REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

I have to start out by saying that I have never read the Hunger Games books and therefor am taking the movies for what they are. That being said, I enjoyed the first film, it was no classic but, it was entertaining and Jennifer Lawrence gave a strong performance as usual. But, sadly the second film based on this trilogy of popular books is a moody and bleak disappointment. Catching Fire picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) about to embark on their victory tour to be paraded like show ponies through the districts. But, Katniss’ act of defiance that provoked the unprecedented two winners in the 74th Hunger Games has sown the seeds of dissent throughout the 12 districts and is seen by The Capitol as a symbol of rebellion. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) himself visits Katniss to warn her to play nice on the tour or her family and friends will suffer the consequences. Meanwhile Katniss is suffering from the horrible guilt of having to kill and watch others she bonded with die and no matter where she goes, she finds herself being looked up to as a symbol of hope against the totalitarian government and her own contempt for The Capitol grows each day. Snow’s new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proposes a solution to their woes… to make the 75th Hunger Game a battle between selected former winners of the games from each district and to make sure Miss Everdeen is not amongst the winners this time. Now, as the wind of rebellion is starting across the districts, Katniss and Peeta must fight once more and this time against proven killers. Will the shell shocked Katniss survive once again or will the country’s hope for freedom be crushed with the death of their symbol of defiance. Catching Fire is this time directed by Francis Lawrence who gave us the moody and bleak fantasy flicks Constantine and I Am Legend and brings that same dark and grim atmosphere to this middle chapter of the book based trilogy and to be honest little else. Fire is a rather dull and by the numbers sequel with a very sedate and bleak look to go along with it’s oppressive atmosphere. I realize this is a story of a land governed by a cruel and iron fisted government who are planning to basically execute the peoples’ first glimmer of hope so, I didn’t expect rainbows and unicorns but, when a movie like this’ best scene involves a dress, then you know there’s not much going for it. Even with Katniss being inserted into another combat, the 75th Hunger Game provides very little action and literally no suspense as it focuses on Katniss and group of allies commiserating in the jungle arena with very little threat save some poison gas and some foul tempered primates. Their actual foes rarely put in an appearance, save when their pictures are displayed above in the sky to signal their demise… most of which prompted this reviewer  to ask “who the hell was that?” And that’s also a problem, we only get to know the participants that are crucial to the plot and the rest are just fodder to try to give the game some urgency and body count… and it doesn’t really work because, we never really care about these people and some we have never even met. To be honest save for a few moments, such as the before mentioned dress scene, I was pretty bored with what was going on. Katniss never seems to be in control like in the first film and spends most of the film pouting or having combat flashbacks and we never get endeared to or behind her like in the first flick. She seems to have lost the strength she gained at the end of the last film. Here she seems to stew in her unhappiness and let others around her do all the work till literally the last few moments of the film. And it’s not until the very last scene do we finally see the fire back in the eyes of the girl on fire… then we are left with an open ending leading into the third flick. Sorry, but for someone who hasn’t read the books, this was completely unsatisfying. The cast all perform their roles just fine with Harrelson once again standing out and giving a strong turn as Abernathy… he has become one of the best actors out there… Sutherland is appropriately slimy and singer Lenny Kravitz also impresses as Cinna. As for leading lady Lawrence, she is good and gives the part a lot of emotional depth but, since most of those emotions require her to pout, cry or have a screaming out-burst, it’s just hard to warm up to Katniss this time. And as for her co-star, like in the first flick , Hutcherson recites his lines with does eyes making his every scene appear like he’s posing for a velvet painting. And does Katniss really love him or the hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth, Thor’s brother) because, I am confused at this point and not sure I care. So, in conclusion, this second Hunger Games failed to get my interest or emotional involvement in the story because, it was just too dark and bleak and gave us a lead character who, instead of being a symbol of hope, looked like she was ready to climb under a blanket on the couch and pout with a gallon of ice cream and a bottle of scotch. And after watching this moody second installment you might want to too! At least the sets and FX were top notch and Harrelson and a few others elevated their performances above the dark cloud that hovers over this flick. Very disappointing.

2 and  1/2 J-Laws!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNIFER LAWRENCE!

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MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse would like to wish a Happy 23rd Birthday to the lovely and very talented Jennifer Lawrence! I’m a big fan and to celebrate this young lady’s special day, we take a quick look back at some of her most popular and best work….

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WINTER’S BONE (2010)

Backwoods mystery thriller is a well made and interesting little film, it does have an incredibly slow burn and it is filmed in an almost documentary style but, that is deliberate on writer/director Debra Granik’s part though, I could see where that might confound and bore the average movie goer but, I was fine with it. But despite it’s slow pace there are some subtly intense moments throughout and leading lady Jennifer Lawrence has a quiet strength and intensity that help her carry this low budget indie quite well on her young shoulders. When all is said and done there really is very little mystery as it’s obvious how it’s going to end up but, what makes the film worth seeing is watching Lawrence’s Ozark teen, Ree make the strong-willed journey to get there. And the film is about the journey and not the pay off. Well done and a great acting job by newcomer Lawrence. Also stars the underrated John Hawkes.

3 Birthday Girls!

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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

Not very familiar with the X-Men comics so, I am taking this origin film for what it is… and what it is, is one of the best movies of the 2011 summer and ranks with the best of the series so far. A great cast from leads McAvoy and Fassbender to the stunning and talented Jennifer Lawrence as a young Mystique, really make this character driven ensemble piece work. And that’s not to imply that there isn’t action, because there is plenty. It’s just director Matthew Vaughn skillfully mixes both quite well so we get some great action set pieces without ever loosing sight of his large cast of characters or his story. And the film tells the story of the beginnings of the X-Men, especially Prof. X and Magneto who start as friends but, become foes. It cleverly does this amongst the chaos of the Cuban missile crisis of the 60s which is actually a plot by villainous mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) to end humanity so, mutants can take over the world. It’s part superhero flick and part James Bond movie and all the more fun for it. A really well done and very entertaining and smart movie.

3 and 1/2 Birthday Girls!

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THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

I have not read the popular young adult book series that this film is based, which, to me, is a sort of mix of The Running Man and the cult Japanese classic Battle Royale although, writer Suzanne Collins states other inspirations. The story takes place in a totalitarian future where the controlling “Capitol” punishes rebellious districts by staging “The Hunger Games”. Two youths or “tributes”, 1 boy and 1 girl, are selected once a year from the 12 districts and forced to compete in a battle to the death till there is only one survivor. When teen Katniss Everdeen’s sister is picked, she volunteers to take her place. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss and gives another strong performance. Winter’s Bone proved this young lady can act and she proves it once more even with lighter material. She gives Katniss some nice depth and three dimensionality. She is supported by Josh Hutcherson as fellow player Peeta, Woody Harrelson (another strong role, he really has found his groove since Defendor), a barely recognizable Elizabeth Banks and veteran Donald Sutherland. The performances are all good under director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) who also gives us some nice dramatic strength, despite the familiar aspects of the story and while he’s not an action director, the film moves at a decent pace and the action is fine enough for it’s intended young adult audience. More mature movie goers might have wished for a bit more intensity when our teens clash but, it serves the plot well enough. The FX are fine with most of the CGI being well done except for weak rendering of some large predators that appear in the last act. The design of the film’s utopian Capitol seemed like a mix of things we’ve seen before but, not to the point of derivative. The film is more about the characters and director Ross, who cowrote the script with Collins, gives us some well rounded main characters though the secondary characters are weak including the blood thirsty “tribute” Cato (Alexander Ludwig) who serves as the game’s bad guy. Overall an entertaining movie and a far better adaptation then the other young adult phenomenon, Twilight.

3 Birthday Girls!

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bipolar man who has spent the past 8 months in a psychiatric hospital after beating his cheating wife’s lover half to death. Upon release, Pat goes to live with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and has every intention of trying to rebuild his life and get back with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee) despite a restraining order. But, his plans take an interesting twist as he befriends an emotionally disturbed widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who claims to want to help him reach his wife, but, possibly has her own agenda. Silver Linings Playbook is written and directed with a nice offbeat style by David O. Russell, based on a book by Matthew Quick, who crafts a nearly perfect film that is both romantic comedy and emotional drama. He gets fantastic performances out of his cast. Lawrence fully deserves her Oscar as her performance is a tour de force portraying the emotionally damaged Tiffany and Cooper is right behind her as the determined but, still slightly delusional Pat. De Niro gives his best performance in years as Pat’s Eagles loving bookie father and Chris Tucker, in a supporting role as a friend of Pat’s from the hospital, gives the performance of his career. Who knew from Friday and the Rush Hour movies that he had such depth. I really have no major faults with this offbeat flick that is filled with emotion, heart and laughs too. It takes a little time to hit it’s stride but, that’s about it. A great movie that has depth and substance to go along with the heartfelt entertainment. Brilliant.

3 and 1/2 Birthday Girls!

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An award well deserved and a speech that proves she’s a doll…

*HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISS LAWRENCE!*

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REVIEW: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

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Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bipolar man who has spent the past 8 months in a psychiatric hospital after beating his cheating wife’s lover half to death. Upon release, Pat goes to live with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and has every intention of trying to rebuild his life and get back with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee) despite a restraining order. But, his plans take an interesting twist as he befriends an emotionally disturbed widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who claims to want to help him reach his wife, but, possibly has her own agenda. Silver Linings Playbook is written and directed with a nice offbeat style by David O. Russell, based on a book by Matthew Quick, who crafts a nearly perfect film that is both romantic comedy and emotional drama. He gets fantastic performances out of his cast. Lawrence fully deserves her Oscar as her performance is a tour de force portraying the emotionally damaged Tiffany and Cooper is right behind her as the determined but, still slightly delusional Pat. De Niro gives his best performance in years as Pat’s Eagles loving bookie father and Chris Tucker, in a supporting role as a friend of Pat’s from the hospital, gives the performance of his career. Who knew from Friday and the Rush Hour movies that he had such depth. I really have no major faults with this offbeat flick that is filled with emotion, heart and laughs too. It takes a little time to hit it’s stride but, that’s about it. A great movie that has depth and substance to go along with the heartfelt entertainment. Brilliant. ***1/2