The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

During World War One, a Christmas Day tradition ensued where opposing soldiers would cease hostilities.  Using the time for general socialisation and soccer games, this brief moment would unite common enemies.  The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas mirrors this event with an innocent relationship between German and Jewish boys.  Witnessing their growing friendship through a barbwire fence, the needless notion of war and its many victims is once again highlighted.
Eight year old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of decorated Nazi officer Ralf (David Thewlis).  When his father is tasked with overseeing a concentration camp the family, including wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga) and twelve year old daughter Gretel (Amber Beattie), follow.  Settling into their new house nearby, Bruno becomes bored and restless.  On his aimless travels, he stumbles upon the camp’s outskirts and young Jewish boy Shmuel (Jack Scanlon).  Happy with someone to talk with, the boys form a close bond that regimented uniforms and ragged garments can never unravel.
Extremely uncomfortable viewing for most of its length, this amazing film is made more powerful by its simplicity.  By looking at the Holocaust through children’s eyes, the endless politicking bogging down other similarly themed stories is pared down.  Like any inquisitive young boy, Bruno wonders why time is spent hating others where forming lasting friendships seems more rewarding.  Wonderfully played by Butterfield and Scanlon, you feel genuine sadness in how circumstances could have been very different for both, as well as the dreadful knowledge of what may transpire.
What’s really fascinating is the impact of age upon the officer’s children.  Already indoctrinated against other races, Bruno’s elder sister’s thought processes have taken on a more adult leaning.  Young and more questioning of those around him, Bruno has the foresight to see the wrongs perpetrated but cannot fully understand their meanings.  All is articulated very well in a tightly written script grasping the viewer from its sunny beginnings to its genuinely shocking denouncement.  The small cast give excellent renditions of mostly sympathetic characters that unknowingly become trapped by their own actions.
It’s very rare that you sit in a cinema where the audience stays until the final credits.  Such was the force of this well made film, that it was good to think that in a multiplex full of mindless fare there was at least one humane film daring enough in making its viewers think.
Rating out of 10:  8

17 Again

17 Again is the latest production benefiting from Hollywood’s recycling mantra.  Instead of investing in new scripts, easily adapted old concepts are dusted off for new generations.  Clearly evident in this case, the plot involving someone transported back to their youth is old as the hills.  Mixed with current teen sensation Zac Efron’s presence the ghost of previous entries looms large like a blast from the past.
Facing divorce and estranged from his children, 37 year old Mike (Matthew Perry) wonders what went wrong.  Filled with regrets and uncertain of his future, his visit to his old school changes everything.  Upon meeting a mysterious janitor little does Mike know he holds the key to his salvation.  Magically transported back to his teen years, Mike seizes the chance to take charge of his life and, with the help of his nutty friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), faces the vexing question of whether he would make the same decisions all over again.
Although a very well worn idea, it’s interesting how each similar film has rewound twenty years.  Never ten or some other number - this double score numeral subscribes to the adage that ‘twenty years ago was the best time of your life’.  Maybe this dovetails into the notion of those years representing a clean slate for one’s personal philosophies to take shape. Not that these messages are too apparent in this amiable comedy which passes the time effectively.  Scenes featuring the young Mike re-connecting with his family and youthful ambitions are well handled, with Efron showing some strong range even if he is once again playing a basketball loving teen.
It’s amusing how this genre seems to be a staple for teen idols to further their careers as former stars Kirk Cameron and Patrick Dempsey can attest.  Hopefully Efron can use this as a springboard in breaking free of his squeaky clean image as I’m sure even he must be tired of showing off his pecs to an adoring fanbase.  Thankfully 17 Again maintains freshness to the material with a great supporting role from Lennon as the wacky friend refusing to grow old.  Whilst all in good clean fun without resorting to easily used sex jokes or lewd behaviour, it doesn’t whitewash its themes of accepting past decisions and maintains good momentum.
Being only a year younger than Matthew Perry’s character, it’s a little disturbing seeing his age as being called ‘ancient’.  But as 17 Again proves even mature film reviewers can, like its characters, create their own definition of ‘being cool’.
Rating out of 10:  6