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Rock of Ages (2012)
Hey kids, Rock and Roll....Rock on with Rock of Ages
The year was 1987, the cost of gas was .89 per gallon, The Cosby Show and Family Ties ruled television, and Rock'n Roll music was extremely popular. Rock of Ages appeals to the lover of late '80's Rock on so many levels. The cast and crew do a truly amazing job at bringing the '80s back to life. The hair, clothes, and even the twelve pound cell phones, complete with antennae and phone bag, were true to the era.
Rock of Ages tells the story of Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a small town girl who hopped a midnight train going anywhere; okay, actually it was a bus on its way to LA. The movie follows Sherrie on her quest to stardom beginning with her arrival in LA, where she meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), an aspiring singer and bar back at a Rock' n Roll bar called the Bourbon Room. As luck would have it, the bar is in need of a waitress and Sherrie is in need of a job. The Bourbon Room, owned and operated by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) with help from business partner and friend Lonny (Russell Brand), is floundering badly. To make matters worse there is a politically motivated protest, led by Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) being held outside the bar deeming Rock 'n Roll detrimental to society, all in an attempt to get her husband Mike (Bryan Cranston) elected Mayor of Los Angeles. In a quest to save the bar, Stacee Jax (Tom Cruise) a famous, drunken rock star managed by money hungry Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti), is booked; however, it may be a case of too little, too late.
As you would expect, the music choices was sublime. Naturally, nearly every popular song from the era is included at some point in the movie. Everything from "Every Rose Has its Thorn" to "Small Town Girl" makes its way into the movie without feeling forced. It's a natural progression that makes sense, which can be difficult for this type of movie. My fiancé and I agreed that Rock of Ages did a better job of combining the songs into a story than the 2007 film, Across the Universe. Not only is the succession of songs truly wonderful, but the combination is amazing as well. Who would have thought that "Juke Box Hero" and "I Love Rock and Roll" could work in unison or that "We built this City" could be joined with "We're Not Gonna Take It"? Yet somehow, those are now two of my all-time favorite mash ups; and this is coming from a girl who watches Glee, a show littered with mash ups.
So, we've covered the plot and the music, but what about the acting? Well, honestly, that too was great. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are a true force to be reckoned with. The dynamic duo was the driving force of most of the comedy within the movie, although there was comedy sprinkled throughout. Russell delivered so many hilarious one liners, that I would put this movie in the category of a "must buy", if for no other reason than just to hear them and grasp the true hilarity. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta's characters, Sherri and Drew, play love interests in the film flawlessly. Their interactions come across as very genuine and believable. The rest of the cast worked together extremely well and it looked like they were really enjoying themselves and the roles they were playing; the set of the movie had to be a complete blast.
Joining the likes of Hairspray, Mama Mia, and RENT, Rock of Ages has now been adapted from Broadway to the big screen, and it does not disappoint. The plot may come across as predictable, and in some ways it is, but the there are twists and turns to surprise you. The cast's chemistry, paired with amazing music, awesome (and at time awesomely awkward) choreography, and a storyline that seems generic at times, but is anything but, make this movie a must see. If you leave the theatre without a smile on your face, Rock songs in your head, and a sudden urge to buy Aquanet, I will truly be surprised.
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Everybody loves the Circus
It's been seven years since Marty (Chris Rock) escaped his comfortable confines, followed by Alex (Ben Stiller), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman (David Schwimmer) in Madagascar. Unfortunately, a zebra (Marty), lion (Alex), hippopotamus (Gloria), and giraffe (Melman) running loose in the Big Apple isn't easily accepted. Once captured, the four life-long friends are put in animal containers and shipped to Africa; and end up in Madagascar, found by King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his tribe of lemurs. In Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, the group end up in *SPOILER* Africa, and now in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, the wayward animals are stranded in Africa, trying to make their way back to New York's Central Park Zoo.
Although the first Madagascar wasn't perfect, it was an enjoyable family film; made even more so by its cast of characters and especially by its breakout stars, the penguins: Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico. Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa tried to relive the comedic moments from the first film far too often, and even worse, came off as a cheap imitation of the Lion King. It wasn't a matter of would a 3rd film be made, not with a combined gross of over $373 million, but when would it be made? And would it be an improvement over the 2nd film?
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted starts off familiar, with our trusty foursome, along with help from King Julien, Mort (Andy Richter) and Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) making their way to Monte Carlo to track down the ever so tricky penguins, to gain their help in the hopes of getting back home. Upon their arrival and ensuing crashing of a Monte Carlo casino, they become the target of local Animal Control led by Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). In order to avoid being found, the group takes refuge as part of Circus Zaragoza, a traveling circus.
Madagascar 3 is a definite improvement over Escape to Africa; however, the film is not without its flaws. The biggest issue is the inclusion of the Monte Carlo Animal Control. I realize that it's a plot device used to guide the film's stars to the traveling circus, but it didn't feel necessary; often it felt forced, and intrusive to the story. Captain Chantel DuBois is aggressive and non-stop of her pursuit of Alex for the sole purpose of mounting his head on her wall. Truth be told, once the four make it to the circus she becomes irrelevant.
The opposite can be said for the traveling circus, and the cast of new characters introduced. Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) the tiger, Gia (Jessica Chastain) the jaguar, Stefano (Martin Short) the sea-lion and Sonya (Frank Welker) the bear perform various stunts and acts in the failing circus. Once Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman incorporate themselves into act, the movie really takes off. It becomes a bright, fun and enjoyable spectacle to watch. The interactions between the old and new characters are done perfectly and in such a way that easily integrates the new characters into the Madagascar lore; in the case of King Julien and Sonya, their relationship provides some of the films funniest moments.
The issues I have with Madagascar as a franchise is the length of time spent in Madagascar, Africa and now Monte Carlo, all in the hopes of getting back home. I'd also rather not even see any human characters in the films, because all they do is take away time from the films' actual stars. They don't add anything in the form of plot, and that screen time could be better used by showing more of the penguins. Speaking of which, I realize they have a T.V. show of their own, but isn't it time we get a Penguins of Madagascar movie??
What makes Madagascar 3 work is the exceptional voice work done by the actors and actresses. The chemistry between them shines through in every sequence. The addition of the new characters, as well as introducing the traveling circus allows for new opportunities to help the franchise move forward. My only request is that they don't continue to have Marty sing "dadadalala Afro-circus, Afro-circus, polka-dot, polka-dot, polka-dot, Afro", because I'm not sure how much more I can take of hearing my kids sing it. Although not on par with films by Pixar, Disney or even Dreamworks' own How to Train Your Dragon, I really enjoyed Madagascar 3 and hope they take advantage of the story possibilities revolving around a traveling circus.
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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Theron truly is the fairest of them all
The past nine months have been an up and down roller coaster ride for the mythology that is Snow White. In September 2011, television network ABC began televising a show built around Snow White and Prince Charming, named Once Upon a Time, that went on to be one of the highest rated new shows. At the end of March 2012, Relativity released the film Mirror Mirror, starring Julia Roberts as the evil queen. The film went on to gross just under $63 million; much less than its budget of $85 million. Snow White and the Huntsman was scheduled a mere three months after Mirror Mirror and many wondered whether Universal Pictures was risking a case of too much too soon; however, Universal never wavered.
Prior to viewing the first trailer released, Snow White and the Huntsman barely registered on my radar. Upon seeing the first trailer my interest was piqued, and only grew with each subsequent trailer. It deserves pointing out that the marketing behind Snow White and the Huntsman was perfectly executed. The film was able to slowly build itself up as something far more than just the typical "fairy tale" and more as an action film filled with special; much closer in style to Lord of the Rings than to the silliness of Mirror Mirror.
First time director Rupert Sanders does a very admirable job of crafting a dark version of a familiar story, by including just the right amount of special effects without going overboard. Sanders does a good job of using his strongest asset, Charlize Theron, to hide his weakest link, Kristen Stewart.
Charlize Theron's Ravenna is the most beautiful evil queen to grace the big screen. Theron's acting is top notch, and although at times she seems to be over acting she does it with grace a style. The woman who nine years ago won a Best Actress Oscar for playing the mass murder Aileen Wuornos, a role in which Roger Ebert wrote was "one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema", easily makes the transitions into a woman whose only want is vanity. Theron easily commands the screen and carries the film.
I understand and realize that Kristen Stewart has a very large fan base thanks to her playing the part of Bella in the Twilight series of films. Unfortunately for Ms. Stewart, I haven't seen nor have any desire to see any of the Twilight films. Stewart's Snow White is supposed to be the main character in the film, but she has very little dialogue and her time on-screen is enhanced playing opposite Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman or Theron's Ravenna. Additionally, Stewart's acting appears stiff and in many ways is lacking any passion, and although a cute girl she is a far cry from what I would consider "the fairest of them all."
Although looking very much like his Thor character, Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman is without arrogance. The Huntsman is a widower, who wears his emotions unconditionally and makes it his purpose to protect Snow White from the evil queen. Hemsworth's performance is a pleasant surprise, and I look forward to him showing his full range in the future; after, of course his many appearances as Thor.
Additional roles are played by: Sam Spruell, who's a bit peculiar as Ravenna's brother, Finn. Spruell isn't bad in the part, he just doesn't look quite right to me.
Sam Claflin, who plays Snow White's prince charming, William; I don't know that there's ever been a more useless prince charming before. William starts out as Snow White's friend at a young age, and ends up in love with her and her defender?? C'mon now!!!
Robert Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson, all very talented actors, make up the dwarfs. You'd think with the level of talent involved, the dwarfs would have more depth to them. Regrettably, they are underutilized and it feels as though they are merely included to complete the fairytale that is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a far cry from a fairy tale; it is a dark, dramatic action film that is visually very beautiful and not over done with CGI or special effects. Although the story revolves around Stewart's Snow White, she isn't required to carry the film; that job lies with Theron's evil queen, and she owns up to the task and gives a memorable performance. The film runs about 20 minutes too long and is a bit unsatisfying in the end, but is still a very enjoyable twist on a well-known story.
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Piranha 3DD (2012)
Never taking itself too seriously
In 2010 Piranha 3D, made on an estimated budget of $24 million, went on to gross over $83 million worldwide. The movie was far from good, but was able to succeed by not taking itself seriously and upping the "camp" factor. It shouldn't be a surprise, based on the film's gross, that a sequel would be spawned; the aptly named Piranha 3DD.
When last we saw the prehistoric piranha they were wrecking havoc on Lake Victoria's Spring party. As predicted by Carl Goodman, played by Christopher Lloyd, the piranha have begun to evolve and are now able to breakthrough steel, metal, and wood to get to their next meal. That next meal, or appetizer is to be found in a nearby lake, and ends with the ravenous, toothy fish finding their main course in a water park, which includes a newly constructed "adults only" section called "Big Wet" that employs "water-certified strippers" and where "double Ds get in for free"; and there are plenty of double Ds (here lies the reason for the movie's title).
At an estimated budget of $20 million, Piranha 3DD is the most expensive film directed by John Gulager, known mostly for being the Project Greenlight: season 3 winner and director of the Feast trilogy. Based on what Gulager's Piranha 3DD, having never seen any of his Feast films, his style of film making appears to be one in which he favors style over substance. He would seem to be someone who could make a very decent living directing films to be seen on the Syfy network.
The only returning cast from the original are Christopher Lloyd's Goodman and Ving Rhames' Deputy Fallon; when we last saw Fallon he appeared to be getting eaten alive from the waste down. We learn that in fact he wasn't killed and was rendered legless; however, he was able to save enough money for replacements. Gary Busy also makes an appearance, albeit a short one.
The lead actress is Danielle Panabaker (Shark), starring as Mandy, 49% owner of "Big Wet" and marine biology (!?!?) student. Panabaker's Mandy is the least campy of the characters, and unfortunately there's nothing to take seriously in the film and for that she's the least memorable.
Matt Bush's (Glory Daze) Barry is the dorky guy and basically the park's glorified trash man .and seemingly useless when it comes to anything else, because he can't swim. Bush has the look of the dork down pat, and provides some very funny moments.
David Koechner, who has played in some very funny comedies such as Anchorman, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, and Semi-Pro, is the perfect choice to play the park's majority owner and Mandy's step-father Chet. Koechner has a way about him that is perfectly suited for a film and role of this stature.
David Hasselhoff plays himself and steals the film with his self mockery; it's not a far cry from the truth when Hasselhoff mutters the line that he's "hit rock bottom".
I'd be remiss if I didn't give kudos to Katrina Bowden, who plays Shelby, and Jean-Luc Bilodeau, who plays Josh; the duo have one of the best scenes in the film and Bowden easily delivers the film's funniest line.
As much as Piranha 3D didn't take itself seriously, it was more than just big chests, gore and comedic moments; it had a storyline to aid in guiding the film along. In Piranha 3DD it's all just big chests, over the top gore, and comedic moments. That's not to say that it's a bad thing, because the film doesn't try to be anything more than what it is; a lot of cheese and double Ds.
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The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers assembled flawlessly
I'm sorry to say The Avengers isn't a good movie; it's a GREAT MOVIE!!!! It's not only the best team superhero movie ever made, but it may just be the best comic book adaption made period! The Avengers is the culmination of what began in Iron Man; and continued through The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America. It was only a few years ago that my son and I had just finished watching Iron Man and as the credits were ending, Samuel L. Jackson appeared on screen as Nick Fury and spoke to Tony Stark about joining Avengers Initiative
in that short scene, the framework for potentially the greatest comic book movie of all-time had begun! Director Joss Whedon, most known for the T.V. series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, takes the foundation that was built in the prior films and brings together the greatest team of superheroes in film history, The Avengers: Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as "assembled" by Nick Fury. Whedon's scripts usually include clever banter, gripping action sequences and an air of mystery and The Avengers is no different. Whedon has an utter love for comic books, and it is proudly put on display in The Avengers. The cast does a great job of bringing these iconic characters to life, beginning with Robert Downey Jr. Unlike Iron Man 2, in which Downey seemed to skate through scene after scene, Downey plays Stark almost effortlessly, delivering his lines with relative ease allowing his charisma, charm and smugness to shine through; Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark! Chris Evans' solidifies himself in the role of Captain America. He was very good in his solo film, but truly owns the role standing alongside Iron Man and Thor. Chris Hemsworth's Asgardian god Thor has some incredible battle scenes and indirectly provides one of the film's most funny moments. After being seriously underutilized in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is provided a back-story, which helps in developing the character and provides an opportunity to prove she is much more than just a pretty face; she's as dangerous psychologically as she is physically. I could envision myself enjoying a beat-down at the hands (and feet) of Black Widow. The character I was most concerned about being given little story and the least amount of screen time was Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye; happily, he's not left by the wayside and does a more than admirable job of developing the character. Hawkeye stands alongside Robin Hood and Katniss Everdene (The Hunger Games) as the best archers to grace the silver screen. I'd like to see more of him in a film of his own. Mark Ruffalo, the most recent choice to play Hulk, is far better suited to the role than Eric Bana (The Hulk) and Ed Norton Jr (The Incredible Hulk). Ruffalo looks more the part of the nerdy scientist Banner and plays the part without looking angry in every scene. In The Avengers, the Hulk is at his most impressive, both in his on-screen transformation and the violence he displays when the opportunity calls for him to "hulk out". If any character appeared to stand out a little bit more than the others, for me it was the Hulk. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury is finally more than just the guy making surprise appearances. Fury is finally able to stretch his legs some, and Jackson slides quite easily into the role. Clark Gregg's Agent Caulson returns, and Cobie Smulders makes her Marvel films debut as Agent Maria Hill, and she is a welcome addition. The film's main villain is Thor's adopted-brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. You would think the part would be a difficult one to play being opposite such powerful personalities and strong characters, but Hiddleston does a fantastic job; the performance should not go unnoticed, because it's one of the strong points of the film. Loki is not a villain without purpose and Hiddleston comes across as a devious mastermind without being cartoonish. At a running-time of 2+ hours, The Avengers is well paced and time flies by. The effects are top-notch, the acting is very good, and the script drives the movie elevating its strengths. For viewers that may not have seen any of the other films (and if so, why not!?!?), we're provided just enough information to bring everyone up to speed without feeling overdone. Whedon provides more than just a standard comic book film, but a story with reason that's backed up with incredible action and humor. Although the film is filled with larger than life characters, none are short changed; each character is given at least one great scene to work with, and the opportunities don't go to waste. The film's finale provides a deafening crescendo of action that is breathtaking. As usual with Marvel films, be sure to stay around for the post credit sequence, which provides a surprising reveal. I went into The Avengers with unfairly high expectations, due to all of those that were involved, as well as the films that came before it. After viewing the initial trailers and not being blown away, I had set myself up for disappointment. It was only a matter of minutes after the film started that I was put at ease, and just minutes later when my expectations were blown away. I never imagined that it was possible to put onto the screen, what I was watching. I'm happy that Marvel had the sense to keep these properties to themselves and to move forward with these characters in the manner in which they did. Marvel Studios and Disney are going to make a boatload of money off this film, and deservedly so; because there's never been another movie made of its caliber. Grade: A+
A Simple Plan (1998)
Things don't always go as simply as planned
Simple: easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty. Plan: A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.
How often does a simple task, such as hanging up a picture or changing the lock on a door, turn into a far more complicated project than when it was first started? Sadly, more times that I'd personally like to think about. There's an expression "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray", meaning that no matter how well you plan for something, there's always something that comes along to mess things up. A Simple Plan, from director Sam Raimi, is a perfect illustration of how things can go unbelievably bad, incredibly fast, no matter how simple the plan.
Hank (Bill Paxton) has everything he needs to be a happy man; a pregnant wife who loves him, a decent job, and neighbors who like and respect him. One day while out in the woods, Hank, his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thorton) and Jacob's friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), stumble across a snow- covered airplane. After searching the wreckage, they discover a duffel bag filled with money; Four million, four hundred thousand dollars to be exact. Although unsure where the money came from, Hank is convinced by Jacob and Lou that it's in their best interest to take the money for themselves. After coming up with a "simple plan" to sit on the money for some time, Hank takes the money home for safe keeping. It doesn't take long before greed, necessity, and temptation overwhelm the men, causing distrust. As other people are made aware of the money, the problems increase, leading to conflict between brothers, friends and family. Things intensify all the more, when someone comes looking for the missing money.
Director Sam Raimi, mostly known for Evil Dead and the Spider-Man trilogy, does a spectacular job of turning Scott B. Smith's novel and screenplay into a modern-day masterpiece. Raimi does a wonderful job of perfectly pacing the film and slowly establishing the growing tension that evolves once opportunity presents itself, before the shocking finale. In typical Raimi fashion, there are shockingly brutal scenes throughout the highly suspenseful film, but all tastefully done.
Bill Paxton gives one of the few fine performances of his career; another would come three years later in Frailty. Paxton's ability to play the nice guy is done in such a relaxing manner, he makes the character easily someone your able to relate to. The complex transformation Hank goes through is made all the more true to human nature, thanks to Paxton.
Billy Bob Thornton, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, portrays Jacob as a bit mentally challenged, only to show that he's not quite as simple-minded as one would think. Early in his career, Billy Bob played some very well written characters; such as Ray Malcoln in One False Move, and Karl Childers in Sling Blade for which Thornton was nominated for Best Actor and won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar®.
Brent Briscoe, mostly known for a number of small character roles in film and on television, easily gives the most memorable performance of his career as the troubled and desperate Lou. The camaraderie between Briscoe and Thornton, which started when they worked together on Sling Blade, is plain to see.
Bridget Fonda, the unsung star of the film, gives a Lady Macbeth like performance as Hank's pregnant wife Sarah. Sarah starts as the loving wife, only to become the dark side of Hank's conscience, planting the seeds of despair in his mind pushing him to make rash decisions for which there's no coming back.
A Simple Plan, similar to the Cohen Brothers' great film, Fargo, is very well written, directed and acted film; a dark, intriguing, and intense character study of choices made and the ramifications of those choices. Although Billy Bob's performance was the only thing the film was recognized for, there are arguments that could be made that the acting performances by Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda, as well as Sam Raimi's direction, went unrecognized, undeservedly so. Similar is style to the Cohen Brothers' great film, Fargo, A Simple Plan is by no means a happy film, it is a pleasant surprise just how good it truly is.
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American Reunion (2012)
True friendships last a lifetime
In July of 1999 audiences were introduced to American Pie, a movie that showcased the sexual frustrations of Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Christopher Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas); the four friends make a pact to lose their virginity by their Senior Prom. The breakout star of the film was Stifler, played by Sean William Scott, whose offensive and rude behavior was uproarious and solidified Stifler as one of the funniest characters in recent memory. The film went on to gross over $235 million dollars and was a surprise hit. In the two subsequent sequels (not including the direct to DVD films), the characters aged, but never matured; always finding themselves in precarious predicaments and as they grew up, we grew up right along with them. In the newest film, American Reunion, the whole gang returns home to East Great Falls, Michigan to celebrate their 10 year high school reunion, "13 years later".
The writing team of Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz, who'd done a more than admirable job on the Harold and Kumar films, were given writing and directing duties on American Reunion. I give both men credit for not trying to do too much and by sticking with the formula that made the prior movies so successful, because "if it's not broke, don't fix it". Schlossberg and Hurwitz do a perfect job of putting the characters into situations many of us are all too familiar with; some due to getting older and others due to our own stupidity. Unlike The Hangover 2, which recycled the same plot from The Hangover, American Reunion continues the process of advancing the characters further into life. Yes, some of the jokes are rehashed; but sometimes no matter how much someone ages, they never grow up.
I'm pretty sure everyone has a friend like Jim, that did something when he was younger that was so ridiculous that he'd never live it down; ours goes by the name of Shmo and he's proud to be that guy. There's the friend that's a jock like Oz, that would do anything to impress a girl; the friend like Kevin, that's the pretty boy and thinks he's destined to be with that one girl; the friend that's the most mature of the bunch and acts a lot older than he actually is, much like Finch; and then there's Stifler, the one guy that all he does is bust balls endlessly and is easily accepted as part of the group. I'd be willing to be I just described a good number of guys that hung out together growing up. Some of us even had a cool dad like Jim's, played by Eugene Levy in every American Pie film including the direct to DVD movies. Although it took years for me to realize it, Eugene Levy is the moral compass of the franchise and gives a rock steady as well as laugh out loud performance each time out.
Similar to the previous three films, the strength lies in the believability of what the guys go through; reminiscent of experiences most lifelong friends may have gone through in life. That's not to say that everything that happens in the films is plausible, but it is sure as hell funny watching it all unfold. American Reunion is vulgar, crude, filled with dirty jokes, nudity and all kinds of raunchy behavior and I love every single last minute of it.
Next year will be my 20th year high school reunion, of which I won't be going. I had a number of acquaintances while in high school, but no one that I'd call a true friend. The true friends I've had in life I'm happy to say are now life-long friends of mine. The time we spent together were great and over the years we've made a lot of memories; some low key ones such as sitting up all night playing video games or poker, and other outrageous drunken ones .okay, there were a lot of drunken ones, in which I was always the sober guys. In all the years that have passed, my core group of friends has always remained close and I'm thankful that we've all stayed in touch over the years. It's movies like this and the others in the franchise that stir up memories and conversations that throughout the years are worth remembering, enjoying and laughing about 13, 25, or even 50 years later.
The Hunger Games (2012)
a brutally violent film for teenagers and adults to enjoy
Unless you've been living in a cave or hiding under a rock, the newest film franchise to be based on a series of books is The Hunger Games. The trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, has been read by millions around the world, so anticipation and expectations for the film have been high. The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future in the country of Panem, where the Capital rules over 12 "districts". As punishment for a prior uprising by the districts, a ceremony is held every year in which each district selects a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to represent their district in a battle to the death on live television.
The key to making a successful film is selecting the right director. Gary Ross, whose previous directorial efforts were the underrated Pleasantville and the Oscar nominated Seabiscuit, was the director chosen; Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) was brought on as Second Unit Director. The next major hurdle was in casting, and it goes without saying that the casting choices were absolutely perfect. The stunning Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar nominated for her performance in Winter's Bone, was chosen as the films lead character, Katniss Everdene. Katniss is an intelligent, strong willed, and determined young woman and Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal is of her is perfect; she IS Katniss! Josh Hutcherson (Journey 2: Mysterious Island) plays Peeta Mellark, the love struck baker's son selected as the male tribute to represent district 12. Hutcherson is not the typical leading man in an action film. He doesn't have magazine cover looks, he doesn't have a chiseled body, he's just your average Joe; and it's that reason that he works so well in the role of Peeta. Woody Harrelson's Haymitch should have been great! In the scenes Harrelson's in, his Haymitch is engaging and commands the screen; unfortunately Harrelson is completely underutilized and doesn't get enough screen time. Elizabeth Banks looks great as Effie Trinket. Stanley Tucci plays Caesar Flickerman with great flamboyancy and looks to be enjoying every minute of it. Donald Sutherland's President Snow exudes power and rules with an iron fist. The rest of the cast includes such fine additions as Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz and a slew of others. Regrettably, the majority of the cast, much like Harrelson's Haymitch, isn't provided enough screen time to allow the characters to be developed; and there lies the biggest problem with the movie.
As I was saying earlier, the main problem with The Hunger Games is that a majority of the characters lack depth due to being underdeveloped, leaving the audience invested mostly in Katniss and mildly in Peeta. Characters like Haymitch, Cinna (Kravitz), Effie, Gale (Hemsworth), and Rue (Amandla Stenberg) who could have had bigger roles are given so little that a few of them could have been left out completely. To be fair, having read the books in which the reader is given more information on the characters, it's difficult to separate the two and judge the film on its own merit.
The Hunger Games is that rare type of movie that appeals to all audiences; younger, older, male and female; it is a very, very good film. The story is well established, albeit at times moved along too quickly. The acting performances are wonderful, the training sequences are entertaining, and the overall action sequences are well executed; The Hunger Games is a very, very violent movie. This isn't a movie along the lines of the Harry Potter or Twilight series'. It's brutally dark film, and one that can be enjoyed by most; just be sure not to try and compare it directly to the book, because you'll only be disappointing yourself.
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Silent House (2011)
Silence isn't always golden
Silent House, directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the pair behind the thrilling film Open Water, is a remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film La Casa Muda. The story centers on a young woman, her father and her uncle working together cleaning out and repairing an old lakeside family cabin; in the process ending up stalked, while "trapped" inside.
Elizabeth Olsen, having received high praise for her performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, gives a solid performance as the young Sarah. If her first two feature films are a sign of things to come, then Ashley and Mary-Kate's younger sister is well on her way to establishing herself as an extremely talented actress on her way to a very successful film career. Sadly, the same can't be said for Adam Trese, who plays Sarah's father John, and Eric Sheffer Stevens, who plays John's brother and Sarah's creepy uncle, Peter. Neither of the two men is capable of holding their own when sharing screen time with Elizabeth; whether it's in delivering the dialogue or just acting out a scene.
The most impressive thing about Silent House is that the movie appears to have been filmed in one continuous take; running the entire 88 minute length of the film. The problem with shooting the film in this fashion is that not every scene works. In one sequence, we follow Sarah as she runs throughout the house trying to hide, and then escape. The scene is well done, and is at times reasonably suspenseful. In other scenes, however, the camera does more harm than good; such as poorly focused shots on the appearances of ghostly figures and the jostling of the camera as we run along with Sarah as she attempts to get away from the house.
As someone who sees many movies, there's nothing that bothers me more than when a director, writer, producer and/or studio thinks the audience is easy to get over on. The biggest issue with Silent House is that it was marketed incorrectly. The movie is not a horror film; it is a psychological thriller. If the film had been marketed as such, and wasn't done in the single shot format, I think the potential was there for a decent movie. If the film had been made as a horror movie and followed through on that, I think it could have been better. As it is, Silent House is a major disappointment that never meets its potential on any level.
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Safe House (2012)
a film Denzel Washington fans will love
2012 has started off with some fairly enjoyable action films, such as Contraband, Red Tails, Chronicle and The Grey; and we're only 6 weeks into the year! Safe House, the new film starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, continues the hot streak Hollywood has been on.
Director Daniel Espinosa has a small directorial resume, none of which have been studio pictures. Safe House is the first studio film for Espinosa, and he does not disappoint. Similar in directorial style to Tony Scott, a frequent collaborator with Denzel Washington, Espinosa uses a choppy camera style, a number of close range fight sequences and doesn't waste any time before kicking things into high gear. There's no shortage of action sequences, ass kicking, and gun fights; but some of the best parts of the film revolve around the intellectual back and forth between Washington and Reynolds. The best thing Espinosa does is allow the film's stars to do what they do best, keep us engaged.
In Safe House, Denzel plays Tobin Frost a rogue ex-CIA agent highly sought after by the United States for trading top-secret information. Ryan Reynolds, proving that he's capable of being more than just comedic talent or a guy taking off his shirt, although he does it not long into Safe House, plays CIA agent Matt Weston. Reynolds' Weston, an inexperienced agent for the CIA, has been biding his time working as watch guard over a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa while awaiting a field promotion. After Frost turns himself in to the American Consulate, he's transferred to the safe house for interrogation. Unfortunately, or more like unsurprisingly, the safe house turns out to be not so safe forcing Weston to flee and protect Frost; unbeknown to Weston, Frost has plans of his own. Although we're meant to dislike Frost, Washington makes it difficult because he's at his best when he plays flawed characters; especially ones with questionable morals. Washington has always brought a level of intelligence and charisma to his characters and Frost is no different. Denzel Washington has made high quality films for over twenty years; beginning with Glory and continuing with Safe House. Unfortunately for Denzel, there's an expectation for him to be great or close to it, in every movie he appears; in Safe House he doesn't disappoint. Supporting roles played by Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Robert Patrick are very well cast and do not disappoint.
As much as I enjoyed Safe House, this was not a perfect picture. The relationship between Weston and his girlfriend Ana, played by Nora Arnezeder was unnecessary. It felt forced and like a cheap attempt to include a love story or romantic angle to a movie that didn't need it. Another issue I had was with regards to the choppiness of the camera-work. It's becoming something we're seeing more frequently in action films, and often times distracting. The biggest issue however, was the level of predictability. By no means am I saying that every film needs to have a red herring, but at least make an attempt to force viewers into thinking a little. Although not perfect, Safe House is a very likable film and one that most action film fans will like; and one that Denzel Washington fans will not want to miss.
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