Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review: "Ashes In The Snow" is "The Pianist/Schindler's List" lite

Ashes In The Snow Review

If you're a film critic and you see a movie and sit down to write a review for said movie without reading the book its based on, is your review still valid?

I would say yes. I find it funny that some people who are fans of the book make sweeping generalizations that a negative review of a movie based on a book is invalid if the reviewer never read the book. You can be a fan of a book, and you can enjoy the movie of your favorite book. Even I get excited when Hollywood decides to adapt a book I really loved into a movie. But does that give you rose-colored glasses? Does that not allow you to view the movie on its own terms? In general, I think books have always been better than movies. Sure, there are some exceptions, just like there are exceptions to everything, I'd say in general they are. Its not a critics job to read a book then see the movie, a critics job is to watch and judge a movie on its own terms. A movie is not the book, and vice versa.

I bring this up because I see lots of people on the internet getting in a uproar that many critics couldn't stomach "Ashes In The Snow," a new movie playing in theaters right now based upon a book of the same name. The fans of the book are certainly letting their bias flag fly, and they are saying any critic who does not bow down and genuflect for the "Ashes In The Snow" movie are wrong. Which I think is nonsense. Like I said, it may be a great book, but that is not shown in the movie. While I wouldn't say that I hated the movie as much as other critics have. It basically is another version of "Schindler's List" or "The Boy In The Striped Pajamas" or "Empire of the Sun" or "Sarah's Key" or any other movie that took place during World War II's Holocaust. If you've seen certain imagery, you've pretty much seen it all. I'm not trying to say that movies based on this event aren't important, because that's just not true. I'm saying it feels like directors have just been recycling the same imagery for years. Never wanting to try anything new. Never wanting to be innovative. Never wanting to approach this idea in a new way.

World War II was a pretty unforgivable time and scary time in the world, especially in Europe. Even though we were allied with Russia during the war itself, we certainly didn't agree with his idea of Communism and Stalin himself has plenty of sins to answer for. "Ashes In The Snow" tells the apparent true story of a family taken away from their home in Lithuania during Stalin's reign of terror in the Baltic region. We follow Lina (Bel Powley) a 16-year-old girl who gets taken away with her family. The scenes of people getting taken away from their homes is definitely harrowing, but it all has a feeling of "Been there, done that" that is hard to look away from, hard to distance from.

The power of imagery is based solely on what a director does with it and how fresh it is. Movies dealing with this material from yesteryear did such an astonishing job that its been hard to manage ever since. The same thing could be said about "The Exorcist," there hasn't been a great exorcism movie since, definitely some good ones but nobody has made the next great exorcism movie. All of these Holocaust and rounded up in camps movies all begin to look alike and that's hard to look past. The performance by Bel Powley is quite good. The rest of the cast, including Jonah Huer-King, Lisa Loven Kongseli, Sophie Cooksen and Peter Fronzen are all great. They are trying really hard to make this count. 

Not only is this a Holocaust movie (of sorts, of course) but its also a coming-of-age movie. Again, we get dozens and dozens of these a year, and they are really tough to make fresh. Sadly, most of "Ashes In The Snow" is quite boring. It felt like the train ride to the concentration camp took an easy half-hour and sadly nothing of merit really happened as we watched helplessly as people were being bused to their doom. Then its just more of the same. Yes, people were treated horribly, but it all looks the same to me these days.

I just wish the good cinematography and the great performances could have been used in a new kind of Holocaust movie. They certainly deserved a more important movie, not a movie that was simply going through the motions.

FINAL GRADE: C-

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