The Hunger Games (2012)


Link: The Hunger Games

Summary: A possible future USA, I mean, a fictional totalitarian government forces young adults to fight to the death on a televised gladiator-style competition for some reason that really doesn’t make much sense.

Thoughts: I didn’t think this was a great adaptation.  Although the book is written very film-ish-ly in its pacing, as if the author knew a film would come of it, the main problem with the adaptation is that the pacing gets messed up because of how exposition is handled.  The story relies on a lot of background knowledge, and you just can’t handle the required exposition in a film in the same way you can in a book.  So the result of trying to stay true to the book results in something that is both bloated in length, yet still feels rushed.  I would’ve changed the storyline much more liberally.

Secondly, the mood and atmosphere made it seem as if the film took itself far too seriously, as if we need sad music when watching how District 12 lives so that we know to feel sorry for them, or overly sentimental music in scenes of love and loss.  It just comes across as rather forced and contrived.  I would’ve been much more subtle about it.  I think the totalitarian government and its media would’ve seemed much more sinister and ominous had they been played much more directly, presented plainly, instead of spoon-feeding the audience that the powerful government is evil and knows it.  (I do not mean without its over-the-top personalities and fashion eccentricities; I mean the tone in which these characters’ relationships with the rest of the world are portrayed.  That is, they should’ve been portrayed as caring about the world and the poorer districts.  It makes it more personal.  It’s the same reason people can feel horribly insulted when someone else tells them that they’ll pray for them.  It’s the sense that it’s a condescending lie, that the apparent good intentions are a cover up for something more sinister.)

Lastly, unneeded shaky cam.  There still seem to be filmmakers who think this gives a film a cool gritty look.  It looks stupid and incompetent.  Stop using shaky cam.

All the King’s Men (1949)


Link: All the King’s Men

Summary: A humble and honest man runs for governor to help his fellow men, but discovers the only way to win and get what he wants is to become the sort of power-hungry swindling politician he loathed at the beginning.

Thoughts: A bit of a Citizen Kane sort of story, but much more bland.  Really, not a very interesting film.  It could’ve been a short story, but instead is drawn out to an almost two hour film.  The guy’s change from a humble and honest man to an evil politician is neither believable nor subtle.  In one scene, he’s good, and then BOOM, he becomes evil, as if it’s just one simple arbitrary choice, and spends the rest of the film being evil.  And we get it right away.  OK, he’s evil now.  But no, the film pounds it in your face.  “Look!  Look, he’s evil now!  Do you see?  Here, let me give you another example by dragging on the story for another half an hour with this subplot, because look how evil he is!”  Boring film.  I can appreciate the overall theme they were going for, but they fail.

Evil Dead (2013)


Link: Evil Dead

Summary: A remake of the classic 1981 film, which I’ve never seen.  A young girl and a group of her friends retreat to a secluded cabin out in the woods, where she hopes to finally quit the deadly drugs she’s addicted to.  But when one of her friends reads from a mysterious book he finds in the basement, they all find themselves battling each other as demons take over their bodies.

Thoughts: Less of a horror movie and more of a ridiculous gore-fest, in which the goal seems to be not to horrify or scare viewers, but disgust them.  The only moments that felt genuinely creepy to me were the mirror scenes.  Because mirrors in the dark are very creepy.  The film did, however, feature a fantastically creepy musical score worthy of the horror film it could’ve been.  I love the sirens in the score; I don’t know why those are so effective at sounding terrifying, but they are.  Bruce Campbell makes a surprise appearance at the end of the film, doing nothing.  OK, thanks for that.

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)


Link: Jack the Giant Slayer

Summary: When a beanstalk grows and takes a kingdom’s princess with it to the land of the giants far above, the young Jack climbs up to rescue her, only to get mixed up in a deadly battle between the giants and the kingdom below.

Thoughts: While I am very much enjoying the current string of fairy-tales-re-imagined films, this film is not a very impressive contribution.  The story was all over the place, character motivations were either non-existent or made no sense, the ability for main characters to fall from heights and not get hurt was ridiculous, and hardly any of the humor worked for me.  The only thing epic about this film was its fail.  My only guess is that their target audience was children who would not be as critical as me.

Pacific Rim (2013)


Link: Pacific Rim

Summary: When monsters begin coming out of the ocean, mankind responds by building giant robots to fight them.

Thoughts: While I love director del Toro’s previous films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, I think this is his best film yet.  The premise is epic in nature, yet the story stayed focused on the main characters.  The dialog could easily be mistaken for bland if you’re not paying attention, but it’s actually very clever.  (Well, I suppose it also depends on what sort of sense of humor you have.)  The special effects were awesome.  The story is not really innovative or daring, but rather very classical, and it works fantastically.  A great film to see in 3D (even if some of the fake 3D live-action shots were a bit wonky) with a bag of movie theater popcorn.  I love the sound of GLaDOS saying “Gipsy Danger”.  It is music to my ears.  The film also features a great soundtrack.  Great film.  So far, my favorite of the year.

Solomon Kane (2009)


Link: Solomon Kane

Summary: Based on the character created by pulp writer Robert E. Howard.  After learning his soul is destined for hell, a mercenary vows to never again resort to violence.  But when a girl is kidnapped, he’s forced to reconsider his vow, and fights not just for her freedom, but for the destiny of his own soul.

Thoughts: This was like the film Lockout for me.  I can see why it got poor reviews, and yet I loved it.  The story is a bit thin and clichéd in some regards, the dialog is uninspired, and yet I love it.  I love the premise, I love the religious decisions the characters make, the themes of faith and redemption.  I love the look and feel of the film, the dark and moody atmosphere of the world, the costumes, the supernatural monsters, even when the special effects revealed a low budget.  The acting was quite good.  Very good film.

Upside Down (2012)


Link: Upside Down

Summary: There are two worlds.  The one you’re on, and the one in the sky, which is upside-down to you.  You’re not supposed to have much to do with that other world.  After all, gravity will always pull you to your own world anyway; the gravity of the other world will not affect you.  This fantastical (though scientifically ridiculous) setting creates many obstacles for a man who falls in love for a woman from the other world.

Thoughts: I can forgive the scientific absurdity of this film for the sake of its classic forbidden-love tale, but unfortunately the story seemed to focus more on the problems created by its wild premise than on the human relationship problems, leaving the film rather dry story-wise, relying on fantastical dazzling visuals to keep things interesting.  The pee gag was funny, though nasty (if you try to pee in the upside-down world, it will fall to the ceiling), but shouldn’t he have known that was going to happen?

Monsters University (2013)


Link: Monsters University

Summary: When a one-eyed monster is kicked out of a college’s scaring program, he joins a scaring competition to prove his abilities and get back in.

Thoughts: It’s nice to see that Pixar still has its unique “voice” amid the saturated animated film market.  It is already beginning to fade, I think, but this addition still had that unmistakable Pixar stamp on it.  I was not a big fan of the original Monsters, Inc., and was not impressed with the trailer for this college-based prequel, so my expectations were not too high.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoy it very much, from the lighthearted comedy to the deeper themes about loving and being passionate about something versus having the “talent” for it.  (It seemed to have its Ratatouille moments.)  Very good film.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


Link: The Manchurian Candidate

Summary: A man is psychologically reprogrammed to do the bidding of evil foreign communists.  His mission: to assassinate an important political figure.  Can he be stopped in time?

Thoughts: Poor Frank Sinatra.  Good singer, lousy actor.  But even if he hadn’t been part of the film, the premise was rather absurd.  People can get psychologically reprogrammed through some mysterious special hypnosis?  What?  Granted, normal men can go crazy if pressured under the right conditions (as in the Stanford Prison Experiment), but to become controllable robots that will unquestionably do the bidding of someone else?  It ends up being rather silly.  Which would’ve worked if the film had treated itself like a comedy.  The film featured some interesting directing decisions, interesting photography and cinematography, but not enough to make up for the over-the-top storyline that seemed to try to take itself too seriously.

Premium Rush (2012)


Link: Premium Rush

Summary: A delivery boy on a bicycle in a big city gets mixed up in a deadly mission when a crooked cop chases him after he’s asked to deliver a mysterious envelope for someone.

Thoughts: This film is a great example of how flashbacks can be completely misused to make a fairly straightforward story more confusing than it needs to be.  The overall premise was ridiculous in and of itself, with bicycles riding through dangerous traffic while being chased by cars and motorcycles.  The CGI cars looked terrible, but made for a good laugh when they ran over CGI people.  The ending was completely anticlimactic.  Overall, a ridiculous film.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 teaser trailer


A teaser for the upcoming 2014 How to Train Your Dragon sequel has arrived, featuring epic dragon flying.  It will be interesting to see Dean DuBlois direct a feature on his own.  His usual co-director, Chris Sanders, went off to direct The Croods, proving that, um, he could not direct on his own.  (Well, I guess he still had a co-director on that film, didn’t he?  It just wasn’t DeBlois.)  Because The Croods was pretty bad.  Ahem.  That last shot in the teaser, I thought, what’s the point?  Oh.  He’s older.  Um.  Wow, that sure is amazing.  At least his hair looks a lot less dorky.  Shoulda been like that in the first film.

Seventh Son trailer


The trailer for the Seventh Son recently came out.  The film, based on a book series, is set for release December 2013.  I love the look and feel of the film, though the dialog seems bland as usual for these sorts of fantasy adventures.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for it.  Still not sure whether or not I’ll see it in theaters.