Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3rd Annual "Jacks" -- 2013 Awards

Best Picture:
*12 Years a Slave*
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Place Beyond the Pines

Best Actor:
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Oscar Issac, Inside Llewyn Davis
*Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club*
Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress:
Amy Adams, American Hustle
*Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine*
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

Best Director:
*Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis*
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Supporting Actor:
*Bradley Cooper, American Hustle*
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, Her
*Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle*
Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Screenplay:
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Eric Singer, David O. Russell, American Hustle
*Spike Jonze, Her*
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder, The Place Beyond the Pines

Best Cinematography:
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
*Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her*
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

Best Visual Effects:
*Gravity*
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek into Darkness

Best Film Editing:
*12 Years a Slave*
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska

Best Original Score:
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave
*Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett, Her*
T-Bone Burnett, Todd Kasow, Inside Llewyn Davis
Cliff Martinez, Only God Forgives
Mike Patton, The Place Beyond the Pines

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top 25 Films of 2013

1. The Place Beyond the Pines
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Her
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
6. Prisoners
7. American Hustle
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9. Nebraska
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
11. The Kings of Summer
12. Gravity
13. Captain Phillips
14. Blue Jasmine
15. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
16. Iron Man 3
17. The Conjuring
18. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
19. The Spectacular Now
20. You're Next
21. Thor: The Dark World
22. Mud
23. The Way Way Back
24. Frances Ha
25. The World's End

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 15 Films of 2012

2012 has drawn to a close, and while I never post anymore I thought it would be punctual to post my 15 favorite films of 2012. I have not seen nearly as many films this year as I have in the past, but I have seen most of the noteworthy ones throughout the year. Here goes.

1. The Dark Knight Rises
2. The Avengers
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Argo
6. Lincoln
7. Looper
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Hunger Games
10. Skyfall
11. Django Unchained
12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
13. Frankenweenie
14. The Cabin in the Woods
15. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Honorable mention: Life of Pi, Arbitrage, Prometheus, The Hunter, End of Watch

Friday, April 27, 2012

Now Available on DVD

Hello, folks! In this segment I will break down 15 films I have recently viewed on DVD. A couple of them have been out for a few months, but you'll just have to deal with it. I've nearly seen every note-worthy and interesting film of 2011. So, in the near future I will re-release my top films of 2011, as well as my own personal Oscar picks, as they have both changed significantly. Have fun, and don't be afraid to chime in. Enjoy!

A Dangerous Method -- This is a mildly interesting and controversial film starring Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence) obviously has quite the resume and a knack for his craft, but this material is awfully boring on screen. Unless you're interested in the psychology aspects of the film I'd stay away, despite a pretty darn good performance by Keira Knightley. (B-)

Anonymous -- You obviously have to suspend your belief going into this film, being that it suggests William Shakespeare was nothing more than a middling actor and not the world changing scribe we all know. Some of the performances aren't terrible and the costumes are terrific, but this entire film is a bore. Despite a note-worthy performance by Vanessa Redgrave (Mission: Impossible, Atonement), this film is certain to lose its audience awfully quick because of a laugh-less and head-scratching script. Sebastian Armesto's performance is Adam Sandler-bad, so beware of that. (C-)

Carnage -- Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer, The Pianist) does it again! This is a superbly written black comedy with four outstanding performances from Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Winslet is easily one of the best actresses alive, and Reilly is so spot-on with his typical brand of humor. He's slowly become one of the most reliable sources of comedy in the past few years. This is Waltz' best performance since his Oscar-winning role in 2009's Inglourious Basterds. (A-)

Contagion -- Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) is probably the most versatile directors alive. He certainly doesn't shy away from a job offer. Contagion is a slightly realistic apocalyptic film that's sure to hold your attention. The cast is marvelous, highlighted by performances from Laurence Fishbourne, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Matt Damon. It's shorter than it should be, running at 106 minutes, and it ends rather abruptly. However, it's altogether fascinating, convincing and alarming. (B+)

Like Crazy -- One of the more disappointing films of 2011, without question. Critics raved that this film resembled Blue Valentine and/or (500) Days of Summer; nope. It stars the promising Anton Yelchin (Fright Night, Terminator: Salvation), who looks like he's 40 already; sorry dude. The two main characters are dry, shallow and completely unlikable yuppies with no sense of humor and complete disregard towards each other. One of those rare films where I root against the couple. It's not all bad, but you can probably skip it. (C+)

Margin Call -- Despite very good performances by the entire star-studded cast, I found this true Wall Street drama to be tedious and obviously way too predictable. I'm sure the film would be more entertaining if you knew what these rich, arrogant a-holes were talking about half of the time. Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci stood out to me, which should come as no surprise. Worth a look if Wall Street interests you; otherwise read a book or something. (C+)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol -- Tom Cruise has been hit-and-miss in the past few years, but he always seems at home when playing Ethan Hunt. While this film doesn't even come close to the timeless original, it's still damn entertaining. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) was a fantastic addition to the crew. I personally found this to be the second best of the M:I films, slightly edging out M:I3. This was easily one of the best action films of 2011. (B+)

My Week with Marilyn -- Oscar-worthy performances help keep this simple film afloat. Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain) shines as Marilyn Monroe, which should certainly come as no surprise given her phenomenal track record. More importantly, however, Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie, Pirate Radio) is tremendously hilarious as the late Laurence Olivier. Newcomer Eddie Redmayne could be considered the weak link of this film, but I found that he fit the role. (B)

Puncture -- Here's an astonishing true story that's botched by it's filmmakers. Chris Evans (Captain America: First Avenger, Fantastic Four) puts forth a magnificent effort as a drug-addicted lawyer who won't let the biggest case of his life go. He's certainly come into his own as an actor in the past couple of years, but it's all for not as the terrific storyline is ruined by below average filmmaking and sub-par supporting acting. (C)

Senna -- It's been a down year for documentary filmmaking, but this one is a definite must-see. This is a wonderful, heartbreaking look back at the life of Aryton Senna, a once great Formula one race car driver who met his demise on the track. It's simply amazing how much raw footage was compiled to create this tragic film, which feels more like a drama than a documentary. You don't need to be a racing fan to dive into this multiple BAFTA award winner. (B)

Terri -- This is an odd, quirky black comedy with a handful of laughs and two handfuls of awkward moments. While John C. Reilly is funny, as usual, the overall tone of the film is discomforting and clumsy. The title character, played by Jacob Wysocki, is a lonely, confused, tormented, obese 15-year-old with 101 problems. Some people have described this film as heartfelt or genuine, and while that sure may be true, it comes off bizarre and a little too idiosyncratic for my taste. Absolutely not a waste of time by any means, but some of the scenes are certain to put you off and you may find yourself grasping for laughs. (C+)

The Descendants -- This Oscar-winning film has all the ingredients of an instant dark comedy classic. George Clooney delivers yet another fantastic performance. The last act of the film is somewhat of a letdown, which I believe kept it from winning Best Picture. But, overall its a treat to watch Clooney and newcomer Shailene Woodley argue and bicker over personal family matters. This is a serious movie with comedic undertones that, for the most part, lift your spirits. Director Alexander Payne has proven himself to be an A-lister with this effort, following the magnificent Sideways. (A-)

The Guard -- Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, In Bruges) and Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Boogie Nights) make quite the comedic duo in this Irish "buddy cop" film. It may be hard to follow their thick Irish accents from time to time, but it's only a slight problem. It's predictable to a fault, but the hilarious dialogue between Gleeson and Cheadle carries the film. (B)

The Thing -- Doesn't nearly do the original John Carpenter film justice, but does have a few interesting moments. For the most part, this "prequel" genuinely lacks scares or high-raising moments. The acting isn't dreadful, thanks in large part to Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom), but the middling special effects supersede the plot. I actually found the last 20 minutes to be enjoyable, which kept this formulaic film from being a total disaster. (C)

Young Adult -- Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno) is easily one of the best directors in the world right now. You have to admire his ability to make even Charlize Theron look like an actress. The tremendous Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer's Body) script puts this film among the best of 2011. Cody's screenplays always take place in Minnesota, which as a Minnesotan is a treat. I have to say, it's fun watching Theron go off the deep end. (B+)

Carnage

Young Adult

Anonymous

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) R

Well, after three years in the making, The Cabin in the Woods has finally been released! This movie, which was filmed in May of 2009 believe it or not, has been on my radar since summer of 2010. It was pushed and pushed so many times that I figured someone tossed the footage in a dumpster or a furnace. Alas, we finally got what we were promised: a "cabin in the woods" film like you've never seen before. And let me be the first to tell you, this is certainly a cabin in the woods film like you have never seen before.

But first a little background information on the project. As stated earlier, filming completed in May of 2009. It then was slated for a February, 2010 release. That was pushed back to January, 2011 because of MGM's (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) financial difficulties and rumors of converging the film to 3D. When MGM filed for bankruptcy, they were forced to sell the film to the highest bidder. After about a year of that the film was finally sold to Lionsgate, who originally planned a Halloween, 2011 release. Well, that didn't happen as their was still work to be done on the film (especially in the editing and special/visual effects departments). So, for the fourth time they set a date: April 13th, 2012. And for the first time in nearly three years since its inception, The Cabin in the Woods was shown revealed to the whole world.

It's safe to say that critics absolutely fell in love with this twisted, entertaining and thrilling horror film. Whether or not actual audiences feel the same way, to me, is pointless. The majority of the time audiences wouldn't know a good film if it fell into their lap. That being said, this was a difficult film to market. Yes, it helps that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is front and center, but the trailers and marketing had people yawning and saying things like, "Here we go again" and "Not another run-of-the-mill cabin horror film!" But we were promised something different; something fresh, new, daring, inventive and downright entertaining, shocking, brilliant, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, my expectations were extremely high, despite the three year delay.

Now for a little background information of the writers and director of this game-changing horror film. This is Drew Goddard's first attempt at directing. He's a well-respected writer; some of his works include Cloverfield and countless TV series' (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Lost). Goddard also co-wrote the script with Joss Whedon. Whedon is widely known as the writer/director of The Avengers (which is due on May 4th). But, like Goddard, he's best known for his writing on TV (Roseanne, Parenthood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and film (Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, Titan A.E.).

Goddard and Whedon created one of the freshest, funniest, most thrilling, exciting and ingenious horror scripts in years; possibly decades. I'm going to do my very, very best to conceal the majority of the film as to not spoil the fun for you and your friends if you decide to take this journey. If you're like me, you've seen the trailers, a couple of pictures, some minor plot points about the film and that's fine. DO NOT go searching around for too much information about this film because it will ruin the experience! I knew enough going in to keep me interested and optimistic during the films opening twenty minutes.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

The film opens with two men (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) having a conversation in a complicated industrial facility. They appear to be technicians of some kind. It's apparent from the very start of the film that there's a peculiar comedic undertone. Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) discuss an operation that is taking place all over the globe, and how a lot is riding on this "operation."

We then cut to college students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Jules (Anna Hutchinson) and Curt (Hemsworth). They're chatting about college, sex and drugs. You know, the usual. Curt and Jules are dating. Curt is your typical college jock football player, Jules comes off a little slutty and stupid and Dana appears virgin-ish.

They meet up with Curt's buddy, Holden (Jesse Williams). Holden seems sophisticated, smart and sensitive. A perfect match for Dana! Then enters Marty (Fran Kranz); he's the stoner of the group. He shows up smoking a bong while driving, providing some probably much needed laughter in the theater. So, you have the jock, the whore, the virgin, the sensitive guy and the stoner. We've obviously seen this remedy before.

They now ride away in Curt's expensive RV towards his cousins secluded cabin in the woods. By this time it's obvious these five youngsters are headed towards impending death. Slowly, more and more information unravels about Sitterson and Hadley's secret operation. They're now joined by specialists Truman (Brian White) and Lin (Amy Acker). Truman seems skeptical about their operation, while Lin wants them to focus and stop goofing around. I refuse to give more information than that.

Curt and the gang are having trouble finding their location, as it doesn't appear on a map or the GPS. So, they stop to get gas at a run down, scary, old gas station. They eventually run into the station's owner (Tim De Zarn). He's a dirty, creepy, tobacco-spitting hermit possibly looking for a fight. He calls Jules a whore, gets made fun of by Marty and heads them in the right direction. De Zarn's character is a fun one, to say the least. You'll understand what I mean when you see the film.

Finally, they arrive at their destination! The cabin is in decent shape, but does come off a little eerie. They settle in and begin to drink their frosty beverages; or in Marty's case, get massively high. They eventually stumble upon a dark basement full of interesting artifacts that sets off a chain of deadly events. I'm very certain that this all sounds like a dozen horror films you've viewed before, and by golly, that's the point.

It's pretty evident the work that Sitterson and Hadley are doing is affecting the five college students. But to what extent? Just what exactly is going on in these woods? And what the hell is going on with all these technicians, engineers and electricians? Just what aren't we seeing?

I don't think I'm giving anything away by telling you that these kids are about to get terrorized, chased, stabbed, chocked, murdered, etc. And while some of it is very predictable (which is the point, afterall), the rest of it is shockingly unpredictable. It's all rather amazingly entertaining, exciting, spine-tingling fun. Goddard and Whedon's script is altogether hilarious, interesting, frightening and cliche-ridden fun.

Overall, the acting by the entire cast is pretty much pitch-perfect. Goddard always manages to keep your attention with witty dialogue and breathtaking sequences of violence. Who would've thought that the best performance of 2012 (so far) would come from Fran Kranz (The TV Set, Matchstick Men)? He's tremendously hilarious, yet fierce, when need be. Kranz' Marty starts the film as just another typical stoner dude who's going to be the first to die, much to your delight. But he grows on you, and Kranz delivers one of the better comedic horror performances in recent memory.

I thought unknowns Connolly, Williams and Hutchinson held their own, for what it's worth. Hemsworth (Thor, A Perfect Getaway) was a no-namer at the time, but it's neat seeing him in yet another darkly comedic role. Jenkins (Let Me In, Step Brothers) and Whitford (Billy Madison, Scent of a Woman) are both pretty funny. Jenkins is always a treat as he has become one of the better supporting actors available. And Whitford, possibly best known as "the business ethics guy" from Adam Sandler's Billy Madison, has a couple very funny lines.

I'm probably making this film sound like a comedy, which it's certainly not; though it is extremely funny in stretches. But it had my heart pounding, more importantly. My body was nearly shaking in anticipation of the terror that I knew was coming with about 25 minutes left in the film. You've been warned: the final 20 minutes of this film is simply bonkers, for lack of a better word. And I mean that in a good way. Maybe astonishingly outrageous is a better phrase.

The Cabin in the Woods has dozens of elements from previous horror films. One could argue that Goddard and Whedon are mocking the horror genre, or perhaps that they're paying tribute. I think they're doing plenty of both, myself. There are elements from The Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, The Hunger Games, The Matrix, Hatchet, Scream, The Ring, Hellraiser, The Truman Show, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombieland and dare I say Scooby Doo?

I could go on for hours about this film. It's horrific, graphic, exhilarating, generic, hilarious, genius, entertaining, thought-provoking and always on my mind as of late. The VERY end of the film is a slight disappointment in itself, and is the main reason keeping this film from an A+. But please don't let it ruin your evening, because, to me, this is one of the ten best horror films I've seen since the turn of the century.

This is a film made specifically for fans of the horror genre, like myself, who have grown a custom to the cliches that come with the territory. However, it's also a film for those of you who love to be entertained and aren't turned off by an axe to the head, a body torn in half or gallons of blood. If you're planning on seeing werewolves, aliens, zombies, clowns, giant snakes, demons, dragon-bats, unicorns, zombie redneck torture families, scarecrows, yetis, goblins, vampires, ghosts or mermen then you're probably going to be disappointed.
A

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012) PG-13

The Hunger Games trilogy is underway, and director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) has put together a faithful adaptation of a beloved young adult novel by Suzanne Collins. Collins also co-wrote the script, which was a serious plus. One might think she wouldn't of allowed a film to be made without her consent and involvement. Seasoned scribe Billy Ray (State of Play, Breach) also worked on the script.

The books are marvelous, entertaining and unforgettable. A lot of people were quite skeptical about a Hunger Games film from the beginning. Kids killing each other in an arena isn't exactly fun for the whole family. However, Ross' film is tastefully done and never quite seems as brutal as it probably should be; thanks in part to the film's star, Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone, X-Men: First Class). A star was born in 2010 with her tremendous performance in Winter's Bone, which undoubtedly helped her earn the much desired role of Katniss Everdeen.

One of the real pleasant surprises throughout the film was the unanticipated terrific acting from the entire cast. Lawrence definitely got the support she needed from her fellow actors and actresses. And while this film does have a few minor errors and soft spots, they're all forgotten by the films end. I, for one, found the ending way too conventional, but I won't get into that right now.

You have to suspend your belief a little bit, because Lawrence's Everdeen is supposed to be 16 years old. But I knew that going in. It was an extremely difficult role to cast, because of the death that surrounds it. As much as I like Chloe Moretz, who was rumored to play Everdeen, I just can't see her dominating this role. If you haven't read the book(s) then you may find this review, and the film for that matter, hard to follow at times but bare with me.

In the not-so-distant near future, the United States is called Panem. After a great war the country has been separated into 13 districts. Years later, the districts rebel against its capitol. The capitol seizes back control of Panem and demolishes district 13. Only 12 districts now remain. As a consequence for its rebellion, each year the capitol choices one boy and one girl (between the ages of 12-18) at random from each district to fight to the death in a controlled arena for the Capitol's enjoyment. They call this event the "The Hunger Games." This all sounds quite sick, yet Collins' novel is so eloquently written that it comes off realistic and grounding.

Katniss' family lives in district 12, arguably the weakest of all the districts. Her Father perished in the nearby coal mine years earlier. She lives with her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), and her Mother (Paula Malcomson). Her Mother has never been the same since her husband's death. Primrose is scared because this will be her first "Reaping," which is when they select the children for the Hunger Games. Your odds of being chosen improve as you get older. Prim's odds are extremely small. Katniss' are very good, unfortunately.

Katniss and her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) meet each day in the forbidden woods to hunt for their dinner. While district 12 is poor and low on food and supplies, it's also more laid back and easier to sneak out to hunt. Today is the day of the Reaping. They relax at their favorite spot, look out at the beautiful barren landscape and talk about their odds at being chosen. Gale's odds are certainly not in his favor. There's definitely a little sexual tension between the two teens, but they downplay it because they don't want to ruin their friendship.

It's now time for the Reaping to begin. It's a haunting scene that's certain to hold your attention and fill your body with emotions you're not use to feeling. You can taste the tension as Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the pink-haired, pale-faced spokesperson from the Capitol pulls two names out of a large glass bowl. Ladies first. She gleefully announces, "Primrose Everdeen," over the intercom. Prim is stunned. Katniss nearly faints. Effie crudely asks that Primrose please step onto the stage with her. Before Prim can make it too far, Katniss screams out, "I volunteer! I volunteer to be this year's tribute." Effie is delighted because no one has ever volunteered in district 12 before. It's more common in district 1 and 2, where kids are bred and trained for the Hunger Games.

Katniss now stands on stage, shocked and speechless. Effie now calls out, "Peeta Mellark!" Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) looks astonished and petrified, but he joins Katniss on stage and they briskly make their exit into the hands of the Capitol.

They're given a few minutes to say their final goodbyes to their loved ones. Katniss gives support to Prim and tells her Mother to be strong. Gale tells her that she can win, which she responds with, "There's 24 of us Gale, and only one of us is coming out." He gives her support, stating that she's steadfast with a bow. Which is the truth, Katniss is deadly accurate with a bow and arrow, which will assuredly come in handy.

Katniss and Peeta now join Effie, as they board a train headed for the Capitol for their training. Their mentor (the person who prepares them for the games) is fashionably late for their scheduled meeting. His name is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch won the Hunger Games many years earlier, therefore was given a mansion and many riches. He must also train the tributes from district 12 each year, which has led him to become a raging alcoholic. It can't be easy training children to die year after year. No one from district 12 has won since Haymitch's victory.

Haymitch is very rude, but also quite wise. He doesn't get along with anyone, especially Katniss. Effie and Haymitch have been doing this for years; prepping young kids for their death, but they've never liked each other much. Effie is very uptight and organized, while Haymitch is messy and narcissistic.

They eventually arrive at the beautiful Capitol to thousands of cheering fans. They're later cleaned, bathed and clipped for their big introduction on national television. Katniss' designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), treats her like an angel and makes certain everyone will remember Katniss and Peeta.

All the tributes arrive in carriages and are later interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Caesar is a celebrity at the Capitol. He's a charismatic and ostentatious host who always gets rise out of the audience. Tucci (Easy A, The Lovely Bones) is one of the best supporting actors working today. He's so reliable, understated and more often than not, hilarious.

Katniss and Peeta wow the crowds with their get-up, and their interview is capped off with Peeta professing his love for Katniss. Katniss was completely unaware of this proclamation, which upsets her. The next day they train with the other tributes and eventually show off their skills to the judges, who give them numbered grades (1-12, 12 being best). Peeta earns an 8, which is pretty good, but Katniss earns herself an 11. Her 11 is the best among the tributes. She's not the only one who's shocked.

We get to know the head game-maker, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), who designs the Hunger Games. We also meet President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the aged dictator seemingly without a soul. Sutherland (MASH, The Italian Job) only has a few small scenes, but they're awfully effective.

The games themselves don't start until about half way through the film, which runs at about 2 hours and 20 minutes. I'm not going to give a single detail about the Hunger Games as to not spoil the fun.

Overall, the acting is above average. Lawrence is very good for the most part, Hemsworth (Triangle, The Last Song) fits his role, Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) shows surprisingly good range, Harrelson (The Messenger, Zombieland) provides some good laughs, Banks (The Next Three Days, Role Models) has probably never been better, Kravitz holds his own and Bentley (American Beauty, P2) hasn't been this effective since the terrific American Beauty. There's also a cute, little performance by Amandla Stenberg, as Rue.

The original music by the terrific duo of T-Bone Burnett (Walk the Line, Crazy Heart) and James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight, Michael Clayton) is underwhelming a bit perhaps, but it's certainly not bad. The cinematography by Tom Stern (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) isn't anything spectacular, but gets the overall feel of the book down. While the editing towards the end of the film is muddled a bit, the majority of the film is true to the book.

Whether or not you've read the book is besides the point. This film is simply a must-see. The books are outstanding and this film did them justice, which I didn't think was possible. I, myself, can't wait for Catching Fire (the second book) in 2013/2014. Go see it, folks!
A

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) R

Yes, this will in fact be my second consecutive Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) film that I review. This film is one thousand times more terrifying than that supposed "horror" film ever could have been. People have been buzzing about Olsen's performance here since last spring, and I finally got a chance to see it for myself. It was absolutely worth the wait.

This is a haunting film that's certain to leave it's mark on most viewers. It's certainly open for interpretation and argument, which is almost always a good thing in this business. It's not often you get the privilege to view such a deep, well-acted and thought-provoking film from a freshman writer/director. Sean Durkin really out-did himself. And although the dialogue is at times average, he more than made up for it by getting wonderful performances from his actors and bringing the terrifying source material to life. This is definitely not a film for everyone. It contains graphic nudity, brief violence and may be a psychological nightmare for some.

Olsen, in her first feature film, gives the performance of her career that she will never be able to top. That doesn't mean I don't think she's a star in the making, because she certainly is. While Silent House was a bloodless, boring mess; she held her own and kept that film from being a straight-to-DVD catastrophe you would find in the $5.00 bin in your local, nasty Kmart.

Olsen plays Martha, who's presumably around 20 years of age. She had a troubled youth, and abandoned her family after turning 18. She completely vanished off the face of the earth at that time; no one has seen or heard from her since. The film opens in a secluded little farmhouse in upstate New York, where Martha helps out around the house.

I'm not going to sugarcoat things, Martha participates in a modern day cult. The cult is run by quiet-mannered, but seemingly likable, Patrick (John Hawkes). Hawkes (Winter's Bone, Identity) has evolved into one of the most reliable supporting actors over the past few years, and gives a harrowing performance here. Easily worthy of an Oscar nomination in my honest opinion. He's graceful, yet menacing in this hair-raising independent film.

The cult originally seems harmless enough, despite some glaring issues. Men are vastly superior to woman. Woman may not eat until the men are finished. The women only get the scraps. The women are also basically crammed into one bedroom where they sleep on the floorboards. However, the young ladies seem content with this and follow their leader without hesitation.

One morning, Martha packs her things and sneaks out of the house. She is spotted leaving and chased after. She manages to get away, and stops in the nearby town for lunch before catching the first bus out of this Godforsaken neck of the woods. However, her "boyfriend," Watts (Brady Corbet), finds her and threatens her. She must come back to their little family, or else. Corbet (Funny Games, Thirteen) is tremendously creepy, just as he was in Funny Games a few years back. He's a very talented young actor, with loads of potential.

Martha decides to call her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who she hasn't spoken to in two years. Martha is reluctant to tell Lucy where she is, but eventually gives in. Lucy picks her up and drives her roughly three hours from where the cult resides to her vacation home. Martha is extremely paranoid that the members of the cult will find, and easily dispose of her.

Martha meets Lucy's new husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), for the first time. They don't exactly hit it off. Martha spends most of the day sleeping or staring off into space; there's obviously something wrong with her. Lucy is extremely worried about Martha, as she should be. As Martha adjusts to living again in the "real" world she frequently has flashbacks of her days in that daunting cult. At times she severely struggles with reality, which Lucy and Ted labor with. Martha can't seem to be able to differentiate between what's real and what's a memory from the past.

Slowly we piece together what exactly happened to Martha at that mysterious farmhouse. We eventually find out the initiation into the cult: getting drugged and raped by their trusted leader, Patrick. Martha wakes up as Patrick is finishing up and she wales in pain. She's obviously starting to wonder if she's made an extremely terrible decision in joining this strange group of individuals. Duh.

Her trusted best friend, Zoe (Louisa Krause), assures her that all the girls have had the privilege to be with Patrick sexually. Zoe believes Martha is lucky that it was her first time, and that she has now begun the cleansing process. Patrick doesn't like the name Martha, so he names her Marcy May. Patrick tells her that she is his favorite of all the girls. That she's different. That she's a teacher and a leader. Marcy May buys in almost immediately.

Back to reality; Martha struggles to fit in with Lucy and Ted as she goes skinny-dipping, urinates herself, screams at guests for no apparent reason and sits in while Ted and Lucy have sex. Ted has had enough of her insane antics and wants her institutionalized, but Lucy wants to be patient. The three of them struggle to coexist over the ensuing weeks.

It isn't long before we (the audience) get a first hand look at just what exactly this cult will do to survive, and so does Martha. She witnesses unspeakable horrors, as do we, and she eventually plots her escape. What we do know is that she does ultimately escape, but at what cost? And to what lengths will Patrick go to the retrieve a knowledgeable and detrimental Marcy May.

Martha's psychosis begins to get the better of her. She believes anyone and everyone is a possible threat, Ted included. Has Patrick actually sent his henchmen to recover her, or is she imagining it? It's possibly a brilliant ambiguous ending, that much is for certain. I found it fitting, myself. The entire film is open for interpretation, which I often find rewarding. This is a brutal, shocking and dark tale on the human condition. Struggled youth often times turn to alternate sources of acceptance, desire, faith and understanding. I find this type of film more terrifying than any Texas Chainsaw, Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. This type of stuff is still happening to this day, right under our noises. And the repercussions are detrimental to human psyche.

I highly recommend this film to those who have read this review and believe they can stomach the material. It's certainly not a thrill-ride or entertaining in the very least. But it's an unforgettable, heartbreaking, agonizing drama that will stay with you for days. Now available on DVD.
A

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Silent House (2012) R

The husband and wife duo behind 2003's claustrophobic Open Water are back once more to make us squirm and beg for something to happen. While the film isn't as atrocious as that shark tale, it does ultimately fail to provide any real horror. What we get instead is loads of confusion, and eventually an unbelievably godawful ending. Writing/directing team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau had good intentions with this remake of the Uruguayan film The Silent House, but more often than not these types of film are destined for failure.

At least they got one thing right with the casting of young and forgotten Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene). Olsen is a star on the rise, even if the material here doesn't quite help her cause in becoming the next Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone, The Hunger Games). The storyline is quite simple, the dialogue is thin, the cinematography is shaky and the acting is sub-par. However, the first half of the film is actually quite watchable as we are eagerly awaiting for something to transpire. Instead what we get is The Uninvited sequel we sure as hell never asked for.

Olsen plays Sarah, a recent college dropout who's helping her father John (Adam Trese) fix up their old summer house so they can put it on the market. John and his brother, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), are doing most of the work while Sarah moseys around the house. The reason they're selling the house is because the place is routinely vandalised. They still can't seem to find the culprits.

One late afternoon, John is fixing something in the basement when Sarah begins to hear noises. All the windows are boarded up and the power is out so the entire house is in darkness. Sarah uses her old fashioned lamp for a light while she sorts boxes upstairs. She thinks nothing of these noises at first, but when they persist she begins to become frightened. She then hears a knock at the door. An old childhood friend is there to great her. She doesn't remember this "Sophia" character, but Sophie sure remembers her. Sophia goes on and on about childhood memories that Sarah can't recollect. They then make a date to catch up a little later in the evening. Sophia is creepy, to put it lightly, but Sarah tries to ignore the signs that point to her as a possible threat.

Sarah gets back to work, but the strange noises refuse to cease. She finds her Father and asks him to help her do a sweep of the house. He notices she's quite shaken, so he takes her dread as serious as he can. They find nothing of interest in the house so they depart and she once again goes back to work. A few minutes later an extremely loud crash is heard from the adjacent room. Sarah calls for her Father but he does not answer. It's not long before she realizes she's not alone in this secluded and dark summer home.

We get a short, blurry look at the man/creature/being stalking Sarah around the house, but it's still a mystery what/who it is. Sarah finds her Father bloodied and bashed, but alive. He has been bludgeoned in the head, and is unresponsive. She plays a nifty cat and mouse game with the dark stalker, which initially is actually quite nerve-racking. All the doors in the house are locked from the inside, so she can't escape. However, she finds a key in her Father's pocket that unlocks the cellar door. She retreats to the basement, in the best scene of the film, and momentarily escapes.

She runs for her life for a few minutes, then stops to catch her breath. She then sees a little girl staring at her, which causes confusion. This is about the point where things become substantially confusing. Her brief encounter with this strange, little girl is interrupted when Peter almost runs her over with his car. The girl has now disappeared, and Sarah must now explain what has happened in the house. She explains that her Father is badly injured and is still locked inside the house with a mad man. Peter grabs his gun and demands Sarah to stay in the car.

Peter searches the house, but can't seem to find anything. Meanwhile, Sarah is greeted harshly when the stalker comes in through the hatch of the car. She escapes into the house and into Peter's arms. Peter couldn't seem to find John, but they look together a second time. The film amazingly still hasn't lost me, but I'm growing quite impatient at this point.

From this point on things begin to unfold reasonably quickly. Things get awfully confusing, which is certain to piss a lot of movie-goers off. We've seen the whole schizophrenia back-story beaten to death in other films (hint). The final "twist," which was obvious to me a mere five minutes into film, is a total downer and will certainly leave a sour taste in your mouth when it's all said and done. Expectations were low, but I happen to like cheesy, campy horror films. This film was neither. It's extremely serious, completely dry on laughs and tremendously boring.

Documentary-style filmmaking is becoming a bit warn, but it's not dead. This film just couldn't find a good balance of thrills, dread and entertainment. The "shot-in-one-take" method was a decent idea, but laughable dialogue and a complete lack of scares failed the concept.

While this film isn't a complete failure, it's definitely not something I would recommend. Olsen holds her weight though, but she didn't have a lot to work with. Trese (40 Days and 40 Nights, Zodiac) is a terrible actor, to be quite frank. His line "Peter, you are SUCH a loser!" is one of the worst in recent memory, and it comes at the climax of the film to boot.

I'm not sure what else to say. Silent House is not scary, not thrilling, not entertaining, not funny, has a terrifically terrible ending, is poorly acted; did I miss anything? I can't believe I'm going to give it this high of a grade, I must be out of my mind. Way too generous.
C-