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365 reviews in total 
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Prometheus (2012/I)
4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Lost Fire in Prometheus, 11 June 2012

"Prometheus", Director Ridley Scott's much anticipated "Alien" prequel that is not the prequel, is amazing for the first hour. I saw it in 3D IMAX—it is like nothing you have seen before. In the last half hour "Prometheus" collapses into manic action, suffering from the weaker story by Writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Ominously, chillingly calm Charlize Theron as Weyland Corporate Lead Meredith Vickers warns her surprise passenger, "If you go down there, you're going to die." Theron and Michael Fassbender as duplicitous android David are awesome. However, given the vibrant promise of its beginnings and despite some logic glitches, "Prometheus" dismantles as a thriller, and disappointingly fails to answer captivating questions or ask compelling new ones.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to Man. For that Prometheus suffered eternal punishment. I think Scott's grand ambition in "Prometheus" was to search for the answer to "Where did we come from?" In the opening scene, Scott is inspired. Eons ago a pale skinned, bald, humanoid creature with a shredded body stands atop the majestic waterfall in the presence of an alien ship. The creature drinks a mysterious potion. Spaihts and Lindelof lead us to believe this event altered human life on Earth as we know it.

In 2089, archaeological scientists Elizabeth Shaw and her lover Charlie Holloway, played by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, uncover a pictograph star map in the caves in the Scottish Highlands. That in context with other pictographs sourced from distinct cultures, point to human life on Earth originating from the distant constellation of our creators, whom Shaw refers to as "Engineers". She enthusiastically says this is an "Invitation" to meet our creators. Paradoxically, Shaw has faith in God as she begins this journey, to discover answers she doesn't really want to hear. Given the masterful set up, I think "Prometheus" fails to honor the journey or elicits the transformed questions. This is too bad, because what remains is great.

After a 2 year journey, the spaceship Prometheus arrives at its destination on an Earth-like moon in a distant solar system. Elderly and charismatic Peter Weyland CEO of Weyland industries, played by solid and unrecognizable Guy Pearce, financed the trillion dollar venture to discover our origins. Perhaps dying Weyland has another agenda as well. Weyland's surrogate son is android David, played by Fassbender. Fassbender is powerful balancing David's trained humanity and deathly curiosity. That curiosity is perhaps his tragic flaw. While the rest of the crew is in bio-stasis, David studies being human from watching Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia". Fassbender nails the eeriness. Theron is lean and fit with the icy stunning veneer covering Vickers's darker soul. Theron is spectacular in another evil turn as in "Snow White and the Huntsman". She and Fassbender have a powerful scene revealing their past bond. What is really going on with this mission?

Noomi Rapace may be miscast in "Prometheus". She is spirited and faithful. Rapace radiates intelligence and innocent curiosity. She is strong, particularly in a shocking self-surgery scene. I don't think she is enrolling in the transformation to hero. That may also be the result of Spaihts and Lindelof's nebulous dramatic arc.

Scott filmed some of "Prometheus" in Iceland, so the moon has an existential air with the spectacular lava rock and ice. The crew discovers amazing pyramids—remnants of the "Engineers". Scott creates Gothic images of dark caverns populated with metal modules, and gigantic stone statues. What happened to this god-like race? What is the deadly menacing force at bay? Here is perhaps the tie to "Alien". Somehow all the interesting questions are forsaken as "Prometheus" propels into action overdrive. David says, "Big things have small beginnings." I think Prometheus deserves a big ending as well, instead of just a loud one.

13 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Is it the Kiss?, 3 June 2012

In "Snow White and the Huntsman" the Evil Queen Ravenna played by Charlize Theron gazes into her aging beauty in the Magic Mirror, beside stands her loyal brother Finn played by unsettling Sam Spruell. Depleted Ravenna calmly says, "My power fades…" She must literally take the heart of Snow White played by Kristen Stewart, the fairest of all, to claim immortality and everlasting beauty. Theron in her pristine beauty is ferociously powerful as the Evil Queen, terrifying menace and strangely sorrowful. Her commanding voice and presence are amazing to behold. Seemingly in parallel, in the Dark Forest, Snow White asks the Hunstman, fierce and explosive Chris Hemsworth, whether he drinks out of sorrow or to forget his sorrow. Theron hints at the hurtful betrayal in her past, that has unleashed her limitless rage for the men, who use women—rather the men who have used her.

This is the dark violent fairy tale world of first time Director Rupert Sanders's "Snow White and the Huntsman" which is stunningly beautiful and visually astounding. Cinematographer Greig Fraser creates spectacular images: Snow White befriending the magical beast in the Woods, the Huntsman striking the Queen's guards into black glass shards, and the captivating Theron emerging naked from the milk bath.

Evan Daugherty along with John Lee Hancock and Hossien Amini wrote the screenplay which has a distinct feminist vibe with the brave warrior princess in Snow White played by Stewart. I have not read the original Brothers Grimm tale, but I am guessing that it did not have the village of self disfigured women and girls, who have done so to protect themselves from the Queen's wrath. Sanders and Daugherty's message that our obsession with superficial beauty can end in tragedy is warranted in this day and age.

I am wondering in this revisionist "Snow White and the Huntsman" whether the Grimm fairy tale teetered on the balance of true love's kiss. The child Snow White wonderfully played by Raffey Cassidy is pure of heart and beauty. We learn that after her Mother's untimely death, her Father King Magnus (stalwart Noah Huntley) rashly takes Ravenna (Theron) as his new Queen. Ravenna murders Magnus, imprisons Snow White, and imposes the dark reign in the Kingdom. Then one day, the Mirror Man (eerily ominous Christopher Obi) informs Ravenna that she is no longer the "fairest of them all". Snow White (Stewart) valiantly escapes the castle into the Dark Forest, averting certain doom. At the dramatic narrative arc, Theron's Ravenna challenges Stewart, "Come and avenge your father…" For Sanders perhaps, it was never about the kiss, rather reclaiming one's power. And there may be a twist about that kiss. To that end Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart are powerful and the formidable force of good against Theron's Evil Queen.

Hemsworth harnesses explosive power and sublime sadness as the Huntsman. He is a towering hero, handsome and chiseled. He has genuine screen presence. His innate physicality engages in the fight scenes. He convincingly stands his ground with the charismatic Theron, when she orders him to retrieve Snow White from the Dark Forest. Hemsworth displays poignancy as the drunken widower, who misses his beloved wife, agreeing to the Queen's offer: "A life for a life…" Hemsworth has a touching scene with Stewart saying, "I am so sorry, I failed you." He is evolving as a powerful leading man.

Kristen Stewart is the surprise. She possesses a quiet beauty and fierce spirit that triumphs as Snow White in "Snow White and the Huntsman". I think she may have been a victim of the source material in the "Twilight" movies. She brilliantly balances authentic courage and vulnerability when she pleads with Hemsworth, "If you return without me, you're dead. If you leave me, I'm dead." However, her Prince Charming, or in this story William played by solid Sam Claflin does not fare as well as the fairest Snow White. William (Claflin) had a childhood crush on Snow White, until the Evil Queen's reign. Claflin is also handsome and as William is a masterful archer. He is all very earnest and sincere, the polar opposite of Hemsworth's gruff rugged Huntsman. I don't know if Writer Daugherty miscalculates in the stacked deck.

The other surprising quirk is the 7 Dwarfs. Actually, there are 8, and they are not the jovial singing little people we are used to in the Disney version. Using amazing CGI, great actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins lend amazing gravitas as Beith and Muir. In the magical forest scene Muir tells the Huntsman, "She is the One!"

Stewart is the One in "Snow White and the Huntsman". She along with Hemsworth and Theron are powerful in the cathartic battle of good and evil. The movie is a surprise on many levels. "Snow White and the Huntsman" is awesome.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Yes, Men in Black are Back!, 29 May 2012

In "Men in Black III" Will Smith's Agent J travels back in time to 1969 to prevent his beloved mentor Agent K, present day Tommy Lee Jones, from being murdered and avert the future destruction of the world from extraterrestrial invaders. Josh Brolin is awesome as the 29 year-old K, and younger version of Tommy Lee Jones. Brolin's performance authentically captures the Young K and essentially young Jones, in a way that is distinct homage and moving on its own right. His amazing performance wonderfully enrolls us in MIB3.

Screenwriter Etan Cohen's story possesses an unsuspecting poignancy and narrative twist. In one of the best scenes, Young K (Brolin) quietly confesses to J (Smith) in his southern drawl, "You're a good man." J gets it, and you see this touchingly in Smith's eyes. Realizing that this K is not the gruff Jones K, he replies, "What happened to you?" Will Smith is back in awesome form as J—all swagger, looking trim and fit in his black suit and tie. Smith is a master at balancing the smart ass bravado with palpable decency and humanity. Smith's historical sweet bromance with Jones transforms into something special with Brolin. That coherence solidifies Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Cohen's vision. I had seen an interview with Will Smith on "Good Morning America", where he said that he came up with the idea of MIB3 when they were filming MIB2 10 years ago. He wanted to connect up all 3 movies in some catharsis.

Don't misunderstand: "Men in Black 3" is hysterical, and action packed with ray guns vaporizing dozens of evil aliens. I didn't opt for the 3D, given that the movie was post production 3D. Though it is visually stunning with the retro 1969 MIB look, and the cool motorcycle chases.

Cohen's writing is a brilliant mix of hysterical and subtle gravitas. Back in 1969, Andy Warhol is really Men in Black Agent W, played with comic genius by Bill Hader. While Young K and J talk with Warhol (Harder) about killer alien Boris, he tells his assistant, "I'm taking a picture of a man eating a hamburger that is so transcendent…" I was laughing so hard. Back at headquarters, J tells Young K, "A wise man once told me, don't ask a question, you don't want an answer to." Brolin says, "I said that?" Smith and Brolin's partnership has a genuine worn comfortable feel. Just watch Young K order pie with J at a local diner—Smith and Brolin are hilarious.

The Men in Black (MIB) is a super secret organization that keeps peace in the world with the coexistence of alien beings and humans on Earth. Some of the aliens are people we know like Lady Gaga. Since the last movie, compassionate and strong Emma Thompson as Agent O is the new Leader of MIB. Thompson is great—too bad she isn't leveraged more. J discerns that the cantankerous K may have had a past romantic relationship with O. Anyway, as MIB3 opens one armed murderous alien Boris The Animal (comically hideous Jermaine Clement), breaks out of the convert lunar penitentiary. He aims to exact revenge on K (Jones), who shot off his arm and imprisoned him, by traveling back in time and killing him.

J (Smith) distinguishes something awry in this current alternate reality, where K was never his partner. Agent O helps J isolate the glitch. Apparently, K was killed over 40 years ago in an attempt to avert a world crisis. So it is up to J to go back in time and set things right by killing Boris. However, back in 1969 J and Young K befriend alien ally Griffin (innocent and gentle Michael Stuhlbarg), who cryptically warns J that death can only replace death.

Granted there are way too many aliens on the verge of distraction, and a lot of visual eye candy in "Men in Black 3". What keep us engrossed are the human characters and bating narrative—what is the source of J and K's relationship? Josh Brolin is the amazing standout. Will Smith has the star charisma to be in flow, and be the cohesive force in this funny and strangely touching tale. MIB3 may be a great as the first movie, and I hope they make MIB4. I think this story is worth continuing.

17 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
Believe in Heroes in "The Avengers", 7 May 2012

Back on Earth through time and space, imperially arrogant god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) says, "Freedom is the great lie…" Thor's half brother will make the world his new kingdom. The brave souls, who stand in his path, are The Avengers. Director and Writer Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" convincingly assembles solo superheroes and super egos to battle Loki and his alien minions in one of the year's best movies. Think of Whedon as Coach Phil Jackson, but for superheroes. Robert Downey Jr. as brash Tony Stark threatens Norse god Loki, "If we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it." "The Avengers" is awesome.

The classic hero story requires a commanding villain, and that is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Hiddleston is charismatic evil and sympathetic sadness. He evokes certain pathos for Loki, feeling betrayed by his foil half brother Thor, strong and compassionate Chris Hemsworth. Thor fights with all his might against his brother, out of love and honor. Blond maned and shredded Hemsworth balances aloof charm and conviction as Thor. Whedon's "The Avengers" is timelessly inspiring: We believe in heroes who believe in themselves and others and would sacrifice their lives for the noble and just cause. I think the captivating leads of "The Avengers" are Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Downey Jr. brilliantly hides beneath Iron Man's Tony Stark's cynical narcissistic veneer, a caring man wiser than his smart ass punch lines. Evans is surprising. Aside from looking amazingly chiseled he embodies in Steve Rogers (Captain America) a self doubting relevance, while the inspired leader emerges. His Rogers is the frozen super soldier who awakens 70 years later into a new war.

The cool Stark and the solid Rogers clash passionately. Stark mourns a fallen friend. Rogers asks if this is the first time he has lost a soldier. Stark screams, "We are not soldiers!" Whedon and Zak Pen's story is kinetically driven, with the foundation laid in character. Powerful egos and intentions must coalesce and foster value and respect—as some sort of functional family tasked with saving the world.

Whedon generates amazing performances, and infuses welcome wit and humor. To that end, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Director of the clandestine S.H.I.E.L.D., maybe the sinuous plot device. After making a career of cameos in previous Marvel superhero movies, Jackson fleshes out his bad ass Fury. He brings a refreshing gruff self awareness, after all The Avengers was his initiative so that these heroes would fight the fight we couldn't. However, is he the tough love patriot or calculated manipulator? Jackson cannily walks that fine line. Beautiful and idealist Cobie Smulders as loyal Agent Hill is Fury's social conscience. Stark, Rogers, and Dr. Banner (Mark Ruffalo) discern Fury's possible other motives shrouded in National Security.

Exiled Loki brokers an alliance with the warrior alien race, the Chitauri. The Chitauri will let him rule Earth, if he brings them the Tesseract (Hyper Cube). The Tesseract harnesses the power of the galaxy, and is mysteriously tied to both Thor and Captain America. Loki uses the Tesseract to escape exile and breach S.H.I.E.L.D. Obtaining Tesseract, he brainwashes brave Agent Hawkeye (solid Jeremy Renner). Loki has a grand scheme. Expert straight man Clark Gregg as reliable Agent Coulson must call upon the team to protect the world. Scarlett Johansson is hot and deadly as Agent Natasha (Black Widow). She dispatches Russian mafia captors with Muay Thai and jujitsu in Jason Statham like style. She heads off to Calcutta to find Dr. Bruce Banner, and his raging green alter ego The Hulk. Ruffalo adds an understated brilliance and goofy charm that humanizes. We really believe that he has made his peace and controlled the "other guy". Coulson calls upon Stark (Downey Jr.), who is in the midst of clean power sourcing his Stark Tower. Stark has a playful relationship with his partner Pepper Potts (funny and beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow). Too bad Paltrow isn't leveraged more in "The Avengers".

Of course assembling a bunch of super powered heroes is not immediate team building. Whedon orchestrates spectacular clashes amongst themselves. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America battling in the dark forest is visually stunning. The Hulk taking on Thor is wild and strangely comical. The Hulk gets the prize for his cage match with evil Loki. The audience exploded in applause. Ruffalo is amazing. His casual nerd nicely bonds with Downey Jr.'s impatient genius. Renner as Hawkeye is solid and edgy, and plays nice. Johansson looks awesome in the black body suit. Even more impressive she shades the darkness and nobility of Natasha. She has a killer scene with Hiddleston at the story arc.

"The Avengers" delivers with the explosive visual spectacle as our heroes risk their lives battling the powerful aliens as they pulverize New York City. Whedon is masterful with the action and the characters. He makes us believe in heroes in "The Avengers".

Safe (2012/I)
37 out of 51 people found the following review useful:
Safe Works, 29 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ironically, the most frustrating aspect of "Safe" is reading the streaming subtitles for Russian and Chinese. Being that I speak neither I'm straining to absorb the detailed dialogue and narrative threads. Yes, Director and Writer Boaz Yakin's story is far from complex, but you forget that the words really don't matter here. Jason Statham is the badass with a big heart protecting a young Chinese girl prodigy played by Catherine Chan from the Russian mob and the Triad, because she memorized a series of numbers that accesses dire information. Much of "Safe" is sheer brute force. Statham's signature strike to the bad guy's trachea punctuates this. Statham's fighting sequences are high impact and resonate with awesome speed and power.

Curiously, many critics slam Statham and Yakin for doing formulae and not stretching Statham's range. This is craftsman-like formulae. Statham delivers the action we want to see on screen. The fight scenes in the Russian and Triad clubs are amazing. I particularly loved the scene where Statham's Luke meets Chan's Mei in the New York subway. Statham viciously disposes the Russian thugs after Mei with hooks, kicks, throws, and joint shattering locks. He is the best martial arts action star right now. He always offsets his physical elegance and power with a gruff austere visage. I think he actually displays more of his humanity than in other movies. He tears as he surrenders himself to the men who murdered his wife and child. What makes "Safe" work is Statham and Chan's gentle bond.

Chan is more than just the cute kid in peril. She makes Mei even smarter than she lets on. She is the math genius forced to memorize a series of numbers. In a quiet scene Mei tells Luke, "They are not random." Luke gets, "They're a code." Don't under estimate the enrollment of Statham as protector of Chan. Chan's Mei confesses to Luke, "I don't need another father. I need a friend." I loved when Luke tells Mei that she will be safe "until my dying day".

When we meet Luke (Statham) in the present and through a series of flashbacks, he appears as a second rate cage fighter, now homeless. He mistakenly floors a YouTube sensation (nice touch by Yakin) in a fight, and puts him in the hospital. The Russian mob kills his wife and unborn child, because he did not throw the match. A lot does not add up. Luke is a world class fighter. There is more to his pathology that the script should have shaded. It turns out Luke was one of the toughest cops in the city, who had honor in a corrupt police force. More so his relationship with evil Chris Sarandon as Mayor Tremello hints at Luke's darker origins as Black Ops assassin. Luke's former partner now enemy Alex (charismatic Anson Mount) is the sellout who still works for the Mayor. Mei (Chan) is the innocent math prodigy brought over to the States to work for the Triads. Leader Han (paternally evil James Hong) has Mei memorize vital numbers, not trusting computers and the like.

At his lowest point Luke sees Mei in the subway and from his point of view Luke sees that she saves his life. He also realizes that Mei is being chased by members of the Russian mob that he knows all too well. Yakin is clumsy here in the narrative synchronicity. I buy it, because I want to see Statham kick some ass. Really, I was in with the touching chemistry of Statham and Chan. They have an understated love for each other. Mei, who is beholding to Luke, confesses, "We save each other…"

In the great showdown of good and powerful evil, I initially thought I was short changed. Then I realized heroes generate other heroes. There are many goofy things going on with "Safe" and they are forgiven. "Safe" gets that the hero always protects the one he or she loves. I really liked "Safe".

5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
The Raid is Insane-- in a good way, 28 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In "The Raid: Redemption" the awesome fight scene has brothers Rama (Iko Uwais) and Andi (Donny Alamsyah) trading punches, kicks, and locks with Mad Dog (badass Yayan Ruhian). The fight literally lasts 10 minutes. Rama and Andi are attacking Mad Dog simultaneously—none of this one at a time stuff. Director and writer Gareth Evans also shoots full body action sequences-- no quick cut edits of torso moves. Uwais is a master of Silat, Indonesian martial art, and really kicks some ass up to this point. But Mad Dog is unstoppable—a master perhaps jacked up on meth. The fight scene is insane, one of the best in movies ever. "The Raid" is awesome. As my bud Robert, a film director, pointed out that the production values are weak, and the narrative is thin. However, he also said that you see "The Raid" for the amazing martial arts.

Set in Jakarta, Uwais plays Rama, who is a SWAT member and expectant father. Uwais is good-looking, charismatic, and deathly calm. His SWAT team raids the tower safe house of drug lord Tama (over the top evil Ray Sahetapy), lead by Lt. Jaka (earnest Joe Taslim). Tama commands from the top floor of the tower, and has his henchmen wreak havoc on those below. Rama has another more personal mission: He must rescue the soul of his prodigal brother Andi (strong and smart Donny Alamsyah). The story has been done before—reminiscent of Bruce Lee's "Game of Death". Once the automatic weapons play out, the movie goes wild—in a good way. The sword fighting is also amazing.

I was not familiar with the Indonesian martial art Silat. Silat is like Muay Thai, close in elbows and knees. Silat also uses kung fu round kicks and blows. Uwais and Ruhian throw nice boxing hooks. There are also cool locks, chokes, and throws. Silat is beautiful and brutal.

See "The Raid" for the electrifying martial arts action. The acting is solid and the story is derivative. The showcase fight scene with the brothers taking on Mad Dog is spectacular. I wonder how many times Evans had to film the scene. It was definitely worth it.

4 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
The Hero Emerges in The Hunger Games, 26 March 2012

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in Zen-like focus draws her bow and aims her arrow to punctuate her point. Nothing personal. Making her point, she says. "Thank you for your consideration." Lawrence is amazing. Her Katniss is the brave and noble hero, who never forfeits being a woman, in fact it is the source of her courage and compassion in Suzanne Collins's "The Hunger Games" envisioned on the movie screen. After selflessly volunteering as Tribute to replace her younger sister Prim (fearful Willow Shields) for The Hunger Games, she consoles friend Gale (charismatic Liam Hemsworth). Gale, her blossoming love interest and hunting mate, reassures, "You're stronger than they are!" Katniss admits that she only hunts animals. Gale reminds that people are no different.

At the dramatic arc in the woods, Katniss kills a boy out of rage and vengeance—still in icy repose. What good can come of kids killing each other, in a bloody contest of survival? That is the paradox of Director and Writer Gary Ross's "The Hunger Games", based on the book by Suzanne Collins. Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray wrote the screenplay based on the first book of Collins's enormously popular bestselling trilogy. I have not read the books. One of my friends Carol, also a published author, had told me that the books were great. I took her word. "The Hunger Games" is awesome: You have a young girl, who is the powerful hero of the tale. Jennifer Lawrence makes "The Hunger Games" work. Katniss is not the physically strongest, fastest or most skilled warrior. However, she is the toughest and she's smart. In a great scene before the Games, she tells her costumer Cinna (fostering Lenny Kravitz), "I'm not afraid." And both Gale and Peeta, who fall in love with Katniss, are attracted to her courage and character. Collins gets her hero transformation right.

"The Hunger Games" depicts the post apocalyptic world, where the United States is now Panem which consists of 12 Districts. President Snow (calmly menacing Donald Sutherland) seemingly uses starvation and shiny objects to oppress the population. These are the 74th Hunger Games. Every year each District sends a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capital to compete in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are like the reality TV "Survivor" on steroids combined with cage fighting, where children compete to the death—only one winner.

Though set in the distant future the story opens in Katniss Everdeen's home District 12 which looks like a 1930's coal mining town. The dichotomy is that each cabin has a flat screen to watch The Hunger Games. Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern ("Million Dollar Baby") have a serene affinity for the land—filmed mostly in North Carolina. The music by T-Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard provides a haunting down home atmosphere. Katniss lives with her Mom and sister Primrose (innocent and fragile Shields). Her Dad died in mining accident. Katniss helps feed her family as an expert archer and hunter.

When Tribute Escort Effie Trinket (seemingly vapid and unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) selects Primrose in The Hunger Games lottery, Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to take her place, and save her life. The other participant selected is Peeta (subdued and strong Josh Hutcherson). They travel to the Capitol to train and compete in The Hunger Games. They meet their mentor and former winner Haymitch Abernathy (deceptively powerful Woody Harrelson), who occurs as a drunk washout. Harrelson is one of the wonderful touches: As Haymitch he distinguishes the greatness in both Katniss and Peeta. He schools them in playing the Game. Peeta reveals that he has always been in love with Katniss. And she practically strangles him after his disclosure.

"The Hunger Games" has a broader metaphor. When President Snow talks with Host Seneca Crane (meticulously charming Wes Bentley), he says that the only thing more dangerous than fear is hope. The Hunger Games exist to kill all hope. Amidst the atrocity of children killing each other for celebrity and food, the hero emerges in Katniss, who inspires others. Lawrence never sacrifices Katniss's humanity and boldly acts in the presence of fear. She gets amazing support from a talented cast. Stanley Tucci balances flamboyance and awareness as talk show host Caesar Flickerman. Amandla Stenberg is touching and powerful as young Rue, who befriends Katniss. Hutcherson is vulnerable and brave as Peeta. In the story Peeta can throw a 100 lb. weight 50 feet, but this is never used as a logical threat. Granted the twist is that Katniss is the savior.

The fighting scenes, including the climatic fight, are difficult to discern in the quick cut edits—maybe not Ross's strength. "The Hunger Games" is not an action movie, but action threaded. This is a minor point in the big picture. "The Hunger Games" is the great classic hero story that inspires others to dare to be great. Jennifer Lawrence is the awesome hero Katniss. Bring on the revolution and the sequel.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Hysterical "21 Jump Street", 19 March 2012

Evading gnarly biker drug dealers, undercover cops Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill hide in a Drivers Ed car. Tatum as Jenko tells Hill as Schmidt to pretend like he is giving him oral sex. Hill asks, 'Why me?' Tatum screams, "You're the one in the f***ing Peter Pan costume!" "21 Jump Street" is hysterical! It has got to be the funniest movie of the year.

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are awesome together and elevate Bromance to another level. They have a distinct goofy and sweet bond. Jonah Hill also wrote the story with screenwriter Michael Bacall based on the beloved 90's TV series which distinguished Johnny Depp. Depp also has an outrageous cameo as Hanson. Along with Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs") this "Jump Street" is juggernaut parody with an amazingly authentic high school culture vibe. "21 Jump Street" is hilarious and arrestingly cool.

Hill and Bacall brilliantly take humorous shots at everyone blurring all lines. On the first day of school undercover, Jenko (Tatum) punches an African American teen; who he thinks gets in his face, turns out the kid is gay. Jenko says he didn't know he was gay. The kids verbally attack him for punching a gay kid. Deadpan Schmidt (Hill) says, "So in a weird way, he is homophobic if he didn't hit him?" The logic escapes me, but the moment is classic. After getting their undercover assignment at abandoned street church, Schmidt prays, "Hey Korean Jesus…" There is actually a Korean Jesus on the cross. Jenko cracks up at Schmidt from behind.

Tatum and Hill are deadpan genius. With Jonah Hill you kind of expect this. Channing Tatum is brilliantly funny. Tatum is undercover with a bunch of science geeks, one kid asks, "So you were held back (2 years)?" He replies, "So you were held forward (2 years)?" Will Ferrell would be proud. Obviously, "21 Jump Street" leverages the polarized personas. Tatum is the ripped handsome action guy playing the stupid jock. Hill, who slimmed down, is the vulnerable nerd, who wants to be cool. Both play in position. After being mortal enemies in high school they reunite 7 years later at the Police Academy. Jenko says, "Hey not so Slim Shady, what's up?" Schmidt aces all the written exams. The physical training is cake for Jenko. They wisely form a partnership. Here Lord and Miller believably transform cultural opposites into best buds—the underlying sweetness of "21 Jump Street". The humor always pushes the envelope, but they are never ever mean spirited. And there are a lot of penis jokes— most of them hilarious.

Jenko and Schmidt graduate. However, their "lifetime of being bad asses" takes an unfortunate turn. They are assigned as bike cops on park patrol. After a botched arrest and hilarious Miranda rights screw up, the duo are assigned to 21 Jump Street. Director of the program Captain Dickson, played with funny angry gusto by Ice Cube, informs everyone, "You are here because you are Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus looking mother f***ers!" Dickson wants Schmidt and Jenko to go undercover at their old high school and find the supplier of a particularly deadly designer drug. They watch YouTube videos of the stages of intoxication. While undercover they live with Schmidt's proud parents (funny Cardine Aaron and Joe Chrest). Pointing out an embarrassing kid glamor photo, Jenko says, "You look like a young Jay Leno."

High school has changed from 2005. The cool kids are the preppy environmentally conscious teens lead by Eric (slick charming Eric Franco). Not memorizing their student identities Schmidt ends up on the track team and drama class, while Jenko goes to class with science nerds in AP Chemistry. So while Jenko learns about covalent bonds, Schmidt meets popular Molly (ironic and perky Brie Larson). Schmidt may have a shot at redemption for his high school romantic crash and burn. Rob Riggles is ridiculously funny as gym teacher Mr. Walters. He has a gut busting scene with the boys when they are as high as a kite.

Surprisingly, "21 Jump Street" poignantly gets redemption and lifetime friendship. Jenko learns that he can be smart, and schools his geek brothers in being cool. There is an awesome montage with doves. The not so inside joke works: Tatum and Hill don't look at all like high school kids. After Jenko beats the crap out of bullies at their house party with his slick mixed martial arts skills, he stares in shock at Schmidt. Schmidt says, "When did I get stabbed? That's awesome!" Tatum and Hill have an endearing chemistry: they are funny together and you get that they really pull for each other. They redefine comedic Bromance in "21 Jump Street". I am absolutely waiting for "Jump Street 2". In the meantime, see "21 Jump Street".

The Vow (2012)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Letting go in "The Vow", 20 February 2012

In his recording studio in "The Vow" solemn Channing Tatum as Leo plays his guitar as meditation. In tearful epiphany he says, "She doesn't love me..." Paige, who is the love of Leo's life, has no memory of him or her past life with him following their traumatic car accident. "The Vow" is based on the true story of a couple where the wife lost her memory following a debilitating car accident. Today they are living happily and remarried with a wonderful family. This distinguishes Jason Katims and Marc Silverstein's screenplay. Otherwise, "The Vow" is formulaic and predictable in good way given the premise. Channing Tatum is authentically convincing faring much better than Rachel McAdams, who plays Paige. This may have more to do with narrative trappings. What ultimately lands in "The Vow" is their touching tangible chemistry. Director Michael Sucsy has the good sense to leverage this, and get out the way. The character reveal for McAdam's Paige is out of left field, though must be authentic given the source material.

Tatum and McAdams are a stunningly beautiful screen couple, who are so in love. The signature moment occurs as they exchange Wedding Vows. Leo promises never to forget "this once in a lifetime love." Later on Tatum as Leo asks memoryless Paige if she would go out on a date with him, "I need to make my wife fall in love with me all over again." "The Vow" is hokey and at times clumsy. But they got me—I was all in. I am a fan of McAdams and Tatum. Rachel McAdams as Paige is an enigmatic quandary. She is afforded moments of her distinct radiance as when Leo passionately praises what he thinks is her art show sculpture piece, but rather literally junk. She smiles, "You really love me!" For the women fans out there, shredded and naked Tatum shocks Paige as he walks into the kitchen. McAdams does a classic double take—after all it's Channing Tatum.

Channing Tatum is definitely shoring up People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive 2012. Tatum is also evolving as a strong romantic lead. With his physical presence and humbled easy charm, he is demonstrating he can play more than action heroes. Tatum always has a believable vulnerability and that works in "The Vow" and with McAdams. His innate screen physicality comes to plays as he decks Paige's ex-fiancé Jeremy played with duplicitous zeal by Scott Speed man. We all want to see that.

So in "The Vow", following a horrendous car accident where Paige's head shatters through the car windshield, she displays a form of amnesia. Leo recovers from his injuries. However, Paige suffers brain swelling and is induced into coma for recovery. When she awakes she thinks Leo is her Doctor. Leo is devastated. Apparently, Paige has no memory of the past 4 years—including her marriage to Leo. Her estranged parents, wealthy attorney Bill Thornton (rigidly unforgiving Sam Neil) and his wife Rita (surprising Jessica Lange); swoop in to care for their prodigal daughter. Here is the bizarre twist. Leo's Paige was the vegetarian wild child free spirit sculptor. Paige wakes up as the conservative preppy debutante, who was in law school and engaged to vain and arrogant Jeremy (Speedman). Gathering this is based on true events, does Paige's polarized persona indicate past clinical trauma? Again, I have been watching way too much Dr. Drew.

However, Paige's past confessions to Leo may allow us to determine cause. Paige eventually uncovers the toxic family secret from the past that poisons the present. Sam Neill is a little too transparent and unsympathetic as Paige's protective Father. Surprisingly, Jessica Lange lacks the emotional gravitas as her Mother for requisite catharsis. Here McAdams is poignant as the young woman rediscovering her power to recreate herself by forgiving and releasing the hold of the past. It takes some patience, but Director Sucsy gently resolves the world. The power of love is in freedom, not possession. There is the touching moment in the end as Paige and Leo meet anew. The future is now a blank slate full of possibility. Tatum and McAdams make us pull for wonderful beginnings and falling in love in "The Vow".

13 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Bromance Saves "This Means War", 19 February 2012

Reese Witherspoon panicked at wheel of the car speeds on Los Angeles freeway with dueling love interests, CIA agents played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Pine fires off shots at bad guys in SUV, then screams to Hardy, "I missed you!" Hardy confesses, "I love you, man!" The Bromance between Pine and Hardy is the endearing deal in "This Means War". Pine is American player FDR. Hardy is the very British single father Tuck. So why is a Brit in the CIA? Anyway, Pine is the cool guy, and Hardy is the solid guy in Director McG's hysterical action packed "This Means War". This is surprising coming from McG, who must have a real name, and whose unfortunate claim to fame is the "Charlie's Angels" movies, and the horrendous "Terminator: Salvation".

Pine and Hardy play in position as cool and solid, and have amazing chemistry which sparks "This Means War". Both are great looking guys, very athletic, and nail their action scenes with style whether leaping through the air shooting villains or leveraging deadly jujitsu moves. In this story CIA agents FDR and Tuck both fall in love with Lauren played by Witherspoon causing a rift in their friendship-- threatening the buddy action picture genre.

Unfortunately, I think Witherspoon is horribly miscast. She does her best as cute and sweet Lauren, who is kind of a nerdy consumer products researcher rebounding from a failed relationship. The consumer researcher part is a unique twist in an otherwise perfunctory and predictable screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, from a story by Marcus Gautesen. I was puzzled that Kinberg, who wrote "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", didn't strengthen the romantic elements or tension. Witherspoon is kind of left in a lurch, because her Lauren is reduced to more or less a plot device.

Pine and Hardy's rugged chemistry salvage this narrative shortcoming punctuating their underlying brotherhood. Tuck (Hardy) pretexts this gentleman's agreement with FDR (Pine) not to have sex with Lauren while both pursue her affections by saying, "You know I would take a bullet for you." Ultimately, there is a weird downside: We really don't care who gets Lauren, as long as FDR and Tuck "kiss and make up". Dowling and Kinberg sufficiently provide the occasional shiny objects. FDR exudes touching vulnerability when he takes Lauren to visit his Nana (amazing Rosemary Harris), who raised him following a past family tragedy. Witherspoon is at her gracious best as Pine confesses, "There are no mistakes." We get insight into Tuck's burden as a single Dad for his son Joe (earnest John Paul Ruttan). His beautiful ex-wife Katie (stunning Abigail Spencer) is still the love of his life. Katie remains unaware of Tuck's CIA life. On a light note, Tuck has a run in with Joe's arrogant mixed martial arts instructor. For those who witnessed Hardy's physical prowess in "Warrior", we kind of know that this will not end well for him. Hardy has a subdued danger and power about himself, and it is nice to see the touching side. Pine is charming and funny, yet possesses a distinct gravitas. Their partnership and contrasting styles enroll us throughout "This Means War".

Director McG deflects the diluted narrative with accelerated action and kinetic sense of humor. His visual style is vibrant, crisp, and clean. The opening action sequence on a luxury high rise in Los Angeles is like a James Bond movie. Elegantly evil Til Schweiger is powerful dealer Heinrich, who along with his brother Jonas (Clint Carleton) double cross an Asian Clan in bloody shoot out. FDR and Tuck on the operation wield their guns, punches and kicks to apprehend Heinrich. The martial arts sequences are cool looking throughout. Tragically, FDR kills Jonas while protecting his bud Tuck. Heinrich flees in a dramatic base jump. Heinrich swears vengeance for his brother. None too pleased with the outcome and damages, CIA Director Collins (stern Angela Bassett) place FDR and Tuck on desk duty in the interim. Idle hands and minds, and on-line dating website inadvertently lead to Lauren.

One of the tangential story elements is Lauren's romance and sex adviser Trish, played by hysterical Chelsea Handler. I am a fan of Handler. However, though she is funny her Trish is one-dimensional. Fortunately, she is the butt of a hilarious joke. FDR and Tuck watch a live surveillance feed of Lauren and Trish. Staring FDR says, "Why is she listening to that old man?" I read some interesting reviews on the stalker vibe of "This Means War". In context these are CIA guys leveraging high tech resources in the name of romance. Rarely, has the Patriot Act been used as a punch line. As long as Pine and Hardy are wrestling at the controls, I'm all for it. "This Means War" is action packed, fun, and really entertaining.

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