Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (The Film)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

Directed by Gary Ross

Release Date: March 23, 2012

America is gone; now a new nation known as Panem is divided into 12 districts and a Capitol that controls them. Each year, the Capitol requires that each District have a lottery to send off one boy and girl to compete to the death in a competition known as THE HUNGER GAMES. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen has volunteered to take her sister's place in the games. May the odds be ever in her favor.......

Adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is both praised by fans and seen as plagiarizing other authors, such as Stephen King and
Koushun Takami (author of Battle Royale). I, howver, only see a great dystopian story with similar themes and concepts. When I read the novel, I was fascinated with a world built upon send children not only to fight one another, but "dance" for the amusement of the rich and powerful of the Capitol. So, with a novel that is both popular with both children and adults, a big budget adaptation was inevitable. 

Before I continue reviewing the film, please be aware I will be comparing it to the novel and THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. 

Since the movie is PG-13 in America, the violence seen during The Games was toned down or done off-screen, only to show the horror of what was happening by Katniss's reaction. Sure, The Hunger Games movie won't be as visually bloody as Battle Royale, but it's not really meant to be. The violence is only used to showcase the brutality and shock of children fighting to the death, and I believe the screenwriters and director did a successful job of getting their action without overly disgusting the audience.  A

As the novel was originally written in a first person narrative with Katniss relaying the story from her POV and her thoughts, the film obviously had to adapt so that Katniss is more of an active character. The movie eliminates some small moments and one-or two characters, but the overall plot remains in tact, In fact, one of my favorite additions is using the Game Room to showcase what Seneca Crane (played by Wes Bentley) and the Gamemaker's do to record the games and influence the action to challenge the Tributes, but to entertain the audiences of Panem. In a way, it reminded me of the Moon Room of The Truman Show, another great movie about "reality television". 

There are only two minor problems I had with the movie. The first is the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow; in a word, he's not terrifying. In the novels, Snow is meant to be seen as a dictator, someone who is bright and happy in front of the world, but deadly and threatening to his enemies. However, Sutherland just can't showcase Snow as nothing more as a minor nuisance. His character made me chuckle more than fear for Katniss's life. The second are the terror dogs. They're CGI, and not particularly good computer graphics. 

For Hunger Games fans, you'll love this movie. Everyone else, this is a great commentary on reality television, the deception and control of media, and a great science-fiction film.

Rating:* * * * of 5 stars

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All-In: The Poker Movie

Written and Directed by Douglas Tirola

Release Date(s): March 24th, 2012

Are you ready to deal?

Writer/Director Douglas Tirola brings us into the electric and dazzling world of poker, from Oxford Stud to Texas Hold 'Em. He explores the theories behind the origins of the game, how it rose to popularity and even its grasp on popular culture.

Initially, I knew very little about the game; you play with four people and bet money on who has the best hand of cards. Sure, I saw the movie Rounders but had no knowledge of the people or the culture seen as Matt Damon played the tables. In All-In, you get to meet that movie's screenwriters, but some of the players who were at the poker house set in New York. After learning about this culture, I feel more intrigued about poker.

Tirola brings in many of the most famous names in the poker community, sports journalists, and even celebrities like Matt Damon and Kenny Rogers to discuss their interests and thoughts on the game of poker. Throughout the documentary, the subjects of fame and celebrity are brought up several times, such as when poker was celebrated with famous players like Chris Moneymaker and Stu Unger, to when virtual poker web-sites were shut down due to controversy. 

In fact, the game itself is seen in both an underground and over-saturated light; the narrative looks into the high times of the 1970s and the "old-timer" stereotype of the game during the 1980s. For example, one of my favorite parts of the documentary is when the interviewees discuss the phenomena of on-line poker. I feel that this is a topic both fans and non-fans will enjoy. In these interviews, the players get protective of their right to protect their livelihood and the right to play, whether it is in person or online. 

This is a very entertaining documentary and I recommend it to both poker players and those unfamiliar with the game. 

Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 16, 2012

21 Jump Street (2012)

Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube and Rob Riggle

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Release Date: March 16th, 2012

Based on the 1987-1991 drama starring Johnny Depp, this reboot comedy takes a humorous take not only on the original series, but on cop "action" shows, high school dynamics, and youth culture. No, seriously.

 Schmidt and Jenko (Hill and Tatum, respectively) were once high school students with little in common; one an unpopular geek while the other is a meat-headed jock. Soon, these mismatched pair become police officers looking to stop bad guys while not adhering to basic rules, like reading a suspect the Miranda Rights correctly. Once they fail to stop a drug bust, they become the latest officers in an undercover squad designed to infiltrate crimes committed in the local high schools. Their first assignment: find the maker and supplier of a new drug with fatal results. Schmidt and Jenko may not be the best cops, but they'll do the job their way.

To be completely honest, I had low expectations of this movie. The trailers were lack luster and I had never seen the original series. However, I am a fan of farcical cop shows like Reno 911 and I did see that Hill was credited as a screenwriter and had faith due to his talents as a comedian. So, what did I think about 21 Jump Street?

21 Jump Street  surprised me, in that I enjoyed its crude and yet hilarious sense of humor. Instead of making the movie into a humorless, straight adaptation of the TV series, the film acknowledges its roots but still pokes jabs at the source material in a harmless way. In addition, the film does a lot of great scenes that showcase the mindset of what high school was for those out of it and what high school is like now. For example, Schmidt and Jenko start identifying the different cliques in the high school parking lot, but are soon dumbstruck when trying to label a group of hipsters. Then, we see our bumbling heroes try to relieve or outdo their own high school experiences. Obviously, it's not a major factor of why audiences will like the movie, but I enjoyed these moments in the plot. In terms of funniest moments, one of the best for me is when Schmidt and Jenko first try HFS, the new drug.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Joe Lo Truglio, and Alan Alda

Directed by David Wain

Release Date: February 24th, 2012

George and Linda are a Manhattan with a few problems: George lost his job, Linda is directionless, and they now have to sell their home. Driving to stay with George's obnoxious brother, the couple stay on a commune called Elysium. Soon, they meet such unique people like nudist wine-make Wayne (Lo Truglio), perfectionist Seth (Theroux) and memory-deprived Carvin (Alda).  The couple are embraced by the free-wheelin' style of the hippies and soon become entranced to stay and "live each life to the fullest". Will this new lifestyle bring the couple closer, or drive them apart?

When I first saw the trailer for Wanderlust, I wasn't really sure if I would like it. Yes, it's directed by David Wain, member of the comedy trio STELLA and previously directed Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models; still, I wasn't sure about the film itself. I like Paul Rudd, as his likable every-man charm works wonders, but Jennifer Aniston has been hit or miss with her film career after TV's Friends left the air. That said, I'm glad I went because Wanderlust is a good comedy with a talented cast of comedians.

Wanderlust is an interesting portrayal of finding your own way by experimenting with different ways of life. You can see that in scenes that showcase the differences between life at Elysium and Rick (George's brother)'s home: the multiple Televisions vs little to no technology, the ownership vs communal sharing, and so forth. Many of the jokes are actually funny, having the actors improvise their lines to showcase the quirks of their characters. For instance, Rudd and Theroux have a hilarious scene where they "shout out their problems" where Rudd complains about little problems, Theroux berates him while he makes 'larger complaints'. Rudd also has a hilarious set of scenes where he tries to psyche himself up by repeating one line in several strange voices: you'll have to see it to believe it.

Rating: 4 out of  5 stars .

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Starring Dane DeHaan,  Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, and Michael B. Jordan

Directed by Josh Trank

Release Date: February 3rd, 2012

Andrew (DeHaan) is an introverted high school senior with an alcoholic dad, a mom sick with cancer, and only his cousin Matt (Russell) to be his friend. Soon, Andrew brings his new camera to a party, to document his life if only to have something to do. His decision makes him part of a discovery team: Matt and popular quarterback and student body president Steve (Jordan) have found something in a cavernous pit, and need Andrew to document their find. Whatever it may be, Andrew and his friends will be changed forever, for better or worse.....

In 1998, the found footage sub-genre took off with the release of The Blair Witch Project, setting a string of similar projects and imitators, relying more and more heavily on deceiving the audience. Here, there are no delusions that this movie was "found": it has a credit sequence at the end, production company logos at the start, and the actors are listed by name. Chronicle uses not only the POV from Andrew's camera, but C.C. TV video, footage from security cameras, the camera of another character, and Smart-Phone video.

The performances from the three leads, DeHaan, Russell, and Jordan, are dynamic and play well off each other. Since we are following DeHaan's Andrew in the beginning, we get to know him the best. Andrew is a very lonely person; his dad demeans him, he's picked on at school, and rarely stands up for himself. The filmmakers do a good job of making Andrew into a dynamic character, who becomes more open with his new friends and decides to make some improvements in his life. Russell and Jordan are good side characters, as Matt and Steve, respectively. Jordan's Steve is the party animal who likes to have fun and Matt is the intellectual who wants to do the right thing with an interest in philosophy.

The one downside? The C.G.I can be a little low grade at times. When the boys discover new found abilities, they showoff such strengths as moving Legos and baseballs to eventually learning how to push cars and fly with their minds. Since this is a minor budget, the graphics are not as well-polished as big blockbusters, but they do the job.

This may be one of my favorite films of 2012.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 

Gulliver's Travels

Starring Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Catherine Tate and Billy Connolly

Directed by Rob Letterman

Release Date: December 25th, 2010

UGH..........where do I begin? Gulliver's Travels is a novel originally written by Johnathan swift and has been adapted several times with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original text. This 2010 adaptation, where Gulliver is a portly Jack Black, may be the most foul, offensive, and moronic adaptation one may ever see to insult the intelligence of children.

Usually, I like Jack Black; he's a talented actor with a lot of manic energy who also sings and performs as part of the musical duo Tenacious D. Black has been in such great movies as High Fidelity, King Kong, School of Rock, and Tropic Thunder. The point being, he can be a very fun and charismatic actor with a slightly goofy charm. However, in this critical failure, he's a liar and very, very annoying. He brays every line, never giving a genuine reason to like him other than he's the main character and we have to like him.

But the biggest offenders are the unnecessary pop culture references and the sophomoric humor. Look, I get that the film was intended for families with young children, but does that mean it's okay to have a PG rating with Black pulling down his pants, and urinating to put out a fire? Then there are the product placements/pop culture, such as Gulliver's life is Star Wars or that he uses an iPhone and drinks Coca-Cola; seriously? Did I need an Avatar references in Gulliver's Travels?

On the positive side, the supporting cast are good, such as Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate as the King and Queen of Liliput, Jason Segel as Horatio, and Chris O'Dowd as General Edward, but they are not worth sitting through this turkey.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars .