Thursday, April 18, 2013

Catching Fire trailer reaction!

Well, as all seven of my readers recall, I proudly proclaimed that Catching Fire, along with Oblivion, is my most anticipated film of 2013.

For the uneducated or unaware, I want to introduce you to the word, "retraction." A retraction is in a newspaper or various other things to take something back. In this post, I have a retraction to make: Catching Fire is now my second most anticipated film of 2013 with Oblivion taking the stark, solid 1st place.

Now, I know what you're wondering. "Stephen, why the change of heart?" Well, this is what this trailer reaction is for. Now, if you think that I'm one of those guys who will give you the link to go see the trailer, go screw yourself! You guys have the internet. You guys have brain cells. Go to YouTube or IMDB or whatever and see it yourself. This is strictly to report my reaction to the newly-released trailer for Catching Fire. BT dubs, I love how the release of a trailer is, like, breaking news nowadays. On YouTube, I see at least three videos that say, like, "New Hunger Games Trailer! OMG!" It's as if One Direction was coming to their hometown or something. (If that was the case, by the way, gun sales would go through the roof.)

Anyway, I saw the trailer and the film looks...really good. The direction is competent, Jennifer Lawrence is as badass as ever, and the rebellion and chaos depicted in the book, which I am currently reading and I feel that it's better than the first book, is portrayed to a tee. HOWEVER! With that said, I do have a couple of quibbles with the film, based on the trailer.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not expecting Catching Fire to be perfect. The Hunger Games wasn't and I don't believe this one will be either. Having said that, here are my issues with the film. First of all, Josh Hutcherson looks freaking asleep in the film. From the little bit I saw of him, it looks like he's saying, "Well, seeing how the Twilight film franchise is over, we need another lifeless, droning young actor to replace Robert Pattinson. And seeing how I am raking in the Benjamins from the first film and from that pointless Red Dawn remake (just barely), I guess I have to take that role."

My second and actually final quibble with the film is actually a huge one. It's the portrayal of the government. As I previously stated, I am currently reading the book. In the book, the President is angry at Katniss for her actions at the end of The Hunger Games that not only went against the government, but inspired rebellion from the other districts. One thing leads to another and, as axiomatic yet never entirely blatant punishment, all the previous victors are forced to go back into the Arena, meaning Katniss and Peeta must go, too.

My point is that the President is portrayed as frustrated with Katniss, but he's portrayed as a reasonable yet devilishly intimidating leader. How does the trailer portray him? Pretty much as a cartoon villian, along with some other bullcrap government official, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who I don't remember in the book, at all. They're pretty much sneering dictators and their dialogue is idioticly candid. Some of it includes, "She has to be eliminated," "I agree she should die, but in the right way. The right time, "They're gonna hate her so much, they might just kill her for us. HAHAHA!!" and "Her entire species must be eradicated...because of her." Ugh!

OK, so they are trying to convey how awful the government is. A lot of science-fiction surrounding a utopia, or dystopia, or whatever the correct term is, provides us with some kind of social commentary or even satire. I get it, but why are they overdoing it?

In the book, the subdued execution of the President's anger added to the tension of the book. He pretty much warned her to make sure she can justify her actions or else something bad will happen. It's portrayed sincerely. I can believe it in the book. In the trailer, they seem to water it down for the most accessible and simplistic audience consumption. It's not realistic enough to appeal to fans of the book, but the film itself probably wouldn't appeal to anybody but people who have either read the books, seen the first film, or both. So who are they marketing it for?

To be fair, it is only the trailer and sometimes trailers can hide things or mislead audiences. The trailers for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked make the film look like a apathetic, moronic, and vacuous waste of time that stays distant of the adoring fan base. However, I thought that film is one of my all-time favorite childrens' films. Yeah, I'm a fan. Hatas gon' hate!

So, maybe all my quibbles will be proven unjust. Maybe Josh Hutcherson won't be a walking zombie. Maybe the film's hiding something about the government aspect of it. Maybe I need to finish the goddamn book (definitely true). One can only hope that on November 22, audience members will give thanks to director Francis Lawrence, writer Michael Arndt, and, of course, Katniss! I hope the odds are in our favor.

Well, folks, that was my reaction to the Catching Fire trailer, which can now be viewed online on many websites. I wanna know what you guys think of the trailer. Does it do the book justice or does it send the book to prison? YOU be the judge! Go ahead. Voice your opinions! Later!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Folks, we got him.

On May 2nd, 2011, we got him. The ringleader of one of the most horrific and unfortunately unforgettable events in U.S. history was killed. Mr. Osama bin Laden is dead. While this hasn’t starkly terminated terrorism and while I predict further issues ahead, we are certainly one step closer to ending al-Qaeda. It was one of the most liberating moments in the U.S.A. The arrival of death for a human being isn’t usually greeted with such a jovial attitude, but there it is.

Doing a film on this may not be the boldest decision ever, but it certainly is a risky one. Given the reaction of bin Laden’s death to Americans, it would be easy to delve into some shameless, pandering propaganda. I resume to quote Matt Stone and Trey Parker, “America, F*** Yeah!”

I believe the only tactful way to handle this subject would be to do a procedural that tracks the progress of the hunt for bin Laden. This film does just that. I, also, believe this project calls for a respected, competent director. Kathryn Bigelow? Hell yeah!

Starting from 2003, the film observes the advancement for the extermination of bin Laden. Given this information, the film’s central character is not Osama bin Laden. Instead, the focal point, character wise, is a CIA officer named Maya. The film is, not merely, a procedural, but also a character study on Maya and how her desire for finding bin Laden turns into a healthy yet dominant obsession and how she fully fledges into a true woman.

In order to properly portray a plucky, no-nonsense woman, one would need a praise-worthy, beautifully versatile woman. Well, Hollywood and Lifetime Television certainly has provided us with a lot of them. Jessica Chastain was chosen and she is fantastic in her role, creating one of the most memorable protagonists in movie history. She shows persuasion and an impressive acting range, switching from ferocious determination to humble, teary-eyed liberation.

Of course, the supporting cast is excellent, as well. Of the supporting cast, Jason Clarke is the standout. He infuses his character, Dan, with an ideal blend of intimidation and humility. His dynamic with Maya provides a great dichotomy of logic versus instinct, seeing how Dan uses terror tactics during the bin Laden search. Other performers such as Kyle Chandler, and, (hey!) James Gandolfini are quite good, as well.

I recall seeing the trailers for this film and was incredibly hyped for it. My first viewing left me thoroughly impressed, albeit a little restless. I appreciated its methodical, plodded pace and understood that it was a procedural, but I still had a minor request for the film to pick up the pace a little bit. While it left me tense throughout, I think I was viewing the film in the mindset of making sure the film lives up to my intense hype and I guess it somewhat fell short.

Then, I saw Bigelow’s film, The Hurt Locker, which is one of my all-time favorite films. That film really made me understand Bigelow as a filmmaker. Once I understood that, I viewed Zero Dark Thirty a second time in class and I had a deeper respect for the film. All the great qualities of The Hurt Locker (the masterful screenwriting, done once again by Mark Boal, the way Bigelow designs an anxious atmosphere for the audience, the slow tempo, the restrained yet epic use of music, the unsullied, flexible cinematography, the well-choreographed action) all transferred to this film.

The opening of the film gets it. It begins on September 11th, 2001, certainly a memorable, albeit unfortunate, period of time. However, we find ourselves looking at no captions. No visuals. Just a dark, blank screen with the sounds from 9/11 spliced in. This is the absolutely perfect and ideal way to alert the audience of what lies ahead, to evoke frightening ideas, and to sends chills down the viewer's spine faster than a crack addict sending a text message.

This film also goes further and provokes deep thought. This film has ignited heavy debate on torture tactics and the morality (or lack thereof) of them. I am personally in favor of torture tactics when they are needed. The genius of this film is that it makes an argument for both sides of the terror tactic debate without it being the central topic at hand. The aforementioned dynamic of Maya and Dan provides this non-biased argument. The film, also, provides a final 25 minute sequence that shows the climactic raid of bin Laden’s compound (spoiler, much?). Believe me when I say it’s one of the most flawlessly executed and agonizingly tense action scenes I’ve ever seen. This film establishes Kathryn Bigelow as a cinematic powerhouse. I will greet the trailers to her next film with giddy ecstasy.

RATING: Three and three-quarters stars out of four

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My most anticipated films of 2013

2013? Wow. The world didn't explode. What a shock!

Well, either way, we are currently residing in the year 2013. So far, it sounds like it has been a very middling year for film so far. The highest-grossing film is Oz: The Great and Powerful, a film that has garnered mixed reviews from critics. Texas Chainsaw 3D is said to be the bottom of the barrel for the franchise (I haven't seen that film, but for some reason, I believe those people). And need we mention Movie 43? It's currently unseen by me and given the vitriol and disgust for the film, I feel any comment about it will force the world into a vomiting epidemic, so I'll cease commenting. I might end up seeing it, seeing how I hate myself.

Anyway, I was thinking that Identity Thief was one of my anticipated films of 2013. However, that film has received a heavy heaping of scorn. Even awarded the film with a rare F**k You rating! Damn. Maybe I'm missing something.

However, I started thinking of this one film that looked astonishing to me and then one thing lead to another and then, the idea occured to me to post my anticipated films of 2013 because all five of my readers might care! Now, I'm not going to post a list. In fact, I only have two anticipated films because, like a woman pregnant with twins on her 9th month, I am equally ecstatic for their arrival.

So, drumroll please! My two most anticipated films are...Oblivion and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire! Why? Well, to quote Shrek 2, "Let's explore that, shall we?"

I was instantly excited for Oblivion the moment I saw the trailer for the first time. The effects...look...PHENOMENAL!! I actually had no idea what it was about until I looked it up on WIkipedia and the PLOT sounds awesome! The fact that Tom Cruise has been in Minority Report AND Vanilla Sky? Yes! Morgan Freeman? OH, FRACK YEAH!!

Now as far as Catching Fire, anyone who has read my Hunger Games review knows how much I adore the source material the first one was based on. I am actually currently reading the second book as part of my goal to finish the book before the film comes out. So far, it's spectacular! Better than the first book! Plus, I trust the material in newly-appointed director Francis Lawrence's hands. One of Lawrence's credits is I Am Legend. If Lawrence follows that and makes something of a junior version of that, it could end up being one of my favorite films of all time. Plus, I just wanna see Jennifer Lawrence again                                                                                                                   
  • a) because of her constant sexiness
  • and b) because of her breathtaking performance in my favorite film of 2012, Silver Linings Playbook, that preceded this film
However, those two films actually do have a common bond that makes me anxious and giddy for their arrival. Both films have a writing credit, in some manner, of Michael Arndt.


Michael Arndt is a screenwriter who has built up quite a reputation. His screenwriting debut was Little Miss Sunshine, a very good film. That film won him an Oscar for the screenplay. His second screenwriting foray was Toy Story 3. It got him nominated for an Oscar and the film was loved by everyone, including me, and it is currently the highest-grossing animated film of all time! That's why I am anticipating these two films. Plus, I am putting out a guarantee that if Oblivion rocks, Catching Fire is gonna rock!

However, while I can't see Catching Fire faltering, maybe Oblivion will. Michael Arndt is merely a co-writer for the film, so maybe the other writers don't put Arndt to any legit, exceptional use. Maybe Tom Cruise didn't bring his A-game. Maybe it just drags for long periods of time. Maybe the storytelling is incoherent. Maybe it's just a big bag of style over substance. Couuld this be true? Possibly. I sure as hell hope not. However, seeing how the rest of 2013's selections either come off as weak, unoriginal, or both, I'm putting ALL of my faith and trust in these two films.

Will I see these two films in theaters? Maybe. Seeing how I don't work a job and I don't get paid for writing these reviews (because no one has smartened up and realized that I am a good writer who should receive fame and payment), I may not be financially able to. Will I try to go see them? Damn straight!

Well, now that you all know my most antipicated films of 2013, what are yours? Comment down below. Plus, if by chance you have a free screener copy or free pirated copy or a free link to either of these two films, let me know. ;-) Just kidding! Anyway, tell me what your most anticipated film, or films, of 2013 is. Go ahead! Fire away! Later!

The Hurt Locker (2009)

I feel like it is absolutely essential to start this review off with a little blast from the past. The year was 2009. Sure, it may not be the most far-off year, but what a year it was. It was certainly a gargantuan year for movies. It began as kind of a weak year. But around April, the year took off. I’m not saying all of the films that came out were all masterpieces, but they certainly were memorable with blockbusters filling more cineplexes than we could count. Hell, seven films that were released in 2009 would place on the top 50 list of the highest-grossing films of all time.

However, there were two films that were distinct for that year, both of which were juggernauts in some manner. The first film was Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, the war film that specifically won the hearts of film critics. Most, if not all, of the major film critics in America placed this on their year-end best-of lists. It was a critical juggernaut.

The second film was James Cameron’s Avatar. In terms of this film, “juggernaut” would be an understatement. It completely swept through the consciousness of modern audiences and became the highest-grossing film of all-time, grossing over 2 billion dollars worldwide!

Naturally, when it was time to reveal the nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards, honoring the achievements and acmes for film in 2009, two of the Best Picture nominations were The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Ironically, Bigelow and Cameron were married to each other at one point, so it was the quintessential “battle of the sexes.” Who would reign supreme? Would it be the critical darling or the massive box-office success? Or neither? Seeing how I was 13 at the time, I, aptly, predicted the box-office success would win. After all, the Oscars wouldn’t snub the newly crowned highest grossing film of all time, right? Wrong!

I woke up on March 8th, 2010 to check the results and, to my surprise, under the Best Picture winner, I saw three words: The Hurt Locker. Eventually, it was time for me to decide which was the better film. In August of 2012, I finally checked out Avatar from beginning to end and was immediately caught spellbound by its imagery and creativity. This year, I checked out The Hurt Locker, not exactly knowing what to expect. All I’ll say is: Kathryn Bigelow, you win! All hail the queen!

The film alerts all spectators of its theme and plants its feet into the ground by opening with a Chris Hedges quote, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This immediately seems like a change of pace from the typical war film, which usually either depicts the horror, honor, or both aspects of war. Here, war isn’t merely that. To some men, war is a high, an obsession, and a way to get adrenaline flowing. One of these men is Sergeant William James, who has been recently recruited as the new leader of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal after another Sergeant dies after a bombing incident. Despite the uneasy response from his fellow men, he has an intense expertise for defusing bombs. The place of operation is Iraq where any minute of these men’s lives could be their last.

Whenever I review a film, it is my obligation and duty, in my opinion, to take notes beforehand to provide framework for a review and to use as an agenda for the points I aspire to introduce and evaluate. This time, I refused. No word or observation that I could write down could ever fixate and validate my true feeling for the film. I feel that that’s partially what being a critic is all about: feeling. Passion is a necessary facet for a critic to possess and I am most certainly passionate about this film.
I was utterly mesmerized by this film. Every frame of this is hypnotic. Every laugh is explosive. Every beat is excruciatingly tense. Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have flawlessly created an atmosphere of unrelenting and foreboding tension. Every single, solitary moment forced my spine to tingle and my nerves to chill. The fact that any misstep or trick can prove fatal makes this film scarier that most horror films I’ve seen.

Another person that creates anxiety is cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. He provides some of the most masterful camerawork I’ve seen in a while. I’m not flat-out against the use of shaky cam in films, but when one overuses it, my God it can be annoying! Here, Ackroyd knows precisely how to use it. It is a perfect compliment to the gritty nature and uneasy subject matter of the film. It gives the film a more realistic and powerful vibe. When the camera shakes frenetically, it seems to be the external justification of the inward anxiety felt by the audience and the characters. The music is spare yet haunting and just adds to the fear that the film exudes.

The acting is flat-out superb. While players such as Ralph Fiennes, Brian Geraghty, and 8 Mile’s Anthony Mackie do a bang-up job in their roles, the essence of the film belongs to Jeremy Renner as Sergeant James. For a film with such a unique theme, it is essential for the writing and the acting to click as a single unit to form a cohesive and fluid character portrayal. This film does exactly that. What’s remarkable about Mark Boal’s writing is that he doesn’t label Sergeant James. He merely depicts him. Is he a hero? Not exactly. An anti-hero? Probably not. An enemy? No. He is merely a person. A person who feeds off of the bizarre energy of war, but is stuck when he has to play a much larger role: the husband and father. Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant James with every bit of the intense machismo, persistent courage, and sympathetic disorientation that the role requires.

This film is a miraculous achievement. On any level you want to judge the film on (be it sensory, technical, thematic, emotional, performance), the film excels. Currently, I have not seen a war film that plunged me into war and made me feel for the men like this film did. This is a classic that will endure for many years to come. I predict that years from now, film students who are studying war films will have to view this after they spend two months dissecting and analyzing Apocalypse Now. If God loves film as much as I do, hopefully that will happen.

RATING: Four stars out of four!