Movie Review ~ Waiting for Anya


The Facts
:

Synopsis: During the harrows of WWII, Jo, a young shepherd along with the help of the Widow Horcada, helps to smuggle Jewish children across the border from southern France into Spain.

Stars: Anjelica Huston, Jean Reno, Frederick Schmidt, Thomas Kretschmann, Noah Schnapp, Gilles Marini, Elsa Zylberstein, Nicholas Rowe, Tómas Lemarquis, Sadie Frost

Director: Ben Cookson

Rated: NR

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  As a child, I remember reading countless numbers of books assigned by teachers and picked up randomly from the library about children living in the Alps (Swiss, French, etc.) doing brave things.  They climbed mountains, they survived in the wilderness, they went toe-to-toe with grumpy grandfathers, and they often stood up to authority in the face of great danger.  As I grew older, I began to see that a number of these novels were really about life during the second World War with Nazis being cast as the Big Bad that our child heroes and heroines were pitted against.  To me, it was just kids triumphing over mean adults…

Somehow in the midst of my massive amount of reading I missed Michael Morpurgo 1990 book Waiting for Anya.  Looking at its hand painted cover and reading it’s rousing description it seems like something that was right up my alley and a title I would have checked out promptly.  Though he has become more well known for his 1982 novel War Horse (which inspired the stage show that led to the Steven Spielberg movie), this is another of his works that is often read in schools and it’s not hard to see why.  It’s a minor history lesson wrapped in a relatively safe story; it stays squarely in its lane and prefers not to veer off course even though its talented cast is surely up for the challenge.

A prologue scroll acclimates us to the fragile time of war we are entering at the start of the picture.  Jews are being loaded onto trains to an unknown destination and a man named Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt, Angel Has Fallen) is attempting to avoid boarding with his young daughter, Anya.  Flash forward to the village of Lescun where we meet Jo, (Noah Schnapp, The Peanuts Movie) a shepherd that has a chance encounter with a more grizzled Benjamin while tending to his flock.  Following Benjamin back to his lodging with the Widow Horcada (Anjelica Huston, The Witches) Jo soon comes to realize that her farm is being used to transport young Jews into the safety of Spain.  Trusting Jo with this knowledge, Horcada and Benjamin bring the boy into their fold which increases the danger not just for the three of them but for Jo’s family and the rest of their tiny village.

There’s an unfortunate sameness that settles over the film early on and it never can truly shake it.  Perhaps it’s just that Morpurgo’s story isn’t that original and, while an important piece of history, has been told before with a bit more conviction through better means.  This adaptation from Toby Torlesse and director Ben Cookson feels like a, sorry to say it, paint-by-numbers approach to a Nazi WWII drama with all of the standard complications and tensions throughout.  There’s the gruff father (Gilles Marini) that doesn’t understand why his son is affiliated with a fringe-dweller like Benjamin, the conflicted Nazi general (Thomas Kretschmann, Avengers: Age of Ultron) who the screenplay tries to make more three dimensional, and a smarmy Nazi lieutenant (Tómas Lemarquis, X-Men: Apocalypse) with eyes that get bigger the stronger his German accent gets.  That being said, Huston and Jean Reno (Alex Cross) as Jo’s grandfather inject their characters with a bit of oomph, even if all the actors involved tend to come off as overly earnest.

Look, I’m never going to begrudge a movie (or book) like Waiting for Anya to exist.  If it opens the door for a dialogue between parents/teachers and their children/students into this period of history than I say more power to them.  From a production standpoint, the film is obviously operating on a smaller budget but it has some lovely picturesque vistas so it’s mostly a well-made affair.  It’s when it falls prey to the run-of-the-mill machinations of its genre that the movie becomes markedly less effective.  Recommended on the strength of the performances.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

dracula_ver1

I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

It’s funny but there are certain trailers that just stick with you over the years…maybe it’s because it was your first glimpse of a film you were looking forward to or maybe it’s all about where/when you saw it. In the case of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it was both.

I have a confession to make.  Long before Edward and Bella came around and before Buffy staked her claim in Sunnydale, I was a huge vampire fan…Dracula to be exact (or as the four year old Joe used to say “Drak-lee-la”).  So when 12 year old Joe heard there was another Dracula movie coming out in a big way you know he was excited.

I remember seeing the first teaser for this before a Sunday matinee screening of A League of Their Own at Centennial Lakes 8 and though I liked Penny Marshall’s baseball comedy all I was thinking about throughout was how much longer I’d have to wait until the tale of Count Dracula was arriving.

A well-produced teaser, this actually wound up being removed from theaters because it was deemed “too intense”.  Watching the first images from Francis Ford Coppola’s film that wound up being art-directed to the hilt, you’ll probably be scratching your head as to what’s so intense about it but we live in different times now.

Catch-up!  Check out my look at the teasers for MiseryAlien!