Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who's Hungry? Reel Rhino Reviews: The Hunger Games

So until today, I have resisted this Hunger Games thing.  Everybody has been raving about the've got to read them, they say!  I have resisted fearing that we had on our hands, the likes of the second coming of the Twilight Saga.  I was wrong.

I was tempted to get into the books before this came out, but I resisted for one main reason.  I didn't wanted to spoil a decent movie, with a much better book.  From what I have been hearing from fans of the book, the movie does justice to the written version, so perhaps my fears were overwrought with memories of The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, both FANTASTIC Dan Brown books, both TERRIBLE Ron Howard movies. Would I have liked those movies more if I hadn't read the books?  Who knows, but I wasn't going to chance it.

So I got up early on this fine Friday, to check out the 9:45 AM IMAX show at my home theater of AMC Barrywoods.  I expected a larger crowd, but there were only about 100 in the huge auditorium.  It was 9:45, though, maybe too early for some movie goers....for me, it was a great opportunity to AVOID THE CROWD.  I am sure the evening showings were an absolute mess!

The story is simple, a civil uprising in the world of PAN-AM was quelled in the past by the government.  The world consists of 12 districts and as penance for their uprising, each year each district would offer up one young man and young woman as tribute to the Hunger Games.  Their names were drawn from a bowl and depending on things you received from the government through the year, your name may be in there more than one time, increasing the odds of your selection.  Of the 24 competitors selected for the competition, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! (Sorry, that's highlander!)  But still it's true, there can be only one winner, in a fight to the death battle arena style competition, in which the arena is this futuristic gaming cage consisting of forests, mountains, fields, and rivers.  Lots of places to hide, plan an ambush, or cry for mommy, if that's your cup of tea.

This is a sci-fi, fantasy, action, adventure, love-story, but also methinks, it falls into the realm of post-apocalyptic (of sorts) and me likely likely!! 

We focus our attention on District 12, where young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to survive with her mother and her sister, hunting for whatever she can find them to eat.  We meet her early on and we can tell she is quite proficient as a survivor.  She has a close friend in Gale (apparent man-candy to most young ladies in Liam Hemsworth), who dreams of their families running away together, away from the oppression of the PAN-AM government and their wicked Hunger Games.

The day of The Reaping (the selection of the tributes) is upon their District,.and the fancy-schmancy Effie Trinket (an almost unreconizable Elizabeth Banks) is their to lead the ceremonies as the District's liaison to the games.  Katniss has a younger sister, Primrose, who is in shambles because this his her first year with her name in the bowl.  Of course, the odds are stacked way against her being selected because the older you are and the more in debt you are to the government, the more times your name is in that bowl.  As fate would have it (and for the sake of good storytelling!), of course young Prim is selected.  With that event, District 12 is then presented with its first ever volunteer for tribute in Katniss stepping in to take the place of her much younger sister.

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of the town baker, is selected as the male tribute.  The two are given fleeting moments to say goodbye to their families, and then they are off to a two week stretch of pagentry, celebrity, training, and then the ultimate fight to the death.

On their travels via a high speed futuristic floating (magnets?) train to the capitol city, they meet their "mentor," a former Hunger Games champ, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson).  On the train, the are regaled with lavish food and hospitality.  Haymitch is not so eager to begin their training, as he is quite jaded by all this, but he quickly comes around to their cause.  Once they arrive in Capitol City, they are each given a handler to make them presentable.  Katniss has the good fortune of hooking up with Lenny Kravitz himself, who turns out to be a master of style and panache.

The supporting cast of adults, Kravitz and Harrelson included, are all matched to their characters perfectly.  From Stanley Tucci's jovial host of the Hunger Games talk show, attended by thousands, to the game designer, Seneca Crane (Wes Bently), who has by far the beard of the year in any movie to date.  The enigmatic Donald Sutherland is perfect as the soft spoken, man of little words but harsh glances, President of Pan Am.

After the selection of the Tributes is complete, they are presented to the audience of thousands who have gathered for the Games.  In this process, they have the opportunity to impress folks and possibly garner sponsors that may send then needed items that may aid them during the Games.

There is a training session, some get to know our characters time, and by the midway point in the film, much to my happiness, the games begin.  

This is a PG-13 film that features a competition of battling to the death.  This is mostly a bloodless battle film, but the skill in overall presentation makes you the viewer, forget how mild the violence is, compared to what it could be, ala say, The Running Man.

The game site is a beautiful landscape, that is controlled precisely by a computer control room, meaning the game designer can affect the outcome, insomuch that he tries to goad the Tributes into combat when there are lulls in the competition.

This film reminded me of sorts of Firefly, the cult classic Whedon series, in that there is a seamless combination of high-tech sci-fi concepts intermingled with old world, outworld type of Macgyver tech, designed on the fly so that the competitors can survive.

This is an out an out adventure film.  Jennifer Lawrence is a very strong lead and Josh Hutcherson holds his own surprisingly well.  I was quite surprised at the lack of screen time for Liam Hemsworth, but from my understanding, he becomes more prominently involved in the subsequent entries in this violently popular trilogy.

I learned from a co-worker today that Jennifer Lawrence and Director Gary Ross, in an interview on NPR, revealed that each day brought an hour hike in and out of the very rural set that was used for the Games grounds.  That is really something...piggyback rides anyone?  Sherpas?  Hopefully they had some kind of a hookup!

The screenplay was written by the novelist, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, and the Director.  I think having Collins on board is what has helped keep everyone so happy, but for my money, they knocked this story out of the park!  There were some very touching moments and I thought the selection process was especially heartfelt, as even though we had only met our characters for a few moments before we learn that Katniss will be the D12 warrior, her loyalty to her family and friends is absolutely palpable.  The story is well told from start to finish and I am very much looking forward to the sequel!

The big question is, now that I know for sure that I will read the first book, will I be able to keep from reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay in the interim?

The critics seem to love this film, the audiences seem to love this film, the fans of this book seem to love this film and you know what, I loved this film.  I enjoyed it from start to finish and I certainly was glad to have caught it on the IMAX screen, as it is limited in that regard, playing only one week on the super-duper big screen.  I wonder if the theaters will be happy that Hunger Games gets bumped by Wrath of the Titans next week?  Hunger Games set the midnight record for a non-sequel opening, I think it will be tough for the Titans to knock off Katniss next week!  THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!

4.5 of 5 HORNS for this fine flick!

As a final and interesting aside, another friend at work today brought up the similarities between this and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.  I remember reading that back in 8th grade and being disturbed (a little) but also in absolutely loving it!  You can read it, if you haven't, here:

It's a quick read and it is worth it.  I really used to love short stories in English and Lit classes!  The Most Dangerous Game, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and so many more!  Such great tales, told in so few words!  

I hope you all have a great weekend!!

Until later, take care!
Reel Rhino

**Thanks to Hermione for pointing out my is in fact Panem, as opposed to Pan Am, which I thought it was.  Oops!  None the less, thanks Hermione!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

21 Jump Street, Friends With Kids, John Carter, Thin Ice

I continue to face challenges with my health, but I have many people in my world who give me strength and for that I am thankful!  I live out loud and although I will likely eventually share everything via the Reel Rhino, for now, just know that I'm not super duper, but I persist.

For you, the loyal reader, my time away from work has yielded a higher theater going volume.  This did have the huge benefit as I noted last post of getting me to see A Thousand Words, the Eddie Murphy gem, that will go overlooked by most, likely forever.  Critics have hated on it, but if you look at the general masses response, they have been much more positive.  I mention it here again for the last time, check this flick out, you will be pleasantly surprised.

This week brought about the 70th Anniversary theatrical re-release of Casablanca.  This is truly one of the greatest films of all time and holds up and I believe it will hold up forever.  Adventure, romance, intrigue, and laughs....there is something special to the movies of the bygone era.  I kick myself for not reaching into the "oldies" for so long, it was only the mid-2000's before I took up the mantle of trying to watch anything older than 1980.  Sad, but in the time since, I have done what I can to make up for my errant ways.  If you have never seen Casablanca, check it out matter your taste in film, it is a great watch.  It always gets how great the wit and zing of the jokes were from that era.  Casablanca is a gem of the cinema.

Friends With Kids (3.5 of 5 Horns) was a decent romantic dramady that seemed to meander about a little too haphazardly.  I respect the indie nature of it, especially from writer/director/star Jennifer Westfedlt, but that being said, why were there so many marquee stars in this thing and why were they all so damn underused?  This was a 3.5 that I could have easily given a 3, that easily should have been a 4 or better!

21 Jump Street (4 of 5 Horns) was everything that the critics have raved about, and more.  Every joke hit and the story was cohesive from start to finish.  I am a big fan of Jonah Hill and much less one for Channing Tatum.  He was wholly acceptable here, even for my tastes.  I really liked this flick, but I didn't go gaga for it. Again...all of the jokes play out well, so I have no complaints and feel comfortable giving it a good ol' 4 of 5 Horns.

John Carter: The IMAX Experience (4 of 5 Horns) was much like 21 Jump Street for me...I really liked it, but I didn't absolutely love it.  A very rich story with very high production values in all its glorious IMAX splendor, the 3-D on that huge screen was truly something to behold.  I went in not knowing much of the story of John Carter, and while this made the viewing much more enjoyable, the sheer number of characters and complexity of things made following the tale a challenge at times.  I think Taylor Kitsch has chops and even though this film will be viewed as a box office failure, hopefully his performance will help him garner some star power for some more memorable supporting roles in the future.  He kind of reminds me of Ben Foster in that way, not really ready for prime time, but still a damn fine actor.  Of course the "not Andy Garcia" but shows up in everything actor, Mark Strong, is featured as one of the prime baddies, and he plays the role perfectly.  That guy is seemingly everywhere!  Go see John Carter, but for being a few minutes too long, it's a pretty good movie.

Thin Ice (4 of 5 Horns) is a movie that you probably haven't ever heard of.  I hadn't, until the day it showed up in the AMC movie listings the day before the film opened last week.  The movie is fairly short, but was a bit draggy at the beginning.  I can best describe it as Fargo-esque, with this film set in the insurance biz, rather than in that of used cars.  Greg Kinnear is excellent and Billy Crudup is nothing short of genius in his role.  Alan Arkin is so dynamic as an actor and as the shut-in old man, with his dog Petey, he plays the role to perfection.  Kinnear is a smarmy insurance salesman and he finds an easy mark in Arkin's old man, who isn't really sure he needs insurance, but buys a policy because his TV stops works...yeah, he missed the point, which was the point of the gag, of course.  When it comes to be that the old man happens to have a piece of property of great significant value, Kinnear sees it as an opportunity for a low risk heist.  Things go terribly awry and there is a series of big twists that wrap things up.  The story is tight and enjoyable and I have no idea why this was such a weal release.  Maybe it will pick up speed as an On-Demand flick or on DVD, but if you want an entertaining day at the theater, check it out...

Or A Thousand Words, that is!  Lest I digress!

Until later, "Here's lookin' at you kid!"
Reel Rhino

PS...A happy Hunger Games weekend to all!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

4 Horn Review for A Thousand Words - PLEASE READ ON -- Plus Wanderlust, The Lorax, Silent House

The past few weeks have been tough.  I have been experiencing some medical issues that have really kept me from the keyboard.  I can't even apologize for my absence, because it truly has been that rough a go.  

The upside is that with everything going on, I have been able to see some flicks...some posts I open by saying I am going to be short, and write all night.  This time, I am going to be short, really.

Wanderlust: 4 of 5 Horns -- A really funny movie that is both a great statement on what is important in life while also being quite hilarious.  Plus, this is movie that gave us Justifer Anitheroux.... :-)  Tony, that one's for you.  Justin Theroux was spectacular as the guru.  Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston had great chemistry and Rudd was in great form, with some great outtakes included during the credits.  And the supporting cast was phenomenal, Alan Alda included.  Check this out for a fun, R-rated run through the theater.

Silent House: 3 of 5 Horns -- This movie had me at hello.  A film shot to emulate a single take from start to finish, and it worked.  It worked great.  Elizabeth Olsen continued channeling the talent she exuded in Martha Marcy May Marlene and for my money, she is by far my favorite Olsen, my childhood love of Full House excluded.  I really thought as a home invasion film, things were working very nicely.  It was set up perfectly and it could have finished just as solid.  But the train came off the rails a bit, and without spoiling it, I can just tell you that this film will not take you where you think it will.  I will say that a girl in my theater started crying at one point she was so afraid, there were a variety of scream out loud moments, and that there were many groans heard from throughout the theater when the film made its reveal.  

The Lorax: 4.5 of 5 Horns -- Yes, it is a movie with a message, but what is wrong with that, I ask?  This movie is well made with great 3-D and animation.  The story runs perfectly from beginning to end and it is appropriate for all ages.  It has cleared $129 million in 12 days domestically, which ain't too shabby.  The story is sweet and true and timely, and for a Dr. Suess adaptation, I think it may be the best of them yet.

A Thousand Words: 4 of 5 Horns -- This film sits at the hallowed spot of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yes, you read that correctly....0%.  This is a shining example of when we as film goers have to look past the critical bullshit and think about what really makes a good movie.

Eddie Murphy has a stigma that he will likely carry with him for the rest of his life.  He has Sherman Klump and Norbit to thank for that.  Meet Dave and Pluto Nash didn't help.  But he also has James "Thunder" Early and most of what he did before 1990 as proof that he has true talent and is a stupendously funny man.  And for the record, I can watch Pluto Nash anytime day or night and be a happy man...check it out again and give it another chance.

Well A Thousand Words is a high-concept film, that much is certain.  A fast-talking literary agent (Murphy) tries to woo a spiritual guru as a client, and in the process, the universe sets its sights on him.  He becomes spiritually linked to a tree, and when he speaks, a leaf falls from the tree.  The characters guess at the endgame that when all the leaves drop off, the tree will die, and so will Murphy's Jack McCall.

Forget that Murphy is actually funny from start to finish in this film.  Forget that the talented Clark Duke is also hilarious from start to finish with loads of screen time as MCCall's assistant Aaron.  Cliff Curtis is great as the guru Sinja and Kerry Washington is both gorgeous and accurate in her portrayal of a frustrated wife.

Why is this film hated by the critics?  It is at 60% "liked" by the users on Rotten Tomatoes and while not great, it is at 4.7 on IMDB.

This film tells the story of a man who takes everything for granted and has the only tool he thinks he has in this world taken from him, his power of slick speech.

He has to overcome problems with his family, his mother, his job, and most importantly, himself.

Things get silly at times, as he is relegated to charades to communicate to keep that tree leafy.  Most entertaining are his interactions with 30 Rocks Jack Brayer as a Starbucks employee.  

Eddie Murphy silliness is a good thing in small doses, and for the length of this film, it is a manageable amount here.  Don't forgo this film because of the critics, give it a chance.

I feel that as a character, we grow with Jack McCall and I like the journey on which we are taken.

Yes, I have some weighty things happening in my life right now, so maybe it touched me a little deeper than your average joe, but this is no 0% film.

Please...give this movie a chance.  You will not regret it!  Go in with an open mind...stay the course!

(I hope.)

Until later, take care gang...
Reel Rhino

Monday, March 5, 2012

Goon and Gone with a Smattering of Project X

A few quick flicks...I found it interesting that as my week went on, it was swapping an O for an E that got me from Goon to Gone...

Yes, Seann William Scott has two n's in his name AND he has seemingly forsaken Kevin Smith.  Yes, he passed on Smith's Hit Somebody in lieu of doing this hockey flick instead.  While I think that Smith's effort will in fact be genius, perhaps more in the dramedy genre, Goon holds its own as a solid hockey comedy.

This movie was certainly accentuated by the fact that I caught it at home on Time Warner On-Demand, viewing it with The Kid in the Helmet and Papa Schmer.  Now, Papa was far less entertained than The Kid, but having at least one cohort who got some great belly laughs at all the right moments helped out a great deal in this viewing.

Goon follows Doug Glatt (Scott), a loser who is depressed because he seemingly has nothing in his life that makes him standout.  Doug is down in the dumps and his friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel) takes him to see their local hockey team play.  It is something of medieval times as the games are more about the fights than the hockey.  When Ryan gets a little too mouthy with one of the players going at it, the player hops the wall and heads up into the stands.  Doug quickly finds a beating the hell out of that player.  He is quickly recruited by the team, and takes on the hallowed mantle of "Goon."

Add in a little Alison Pill as a love interest and Liev Schrieber as Ross Rhea, the resident Goon who is currently serving a suspension for breaking the only rule of hockey never fight with your stick.

Written by Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, the ying to Seth Rogen's writing yang, the dialogue is crude at times, but biting and funny.

Papa withstanding, we laughed...a lot.

I don't know if Goon will get a theatrical release, but check it out when you get a chance.  If you can, watch it with friends.  It is readily worthy of a 3.5 of 5 Horn high stick salute!  It's short enough to get in and get out before it wears out its welcome.  Also, Alison Pill is quite stellar.  She was the red-haired drummer from Sex Bomb-Omb in Scott Pilgrim, she was Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, and she was Anne Kronenberg in Milk....she is a beautiful chameleon!  Also, on a downer note, Eugene Levy is here, but its only a down note because his character is quite the straight man to his normal jokey dad role.

This film is not nearly as bad as they say it is.  Amanda Seyfried is quite convincing as the empowered damsel in distress.  Jennifer Carpenter has something of a cameo and for a few moments, she manages to channel Deb Morgan from Dexter, but otherwise she is just a character.

Seyfried is Jill, one year out from narrowly escaping from a serial killer, or so she says, but no one believes her.  Around the one year anniversary, she comes home from the night shift at an all-night diner, and her sister Molly is Gone.  She was studying for an exam, and has seemingly vanished without a trace.  Dash in a history of alcoholism and drug abuse, and Molly's disappearance is potentially just a bender, so the coppers just don't buy it.

What follows is an enjoyable detective-flick where the former victim Jill is the detective, weaving tales to the people who may have clues to where her sister is, with her prime theory that her former kidnapper mistakenly took her sister in her place, to finish the job from when she escaped.

Given that the police don't believe there is a serial killer in the first place, they are a little less than helpful in her search for her sister.

The ending is a little fast in its delivery and while things are resolved to an acceptable level, the speed with which it delivers, almost makes you feel unrequited.  I forgive the ending for the enjoyable ride this film takes you on.  It's not a super movie, its just a solid thriller.

If you've read the bad reviews, look past them and consider giving this a chance.  3.5 of 5 Horns for Gone.

Project X
Check out the trailer for this, and you have seen all you need to see about whether or not you will like it.  It is geared towards the 15 to 25 year old range, but for the likes of old men like me, there is a draw.

You see, this movie exactly depicts how I recall through drunken eyes, some of the greatest nights of my college life.

It is produced by Todd Phillips and it is presented to some extent as a found footage film, but they really don't work hard to keep up the facade that it clearly is a studio film.

I will say as this thing rounds home, I sat with my jaw dropped for the last 10 minutes of this rager.

4 of 5 Horns for stupid drunken fun from a life long past.  Granted this film is set in the high school realm, it gets a little ridiculous to consider that a residential neighborhood could contain this kind of madness.  It was much more clearly the type of debauchery that made the stuff of dreams along Route 1 in College Park, MD. Go Terps, baby, Go Terps.

That's all for now...until later, here's looking towards some brighter days filled with loads of worthy flicks!

Reel Rhino