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by Brandon Barb 03.30.2012
at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Worth the Hype: A Look at 'The Hunger Games'

Don't compare the latest young adult book-to-film to 'Twilight'

When I go see a movie, it better be a great one — at least a good one so that I didn’t waste an evening. Being in my final year of college I don’t exactly have all the time I want to go out to the theater. There have been numerous movies that are already out on DVD that I missed out on seeing on the big screen, the most recent example being The Rum Diary.

There is another reason that I visit the theater maybe two or three times a year, and that is the price of tickets. My student status means what little money I have goes to more important needs. Going to see a movie should be an enjoyable event not a troublesome occasion that breaks your bank account. Tickets, dinner and movie snacks can get incredibly expensive which is why I’m glad there was still a little tax return money left when I went to see The Hunger Games. I know this is a little late in regards to the movie’s release, but better late than never.

Going into the movie I had not read any of the books. I know that is sacrilegious in some circles — even the English major in me was furious. But I am not here to talk about the book, even though I did subsequently pick it up, so that could happen in a few days.

With that being said, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the story, characters or setting. In some cases that is the best way to be introduced to a series. With a clean slate, that allows little room for disappointment. The only thing that I was really disappointed about was the use of the shaky camera, mainly in the opening and final scenes in the arena. Apparently director Gary Ross felt that using shaky cam work would help give a better portrayal of Katniss Everdeen’s point of view and gave a sense of urgency to the movie. My only advice is that if you get motion sickness, be careful with this one.

At risk of sounding cheesy, everything else about the movie was great. Jennifer Lawrence did an excellent job of being the badass Katniss is. Woody Harrelson kept his string of great roles going; in some scenes he stole the light away from Lawrence and company — at least in my eyes. Maybe I’m just too big a fan of Zombieland.

There was one thing that went unnoticed though. Peeta, played by Union, Ky., native Josh Hutcherson, turned into a wimp in the arena. A big deal was made of how much weight he could throw around, even showing him picking up a spiked metal ball and hurling it across the room. I was expecting him to throw a heavy boulder at someone Braveheart-style. Instead, we were shown that he all he could do was camouflage himself to look like a rock. At least in the book he killed someone.

The only bad part of The Hunger Games was having to sit through a trailer for the final Twilight movie. That whole series is like watching pieces of wood trying to act. There have been comparisons of the two book/film series but there is one difference between them: The Hunger Games is actually good.

The Twilight books are horribly written ­— I wasn’t able to get more than 20 pages into the first one before I had to stop — the English major in me came out again, rejoicing like the Wicked Witch was dead. Then the Twilight movies completely destroyed every bit of vampire lore ever created. Vampires don’t sparkle and they can’t go out in the sun. I guess I don’t get the appeal of Twilight because I’m not a teenage girl. The choice of actors/actresses was strange as well, mainly because they give the same performance in each movie they are in. Check out Taylor Lautner’s terrible action movie Abduction for a piece of wood with abs’ best impression of acting. With that, I think I need to stop with the Twilight comments before it gets out of hand.

Though I picked up the Hunger Games book after I watched the movie, I can now say the filmmakers stayed true to the source material. There have been other movies with the same concept of a group of people fighting to death — The Running Man, Battle Royale and The Condemned are only a few. The story has been done before but it still manages to stay fresh. I’ve been going on and on, go see the movie for yourself or better yet read the book, it would only take a day or so to get through it.

 
 
by tt stern-enzi 07.16.2014
at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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REVIEW: The German Doctor

Opens at Esquire Theatre Friday

It is only through an understanding of the undeniable facts of history that we can even begin to consider the evil that was Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted the most horrific experiments on Jewish subjects during the Holocaust and then was able to elude the ensuing global manhunt for him that lasted decades. But writer-director Lucía Puenzo, in approaching one of the known episodes of his long-term flight from justice, offers a glimpse into the subtle charm (with more than a touch of real menace) of the man, which allowed him to roam the civilized world so freely.

The German Doctor finds Mengele (Àlex Brendemühl) crossing paths with an Argentinian family, and slipping through their defenses by focusing his attention on their young daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), who develops a crush on the doctor. The family, headed by the suspicious Enzo (Diego Peretti) and his beautiful and quite pregnant wife Eva (Natalia Oreiro), is on its way to takeover the small hotel where Eva was raised.

Mengele, too, is headed to the same location and joins the family’s caravan. He immediately insinuates himself into Lilith’s good graces, speaking to her in conspiratorial fashion, treating her more as an adult than a child, which entices her rebellious nature. His interest in animal genetics piques her curiosity and leads her to ask the doctor for advice about her own physical development, since she, as a premature birth, has failed to grow and mature like her peers. Mengele gently tests, probes and measures her, offering assurances, especially to Lilith’s mother, who is worried about her current pregnancy. (And it turns out that Eva is to birth twins, which certainly intrigues Mengele and his nefarious interests in human genetics.)

All at once, Mengele uses each family member’s concerns to his advantage. Even Enzo, the most distrustful from the start, gets drawn in by Mengele, who invests in Enzo’s handcrafted doll-making enterprise, shifting the exquisite individuality and precise detail of Enzo’s efforts toward a more uniform production line approach incorporating what could have been a degree of heavy-handedness in this display of the Nazi’s master race mentality. Instead, it comes across as an example of chess-like manipulation of human nature in pursuit of an overall goal.

The seductive nature of evil is all the more powerful thanks to Bredemühl’s performance, which casts a strong dark shadow that never simply devolves into mere moustache twirling. His Mengele is all cold calculation, despite the fact that he could be mistaken for having a degree of human care and concern in him. Is he, in fact, truly infatuated with Lilith, or even Eva, for that matter? Enzo reacts out of what could be understood as jealousy for the attention Mengele shows to his wife and daughter, but again, history tells us that Mengele is all business.

This puts a certain perspective on the ability of the Third Reich to sweep a nation and much of Europe up in its fevered march toward domination and genocide. Popular culture representations hint at our curious fascination with such dark figures, but what emerges from those characterizations is a desire to remove any trace of human sensitivity or connection. Evil is best and most recognizable if there’s no way for us to miss its absence of heart and/or soul.

But could that kind of portrayal do justice to men like Mengele and Adolf Eichmann (Nazi officer and a major organizer of the Holocaust), who actively participated in such inhuman practices and escaped capture for so long, walking among us? We long to believe their lives were hellacious, in some way, as they were forced to constantly look over their shoulders while putting on a show or a mask of humanity.

The German Doctor presents a dry, yet far more likely scenario that highlights the indelible stain on all of us. Mengele is all too human, truth be told, eagerly pursuing his aims with an expansive network of support at the ready. He was not some lone predator outside the scope of civilized society, just as the Nazis weren’t a philosophical fringe group in Europe, ripping clumps of hair from their heads while foaming at the mouth; that kind of crazy we could have seen and avoided.

Think of all the evil geniuses we’ve encountered onscreen over the last 20 years. The Hannibal Lectors of film and television. The diabolical Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) from Inglourious Basterds. What have they taught us? Evil ain’t crazy. Just watch (and watch out for) The German Doctor. (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre) (R) Grade: A-

 
 
by Jason Gargano 12.04.2009
at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Friday Movie Roundup: The Dilemma of Being Robert DeNiro

Many people have complained in recent years (including Scott Renshaw in his review of Everybody’s Fine below) that Robert DeNiro is not the actor he used to be. Maybe, maybe not.

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by Jason Gargano 08.05.2011
at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Friday Movie Roundup: The Perils of Technology

Jaws was on TV the other day. Though too young to have caught its initial 1975 theatrical release, I've since watched it at least a half-dozen times, each exposure inevitably sucking me back into its simple but exhilarating story all over again.

This time I was struck by how different Jaws is compared to the sleek, sequel-laden, CGI-driven summer fare of today. Watching a drunken Quint (a thoroughly convincing Robert Shaw) stomp aroundJaws' grimy, pathetic boat — which is a character unto itself — is welcome aesthetic shift from the alienating pixelated mayhem of Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America and the like.

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by Jason Gargano 01.16.2009
at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Friday Movie Round-up: Rourke's Redemption

Remember when Mickey Rourke was one of the most compelling actors on the planet? Sure, one must go back more than two decades, but there was a time when his wry smile, knowing eyes and playful, sexually charged persona made Rourke both a cult figure — the French still adore him — and an actor of rare emotional depth and unpredictability.

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by Jason Gargano 11.11.2011
at 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Friday Movie Roundup: Lighten Up, Leo, Edition

When willLeonardo DiCaprio lighten up? It doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

Asked recently if he would consider doing something besides the heavy dramatic lifting of recent years (see Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Departed, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inceptionand now J. Edgar), the 37-year-old actor responded with this to-the-point rebuttal: “Why would I want to do something I would consider a profound waste of time?"

Alright, then.

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by Jason Gargano 03.06.2009
at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Friday Movie Roundup: Zoo Crews, Watchmen and Vampires

While I recognize and appreciate the undeniable creative juice expended in their creation, I admit to a blind spot when it comes to comic books (aka graphic novels to the genre’s serious devotees). I outgrew the form shortly after the death of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, which went out of print after a 20-issue run in the early 1980s. (Don’t ask how much I spent on a recent, eBay-procured mint copy of the first issue.)

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Which brings me to Watchmen, probably the most anticipated movie our young, quality-deprived year to date.

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by Jason Gargano 01.06.2011
at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

The Mixed Messages of 'No Strings Attached'

I try to stay away from movie trailers as much as possible — either because they rarely give you an accurate idea of what a movie is truly about or because they reveal the entire thing in two minutes. (On the other hand, I suppose I'd rather spend a few minutes with something like Tron: Legacy or The Tourist than sit through two mind-numbing hours.)

An example of the first reason is on display in the difference between the theatrical trailer version of No Strings Attached (which is set to open wide Jan. 21) and its much racier red band version.

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by Jason Gargano 12.10.2010
at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Friday Movie Roundup: 'The Tourist' Sucks Edition

We've got another thin week for new movie releases — unless you're excited about the latest Narnia film, which I'm not. Even the new Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie thriller — which I was initially eager to check out despite the warning sign its studio raised by not screening it in advance for critics — is getting thoroughly trashed by those unlucky enough to have seen it. That leaves Wild Target, another film its distributor (the indie outfit Freestyle) didn't screen in advance, as the lone possible saving grace. No pressure.

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by Jason Gargano 05.06.2011
at 01:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Friday Movie Roundup: Special-Effects Dude Edition

Versatile special-effects maestro Shane Mahan knows his summer blockbusters — he's worked with everyone from Steven Spielberg and James Cameron to Tim Burton and Jon Favreau.

"They are the best communicators, and I think they’re also the best visionaries,” Mahan says. 

Mahan is something of a visionary himself.

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