This is a little late and long in coming for this site. Screenings have just gotten a little more difficult to come by lately, and frankly, I’ve not felt inspired to actively look for any in the recent months. So apologies for the hiatus! Life is busy, although my love for films isn’t any less.
I received passes by accident to The Hunger Games, one of the most highly anticipated films for the last quarter or so. And man, people were dying to get these. So when I got my pair, I snatched them up and arrived an hour and a half early to the theater. Stood in a long line that was actually line two. Met a few cool people and found out I had some literary interests in common with them.
We got in and were seated in the 3rd row. I was a little perturbed by this but happy to be in. When the movie started there was general applause. The anticipation was palpable. Finally… the novel on screen.
The movie started quietly, with Katniss Everdeen going about her normal business on Reaping Day. Resident of District 12, a coal mining district of Panem, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) meets up with Gale, her childhood friend, to hunt and gather extra resources in the woods just outside the fence of their home district. They chat about the upcoming Hunger Games, an annual event where each district is required to send two Tributes for a fight to the death, so that each district is reminded that freedom comes at a price.
Those of us who’ve read the books know what happens next; Katniss’ younger sister Prim is chosen as Tribute but before she can accept, Katniss herself volunteers. She and another boy from the district, Peeta, are taken and whisked away to the Capitol where they’re to prepare for the games.
Development of the film up until this point was slow, but once they were in the Capitol, the movie’s pace picked up. We see Katniss and Peeta training with the other Tributes, Katniss and Peeta receiving some blunt advice from their mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and then all too soon, the games begin. Katniss and Peeta are thrust into the game arena with little direction other than to survive and play to their own strengths.
So begins the games, and the rest of the film is spent following Katniss’ battle to survive in the ever-changing arena. There are fireballs, genetically-engineered wasps (tracker jackers), blood thirsty hounds, and of course, there are the other twenty-two Tributes, all out for blood.
If you haven’t read the books, I won’t give anything else away. But the movie fairly accurately portrays the events of the novel even until the end. Yes, we get to see Rue for a while. Yes, the games do end. The plot in the film is done well enough that we’re kept near the edge of our seats. I thought this was important—all too often adaptations simply don’t have the tension that the books are famous for; however, I think this is one thing that the film does fairly well.
The casting choices were interesting and appropriate; Katniss was done well. I’m glad they didn’t pick someone like Saoirse Ronan; Jennifer Lawrence was likeable and genuine in the role, but not over-the-top. I didn’t really care one way or the other for Liam Hemsworth as Gale (we don’t get much on Gale until later in the series anyway). And Josh Hutcherson as Peeta? Well, he did an all right job. Hutcherson reminds me of a puppy dog that’s been kicked a few too many times, which I suppose is accurate for the character. And Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket was basically what I expected… fun.
Overall? I’d see this movie again. It kept me interested despite being extremely long (and cramped for me, sitting up in the third row there). Interesting music. Hints at great things to come. I’m glad that it wasn’t screwed up like so many book-to-screen adaptations are.
Verdict: 7/10. Go see it if you like this kind of genre. Solid movie. Nothing that will change your life, I don’t think, but worth a look. In general this is a series I can get behind (although if you read my other blogs, you’ll notice that we’d posted back-to-back summaries on Battle Royale and this series and our thoughts on the plaigarism issue).
I was primed for this movie after seeing Liam Neelson’s “Taken” the night prior. All I knew of his latest film, “The Grey,” was that it involved surviving a cold wilderness.
Little did I know what I was in for. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Neelson is Ottway, a sniper hired by a oil drilling plant in Alaska to kill wild wolves that sometimes dare to attack the other workers. He’s somewhat of a loner with a broken heart. It’s the end of the working season and they all board a plane to head on home. However, they never make their destination when they suddenly crash in wild Alaska. Miraculously, Ottway and a handful of other men survive… only to find that they’re not yet out of danger.
Ottway quickly takes charge to round up the survivors. However, one of them is mortally wounded and losing blood. Ottway makes it quite clear to him that he’s about to die and there’s nothing he can do about it, but he still comforts him in last moments. This scene was pretty powerful and set the tone of things to come: people are going to die.
The survivors discover that they aren’t alone: there’s a large pack of wild wolves out there and they’re ferocious. They fight them off, but on the first night, one of them has their guard down and is quickly taken out by an ambush. Ottway determines that they can’t stay in the wreckage and to make it to the woods.
The rest of the film follows their trek in the wild, struggling to survive. However, their numbers fall down one by one not only to the wolves, but to the harsh cold conditions, physical injuries, and some very dangerous terrain. The deaths are very visceral and wrenching to watch sometimes—nature, you scary.
The movie can get very tense and thrilling at times. It can be quick and instinctive like when the wolves attack. It can be intense and nerve wracking like when it’s night and you can feel a pounce at any moment. It has crazy action and some holy shit moments. The plane crash itself was like… damn… reminded me a little bit like the crash from lost, but definitely a lot more violent, real. And I think the writing has done an excellent job to dispense some well-timed and balanced jokes to dispel some of the tension.
Liam Neelson is awesome as always. He is a total bad ass. I remember one part where one of the survivors is looting the dead and Neelson’s character goes up to him and says to put it back or else he’s going to beat his face in! Ottway has the drive to survive… there’s a poem he quotes. It was written by his father:
Once more into the fray—
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know—
Live or die on this day
Live or die on this day
So how far does Ottway and the rest of the survivors make? I don’t want to spoil that. That’s part of the excitement. You want these men to make it, to beat the odds, to overcome nature. And Ottway has his own personal challenges as well. The ending… let’s just say that it’s do or die.
9/10. The cinematics are great. The score is wonderful. Neelson delivers. The story is amazing. What else can I say? Go see it when it comes out!
I saw Battle: Los Angeles on Thursday, one of the lucky few to see it early.
Well, Battle: LA is an alien invasion movie in the vein of Independence Day and more recently, Skyline. Unsuspecting earthlings first notice a disturbance in the upper atmosphere that reveals itself to be more than meteors—it is an alien race bent on colonizing the earth. Its arrival to all of the major cities in the world sparks panic and evacuations as military forces rush to fend off the attackers. A group of marines led by Sgt William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) must go into the hot zone, which is rapidly spreading towards Los Angeles proper, and rescue any civilians still trapped inside. They are to rendezvous at the police station with anyone left and be airlifted out, but when they get there, the situation is worse than they feared. The aliens are strong, fast, and have destroyed everything in their path. The marines find themselves cut off and realize the only way to survive is to fall back to the secondary pick-up sites. On the way they discover an alien command center and realize that in order to stop this enemy they must put their lives on the line.
For the most part, what I can say about this movie is that it’s better than Skyline, but it’s certainly no Independence Day. This movie was all right; it started with the usual alien premise and had enough action to keep me interested. The marines, of course, get caught unaware in a lot of scary fog once they get into the city. There are tense moments, and then action once they get moving again and find some civilians at the police station (among them Joe Rincon, played by Michael Pena, and TSgt. Elena Santos played by Michelle Rodriguez), we come into close contact with the aliens.
They’re battle-ready, with guns grafted to their bodies. Nantz and the other marines manage to grab one and rip it to pieces, looking for a weakness, which they manage to find and which makes the battle a little easier. They hijack a bus to make their way inland and while they do make it, it’s not without cost of life and limb.
The movie dragged on longer than it needed to and felt disjointed, especially when they discovered the command center. While some movies make you want the action to continue, by the time this revelation came about, I was ready to call it a night. But then it continued onward… and on and on until I wondered what more could this possibly lead to.
Part of my annoyance in the movie continuing was due to its shoddy camera work. Now, I don’t get motion sickness except on rare occasions where I’m already feeling ill. But this movie caused me to have to close my eyes and count slowly to ten. It seems the director thought that a shaky camera equaled more intense action, when really, it only equals an unwatchable movie and a massive headache at the end. I would even go so far as to say that the nausea factor in this movie was higher than in Cloverfield, which I know made some people feel ill.
All in all, I can’t say I would rush out to see this movie. There weren’t enough interactions with the aliens; they were just another evil force taking over the world. Humans were the good guys here. And the action itself was centered on this small force of marines, turning it into a military movie more than a race for survival. Eckhart did an okay job with what he was given, and Michelle Rodriguez, once again, was brilliantly typecast. That and with the number of hacknyed one-liners and the sappiness somewhere in the middle, this movie firmly sets itself in mediocrity.
Verdict: 4.5/10. Wait for the DVD if you’d like to see it… But take some Dramamine first.
Based on the hit novel by Michael Connelly, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is one of the suspenseful thrilling adventures of Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller, played by Matthew McConaughey. He works out of his Lincoln sedan, since he is continually on the move due to his many clients being in different, overly distant courthouses and jails. His clientele is made up of mostly rouges, thugs, and even prostitutes. A fast and confident talker, Haller is always looking at all the angles and gaming the system to get what he needs. He eventually lands the biggest client of his career: Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), a rich Beverly Hills playboy and son of a major real estate mogul mother. He is accused of rape and attempted murder, and Mickey thinks that he has hit the jackpot: a long drawn out case with the chance to bill large amounts of hours for a client willing to spend a fortune to prove his innocence.
Roulet is dead-set on his innocence, thinking that he is being set up so that he will be sued by the alleged victim for his wealth. Haller and his friend and private eye, Frank Levin (played by William H. Macy), start to build the defense case… at first Roulet is so convincing with his story, but as the story unfolds, a dark past resurfaces that raises Haller’s greatest fear.
As a criminal defense lawyer, Haller makes it his priority to not get too invested in his clients. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re innocent or guilty; as long as they are given the best defense that he can muster. However, there is always the risk that no matter what you did, your client is convicted… and you realize that they were, in fact, innocent. And a case from Haller’s past has somewhat similar details to Rolet’s… his client at the time, adamant of his own innocence, was forced to plea bargain, effectively confessing to a crime that he did not commit, so that he would avoid the death penalty.
As soon as these details come to light, Haller’s world is thrown for a loop and before he knows it, he’s stuck in a rock and a hard place, bound by his own pledge to follow client-attorney privilege. He realizes the true character of Rolet, but he must still defend him or else face some dire consequences.
I’m not much of a lawyer buff, but I thought this was an intriguing film that explored some of the themes of what is right, what is wrong, and what is the law. I’ve never really seen anything with McConaughey, but he plays a very suave and debonair defense lawyer, quick on the uptake, and confident in his abilities. But I think Ryan Phillippe and William H. Macy stole the show for me. Careful: SPOILER ALERT!
Phillippe does a wonderful job as a cold, calculating villain. At first, he pleads that he is an innocent young man, never once committing a crime larger than a parking ticket. His testimony to the jury is so dead on convincing, I felt chills, knowing that he is lying straight into the eyes of the jurors.
And William H. Macy… while although in a bit of a minor roll, he just manages to steal the spotlight. I mean look at this guy!
I mean, that getup alone is worth the price of admission.
The author of the novel did a small Q&A after the screening. I had never heard of him before, but I think I might pick up the book sometime. It seems there’s a series of other books featuring the Mickey Haller character, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of his stories.
6/10. It’s a great thriller to kill an afternoon. However, it’s not too mind blowing, and at times it was a bit slow, especially the scenes with Haller and his estranged wife. I’d say: catch it at a matinee.
The 2010 remake of the John Wayne film (actually, not a remake, but a ‘truer’ adaptation of the novel), “True Grit,” was written and directed by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges as drunken US marshal “Rooster” Cogburn, Matt Damon as Texas Ranger La Boeuf, and Josh Brolin as the targeted bounty wanted for several murders.
The story follows the adventures of 14-year-old Mattie Ross when she arrives in Fort Smith, Arkansas after her father’s untimely death at the hands of Brolin who killed and robbed him. Ross shows great aptitude for negotiations and intimidation after haggling with the local horse dealer to return the money for her father’s ponies, his saddle, as well as the money for the horse that was stolen. She then sets her sights on hiring marshal Cogburn to capture Chaney to face justice for her father’s murder. Recommended as someone with “true grit” and bearing an eyepatch, Cogburn is introduced as a rude and a bit of a selfish drunk with no need to dispense niceties. He eventually agrees to take on the bounty as well as allowing her to tag along.
The duo is eventually accompanied by La Boeuf, a cocky Texas Ranger looking to collect on a much larger bounty put on Brolin. At first they worked together for the common goal of tracking and catching the criminal, however Cogburn and La Boeuf argue and butt heads with the latter leaving them on their own. The film continues to follow Ross and Cogburn’s adventures in Indian Territory, coming across some odd individuals which include an eccentric doctor and a pair of horse theves, and eventually reuniting with La Boeuf. The group manage to catch up with Brolin and the climactic confrontation tests the grit, or determination, of all three as they are pitted against some impossible odds.
Storywise, I thought it was pretty okay. I haven’t been a big fan of western/frontier films, but that’s mostly because there are hardly any made these days. I was pretty impressed with the language and dialect of the people in this era; it seemed pretty sophisticated and classy even though they’re out in the frontier. I also found the use of horses, spurs, guns, and cowboy hats fascinating. It gives a more rough edge to all the characters and the setting.
The ending… was so-so. It kind of felt like they were just tacking on something onto it as an afterthought. It didn’t feel like a true send off for the characters. You would never have thought that the last time you see them would actually BE the last time you see them; meaning I thought I would see more, but didn’t.
Overall, I think it was an average film. I would LOVE to see more modern Western films. I saw Warrior’s Way, which was sort of set in the Wild West, but in a comedic sort of way.
7/10. Catch it for a matinee. Otherwise, don’t expect a blockbuster here.
"The Next Three Days" follows the endeavors of community college professor, John (Russel Crowe), to break his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), out of prison. Whether she really is guilty or innocent of murdering her boss with a fire extinguisher, it matters not to John as all he wants is his family back together. Inspired by a criminal who successfully broke out of multiple prisons, he begins to survey the grounds, lay out plans, secure new identities, and even watches Youtube videos on how to create bump keys and tennis ball car unlockers. John is determined to do whatever it takes to save her.
It’s very intriguing to see a normal, everyday man plan a thrilling escape. However, I think I was spoiled by the show “Prison Break.” That escape was definitely more difficult since they were in a maximum security prison and involved many twists, betrayals, and much more cunning characters. This film is based more in reality, with John executing his plan with believable precision and a ton of luck.
Character-wise, Crowe does a great job as the devoted husband and loving father. He does come across some setbacks and obstacles, but he remains determined to rescue his wife. Banks, however, projects a cynical woman with no hope, resolved to either live the rest of her life locked away or just give up and die as a means of escaping her anguish and torture. I have no sympathy for her, because she gives me no reason to want to like her.
I think there are some very important lessons to learn from this movie:
- Trust deaf people to get you your new identities and passports.
- Do not leave your child at a birthday party on the day of breaking your wife out WITHOUT COMPLETELY CHECKING THE INVITATION.
- Need money fast? Rob and murder meth dealers!
- Leave multiple false trails of possible escape destinations.
- Have spare old people on hand when passing through tolls.
- If you actually do plan to commit murder, make sure you are married to a competent and intelligent husband who is utterly devoted to you. He will refuse to believe that you are capable of such heinous acts and will do all the work and planning in order to break you free out of prison.
7/10. A decent thriller that pulls you in without getting too unbelievable. If you like daring escapes, check this out. Good for a weekend rent.
I just got back from seeing “Skyline” and I just HAD to share my opinions on this film as soon as I could. For those who don’t know what this movie is about, I’ll sum it up for ya: brain eating monsters/aliens descend from the sky of Los Angeles and start going all “Cloverfield” and “War of the Worlds” on the populace. Needless to say: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The plot centers around a group of people who were partying in a luxurious penthouse as they try to escape from appears to be an invasion. I could go into detail of who’s who, but I really didn’t give a crap about them as characters (which I will delve into in a bit).
In the middle of the night, huge balls of cloudy blue light fall down from above, and anyone who gets caught gazing at them get ensnared and yanked away into who knows what. All but one of the group escapes this first wave, and they realize that they need to leave as soon as possible. Thus begins the horrors of discovering the alien creatures and what monstrosities they’re capable of.
Now, throughout the first quarter of the film, I couldn’t bring myself to like ANY of the characters. I tried really hard to pull for Donald Faison (from Scrubs) but as soon as he pulled out his gun, he became an idiot full of predictable one-liner phrases. Not even good ones. Pretty much the dialog of the whole film is trash. I was literally face-palming with every additional minute of the horrendous writing and probably some of the worst acting I have seen in ages. I was almost teetering onto the point where I thought they must have made the characters cheesy, unlikable, and expendable on purpose. That they must be trying to make this a B movie. I almost wanted to just stand up in the middle of the movie and say, “OK. I’m done with this. I’m out” and just walk out of the theater. But I kept getting pulled in by the amazing visual effects and seeing the horrors unfold: the thousands of people being sucked up into the gigantic spacecrafts like they where dust mites, the floating “vagina monsters” (called so because I thought they looked like they had huge vaginas) that were on the hunt, and the humongous giants that smash and crush everything in their paths.
And I think that’s what saved the movie for me: the creatures. The writing and script were absolutely horrible, but the special effects and the monster designs were spectacular. Kudos to the effects team and the people who imagined up these nightmares. I particularly love their whipping tendrils that can grab you from a long distance away then pull you into their death grips in seconds. The gruesome truth of what they’re doing is revealed near the end of the movie: they eat brains! They would have long tentacles wrapped around a person’s head then snap it off while sucking up their brains. It was really awesome to watch.
Most of the film is just you watching people get picked off one by one. There seems to be one shining ray of hope when you see a nuke launched at what appears to be the mothership. It goes down in dramatic flames… but then you see the creatures come out unscathed… and “they’re pissed off.” Everything looks like it goes down hill from there. One of the characters (who people will recognize from the show “Dexter”) of course does the whole “self-sacrifice to blow up one of the creatures but delivers a corny one-liner right before he does it” routine.
And the final two characters end up on the roof surrounded, and we know full well they aren’t going to survive. They even do the cheesiest, and most undramatic, thing ever: kiss each other goodbye as they are sucked up into the light to their inevitable doom…
… OR IS IT THE END???
Hehehe, I think if it did end there, I would say this was one of the absolutely worst movies I had ever seen. But I think the ending made me feel a little bit better. It’s like, they realized that this was probably the shittiest script ever, so they decided what the hell, let’s just do whatever the fuck we want. And what do they do? They put the boyfriend’s brain into one of the creatures, who somehow, without ANY EXPLANATION WHATSOEVER, takes over its body and starts fighting back to protect the love of his life. He then strikes a final action pose and the credits start. And I was like, IS THIS REAL LIFE?!
I am torn. I want to give this a bad rating. But I can sort of feel like this movie could really reach cult status. It really depends on your tastes, I think. If you really like B movies, then I would probably rate this 8/10. But if you don’t, then 2/10. I loved the monsters, but the script and acting just made me want to vomit. I think… I would pay to see this once in theaters… but don’t get your hopes up. Be skeptical and prepared for a film that still has me baffled as to whether I loved it or hated it.
Would you give up your life for your brother or sister? Dedicate it to the pursuit of defending and freeing your loved one? Sacrificing your time and energy, your own needs and wants, your personal goals and pursuits? This is the dedication tested in “Conviction,” based on the real life story of Betty Anne Water, played by Hilary Swank.
Despite a rough childhood with an absent mother and a poor household, Betty and her brother Kenneth (Sam Rockwell) managed to find some peace in each other. They tended to sneak or break into empty homes, laying in bed, pigging out on stolen candy, and pretending that their lives are happier. Their bond as sister and brother is pretty much unbreakable, even though they eventually are separated and put into different foster homes. When they’re adults, they are still dedicated to one another. Betty matures into a fine, outstanding woman, engaged and happy. Kenneth, however, has developed a bad reputation with the local police. Although he’s a public nuisance and has a very short temper, he has a boundless love for his sister and his young baby daughter.
Kenneth’s bad rap eventually catches up to him: he gets arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery of a woman from several years ago. At trial, he and his family all believe that he would be found not guilty; but due to circumstantial evidence (fabric with blood of the same type as his) and the testimonials of two of his ex-girlfriends, one of whom is the mother of his daughter, that say he confessed to the murder, he is convicted and sent to life in prison. This devastates Betty as she firmly believes her brother to be innocent.
And thus begins her quest to get her brother out of prison. Almost to the point of obsession, she explores every avenue in the legal system to try and free Kenneth. Soon, it becomes apparent that her resources are very limited and can’t continue to afford the lawyers to try and defend her brother. The situation becomes even more desperate and dire when Kenneth attempts to kill himself. Making him promise to never give up, Betty then begins he years of struggle to earn her GED, then her college degree, a master’s, and finally a law degree. This costs her marriage, but thankfully she is able to raise her two sons.
The story is very heartbreaking, to see the battles that Betty fights to overcome in order to save her brother. However, at some points, one has that single dangling thread of doubt.. what if Kenneth actually did commit the murder and is in fact guilty? But no matter what, Betty never, ever betrays her love and trust and uses her strength and dedication to get her through.
Almost 17 years later, Betty becomes a full-fledged lawyer and starts her investigation into the murder case to prove Kenneth’s innocence. DNA testing has finally been developed, and she is recharged with a newfound hope. With the help of her friend, Abra (Minnie Driver), she gains the aid of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted people through DNA testing. But even with all the help, she still has plenty of other obstacles in her way: finding the evidence and disproving the testimonies.
Hilary Swank does a great job in portraying the struggles and gamut of emotions that Betty has to deal with in response to the stresses of her brother in jail, putting herself through education, dealing with a failing marriage, as well as being a mother. I wish I had seen more of Sam Rockwell (well maybe less of his exposed ass in that one scene) and his life in prison, but he was mostly limited to whenever Betty visited him.
The story itself and the conflicts are very interesting, but I think the narrative could have done a little bit better. It always seemed that the first 1/3 of the movie was moving way too fast, making large jumps in time forward without exploring more aspects of Betty’s life (school, work, home, etc). It always seemed to just show little bits and pieces just to keep you strung along to see if all her struggles will pay off or not.
And do they? Well, I don’t want to spoil it. Maybe there’s a dramatic big reveal of betrayal. Or perhaps there’s a huge cathartic resolution of justice. The film teeters between these two possible endings I think perhaps due to Rockwell’s performance. He shows compassion for his sister, but there’s just enough darkness and inner strife to make you wonder if he did commit the crimes.
Overall, I think it was pretty okay.
7/10. I suggest catching a matinee.
"In Motion" - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from "The Social Network" soundtrack
- From the scene where a drunk Mark Zuckerburg creates the site FaceSmash.org
"Pieces From The Whole" - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from "The Social Network" soundtrack