The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise is on a lot of people’s Thanksgiving schedule. My sister and I have already planned our Hunger Games night for next weekend, and I’ve talked to quite a few friends who have made it part of their holiday plans as well. I’m glad to report that it’s a solid choice for a post-turkey outing for the 13-and-overs—heck, wild poultry even shows up in the first few minutes of the film. Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen as she tries to live a “normal” life post-games back on District 12. Fallout from her faked-or-was-it-faked romance with Peeta, her Panem-wide celebrity, and the machinations of President Snow all hem her in and threaten her (admittedly depressing) status-quo.
Prisoners, the first studio flick from indie helmer Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is a taut crime thriller that allows for deeper interpretations. The script by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)slithers and twists, solidly satisfying who-done-it genre rules. The film follows the case of two missing girls, the frustrated officer trying to find them (Jake Gyllenhaal), and their increasingly desperate fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard). The deep-bench cast also includes personal favorites Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.
You’ve probably noticed I’ve cut back on posting movie reviews lately. That’s because I’m trying to focus my extra time on actually writing and making movies, not just writing about them. I’m deep into another draft of a weird feminist Western I’ve been working on for years and in pre-production to direct a sci-fi short written by one of my friends. But I promise to keep reviewing long-discussion-provoking films. And in between those reviews, I promise to give you a list of what I’ve been watching just in case you, like me, are nosy about your friends’ movie and TV habits.
Maybe you’re a half of a content pair who believes love should be celebrated every day…without so much emphasis on buying stuff. Maybe you’re currently flying solo and loving your independence…and hating how Heart Day enthusiasts assume you’ll be watching Sleepless in Seattle and sobbing tonight. (I mean Sleepless is great; sobbing, not so much.) Maybe you’re a mysterious stranger with serious stunt driving skills who breaks out of a hermit-ish existence to help his beautiful neighbor…knowing there will be price to pay.
Yep, I’m suggesting you watch Drive today, in celebration of the international day of lovey-dovey-ness. Here’s why the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn-directed, Gosling-starring wheeled thriller is a great Valentine’s Day choice.
The Valentine’s Day movie-going season is upon us, for worse or for worse. Fortunately, the first lovey-dovey date film I have to announce features brain-eaters. Warm Bodieshas a couple other things going for it, too. First, it’s directed and adapted (from the Isaac Marion novel) by Jonathan Levine, who was behind one of my favorites from 2011, 50/50. Secondly, it stars the charming (and fully grown up) Nicholas Hoult, who I’ve been following sinceAbout a Boy. And, as mentioned, zombies. Can love bridge the undead-notyetdead gap? I am really looking forward to finding out. Rotten Tomatoes has the unique rom-com at 73% right now. The New York Times‘s Manohla Dargis writes, “‘Warm Bodies’ is an improbable romance sweetened with appealing performances and buoyed by one of the better cute meets in recent romantic comedy…”
“Hey girl, are you going to see Gangster Squad this weekend? I’m giving myself cancer for the sake of historical accuracy and everything.”
This star-laden period piece is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) and written by Castle-scribe Will Beall, based on the book by Paul Lieberman. It tells the story of how a small team of LAPD officers fought mob-boss Mickey Cohen for control of Los Angeles.
When faced with tragedy, some of the most comforting words you can hear are “That should’ve never happened.” The assertion of the wrongness of reality is strangely comforting. With Django Unchained, as in Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes that righteous anger one step further to “And here’s what should’ve happened instead.”
Tarantino paints a guns-blazing, upside-down world—a Southern-Western that brings bulleted justice to one plantation in an over-too-fast 165 minutes. It’s one of the most alive films I’ve seen since, well, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is an exuberant filmmaker. He uses every trick in the book, from gorgeously framed silhouette still shots to quick zooms to extreme close-ups. Injuries spurt. Smoke curls. Stuff moves. As bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) says of Django (Jamie Foxx), it can be said of Tarantino: “My friend has a flair for the dramatic.” He’s not afraid to highlight the quintessential gesture, as in the trailer-featured moment when Django slo-mo shrugs off his rough slave blanket at the start of his transformation into a bada$$ bounty hunter.
I saw Zero Dark Thirty earlier than its wide-release January 11th opening by chance. A winter storm delayed my holiday trip and landed me in New York City for 24 hours, so I did what I always do when I have unexpected free time: I found a theatre. And that theatre was one of a few in the country showing Zero Dark Thirty.
I stood in a long line of New Yorkers escaping the cold to settle into the cavernous theatre. I had heard snippets of the film’s background (a second collaboration between The Hurt Locker‘s Oscar-winning director, Kathryn Bigelow, and writer, Mark Boal) and its controversy (allegations of too-lenient CIA-access, its portrayal of torture).
Start off 2013 by seeing the best action film of 2012 (feel free to argue with me in the comments, but I’m standing firm on this one). The inventive film, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brother’s Bloom) Looperfollows the mind-bending journey of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis), a hit man hired to kill people the mob sends back from the future. When the mob is done with a looper, they send the future looper back. The present-day looper then “closes the contract” (read: kills his future self) and is rewarded with a big “retirement” sum and the dubious honor of knowing exactly how he’ll die. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Joe’s contract closing doesn’t go as planned, and the resulting chaos makes him face questions of free will versus fate, self identity and self-sacrificing love.
Johnson balances the dizzying actions-and-consequences tightrope necessary for a satisfying time-travel film with a plot that rock-skips agilely over the depths without drowning in them. At one point, Older Joe quips, “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” (SPOILER link). (Johnson has said that they actually did have a straw diagram sight gag in the film, but they edited it out.) Known for creating engrossing film worlds, Johnson sets up the rules of this one through interesting action and mise-en-scene dialogue, prepping you to understand plot implications later.