I kept looking for Nazi, and I kept seeing Top Gun.

  4. Sure, I'll say today's Monday. As long as it's really Friday instead of Wednesday :)

    I really want to see The Reader. It looks amazing and I have a girl crush on Kate Winslet. Thanks for the review.

  5. Hi Wendy, I love your movie reviews and the term you use to rate them. Cute!

    I haven't watch any of them (I'm really slow with movies), but you've made me change my mind. I'm just not sure when I'll get to it. :)

  6. The Reader in book form was powerful and thought-provoking. It had been many years since I'd read it as well, but the movie version seemed to follow the important themes beautifully. Each of the actors did an amazing job, but Winslett deserves her Golden Globe award for best supporting actress in this film.

  7. I do movie reviews on my blog sometimes, and you're right - in a lot of ways, they're harder than book reviews. I find that if I know I'm going to write about a movie, it holds me back a little from getting fully caught up in it, because I'm thinking about how to describe things. I don't seem to have that boundary with books.

    I agree with you about Tom Cruise - sometimes it just seems like he's TOM CRUISE, and overshadows the movie.

    I'm still on the fence about seeing both of these, so I really appreciate your reviews, Wendy!

  8. I really want to go see The Reader. I remember loving the book although it's been so many years since I read it I barely remember any of it. Isn't Kate Winslet wonderful? I love seeing her films.

  9. I really want to see The Reader, but it is not playing here! None of the movies I have wanted to see lately have made it here. I am not impressed!

  10. I saw Kate Winslet and the boy in the movie on Charlie Rose. It sounded like a fascinating film.

    If you like that era, you might enjoy Jo Walton's alt history trilogy, Farthing, Ha'penny and Half a Crown. The ordinariness is what's so diabolical about it, without the books being diabolical at all.

  11. Wonderful reviews! You gave me an idea what the movies were about and what you thought about them. I especially like your rating scale of "bags of popcorn! :o)

  12. Nice reviews. I hope to see both of these soon, as well as Kate Winslet's other upcoming film, Revolutionary Road.

  13. I think your movie review of The Reader was very eloquent!! I too read the book a long time ago and I'm glad for that because it should help me to just sit back and watch the film without comparing the two in my mind. I love Kate Winslet. After reading your review I'm going to actually pony up the 7 bucks and go to the theatre to watch this. Normally, I just wait for them to come out in DVD and rent them from the library!! Yeah, I'm that cheap :)

    Tom Cruise-me no like him so much any more!! If he could've just stayed like Jerry McGuire then I might be willing to part with the dough to see one of his movies. But for now, if I catch it on TNT a couple years from now that will be good enough for me!

  14. I had a hard time with Tom Cruise in Valkyrie. I really thought the movie was great...suspenseful and interesting, but I just could not divorce the Tom Cruise of the tabloids from the Tom Cruise in the movie.

    loved the Reader.

  15. Sometimes I have a hard time with movie reviews too, especially if I don't write what I thought down immediately after watching. I find it helps to think about it kind of like a regular book review. You did a wonderful job!

  16. Love the new look.

    On the accents, I felt the same way when I watched Alexander on the History Channel a couple of weeks ago. I found the Irish accents really strange. I can understand it in Colin, but Val Kilmer?

  17. Sandy - Thank you. LOL Hubby and I don't do double features all that often anymore, but I talked him into making a day of it.

    I'm sorry your sister didn't care for Valkyrie. Tom Cruise is one of those actor's I begrudging like--and only when he's on screen acting as someone else. I'm not too fond of him otherwise.

    Joy - I hope you do get a chance to see them. I understand what you mean about probably not reading the book if you see the movie first. I sometimes feel that way too.

    Jan - Kate Winslet is a wonderful actress, isn't she? I hope you do get a chance to read the book.

    I hadn't known the full story being Valkyrie either and was surprised at how close they came to pulling it all off. I've not got the urge to go learn more about it.

    A friend of mine commented to to me recently that Tom Cruise has an arrogance about him that he carries into his movies with him that, no matter the role he plays, he just can't shake. I'm with you. Every time I saw him in the movie, I saw Tom Cruise not Stauffenberg.

    Thank you for stopping by, Jan!

    Nikki - Haha! I wish it was Friday, believe me!

    I hope you do get the chance to see The Reader. It's so good!

    Alice - Thank you! Sheri with A Novel Menagerie came up with the rating system. Isn't it cute? She actually has pictures of little popcorn bags full of popcorn. :-)

    Jenclair - I was so pleased when Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for supporting actress for The Reader. She definitely deserved it.

    Florinda - You do excellent movie reviews. I strive to be more like you. :-)

    You said it! It's hard not to see Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise in a movie.

    There's always DVD or cable. I don't think either movie is a must see in theater type, although I'm really glad I saw The Reader in the theater. I want to visit Germany now.

    Iliana - Kate Winslet is wonderful, yes! I want to reread the book someday. Maybe then I'll watch the movie again too and better be able to compare them. It won't be for a while though.

    Kelly - Hopefully it will make it to a theater near you. There was one movie I was interested in seeing last year that never made it into town. I'm still wondering what happened with that.

    Carrie K - I wish I could have seen that interview! Thank you for the recommendation. I've added the trilogy to my wish list. :-)

    Terri - Thank you! I probably gave too much away. :-) I wish I could take credit for the rating scale. That's all Sheri's doing from A Novel Menagerie.

    Charley - Thank you. Let me know what you think of them when you do see them. My husband's really interested in seeing Revolutionary Road, so we may see that one of these days.

    Staci - Thank you! Sometimes distance between a book and movie can be very beneficial. :-) I think The Reader is worth the money of a theater ticket. The scenery is gorgeous.

    My husband and I like to go to the movie theater to catch movies, but we don't go as often as we once did. I know not everyone goes in for the experience or wants to spend the money (that's why we only go for matinees), and that's okay. A lot of movies are best seen on DVD or TV anyway!

    Amy - It's hard for me to separate Tom Cruise from his character too.

    Jen - Yes! I seem to forget movies a lot faster than I do books. You make a good point though. Think of it as writing a regular book review.

    Thank you!

    Chris - Thank you! Val Kilmer with an Irish accent . . . I wondered if perhaps part of the reason Tom Cruise kept his American accent was because he would stick out like a sore thumb with a German one. The incongruence of the British, German and American accents just stood out for me for some reason.

  18. Sounds like I'm going to have to see The Reader!

    I agree with you about Valkyrie. I never did get around to posting my thoughts. LOL The accents annoyed me, though I thought the movie was good overall. I just couldn't understand why they didn't even attempt German accents to make it more authentic. I recently saw the movie version of Anita Shreve's Resistance, which dealt with the Maquis, and the actors spoke French and there were subtitles. That was more authentic to me. Great reviews, btw!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  19. I really enjoyed The Reader when I read it a few years ago and look forward to seeing the film at some point.
    I was going to say something snarky about Tom not being able to do any other accent.. oh, I guess I just did! Oops. ;)
    BTW, I love the rating system as bags of popcorn.

  20. Hmm, I still haven't decided if I want to bother with Valkyrie, the Reader sounds good, but I don't think I'm up for a really sad movie. Took me a week to shake off Marley and Me and I'd read the book and loved it. It's not like I didn't know where the movie was going, for cryin' out loud!

  21. I'm glad the hear that The Reader was good. I enjoyed the book and will have to watch for it to come out on DVD. Hubby won't like it, so I will have to watch it by myself. :)

  22. I would like to read the Reader before seeing the movie, but probably won't happen. I just saw Revolutionary Road and am always blown away by Kate Winslet's acting.

  23. Anna - I wondered why they didn't go for the German accents either. Going from The Reader into Valkyrie, it especially stood out for me. Thank you!

    Nat - I hope you get the chance to see the the film, The Reader. I think you would like it. :-)

    Haha! I wondered the same thing about Tom Cruise.

    Kelly (bookfool) - I think The Reader is definitely a movie you have to be in the mood for when you see. I haven't decided if I want to see Marley and Me yet. If I do, I'll probably just rent it. I can see myself turning the end of the movie into a sobfest. LOL

    Melissa - I hope you like The Reader when you do see it. Although my husband likes this type of movie, there are others I've wanted to see that he hasn't. DVD's come in handy in those situations, I know.

    Lenore - My husband's been on me about seeing Revolutionary Road. I'm not sure we'll get to see it while it's out in theaters, but I'm sure we'll try if we can.

  24. I am not going to read this post because I am seeing The Reader tonight. But, anytime you post with Monday's Movie is a good day for me. I'll come back after I see the movie! I'll give you a shout out on tomorrow's post!

  25. Sheri - I hope you enjoyed The Reader when you saw it tonight. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    And thank you ahead of time for the mention!

  26. I'm slowly catching up with everyone's posts...

    Thanks for the great movies reviews, Wendy! I seldom go to the cinemas nowadays, unless some movies which I've been looking forward to or have received very good reviews. I haven't watched any of these yet, but they sound good!

  27. Melody - It is good to have you back! My husband and I watch movies quite frequently, although we've slowed down in recent years.

  28. I must admit of late if you see a movie with Tom Cruise you get Tom Cruise. A lot of people seem to like Valkyrie but have also commented on the accents.

    i would still like to watch it though to see what the fuss is about :)

  29. Caspette - Very true. It's hard to not see Tom Cruise in any role he plays these days. I do think it's a movie worth watching, just the same.


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