85: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games – March 23, 2012
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joshua Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Written by: Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray
Directed by: Gary Ross

The plot: “Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.” – IMDB

My thoughts: Yes, I am a fan of The Hunger Games book series (although, I will say that Suzanne Collins’s writing style isn’t exceptional. It’s the plot that’s top notch.) However, rather than blathering on and on about what they did and didn’t do right in the movie in comparison to the book, I’m going to try to keep it strictly movie related.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet my expectations. Mind you, that might be because I had ungodly high expectations for the movie as I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever for it to come out, but all the same, not quite as good as I’d hoped. One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the cinematography. I get that it was an action movie and that shaky-cam adds a certain something. However, the second half of the movie was action and even then, there wasn’t a ton of all out running sequences. The camera just seemed too out of focus, too shaky, and like Tom Stern (director of photography on the film) couldn’t figure out what the hell he wanted to look at (I noticed this big time in the scene where Effie is making her announcements and pulling names). For a lot of the beginning of the movie, it’s hard to get a good look at where you are or who’s on screen.

The acting was a bit touch and go. Jennifer Lawrence had some really great moments but her delivery suffered a bit when it came to either crying or acting lovey-dovey toward Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta. Still, she remained a badass throughout. Perhaps she just plays the serious side of things a bit better on screen. But I must say, it was the supporting characters that blew. me. away. First of all, when is Woody Harrelson not wonderful? I swear you could give that man a script covered in shit and he’d make it work. He was perfect as the drunken, but still very wise, mentor Haymitch. Elizabeth Banks (and the entire makeup/wardrobe department) did a pitch-perfect job with Effie. Somehow, she manages to completely likable because of all of her unlikable qualities. Lenny Kravitz was good (not enough screen time, though) as Cinna and the plastic bag guy from American Beauty as the game’s director Seneca Crane was also lovely. And Stanley Tucci…well, do I really need to elaborate?

The set design was incredible. It was exactly as I imagined while reading and somehow better. The one thing I will say in regard to the book vs movie is that they certainly didn’t sacrifice or cut out anything stylistically. All of settings were so well done – something I think fans probably appreciate.

In general, I enjoyed the movie. I can see a lot of people who didn’t read the books enjoying it. However, my one gripe is all of the people (read: the girls sitting directly behind me) worrying only about the love triangle between Gale, Katniss, and Peeta because that’s supposed to be a sub-plot. And later in the books, it might not even qualify as that. The point is, she’s supposed to be a revolutionary and a strong female character. Stop worrying about how the super hot guys feel and worry more about the fact that there’s this 17-year-old girl forced to slay 23/die at the hands of her peers at her governments command. Sheesh!

Stars: 4/5

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80: Slither

Slither – March 31, 2006
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, , Tania Saulnier
Written and directed by: James Gunn

The plot: “A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.” – IMDB

My thoughts: How it’s taken me six years to see this movie is beyond me. Actually, I’m fairly certain I rented it when it first came out and for whatever reason, didn’t watch it. Either way, I’m glad I watched it at this point as I fully appreciated the campiness, the movie references, and a youthful Nathan Fillion so very, very much.

Slither is equal parts disgusting and hilarious. It’s such a strange variety of body horror – worm/leech things jumping in people’s mouths, killing them for a second, and then turning them into zombie things that spit acid at you. Too good. Factor in some dude turning into a squid, impregnating a lady who blows up to the side of a barn and explodes open during birth? That’s a winner for me right there.

I’m such a big fan of horror movies that are almost self-aware or at the very least, play into horror movie cliches in a smart way. And Slither definitely does that. Let’s just go ahead and look at some of the movies it references (not outwardly. No one says, “Hey! It’s like Rosemary’s Baby, get it?!”):

– The family’s name is Cassavetes. The actor who played Guy in Rosemary’s Baby is John Cassavetes
– One of the shops is owned by R.J. MacReady, the name of Kurt Russell in The Thing.
– The bathtub scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street is recreated
– Serenity grenade reference!

Honestly, there are a ton more that even I didn’t get. Either way, it’s totally a movie for movie/pop culture buffs. Hence why I liked it so much.

It was really enjoyable – not perfect so I won’t give it a perfect score, but I did really like it all the same.

Stars: 4/5

75: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black – February 3, 2012
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
Written by: Jane Goldman
Directed by: James Watkins

The plot: “A young lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals.” – IMDB

My thoughts: For whatever reason, I saw this at midnight on its opening day. I have considerably long days so I found myself a bit tired at the beginning of the movie. It takes a solid 20 minutes for things to really get freaky and initially, my thoughts were that it would be full of cheap scares and unfortunately turn out to be more like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Luckily, it was effectively creepy.

I give most of the creepy credit to the art department because the toys and dolls in that movie were HORRIFYING. At one point, a shot hovered over a doll with blonde hair and jagged, shark teeth and the entire theater nervously laughed. And there was a clown doll and one too many monkeys to sit comfortably with me. My friends and I all determined that the very early 1900s would not have been an idyllic time to grow up or live in. Everything seemed distinctly…evil.

The plot was a bit tired, but keep in mind, it’s based on a book from the 1980s so I would venture to guess that the whole “vengeful/unfinished ghost story” wasn’t quite as overused as it is now. I thought the film did a really good job with a plot that’s been seen countless times. And it was great that they made it so dark. Kids were seen being set on fire and spitting out blood. I think that’s at least a little disturbing.

Beyond plot and the creep-factor, there were some absolutely gorgeous landscape shots. The initial shot of the train, with rolling green fields, perfect skies, and a line of smoke coming of the train was incredible and I was awestruck at the shot of the road leading to the island. The film was really beautiful visually which is a nice change of pace for a horror/thriller movie which doesn’t always pay attention to that stuff.

And finally, the acting. Daniel Radcliffe has certainly come a long way since the first Harry Potter movies. Despite being pocket-sized, he has an intense presence on screen. Everyone was wonderful in the film and it was nice to see such a distinctly English film (Daniel Radcliffe is probably the only notable actor to mainstream American audiences) get a warm reception in America – or at least in the theater I was in. It was pretty full and people seemed to generally like it.

Stars: 4/5 (mostly due to the somewhat lackluster plot)

AND NOW, FOR A FEW SPOILERS:

For anyone who saw the film, God damn that ending! I really thought that DanRad was going to save his (totally adorable) son and the ghost would be done since someone finally saved a child! But I guess her whole “Never forgive! Never forgive!” wasn’t an exaggeration. Jennet (was that a common name in the 1800s?) meant business and she was going to kill every child she could find.

74: Elephant

Elephant – October 24, 2003
Starring: Alex Frost, John Robinson
Written and directed by: Gus Van Sant

The plot: “Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.” – IMDB

My thoughts: Elephant deals with a touchy subject, being released a few years after and obviously based on the Columbine High School shooting. Rather than being sympathetic toward the victims or the shooters, Van Sant takes an extraordinarily unbiased stance throughout the duration of the film, leaving it up to the viewer to form their own opinions and explore their own feelings.

The most notable thing about the film is probably Van Sant’s ridiculously long shots, often shot with steadicam and following a student throughout the school. He does a really impeccable job of sticking with characters, who are essentially random and don’t play an integral role to the plot (with the exception of the shooters.) He also does a great job of showing us characters that appear in other character-focused scenes, which might highlight our level of awareness thereby symbolically proving how unaware people are of other people that may pose risks or might be showing some cries for attention. I don’t know – something like that.

In all honesty, the movie manages to be boring and tense at the exact same time. On one hand, we really are watching a typical day in a high school unfold and it isn’t especially interesting or exhilarating. On the other hand, we know that some kid (or kids) is going to shoot up the school and we spend a solid three-quarters of the film waiting for something to happen. It’s only a matter of time and it keeps everyone on edge. Especially considering the way Van Sant shot the film, with time not being linear and giving us a lot of shots that were just begging to end in a gun shot out of nowhere.

My one gripe with the film is that it was hard for me to stop thinking “What kind of high school is this?” – kids just roam around freely and do as they please throughout the day with hardly any teachers/adult supervisors in sight. And as far as I can tell, the film is set in present day so I don’t think the goal was to illustrate how lax security was versus how tight it is at a lot of schools after Columbine.

I’m not sure if I could say that I enjoyed the film, but it’s definitely stuck with me. It’s memorable and verges on being an “experience” while watching it. I was also really impressed with the young actors, some of whom aren’t even really actors. It was an honest and raw film, definitely a worthwhile watch.

Stars: 4/5 (mostly because I found parts a bit confusing and/or boring)

65: Battle Royale

Battle Royale – June 12, 2001
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

The plot: “In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act.” – IMDB

My thoughts: Okay, so I watched this movie after reading The Hunger Games series and then hearing everyone on all of the Internet say “OMG, it’s just Battle Royale with a girl as the protagonist and it’s not even as good so blah blah blah,” and so I figured “I should probably watch that…” So I did!

And as it turns out, the Internet is right.

Moving past it’s similarities to THG (and believe me, there are a lot. So many in fact, I’m kind of surprised Suzanne Collins didn’t get sued or something), more importantly we should talk about Battle Royale itself. It’s based on a book, which I haven’t read so I can’t really do a whole “is the book better than the movie?” comparison.

The worst part of the movie is that it’s centered around a bunch of young teenagers and the problems are that:

1. NONE of those actors look even close to 13/14. My suspension of disbelief only goes so far and I just couldn’t see those fully developed, decidedly not pre-pubescent were young teens.
2. As everyone died off, inevitably a boy or girl would say “I always liked you/I always thought you were cute/I really wish we’d had sex before you got a hatchet to the back of the head,” which ruined it for me a bit. I guess it showed that, I don’t know, just because they were young didn’t mean they didn’t have feelings or regrets? Something like that.

For being a movie with a disturbingly dark premise, they certainly left plenty of room for humor – one of my favorites being the Battle Royale training video. It’s so over the top and hilarious with a giggling Japanese girl (at left). At one point, she says “We have randomly selected weapons to put in your kits, so you might get lucky, and you might not.” Then she picks up an axe and says, “This one is SUPER lucky!” Case in point, one of the character receives a pot lid as his weapon.

It’s delightfully glib and violent and for me, that’s a top notch combination. So, with the exception of all the silly teenage “I really have a crush on you, please don’t cut off my head with that machete” bits, I quite enjoyed it. I recommend it to anyone who has read The Hunger Games as an interesting little comparison. People have already made a whole bunch of them!

Stars: 4/5

63: Phone Booth

Phone Booth – April 4, 2003
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland‘s voice, Forest Whitaker
Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: Joel Schumacher

The plot: “Stuart Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, pinned down by an extortionist’s sniper rifle.” – IMDB

My thoughts: Did this movie really come out in 2002? Why does it feel like it just came out a year or two ago? Well, I’m a little bit ashamed that I watched this movie on purpose, but I did it all the same and I won’t deny it.

So basically, the real plot of this is that Colin Farrell is a fucking asshole. He’s some PR guy with a wife and a woman he’s having some kind of emotional affair with (Katie Holmes in the role of a life time.) He calls her from a phone booth regularly (he tells her it’s because it’s quiet and she believes it. Come on girl, get with it!) and one day, after he hangs up with her…THE PHONE RINGS!

And who should be on the other end but one Mr. Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland? I couldn’t help but think of Scream with his very threatening, horrifyingly playful voice. Anyway, Kiefer’s goal is to make Colin realize and admit what a dick he’s been and if he doesn’t he/other people will die? “How?” you ask. Easy – Kiefer’s got a sniper rifle and he’s watching the whole thing!

So, it’s some socio-psychological-philosophical movie veiled as a thriller/crime movie. And yeah, it’s either supposed to teach the audience to not be such a dick and to treat other’s with respect because karma will get you or if you’re not nice, some lunatic sniper will stalk you, force you to stay in a phone booth and help you work through your problems with a gun to your head. I don’t know which. But let’s get to the good stuff, because we all know Colin Farrell played a great asshole and Forest Whitaker was the well-intentioned, logical cop.

Kiefer. Kiefer, Kiefer, Kiefer. The man can deliver a line whether it’s on screen or from a sound booth. He was simultaneously creepy and utterly hilarious. Some favorite lines, always occurring over the telephone:

Kiefer: Think about it. Why would a man with a cell phone call a woman every day from a phone booth?
Katie Holmes (in a baby voice): He said it was quiet.
Kiefer: Pam, that’s just stupid.

Hooker: God dammit, man! You gone made me hurt my dick hand!
Colin: Oooh! I’m sure you’re just as good with the other hand.
[Kiefer laughs]
Colin: Go away!
Hooker: I’ll be back bitch.
Caller: I was worried for you there, Stu. I thought she was going to poke an eye out with that…that hand.

[Colin giving Kiefer the silent treatment]
Kiefer: Stu, don’t do this. Please, come on. My sainted mother used to do this. She used to dish this out…Stu, please don’t do this. Stu, you’re bringing back my unhappy childhood. Stu, talk to me, please! Talk to me! I can’t take it Stu…Ahhhh!
[Kiefer cackles]
Kiefer: I’m kidding. I had a very happy childhood.

And there it is. Phone Booth. Predictable, obvious, overdone. Hilarious, entertaining, and surprisingly (maybe not surprisingly, I don’t know) acting.

Stars: 4/5

62: The Rock (only 15 years later)

The Rock – June 17, 1996
Starring: Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Nicolas Cage
Written by: David Weisberg, Douglas Cook, Mark Rosner
Directed by: Michael Bay

The plot: “A renegade general and his group of U.S. Marines take over Alcatraz and threaten San Francisco Bay with biological weapons. A chemical weapons specialist and the only man to have ever escaped from the Rock attempt to prevent chaos.” – IMDB

My thoughts: Yep, just 15 years after release and I finally sat down with my big bro and watched The Rock. I don’t think I would have appreciated it at the age of 6, but at the age of 22, it was glorious.

First things first, in Sean Connery’s first scenes, he looked like an unstable, homeless Gandalf or Dumbledore which I took utter delight it. He’s usually so clean-cut and surly. Initially, he was a hot mess and surly but soon enough, he was lookin’ fresh. And who had the best lines? Sean did. DUH. Perhaps one of my favorites was after Nic Cage said he’d “do his best”. I can’t wait to use it as soon as the next opportunity presents itself. Here! I’ve gone ahead and embedded it for your viewing pleasure, as it seems all of the Internet loves it, too!

Nic Cage was…Nic Cage. I don’t know what more I can say. If you don’t know what that means, then I don’t believe you’re a real human.

It was a Michael Bay movie. It was rife with explosions and lots of gun action – could anything less be expected? And it wasn’t shitty, super over-the-top action because this shit is vintage Michael Bay when he still had to at least pretend he was getting some plot mixed in with those explosives.

It was, assuredly, a cliched action movie. But most importantly, was it entertaining? Were there some unbelievable lines that I’d like to go back through and jot down so I never forget? YES. A million times, YES.

Stars: 4/5