on October 2, 2003
"Holes" surprised the heck out of me.
I read the book on the advice of a friend who knew I was interested in children's books. I was blown away. Then I heard Disney was making a movie -- I was apprehensive about the story getting Hollywoodized, but when I saw the finished product, I realized my fears were unfounded.
It didn't hurt at all that they got Louis Sachar, the author of the novel, to write the screenplay, but the casting of this movie was wonderful as well, with the kids turning in strong performances all around and the adults clearly relishing their roles, particularly the scene-chewing Jon Voight.
This is a pretty good DVD as well, especially by Disney standards, with a comentary and some nice behind-the-scenes features. Best of all, Disney actually gave movie fans a widescreen version for once -- thank heavens! I can actually watch the movie the way it was meant to be seen in my own home! All in all, one of the most satisfying products from the House of Mouse in many a year.
on July 16, 2004
The wildly popular novel for youngsters "Holes" gets turned into a movie that is completely in keeping with the spirit of the book.
The young cast bring to life the beloved characters at Camp Green Lake, where convicted juvenile delinquents are sent to toil in broiling Texas sun. It was great to see X-Ray, Zero, Armpit and of course Caveman brought to life. The adult parts are played by Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson, and they look like they're having a WORLD of fun playing the malicious staff at Camp Green Lake. The story is not insulting to kids, and adults can watch it and be entertained the entire length of the movie. Vignettes back at Caveman's home where Stanley Yelnats the second and third live under the curse incurred from the first Stanley Yelnats, and trips back in time where that first Stanley was cursed by European VooDoo Woman Eartha Kitt as well as the back-story around Kissin' Kate and her treasure all add to the viewing pleasure.
The DVD comes with just the right amount of supplemental features, interviews and commentaries.
Not many "children's movies" are as appropriate for all ages. Highly recommended.
on June 30, 2004
This is one of the best adventure/drama/comedys that Disney has ever put out. Everything just seems to come together. Jon Voight as Mr. Sir and Sigourney Weaver as the Warden of Camp Green Lake add a real touch of Comedy with their over the top performances. Voight's expressions and looney hunting of deadly Yellow Lizards will have you rolling on the floor. Weaver will have you shaking your head wondering how can a woman be so evil.
The boys at Camp Green Lake all give awesome performances as well. Stanley Yelnats aka "Cave Man" does a wonderful job of showing us the pain and joy of a young man that just can't seem to get a break. "Zero" shows us that no matter how berated you are by peers and adults there is always hope and friendship to be found. Squid, Armpit, ZigZag, Magnet, and X-Ray are great in their support roles.
The background story behind why the warden wants holes dug all over the desert is one of the best I have seen. In fact it is pretty much a movie on it's own. It is like getting two movies for the price of one. I have to say I sure hope to see more Disney movies like this and "Pirates of the Caribbean". They are both excellent films and have me anxious to see what is next. The DVD picture and sound quality are great and it includes commentary, documentary, gag reel, deleted scenes, music video, and more.
on May 10, 2004
Unlike others here, I was never exposed to the book, so this movie was a mystery to me. I'd heard the generally positive reviews and read what passed for plot synopsis, but all I came away with was, "What?!?" This is a difficult movie to synopsize without giving away too much of the intricately woven plot. If this is what young teen-agers are reading, there may be hope for us yet.
This is a movie that requires constant attention. The plot is revealed in fits and starts with modern day action intercut with flashbacks and clues in plain view at the periphery of the scenes. The story is about the bad luck Yelnats clan, all of which leads to the youngest family scion, Stanley (his first and last name together are a palindrome). There are actually five interrelated subplots:
1) The origin of the family curse.
2) The history of the site of the juvenile detention camp where the protagonist finds himself. This takes place in the old west.
3) A story of Stanley's great-grandfather, who made a fortune and then lost it in events which touch on plot #2.
4) The story of the camp warden and her family. This also relates to plot #2.
5) The modern day plight of Stanley and his family.
Sound complicated? It is, but it all entwines in some exceptional storytelling. The ending wraps up all five stories in an entirely satisfying way.
So what is this and who would like it? Well, it's not a children's movie in any conventional sense. It requires attention and doesn't have a lot of "action". It's not riveting, but it is masterful storytelling. The film makers don't milk any scenes beyond their logical conclusion, so the intercutting between modern events and flashbacks could be disorienting to some viewers. The performances are all first rate. Jon Voigt is over the top as the dim-witted head guard, and Sigourney Weaver has her most deliciously evil role since "Snow White: A Tale of Terror". The juvenile roles are all excellent, especially the critical roles of Shia LaBeouf as Stanley and Khleo Thomas as "Zero". Eartha Kitt turns in a brief but effective performance as the old Latvian Gypsy who started the family curse. Patricia Arquette and Dulé Hill are touching in the critical roles as tragically star-crossed interracial lovers in the old west.
If you let it, this is a highly involving film and time well spent. I was only going to give this 4 stars because it's not particularly showy, but wound up giving it 5 since it delivers everything it intends. The story is intricate, but still not particularly grand. But that's OK - this is a master work and deserves an audience.
on April 4, 2004
Based on the Louis Sachar novel, "Holes" plays like a cutesy version of "Cool Hand Luke" for the Outward Bound set.
Stanley is a good-natured kid who is wrongly convicted of stealing shoes from a homeless shelter. As punishment, he is shipped off to a strange correctional facility in
the desert where he and the other boys are forced to dig endless holes for no purpose beyond "character building." The place is run by a trio of certifiable sadistic nitwits played by Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson, all of whom overact shamelessly in their roles.
"Holes" is obviously intended to be a clever, original film, combining elements of humor, social commentary and Magic Realism in a satirical attack on mindless injustice. However, the humor is generally lowbrow and overbroad, the social commentary conventional and sentimental, and the Magic Realism so forced and heavy handed that it robs the film of any kind of real world relevance early on. The adults in the film are all overdrawn caricatures while the boys are, for the most part, bland and utterly indistinguishable from one another. The film is padded out with a series of interminable flashbacks involving a curse supposedly placed on Stanley's family as a result of the actions of his great grandfather. However, this parallel back-story is even more corny and melodramatic than what is being served up front and manages only to slow down what little "action" there is even further.
Having never read the popular novel on which the film is based, I will be the first to concede that perhaps I just didn't get what was supposed to be going on here. "Holes" may be fine for the aficionado and the already initiated, but it makes for a tediously bad time at the movies for the rest of us.
on March 18, 2004
Many say the film "Holes" is good, and the original book is even better. Though I have not read the book, I can sense the feelings these people have towards the beloved original. And the film is carefully made with that kind of love, I think. So, read this review as the one from a non-reader of Louis Sacher book, but as just a moviegoer.
One thing is certain; the kids featured in the central story are fantastic. "Holes" starts with a boy Stanley Yelnats IV (read backward), who is falsely accused of stealing a pair of shoes presented by a celebrity. Now Stanley must work at the correctional camp for boys.
The camp itself is very unique. In the middle of the hot desert, Stanley has to dig a hole every day, to mould a newer and healthier character. And while there, he meets another boy called Zero, with whom he becomes a friend, and embarks on another adventure, which ends in an unexpected way.
In the meanwhile, Stanley's family has been, he claims, cursed from the great-great-great-grand dad, who neglected a promise with an old lady Eartha Kitt. Beside this sub-plot told in flashbacks, we have another sub-plot about the life of "Kissin' Kate Barlow" (Patricia Arquette). These subplots, it will be clear, have something to do with the present-day story about Stanley and Zero.
But the charms of the film come from its characters. Though Sigourney Weaver (as the warden of the camp) is top-billed in the film, it is the friendship between Stanley and Zero that really attacts us, and the good acting of the kids is strongly recommended. This is not to say that Ms. Weaver is bad; but when we have to wait for one hour for her to appear, it is hardly possible to say that this is her movie. You also get John Voight as the warden's second, and Tim Blake Nelson as "doctor," plus Henry Winkler as Stanley's father. They all give appropriately quirky and even crazy acting, in particular that of John Voight, who reminds me of his eccentric turn in "Anaconda."
The film is Disney's, and the company decided on an uncomfortable mixture of myth and reality. Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") is not the right choice for directing this kind material (it's Alfonso Cuaron) that requires more magical touch to make every scene edgy and mythical.
And Disney is guilty of one thing: too much polishing up. The boys in the camp sometimes show nasty and mean attitude, but they are never evil; the violence is suggested (in the flashback), but not explicitly shown on the screen; Sigourney Weaver's warden should look more self-centered, but she actually lacks the menace this kind of character might have. In short, the film is too clean, and it doesn't bite. Even the dirt looks clean, and Sigourney Weaver's phoney droll accent comes and goes.
The last point is the sole reason of my star rating. But the characters are interesting, and if you endure the first half of the film (in which too many flashbacks come and go), you will be slowly sucked into this strange world of "Holes."
on March 6, 2004
When Stanley Yelnats IV (played by Shia LaBeouf of "Even Stevens") is struck in the head by a pair of dropped shoes, and is subsequently tried for stealing them, his family is not surprised. The family has been cursed by bad luck, since Stanley's great grandfather (Stanley Yelnats I) failed to fulfill his end of an agreement with a gypsy (Eartha Kitt!). And so, Stanley finds himself whisked off to a juvenile corrections camp, where the young inmates spend their days digging holes - 5' diameter, 5' deep holes.
There's something awfully strange going on here. The warden (Sigourney Weaver) and her goons are looking for something, something that they dare not reveal. But, what is it? Ah, destiny is at work here and curses upon curses, and only one Stanley Yelnats can set things right! [Color, released in 2003, with a running time of 1 hour, 57 minutes.]
I must admit that when my kids wanted to see this movie in the theatre, I was more than happy to send them off with a cousin, as the movie did not look interesting to me. Well, I sure am kicking myself now! This is a great movie!
I loved the story of this movie, which seemed complicated at first, involving as it does so many flashbacks, but quickly sorted itself into a pattern which brought the story along quite nicely. Also, the anti-racism subplot was very well designed. I enjoyed the acting ability demonstrated in the movie (and now think that Shia LaBeouf has quite a future ahead of him!). And, I enjoyed the scenery. Overall, I must say that this is one fine movie, mainly designed for youngsters, but a great movie for adults, too.
on March 4, 2004
If you want a live-action family film that adults and teens can tolerate but pre-teens will enjoy, HOLES might fit the bill. Even though most of the action is set in a detention camp for young offenders, very little bad behavior is on display. There's no cursing, nudity, sex, violence (other than a couple of shoving matches) or other material similarly objectionable for children. The story is pitched at the average 10-year-old's level of sophistication, though even younger kids will get most of it, and the slow pacing is not so tedious as to prevent most adults from staying awake.
The production values and acting performances are generally first-class. Grown-ups might even enjoy the adult performances more than kids--especially Jon Voight's over-the-top camp guard and Henry Winkler's goofball inventor. Nevertheless, to award even three stars to this movie is rather charitable. Perhaps the many 4 and 5 star ratings reflect approval of family-oriented features in general, rather than the quality of this particular film. Surely those who've rated it so highly don't really believe that it compares with BABE or SHRECK or FINDING NEMO or BIG or THE SHAGGY DOG or any other truly good family film?
on February 26, 2004
"Holes" is the kind of odd little movie that can restore your faith in family movies, book adaptations, and creativity all at once.
"Holes" is an extraordinary book, beautifully structured and realized. It's a must-read for kids and adults. "Holes" the movie may not be quite as satisfying - how could it be? - but it captures so many elements of the book that it feels like the pages have come alive. "Holes" the movie is funny, offbeat, surreal, deep, romantic, tense, adventurous, and thoroughly entertaining.
Shia LeBouf is, thanks to "Project Greenlight," a cult hero now, and shows wonderful presence and poise as Stanley Yelnats, the boy from an odd household who is unfairly conficted of stealing an NBA great's shoes from a charity. He's sent to one of the more bizarre detention camps you can imagine, and the story begins.
Or rather, the story continues. We learn in an alternate story about a doomed interracial romance and a legend that seems to ring true, and we see how the sins of the past have led to this strange present. Director Davis cuts back and forth between these two threads with uncommon skill - we never feel like the thrust of the story is interrupted.
The performances are uniformly good. Tim Blake Nelson, Sigorney Weaver, and Jon Voight have all kinds of fun digesting the scenery, while the unknown band of boy convicts perfectly fill the richly-defined roles from the book. And the whole thing builds to a completely satisfying and thought-provoking ending.
I haven't raved about a movie this much in a long time. See "Holes." Bring the kids. Read the book. And forget your troubles and enjoy yourself.
on February 1, 2004
The film of Louis Sachar's "Holes" is faithful to his novel, especially since he also wrote the screenplay.
The basic story is that unlucky and cursed Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to Camp Green Lake for a crime he didn't commit. He can blame most of his bad luck on the curse handed down by his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great grandfather" Elya Yelnats, who emigrated from Latvia years before.
Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake and quickly discovers that there is no longer a lake and in fact there's nearly nothing but desert. There are plenty of holes, however, and each day each boy is required to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter. Digging the holes is supposed to build character, but the Warden, played nastily cool by Sigourney Weaver, has more sinister intentions.
As back story, we learn about Stanley's ancestor and how the curse was handed down from an ill-fated marriage proposal. There was also his great-grandfather who was robbed by the outlaw "Kissin'" Kate Barlow.
Another subplot shows Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette) as a school teacher who commits the crime of falling in love with and kissing the town onion farmer (West Wing's Dule Hill) and then opening up the town's prejudice. There's a darkly tragic outcome.
All of these elements tie in together with the boy's "character building" hole digging. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the spotted yellow lizards. The ones in the movie kind of looked like the dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park that killed Nedry/Newman Wayne Knight. But I digress...
While the smaller roles of the adults filled by Weaver, Arquette, Hill, Henry Winkler, Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson are faithful to the novel, it's Shia LaBeouf as Stanley and Khleo Thomas as Zero who really bring the story to life. Their flight across the desert and climb up the mountain to "God's Thumb" is the heart of the story and a great buddy journey. The other members of D-Tent are right on as well.
The only major change from the novel was that in the book Stanley was overweight and loses it doing the digging, which is hard to pull off in a movie. Also, the deleted scenes give a better idea of how his innocence was proven, which is pretty brisk in the regular theatrical version.
I recommend reading the novel first, then seeing the movie.