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REVIEW: The Hunger Games

March 24, 2012 1 comment
Jennifer Lawrence onset for The Hunger Games

May the camera be ever in your face.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I can review The Hunger Games. I mean, I saw it last night among friends and a packed theater on a pretty big screen with fairly astounding sound. I watched a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and would have no problem recommending to everyone I know. The Hunger Games is a really good dystopian science fiction action adventure for the whole family that, if incredibly profitable, will lead to at least two more movies adapted from the popular Panem Trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins. It’s a great movie and is well worth the ticket price to see if you can. But it has one problem that I hope somebody else is mentioning. Cos every reviewer on earth is going to talk about all the great things about this movie–and there are a lot of great things.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a coal-miner’s daughter from District 12 of Panem. The world has ended in a nuclear holocaust and now all that is left is the nation of Panem, divided into 12 districts. They go from 1 to 12, richest to poorest, most populous to least. In order to maintain oppressive power, the Capitol forces each of the 12 districts to offer up two Tributes–a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, inclusive. These Tributes fight to the death on live TV throughout the entire nation in an annual contest called Survivor. … I’m kidding, it’s called the Hunger Games. When Katniss volunteers to save her 12 year old sister from being sent to her certain death, she’s sent to the 74th annual Hunger Games alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy she is loath to kill because he saved her life and she’s yet to thank him for it. Read more…

REVIEW: Silent House

March 23, 2012 Leave a comment
Elizabeth Olsen in Silent House

Spoiler alert: the only good actors all have only x-chromosomes.

I’m gonna be honest straight off the top here: I’ve never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Being even more honest, I expect the kind of people who obsessively cruise film blogs to understand what I mean there and why I’m saying it now, but I don’t expect that of people I actually want to write for–so I’ll explain myself. Rope is a film that takes place in real time over 80 minutes as actions unfold and suspense builds and everything gets worse. At least, I assume all that last stuff after the word “minutes”. The point is, it’s shot, cut and projected in such a way as to give the illusion of being a single 80 minute reel of film unfolding before your eyes. Silent House, from the couple who brought you Open Water, is also shot and cut to present the illusion of being one uninterrupted take. It’s also being marketed with the gimmick of being the 88-minute, one take horror movie. Don’t tell anyone else, okay? It’ll be our little secret.

Elizabeth “sister-to-the-twins” “Martha-May-Marcy-Marlene” Olsen is a young woman by the name of Sara, who is living with her father at her family’s old lake house, finishing up emptying the place out and packing everything into boxes before they sell it. She, her father and her uncle are all carrying around lanterns because the house has no power. After a visit from a girlhood friend, freaky things start happening in the house. Polaroids are left out, with both father and uncle quickly hiding them; she finds a red tin box she can’t open; there are lots of lingering shots on Things That Will Be Important Later. For a one-take movie, it sure has a lot of shots. And the house has a lot of doors that can’t or shouldn’t be opened (that will be). And while the film is getting warmed up, it’s nice to pretend it’s just a thriller, instead of a profoundly dark movie that still has me looking over my shoulders. Read more…

REVIEW: A Dangerous Method

January 24, 2012 1 comment
Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method

She gets spanked by Magneto. Not as hot as it sounds.

In my review, kinda, of Beastly, I said there was a movie coming out this year that I couldn’t wait to see called Antiviral, as directed by a first-timer called Brandon Cronenberg. I also said that Brandon Cronenberg was the son of Canadian director David Cronenberg, who–when he was younger–had cinematic balls the size of boulders. All I have to tell you about the risks this man took is the image of James Woods pushing a betamax tape into his chest-vagina in Videodrome. This was a man who did not care less about being polite or conservative or conventional. And as Tarantino doesn’t want to happen to him, around middle age, Cronenberg the elder started reining all of that in. Either because he discovered maturity or had a family or just wanted to start being recognized for all of the courage he’d had earlier, his movies started being more about families dealing with true-to-life horrors than about Jeff Goldblum turning into a half-fly/half-human horror. He also started casting Viggo Mortensen in everything, but I think that was coincidental and a product of a good working relationship.

And so, in the Oscarbaiting twilight of his career, we have A Dangerous Method, the second movie this year wherein Michael Fassbender is compelled to have deviant sex. Only this time, instead of being a twenty-first century young man, he’s Carl Jung, the psychologist responsible for pretty much all of modern theory (statement not intended to be factual). One of his patients, later friend/mistress and fellow frontal lobe pioneer is Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a woman who–as a child–was sexually excited by her father’s beatings and the feelings of shame they aroused. To deal with this patient, Jung applies Freud’s theory of talk therapy. Of course, to make sure he’s doing it right, he writes to Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) personally, having him weigh in on all of his problems and discussing the issues in the field of psychology for hours on end. Read more…

REVIEW: Carnage

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment
Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet in Carnage (2011)

This seems to be the agreed-upon snapshot.

Carnage was the first of two movies I saw at the most unwelcoming theater I’ve ever encountered yesterday. (Today, for the date that this is assigned.) I’ve been dying to see Carnage ever since I found out the cast, concept and the fact that it opened on a grand total of five screens last December to qualify for Oscars. It’s a four-hand screenplay based on the play The God of Carnage, as performed by Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly; directed by controversial figure (to say the least) Roman Polanski. It’s also my first feature-length outing with Roman Polanski (aside from one ill-advised encounter with Macbeth in high school), and I can safely say that this is, without a doubt, a movie.

It’s there. It’s a movie. It’s a good movie, to be sure, but around this time of year, all the same movies start coming out. They’re the movies that all look and feel like they were made to win awards, and in most cases, they were. I’m not saying Carnage is a bad movie or a dishonest movie or any less worthy as a movie for being made as “an important movie that deserves awards”. The end result is actually quite good. It’s just that it rings a little hollow. Like a play being performed on screen for an audience of critics. But, I owe you the rest of my impressions with this movie, and that starts off with two boys, a park, and a stick. Read more…

REVIEW: A Scandal in Belgravia (Sherlock)

January 2, 2012 3 comments

John: Punch you?
Sherlock: Yes! Punch me! In the face!–Didn’t you hear me?
John: I always hear “punch me in the face” when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext.

If you’re a fan of Sherlock, then you should already be aware that the first episode this season contains the best use of “Stayin’ Alive” to fend off imminent death. If you’re not a fan, that fact should likely pique your curiosity about the series. Sherlock is the new adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mythos/universe from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both late of the new series of Doctor Who. It’s also one of two adaptations competing for my affections this winter, along with Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, the latest from the Guy Ritchie camp. Of the two series, Sherlock is the far more cerebral, deductive adaptation, with Holmes taking the physical route. It’s nice to have them both taking opposite approaches. It means you get to see how the two series cross-pollinate.

And cross-pollinate they have, with “A Scandal in Belgravia” taking all of the best elements of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes into itself–including slow-motion analysis before fistfights, as well as a lot more comedic nudity and overt romance–and keeping the best of its own traits–the firecracker wit and the thoroughly modern atmosphere. The biggest barrier to a new audience for a Sherlock Holmes adaptation is the language and the setting. Victorian England is hardly relateable for a new reader, and it has a tendency to dull the characters. You either keep the setting and modernize the action or you change the setting entirely, usually changing the characters as well. A pair of high school students, maybe, dealing with things that aren’t murder mysteries. Or, you set the story of Irene Adler in present day London and make her a dominatrix. I don’t know if she was in the book. Read more…

REVIEW: The Artist

January 1, 2012 2 comments
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

Would you believe that nobody has this image in 4:3? And that one person cropped it to 2.35:1?

Okay, I can’t lie to you: it is nearly impossible for me to review The Artist. See, when I sit down to watch a movie to review it, I’m doing my best to keep countless areas of my mind engaged at once. Part of me is watching the editing, part of me is watching the cinematography, part of me is evaluating how the music supports the emotion of the picture. A lot of me is caught in the performances and the direction, evaluating the part of my critical mind acting as the engine of the car by reacting emotionally to the entire thing. I both have to be affected by this movie and tell you exactly how and why it affected me. And with The Artist, I failed at half of that.

I was affected. I was wholly affected, I was nearly moved to tears, I laughed great belly laughs and guffaws of joy. The Artist touched me in a way that only six films have this year, and The Artist was one of two to move me in such a specific way that I can’t tell you exactly what did it. Everything in this movie is utterly perfect from start to finish, but I’m hard-pressed to tell you why. Let’s just get on with the show of picking it apart, shall we? It’s nearly impossible to do so, and it’s entirely impossible to take the joy out of this movie. It’d be like trying to take the metal out of a knife–even if you managed it, you’re not holding a knife anymore. (I’m finally playing Portal 2, expect a lot of dissimiles.) Read more…

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

December 21, 2011 1 comment
Tom Cruise actually scaling that building in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

He actually scaled that mother.

Y’like colons, Johnny? The number of colons in that title should tell you that this is the other big December sequel opening this week–well, officially opening after spending five days in IMAX exclusive. This is the fourth entry into the growing  Mission: Impossible franchise from auteur/producer Tom Cruise and the first since the 1996 original to do away with numbers. Numbers really only serve to date us, don’t they, Tom? Isn’t it much better to just have subtitles? That way no one will ever realize that somehow, these movies should have stopped being good in 2002 and died off quietly thereafter. Happily, that isn’t the case. Instead of being entirely scrapped after director John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II was neutered of its violence and most of its plot, Tom Cruise picked up the series again and–in a pinch–courted director JJ Abrams to make Mission: Impossible III his first feature film. Lo and behold, that was a movie far better than it should’ve been.

And now we’re back for the fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s “Ethan Hunt tours the world via ESPIONAGE!!!” series, from the director of The Iron Giant, Ratatouille and The Incredibles. I wish I could make that up, but no–real life is too pricelessly unpredictable to be fabricated. And in another example of that priceless unpredictability, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol might be the most relentlessly fun spy movie released since Jason Bourne’s reign of gritty, realistic terror. It’s like somebody said the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies just needed a little less stupidity and a couple more fistfights and turned out an incredibly inventive and necessary kick in the pants to a dying genre. With Bond 23 in limbo and faltering under heavy-handed seriousness, it’s nice to be reminded that espionage is actually quite thrilling. Read more…