If I have learned anything from reviewing films is to surrender my expectations. However, I had low expectations when I viewed the original HUNGER GAMES (2012) and found it to be a surprisingly entertaining film. I liked it so much that I named it one of the best films of the 2012. Prior to seeing the film I had no exposure to the books and I had no idea what to expect from the story. After a slow start I found myself completely involved in the story. I was also impressed with the performance of Jennifer Lawrence as lead character Katniss Everdeen. She brings toughness, determination and vulnerability necessary for the role. Lawrence earned a nomination for an Oscar for her role in WINTER’S BONE (2010) and took home an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012). Clearly she is a very good actress and without her the film would simply be average. Can you imagine Kristen Stewart in the role? Me neither.
If you are reading this review I will assume that you have seen the original film therefore I will not go into details and plot of that film. The story picks up a short time after the end of the events of the first film. Katniss and games partner Peeta have returned to their home District 12. Katniss is reunited with her lover Gale while Peeta is still carrying a torch for Katniss. Katniss is still haunted by the events of the games and is still carrying guilt because of the death of Rue. Their time at home is short lived as Katniss and Peeta must go on a Victory Tour in which they go to each district and pay homage to the other tributes that lost their lives games. During the tour it becomes evident that not only are they heroes but they seem to have been a spark that has ignited a revolution against The Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss represents hope to the oppressed; Snow is not happy with this turn of events and develops a plan that forces Katniss to participate in the games once again. If Snow’s plan is successful it will eliminate Katniss for good and restore order throughout the twelve districts.
The film is a perfectly executed sequel. It takes the existing characters and ups the stakes for them while also expanding the themes of the original story. Effie (Elizabeth Banks), clothing designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and District 12 mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) have all returned have returned from the original story and we get to know a little more about them as well. The film follows the structure of the first film fairly closely but make no mistake, this is no carbon copy of the original. The training sequences and the actual games themselves take on a deeper meaning and with the stakes being higher it gives them more emotional resonance. Once the actual games begin the film is non-stop action with each set piece being better and more intense than the previous one. By the time was over I was worn out but in a good way.
CATCHING FIRE is a film that improves upon its predecessor. It joins THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as one the best sci-fi sequels of all times. Similar to that film it is darker and adds additional characters who play an important role the story. The film also has an opened-ended conclusion with sets up its third and final chapter. This film is spectacular entertainment and fans of the series are going to have a great time watching it. Katniss Everdeen will return and may the odds be ever in her favor.
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This week we take a look at 2 new movies' The Best Man Holiday and Thor The Dark World. Which one is worth seeing? The History channel has announced they will be rebooting Roots into a 8 hour tv event. Should have a black film maker at the helm? More topics: Marvel and Netflix team up for 4 tv series. The top 10 grossing movies of all time.
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Robin Thick vs. The Marvin Gaye Family. The lawsuit heats up We break down the players involved and just how shady the game is played.
Discussion on X-MEN Days Of Future Past - Trailer review and break down of the original story.
Are the trailers for The Anchorman 2 racists?
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The original BEST MAN was a surprise hit when it was released in 1999. The film featured an all-black cast with the fresh faces (at the time) of Taye Diggs, Monica Calhoun, and, most notably, Terrance Howard. Rounding out the cast are Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau and Sanaa Lathan. The film was fresh; unlike most “black films” that preceded BEST MAN, the characters were all college educated and did not live in the hood. For those who missed the original, the story involves Harper (Diggs) who has just written a book to be featured on Oprah's Book Club. Harper is also going to be the best man at his best friend Lance’s (Chestnut) wedding. Simple enough. However, it seems that the book is based on Harper and his friends and may or may not reveal that Harper slept with Lance’s bride-to-be Mia. One of the groomsman Quentin (Howard) is not happy with his portrayal in the book and further complicates Harper’s attempt to keep Lance from reading or finding out about the affair. Although the filmmakers offer a “Cliff Notes” version of the major events in the first film, I still recommend seeing the original before seeing the sequel.
Fourteen years later, the entire group has reunited to celebrate Christmas at Lance and Mia’s home. Although the first film ends with an apparent resolution between Harper and Lance, it seems that there is still tension even after all the intervening years. This film is one of the rare instances wherein all of the original cast members returned after such a long layoff. There is Harper and his very pregnant wife Robin (Lathan), Murch and his former stripper girlfriend Candace, Quentin and his ever-present mouth, Jordan and her boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian who is noticeably absent from the movie poster), and Murch’s ex-girlfriend Shelby. Shelby’s presence in this film is suspect, but the film attempts to cover it by suggesting that Shelby and Mia are sorority sisters; I do not remember that aspect from the first film. There is still very good interplay and chemistry between the four guys but make no mistake this is Howard’s film. He provides the film’s humor and serves as a reminder at just how talented he is.
There is a great deal going on in the film but it is successful in juggling the different story lines until the Shelby plot becomes prominent. Shelby did not play a very big role in the first film and her presence here serves as a distraction. Otherwise, the leads are engaging and help carry the story along until the film takes a surprising shift in tone for this type of film. I will not reveal the details but I must admit that I was surprised that it went in this direction given that it is being billed as “holiday” entertainment. The last 45 minutes is heartbreaking but director Malcolm Lee does a good job at shifting between humor and tragedy.
The film runs about 15-20 minutes too long—similar to the first film—and could have used some tighter editing. There is an entire sequence towards the end of the film that it is not only unnecessary but out of place in this film. There are a few other minor qualms I have with the film as well. For instance, Lance has been playing football as a running back since the conclusion of the first film but seems to have no ill-effects from playing for all that time. Robin is having a high-risk pregnancy, I am skeptical that she could travel so close to her due date. Eddie Cibrian’s absence from the film’s poster is also troubling. The same thing happened earlier this year when another major characters from BAGGAGE CLAIM—a white character—was mysteriously absent from the film’s poster. I will save that discussion for another time.
This sequel is not necessary. In my opinion the first film was very good and left no room for a sequel. The story for the original is far more compelling that the story of its sequel. Although I do believe this film is worth seeing, do not be fooled by the film’s advertising. The film is somewhat manipulative in drawing an emotional reaction from the audience. There was audible crying at the screening I attended. My advice: take tissue. So much for feel-good holiday entertainment. The filmmakers covered themselves this time and left themselves some wiggle room to make another film if they desire. Hopefully, it won’t take another 14 years for them to do so.
Thor: The Dark World
I am not a comic book guy. I am not a big superhero fan, either. I am one those folks who still believes 1978’s SUPERMAN is and always be the best superhero movie ever made. The superhero genre made a resurgence with the release of 1989’s BATMAN. With the advance of special effects the films became larger in scope with story and characters taking a back seat to big action sequences. With the exception of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, which took a real world approach to its story, the majority of the superhero films are style over substance.
The original THOR was released in 2011 as a part of the “Phase One: Avengers Assembled” group of films that consisted of IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, IRON MAN 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and THE AVENGERS. Each film was a box office success given the loyal fan base that these characters have. I found the original THOR to be an average film—not as good as some of the previous films in Phase One. Thor just is not an interesting character to anchor a film; he does not have an alter-ego, he is not a part of the mortal world, and he can be, well, preachy. The audience can have a difficult time relating to him, leaving him to be dull and uninteresting. This film is no different.
THE DARK WORLD picks up after the events in THE AVENGERS and the film reminds of us of this at least six times, referring to “the event in New York”. It seems that love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been unsuccessful at moving on and is still carrying a torch for Thor who is back on his home planet of Asgard. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). There is talk of something called Aether but I honestly have no idea what it is and why it is important but it seems to be very bad stuff. From there things happen, stuff blows up, there is endless talk of the Nine Realms and all of it went over my head. As always I take notes but in this case I need notes for my notes.
My opinions on films are not based on the reactions of other people, but I saw this film with its target audience and they did not seem too excited by the film. The lukewarm reception could be due to some technical difficulties that caused the screening to start almost an hour late. The film just was not a lot of fun and with its convoluted plot at least for me I was unable to become engaged in the story. There are some good comic relief moments provided by Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Dr. Erik Selvig. There is also a funny cameo by one of the Avengers that drew some cheers from the audience.
The film will probably be a hit with its core audience but casual viewers should avoid this one. Once again the 3D format is gratuitous and should be avoided at all cost. As is true with most of the Marvel films, these films always have post-credit scenes; this film is no exception. There are two on this film, so be sure to stick around if interested. The credits also proudly proclaim that THOR WILL RETURN. I am sure he will. I just hope he returns in a much better film
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Impromptu show where we take a look at some of Princes career choices over the years. Should Prince have participated in the We Are The World recording, duet with Michael Jackson, and bring the Sign O' The Times tour to America?
12 Years a Slave
The cynic in me says that this film was only made to respond to DJANGO UNCHAINED. In my opinion that film was unfairly criticized for not accurately portraying the atrocities that took place during the era of slavery. I would argue that DJANGO was not about slavery, but a revenge film that is set during the era of slavery. Make no mistake 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a film about the atrocities of slavery. This film is also one of the most powerful pieces of filmmaking I have seen in quite some time.
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York with his wife and two children, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. After he determines there is no way to get anyone to believe his story, he decides that he has to try to survive rather than escaping. Based on a true story and book of the same name written by Northup and published in 1863, the film chronicles his 12 years struggling to keep his dignity while observing all the unjust treatment of not only himself but the other slaves as well. His first plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) recognizes that he is not like the other slaves and treats him reasonably well. On one occasion Northup stands up for himself and is nearly killed for his action. This leads Ford to sell Northup to a more sadistic owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) where his resolve to survive is put to the ultimate test.
This film is brutally honest in its portrayal of slavery. Since it is based on the real life story of Northup it cannot be accused of being over the top. Director Steve McQueen pulls no punches in showing the events that took place during this time. McQueen uses several unbroken shots to enhance the audiences experience in the horror of slavery. Early in the film when Northrup discovers that he has been kidnapped and is being bound by chains, he is beaten by one of his kidnappers on his back with a paddle. This is shown in real time without cuts so the audience is unable to divert their attention elsewhere. Another sequence of note is another early scene in which a mother and her two children are sold separately. This shows one of the biggest horrors of that time which is the complete separation of families from each other forever. The scene is heartbreaking to watch but this was an unfortunate fact of the times. After Northrup tries to defend himself and has a fight with one of the overseers he is tortured by being hung but with just enough room so he can barely stand on his toes. In another unbroken shot we are shown Northup hanging for several minutes. McQueen uses the ambient sounds with “normal” life going on around him. No one attempts to help and the audience is forced to sit and watch him suffer. Some may say the sequence goes on too long but I thought that it help emphasize the point of his helplessness and suffering. However, the most disturbing and brutal moment of the film involves the whipping of another slave. I will not reveal the details because it is important to the plot but it the most heart wrenching scene in recent memory. It is absolutely brutal in its realism and it was at this point that I could hear audible sobbing from several members of the audience.
While this is a great film it is by no means perfect. The film’s opening disjointed structure had me confused. It would have suited the film better had it been told in order. The biggest misstep in the film is the casting of Brad Pitt in a pivotal role late in the film. It is no coincidence that Pitt is one of the producers of the film and he is cast in a role that is not slave owner. I did not feel like I was watching an actor here but watching a movie star playing dress up and attempting to give the film credibility. The material is strong enough and his presence was not needed.
I hesitate to call this film entertaining because of the dark nature of the film but it is gripping and compelling. I do expect multiple Academy Award nominations for the acting for Ejiofor, Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The film is the polar opposite of DJANGO UNCHAINED so if you are going in thinking that it is that kind of movie you will be in for a shock. This is an important film that should be seen by all. Hopefully it will open up meaningful dialogue about this country’s history so we are not doomed to repeat the past. Much like SCHINDLER’S LIST it is an important film that documents a tragic time in history but it is not always easy to sit thru. The film is an important history lesson for all people. See it.
When I first received confirmation of the decision to remake Brian De Palma's classic 1976 film CARRIE, my first thought was, "Why remake a classic that, aside from the special effects and the 70’s clothing, is a pretty flawless film?” It is no secret that many popular film franchises that have run their course become fodder for, reboots, remakes and my personal favorite term: the reimagining. Some of the new versions ranged from the good (Friday the 13th) to the bad (My Bloody Valentine) to the downright ugly (Prom Night). Since most of these films fail to set the box office world on fire, I have to wonder why these movies keep getting remade. The cynical answer to both questions is simple: they are cheap to make and need very little advertising to get people in to the theater. They cast unknowns or TV actors in the roles, which aids in keeping the film’s budgets under control. They take shortcuts that make it possible for the studio to make a profit off of these remakes. The problem is that those shortcuts often sacrifice quality and creativity in the process. So as long as people go to see them, rent them or buy them they will continue to be made. Unfortunately, all of these horrors are true of the remake of Brian De Palma’s classic 1976 film CARRIE, which is another unnecessary remake in a long list of other unnecessary remakes.
I will admit I was more interested in this remake due to the decision to cast Chloë Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her overly-religious mother Margaret. Directing duties we assigned to Kimberly Peirce, the director of another awkward teen coming-of-age film BOYS DON’T CRY. Unfortunately that is where inspiration stopped. There is nothing new or fresh in this film. Lines of dialogue and entire scenes are lifted directly from the original film. Although the film is modernized with the use of cell phones and the Internet, even this update is mishandled. The technology is used to further torment Carrie but the opportunity to explore cyber-bulling of the story is more an afterthought in this film. The story’s climax which takes place at the prom-a possible upgrade to De Palma’s version- but the original maintains the edge due to the use of split-screen to show the mayhem that ensues. A car wreck and its aftermath on the occupants of vehicle in the remake is the best sequence in the entire film but it is not enough for me to recommend the film. The performances by Moretz and Moore are as good as you can expect but they are not enough to counter-balance the awful performances of the supporting actors in the film. Given the caliber of the director, I was surprised at the lack of quality in the performances.
I try view remakes in a vacuum and pretend any previous versions of the film do not exist: this is the only way I can fairly treat sequels, remakes, reboots, and "reimaginings". As I began to watch CARRIE I kept trying to convince myself that the original did not exist and enjoy this film on its own merits. Unfortunately, there were not many good merits to judge it by. Every time I saw something promising, there was a "but" that destroyed the effect. In short, I am disappointed with this film. It further cements my notion that Hollywood needs to stop with these remakes unless they truly have a new twist to the original material. The "twists" of this remake simply are not substantial enough to warrant the existence of this film. As I write this review, the original is streaming on Netflix: skip the remake and see the original instead.
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This week we talk about the film Gravity, Breaking Bad, comics and what would you do with 50 bikers surrounding you on the road.
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With all this talk about Mylie Cyrus and how she is so over the top. We look back at Prince when he had the nickname 'Rude Boy'. During the 80's Prince was the poster boy for explicit lyrics. Prince created Vanity 6 and in the 90's introduced some could say, the 1st stripper rapper to the world; Carmen Electra.
Also we talk about Who Stole the Soul, or did Black producers give it away. (Yes we go there)
Janelle Monae - Super talented, but is she over the heads of the masses.
What album today is a cross genre hit?
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This week we take a look at GTA5, is it worth all the hype? Breaking Bad is coming to an end and the guys get into a discussion about the last remaining episodes. Plus is Paypal jacking money from Kickstarter campaigns?
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A Place N This World podcast returns!
Today's topic: Changing Perspective
A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
3 things I explore to help you change your perspective;
1. Ask yourself why
2. Focus on the good things in your life
3. Does it really matter?
Check this video of Beyonce. This just happened as this episode was published. Watch as a fan pulls her off stage, then watch her response 'after' she finishes her song. She said "Thank you" and kept it moving. Bey is living her Place N This World!
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We take a look at the upcoming flood of blockbuster films coming out in 2015. A look back at Star Trek Into Darkness, Michael thinks it's unwatchable. Should HBO make there app HBOGO available to everybody and not just cable subscribers?
Orange is the New Black
Breaking Bad spinoff
Man of Steel 2, Batman will be “tired and weary and seasoned.”
Disney is releasing a Star Wars movie every year after 2015
A review of Arsenio Halls return to latenite tv.