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Jane Got a Gun (2016)
I went into this movie with no expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. It's being called "slow," which I suppose it is, by Thor and Iron Man standards, but not in a way that bothered me - I wasn't expecting an action-packed story, because, well, I don't mind if a movie has dialog. I thought the pacing was great, and I loved the way the audience slowly finds out what happened, through flashbacks from several different points of view. I didn't mind that Jane wasn't a super hero, just a determined woman, who was strong because life demanded it of her. It felt very realistic. It's not a perfect movie, but it's worth seeing for great performances and gorgeous scenery (filmed on location in New Mexico). I think this movie will do well on video or streaming, if it finds the right audience (that is, people like me) - I'm certainly telling my friends about it.
Holiday Engagement (2011)
Could have been so much better
I just wanted a sweet holiday movie, but this one just isn't worth it. The leads are both easy on the eyes and appealing, but they have no particular chemistry. And the movie is just stuffed with ridiculous clichés and plot lines going nowhere. Several things are played, inappropriately, for laughs, including the father's legal trouble and Jason/David's religion (being Jewish). Shelley Long is fine, but I didn't even recognize her until halfway through the movie - her talents are wasted in such a subdued role. The movie had a lot of potential, but the writers couldn't be bothered. Clichés in holiday movies are expected and not unwelcome, but at least allow your characters to act like real people.
Drinking Buddies (2013)
This is why people hate independent films. I love independent films, just not one that epitomizes what (can be) wrong with them. This film could literally be 45 minutes long. The director insists on extending shots that would be much more effective if they were shorter: for example, people driving in awkward silence in a car - the camera lingers and lingers on them, as if the director thinks that the audience needs time to understand. We got it, it's awkward, there's tension. This happens repeatedly. The actors are terrific, but the story is frustrating. I don't need a Hollywood ending, but after awhile, these two people, that you're initially rooting for, are just manipulative and annoying and foolish. And Ron Livingston is heinously wasted, disappearing halfway through. What looked like it would be a charming gem turned out to be just a forgettable waste of time.
The Wedding Pact (2014)
Had potential which was not realized
This might be the worst movie I've ever seen. It comes across like someone's film school project. The idea is cute, but the script is awful, just packed with clichés and utterly predictable. The acting isn't bad, but the filmmaker gave them nothing to work with. I gave it 2 stars because I liked the use of flashbacks to catch the audience up on what happened, not just in college but in previous scenes. And the music was good. But otherwise, this is a real disappointment, and my standards are really not that high for romantic comedies - a couple of appealing leads and a smidge of cuteness, and I'm happy. This was painful to watch. And the message is simply awful. Jake is the most heinous individual imaginable - if Mitch really cared for her, how could he possibly let Elizabeth marry him? And how oblivious and stupid is Elizabeth that she can't see what kind of person Jake is? She tells Mitch she's marrying Jake because "he asked her" - what kind of lame reason is that for a modern woman about to get her social work degree? And the mom is the worst of all - she's willing to sell her lovely daughter to that repulsive man and his even worse father, just to keep her house? Get a job, you lazy cow - all she does is sit on the couch and watch TV all day. How did this movie get financed when there are a billion scripts in turnaround?
Lay the Favorite (2012)
If you can get through the excruciating first half of this movie, it's fairly entertaining. The first 45 minutes are confusing and dull as hell, and I almost turned it off (watching on DVD) because I just didn't care about the people or the events unfolding. How can you set a movie in Vegas, and have this amazing cast, and end up with such a mediocre result? It's based on a memoir that, by all accounts, is funny and extremely entertaining, but something clearly has been lost during the translation to the screen. The second half is better - it comes together, the characters become a bit more multi-dimensional, and there finally seems to be some point. But overall, this movie is a wasted opportunity and it's greatest value may be for insomniacs.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Terrific adaptation, and yet
I really enjoyed the movie - it's beautifully made, wonderfully acted, and very well adapted from the book. Jennifer Lawrence carries the movie, and does a great job. I liked the scenes that the movie added, like the Gamemakers during the game - something the book couldn't have included, because it's all from Katniss's point of view. That said, I do have a some complaints:
For an almost 2 1/2 hour film, it doesn't feel very epic. The pacing is a little off. (SPOILER ALERT) The climax, when Cato is killed, feels rather muted and not very dramatic. Because you spend the book inside Katniss's head, the fear, anxiety, and, especially, the urgency of her situation are much more powerful than they are in the movie.
In general, the relationships Katniss has with other characters, especially with Peeta and Rue, are understated compared to the book, and don't come across as strong, as complex, and as important as they are in the book
A couple of very significant things have been left out, which makes the movie less intense, less moving, and less meaningful compared to the book:
- Madge, the mayor's daughter, gives the mockingjay pin to Katniss before she leaves District 12, and insists that she wear it in the arena. We later discover that the pin is the symbol of the rebellion. In the movie, Katniss buys the pin from a junk dealer in the market, so it's significance is completely stripped away. I can understand the film needing to eliminate some characters, but this scene in the book is 1/2 a page, and very important, so it seems an odd deletion. (SPOILER ALERT) Even stranger, Cinna, who we later discover (in the second book and presumably in the second movie) is also involved in the rebellion, gives the pin to Katniss to wear on her uniform in the arena - this scene IS in the movie, but it doesn't mean the same thing.
- Katniss sings in both the book and the movie, to Prim and to Rue. It's sweet. But in the book, it's especially poignant and significant because singing is something that represents Katniss's father, with whom she was very close. He taught her to hunt and to recognize edible plants (central to her survival in the Games), and he taught her a bunch of songs which appear over and over in the books. Losing him is one of the defining moments of her life, and it greatly shaped her character. This entire relationship is eliminated from the movie - no flashbacks, virtually no references to him in dialog. Discarding this important person takes some of the heart out of the story and out of Katniss's character.
- The cave scene in the movie is well done, but it leaves out a great deal about both the history of Peeta and Katniss, and several elements of their developing relationship. Perhaps most significant is Peeta telling Katniss how he fell in love with her - in the movie, he tells her she sang the Valley Song at school. In the book, he explains that his father was in love with her mother, but her mother married a coal miner (someone below her station) because when he sang, the birds stopped to listen, and when Katniss sang the Valley Song in school, the birds stopped to listen. The scene is the book is very important and meaningful, but in the movie, it's just sort of cute, because they left out everything that was weighty and significant about Peeta's story.
- Another important aspect to the Peeta and Katniss relationship that the movie eliminates unnecessarily - when Peeta gives Katniss the bread, 1) she suspects (and the reader knows) that he burned it on purpose so he could give it to her, despite being harshly punished by his mother, and 2) she was completely at the end of her rope and starving, and his kind act saved her and the lives of her family members (her raison d'etre throughout the entire series), both by providing immediate sustenance, and, perhaps even more importantly, by giving her hope (hope - which happens to be a major theme in the series - the movie even adds a terrific scene, where President Snow explains the role of hope to Seneca Crane). The deliberation behind Peeta's action is left out of the movie completely, though it is central to the way Katniss sees Peeta and, perhaps more importantly, central to the way the reader/viewer sees Peeta - several movie reviews I've read talk about how insubstantial Peeta is, and I think it's partly because the film misrepresented this very important part of the story.
Also, they left out some great lines - when Peeta tells Haymitch "She has no idea the impression she makes." and when Katniss tells Peeta, "You're not going to die, I forbid it." I know they can't include everything, but certain lines of dialog are so memorable and so representative of a character or of a relationship, they seem almost mandatory!
Again, I thought the movie was great, and it's making oodles of money, so clearly fans like it too. But, in my opinion, it does not adequately capture what makes the books so compelling and resonant and emotionally satisfying.
I hated this movie, mostly because it could have been so much more interesting than it was. It was very stylized (a la Tarantino), which is memorable in its way, but ultimately there was so little "there" there. I thought Ryan Gosling's performance was a real tour de force - you never doubted that his character was all the many, many things that he revealed himself to be. But the intriguing relationships, between Driver and Irene, and especially between Shannon and Driver, and even between Shannon and Bernie, were introduced and then abandoned for a trite gangster plot that's been done about a thousand times before, though (minor spoiler alert) the shot of the 2 men's shadows at the end was almost worth sitting through the gruesome endless violence - this movie had more corpses littered about the stage than a Shakespearean tragedy. I was enthralled during the first half of the movie, but just irritated by the second half, and so disappointed. Is that all the filmmaker wanted to say?
The American (2010)
I didn't find this movie boring in the sense that many reviewers on this site did - I wasn't expecting a fast paced, Bourne-style, action thriller. I was expecting an intelligent character study, and instead I got a lot of gratuitous nudity and clichés galore. This is what a reviewer of the novel said about it: "Haunting, shocking, and tense, Booth's story is a charismatic blend of psychological thriller, vivid drama, searing morality tale, and profound psychological study. His writing is crisp yet lyrical, simple yet intelligent. Readers looking for thought-provoking literary fiction can't do any better than this." If Clooney and the director thought that they translated the fundamental tone and meaning of the novel to the screen, I'm here to tell them that they did not. Searing morality tale? Uh, no. Profound psychological study? Not at all. Cliché-ridden head scratcher? Why, yes. Battle scarred loner finds love and redemption only when he has sex with gorgeous hooker with a heart of gold. Bleh. Seen it, seen it, seen it. The Italian countryside is pretty though. I'm assuming that the location's proximity to GC's villa is his main motivation for making this. If you haven't seen it yet, spend your two hours on something else.
I'm a little surprised at the many one-star reviews for this film. My son (age 11) and I watched it one day when he was home sick, and we found it perfectly good entertainment. The acting was fine, the effects were decent, and there was a coherent story. That's a LOT more than I can say for other straight-to-video movies that we've watched, including 2012: Supernova and others of that ilk. Of course we noticed right away that The Rock was not involved, so perhaps we adjusted our expectations accordingly, and therefore were not as disappointed as other users on this site. Of course it's derivative of other mythologies, but that's not really a bad thing, when you're looking for an escapist 2 hours. As a side note, I enjoyed the main female character, who is pretty, but also strong and feisty - so often I almost grind my teeth down to nubs at the offensive way that women are portrayed in action movies - stupid, helpless, and clearly only there so the camera can linger on their cleavage and other, er, assets.
I knew nothing about this movie when I picked it, which I did only because it has animals, which my 7 year old daughter loves. It was a bit offbeat, but also quite fun, with great animation (much more attractive than most computer-generated movies made for kids) and surprisingly catchy songs (far better than the saccharine numbers in most straight-to-video fare). The voice cast was excellent also, including Rob Reiner, Sid Caesar, and Chaka Khan (!) Even my 11 year old son, who considers himself way above kid movies like this, got caught up watching it. We all enjoyed it. And I appreciated the message, about being true to your friends and yourself, and I liked the "around-the-world" aspect, because the animals visited several locales that my kids don't know much about. It gets harder and harder to find movies we can watch together as a family, but this one fits the bill very nicely.