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Teenagers fight to the death in order to affirm the government's power. There's a social commentary in there somewhere.
27 April 2012
THE HUNGER GAMES is the first movie that I saw on opening day at the midnight showing. By midnight, I was thinking that I had made a very serious mistake. I was beginning to feel unusually aged; I had just spent two hours sitting in a movie theater as scores of teenagers flitted by giggling, texting and composing songs. When I saw how many of them were sporting hand-painted t-shirts emblazoned with "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale", I started wondering if I should develop a taste for tapioca and begin amassing an obnoxious number of cats. "Do NOT do this to me," I thought with a burning and selfish anger. "Do NOT turn this into TWILIGHT."

I need not have worried. From the opening, THE HUNGER GAMES pulled me in and immersed me in Suzanne Collins' dystopian world. Sure, I really enjoyed the book, but it does not necessarily follow that I'll enjoy the movie. This time, I did. Certainly, there are some things I would have liked to see done differently, but overall, I was impressed. No, not this-is-going-to-go-down-in-the-annals-of-classic-cinema impressed, but I felt as though the purchase of my ticket was money well-spent.

The movie stays very true to the story: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes her district's first volunteer for the government-powered, homicidal powerfest in the guise of a reality show known as the Hunger Games. When Katniss' younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) is randomly selected to compete in the games, Katniss rushes forward to offer herself in Prim's place as tribute. Katniss is then swept off to the Capitol with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as the other tribute where they must put on a show for the glory and power of the Capitol as they fight to the death against 22 other youngsters.

There is a great deal of bloodshed in THE HUNGER GAMES, but it furthers the movie's plot and does not feel as though the film team is just gratuitously spraying red paint across the screen. In fact, I had the distinct sense that those responsible for the production were toning down the movie's potential sanguinity. I had wondered how they were going to handle the infamous bloodbath at the Cornucopia, and I will say that I am impressed with how they depict such a raw and brutal scene. The use of the camera to give a distorted sense of time and vision does a wonderful job of underscoring the horror of what is occurring while not permitting the blood-letting to overpower the underlying message. At no point does the movie give the sense that it relishes the blood and the body count.

I am also impressed with the actors' performances. Lawrence's Katniss is appropriately strong with undercurrents of emotion while not delving into distracting waves of angst. Woody Harrelson does a fine job of portraying Haymitch as simultaneously humorous, sympathetic and haunted. I have to give some major props to Hutcherson for his portrayal of Peeta. Reading the book, I was lukewarm on Peeta- I didn't hate him, but I didn't care one whit what happened to him. Hutcherson's performance changed that. He presents Peeta as a complex and engaging person, really giving dimensions to a character I had felt was rather flat.

I do wonder, though, who signed off on the shaky-cam. Seriously. I see what you're doing there, but please stop. The jitteriness of the picture grows tedious quickly. I am not a film student, but I am under the impression that the shaky-cam ought to be used sparingly. If so, I now know why. And of course, I wish more time could have been spent on the other tributes, particularly Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Rue's relationship with Katniss becomes the catalyst for so many things on a grand scale, and it really deserves more time. Certainly, the scene in District 11 brought goosebumps to my arms, but I had also read the book.

That brings me to my next point: I would recommend reading the book first. The movie cannot possibly include all of the nuances, all of the character development, all of the implications of what is occurring. However, without understanding the depths of Collins' world, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the movie. For me, reading the book meant the difference between "well, this is an entertaining movie" and "wow, I would definitely see that again" (which I did, just in case anybody cared to know).

In the end, THE HUNGER GAMES is a very engaging, very satisfying movie and definitely is worth a watch. Now, if you'll excuse me, I ran out of glitter paint for my "Team Seneca Crane's Beard" T-shirt.

– Katie Hager

This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine -
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Three bumbling morons with bad tempers get caught up in a murder plot while trying to save their orphanage.
27 April 2012
The opening of this movie has a lot going for it. The screen looks bright and vibrant, like a classic THREE STOOGES short with the Stooges' theme song (a jazzy version of "Three Blind Mice") playing. They even give the different parts of the movie names, like each are different shorts. I found the opening was a pay-off for my sense of nostalgia. And, to the Farrelly Brothers' credit, they worked hard to make the movie more than a bland homage to classic physical comedy.

The opening was the best part by far. The movie presents the early years for the Stooges, so naturally, there are Stooges babies. There's nothing quite like watching a kid do a Moe impression. The child-as-Stooge presence on screen makes the ability to appreciate a joke much easier.

The movie would've been so much better if they had kept the child Stooges!

Instead, the children go away, and we meet the all new (adult) Three Stooges! This is where that aforementioned effort of the Farrelly Brothers to make the movie different fades considerably. The new Stooges are terrible actors, or at least act that way. To be fair, the movie gives these violent people with child-level IQ's large amounts of dialogue. But, considering the acrobatic technique of the original "gang of stoogery", having them stand around and chat with each other is blasphemy! Well, OK, they don't just "stand around". It is a 3 Stooges movie, so of course they have to beat each other up. The problem is that the directors think that standing around and beating each other up is the same thing.

Moe punches Curly, Larry tells Moe he shouldn't punch Curly. *Punch, punch, eye poke, ear pull, etc.!* This happens for huge chunks of the movie, and the characters awkwardly stand around while talking about their troubles.

This brings up a huge problem, the "story". The orphanage needs a lot of money, so the Stooges promise to get it. They go to the big city. Sofia Vergara and Craig Bierko try to get them to kill Sofia's husband for the cash. And they just won't stop talking about it! You could say that this is just a kids' movie, which is a fair defense, I suppose. But the jokes they squeeze in between the plot-based banter are just more Stooges punching people in the face, or large objects falling on people. It wasn't funny the second time, or the twelfth.

And throughout the movie, the audience is treated to Larry David playing an angry nun. But his character points out the basic problem that undermines the movie. Hearing angry nun dialogue like "You Stooges always mess everything up!" is made funnier when said in Larry David's voice. But it's still generic dialogue. Just as the mere presence of Jane Lynch as the head nun doesn't mean anything funny is going on.

Like I've mentioned, the Farrelly brothers really did try to make this a different movie from time to time. The highlight, probably, was when Moe gets cast in Jersey Shore. The movie didn't exploit this nearly as well as it could have (Moe punched cast members, mostly), but at least it was an original thought.

The Farrelly Brothers also tried to spruce it up with what I have to call the "Farrelly" technique. Surprisingly gross comedy! The fight scene with babies as excretory weapons was cringe-worthy, as well as the image of a lion getting hit "below the belt". It just didn't fit the good-natured, child-like nature of the Stooges. And it wasn't very funny.

This movie, when it was really trying to be exciting, was like any action comedy. Attempted plot resolution leads to attempted violence and running around. I know nostalgia is supposed to be a bad thing, but surely the presence of "Stooges as heroes" should stop a movie from looking like BEVERLY HILLS COP or so many other movies like it!

As a big Stooges fan, I did like some of the re-creations of the old shorts, and there were a few hard-earned laughs along the way. But this movie was too confident in the ability of the Stooges to make boring crap funny.

– Jason Luna

This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine -
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Mirror Mirror (I) (2012)
Who's the fairest of them all?
27 April 2012
MIRROR, MIRROR is one of two major Snow White movies coming out this year. The second one is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, which premieres in June. From the trailers the two movies look absolutely nothing alike. While I don't have any problems with a fairy tale princess taking levels in sheer awesome being a competent woman, I'm not sure if the grim and grittiness is the best way to do it. Why does a woman have to become grim and gritty to be badass? But this is neither here nor there. I have yet to see SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN because of an unfortunate lack of a time machine so I can't compare the two. (If I did have a time machine, I'd be going to see other movies, such as THE HOBBIT in December, among other worthwhile pursuits.)

What I can do is review MIRROR,MIRROR. Directed by Tarsem Singh (who also directed THE CELL) it stars Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott in a fun and often tongue and cheek romp through the fairy tale.

The movie starts with the basic premise of Snow White's father, the King (played by Sean Bean), marries the Evil Queen and then mysteriously vanishes into the dark woods while trying to find an evil and dark creature threatening his kingdom. Snow White is left with her stepmother who proceeds to lock her up in the castle, forbidden, for her own good, to leave. Snow listens to the Queen but on her eighteenth birthday things start to change from the traditional fairy tale as she meets the prince and decides to take matters into her own hands.

Julia Roberts' queen is a petty and not really malicious evil. She wants the finest things in life and will do whatever she wants to get them even if it bankrupts the kingdom. She wants to be the most beautiful in the land, and if that requires Snow White to die then so be it. She is fun to watch as she tries to get Prince Alcott to marry her.

On the other hand, Lily Collin's Snow White is a bit on the bland side. She has to play the innocent and naive waif who learns to stand on her own two feet, which generally isn't a role with much to do. However, her Snow White actually does things. She doesn't wait for her prince to come to change things. She actively goes out to try and stop the queen herself.

I think the best thing about the movie was Hammer's prince. He manages to keep an awkward straight face to the Queen's flirtations and is a capable warrior. Later on in the movie he seems to be having a great deal of fun with the situations handed to him.

One thing I have to mention is that the costumes – especially the Queen's – and the sets are utterly gorgeous, a delight to look at. Most of the sets are in shades of white and gray while a lot of the costumes are brilliantly-colored, creating an interesting and delightful contrast to watch as the characters move through the world. They aren't completely realistic, but the story isn't realistic either and so it helps create the fairy tale illusion.

The story is sufficiently different that it keeps you guessing on how it's going to turn out. You know that the Evil Queen will be defeated and Snow White will get the prince, but the how is left up in the air well enough to keep you entertained. It is most definitely not a serious movie, but one that is a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon. It leaves you with a satisfied feeling… if a bit bewildered by the sudden Bollywood style dance number during the credits.

– Gabrielle Lissauer

This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine -
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Must see!!!
27 April 2012
Joss Whedon created my favorite television show of all time: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Tired of seeing the helpless blonde "cheerleader" character be killed off first in so many horror films, he turned the genre on its head. Now it was the blonde cheerleader who was doing the stalking, killing and hunting, but for the good guys. With the new film THE CABIN IN THE WOODS with BUFFY alumnus Drew Goddard, Whedon once again takes an old and tired genre and injects some life into it. The best way to describe THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is to say that it is a horror movie about horror movies. This is Whedon's love/hate letter to the horror genre.

Without giving away the spoilerish parts of the plot, I'll simply say that it involves five friends who fit the horror movie stereotype (Jock, Slut, Stoner, Nerd, Virgin) who go to a – you got it – cabin in the woods. They want to party of course, get away from it all, "off the grid" as one character points out. The trouble is, it's never really a good idea to go to a cabin in the woods. If the horror genre has taught us anything, it's to stay away from these places. To be honest, the less you know about this film, the better. The trailer is all about the fact that you "think you know the story" and that's exactly what this film is about, our preconceived notions, which is where Whedon and Goddard have their fun with us.

Fans of BUFFY and ANGEL will get a real kick out of this flick. Not only do characters from the Whedonverse show up (YAY for Fred and Andrew) but the overall tone of the film feels like it could be lifted right from the show. Of course, in saying that, I feel like I'm saying too much, so let's move on shall we?

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is one hell of a fun movie. The last time I had this much fun was with GRINDHOUSE, which was just as off the wall and entertaining as this one. That film was a hard one to sell, and I have the sad feeling that CABIN will be too. I can only hope that it does well, because the film deserves an audience and horror fans will certainly get a kick out of it. It's the best damn horror film to come out since Neil Marshall's THE DESCENT.

To say it's all horror would be an understatement because the film is hilarious. Whedon and Goddard perfectly blend horror and comedy, which is usually a tricky balance, but these two guys worked on Buffy, which was a balancing act of genres itself. Taking the clichéd aspects of every horror film and throwing it up on the screen for us in a brilliant and deconstructing manner, we have a film that isn't afraid to laugh at itself. Every stupid character mistake in horror films is used to great effect here. Whedon and Goddard give purpose to why these things happen in the genre we all love to hate sometimes.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford have great chemistry together and steal every scene they're in. Watching these two gave a different aspect to what we would expect from a cabin in the woods flick. The young actors on the screen all fit their roles well; we even get a chance to see a Thor-less Chris Hemsworth. In most films of this type, I'm rooting for the Freddy Kruegers or the Michael Myers of the slasher world, but here I was actually rooting for the victims. None of them are annoying, which is refreshing.

There are more hilarious moments than scary ones, if I had to pick a side of the fence to fall on. I'm dying to talk about them, but doing so would ruin the experience for those reading. Seriously, go in knowing as little as possible. The film isn't afraid to show where it grabs its inspiration. THE EVIL DEAD is heavily referenced here, as are some other notable horror flicks. That's not to say that Cabin is in the shadows of other films, it stands on its own and without a doubt makes its mark on the horror genre. It will be hard for people to watch future teen horror flicks and not have CABIN pop up in the back of their heads.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is one of a kind. People have been comparing it to SCREAM, in the sense that it's very self-aware and pumps life into a tiresome genre. I will agree with those statements, but don't expect people to go where this film went. It's too unique and bizarre for people to even try. From the moment the title card appears on the screen, you should know what type of movie you're about to see. I had a big grin on my face throughout the entire thing and it's safe to say that this is definitely in my top ten of the year. As a fan of the horror genre, I'm happy to say that THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has restored my faith. We have a film here that is not afraid to tell you what it thinks of horror movies, what's right with them, what's wrong with them and more importantly, why we love them.

– Matt Layden

This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine -
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The long and the short of San Diego's Comic-Con...
27 April 2012
Morgan Spurlock's newest "unique documentary" could be split into two entirely different movies: 1. "Movie No. 1" tells different personal stories of people who are putting themselves out there as they travel to San Diego for Comic-Con.

2. "Movie No. 2" isn't a movie. It's actually difficult to define. Morgan Spurlock got celebrities and people in costumes to stand in front of a white screen. And they talk about Comic-Con. A LOT.

I don't think either of these movies is particularly terrible, and in fact, some of the "Profiles in Comic-Con" from Part 1 were really well done.

There was a pathos-ridden piece about Mile-High Comics, and its attempts to sell Red Raven #1 (the most valuable Marvel Comic ever published). And there was the comedic piece that was legitimately funny, where a young dork tries to publicly propose to his young dork girlfriend.

The problem was that those story lines (along with at least 3 others) were meshed with random crap from "Movie No. 2" about how celebrities and other fans like Comic-Con.

Famous people being funny (like Matt Groening and Joss Whedon) is cool, but it took so much time away from the profiles that were stretched across the whole movie.

For instance, when a Navy employee eventually sells some of his art, it felt like I only identified with him because he seemed like a nice guy. The "build-up" from Spurlock was kind of thin, and mostly involved him walking around San Diego and looking up at the sky.

Even at 88 minutes, I could've given Spurlock some serious editorial advice. The interlude involving the parade of women in Princess Leia bikinis was just gross and unnecessary. And it was presented with no connection to anything else.

The aforementioned wedding proposal was funny, but it devolved into the "Extended Cut" of the "climactic" Kevin Smith panel when he proposes. You should save the video of the guy wandering around, and of Kevin Smith bantering, for the DVD.

Not to mention that the movie demonstrates that Comic-Con was facilitating the dork's ability to make his public proposal, and that moment arguably demonstrated an agreement between Spurlock and the "Con". I'm not expecting Edward R. Murrow from Morgan Spurlock, but that just makes me sad.

And now that I'm not pulling any punches, the movie had terrible cinematography and visual editing. Having "on the ground" footage of Comic-Con is fine, but Spurlock tried to art it up. He would often float the camera upwards and/or laterally, which makes you think about the camera instead of his "real people protagonists." And I don't want to say his *AWESOME COMIC BOOK PANELS* are seizure inducing, but they definitely challenged my eyes' ability to absorb gaudy colors. And doing them over and over again, such as an announcement that it is now 'Day 3" of a 4 day convention, is just lazy.

I decided to give this movie a six star rating because it has a lot of interesting moments, even if they are mostly incredibly shallow stories of happiness or rare sadness. But if you like Morgan Spurlock or nerdy celebrities, then the time will fly by fairly easily.

That being said, this feels like a typical live spot for basic cable. And I'm sure some day it will be that, and only that.

-- Jason Luna

This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine -
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