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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay by: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

WARNING:  IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FIRST HUNGER GAMES FILM OR READ THE BOOKS, GO SEE THE MOVIE AND THEN COME BACK TO THIS REVIEW!!!!!

     This is one of my most anticipated films of 2013.  How does it stack up with the first one?
     President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has a problem.  After Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) won the 74th Hunger Games, there have been rumors of a possible rebellion in the 12 districts of Panem.  The Hunger Games were set up by the Capitol in order to prevent a rebellion such as this from happening, but so far, it's looking like the districts are ready to rebel against the Capitol once more.
     This year is the 75th Hunger Games.  But it's not just any Hunger Games this year, …

Thor: The Dark World

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Screenplay by: Christopher Yost and Christopher Markus

     I have to say, that if I were a person in the world where The Avengers exist, I'd wonder about why aliens love to attack Earth of all places.  It seems like Earth is being attacked so much throughout all of these movies.  Wouldn't you agree?  It would seem quite strange to live on a planet that gets attacked by some weird threat every few months.
     But more importantly, we have heroes like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to save the day from enemies we know nothing about.  After the battle of New York in The Avengers, the 9 realms of Asgard have fallen into chaos and Thor must make peace among them before the worlds align in what's called the Convergence, an event in which a portal opens linking all of the worlds, including Earth.
     Meanwhile, there's a race of people called Dark Elves …

Ender's Game

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, and Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Screenplay by: Gavin Hood
Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

    Long before this story begins, aliens known as the Formics have come to invade and colonize Earth.  Humanity just barely survives and wins the war.  But now, there is a fear that the Formics will return, and it is up to the International Fleet to make sure that the humans are ready for a second war.
    Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is only a child, but the hope of winning the next war rests entirely with him.  He is offered a chance to defend the human race from the Formics, and leaves his family behind in order to take it.  He is taken to Battle School off planet where he learns to fight, and then to Command School where he learns to lead.  What he experiences at Battle School and Command School will turn him into something he's not sure he's willing to be, a killer.  Will he …

All Is Lost

Starring: Robert Redford
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Screenplay by: J.C. Chandor

Robert Redford is lost at sea.  Please somebody rescue him!  He's a terrific actor!!
     Imagine Life of Pi without the tiger in the boat.  It's just a man and his thoughts while he is lost at sea.  All Is Lost is pretty much exactly that.  Robert Redford's character, known only as "the man", is sailing by himself when his boat is struck by a floating cargo container, ripping a massive hole in the side of the boat and causing lots of water to rush in, but not fully sinking the boat.  After suffering this blow and going through a massive storm, the boat eventually sinks, leaving the man stranded at sea in his life raft, waiting to be rescued.  Will he survive?
     I'm a big fan of a simple story.  I don't like to think too much about a movie's story unless the story calls for audiences to think.  All Is Lost is perhaps the simplest storyline I've ever seen in a movie. …

12 Years a Slave

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Screenplay by: John Ridley, based on Solomon Northup's autobiography 12 Years a Slave

    And here we have another film about a dark period in United States history.
    Solomon Northup is a free man, born and raised as such.  He lives in New York with his family in the 1840s and is a successful violinist.  One day, two men from a carnival company notice his talents and want to hire him.  They deceive him and kidnap him, and in turn, sell him into slavery in the South, where he is given an entirely new identity.  From this point forward, he is known to the slave owners as Platt.
    He is first sold to a plantation owner, Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Ford is not a tremendously nice slave owner, but certainly more benevolent than the plantation owner to whom Ford sells Platt (Solomon Northup) to, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
    He spend…

Captain Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, andBarkhad Abdirahman
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay by: Billy Ray
Based upon the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" by Richard Phillips

     Yay!!!  Another pirate movie!!  Oh wait...it's not that kind of pirate movie.  My bad...
     So this might not be your average pirates with the eye patches and the wooden legs, but this is the true story of Somali pirates who, in 2009, went out to sea and took over the cargo ship Maersk Alabama.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, the captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), was abducted for a ransom by the Somali pirates and ultimately (spoiler alert) it took SEAL team six to rescue him from the hijackers.  
     For many of us who remember watching this story play out on the news, it's in pretty recent memory because it only happened four years ago.  So how did this story play out on the big screen?  I'd say pretty dam…

Gravity

Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay by: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón

     Disaster movie fans, aspiring astronauts, and people who just like space in general, this is the film for you!
     Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are on a space walk fixing the Hubble space telescope.  A satellite that's been shot down by a missile has created a debris field, causing a chain reaction and hitting other satellites and debris at their altitude which flies straight toward them.  Much of the equipment and much of the ship gets destroyed and the mission must be aborted.  But with the ship destroyed too, it's up to Stone and Kowalski to figure out how they're going to get back to Earth.  
     One of the things I love about this film is that there are only two actors in the entire film.  Every other person listed in the cast is only a voice.  There are no extra characters in the film to deal with and there are no…

Summer 2013: A Review

I love going to the movies.  I always have.  And for the last few years, I have truly loved writing reviews for movies that I see in theaters.  I started writing reviews out of boredom one summer and it has since turned into the number one thing I want to do with my life.  Ever since then, I've wanted to be a film critic.
    There's something magical about going to a darkened theater and watching something on a large silver screen.  If you go to as many movies as I do, it probably wouldn't be quite as magical an experience after a while.  But it's still fun to go to the movies on the weekends.  I won't stop no matter how bad the movies get.
    So how was the summer at the movies?  Some years, it's a great place to go to beat the heat for a few hours.  There's usually something good that's playing that's worth seeing.  Sadly, there weren't a whole lot of great movies this summer that made the theaters good places to beat the heat.  And now…

Don Jon

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, and Tony Danza
Directed and written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    To the gentlemen with significant others, clear your internet history BEFORE you see this movie with them.
    Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has an interesting life.  He cares about only a few things; his apartment, family, church, friends, girls, and porn, especially the porn.  He's nicknamed "Don" because he hooks up with the most attractive girls every weekend.  One night at the club, he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).  She's different from all the other girls Jon hooks up with.  She wants more than just a happy ending one night, meaning Jon's going to have to change his game if he wants to get with her.  And as much as he likes her, he likes his porn even more.  She hates that he watches porn, so something's going to have to give.
Don Jon is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature film w…

Rush

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, and Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Ron Howard
Screenplay by: Peter Morgan
Based on true events

    Behold, a look into why Formula One racing is so dangerous.
    It's the 1970s, and Formula One auto racing is extraordinarily popular all around the world.  Our two main characters, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) have a tremendous rivalry that has captivated the world.  At the time the film takes place (1976), Lauda is the reigning world champion and looking to take the crown again.  But Hunt stands in his way, even with all the technical difficulties his team is having with the car.  Part way through the season, Lauda experiences a terrible crash in which he suffers severe burns all over his body, making it difficult to drive.  Who will win the world championship?  Formula One fans, you probably know the whole story.  
    Similarly to Formula One racing, this is a relatively fast paced film.  It's fast enough to keep yo…

The Spectacular Now

Starring: Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay by: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Based on the novel by Tim Tharp

    It looks like we have another teen romance movie on our hands.     Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a typical hard partying student.  He's a high school senior who acts like nothing really matters and doesn't care much about anything.  All that changes when he meets Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley).  She's the "nice girl", the inexperienced girl; pretty much the exact opposite of Sutter.  All Sutter wants to do is stay in the same spot for the foreseeable future and not do anything productive.  Aimee has goals and dreams that she wants to achieve.  She wants to move to Philadelphia and make a life for herself in the city.  After a while, these plans begin to include Sutter, because the more time they spend together, the more in love she falls with him.  Will he go with Aimee or stay where he is?     When I firs…

Blue Jasmine

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, and Louis C.K.
Directed by: Woody Allen
Screenplay by: Woody Allen

    Here we have an interesting perspective on what it's like to lose everything we have in life.
    Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) has lost just about everything she's ever had.  Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has recently been arrested and thrown in prison for massive fraud.  The government has seized almost all their wealth, leaving Jasmine with a sense of denial that all of this is really happening.  Seeking to start a new life, she moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), while she can try to pick up the pieces and move on if she can.  Meanwhile, Ginger is dealing with some troubles of her own.
    This is a somewhat troubling story line that is performed quite well and in an interesting fashion.  None of these characters seem like characters audience members are supposed to identify with, either in part or as…

The To Do List

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, and Bill Hader
Directed by: Maggie Carey
Screenplay by: Maggie Carey

     Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) is going to college in the fall.  There are a few things she wants to get done before she goes to school though.  Her biggest goal for the summer is to lose her virginity to a guy named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).  So, she's created a list of all the sexual experiences she thinks she should have before going to college, including intercourse with Rusty Waters.  This list will be rewarding at some times and will threaten her friendships and potential relationship with her friend Cameron (Johnny Simmons).  Spoiler alert:  You probably can guess many if not all of the things that happen to Brandy as she goes through the list (no STDs and no pregnancy).
The To Do List is easily the raunchiest film of the year so far.  Pretty much all the dialogue in the film has something to do with sex or some aspect thereof, and at times, it can make you squir…

Pacific Rim

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and Ron Perlman
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by: Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro

     So, it seems like we have yet another apocalypse movie.  And this time, it seems like the threat is so severe that not even the Transformers will be able to stop it.  Time for a new weapon then.
     It's the not to far distant future and the world is once again coming to an end.  There's been a portal found deep in the Pacific Ocean called the Breach.  Giant monsters known as Kaiju are coming through the portal and terrorizing massive cities all around the Pacific Ocean.  Tanks and jets aren't tremendously effective against these monsters.  And so the Jaeger program is born.  The Jaegers are giant fighting robots controlled by two pilots whose minds and memories are blended together in a "drift" which allows them to control the robot.
     The story follows more in depth the life of Raleigh B…

The Heat

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, and Demián Bichir
Directed by: Paul Feig
Screenplay by: Katie Dippold

     So it seems as if we have another cop comedy duo.  This time, our main characters happen to be women, so at least something is different.
     FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) does her job in a rather arrogant and uptight fashion, but she's always closing cases.  She's one of the best special agents in her field and has closed more cases than anyone else in her unit.  There's an opportunity for her to get promoted to a desk job, but she's going to have to prove to her boss that she can handle the job.  So, she's tasked to bring down a drug lord in Boston.  
     That's when she meets Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), a detective for the Boston Police Department.  Mullins is (I guess I'll just say it bluntly) insane.  She causes trouble pretty much everywhere she goes even though she somehow maintains the reputation of being a p…

World War Z

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, and Daniella Kertesz
Directed by: Marc Forster
Screenplay by: Matthew Michael Carnahanand Drew Goddard
Based on the novel by Max Brooks

     The zombie apocalypse strikes again!!!!!
     Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a United Nations employee at the time of the breakout of a disease that turns people into ferocious zombies.  Nobody knows where the disease started or how to stop it.  So, it's up to Gerry to travel all across the world to find safe zones and figure out how to stop this plague from destroying humanity altogether.  
     For those of you who are loyal readers of this blog, you know by now that I'm a fan of concept, the basic idea of the story.  Sometimes a concept can be really bad, yet turns out to be an incredible story once the concept of the story is in context of the film.  In other words, a good telling of the story can make for an incredible film no matter what the basic concept is.  There have been many films released so far thi…

White House Down

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay by: James Vanderbilt

    The White House is under attack again!  This is the second time this year Hollywood's done this!
    John Cale (Channing Tatum) is applying for a job in the secret service.  On the day he interviews for the job, he takes his daughter, Emily (Joey King), on a tour of the White House with him.  Well, on this particular day, weird stuff is to happen.  The U.S. Capitol building falls under attack and so does the White House.  This is no foreign attack, but an attack from within.  Now it's up to Cale to save his daughter and the President of the United States (Jamie Foxx) from this danger.
    I don't know about many of you, but I find this concept to be rather dark and disturbing.  And frankly, it's not entirely original.  We saw this already once this year in Olympus Has Fallen.  The story in White House Down is simple, straight forward, and easy t…

After Earth

Starring: Jaden Smith and Will Smith
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay by: Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan

     So, we have another M. Night Shyamalan movie.  This is the guy who brought us great films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.  He's also brought us pretty crappy movies like The Happening and The Last Airbender.  After Earth is his latest.  So how does this stack up with his other movies?  It goes in the crappy section.
     When I first saw the trailer for this film last Thanksgiving, I was very intrigued by the concept and it looked really cool.  It's 1000 years after humans have devastated Earth so much that they needed to evacuate the planet to a satellite planet called Nova Prime.  There are creatures that live there that feed off of people's fear and Cypher Raige (Will Smith) is so fearless that he's become a legendary commander.  In this story, he and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) embark on a journey to a quarantined planet (and one of thes…

Man of Steel

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Screenplay by: David S. Goyer

    Superman is one of the oldest superheros ever.  He's been around for about 75 years and there have been about a million different movies and about him.  And, here's another one.  I guess we just can't get enough of Superman.  Or can we?
    Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is not of this world.  He's from the planet, Krypton, a planet whose race is dying due to the planet imploding.  He is sent to Earth to be a symbol of hope for the humans and a symbol that the Krypton race will once again live.  After being freed from prison once the planet implodes, General Zod (Michael Shannon) travels all the way to Earth to take Kent away from the humans in order to recreate the Krypton race and world.  So, once again, the fate of the world is in Kent's hands as he shows the world what he is truly capable of, …

The Purge

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, and Max Burkholder
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Screenplay by: James DeMonaco

     A few years from now, America is a very different country.  Unemployment is at 1%, crime is at an all time low, and prosperity is everywhere.  This seems like a pretty good world to live in.  But then there's twelve hours of hell once a year.  All emergency and law enforcement services are suspended for twelve hours, once a year.  On this night, all crimes are legal, including murder.  This is known as The Purge.
     So, since all this weird stuff happens on the night of the annual Purge, security systems are hot new things to invest in to protect oneself.  James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells such security systems and has one installed in his home to protect himself and his family from the dangers of the Purge.  When his son lets in a stranger who is trying to hide from people pursuing him, the family becomes hostages to these bandits.  They'll do anything to ge…

Now You See Me

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Dave Franco
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay by: Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin

"Come in close, because the more you think you see, the easier it will be to fool you."
    This is one of those movies in which the trailer doesn't show you the full picture of what's going to happen in the film.  I love movies like this.  
    The Four Horsemen is a group of magicians (all played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco) whose talents have truly amazed the world.  But it's when they rob a bank in Paris during their show in Las Vegas that their skills truly shock people, and catches the attention of both the FBI and Interpol.  Now it's up to Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner from Interpol (Mélanie Laurent) to figure out their magic tricks.
     This story has twists and turns all throughout the film.  This is…

Star Trek Into Darkness

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

    Another manhunt movie? Really?
    There's a terrorist in Star Fleet.  He's caused mass damage and taken many lives.  When Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the rest of the starship Enterprise find out who this guy is (Benedict Cumberbatch) and find that he's part of Star Fleet, they go after him.  And where does this manhunt take them?  The Klingon home world.  Will they catch this villain before he causes more damage and kills more people?
    Stylistically, this film isn't a whole lot different from the first film in this series.  For example, in the first film, there is a very intense opening sequence in which Kirk's father becomes the captain of the star ship Kelvin for a few minutes during a crisis that ultimately gets him killed and the ship destroyed.  Into Darkness opens with an equally i…