Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cowardice

I was looking forward to watching the James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview on Christmas Day, even more so than Angelina Jolie's WWII drama Unbroken, or Rob Marshall's Into the Woods. I like what the writing and directing duo of Rogen and his pal Evan Goldberg have done with comedies like Superbad, Pineapple Express and their debut feature, This Is the End. In light of Sony being hacked (which now appears to be North Korea's doing) and threats of attacking theaters that carry the comedy, three things happened today:

1.) Every major theater chain - AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Arclight, etc, had decided to pull out from showing The Interview on its scheduled release date.

2.) This prompted Sony Pictures to basically cancel the release date of the film amid threats of blowing up theaters.

3.) Both Sony and the theater chains basically caved into the demands of cyber terrorism from North Korea.


Are you fucking kidding me?

We just caved into terrorist demands from a country that can't feed its own people, let alone firing off missiles without crapping out mid launch? I hate sounding like some right-winger, but come on! A major studio gave into the demands of a crackpot dictator and wannabe megalomaniac, with their tails tucked between their collective legs. And I'm certain Lil' Kim is just having a laugh about this right now. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Disappointed

There is a fantastic scene in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies that has nothing to do with the battle itself. We see Thoirn Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) walking across the halls of Erabor, the halls itself covered in solid gold. He has a vision of himself sinking to the abyss of the halls that have melted down to liquid, screaming and crying out for help, but only sinking faster. The last time we left his company, they had driven the dragon Smaug out from under the Lonley Mountain, but let him loose on the people of Lake Town. The son of Thrain, son of Thorn has his home again, but has gone mad with greed over the treasure. The pissed off former residents of the town, led by Bard (Luke Evans), along with King Thranduil (Lee Pace) demand he honor his promise to share in the wealth of the Mountain, or else they'll reign Elvish arrows down on his ass. Blinded by his greed, his own company begins to turn on him, including Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who tries to make a deal with the leaders of the Men and King of Mirkwood  in order to get him to listen to some sense. The scene in question is simple, but well-acted by Armitage, because we're allowed to see just how much his greed and stubbornness has affected all those around him. I also think it's an excellent metaphor for what's become of director, co-writer and producer Peter Jackson.


The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was a spectacle in its own right, but the original trilogy never forgot what made the journey of the Fellowship so compelling: the individual stories of the members themselves. Jackson paid as much attention to how much of a mental and emotional toll the burden Frodo Baggins was carrying as he and Samwise Gamgee made their way to the darkness of Mordor to destroy the One Ring, as he did to the practical and visual effects. He remembered that Aragon's story of how he has to come to grips with being the rightful King of Gondor and being a leader of Men was just as important as staging the Battle of Helm's Deep. Simply put: he never forgot that the story, the character's personal dramas and arcs were just as important as wowing the audience at the sheer size, scope and clear vision of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's world to vivid life. And it's painfully, abundantly clear that he's forgotten that crucial aspect in his prequel trilogy; none more so in the final chapter to his Middle-Earth saga, and in his films following the conclusion of Return of the King.

The titular battle between Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins, as promised, is a 45-minute spectacle of CG carnage, swords clashing, shields smashing and well-executed choreography.And believe me: you feel every last minute of it, to the point where you just stare at the effects and wonder to yourself, 'when does it end?' Sure there are breaks in the action, but they feel few and far between. And even-though it runs at 2 hours and 24 minutes - the shortest of the Middle-Earth saga, it still feels like we've been in the theater for longer than that. The battle itself isn't even that impressive, because the wow factor he had when we saw an army of Uruk-hai march on the Hornburg, or seeing King Theoden march his Riders of Rohan to the fields of Pelennor at the point is long gone.

Walking away from tonight's 7:00 p.m. showing of The Battle of the Five Armies made me feel something that I've never felt before with the other Lord of the Rings movies: that I was glad that it ended.

** stars out of ****

Monday, December 15, 2014

Everything Isn't Awesome: The Top 10 Worst Films of 2014

It's that time of year again! The time where critics, amateurs and everyone in between start compiling and evaluating the year that was in film and come up with lists that say whether this was a great year at the multiplex, or one we can and should delete from our collective memory banks. For me, the year was when I personally avoided crap that I knew would be dreck, like the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore reunion from The Wedding Singer/50 First Dates days romantic flick Blended, or sequels I hated the first time and wanted no part in again with The Purge: Anarchy. That still doesn't mean I could escape bad or uninspired filmmaking, because eventually, when you're a movie junkie like myself, you do eventually run into some really awful crap. Today, I'm taking it to the movies that made me suffer; the ones I only have to re-visit because they're on TV and there's no other option available to me.

10. The Giver - This half-baked film adaptation based on the award-wining novel of the same name y Lois Lowry isn't the worst movie I've seen in the slew of young-adult books/turned films craze, but speaking as a fan of the original source material, it does hold the (dis)honor of being the most disappointing, because it really could, and should, have been more that what was assembled. Lowry's tale of a young boy being forced to grow up quickly when he is selected to become the Community's next Receiver of Memory was a thought-provoking meditation on identity and conformity. Phillip Noyce (along with The Weinstien Company) take the themes and injects them with Sameness in this adaptation, making it as generic as possible. Brenton Thwaites as Jonas and Odeya Rush as Fiona are miscast in their roles, while Oscar-winners Jeff Bridges (who served as one of the producers on this film) and Meryl Streep mail in their performances, no doubt waiting for something better to come along.


9.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - This sequel to 2012's reboot of the wall-crawling crimefighter was supposed to kickoff a shared film universe where Peter Parker (played once again by Andrew Garfield) squares off against the Sinister Six (which consisted of Electro, the Green Goblin, Vulture, Doc Ock, Rihno and Kraven the Hunter); even including spinoffs where we meet members of the villainous group wreaking havoc around New York City. All Marc Webb did was suffer from Tim Burton Syndrome, where the most interesting characters - Jamie Foxx as a superfan of Spider-Man before Oscorp turned him into a vengeful ball of electricity, and Dane DeHann as Harry Osborn, Pete's childhood friend who needs him to get Spider-Man to give him his blood to counteract a genetic disease that will kill him - are the film's antagonists, and where the the hero is the least interesting thing about the whole thing. This bloated and overstuffed superhero film only serves to prove that Spider-Man would have been in better hands with Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige than with Sony and Avi Avid.


8. Into The Storm - "Hey; you loved disaster movies like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, and you went out and made the found-footage sub-genre a hit with the the Paranormal Activity series; so let's combine both styles and watch the money roll in!" I wasn't sitting in on the pitch meetings when screenwriter John Swetnam was selling the project to Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, but I wouldn't be shocked if that's how the film was sold. Either way, he and the studios were wrong: It tries to be Jan De Bont's 1996 cult hit for the You Tube age, but it lacks the genuine thrills, excitement and overall star power & charisma that disaster thriller had. The visuals are absolutely top-notch, but there's not much else going for it: the acting is so one-dimensional that calling the performances by Richard Armitage, Nathan Kress and Sarah Wayne Callies wooden doesn't do it justice; the script is just a jumble of tired cliches; and the direction is extremely haphazard, as the camera switches back and forth between the POV-centered narrative to the third-person one, until the former is nearly abandoned in the third act. Instead of a whirlwind of a good time, we're left with one big mess.


7. A Million Ways to Die in the West - Personally, I didn't want to put this comedy on my list, but upon watching it a second time, director and co-writer Seth MacFarlene left me with no alternative. This second-rate Blazing Saddles knockoff just wasn't that funny the second go-around, and it's a shame because I generally like the man's comedic style. Speaking of, the jokes round back to the the theme that living out in the Old West sucks, and it got annoying to hear the same joke being repeated again and again, albeit in different forms. The only time the humor really kicked in is when Charlize Theron rolls into the small Arizona town as a woman escaping from her ruthless, gunslinger hubby (played by Liam Nesson) and begins to hang out with MacFarlene's character, mostly because the pair have decent comedic chemistry, making the jokes more palpable. Oh, and Neil Patrick Harris's involvement as a mustache-obsessed dick is a downright embarrassment, considering that he gives his best performance of his career in Gone Girl, and the fact he defecates in several hats for the sake of a gross-out gag.


6. Divergent - Shaileen Woodley tries her best to be a Katniss Everdeen-type heroine in this knockoff Hunger Games series opener (the sequel, Insurgent, is slated to come out in March of next year), and Kate Winslet does good work as the villain who wants to control the five factions that have been set up after human civilization goes tits up, but the script is too dull and borrows heavily from the former, along with threads from the "Harry Potter" series and Lois Lowry's "The Giver" to the point where one can spot the points where originality ends and where the near-plagiarism begins.


5. About Last Night - I'll be frank here: I cannot stand Kevin Hart. I don't find him funny, I can't, for the life of me, see his appeal as a comedic actor or as a stand-up comedian, and in a year that brought us breakout stars like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pratt, I find it depressing this unfunny hack found his way through. I could pick anything from his catalog of movies this year (Ride Along, Think Like a Man Too), but I'm going with the terrible remake of the 1976 David Mamet play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and retelling of the 1986 film of the same name. About Last Night is supposed to be a funny and introspective look at how men and women perceive relationships, but it doesn't have anything new or interesting to say. Worse yet, the couplings are either extremely dull or endlessly irritating to watch onscreen for more than 2 minutes. Michael Early and Joy Bryant are attractive leads, but he script doesn't give them anything to do except be madly in love or glum when they go through a rough patch; whereas Hart and Regina Hall are simply insufferable as comic relief and two stuck in a love-hate relationship. Making this even worse is that this was produced by Will Packer, the producer who, to his credit, casts predominately black actors in his films, but can't manage to get good scrips for his actors to work with, and this film was no exception. Unfortunately, he wasn't done yet this year...


4. No Good Deed - What happens when you combine the talents of British actor Idris Elba and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson, & put them in the home invasion thriller setting? You end up with a terrible and thrill-less movie that wastes both of Elba's and Henson's time and acting abilities. Yet another Will Packer production, this one reminds me of the last time he and Elba collaborated on a thriller, the equally stupid 2009 flick, Obsessed, except that movie had a fun showdown between Beyonce Knowles and Ali Larter. Sure, Elba uses his charms and plays them against type as a sociopath murder, but that's really the only thing it does right.The rest of the film is so hopelessly cliched - from the dark and stormy night atmosphere, to the cat-and-mouse chase between he and Henson - that is simply removes any and all suspense, because we know where this film is heading almost 15 minutes in. I support folks like Packer and Tyler Perry making projects that include mostly black actors, but I wish these films had better scrips and gave the actors more to do than just rehash situations and set pieces we've seen in better movies.


3. God's Not Dead - Not since the misguided and one-sided religious schlock fest that was 2011's Last Ounce of Courage have I seen a more blatant Christian propaganda film about how the faith is under attack from atheists and liberals; but at least with the former, it was poorly-made and often unintentionally hilarious. It would be one thing if just stuck to the already ludicrous premise of a freshmen college student (Shane Harper) going up against the big, bad atheist meanie (TV's Kevin Sorbro) about the existence of God, but it also goes the extra distance of painting everyone else - liberals, atheists, even Muslims - as jerks who need a come-to-Jesus moment and accept God into their hearts, while borrowing the interconnected characters and subplots scenario from P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. It's not just bad filmmaking, it's insulting to the audience.


2. Transformers: Age of Extinction - Sure, there's a new cast - Mark Walhberg as a down on his luck inventor who takes in a battered Optimus Prime, Stanley Tucci as a Steve Jobs-like tycoon who's building Transformers using "transformium" for the government, and Kelsey Grammar as the bureaucratic CIA man who's double-dealing with the Decepticons, but it's still Michael Bay at the helm and Ethan Kruger screenwriting at the end of the day. This latest update to the Transformers series is just the same ting we've paid to see the first three times - just louder, longer, dumber, more incomprehensible and crammed in with more product placement than before. I take that back: It's now shamelessly reaching out to the Asian market to boost it's international gross!


My pick for the worst of the year has been inspired by Channel Awesome's resident music critic, Todd in the Shadows. See, he defines the worst song of the year by it being the absence of good, and this year, I'm taking a page from his book. I'm picking the film that rewards the least; the one that I got nothing from, except for how Hollywood can treat young moviegoers, like myself, as idiots, and make a shitload of money passing off shallow and pretentious crap off as depth.


1. The Fault In Our Stars - If you listen carefully, you can hear William Shakespeare turning furiously in his grave (the title is taken from a line from his play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar), and the Hollywood Suits laughing rancorously at us to the bank. I know this movie has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a metascore of 69 on Metacritic, and millions of teen girls flocked to this film and cried near the end. And I could care less. I hated this film. I hated how pretentious it felt and sounded when Augustus Waters (Ansel Egort) spouted off about how he never lights up a cigarette because he has power over something that kills people, and how Hazel Grace (Shaileen Woodley) talks about infinities as a metaphor for their romance. I hated how Augustus comes off as a skeezy, smooth-talker who's just trying to dip his cock into Hazel's pants. I hated that the film uses the Anne Frank museum and uses it as a makeout session during the couple's trip to Amsterdam, but not before it uses the words from her diary as a metaphor for, you guessed it, Hazel's romance with Augustus. I hated how calculated and pin-point cliche the films 126-minute runtitme it is - from the chance meeting, to the trip to Germany to meet a recluse author (Willem Dafoe), to the third act where one of our lovebirds dies. I hated how the script and the source material by John Greene comes off as second-rate Nicholas Sparks drama. But most of all: I hated how this film, with a $12 million budget, made over $300 million worldwide, where as interesting films like Edge of Tomorrow and Beyond the Lights struggle to find an audience. It's Hollywood cynicism at it's most shamelessly blatant; that they can take something as empty and shallow as this piece of shit, put attractive leads in the movie and sit back and let the money roll in. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

You Have Been Terminated

Every boy growing up in the 80's or 90's has an action hero we latch onto, or action movies we loved. These movies were rated R, of course, because we loved seeing violence, corny one-liners, and bewbies! There's a thrill we all got by watching something we're not supposed to be watching, like John Rambo mowing down dozens of bad guys in the Rambo series, or John McClain taking out terrorists in the Die Hard movies. For me, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies. James Cameron's The Terminator and his sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day are classic sci-fi action pictures in my book, and personal favorites of mine, and anytime they were on TV, my butt was parked on the sofa to watch the future Governator kick ever manner of ass. 

Today, Paramount Pictures told me, the fans of the first two movies, and Jim Cameron, that we can go fuck ourselves, in the form of Terminator: Genisys (due out May 2015).


Yes, it is nice to see Schwarzenegger back as the T-800, the role that made him into, arguably, the most beloved and well-know action star of his day, and John Cho as the T-1000 is actually inspired casting, because he does resemble the Robert Patrick character from the 1991 sequel. Having said all that: this movie is blending both the first and the second films and hitting the reset button, when the first two movies were fine as is. There is no fucking reason to do a reboot on the franchise that ended when the T-1000 was destroyed, Skynet eliminated, and the T-800 sacrificing himself to make sure that his technology could never be duplicated by anyone else. As a fan of the original movies, this just comes off as Hollywood, once again insulting us by making an unnecessary sequel that was wrapped up with Judgement Day.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Force Awakens

A trailer is tailor made to do a few things:

1. Get the audience excited for the film the studio is marketing. It should give you an idea what the story is about, but give little away as possible, something many trailers seem to forget these days.

2. Get a buzz going about its release. The more people talking about it, via word of mouth or by social media, the better.

3. Get the fanboys and/or fangirls (the built-in audience who read up on movie sites every nugget of information on the movie or film series that they can find) excited about what is coming their way in months or in a year's time.

That's the job of a trailer. A teaser, on the other hand, works the same way, but with one big difference: A teaser is like foreplay (for lack of a better word); it's designed to get you excited and whet the appetite for the audience. A teaser is basically something the filmmakers want to show off. The effects aren't completely done yet, the final product is still in the editing room, the sound mixing and editing needs to be complete and the score is either being written or in it's early stages of composition, but there's some early stuff that is finished that can be used to show off what's coming down the pike next year.

In my opinion, there are few people and films that do this properly. Christopher Nolan is a great example of this: When he does a teaser, that's exactly what it is: a tease, a guessing game about what will the film be about. The Teaser for Batman Begins does a great job of this.



We know it's Bruce Wayne, we can see it's going to be a much different take on the superhero, and we know the man behind the cowl is Christian Bale. In fact, we only see him in a glimpse of the suit, and then cut to black. He's not fighting crime, or flying around Gotham, it's just him, a brief shot of the suit, and that's it. Nolan leaves us wondering what he has in store as we anticipate the newest chapter of the Batman legend.

J.J. Abrams is also good at teasing the audience as well. The last time he did it, it was with the reboot of the Star Trek franchise.



Unlike Batman, the Star Trek movie series had been dormant for several years. The Next Generation series of films weren't that revered, save for First Contact, and after the critically panned Nemesis, the series hadn't been back on the big screen since. The only thing we're shown are construction workers, building something massive in scale, with famous quotes from JFK, Neil Armstrong, and NASA control counting down to liftoff. Then, we're treated to a long-familiar sight: the U.S.S. Enterprise. Unfinished, still in construction, but the face of the ship, as if it were staring back at us, with the main theme of the Star Trek series blasts through, as it fades to black, with a shot of the Federation logo fades in and out (complete with lens flare!) of the blackness. 

And now on Black Friday, Abrams does it again, but this time with the anticipated new leg of the Star Wars series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (due out December 2015).


Like any good teaser, it shows off what's in store, from X-Wings in flight, to a mysterious woman carrying the coolest light saber I've seen since Darth Maul's double-headed weapon, and with ending with a shot of the Millennium Falcon being chased by Tie Fighters. I don't know what J.J. has in store, but he's done his job: i'm excited, and I cant wait to see how he continues the Star Wars saga.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Puppets, Tangled in Strings

Toward the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingay - Part I, Madam President Alma Coin (played by the wonderful Julianne Moore), she gives a rousing speech to her citizens of District 13 about a great victory they have just won under her direction. The monologue basically tells her comrades in arms that soon they will storm the Capital with the backings of the other Districts, that a new world will be born where they will become one people, once voice, and that all will share in the wealth and prosperity in this new Panem. And then....cut to black. Time to go home, tweet about how awesome this installment was, tell your BFF's to see this movie, and make sure you come back to spend more money on Part II now! The speech about unity and sharing among each other in a new, harmonious community comes off feeling hollow and empty; not because Moore doesn't sell this brave new world well, because she's one of the bright spots in Part I of this two-part finale. The reason this feels hollow is because the suits at Lions Gate took a 390-page book, which really could have been told in one fell swoop, and split it into two movies to make more bang for their buck and to keep pimping out this series for as long as possible.

The third installment of the wildly popular and profitable series of YA novels by author Suzanne Collins falls into the trap of feeling like an incomplete picture, because we're only getting one-half of the story. Just when the movie is really picking up steam, it cuts away and leaves you wanting to see what happens next. It's incredibly frustrating and it feels completely unnecessary to the film. At least when the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two movies, the justification was that the last novel was so involved and rich that they couldn't tell the story justice as a whole without skipping over major parts in it, so the filmmakers announced they would divide the last movie into a two-part event. Notice that I said that the filmmakers came to this decision: not the studios who financed the decade-long project, but the people adapting the story by J.K. Rowling. Warner Bros went along, and set up this new trend of splitting up literary adaptations into two-part finales because it will make the studios more money at the box office. Summit Entertainment did this with the final chapter in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn and plan to do it again with the last novel in the Divergent series, Allegiant, and Marvel Studios is playing to the trend by splitting the third Avengers film, Infinity War into two parts. These were the decisions made by the studios backing their investments, not by the filmmakers themselves. It's a trend that once was done out of necessity, and now transformed into a decision made simply out of pure greed. 


Rant aside, that blatant bit of cynicism is one of a few problems I have with Mockingjay - Part I. The other is the fact that certain characters have been regulated to near-cameo appearances. Elizabeth Banks, who played the spoiled and stylish PR guru Effie Trinket so well in the first, and had her character come to a crisis of conscious in the second, disappears into the grey background in the third movie, which I guess is appropriate. Gone are the wigs, the colorful dresses and the outlandish makeup, and here we have a stripped-down woman in the middle of a revolution who misses the comforts of home. Sure, she appears on the council to prop up Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as a Che Guvera/Joan of Arc type revolutionary to unite the Districts to rebel against its totalitarian ruler, President Snow (Donald Sutherland, wearing evil like a second skin), but she's hardly ever used. Sam Claflin, who plays trident-wielding Finnick Odair, a charming handsome victor of the 65th annual Hunger Games with a hidden agenda, loses that one interesting facet of his personality, and instead mopes around, pining for his lost love, Annie. The great Stanley Tucci as Capitol mouthpiece Caesar Flickman, is regulated to interviewing the captured Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as a way to keep the districts together and act as a counter-move to the moves of the rebels. He had more to do in Transformers: Age of Extinction, a "film" that was horrendous on every level! And Jenna Malone as the sexy, crazy axe-wielding District 7 winner Johanna Mason is in the film with one scene and not a line of dialogue spoken. Perhaps these actors and their characters will have more to do in the final installment of the series, but it annoys me that they were given barely anything to do this time around, when they were so enjoyable to watch the in the previous installment, Catching Fire.

That's not to say Mockingjay - Part I (God, I get annoyed saying that title) isn't good. It isn't as action-packed now without the vicious nature of teens fighting and killing each other in the name of entertainment, but what it lacks in thrilling action set pieces, it makes up for in crafting a great political subtext on the ways governments and parties use media to advance their own agendas, usually at the expense of the ones being used. The games maybe over, but a new one is being played to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of Panem. The tools are cameras; the weapons are images of rubble and ruin of freedom fighters rising up against their oppressors to galvanize more to the cause, or shots of terrorists being executed for aiming to take down the peaceful and caring government and warn that revolt will lead to a firing squad; and the voices are Katniss, using her power as the Mockingjay to sway people out of apathy and into revolutionary action, and Peeta, the boy pleading with citizens to not fight back and end this senseless bloodshed. Both Katniss and Peeta are nothing but puppets but to be used to gain their own ends. Coin doesn't believe that the Girl on Fire can handle this responsibility of being the face of a growing revolution because "the games destroyed her." The ever willy and calculating Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman) claims that "only she can do this", and takes her to the ruins of District 12 to remind her of the brutality of President Snow and his regime. Snow uses Peeta to torment Ms. Everdeen and break her spirit completely, before he descends on the rebel base of District 13 and crushes the rebellion. Both their puppets are pushed further and further to their breaking points to win, and are little more than an ends to justify their means, whether Plutarch sends out a propaganda film crew to shoot footage of Katniss using an explosive arrow to take down a Capitol aircraft, or Snow's henchmen torture and threaten Peeta to tears off camera. The drama and the commentary is played so well and it makes the film more engaging to watch with each side continuing to make moves and counter-moves.

Despite certain actors not getting enough to do in this installment of the franchise, the acting nevertheless comes up aces. Liam Hermsworth, who's been regulated as the pretty-boy love interest  in both HG films, finally gets to sink his teeth into a more central role as Gale, the boy who's in love with Katniss, but can't get her to feel the same way with Peeta always being in the way. You see him longing to earn her love, but slowly realizes that it won't be him that gets Everdeen's heart. Newcomer Julianne Moore is perfect as President Alma Coin, the leader of the rebellion who's constantly put into situations where she may sacrifice her integrity and her standing for victory at almost any cost. Josh Hutcherson shines once again as Peeta, this time as a tortured prisoner, being touted to quell the violence and dampen the coming war. before the flames become too hot to be contained. You can see how he hates being used as a pawn, but is unable to control his own destiny. At the point, there's nothing much I can say about Jennifer Lawrence and the way she commands the screen as Katniss Everdeen with just her eyes and her expressions. She was born to play this conflicted, reluctant hero and how she must now be the face of a rebellion she had no intention of causing. The highest praise I can laud on her is that I cannot see another actress stepping into the role and providing the same outcome, She is the Girl on Fire, plain and simple. 


But the actor who reigns over Part I of Mockingjay is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Before his death earlier this year, he was one week away from finishing his part as the ever-calculating puppetmaster for Part II. There had been speculation that the studio would digitally remake him in order to carry out his final performance, but director Francis Lawrence refused and instead worked around and gave his parts and lines to other cast members in his honor. Frankly, it won't be the same without this acting giant's presence. He portrays this man as a Karl Rove-type politico with a conscious: he knows the score and is willing to sacrifice who and whatever to obtain victory, but realizes the cost will be bear in the end, if at all he can bear it. "Everyone is replaceable," he tells Effie, but the truth of the matter is that Hoffman simply is not. This last work is a testament to his legacy onscreen, as an actor who's skills at finding the truth of each character he plays of his generation is almost second to none, and we may never see a man of of his talents again.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I isn't as exciting as previous installments, some actors are disappointingly less utilized in this go-around and it feels much like an incomplete piece of work, rather than a completed film. But the film's lazer-point commentary on media and propaganda and the performances by Lawrence, Moore, Hoffman and other are still as sharp and emotionally engaging as ever, make this a satisfying appetizer before the film's final swan-song, which is due out in November of next year. 

*** stars out of ****

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This Is Fucked Up, Fucked Up

I've watched some strange, disturbing and messed up movies in my time. From the Saw series and Human Centipede: Full Sequence, to this year's God's Not Dead, I'd like to think that there isn't a whole lot that can honestly get under my skin and have me shaken. Leave it to director David Fincher and first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn to have, what I feel, is the final word on watching a fucked-up movie.

Gone Girl is not just your standard kidnapping thriller/whodunit murder mystery. Calling it twisted and disturbing really doesn't do the film justice. All I can say is that what you see in two hours and twenty-five minutes will shock you and have your jaw hit the ground. Based on the bestselling novel by Flynn herself, Gone Girl begins innocently enough (well, about as innocent as a Fincher movie does): Nick Dune (Ben Affleck) comes home in preparation for his wife, Amy's (Rosamund Pike) five-year anniversary, only to discover his wife is missing. He calls the police to help find his missing wife, only to end up a suspect in her wife's disappearance. The quest to find Amy turns into a side-show spectacle, as the narrative begins to form that Nick himself killed his wife, after it's learned he's a cheating bastard, that there was blood on the floor that was poorly mopped up, and that she left behind a diary, chronicling how unhappy in her marriage she was, how frightened she was of her husband, to the point that she says, "this man of mine may kill me," the last lines written in the book. A high-powered layer (Tyler Perry, yes that Tyler Perry from those awful Madea comedies) represents Nick as he fights the allegations in the media and the authorities that he did not commit murder, while trying to piece together Amy's special scavenger hunt she planned for the anniversary before the detective on the case, Rhonday Boney (Kim Dickens) compiles enough evidence to arrest him on suspicion of murder.


And that's all I'm going to say about the plot. The rest would enter spoiler territory, and I'm no snitch. What I will say is that when this calendar year for movies ends in under 50 days and I compile my list of the best films of 2014, this mesmerizing tale of a toxic marriage in the Great Recession will be right near the top. Let's start with the script by Gillian Flynn and the direction by Fincher: the coldness of these characters and Fynn's screenplay more than matches the uncomfortable and chilly atmosphere David is best known for. Both work in tandem so well; Gillian, exposing the decay of a marriage based on false facades, Fincher taking that premise onto his canvas and expanding it to matching today's tragedy-porn obsession with the Nancy Grace's of the world (equating it to nothing more than an extension of trash TV) and an economy where everyone is getting screwed over. Not since 2010's The Social Network have I seen a film where screenwriter and director have been in near-perfect symmetry. Of course, the flow can only be as good as the actors who take on the words on the page, and the acting is spot on. Ben Affleck is excellent as the husband who exudes charm, only to hide how much of an empty bastard he really is. Carrie Coon (Nora on HBO's The Leftovers) is equal parts smart-ass and Nick's voice of reason as his twin sis Margo; Neil Patrick Harris gives his best performance to date as Desi, the creepy stalker from Amy's past; and surprise, surprise - Tyler Perry is perfect as Nick's savvy shark lawyer who lives for cases such as his. But it's Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne who takes the role of the missing wife and completely steals the show. I can't say much (again due to spoilers), but I can say is that performance deserves an Oscar. Not just a nomination, but an actual Oscar statue in her hands. It is, to me, far and away, the performance of the year.

Gone Girl is a dark, icy, twisted and mercilessly fucked up crime-thriller/pitch black comedy that doesn't pull any punches and leaves no character unscathed in it's path. It's also one of 2014's very best.

**** stars out of ****