Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2Released: December 18, 2013. Directed by: Adam McKay. Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd. Runtime: 119 min.

Staying true to the original’s colours, “Anchorman 2” starts out with absurd humour: Ron Burgundy being chased by a shark. But that’s not how the story begins, it’s just how the film begins; our story starts in New York, at the latter end of 1980. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) gets fired from his reporting gig, and, three months later, he is offered a spot on an innovative news channel called GNN, which is going to be the first ever 24-hour news channel. Ron has to get the news team back together where he reunites with Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Together, they will change the face of broadcast journalism without even realizing it.

“Anchorman 2” is another very good collaboration between director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell. It might not be as good as the original, but it still brings about some very successful and consistent laugh-out-loud moments. It isn’t as great as the original because it follows a storyline that is similar to the first one. Very similar, it seems to me. Ron gets too big of a head sometimes and the story teaches that important people can re-route his life and show him the way. These certain people are his ex-wife Veronica Corningstone (whom he splits up with when she gets a promotion), and his son Walter (Judah Nelson) who is annoying and cheesy. He gets a few chuckles, but that doesn’t make up for his crappy presence.

It seems to me Walter is in the film so it doesn’t feel so familiar to the first, but the truth is, he just bloats the plot too much. The film is a minute shy of two hours, and it’s too long. He is an okay intention from writers McKay and Ferrell, but it’s a misstep – because there shouldn’t be cuteness in a film that has so much bizarrely funny humour. It’s still fairly friendlier than an average comedy as it’s PG-13 and it has only one use of the F-bomb. The film has some great satire of the over-saturated news market because of all the stations it has, which allows enables the flick to have a lot of cameos that are alone worth the admission price.

James Mardsen portrays the villain of this film, practically being the new rival, one who replaces Vince Vaughn of the first. Ron’s ego is also an enemy to himself. His relationships with others is funny, like his African American boss Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). If you thought it was challenging for him to have a woman co-anchoring with him in the first; now he’s working for a female black person! Sweet Odin’s raven! Suffice to say, racism is featured here and there, but it’s handled lightly and in comedic ways. Anyway, Ron is consistently funny, even when his ego is huge, because Ferrell is great at being a cocky asshole. The supporting characters are still pretty awesome. Brian Fantana is still the sex fiend he has always been, and Champ Kind is pretty good, he’s hit and miss for me. Brick Tamland  is freaking awesome and so very funny. He is random and I love it. He gets a love interest this time around found in Kristen Wiig which is comedic.

Of course it’s comedic, since it is a comedy. This might not be the greatest comedy of 2013 but it’s consistently funny and even funnier if it is your type of humour. I would probably place this in my top 5 favourite comedies of 2013, however. I’d really like to see this again sometime soon, because it is quite entertaining, if too long. It’s also exciting to see the news men make news so entertaining for once, because I’d actually watch the news if it were more like this. The wait was also too long for this sequel, so if they make another involving ageism this time, it better come soon.

Score77/100

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit 2Released: December 13, 2013. Directed by: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Runtime: 161 min.

Many thought “The Hobbit” franchise would have peaked with the first chapter, last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” but that isn’t the case. Some may not find out because this made about $11 million less at the box office in its opening weekend, but box office performance isn’t relevant to the film’s quality. This is a great continuation.

In “An Unexpected Journey,” we left off with the group looking at the Lonely Mountain. The film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) discussing how Thorin should take back his homeland. The conversation turns out to be the time where they first discuss the journey. The dwarven company, along with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarve’s homeland of Erebor from Smaug the Terrible, the flying furnace. Meanwhile they encounter other companies in order to achieve their goal, Bilbo found his “courage” in his encounter with Gollum in the previous film, and they are still being chased by the Orks led by Azog the Defiler.

I think it’s a better film, as well, because it has a better handle on its tone. Last year, some may have been thrown off by its often silly tone; this is a bit more serious. It still has its fair share of comedy, but it isn’t as constant. When it is present, it’s entertaining – and very funny. The adventures of this company is consistent and memorable. A scene where the hobbits are in barrels is directed so well by Peter Jackson. It’s one of the best scenes of the film because it’s so fun, creative and the action is incredible. There’s also a great action scene where they encounter giant spiders that were mentioned in the first installment, and I liked it even more because it made me think of Ronald Weasley say “Can we panic now?” from “Harry Potter 2.” Those are the action scenes I’ll discuss; they’re awesome. Anyway, I also like Peter Jackson knows how to please his fans because there are some familiar characters, here.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears when the dwarves encounter elves and the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s a real treat. He has a lady friend he’s interested in, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); and she acquaints mostly with Kili (Aidan Turner). Evangeline Lilly is completely badass here, and even outshines Legolas occasionally. She’s a great actress portraying a great, noble warrior. I think her character is fascinating when she talks about the Elven beliefs, like saying that starlight is precious and brings hope. She is a character full of wonder, and that is something that makes her entrancing. It also makes the viewer feel full of wonder.

Interestingly enough, she is an original creation for this film – because the film makers felt they needed both a red head, and some female badassery. She certainly kicks ass, and one of my favourite visual sights from the film is the way her auburn hair looks in the sunshine. That’s poetry, folks, am I right? It’s cool that original characters get made for Tolkien’s universe. I love the world J.R.R. Tolkien has created, with all of its mythology, even if some names might be difficult to pronounce or remember.

Anyway, it is also nice to see some dwarves get more chances to shine, and they’re not just another number to the company – we’re actually starting to care about them. So the main dwarves, meaning the ones that get the spotlight shone on the most, are Thorin, Balin and Kili. Thorin seems to be warming up a bit, but he hasn’t lost sight of that badassery. Balin is the voice of reason, which I enjoy. I noticed that Ori (Adam Brown), a dwarf who had a lot of funny lines in the first film, wasn’t used very much in this; another testament that the filmmakers are trying to improve the tone, and try to give everyone a good time whilst watching the film. I’m sure this will be loved by many, because it has good comedy and it’s a fantastic adventure film.

Bilbo has found his bravery within the One ring, but he is evidently changing. (It’s funny to see that men are sometimes obsessed with jewellery, too. Haha!) Martin Freeman is a hysterical source of comedy in occasions where he doesn’t exactly know what to next. It’s simple but effective, and that is a favoured type of comedy. I love Freeman as Bilbo, because he is a little man with much care but a whole lot of bravery that cannot be measured. Gandalf went out on his own in this film when they split up at a forest, which was a bit disappointing to me. The film was switching between the main company, to Gandalf. It is nice that Gandalf isn’t the one saving the day all the time, so Bilbo gets some chances to do so, but it also takes away some of the great presence.

One presence that makes up for that is the villainous Smaug, and oh boy, is he worth the wait. Benedict Cumberbatch uses motion capture animation for his movements, and he moves graciously. He is a scary dragon, and he is a chilling villain. What a beautiful CGI-creature he is, too. The visuals are phenomenal, like the first, as is the New Zealand scenery. I really enjoyed the darker scenery, too, when characters had to go through caves. I guess the only thing left to say is bring on the next film, because I need to see how it ends. Maybe I’ll just go buy the original book that is, what, 75 years old now? Yeah. There’s an idea. I will read the book, but I will still eagerly await the film, because I love Peter Jackson’s direction of these tales.

Score85/100

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the FurnaceReleased: December 6, 2013. Directed by: Scott Cooper. Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana. Runtime: 116 min.

“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.

The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.

This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.

The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.

It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.

This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.

Score: 75/100

December 20-22 Box Office Predictions

American Hustle“American Hustle” looks like it will be a great movie, and it has a dynamite cast – it features Bradley Cooper sporting a perm, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. It’s the new film from David O.Russell about con artists. Films similar to this open at $13.97 million; and this opened to $740 thousand at six theatres. So, to say this has quite a bit of anticipation behind it is a bit of an understatement! It’s coming to 2507 theatres this weekend, and I think it will do well because adults don’t have many films out right now directly for them. They could also wait for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” My prediction is $19.6 million.

Anchorman 2“Anchorman: The Legend Continues” looks freaking awesome! (And it was, expect a review soon!) I’ve been excited for it all year and I was very pleased to find out it’s coming out tomorrow now instead of Friday! I loved the humour of the first and I’m sure I’ll love this. Films similar to this open to an average $31.14 million. Since the first film has established itself as a comedy classic, I’m sure this will do very well over this five-day frame. “The Hangover Part III” mustered $42.6 million in its three-day opening and something like $62 million in its five-day frame, to give you an idea of how comedies over five days do. And even though that was a bad movie, it did well at least in its opening. Sequels nine years apart is never a great thing, but for this it might work out okay – because people love their Will Ferrell and this character. I’m one of those people. The first film opened at $28.4 million, and I think this do near $40 million in a normal three-day weekend, and $54 million in its five-day frame, because even though the opening date was changed to December 18 three weeks ago, I didn’t realize it until today – and I wonder if I’m not alone on that.

Saving Mr. Banks“Saving Mr. Banks” looks like a very moving live-action Disney flick. It looks like an entertaining biography film, and it will really appeal to fans of “Mary Poppins.” It’s a family film that has a lot of competition with “Frozen” as well as the “Walking with Dinosaurs” film also coming out this weekend. My prediction for this is $15.4 million.

Walking with Dinosaurs“Walking with Dinosaurs” is the only movie being released this weekend I’m really not interested in seeing. It looks like an incredibly lame 3D sort-of cinematic event for the kiddies. I think the kids will want their parents to take them to this. Dinosaurs are awesome, but this looks boring. Films similar to this open at $25.13 million. “Jurassic Park 3D” opened to $18.62 earlier this year. I think since it is going to 3200 theatres or so this weekend, it will do around those numbers. My prediction is $18 million.

What are you most excited about seeing this weekend? Or are you just going to wait for all of those movies being released on Christmas day?

About Time (2013)

About TimeReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy. Runtime: 123 min.

“About Time” is not one’s average romantic film. It might have some of the same messages, but most don’t involve time travel. The story involves Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who, on his 21st birthday, learns that he has the ability to travel in time, like all of the men in his family before him. He decides to use his new-found ability to score a girlfriend, because he’s always known his life will be about love. Though, when time travel is involved – and especially when love is involved – nothing is ever so easy.

The way the awkward but charming Tim goes about wooing Mary (Rachel McAdams) is clever. He first meets her at one of those blind dining dates, where it’s like a blind date and it’s completely in the dark. He hits it off with her, but when his funny roommate Harry (Tom Hollander, as a character who is funny but often has one of those “everything bad happens to me” attitudes) has a professional crisis, Tim goes back in time and in turn doesn’t meet Mary; so he must meet her in other ways, in very funny ways, I might add.

The time travel plays a big role in the film but it’s light and easy to follow, mostly because the characters don’t have to worry about the butterfly effect. Of course, time travel comes with surprises and secrets, but I won’t spoil them. It’s refreshing when time travel is simple because sometimes it gets too complicated, and it would simply bring the whole film down tonally. The characters can only time travel to where they have been at that exact moment, and if they want to go somewhere else, they’d have to run there and couldn’t conveniently go straight there. Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) comedically explains it by saying “you cannot go back in time and kill Hitler.” The film is also light on entertainment from time to time, but it never let my attention wander once; perhaps because the characters keep viewers quite interested in the movie.

Tim’s a great character. He’s a selfless one, too, because he cares dearly about his family and will go back in time to help them. He would also do it for his friends, and, of course, himself. The only thing he uses time travel for is to avoid embarrassing situations, or edit his life to make things better. His time travel adventures are hysterical and charming. Time travel makes him make difficult decisions – but it also enables him to have privileges no one else does. Domhnall Gleeson delivers a heartwarming and natural performance. Tim is just an average guy with an extraordinary secret, and a very awesome family.

Bill Nighy is Arthur, Tim’s father who teaches him life lessons – like many other fathers, and who touches people with his great kindess. There’s an eccentric uncle – Desmond (Richard Cordery) who is very forgetful. Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) is Tim’s sister, someone who faces struggles in life because of her relationships with people. The mother (Lindsay Duncan) is a character who doesn’t have a lot of depth, but she doesn’t have to because this is much more of a tale of fathers and sons. There’s really nothing quite like the relationship a father and son share, is there? That’s what makes this film have such a big heart, and this has the ability to touch everyone’s soul – and I really wanted to call my dad after I saw this film.

Since Rachel McAdams has a new haircut for her character she looks much more like a simple beauty, but she is still very charming and a great choice to play the leading lady. She wants what is best for her family and the actress is great at what she’s called to do, like portraying emotions with her eyes and like walking down the aisle to the sound of Jimmy Fallon’s “Il Mondo, in one hell of an aisle walk. It’s also a great movie soundtrack, so that’s a real bonus.

This movie family is natural and seems like everyone else’s, and each character gets their moment to shine. This is a truly wonderful and lovely film that makes viewers care about all of the characters. It teaches that you should cherish all of the little moments and make the best out of everything; and live everyday like it’s the last day of your life, and it’s the last day you’ll see those you’ll love. It’s a very relatable message and a well-thought out one by Richard Curtis, who also wrote such romantic hits as “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill.” This is just such an unforgettable celebration of life, and it highlights the struggles of life, which one can overcome, but also focuses on the true joy of life, marriage and family.

I think this film is a big success because there’s never a dull moment, and I let it willingly take my emotions on a roller coaster. I was either smiling or I felt like I had a big emotional lump in my throat. That just says the film is powerful, if you ask me. It’s hilarious and it didn’t feel like two hours at all, which is great. It cleverly avoids clichés and I never felt the need to start mocking it when it gets too sappy, which is an effect the majority of romantic films have on me; including a somewhat similar film also starring Rachel McAdams called “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” This film made me forget about my notepad and I got lost in the experience of it all.

Score100/100

Red State (2011)

Red StateReleased: September 29, 2011. Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman. Runtime: 88 min.

I must give respect writer/director Kevin Smith for giving us something we haven’t seen from him before. There’s only one laugh in the entire movie. It’s a nice change of pace for him, but not a great film.

Set in Middle America, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) invites two of his best friends, Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) to have a foursome with an older woman he met through a dating site. Instead of having a good time, they fall onto the family church of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a religious zealot who has a much more sinister agenda.

I also respect that this is a movie I wasn’t really expecting – because it’s certainly not one’s run-of-the-mill action-horror flick. It also realistically portrays religious fantacism, in a particularly shocking way in one scene – but when Cooper simply preaches his beliefs down his family’s throats (and our throats, too, in turn) it’s the same familiar Bible quoting. I have my own religious beliefs – but I’m not one to stand on the lawn of a church during a funeral to protest homosexuality.

Things take a turn halfway through when intelligent cops actually show up (a rarity for horror flicks, no less) on a lead of the compound holding weapons that violate the National Firearms Act. These occurrences change the film’s tone from subtle horror to a bit of full-out action, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world because with that we get another intense performance from John Goodman. Viewers also get to see Michael Parks act nucking futs, and Nicholas Braun’s fear of the situation in one scene is particularly impressive.

There’s some analysis of repercussions of taking orders and not taking orders from higher powers (I’m talking about one’s boss in this case!), as well as some thoughts on terrorism. The religious fanatics are a little cuckoo and some of the occurrences are disappointing; leading me to not really care about the characters any more, but at least there’s some humanity within the religious family. It’s cool that some of the focus is taken away from the young teens who were the stars at the beginning, but surprising. But that’s what we look for in films – surprises. That’s what makes “Red State” only a decent watch. An unpleasant surprise is that this feels much more like an action film than a horror film, but it’s still not a waste of time; and one thing is certain: It makes me a bit more cautious of Craigslist, at least if there are any religious fanatics in my area.

Score63/100

Pumpkinhead (1988)

PumpkinheadReleased: January 13, 1989. Directed by: Stan Winston. Starring: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino. Runtime: 86 min.

The title might make this seem like a destined Halloween classic. It’s a bit unfortunate that the revenge demon is only called Pumpkinhead because the remains of it are buried in a pumpkin patch. The practical effects of the demon are impressive, and it’s just about the only thing worth raving about with this film. It’s a decent little mash-up of classic horror sub-genres: Revenge and Dead Teenagers.

Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is a loving father who runs a grocery store in a small town, where kids like to tease each other about a local urban legend; Pumpkinhead. It turns out, the local legend is real – and most of the locals know to stay in the house, and not interfere because the revenge demon has to run its course. When Harley’s kid is killed by a few vacationing teenagers going on a camping trip, he finds the help of an eerie witch (another thing to rave about, her decent make-up), who conjures up Pumpkinhead to take revenge on the teens who killed his kid.

Harley has a change of heart and tries to help the teens, but the demon can’t exactly be called off. He has to take matters into his own hands and intervene. Twisted occurrences happen when he’s actually on the loose, and it’s an okay set-up for the franchise; but since this has such a lacklustre cast and a mediocre story, I don’t feel the need to watch the others. There’s enough decent entertainment here for a viewing, but I doubt it will become a horror film staple any time soon.

Score63/100

21 and Over (2013)

21 and OverReleased: March 1, 2013. Directed by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore. Starring: Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin. Runtime: 93 min.

Since I’m turning 19 today, I thought this would be an okay film for the occasion. I’m not turning 21 anytime soon, but the legal drinking age in Canada is 19 – and I don’t think there are any movies out there called “19 and Over, Eh?” This was on my PVR so I thought I’d give it a watch. Even though this is from the writers of “The Hangover,” it’s still a bit more like “Project X” – so that’s a misstep. At least this movie has a half-decent storyline and isn’t shot in the found footage format.

Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is turning twenty-one years old, and two of his high school best pals, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) are hell-bent on giving him the night of his life, all on the eve of a big medical school interview. They take him out and show him a good time, just like they intended to do; but when Jeff passes out, neither Miller or Casey can remember his address to get him home. And his father is a total dick(tator), so if they don’t get him home in time, someone’s gonna get hurt real bad. The two friends go on a charade of finding someone who might know where Jeff lives, but it’s going to prove to be harder than they thought.

Friends are made during; Casey gets a love interest named Nicole (Sarah Wright), and an eccentric character called the Chief, who looks kind-of like Chris Elliot. Friendships are also in-genuinely tested. Ridiculous villains surface, like a person who Jeff accidentally hits with a dart; and a fraternity of Latin college girls, and how they become villains is somewhat amusing but predictable.

It’s a little bit disappointing that Jeff is passed out for a fair majority of the film, because he’s sorta funny while he’s drunk. The sight gag while he’s half-streaking is a little priceless. He has a bra on and a teddy bear glued to his privates. What happens later is a bit disturbing regarding that. It’s sort-of another sight gag taken out of the “Harold and Kumar” franchise’s handbook, and that isn’t the only thing. Jeff mirrors Kumar; they both have medical interviews the next day, and their dads play heavy influences in their lives to become doctors.

The film analyses the true stresses of university fairly well, and that’s something one doesn’t see very often in stupid college movies. And this movie is very stupid, too. It’s also disappointing that Jeff is passed out a lot, because he’s only likeable character in the movie (other than Nicole). You won’t be forgetting Chang’s any time soon, because Casey and Miller combined annoyingly say his name at least fifty times. They never say a simple ‘Jeff’, it’s always his full name. It would be a decent drinking game for people who want to get wasted  if you take a shot every time they say his name. Oddly enough, Casey or Miller don’t even have last names that get revealed to us!

I chuckled occasionally during, and laughed out loud probably about five or six times. (The first laugh-out-loud moment comes in the form of urination twenty-four minutes in.) But that isn’t enough to keep me satisfied during this film because the plot’s just very silly and a waste of time. Miller is occasionally racist and very unlikeable and he swears a lot, and there’s a running joke of him (a what, 21 or 22-year-old) where he wants to screw Casey’s sixteen-year-old sister. I don’t mind constant swearing in comedies – but it has to make me laugh or be occasionally amusing, but once a film just swears just to swear and the jokes constantly miss, it becomes bothersome.

Casey’s likeable sometimes but he still doesn’t treat his friend with much respect and I didn’t really care for him – the friendships just aren’t believable. Astin as Casey doesn’t have many memorable lines, and he is extremely bland. His performance in “Pitch Perfect” must have been a fluke because he is so boring here. Miller might be unlikeable because he doesn’t give a crap about Chang’s future because he forces him to go out that night, but he does have a few memorable lines. He’s one of those lazy characters that doesn’t apply himself. The character arcs are just lame.

The whole movie’s lame, really. At least “Project X” had a lot of boobs, this has three pairs and they’re all forgettable and very quick, but a funny spanking scene might just make up for it. There are lame bar montages and some disgusting sight gags, but the funny ones make up for one gross slow motion one. There’s a scene where the film shows some potential in a series of drinking games but the film falls flat again. Some occurrences don’t make sense and are just random to keep the film going. Anyway, If you liked “Project X”, you might like this, because it’s a bit stronger than that crappy party movie – but if you didn’t like that film, just avoid this one, too.

Score38/100

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games - Catching FireReleased: November 22, 2013. Directed by: Francis Lawrence. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth. Runtime: 146 min.

If you don’t feel like reading this 11-paragraph review, the most hyperbolic sentence is probably: “This is immensely enjoyable and one of the year’s strongest films.”

It’s impressive when big blockbuster sequels can improve over their predecessor in significant ways. What’s even more impressive is that the writers manage to make a great adaptation of a decent book. The film opens up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hunting, something that used to give her more solace than it does now. When she hunts and kills a turkey, she gets flashbacks to killing Marvel in the Hunger Games arena; which is something that creatively compelled me right away. One can tell from her eyes that she is saddened, and is suffering from guilt.

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) meets with the young victor to try to prevent an uprising within the Districts of Panem. Katniss has convinced most of the people of the Districts of the love shared between her and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), but she hasn’t convinced Snow. As seen in the film’s trailers, the 75th annual Hunger Games is a Quarter Quell to remind a new generation of those who fell within the Rebellion seventy-five years ago. This time, President Snow is also using it as a way to remind the people of Panem that no one is invincible – and to that, the names for the Reaping will be drawn from the existing pool of victors; thus saying, Katniss and Peeta or Haymitch will have to fight in the games once again, this time against trained killers.

There are many new characters introduced, but I’ll only discuss a few. Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is the gamemaker that replaces Senecca Crane (Wes Bentley) – and he’s far more interesting. There only a few tributes remembering, and they are the District 3 tribute Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), a technology wizard; Wiress (Amanda Plummer) of District 3; Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin of “Snow White and the Huntsman“) of District 4; Mags (Lynn Cohen) of District 4; and the tough-as-nails Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) of District 7. The returning characters are basically everyone who didn’t get killed off in the 74th Hunger Games. I’ll just move onto the performances because you already know the characters’ names.

Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss, giving an even stronger performance than the first time around. This is because the character now realizes that she won’t have any privacy; and she doesn’t yet know what to do – love Peeta, which all people in the Capitol expect, or love Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her hunting buddy. I wish she could just play a game of Eenie-Meenie Miney-Mo, but it’s not that easy. The character is now suffering from post-traumatic stress, it seems to me, because she had to kill many people to survive in that arena last year. It is never really clear if she’s in love with Peeta or not, because she claims it’s just for the camera – but sometimes it seems real; so what the hell does her heart want? Lawrence is great at displaying all of her complicated emotions as the cheeky Everdeen. She is a great character, regardless, and she’s a real fighter – especially for those she loves. She’s always emotionally touching.

Josh Hutcherson is strong as Peeta, because he’s hurt because he realizes Katniss’ love for him was just for the cameras – but like I said, it’s kind-of in between the two of being real and fake at times. Woody Harrelson is very funny as Haymitch and great at being serious. Sam Claflin is likeable as Finnick Odair, and he acts decently throughout. Lynn Cohen’s role of Mags isn’t a talking one, and I can’t recall if she was a mute in the novel; but she is a real sweetheart. Stanley Tucci is still awesome and eccentric as Caesar Flickerman, the eccentric talk-show host of everyone’s dreams.

The plot is strong because it has spectacular pacing for a 146-minute feature. Much like the first film, the Games themselves are only a part of this story. The concept of this dysoptian future fascinates me; and I like how it marries this futuristic culture with the bread en circuses of Ancient Roman culture. This is where the government gives food and entertainment to the people to keep them happy, so they won’t revolt against the government. In this case, the government is the Capitol, they give enough food to the people to keep the districts from starving, and the actual people of the Capitol have so much food, they drink an elixir that makes them throw up so they can stuff more in. The entertainment is of course, the Games. Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, must be fascinated with Ancient cultures – since she borrows that from Rome, and since a main tribute (Finnick) has a trident, used by the Greek god Poseidon.

I like the world Collins has created a lot because it’s hauntingly like our own in some ways; at least the entertainment way. These people actually watch a legitimate fight to the death, which would be morally wrong in this time to have that, but for cinema, it’s a great premise. I love movies like this (“The Condemned” is a guilty pleasure of mine), but this one is definitely not all about the killing. Half the time, the kills happen so fast that it’s to tell exactly who dies. Perhaps many of the tributes’ names aren’t revealed to us, because they just don’t have any identity that way – and they’re not that critical to the story in a few ways, so we won’t really care too much that they die. But when the villains die, I’d just like to see a bit more of the violence.

An unrealistic part of this all is the lack of blood during practically all of the kills. It is a PG-13 rated film, but realism should take precedence over ratings. A problem with the film is that, even with characters we know, when they die we just shrug it off with many because, we know only one person can survive, but it’s also because we don’t get much bonding time with them. That is a problem with one character Katniss befriends in the first film, when that person dies. (I’m trying not to spoil it too much!)

I like the iminent threats of the arena in this film, because they’re creative and happen at inconvenient times. It seems that there are more natural threats created by the gamemakers this time around than the previous film; and it keeps the action exciting. This story’s also strong because the film can just focus on the government politics of the potential uprising and trying to stop it by using fear and constant floggings to destroy the people’s spirit; and it can also focus on the Games.

The glamour of the Capitol people isn’t so in our face this time, but that’s because we were introduced to it in the first – and by now it just seems normal. The make-up and costume design is even better, especially a jaw-dropping piece for Katniss “created” by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). One thing that is way better is the cinematography because the new director, Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), doesn’t feel the need to move the camera around when people are just simply talking. Gary Ross did that, even when no action was occuring – and he did it a lot more when action was happening. No shaky cam makes me a happy camper, and I am sure it will please others, too.

There isn’t a lot of this film I don’t like, even if there are certain aspects it can improve on – but it has to appeal to the target audience. It’s still an immensely enjoyable movie and one of the year’s strongest films. I’ve seen this twice already, and that’s a rare occurence for me. (It’s great in both IMAX and 2D.) One more thing: The scenery is simply stunning. Reading the book is one thing, but to see this all come to life through its creative settings and beautiful landscapes, is just another whole spectacular feeling.

Score90/100

12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100