Archive | March, 2012

The Artist  

23 Mar

The Artist

                    

2012 Academy Award Best Picture

 Review: If anyone had said to me go out today and see a silent black and white film about the end of the silent black & white film era made by a French director I would think they are out of their minds. What modern audience of the CGI, blow em up, loud, noisy and bad remake era would spend their money to see this?!

French filmmaker Michel Hazanaviciu has made a masterpiece of story telling with the sound being incendiary to the incredible images. The story is a Hollywood tale set from 1927 through the early 1930’s.  Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin a very famous actor in silent films of bygone days. His face and smile pull at your heart-strings, make you laugh at his antics with his dog (who has a ton of personality), and makes you cry as his career wains as talkies become all the rage. Mind you there is no talking just music until the last few minutes of the film. The music is a throwback to the time and place and helps move the story along.

Valentin befriends an aspiring actress Peppy Miller played by an endearing Berenice Bejo. Valentin is responsible for her career in a small gesture of properly paced makeup in the form of a beauty spot above her lip, as his career ends with the silents her career begins with the talkies. Miller falls in love with Valentin and as his life falls apart unbeknownst to him she has secretly been his guardian angel.

The cast is rounded out by John Goodman as the studio mogul, James Cromwell as Valentin’s driver and friend as well as Penelope Ann Miller.

Like the movie Hugo, this is an homage to the movies. It is entertaining, joyful, and uses images as it’s story telling language as did the greats such as Chaplin, Keaton etc. Some of the movie homages include a wink at the famous Greta Garbo line “I want to be alone.” , imagery that includes Penny Miller movie titles such as The Guardian Angel and The Beauty Mark, and a brilliant dance number reminiscent of Astaire and Rodgers.

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The Hunger Games

23 Mar

Story Synopsis: The Hunger Games is based on the novel of the same name written by Suzanne Collins who also contributed to the screenplay.

At an unidentified future date, the nation of Panem has risen out of the ruins of what was once known as North America. Due to an unsuccessful uprising by the districts of Panem, a raffle (known as the “reaping”) is held to choose one boy and one girl (ranging from ages 12–18) from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games, a competition in which each contestant (known as the “tributes”) battles until only one is left. The winner receives honor, gifts, and enough food and supplies to never worry about anything ever again. The Hunger Games are a yearly reminder to the 12 districts of the Capitol’s authority and punishment for their rebellion over 70 years ago in which the 13th district was destroyed.

In District 12, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) cares for her mother (Paula Malcomson) and her sister Primrose “Prim” (Willow Shields) since her father died in a mine accident when she was 11. Each year, since the age of 12, Katniss’ name has been placed in the reaping more than once. In return for taking this extra annual risk, she receives extra grain and oil for her family. In addition, Katniss has been illegally hunting for food outside the boundary fences of District 12 with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), whose father died in the same mining accident.

Prim, now age 12, has her name placed in the reaping for the first time—only once—and it is unexpectedly drawn. Katniss volunteers to replace her sister in the Games. She competes against other tributes, including Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from District 12, who has secretly loved Katniss since childhood and who once showed her a kindness she could never forget.

Before the Hunger Games begin, she is given a stylist named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and a Capitol escort named Effie (Elizabeth Banks) to help her make a good impression with potential sponsors. Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunk and the only living victor from District 12, mentors both Katniss and Peeta before and during the Hunger Games. Once in the arena, Katniss must rely on her hunting skills, stealth, speed, and wits in order to survive. She also has to fight her anger for the Capitol and ‘put on a good show’ in order to receive food and aid from sponsors.

Review: The movie is both intelligent and poignant, as any good sci-fi allegory should be. The story is a metaphor for the current wave of rich vs poor politics that our country faces today, the haves vs the have nots.  Katniss Everdeen is portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in an understated performance reminiscent of her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone.  She has grit, courage and as with any teenage girl, she also has self doubt.

Peeta Mellark is portrayed by Josh Hutcherson and is convincing as Katniss’ counterpart.

You will find some great character actors dot the film with touches of humor, sadness and satire. The film does make a statement about reality TV, since the games themselves are televised and the citizens of Panem’s 12 districts are forced to watch on giant screens, like the networks force us to watch shows like Survivor. The film also has social commentary on government manipulation of the media, literally in this case.

Stanley Tucci plays Caesar Flickerman the blue haired on camera host of the games. He mixes sarcasm and insincerity so easily with a great big smile you love to hate him. Tucci portrays this to the hilt without going over the top.

Donald Sutherland plays President Snow with an understated insidiousness that reminds us of how good an actor he is.  His voice and look at times goes right through you.

Woody Harrelson plays the drunken, depressed mentor Hamitch Abernathy. Played convincingly he walks the fine line between hopelessness and sympathy.

Amandla Stenberg plays Rue the youngest of the tributes and befriends Katniss during their time in the arena. Keep an eye on this one she did a convincing job.

The tributes all go through several stages of inner turmoil, 1) determination, 2) resolve and finally 3) the reality of only one will survive the games.

I am reminded of the book The Lord of The Flies, whose central theme is about what happens to young people, in this case boys, when they are taken out of civilization and have to survive in the wild. The boys shipwrecked, revert to their basic instincts where only the strong shall survive.  The Hunger Games has that underlying theme as well. I am also left with the feeling that the undercurrent of modern American politics can one day play out  like it does in this story.  The film does portray children killing children and may be unsuitable for the very young.

In short The Huger Games is intelligent, witty, suspenseful and at times harrowing.  The film does have a PG-13 rating due to some blood letting here and there but nothing too gory. May the odds always be in your favor.

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John Carter

21 Mar

Story: A Civil-War vet, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) while searching the ancient markings in a cave in the Arizona desert is transported from our world to Barsoom- aka Mars, which is being ravaged by an evil warlo rd named Sab Than (Dominic West) who’s under the control of a race of ancient, all-powerful beings, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Carter allies himself with a warlike race, called the Tarks, which are eight-foot tall green creatures with four arms, ruled by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) in order to find a way home, but he must also contend with a headstrong princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who’s trying to escape her forced marriage to Than, and believes he’s the man to save her and her people.

Review: I first was introduced to the John Carter series written by Edgar Rice Burrows in high school. The Ballentine paperbacks cost about 75 cents and had lavish covers by the great Frank Frazetta. His images of the inhabitants of Barsoom have obviously influenced the art direction of the film.

The screenplay based on the novel a Princess of Mars was written by Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon and the film’s director Pixar’s Andrew Stanton. The movie begins with John Carter’s cousin Edgar Rice Burrows arriving at Carter’s estate after Carter has passed away. Carter bequests his entire estate to Burrows whom he told bedtime stories of his Barsoom adventures because 1) Burrows believed them to be true and 2) Burrows was his favorite cousin. Burrows is given Carter’s journal where the entire story is done in flashback as Burrows starts to read.

The movie is solid entertainment, great CGI, involving plot lines that keep you interested and a beautiful strong female role model in Princess Dejah Thoris. The story is about relationships and allies Carter develops with the Tarks and the Princess as he discovers himself and his sense of purpose after his Jarsoom aka Earth family died in the Civil War. There are some interesting moments as Carter discovers he can jump over mountains because of the weight differences between Mars and Earth and his increased strength as he can hurdle rocks long distances and kill with one punch.

Princess Thoris about to lose her home city of Helium is forced by her father to marry evil warlord named Sab Than in order to save her race from certain doom. Sab is being controlled by a race of beings that are not unlike say the Q in the Star Trek series. There job it seems is to manage the death of planets and their inhabitants to keep order amongst the chaos of war. The Republican metaphor for war at all costs and corporate take over and planetary Eco destruction was not lost on me after all Stanton did direct Pixar’s Wall-E.

My only minor complaint is that Taylor Kitsch’s voice wasn’t what you would expect to hear out of a blockbuster movie hero. He sounded too normal not authoritarian enough. If say Charlton Heston’s voice or even say a voice like Patrick Stewart’s were dubbed in ….ah well it is what it is.

Will Sab marry the Princess? Will John Carter be Barsoom’s savior? Will the race of super beings’ plot to bring down the Barsoomian inhabits in order to protect their secret be followed through? (Yes they do have a secret that controls the energy allowing them to shape shift into anyone or thing) The answer to these and many other questions will be answered when you go see John Carter.

Burrows books where known as the John Carter of Mars series for some reason Disney Marketing felt just the name John Carter will be bring the fans in who know the books. Big mistake on their part because people never heard the name John Carter without the following two words “of Mars” sadly the Harry Potter and Twilight generation has no clue who the pre-release trailer was talking about. I hope good word of mouth will get people to go see it.

The John Carter Series has been in development for decades. back in the 1930’s Bob Clampett of Warner Bros. cartoon fame (Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny) did some preliminary animation for a possible cartoon series. The books were written in the Early 20th century and have become cult classics of Science Fiction. Well worth reading and can still be bought on Amazon.

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