THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE heats things up

6 Jan

THE-HUNGER-GAMES-CATCHING-FIRE

I have not read the books, but everyone tells me the first film was water down when it came to the politics. As for the second film, the same people told me the second installment was closer to the book’s true intention. From an objective point of view, the politics come from  the same oppressive position found in most science fiction films. It was suggested in the first through an ideological state apparatus, whereas in the second film it manifests itself into a repressive state apparatus through military force and law enforcement, which makes it easier for audiences to identify. Both films were good, but the second film is entertaining because the antagonists’ intentions are blurred, making a more complex film for audiences to enjoy. Winning is not the only thing that is important in this film, which creates opportunities for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to build and explore their characters’ darker side.

WORD COUNT: 158

Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: B

OLD BOY (2013) has some new tricks

1 Jan

OLD-BOY-2013

Spike Lee’s desire to re-interpret the critically acclaimed 2003 South Korean film, Old Boy for domestic audiences was a bold move because of the amount of criticism he would receive from audiences familiar with the original. I was eager to see how he would negotiate certain scenes and particular parts of the story that have made Old Boy a memorable, but uncomfortable film to watch. Technically, everything is in the movie, but done in a way that is more like a jazz musician riffing on a familiar melody than a replay of an old song. Some things worked really well, while others things did not. This version had more of back story, which made it easier for American audiences to understand, but it was too much because those moments of discomfort did not have the same impact. However, I enjoyed this movie and the choice to cast Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen as the principal characters was a strong choice.

WORD COUNT: 158

Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

47 RONIN are turning over in their graves

30 Dec

47-ronin-film

The film’s director, Carl Erik Rinsch is probably kneeling before a room of executives at Universal and offering to perform seppuku for the dismal 47 Ronin starring Keanu Reeves. Everyone knew the film was in trouble long before its eventual Christmas release date, but I (Chuck) am a martial art film junkie and wanted to give the film a fair viewing. Unfortunately, the film lived up to its bad press by putting together a poorly assembled re-interpretation of the legendary story about Japan’s most famous samurai. There was no cohesion from scene to scene because the production is unable to balance the fantasy with the real story. Rinsch tries to honor both ideas, but it simply does not work. The special effects are distracting and predictable. Also, Universal Studios should be ashamed of themselves for thinking a  story about a group a men known for gaining honor through mass suicide would be a successful holiday blockbuster.

WORD COUNT: 154

Chuck’s Grade: D

Adam’s Grade: N/A

DRUG WAR cooks up something new

28 Dec

DRUG-WAR

America is no stranger to films about crystal meth and the dark characters that are associated with the narcotic, however, in mainland China director Johnnie To breaks new ground by cooking up an interesting gangster film that has a snitch willing to say or do anything to save his life with an undercover cop determined to bring a group of gangsters to justice by any means necessary. Police captain Zhang  (Sun Honglei) takes information from Timmy Choi (Louis Koo) and runs with it by impersonating different gangsters while at the same time pumping Choi for more and more information, until it leads him to the major players behind the drug trade. Choi’s integrity and loyalty are being tested while Zhang  battles with his ego and obsession. Both actors give strong performances that lead audiences along to an amazing climax featuring ultra violence from every possible direction. I liked the film, but buying into the cops’ sting was difficult for me.

WORD COUNT: 160

Chuck’s Grade: B

Adam’s Grade: N/A

THE MAN OF TAI CHI is stopped by Keanu Reeves

27 Dec

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Keanu Reeves does many things right in his directorial debut. He hires Woo-ping Yuen as his Action Director and he casts Tiger Hu Chen as the lead character, as well as using martial art legend Yu Hai to teach the style’s life lessons. There is some great choreography and variety to the film’s action sequences. Tiger Hu Chen’s adversaries all bring something different to the table. The problem arises when Reeves casts himself as the main antagonist, which was cool to watch him play the villain, however his acting range bleeds into Nicolas Cage territory when he attempts to be menacing. It is almost comical at times and the film would have been served better if he took a back seat and stayed in the director’s chair. Also, his “fighting skills” have diminished since the Matrix Trilogy, although he keeps his signature black outfits.  The Man of Tai Chi has some moves but it cannot evade Keanu’s poor acting.

WORD COUNT: 159

Chuck’s Grade: C+

Adam’s Grade: N/A

These Amazing Shadows: The Movies that Make America

19 Oct

These-Amazing-Shadows

These Amazing Shadows is a straight forward documentary that demonstrates the importance of the National Film Registry and its impact on film preservation. There were several enlightening interviews from some of America’s greatest filmmakers, as well as clips from America’s most memorable films, as well as a list of some not so popular choices that shows off the diversity of the selection committee. Directors Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton guide audience into the vault and reveal some important contributors to film history, especially the often ignored women directors from Old Hollywood. The documentary shares the old and the new, but more importantly the film inspires audiences to revisit  and watch our countries favorite films again.

WORD COUNT: 115

Chuck’s Grade: B+

Adam’s Grade: B

Breaking Away does nothing for me

18 Oct

BREAKING-AWAY

Obviously, life was much different in 1979 when Breaking Away was filmed because I was shocked to learn it won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.  Even more shocking was that it beat out, Manhattan and All that Jazz. I remember watching it as a kid and not being impressed. Today, it still doesn’t do much for me. The lack of self-worth by the teens is over the top, the Italians cheating was ridiculous, the ambiguous relationship between Dennis Christopher and Robyn Douglass was frustrating, and the prejudice against non-American life is so heavy-handed that you want to change the channel every time Paul Dooley opens his mouth.  However, this film does pave the way for the onslaught of 1980s teen films about social and class differences, but the formula sport story and the performances do not hold up over the test of time.

WORD COUNT: 150

Chuck’s Grade: C

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Upside Down stays in the middle

11 Oct

UPSIDE-DOWN-FILM

I loved the premise of the sci-fi film, Upside Down from writer/director Juan Diego Solanas, but the film gets stuck in a middle ground because it does not have an identifiable antagonist for the hero character, Adam(Jim Sturgess) to overcome. Instead, a predictable love story unfolds amongst a backdrop of amazing circumstances. His love interest Eden (Kirsten Dunst) is pleasant and their relationship is nice, but it seems insignificant compared to the dominating visual effectS. I think it was a valiant attempt at something great. The idea of two planets with opposing gravitational forces was exciting, even though I needed a quick science lesson at the beginning of the film to answer the obvious questions an audience would have after 15 minutes. However, the main story, like gravity pulls the film down.

WORD COUNT: 131

Chuck’s Grade: C+

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Parker is like all the others

9 Oct

PARKER-FILM

Parker is another predictable Jason Statham movie where his character is another tough guy criminal with principles. The film is a simple revenge story that places Parker in the company of a bunch of double-crossing thieves that had left him for dead. You already know the ending, but it doesn’t seem to matter because Statham’s unique charisma allows his audiences to forgive the formulaic plots because they want to see him win out.  Jennifer “J-Lo” Lopez gives him hand, as well as some sex appeal, but her contribution is minimal and raises more questions about how she is not being interrogated at some point in the epilogue.  There was some funny moments and one great fight scene, but most of the time it was average. I will admit the film fun to watch on my phone, but I do not think I would sit on the couch or sit in the theater without feeling a level of disappointment.

WORD COUNT: 158

Chuck’s Grade: C

Adam’s Grade” N/A

Gravity is out of this world

7 Oct

GRAVITY-FILM

The most anticipated film for me this year was Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” With his first film since the 2006 sci-fi drama “Children of Men,” Cuaron has broken new ground here, creating an experience unlike anything audiences have seen before. When a routine repair job on the Hubble telescope goes awry, a medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and a mission commander, Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), must work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Believe the hype, this is one of the most visually stunning films ever, with its groundbreaking CGI that features jaw-dropping single-shot sequences. Clocking in at 90 minutes, Cuaron wastes no time in moving the story along. Bullock ventures outside of her normal orbit of roles and gives an amazing performance while Clooney is great in his supporting role. This is masterful technical achievement with Cuaron, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Visual-Effects Tim Webber creating a movie going experience worthy of Oscar consideration.

WORD COUNT: 159

Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: N/A