The Hunger Games (2012)

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete.

Confession: I never read the Hunger Games books. I knew only that Hunger Games readers seemed to enjoy making fun of Twilight readers, which is a positive in my book* 😉

Which is to say, my main interest in this flick was as the anti-Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence in the lead was a bonus, as I pegged her for a star when I first saw her in The Burning Plain (2008) On both of those fronts, this movie is a roaring success.

It is also fantastical and visually stunning. And sometimes quite a bit ridiculously over-the-top. That is where it falters for me. That…and Woody Harrelson. How he keeps getting cast is one of life’s great mysteries for me. He hasn’t been convincing or inhabited a character since Cheers, and so always takes me out of any movie he is in.

The Hunger Games was entertaining, but it didn’t leave me anticipating Catching Fire (2013). On the Word of Mouth Scale, I’ll give it a 2.5. The teens & young adults in my circle will likely enjoy it – the rest, not so much.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 84%; Audience 81%

* To be fair, I haven’t read those books, either. I am a bit old for the genre. However, using the movies as a gauge of quality, Twilight does not impress…but that may be the abominable acting

2016: Obama’s America (2012)

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2016: Obama’s America

A documentary that examines the question, “If Barack Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?”

When it comes to political movies of the Right, you can generally tell if they hit their mark by the critics’ reaction. The “independent” critics show their true colors by panning the movie for making points with which they disagree, not the quality of the film itself.

So it is with Dinesh D’Souza’s latest work, a documentary largely based on his successful book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”. Critics who gleefully embraced as “resourceful” & “skillful” Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 now find political documentaries “outrageous” and “simplistic”

For those, like me, who have been paying attention, the information here is not new. What is new is the framing, presenting plausible explanations for some of Obama’s most implausible actions. D’Souza presents a compelling narrative of Obama’s early life and the forces that shaped his world view.

For those who have not been especially curious about the candidate, this could serve as a primer on his life. Perhaps the most effective device for conveying the information are the words from Barack Obama’s books, read by Barack Obama himself for the audio releases. It is hard to dismiss as partisan spin what you hear the man say in his own voice.

It loses one star only because there are those in my circle who won’t see it under any circumstances. If you are one of those, I urge you to consider the tag line, “Love Him. Hate Him. You Don’t Know Him” and ask yourself if, in fact, there is more you could stand to learn.
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Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 30%; Audience 77%

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The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

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The Five-Year Engagement

My first introduction to Jason Segel was in his movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he introduced us to 2 wieners – his penis, and Russel Brand’s persona. I have held those missteps against him ever since. Not that it keeps me from watching his films – he’s a funny guy. He just doesn’t know where to draw the line.

This movie was enjoyable; good script, good cast, good direction – to a point. At which point you are just left a bit disgusted, or disappointed, or embarrassed. Leading to losing 1.5 stars because, let’s face it, what could have been a charming story is now something I couldn’t recommend to my mom. Like many movies these days, it seems the over-the-top raunchiness is added merely for shock and cheap laughs.

The story is…sweet. And predictable. And not nearly interesting enough to justify a full 2 hour run time. Still, the quality cast gives us memorable moments. The chemistry between Segel and Blunt is warm and believable. The Elmo & Cookie Monster debate is goofy. There are some kind of lovely points about romance.

Worth seeing, as a rental. But be prepared for unnecessary raunch – you may not want to watch it with the kids. Or your parents.

Also of note, The Five-Year Engagement was even less popular with audiences than it was with critics.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 64%; Audience 58%

Atlas Shrugged – Part 1 (2011)

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Atlas Shrugged – Part 1

Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government of the United States.

I went to see this with a group; we had all levels of interest from “never read the book, no familiarity with Rand or Objectivism” to “read the book several times and have passages memorized” I am in the middle of that spectrum, having read the book 20-some years ago and being “Rand curious”. I am far right enough to embrace many, though not all, of her philosophies.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie almost since I read the book. Through the decades several casting choices were floated, some that seemed promising, some not so much. In the end, the lead roles went to “lesser known” actors (though you will recognize most of their faces).

Overall, I think they did well. I am gratified that Hank Rearden looks the part; truly a rugged individual, a man’s man. Some of the lesser characters were spot on; the sneering Lillian, the sniveling Phil, the snarling Ellis, the snakey Paul.

I was a slightly disappointed by Dagny. Regardless of her obvious hotness, her acting left something to be desired. A bit weak in her portrayal of such a strong woman, a bit wooden in her reactions to triumph & tragedy. The role would be a tough one to cast in the best of circumstances, but for a production with limited funds and even less acceptance by “Hollywood”, the actors willing to take part may have been scarce. Still, she did well and, should they decide to make the future installments, she may grow into the part.

Some worried the production would suffer from a low budget; in fact, many of the pre-opening ‘reviews’ made a great deal of snarky hay about that problem. The issues suffered by the final product seem to have little to do with funding and more to do with a novice director. The scenes involving dialogue are a bit cramped, even awkward on occasion. The scenes involving the great outdoors are beautiful, but those involving the disintegrating cities are not quite gritty enough. And the limos. *drink* Limos driving down the street. Conversations in limos. Limos pulling up to the curb. Limos pulling away from the curb. *drink*

As far as conveying the message, I thought perhaps it was a bit heavy-handed (not a lot, but a bit – and the book was, too). However, I already know big government is bad, I already know how prophetically Rand’s story parallels the path America is on. For someone unfamiliar with the grand ideas of personal responsibility and individual greatness, maybe they will need to be hit with a 2 X 4.

I definitely recommend it, and I recommend you see it in a theater. There is something to be said for seeing an experience film with an enthusiastic crowd. Saturday at the Valley Art brought audiences who waited in long lines before the movie and applauded after. A rare thing, indeed.

*…it’s the Atlas Shrugged drinking game

UPDATE: Danno points out that in all those limo scenes, it is only the business types – not the government fat cats who would clearly be indulging in the luxury, as well.

More of our AZ bloggers thoughts on the film after today’s viewing:
Great Satan, Inc
Exurban League
SandCastle Scrolls


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 10%; Audience 85%
 

Cross-posted at Vox

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell

A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.

Not much to say on this one. What could have been a creepily-fun horror flick is ruined by ridiculous grossness aimed at making the audience nauseous. Gets one on the Word of Mouth Scale because some (mostly teenage boys) are into that sort of thing.

It does well with critics & audience reviewers, so…you may enjoy it.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Users 79%

The Conscientious Objector (2004)

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The Conscientious Objector

If Hollywood were to make a feature based on the heroics of Desmond Doss during World War II, most viewers would dismiss it as far-fetched nonsense. Terry L. Benedict’s documentary about Doss, “The Conscientious Objector”, illustrates how truth can often outdo fiction.
 
It’s hard to imagine a greater combination of morality, religious faith and courage than that which emerges in this story of an aging Virginian who received a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman.

D has a great talent for finding small movies, indie gems and documentary gold. This week he found the compellingly told story of a Medal of Honor winner that NetFlix was streaming. When he put it on, I didn’t expect to be sucked in to the narrative. Boy was I wrong.

I found myself exclaiming “Wow” out loud, more than once. Truly a story that sounds like the stuff of a dime-store WWII paperback novel, told here by the men that actually lived through it.

If you want to know the specifics of the CMH citation, you can read it here, but I would recommend watching the film. So much more compelling to make the full journey with Doss from childhood through “outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty”.

A rare 5 of 5 on the Word of Mouth scale because I can’t imagine anyone in my circle who would not appreciate this well made flick.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 88%

Up (2009)

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Up

By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn’t alone on his journey, since Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip.

This gets a rare 5 of 5 rating for me, as there is something for everyone. Romance, adventure, comedy, drama…all well done and all palatable to young, old, male, female. You’ll remember that my ratings are based not only on the quality of the product, but on the likelihood of my recommending it to my family and friends. A perfect score of 5, therefore, doesn’t mean I think this is a perfect movie – just that I believe it will appeal to most everyone I know.

In tracking down the Rotten Tomatoes rating, I found this review by Ian Freer that tells you all you need to know. Here is an excerpt:

It’s a character study of a cantankerous old git. It’s a buddy movie where the buddies are separated by 70 years. It’s a love story where the love transcends death.

Verdict

If it had lived up to its golden first five minutes, Up would have been the film of the decade. As it is, it remains the best animated flick of 2009, a funny, moving, beautifully made argument that dreamers can move mountains.

In that golden beginning is one of the most touching montages, animated or otherwise, you are ever likely to see.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98% critics; 94% users

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