Twilight

November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DJ’s Take)

STEADY

See what I did there?  I made a joke about the shaky cam used in the first Hunger Games movie in comparison to its usage in this film.  A cheap shot, I know.  However, STEADY can also be a word attributed to several things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the franchise in general.

 My biggest takeaway from the first Hunger Games was that everything up to the games was surprisingly new and interesting.  But when the games started, the film became a missed opportunity.  Whether that be from the…(ahem)…nauseating shaky cam…or the violence getting scaled back for the rating…or the rushed narrative.  The film only scratched the surface of what it meant to kill someone innocent, someone you know, or someone you love in order to survive.  A subject I don’t think we’ll ever properly explore in a film from this series.  The sequel Catching Fire left me feeling the same way I felt after watching the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded.  It was a sequel that gave me more of what I loved in the first film, less of what I didn’t, threw in a direction altering twist, and ended so abruptly that I was sickenly desperate for more.  Unlike The Matrix films, The Hunger Games franchise has always had an established blueprint.  It also has expectations nowhere near as unachievable as the ones the Wachowskis were faced with.  So, my hopes for this franchise’s conclusion don’t feel as futile.

I’m typically skeptical of any Young Adult novel film adaptation.  Mainly, because their stories are usually formulaic, shallow, and just not made for me.  From Twilight, to The Mortal Instruments, to the upcoming Divergent, to even Harry Potter.  The subject matter of those films never struck me as having anything deep about them.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a Y.A. idea that actually has interesting material.  War, oppression, rebellion, gladiatorial combat, political appeasement of the masses, questions on morality, self sacrifice.  I could go on.  Material like this is probably why the films have attracted arguably the best ensemble cast of any Y.A. adaptation.  And why its main character is played by inarguably the best actor.

I hate Jennifer Lawrence.  No, not in the way you think.  I hate her for the fact that she is such a rare, real, STEADY, good actor, that she can convince me of literally anything.  I try and stay objective when I see her work, but I’m captivated by her characters the instant she starts doing her thing.  Every time there is a moment in Catching Fire where I’m sure the material will be too ridiculous or ponderous for me to stand, Lawrence comes in and totally blows me away with her honesty.  There is a scene where she is speaking about the fallen tribute Rue, and god help me, I found my eyes welling up with tears.  It is a scene meant to tug at your heartstrings with all the subtlety of a semi-truck.  And yet, I was astonished at how perfectly personal Lawrence plays it.  Katniss’ grief for Rue was played out mostly in silence in the first film.  Here, you finally get to listen to her describe her sadness and guilt and rage for what happened to Rue in one brief speech.  And Lawrence delivers it with not one false beat.  There are several instances like that in the film where I should groan and roll my eyes.  But the performances of Lawrence and Sutherland and Harrelson and Hoffman and even Hutcherson and Hemsworth are strong enough to sell this world.

I understand that previous director Gary Ross was using shaky cam in an attempt to hide the bloodshed and capture the primal nature of the games.  However, there is a distinct difference between being visceral and being incomprehensible.  Francis Lawrence has a much STEADIER(It’s almost too easy) hand when it comes to the camera.  I don’t just mean the action scenes, though, they are much better.  I mean with everything.  He just seems to have a better grasp on when to hold on an emotional beat, pull back on an enormous set piece, and shake up the visuals during a pulse pounding fight scene.  At least, in a way that I’m used to.  I think Ross, who has done some great work on his earlier films, just had a style that was too distracting for this content.

The one flaw that really gets in the way of Catching Fire’s potential is probably the most integral reason for its drawing power.  And that is the film’s love triangle.  No, I’m not some cynical douche that detests any time a film is inundated with mushy teen romance.  I’m a cynical douche that detests being browbeaten over the head by plot threads, whatever they may be.  I appreciate nuance, timeliness, and skillful integration.  The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale still lacks these things and acts as an obstacle to the story.  Katniss switches back and forth between her love interests to an almost comical extent in this film.  I seriously began to lose track from scene to scene as to where her love currently lied.  The much richer lead up to the games and increased political intrigue gives the story some really strong momentum.  Momentum that is stopped dead whenever the characters are forced to deal with their romantic issues.  I know me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the love triangle plotline is in The Hunger Games is the equivalent of me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the huge red spoiler is on a sports car.  I know why it’s there and I know it appeases the teenage girl demographic.  Yet, it could be scaled back significantly and the ride would be all the better for it.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a strong sequel for any franchise, and continues to easily be one of the more interesting Young Adult novel film adaptations going today.  I hear they are going all Hobbit with the next book by splitting it in two.  Let us hope they can remain on their STEADY pace upward.  Grab your bow…and your pin…and your superconductive metal coil…watch it…tick tock…then tell me I’m wrong.

January 12, 2013

Holiday Hangover, Special Guest Reviewer Edition: Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies – Surprising

 *This review is being provided by guest contributor, Kayleigh Brown, aka, Kayleighkill.  Thanks for the submission Kayleigh, and we look forward to having more guest submissions.  You can find Kayleigh on YouTube through the following link.  She is also on Twitter and Tumblr.* 

I won’t lie, going into Warm Bodies, I couldn’t help but mentally notice the Twilight parallels. After all, both movies come from Summit Entertainment, it’s a love story about a girl and her monster, and there’s people trying to kill them; not to mention, one very familiar “laying in a field” scene. The similarities stop there.
Where Twilight failed, this movie picks up the pieces, and then some. It isn’t just your typical ‘girl meets monster’ flick. Yes, its central theme is based on love, but its much broader than that. It isn’t just “I want to die to be with you” love. It’s love in the form of acceptance, family, friends, and memories. It’s looking past differences and accepting someone for who they are. I’m looking too far into it; you have to watch the movie to understand that analysis.
I won’t spoil any secrets in regards to Warm Bodies, but it definitely is a paving stone for completely reinventing the zombie image. It offers not only ridiculously funny quips at times, but touching moments with some serious overtones, and sometimes even a cringe-worthy scene or two. The romantic development of the main characters is almost placed on the back-burner, as the rest of the story unfolds around it. They really took a fairly predictable plot (from the trailer) and turned it into something more. The likeability of the characters is also a huge factor as to why I enjoyed the movie so much. It helps with great actors such as Rob Corddry and John Malkovich supporting the upcoming talent that spotlight the movie. (Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer)
Overall, the movie was a surprising hit, right down to the creepy antagonists of the movie, the ‘Bonies’. I wouldn’t want to run into a flesh eating skeleton in an alley anytime soon. Even the soundtrack is amazing. Bob Dylan? Guns N’ Roses? M83? I’ll take it.

*This review is based on a sneak preview that took place on January 10th, 2013.  “Warm Bodies” will be widely released on February 1st 2013.  Thank you Regal Cinemas for the FREE tickets for this event.  This movie will be revisited upon it’s actual release.*

December 12, 2012

Happy Holidays: Word Association 2nd Edition

In this excerpt from the inaugural episode of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast, Justin Polizzi volunteers to play Word Association.  Find out how he does.

November 5, 2012

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Two Kinds Of People (Episode 9)

The world isn’t complicated.  Its simple.  So simple, that everyone in it can be broken down into to kinds of people.  See which one you are.

October 12, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Grindhouse

Grindhouse – Ambitious

Here’s the problem with kids these days; they don’t appreciate shit!  I’m an old-school type of guy (and if I’m already a curmudgeon at age 28, well, you know what you can do), that’s why I hate crap like “Twilight”and any other abomination that co-ops things that were once bad-ass and turns them into little emo-bitches who sparkle, or shoe-gaze for over two hours.  Has any “scene kid”or emo kid seen “Dracula” from 1931 or maybe even “The Wolf Man” from 1941 (once again dating myself).  If Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi were alive to see what had become of their beloved characters, well, I’m sure Lugosi would get hooked back on morphine and Chaney would gladly take a few silver bullets to the heart.  I’ll give you this, if you’ve seen “The Lost Boys” I’ll give you a bye….but that’s it.

By the way, this review isn’t even about werewolves (well kind of) or vampires, I simply had to get that off my chest.  However, there is something special about taking something old and making it new again.  Take 2007’s “Grindhouse,” the two-movies-in-one masterpiece by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

“Grindhouse” while fantastic, was a flop, and to me, that’s frustrating.  People, and unfortunately the studios, either prefer shitty remakes (there are a few exceptions) or…….gulp……PG-13 horror (and shame on you if you dare defend PG-13 horror).  Rodriguez and Tarantino gave a big “F You” as they usually do, and decided to dig up old exploitation movies from the 1960s and 70s and make a three-hour epic of sleaze, blood, guts, sex, and even more sleaze.  Throw in some fake trailers, done by the likes of Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, and you have something special.  Too bad people have the attention spans of circus fleas because I would love to see more films like “Grindhouse” make a comeback.

The first film, “Planet Terror” directed by Rodriguez, deals with, SICKOS, not zombies, but SICKOS, kind of like psychos, but instead they eat flesh and their balls melt.  Here are the major plot points; there is a chemical weapon unleashed, people get sick and start eating and killing each other, there’s a government conspiracy, a stripper loses her leg and has a gun reattached to the stub, and we have some “From Dusk Till Dawn” references.  Simple, right?  Yeah, it is.

The second film, “Death Proof” directed by Tarantino, is a take on the slasher genre which stars the awesome Kurt Russell as “Stuntman” Mike who kills young women with his “death proof” stunt car.  People say this is the weaker of the two films, but I highly disagree.  While it might not pack in as much action as “Planet Terror” the dialogue is good, acting solid, and like I said before, it has Kurt Russell.  What else do you need?

Rodriguez and Tarantino go back to basics for “Grindhouse” and it works so well.  It’s simple, stupid fun that is lost upon the modern horror audience.  Not everything has to be a love story between Kristen Stewart, a vampire, and a werewolf.  Or a ghost story shot with a shaky camera.  Or…….”The Wicker Man.”  Maybe that was too easy, but I will give Nick Cage props for this.

If you haven’t already, please check out “Grindhouse,” it’s so good, it’s scary.

Fun Fact:  Grindhouse cinema derives from the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City.

September 21, 2012

Cosmopolis

TOUGH

Cosmopolis is TOUGH to get through.  Cosmopolis is TOUGH to understand.  Cosmopolis is TOUGH to review.  But ultimately, Cosmopolis is TOUGH to dismiss.  The story of a twenty something billionaire asset manager journeying into the city in search of a haircut presents itself as anything but that.  This is something that did not bother me initially.  At first glance, I thought Cosmopolis would be this generation’s American Psycho.  A controversial film that seems to be about one thing, but actually touches on deeper and unexpected subject matter.  However, where American Psycho veils its messages to allow them to spring naturally into the viewer’s minds, Cosmopolis beats you over the head with it.  This does not necessarily make Cosmopolis a bad film.  It is just doing it’s own thing and doesn’t give a damn if people have a TOUGH time getting it.

Here is a drinking game you can play.  Take a shot whenever someone in this film answers a question or makes a statement in a drawn out pseudo intellectual/overly metaphorical response.  You’ll be passed out drunk before your popcorn is done popping.  No one talks to each other the way people do in this film.  That criticism should fall mostly on the novel Cosmopolis is based on.  A 224 page maniphesto-like tale by Dan DeLillo that must have been an extremely TOUGH enterprise to translate to film.

At the center of this world is Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson.  If I haven’t stated it before, my opinion on all things Twilight has been…ahem…less than kind.  However, for some reason I always thought that Pattinson was the only one of the three leads that could rise up as a true actor if given the right vehicle.  Now, the right vehicle to prove one’s acting ability, more often than not, is the risky vehicle.  So, kudos should go to Pattinson for taking on a role that all but eliminates his huge built in fan base.  Lets be honest.  The concepts of a piggy bank would probably be lost on the Teen Beat crowd.  Let alone, a film that rambles on incessantly about leveraging exchange rates of the yuan, funny ideas for new monetary units and stock depreciation for two hours.  Suffice to say, Pattinson is actually pretty good here.  So good that director David Cronenberg has cast him again in his next film.  The role of Eric Packer could have easily gone to Leo.  However, we would still see some warmth behind those eyes no matter how cold he’d play it.  Pattinson, on the other hand, can do cold.  His New York accented stoic delivery is perfect for Eric Packer, just as Bale’s almost infomercial style manner of speaking was perfect for Patrick Bateman.  In both cases, you don’t know what either character will say or do next.

I’ve grown to appreciate David Cronenberg.  His always peculiar framing.  His “don’t look away” tension building long takes.  But more famously, his knack for inserting into rather normal scenes amazingly visceral moments of sex and/or violence, then moving on as though nothing has happened.  It worked well in The Fly and History of Violence and Eastern Promises.  However, it feels somewhat out of place here.  But everything feels out of place in Cosmopolis.  There is this feeling throughout that something is off.  If the argument is that this is on purpose, then mission accomplished.  But it still lends to the point that the film isn’t an easy sit.

Some critics have labeled Cosmopolis as pretentious.  And it may very well be.  Though, I get the feeling that five or six years from now, it will become a cult success just like American Psycho did.  Put on a suit…get a haircut…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 13, 2012

Simplistic TV: Revolution

UNDERWHELMING

Revolution comes to us from Supernatural creator Eric Kripke.  The new captain of the Star Trek franchise and television veteran J.J. Abrams executive produces.  The father of the Iron Man films, Jon Favreau, even directs the pilot.  The concept, a world thrown into chaos from a technological blackout, isn’t entirely original, but still interesting.  So, how do I feel after watching it?  Completely and utterly UNDERWHELMED.  I am sadly short on whelm.  Totally in need of more whelm.  And the fault of this lies mainly with the cast. 

Besides a brief appearance by the consistently good Giancarlo Esposito, the cast is a laundry list of no named actors.  Now, I know the casts of shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Lost were relative unknowns at the start.  However, those actors put out award winning efforts while tackling very original concepts.  The cast of Revolution seems to be phoning in their performances as though they were aged Hollywood superstars….or direct to DVD Wesley Snipes. 
Tracy Spiridakos, who serves as the show’s lead, (Obvious Hunger Games Cash In Attempt By The Way) is as stock as they come.  She doesn’t have enough acting ability to carry a scene, let alone an entire series.  Graham Rogers, who plays her brother, comes off more like a speaking extra than a costar.  The character with the most potential on the show is Uncle Miles, played by Billy Burke of…ugh…Twilight fame.  He’s a mysterious ex soldier who we know little about, other than he’s good at killing.  An actor with some range and charisma could bring a lot to this type of role.  However, Burke sleepwalks through every line he delivers and even parts of his fight scenes. 
In this attention deficit disorder world we live in now, it is hard to have a show that can captivate and keep viewers.  Especially, if the actors don’t convince us to care about the characters they’re playing.  The performances of Revolution’s cast do little to convince me to care.  Watch it…better yet, DVR it…do your laundry…play with your kids…take up stamp collecting…then if you get bored…really bored…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 
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