There are book and movie spoilers in this review. LOTS OF SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.

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I’ve been seriously anticipating The Hunger Games, just like most people I’ve come across in the past year or so. I was more than ready to be disappointed by it, because hey, I’m one of those people. 

I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. It was obvious just how much they wanted to stay true to the book and I appreciated that. I felt like the deviations were necessary, not gratuitous. I’m concerned that Suzanne Collins won’t be co-writing the screenplay for the next film, because I think her presence was definitely felt in this film.

I loved the scenery. I’m a North Carolinian, despite being born in California. This is where I was raised, and where I’m from. There’s a scene in which Katniss is in her bedroom at The Capitol, and realizes she can change what her window depicts as outside. She rifles through a few settings (possibly scenes from other Districts?) before coming upon tall trees - North Carolina pines! I gasped right along with her. I live in a beautiful, albeit frustrating and sometimes backwards place. Some of my favorite shots during the film were of Gale back home, in the woods, where he and Katniss belonged. 

I adored the Capitol fashions. Effie Trinket’s nails were on point with every outfit. Cinna - good God, Lenny you are a fine piece of man - was perfection. Lenny Kravitz has this zen aura about him, and that’s something I always imagined Cinna to have as well. His first meeting with Katniss was incredible, just the way he made himself and his politics very clear to her. 

I loved The Girl on Fire. I loved their entrance for the parade. I loved it so much. I didn’t love the dress as much as the black jumpsuits, but I loved it too. I LOVED STANLEY TUCCI AS CAESAR. That smile! I loved Seneca Crane - his beard and his eyes and the look on his face when Katniss shot the apple. Wes Bentley was fantastic. I’m so glad he’s back on track - I’ve loved him since American Beauty.

I loved the little girl that portrayed Rue. She was great, and made me care even more for that character than I already did. I sobbed like a friggin’ baby when Katniss was singing and surrounding her with flowers. 

The ending scene was perfect. It was so tense and succinct. Ten seconds, if that, and I was basically drooling for Catching Fire - which is my favorite of the series. 

Annnd, what I didn’t love: 

The direction. I thought the handheld camera during the fight scenes was a great way to stay within the confines of the PG-13 rating, while still capturing just how brutal the fighting was. The fighting was between children, after all. Although, it did get old quickly, because it wasn’t nearly as well done as it can be (see: The Bourne Trilogy). I also enjoyed the tricks used to highlight how surreal everything was for the Tributes, like when everything was muted for Katniss before her interview. Other than that, I thought that there were too many times I noticed it. I think, for films like this, good direction is pretty much invisible direction. I don’t want to be shaken out of the experience by some extravagant turn of the camera. It’s jarring, and unpleasant. I’m not sure if Gary Ross was trying to make a mark or just didn’t know what to do with himself sometimes, but either way - I wasn’t a fan.

The score. I thought it was overwrought and cheesy. A score is very important, in my opinion. The soaring music when Katniss and Peeta are looking over the food in the traincar? Too much. The triumphant music when they are riding in their chariot? Too much. The music other than those two occasions? Barely noticed it. Not good. Scores are a passion of mine, so integral to making a good movie.

THE MUTTS! They didn’t even attempt to approach what the wolf mutts at the cornucopia were! I felt that that was important, because it was the first time in the book that I realized just how advanced The Capitol was. It had already been obvious, with the medicine and the tracker jackers and everything, but when the muttations showed up and their origin realized, I remember thinking “holy shit.” 

Haymitch was eh. Gale was eh. Peeta was most definitely eh. And what the hell was up with him being smaller than Katniss? I don’t remember that being in the books? Just threw me off. Also - his bleached eyebrows. That threw me off too. 

The main thing that I was concerned about when I found out that they were adapting The Hunger Games to film was how they’d accomplish documenting Katniss’ introspection - I feared that it’d become lost in translation. Her thought process during the books is important, during the development of her relationship with Peeta in front of all of Panem, especially. In the books, most of her affection toward him is for show. It’s a survival method. In the movie, I don’t think that was clear enough. I can see some people becoming confused as to how she actually felt - thinking that she actually fell in love with him. I hope they can fix that in the next film. I don’t want it to come across like she’s just stringing Peeta and Gale along because that’ll change how the audience feels about her.

All in all, I thought the film was very well done, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next one.

[4/5]

OK, a couple of things:

  • I love action movies (established).
  • I LOVE Robert DeNiro.
  • I like Jason Statham.
  • I did not like this movie.

I mean it was terrible. It was BORING. It was completely and entirely implausible. There’s an understood need to suspend belief when you go into some movies, or watch some television shows, but this was just ridiculous. It was scattered and poorly acted and the plot and dialogue was just terrible. I couldn’t tell who was from where because everyone’s fake accents were so bad.

Also, I paid good money to see Jason Statham kick some ass but his only fight scenes were with Clive Owen which made it unbelievable (I’m sorry Clive is just a slightly rougher Hugh Grant to me) and it was short and pathetic. It is possible I blanked out on any other times he got in a tussle, I was so goddamned bored.

I’m used to seeing Yvonne Strahovski kick ass on Chuck, and in this she was just the token innocent maiden in need of protection. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is supposed to be big and menacing, not a friggin’ suit. The best thing about this was Robert DeNiro, and there wasn’t enough of him in this. 

I didn’t have any fun watching this movie, and fun is the entire reason I love action movies even though they are usually pretty awful. Bleargh. 

[1/5]

Drive begins with a tour of the dark, dreary apartment that Ryan Gosling’s character (known throughout the film only as The Driver or The Kid) inhabits. The camera sweeps over the back of The Driver’s satin, Scorpion embroidered jacket; the basic furnishings; and the spectacular view of Los Angeles beyond the windows, while The Driver lays out the rules for his newest “clients” on his cellphone. Immediately you learn, if you weren’t already familiar with his films, that Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to work the hell out of a camera*.

The Driver then performs his night job: wheel man. Those aforementioned clients turn out to be some unsavory fellows robbing a local store. He says nothing as he sits and waits the perfunctory 5 minutes he promised them. As he drives along, his face gives away nothing - except caution. There’s no fear or even concern, really, and it’s obvious that this guy knows exactly what he’s doing. When the cops are on his trail, he leads them not on the typical Blues Brothers type chase through the streets of L.A., but instead on a quiet, cat and mouse expedition, escaping their clutches in a way I didn’t expect, but was cleverly foreshadowed.

Those first fifteen minutes hint that Drive isn’t what you might be expecting: it isn’t about spectacular stunts or explosions or impossible chases. This isn’t a Fast & Furious movie, and it doesn’t try to be. There’s nothing that takes place in a car that will make you think “that could never happen, except in the movies”, and that’s deliberate. Drive is about driving: the actuality of it. It’s about the mood you’re in when you’re behind the wheel, and the feeling you get - or maybe that only some people, including me, get. There’s a combination of both excitement and relaxation I think only driving can give to you. Well, driving, and this film.

Until I was in the middle of watching it, I didn’t realize how little I knew about the movie. I’d seen the trailer, and the opening clip that was released on the Cannes website a few months ago, so I thought I had it pretty figured out: guy with fast cars falls for a girl, gets in some shit. It’s so much more than that, but I don’t want to spoil it. I will warn that the violence took me by surprise. Not sure why, since I’d seen the director’s prior films (dude likes his blood), but it did. Luckily for me, I like violence, but the lady in the theater bathroom with me after the second time I saw it, not so much. The violence wasn’t gratuitous, but it was very graphic. Beautifully so, as weird as that sounds.

I think the reason I loved Drive so much is because it embodies some of my very favorite aspects of film. Film noir will always be my top “genre”, antiheroes will always be the protagonists I want to see. I’ll always want to delve into darkness rather than light. Fog, shadows, and unexpected framing will always capture my attention. Drive is a (neo-)noir, with a mysterious, introverted main character at the center of an impossible plight. The photography is beautiful, the lighting is perfectly mood indicative, the music is out of this world**, and the performances rely more on physical intricacies than exposition. 

Ryan Gosling’s performance is amazing. He conveys everything and nothing with just a furrow of his brow. He’s intense, but reserved. We know nothing about his character’s past, and we don’t know anything about his present either, except that he drives for the movies, moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals, and works at an auto body shop. Usually, I want to know more about a protagonist, but in this film, I found the mystery as intriguing as intended. The Driver reminded me a lot of the Man with No Name, Clint Eastwood’s character in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. He doesn’t have any real attachments, and doesn’t seem to want any. He holds everyone at arm’s length - including the viewer - and Ryan Gosling is so damn enigmatic that it was totally alright with me. 

The film allows you to make assumptions about The Driver, purposefully telling you nothing about him, but giving you just enough to start to assume. I liked being surprised at the drastic shift of who he was - or who I thought he was - as the film propelled towards its climax. He isn’t a good guy, but he’s not really a bad guy either. I’m of the opinion that he was a psychopath. A psychopath that had been doing a fairly good job of living a normal, albeit detached life until he was tossed into a situation where a bit of insanity was necessary. From beginning to end, Drive sort of just presents him and says “here: believe what you will about him.” I liked that. 

The rest of the performances were also top notch, and although I feel Carey Mulligan was miscast as Irene - the downtrodden sort-of single mother who gets more emotion out of The Driver than anyone else - she did brilliantly. I’m not sure many other actresses could have done so much with so little. Her face is perfect. In one scene, she’s walking behind The Driver as he carries her sleeping son, Benecio, to her apartment. The happiness on her face is so subtle, but it’s obvious. She was just fantastic. Bryan Cranston, as The Driver’s boss and only “friend” is great - you like him and empathize with him immediately. Christina Hendricks has a tiny role, but is spectacular in it - nothing like Joan from Mad Men. Albert Brooks is equal parts terrifying and enchanting and both at the same time, in a way you wouldn’t really believe. Ron Perlman and Oscar Issacs are awesome as well.

Joey and I went to see Drive on Saturday night, after I’d seen it on Friday. After we left the theater he said that he saw a lot of 80s Michael Mann in it, and I disagreed. I saw Bullitt, To Live in Die in L.A., Point Blank (the 60s Lee Marvin film, not the Danny Trejo one), a little Pulp Fiction and a lot of Thief - which I didn’t know Michael Mann directed until I IMDB’d it to ensure I was thinking of the right film. Michael Mann brings to my mind Public Enemies, Ali, Collateral, and Heat (you know, there’s a bit of Heat in Drive as well, come to think of it, especially when you compare Gosling and DeNiro’s performances). Anyway, Joey was right. Someone remind me to tell him that. Definitely some Michael Mann.

While it was obviously an homage, if you will, to eras of film long lost to us - Drive was new. It was original. It wasn’t a rip off. It took those bits and pieces of things we’ve seen before and blended them into something that we haven’t. It was exciting, and it was fun, and it was suspenseful and thrilling and above everything else: it was interesting. 

Many movies, especially those that can be considered of the “action” genre, are only entertainment. Drive is art. I didn’t get a feeling of pretentiousness or trying too hard, and yet it managed to outshine just about every other film I’ve seen this year. That being said, it probably isn’t for everyone. Not everyone will appreciate that Gosling says fuck all during the film, or that there is a distinct lack of standard Michael Bay style action scenes, or the violence, or the almost spooky, synth-heavy soundtrack and score. Some will probably find the quiet intensity boring, the sequences of shy looks exchanged between Irene and The Driver to be tedious and pathetic, and the ambiguity of the main character frustrating.

Me, personally? I don’t remember being this in love with a movie since Inception.

[5/5]

*Two of Winding Refn’s earlier films, Bronson and Valhalla Rising are on Netflix Instant Watch for those interested.
**The soundtrack is really, really great. I downloaded it on iTunes before I even left the theater parking lot on Friday. 

For my birthday, a friend of mine gave me tickets to a sneak preview showing of Warrior on Sunday night (it doesn’t come out until this Friday). Probably my favorite present ever, as obsessed with TOM HARDY as I am. Anyway…

I’m very easily emotionally manipulated by movies, I can’t lie. Just a swell of the score at the right moment can give me goosebumps, or cause me to burst into tears. Warrior was incredibly manipulative - obviously so. And despite that (or maybe partly because of that) it was so, damn good. 

Heads above last year’s The Fighter (which I really, really liked, so that’s not a slight) On rewatch, I take that statement back. The sports half of Warrior was better than that of The Fighter. The drama side, not as detailed and not as engulfing, but still on par - but “heads above” is hyperbolic. The performances were amazing - Edgerton, Nolte, and Hardy all gave Oscar nod worthy shows - and the pacing was perfect as well. The MMA scenes were brutal, the personal interactions draining, and the entire ending sequence - so suspenseful I felt like my heart was going to burst open. 

I don’t want to do too much of a review because I honestly feel like there’s been too much information put out about this film already (who releases photo and video from the ending?!), and you should go into it with your eyes as closed as they possibly can be. I’ll just say that it’s not a MMA movie. It’s a film about family, and love, and hate, and forgiveness and all that good stuff. If you like good dramas, you’ll like this, I’ll bet.

I’m going to see it again on opening day, and I can’t wait. I’ll probably amend this review to include a few more things afterward. It’s truly a film that I could watch over and over again without getting tired of it. Go see it. 

Amends: 

  • Go see this film with a full theater, and masses of people around you. It’s better that way. 
  • Yes, it was pretty predictable, and contrived, but in my opinion, that doesn’t take away from the film itself. I feel the movie thrived because of the actors.
  • If I had to pick only one of the characters to get an Oscar nomination, I’d definitely choose Nolte. He was really great.
  • Tom Hardy looked so fucking good in the “morning after with his father in the hotel room” scene.

[5/5]

This weekend I saw Conan The Barbarian. In 3D. Why? Because that’s what my guy friends all wanted to see, and Jason Momoa is hot so, yeah.

Perception and expectations are everything when going to the movies, in my opinion. I expected this movie to be shit, but I also expected it to be fun. And it was fun! Also, it was shit. I had a great time laughing at just how terrible it was, and watching Momoa be mostly naked. I wouldn’t watch it again, but I didn’t leave the theater feeling like I’d wasted my time. It’s possible that because the boys kept plying me with fresh nachos that I was under the influence of canned cheese, but still - it was alright. 

Except Rose McGowan. Rose McGowan is terrible. 

[3/5]

I read The Help a year or so ago. I thought it was alright; not nearly as moving or awe inspiring as I’d been led to believe by the stellar reviews on Amazon. I realized pretty quickly that the reason for my ambivalence might have stemmed from the racial issues, which I’d heard whispers about prior. First: the dialogue. The black people spoke with “authentic” dialect, to an extreme. The white people? Not so much. Not even the woman portrayed as white trash, shunned by the rest of the women in the community. They spoke in perfect English. Funny, that.

Now, I’m from The South. The half of my family that is from The South, is also black, and from all over it: North and South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi. My great grandmother, who (or is it whom?) I spent much, much time with growing up was born in 1910. My grandparents, who raised me, were born in 1939, and 1941. As much as they talk about the Lord, I’ve never once heard them call him “Law”. I’ve heard him called the Lawd - but by all races down here. No one dropped the ‘d’ - black or white. 

People ask, would it still have been racist if a black person had written it? Well, no, it wouldn’t! Unless she’d done a switcheroo, and harped on getting the white syntax just right, and left out the syrupy colloquialisms of Southern blacks. 

My other apprehension: the entire notion that a white woman was needed. That the black women were incapable of fostering anything themselves. The white savior complex that frequents much literature and film dealing with the days of Jim Crow gets not only old, but infuriating, the more you experience it. And, of course, there was the whole flat, dry, stereotypical characterization of the black characters, and glossing over the true hardships of the day past the surface of “blacks had it harder”. The book was just lacking to me; but this isn’t a book review (and the book was, to me, more “powerful” than the movie).

Recently, the film adaptation of The Help has been catching a lot of flack. Take a look at that poster up there. That tagline. Oh, how nice. Change. Change means a lot to black people. Black people have fought and died - not just died, but been tortured and murdered and abused in every way possible - for change. You know where our current state of racial equality didn’t come from? A fucking whisper. It came from shouting - from screaming. A whisper. Give me a break. 

Before I saw the film on Friday, I struggled with whether or not I would. I loved every single person cast, but the book - while pretty good - still rubbed me the wrong way. Did I want to support it? I wasn’t sure. I’m not quite as finicky as some of my friends when it comes to race in film. You’d have to kill me and drag my corpse into a theater to get me to sit through a Tyler Perry film, but other than that, I try to look at it all subjectively - racism, sexism. I guess I’m a tad bit defeatist in that way. I expect almost everything to have some sort of ‘ism’ in there somewhere, because it usually does.

A lot of what I was reading in blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter was making me sad. Those that had seen and enjoyed the movie (and the book) dug. their. heels. in. IT WASN’T RACIST! I DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING RACIST! WELL IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR RACISM I’LL BET YOU CAN FIND IT IN ANYTHING! The defensive hackles were up, immediately, as if by them enjoying something that had been written off as racially problematic, that they were being attacked. And that wasn’t it, not at all.

If you didn’t see the racial issues, fine. You’re lucky. Most likely, you’re white. Or at least not black. Or maybe you are, but you still have been granted the privelege to be blind to when something is wrong in this sense. Or you’re making excuses or trying to justify it. Because there is a lot wrong with The Help, whether you see it or not. That doesn’t mean you’re racist. Just that your perspective is askew. 

I decided to see the film; I had to. I didn’t want my opinions to be undermined by the fact that I didn’t know the ins and outs of it all. And just to get it out of the way now, I liked the movie. I did. But the thing is, that doesn’t really mean much when it boils down to it. Look at this chart that I tweeted on Friday. You know what? Every single one of those films that I’ve seen? I liked. Some of them, I love - and that’s despite the race problems with them. 

Regarding The Help, the filmmakers tried their hardest to adapt this book with sensitivity toward the times, and the subject matter. I felt that the main issue with the book - the speech - was toned down just enough to make it acutally MORE authentic than in the book. It doesn’t start off that way though, with the “You is this you is that” speech to the little girl. *insert hard eye roll* I didn’t see anything in this film, besides what I was supposed to, that was racist - and maybe that’s because they, even more than the novel, glossed over it. But the film was still, as a whole, a problem, and that’s been gone over very well by other bloggers, black and white and in between, so I won’t go very deeply into it. A google search will steer you in the right direction.

I’d like to see black people able to tell their story, on such a grand scale as The Help has been able to tell it for them. I’d like to see a book that’s actually from our perspective get as much attention - for a film of that same origin to be granted as large a marketing budget. It’d be a definite change from the norm. A welcome one. It’s so, so very rare. 

As far as everything else: Emma Stone was painfully dull in this movie, and that was disappointing. I love Emma Stone. Maybe she’s best at humor, I’m not sure. Viola Davis was flawless as usual - she will always be a favorite. Octavia Spencer reminds me so much of women in my family that I actually know. I think I was impressed most of all with Jessica Chastain, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next, which I believe is going to be The Wettest County in The World with Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Gary Oldman. It was very pretty to look at - I’m partial to things that make The South look as lovely, aesthetically, as it actually is - and I loved the wardrobe. The story itself would have been…nice, had I not been overwhelmed by disappointment. It’s just heartbreaking that Aibileen wrote her stories, but they weren’t good enough to be anything but transcriptions, notes for Skeeter to acknowledge and adapt. Why couldn’t Aibileen be the successful one? And the falsely “uplifting” end? What, I’m supposed to be happy for Skeeter, despite everything? Bleargh.

I don’t know if you should see The Help or not.  I guess that partially depends on if you’re tired to death of the “white person saving the day” narrative. I’m not going to recommend it, but I don’t encourage anyone to not see it either. Do what you will, you might like it (despite its shortcomings) and you might not. I’m glad I went to see it, and form my own opinion. It wasn’t great, as films go, but it was alright. Better than 30 Minutes or Less, that’s for sure - but that’s another review.

[3/5]

I was so disappointed in Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. I’d heard it compared to Shaun of The Dead (which is one of my favorite movies), and it stars Alan Tudyk (who is my personal Ginger God), so I had very high hopes. Maybe that was the problem.

The movie is about a couple of hillbilly best friends who go off to their new cabin in the woods to relax, run across a group of college kids camping, and a bunch of misunderstanding happens, causing mayhem and gore to ensue. 

I did like it, and I do recommend it if you’re in the mood for a little cheap gore and humor entertainment, but damn. It could have been much better. It does have its moments, and the three leads are pretty good. 

[3/5]

Trollhunter is a Norwegian film about a group of students that set off to investigate a series of bear killings and end up joining with a real, live, Troll hunter. It’s funny and well made, and now I really want to visit Norway because of the over-abundant scenic shots. 

This movie was so suspenseful that I was nauseous for the majority of it, which was thrilling. Sitting there and realizing “holy shit I am so enthralled and terrified that I’m about to throw up” was pretty great. Not the nausea, just the fact that I had it. They did a fantastic job of throwing you right into the middle of the film, more so than other mockumentaries I’ve seen.

Definitely watch this when you get the chance.

[5/5]

This week I read The Local News: A Novel by Miriam Gershow.

It’s about Lydia, whose older, more popular brother (Danny) goes missing one day on his way home. It’s a very honest book, almost uncomfortably so at times. The protagonist, Lydia, didn’t particularly like her brother very much, and although the rest of the community seems to forgotten what an asshole he was, she hasn’t. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss him or didn’t love him or that she doesn’t want him home - she does, all of those things - we’re just privy to her innermost thoughts, and that’s part of what they are.

The thing is, this book was about 100 pages too long and it left me unfulfilled and empty. The book isn’t about Danny, it’s about Lydia, but since everything in and of her was so deeply affected by him, I needed to know more. The resolution wasn’t much of a resolution at all, and I wonder if that was Gershow’s intention - to make the reader feel what the families of missing people inevitably are left with: nothing. 

I started to bore of Lydia a little over half way in. Her perspective and her life post-Danny was intriguing, but there were only so many of her high school hardships I could sit through without wanting the book to get to the climax already. To be quite honest, I found myself skimming the last few chapters.

The book was well written, and the subject matter was at first intriguing, but it didn’t hold up in the end. 

[2/5]

I was against Chris Evans as Steve Rogers from the moment I heard the rumor he was being considered for the role. I was still against him as Steve Rogers when I walked into the theater Friday night to see Captain America: The First Avenger

I’m happy to say that I was wrong. He is capable of playing more than a douchebag. He can play a complex, conflicted individual with facets and feelings other than douchiness. 

I liked the movie. I didn’t LOVE the movie, but I did like it a whole lot. The performances were great, it was pretty to look at, and the storyline was pretty solid. I’m looking forward to The Avengers (EVEN THOUGH I’M STILL AGAINST MARK RUFFALO AS BRUCE BANNER).

[4/5]