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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 7, 2013 | 1 Comment

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ready for battle in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 4 1/2 Stars

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the satisfyingly exhilarating follow-up to The Hunger Games, is easily one of the most entertaining sequels to come out of Hollywood in a long time, thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s riveting lead performance and director Francis Lawrence’s phenomenal adaptation of Suzanne Collin’s bestselling book.

The plot is sophisticated and multi layered but the basic gist is this: The previous year, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) won the Hunger Games, the televised death match where kids fight to the death, along with love interest Peeta Mellark. Now, her and Peeta have caused a revolution against the rich and evil that live in the Capitol. Things get even worse when the dictator behind the Capitol, President Snow, announces that the 75th annual Hunger Games will have previous winners compete. Now, Peeta and Katniss are forced back into the arena for a death match with more enemies, more suspense, and more action than before.

All this sounds very heavy handed but director Francis Lawrence never loses sight of the depth and heart that makes this series special. Unlike the previous installment, Catching Fire doesn’t race to begin the Games. In fact, it’s not until halfway into the film that the Games begin. Lawrence takes his time setting the scene. We get to know Katniss better this time around, but we also get to know the supporting cast, as well.

Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Katniss Everedeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There’s certainly a lot going on here: a love triangle, old grudges, politics, fashion, and bloody death matches and it’s a surprise everything stays together. The secret is that Suzanne Collins (author of the book series) served as one of the screenwriters. Collins obviously knows the story best and you can tell. Shockingly, there weren’t any big scenes I missed from the book and some added witty dialogue.

The cast, here, is spectacular, starting with Jennifer Lawrence. As Katniss, she’s bold, tough, and conflicted. The character is a heroic one but Lawrence also paints her as a wounded, flawed, somewhat tragic hero. It’s this nuanced heroine that makes this series unforgettable.

The only slight disappointments are Peeta and, the other love interest, Gale. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, respectively, are decent actors and do a fine job, but unlike Lawrence, they don’t exactly resemble the book’s descriptions. In fact, some of the smaller characters threaten to steal the show (not a problem). Jena Malone, as fierce and funny Games competitor Johanna Mason, is sharp and hilarious, thanks to some memorable moments that make her small role stick out. Sam Claflin and Jeffrey Wright are also fantastic, as fellow Tributes (the name for Hunger Games competitors).  Rounding out the cast is Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the deceptive mastermind behind the Games.

Catching Fire has a number of heart string tugging moments but there’s also enough bravura set-pieces to rival most summer blockbusters. Once the Hunger Games begins, it’s all action-all the time. But that doesn’t matter because the fights are filmed beautifully and careful and are a thrill to watch. It also doesn’t hurt that there is real suspense here.

Another strong aspect of the film is the look. Lawrence doesn’t try to mimic previous director Gary Ross’ shaky-cam shots nature shots of hazy beauty, nor the over-the-top Capitol fashion. This time around, things are more down to Earth. The sets look lived in and the everything is snowy and dark. Before and during the Games, the dominant colors are gray, blue, and white. Unlike other franchises, The Hunger Games seems to be developing a new, singular look for each film.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Catching FireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire is thrilling and thoughtful. It serves as the perfect antidote to this summer’s lackluster crop of ho-hum blockbusters. Ending with a massive cliff-hanger, Catching Fire is the must-seed blockbuster of the season. The odds are certainly in this franchise’s favor…

Zemeckis and Washington Take Flight

Posted on | November 2, 2012 | Add Comments

Flight (2012) Flight (the closing night movie at this years new York Film Festival which celebrated it’s half century birthday this year) is out in cinemas today, opening in around 1,800 theaters. Robert Zemeckis hasn’t directed a film since 2000’s Cast Away. Both films feature thrillingly suspenseful plane crashes and a lead performance that carries the entire movie. But don’t expect to see humans talking to volleyballs. Robert Zemeckis (even more so than his pal and mentor Steven Spielberg) has made even his most adult dramas into often made up stories that unlike many of Spielberg’s films are not based on hard to deal with subject matter and have a bit of fantasy in them. But all that might be about to change.

Flight (2012)Flight (not based on real events) tells the story of Whip Whitaker, a high flying daredevil drinker. On a certain plane ride he saves 96 lives, though 4 die, by steering the plane to safety. When he wakes up at the hospital he’s a hero, but there are serious doubts about him as well. A lawyer (Don Cheadle) tries to help him although he believes he has “alchahol in his system”. Will Whip go to jail or will his lawyer and some other pals help him out?

Flight (2012)The trailer doesn’t say much but leaves some clues leading me to believe the film is structured around not just the plane crash but a nail biting, spine tingling court meeting that decides the fate of Whip. Whip also gets involved with romance, the lives of some of the passengers on the plane when it was flown to safety, and perhaps some family drama. While Zemeckis is an extremely talented, capable director the movie is resting it’s laurels on Denzel Washington. And based on everything I’ve seen and heard about the film, that’s a great choice.

Will Washington win an Oscar for his role? He’s no stranger to the academy, having won twice for Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001). He’s also been nominated thrice for Cry Freedom (1987), Malcolm X (1992), and The Hurricane (1999). However this under the radar drama will need lasting power through all of awards season if Washington is even to get nominated. Why? Well, with actors like Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, and especially Daniel Day-Lewis, among others, seeming like locks for the category, staying power for a film (and a performance) is crucial. Washington hasn’t been in a true conversation starter of a role for a while now but I’m guessing a nomination for him will the Academy’s nod to the film. Rolling Stone magazine critic Peter Travers declares “Washington’s performance will be talked about for years.” As for other categories, such as Best Picture and Director, a boatload of nominations seem unlikely thanks to a not quite rapturous amount of praise and the stiffest competition in years. However the movie has a shot some technical categories such as sound, special effects, and maybe musical score.

Back To The Future (1985)I am not allowed to see Flight, because it is rated R mainly for adult themes, but if I could I would. One of the most intriguing parts about the film is that it seems to be super suspenseful. I genuinely don’t know the ending, unlike most films where you can tell by trailers, reviews, the target audience, and the tone of the story what will happen. The acting, direction, and other usual elements of a film production all look perfected to the highest level, as well. Of Zemeckis’ career I have only seen 4 of his films: Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol. He’s very capable, talented, and respectable.

As for the box office my guess is Flight will soar to $15.9 million this weekend. While Argo has been consistently doing great at the box office my guess is that it will drop to third place with $10.6 million. As for fourth place new release The Man With The Iron Fists should claim the spot with around $6.8 million, while fifth place will go to critically acclaimed flop Cloud Atlas with $6.5 million. Last and least Hotel Transylvania should do fine with $5.9 million.at sixth place. But apart from Argo’s holdover grosses Flight’s biggest competion is the animated, video game themed Disney family comedy, Wreck-It Ralph. Reviews have been surprisingly enthusiastic and the ads are funny, appealing, and show just what younger kids want at a movie: laughs, action, and fun. But it’s a kids movie so how will it affect Flight’s grosses? Because I’m predicting it’ll open at the top spot with $50.9 million. With many kids excited to see this movie they’ll need someone to take them and that will be their parents. And since most people don’t see two movies in a weekend they probably won’t have time to see Flight. Apart from some big flops Washington’s films have almost always opened to $20 million when opening in 2,000+ theaters but with Flight opening in only 1,900 even those who want to see the movie might not get a chance. And there are two non film related events that could make this a much weaker box office weekend than I have just predicted: Hurricane Sandy and the election. The storm is wrapping up but has still done enough damage so that not everyone will be able to got the movies this weekend. And lesser but still likely is the election. Not all adults may want to see a film (they may want to relax before such a big night) especially undecided voters who have more important matters on their minds.

Flight (2012)Flight seems like a great film and worth seeing if you want to form complete Oscar predictions. There have been ads everywhere and if the film expands it’s theater count the advertising will have been worth it. Flight may even become one of Washington’s and Zemecks’ best loved movies. The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus is “Robert Zemeckis makes a triumphant return to live-action cinema with Flight, a thoughtful and provocative character study propelled by a compelling performance from Denzel Washington.” Reviews are saying the film is great and it looks like an edge of your seat thrilling, suspenseful drama. Flight is a film full of surprises, it seems. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Watch the trailer and a clip from Flight here. Comment about the 139 minute R rated dram below. Will you see it? Not interested? What are your box office and Oscar predictions for the film? What do you think about Zemeckis and Washington’s other work? Tell us in the comments section

Vertigo (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | October 25, 2012 | Add Comments

5 stars

John Ferguson is an aerobic policeman. After retiring, John is pulled back in to it all by one of his old college friends. The old friend tells John that his wife has been acting like another person lately, she’s been driving ninety four miles without his knowing. As things get even more complex, the lines between who is who are blurred.

Vertigo is a film that will, currently is, and should be remembered for the ages. I saw the entire film., my brother fell asleep in the middle of it, so the next morning I watched the second half with him again. The second viewing of the second half (I hope I’m not giving you vertigo… yet) let me sink my teeth into all the tiny little details that I had missed the first time around. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s what happens every time you watch a film the second time. You pick up everything you missed the first time.” But there’s something about Vertigo (I’m still trying to wrap my head around it), it is the rare film that is almost flawless. It is so well rounded; in every scene we witness something even more mind boggling than the last.

The plot is incredibly interesting. I don’t think I have ever watched a film more complex than this, but the sophisticated storyline only builds the suspense. If the storyline was simple and uninteresting, then the suspense could only get as far as half baked. Why? Well if we don’t care about what’s happening, then there goes our interest. Right out the window.

This film is what everyone says it is: it’s a physiological puzzle that twists your brain until it hits the floor. If you want to watch something while folding laundry or doing work, let me suggest that Vertigo be last on your go-to list. If you do watch it at the right time however, you won’t be able to stop watching it, I couldn’t.With every good movie (and yes, I mean just plain old good movie), there is something that aids the brilliance. The layering on the cake, if you will. Here it’s the acting, the sets, everything. But there’s one element that you can’t miss. As I’m writing my review I’m listening to it now. It’s frighteningly sophisticated. It’s quiet, and then it will blare the horns and you’ll know it’s the tower scene. That’s right: it’s Bernard Herrmann’s nail bitingly unforgettable score.

It would be truly impossible to write an entire review of an Alfred Hitchcock film without mentioning the master of suspense, himself. Well there you go: I mentioned Hitchcock and I’m not done yet. Anyway, Hitchcock is a brilliant director. With each of the eight and a-bit-of films of his I’ve seen (North By Northwest, the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, To Catch A Thief, Notorious, The 39 Steps, the first half hour of Lifeboat, Rebecca, and now Vertigo) he tries to push himself a little farther. And here, if ever, he does.

My favorite character is Madeline because of the many different phases she goes through (I’m not going to give anything away), each one twisting your mind even further than the last.

My favorite scene is the second tower scene because it has amazing performances, Hitchcock masters it all with frighteningly exact precision, and oh the music. It is also one of the best finales in all of cinema history. Yes, ALL OF CINEMA HISTORY!

Vertigo is Not Rated, but I would rate it PG-13 for scenes of peril and complex situations.

A suspense film like no other, Vertigo may not be Hitchcock’s best, but it still is wonderfully good, bizarrely complex suspense.