The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Up next is the finale to the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 2. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.

From IMDB: After young Katniss Everdeen agrees to be the symbol of rebellion, the Mockingjay, she tries to return Peeta to his normal state, tries to get to the Capitol, and tries to deal with the battles coming her way…but all for her main goal; assassinating President Snow and returning peace to the Districts of Panem.

5 out of 10

I am not a reader. The only books I read are for school, and even then I tend not to. The three books in the Hunger Games trilogies are some of the few books I’ve ever read for pure entertainment. Since I don’t read many books, I don’t really hate many either. Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, is one of those books I really didn’t enjoy. Spoiler alert: I didn’t like the movie any better.

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First things first, did anyone actually ask for it to be two parts? It works for Harry Potter because the seventh book had enough substance for the split to work. Mockingjay does not, so the split is just a giant cash grab that totally ruins the quality of both films. The first part was slow because it lacked the material to work around, and this one fell into the same trap. Every little thing was stretched out, making the pace of the whole thing ridiculously slow. It was just a pain to sit through.

Not to mention, the characters didn’t really do much to help. Poor Jennifer Lawrence… she is so much better than the Katniss that the screenwriters presented her with. Katniss might as well have been the Hulk because she is always angry. There was no inflection in the emotions she output. The same thing can be said for Peeta and Gale— two characters with tremendous potential, but instead poor writing makes them one sided and boring. The writers focused too heavily on the whole Gale vs Peeta thing, probably in hopes that the battling romances would provide something interesting to an otherwise mundane film, which it did not.

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My biggest problem with the novel was that I had no idea what was going on, as it lacked flow and general organization. I can easily say the same for the film; I quite literally had no idea what was going on. I could not keep track of where Katniss was going and when. Every time I thought she was going to the Capital to finally end the mov— I mean the fight, she went somewhere random and proceeded to waste ten to fifteen minutes doing nothing. When she finally gets to the capital, and the big battle happens, they decide to knock her out for all of it. I’m not sure how much of this I can attribute to Suzanne Collins’ poor writing, but I can say I went through the same struggle while reading the book. Take that as you will.

What this movie missed was action. It was too much dialogue, too much political talk. What made the first two films successful was the balance between the politics and the action. Mockingjay is ruined by a misplaced focus on the politics of the world, rather than giving audiences what they want.

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Its pretty late in the game for me to be writing this review, but if you have yet to see this movie, I’d advise you to save your time. There is no use in ruining the first half of the series, which is actually pretty solid. I really like the Hunger Games as a whole, which makes it really upsetting that I feel obligated to say such poor things about its finale. But alas, here we are, at the end of a solid series with a disappointing final sequence. Too bad they can’t wipe it out like X-Men did.
~Vig

6 out of 10

This is the final installment of the Hunger Games franchise that seems to have ended
rather quickly considering the speed of which the movies have been produced. I read all three books a few years ago and while I enjoyed the first two, the third felt very slow to me and didn’t amount to a huge conclusion to the trilogy. But I was actually surprised to find the first part of
this finale last year to be interesting in its focus on propaganda yet unnecessary considering its shortness of the book.

In this film Katniss, again played by Jennifer Lawrence, leads a rebellion with all of the districts banding together to take on an uprise against the capitol and President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland. She joins love interests Gale and Peeta in a squadron of rebel leaders
enroute to seize the capitol. And her conversations with them are the best part of this movie, reflecting a mature element of this film from these well fleshed out character that was not present in the book. If you pair this character motivation with the three solid performances, especially from Lawrence who can’t turn in a bad outing if she tried, and you have a very interesting layer to the film.

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But with that being said, the film is extremely slow for the first two acts. There are many scenes of characters just walking or sitting while not talking each other that feel much more like filler than real moments poignancy that the audience needs to watch. There are some very
exciting and at some points haunting action set pieces, but they come and go so fast that it goes right back to the slowness that weighs down on the film. This slowness, which is my main qualm
with the film, is not the director or the actors fault but more the studio for deciding to split a small book that was already very slow into two parts for the sake of sucking more money out of the
franchise. It caused the first movie to be very slow and not build up to anything and the second movie to be very slow as well, but does have a thrilling and mostly satisfying conclusion. The film ends in a very sophisticated way that is much more mature book concludes. But these
stakes of the conflict aren’t very well presented until the climax which is very disappointing considering the amount of time they had to present that within these two films.

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This film is very dark and somber considering it being based off of a young adult novel, which go to varying degrees of success. In some instances, the darkness works to display it as an allegory for how many governments and leaders have been run throughout history with the idea of power being a common theme. But at other times, the dreary tone feels melodramatic with the PG­13 rating that the filmmakers have to abide to, which causes a lot of the dark elements to be very watered down to accompany a full audience.

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Overall, the film is a mixed bag of good and bad elements with the diagnosis being that splitting up a book into two movies hurts the overall product of a franchise.
~Seth

 

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Thoughts on… 2015!

Hey readers!

2014 was a great year for movies, both in action blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and indie dramas like Nightcrawler, and in less than two months the Oscars will crown Hollywood’s best. Some of Screenwars favorite movies of the year include Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Captain America 2, Gone Girl, and Birdman. But as we ring in the new year, it’s time to look ahead and check Vig and Will’s seven most anticipated films of 2015. (because five wasn’t enough for Will)

Number 7

St. James Place
First, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the films that didn’t make it. Joy, Spectre, Mockingjay Part 2. All are movies I will definitely see, but just didn’t make the list. St. James Place, on the other hand, did make the list. With Tom Hanks leading, Stephen Spielberg directing, The Coen Brothers writing, and an incredibly interesting premise about a Cold War spy, what isn’t there to like about the film? It should definitely be in the running for the top awards in 2015.
Joy
Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a struggling housewife turned entrepreneur, in this upcoming film from golden director David O. Russell. In recent years Russell has helmed such films as The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, all character driven dramas with fantastic casts. And with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro joining Lawrence here, Joy should prove to be one of 2015’s rousing successes.

Number 6

Ant-Man
Honestly, anticipation for Ant-Man may be a bit of a strong word. Nervous may be the better word. If Marvel is going to slip up anytime soon, it will probably be with Ant-Man. With creative differences endangering the film early on, it looked as though the film would be a disaster. Nevertheless, it recovered, and Paul Rudd, Michael Douglass, and Evangeline Lilly headline the hopefully successful final sequence of Marvel’s phase two.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
Though Mockingjay Part 1 was a critical disappointment due largely to its dearth of action and tension, the second part of the Hunger Games’ final installment will hopefully be the action-packed finale we are all hoping for. Harry Potter arguably reached its greatest heights with the concluding Deathly Hallows Part 2 and given the unbelievable cast assembled for this new Hunger Games film, here’s to hoping we will see the same thing mirrored in Mockingjay. At the very least, teens will come out in droves for this one.

Number 5

Jurassic World
We have been witness to three Jurassic Park films, with only one of them being remotely good. Luckily for the series, the first one is a classic and its legacy is, for the most part, still in tact, still making 2015’s Jurassic World so heavily anticipated. Chris Pratt stars, hot off his breakout year with starring roles in The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be sure to give this film the star power and comedic touch it needs. He will be supported by Bryce Dallas Howard and Jake Johnson in a movie that looks to bring relevance back to the Jurassic universe after two straight duds in the series. 
Inside Out
There were some fantastic animated films this year – most notably The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and How to Train Your Dragon 2—but we were robbed of the yearly Pixar feature. In Inside Out, we get a look at the inner working of the mind of a teenage girl and the emotions that battle for control of her head. Featuring the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black, all comedy stars, Inside Out will surely be a massive hit for all ages and a film that will contend for Academy Awards next year. We should expect nothing less from the creator of Monsters Inc. and Up.

Number 4

The Hateful Eight
This is tentatively put on here because after Tarantino’s outburst about the script leaking, who knows if this will actually come out this year. Regardless, this film looks to be great. Samuel Jackson and Quentin Tarantino always produce gold, from Pulp Fiction to Django Unchained. Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, and Tim Roth join Jackson to give this film a superb cast, one that will give Tarantino plenty of talent to work with. The Hateful Eight, at least in concept, will continue Tarantino’s string of great films and perhaps be a contender for Best Picture. 
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time, and I fully expect Age of Ultron to gross even higher, given the seemingly ever-increasing desire for superhero tent poles. Marvel studios has had a string of massive financial and critical successes, including Captain American: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy and with Joss Whedon directing Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth, look for Age of Ultron to be a critical success and the highest grossing film of the year, the decade, and maybe of all time.

Number 3

The Revenant
Could Leo finally get that Oscar? It looks possibly with The Revenant. The film is about fur trapper Hugh Glass, who is robbed and abandoned by his companions after being mauled by a bear. Surviving and out for vengeance, the film follows Glass, played by Dicaprio, on his quest for vengeance against his companions who left him to die. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu, coming off a hit in Birdman and starring DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domnhall Gleeson, this film certainly has the star power to be great. Supported by an extremely interesting premise, watch for The Revenant in best picture discussions next year.
Spectre 
Spectre will be the 24th Bond movie and will ostensibly begin the exploration of the criminal organization that dominated the first – and the consensus best – Bond movies that starred Sean Connery. My major complaint with Skyfall was that it felt too much like a typical action film rather than the suave Bond films that we’ve been accustomed to, but with the throwback to the original films that we saw at the end of Skyfall, Spectre has the potential to be one of the best Bonds yet. Oh, and joining Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes will be Blue is the Warmest Color lead Lea Seydoux and Quentin Tarantino-favorite 2-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz.

Number 2

Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Of course this is on here, it was just a matter of whether it was first or not. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanatic in the world, but the original trilogy is arguably the best series of all time. I wholeheartedly trust JJ Abrams with this film, who has directed two great Star Trek films and definitely has a great grasp on the sci-fi genre (he also built a replica of Millennium Falcon, so yay practical effects!). By the looks of the first trailer, Episode VII will not follow the path of prequels and disappoint us all.
The Hateful Eight 
Quentin Tarantino will make his return to the big screen with 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s story will feature two bounty hunters, betrayal, deception, and, knowing Tarantino, a massive amount of violence. Featuring Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, the legendary Bruce Dern, and global superstar Channing Tatum, who just found his first fantastic dramatic role in Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight will undoubtedly be one of the finest movies of the year and an almost definite Best Picture contender.

Number 1

Avengers: Age of Ulton
Drumroll please! The new Avengers is a hands down number 1 on this list. You all know my affection for superhero films, and with the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling at full force, Age of Ultron looks to be one of the best Marvel films yet. Following perhaps Marvel’s best year yet, one that featured Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2 heralds a star-studded cast that adds Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to the mix. Joss Whedon is also back at the helm directing what looks to be Marvel’s biggest film yet. The first trailer was sick, and the leaked details about storylines (CIVIL WAR!!!) regarding Marvel’s phase three only make this movie all the better, making it my most anticipated film of 2015.
Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens
Words can’t describe just how excited I am for this movie. Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite films of all time, featuring fantastic characters, a compelling story, and groundbreaking visual effects. Despite the trilogy of prequels that did all they could to ruin the Star Wars legacy, with JJ. Abrams at the helm and Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, and Andy Serkis joining the original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, I’m confident The Force Awakens will be more reminiscent of the original trilogy rather than the prequels. In a year full of sequels to blockbuster franchises, three of which are on this list, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is by far the most anticipated movie of 2015.

 

What movies are you most excited for in 2015? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy New Year!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1

Happy Thanksgiving! To celebrate, Zach and Will take a look at the highly anticipated Mockingjay, the third fixture in the Hunger Games series. Directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

Mockingjay continues the events of Catching Fire, with the Games destroyed and anarchy breaking lose throughout Panam. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), along with a few allies from the Games, finds herself in District 13, a district that was originally thought to have been destroyed. Under President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the counsel of friends, Katniss attempts to become the symbol of rebellion for the people of Panam and take down President Snow and the capital.

6.5 out of 10

It’s no secret that I’m a Hunger Games fan. I’ve read and enjoyed the books and watched and enjoyed the movies. I’ve gotten some flack from my friends about liking the series, but in my opinion it’s absorbing and compelling.

That being said, the third book in the Hunger Games series was borderline awful. It was stale, contrived, and it compromised the strength and appeal of its characters. Katniss, for example, devolved from a headstrong, independent female to a drug-addicted, man-needing complainer.

mockingjay

The moviemakers of Mockingjay were already going to have a tough time matching the quality of the previous two films, given the disparity in quality of the source material, and Lionsgate’s decision to split the already thin book into a two-part finale, a la Harry Potter, simply exacerbated the situation. I guess, though, Lionsgate is more about making money than about making good movies. Even for a text as thick in pages and story as The Deathly Hallows the result was a meager first act, so it’s no surprise that Mockingjay Part 1 was entirely disappointing.

It was almost completely devoid of action, save for a few split seconds of frenetic camera shaking here and there, which prevented the movie from ever achieving the level of intensity that characterized the first two installments, and Katniss’s touring of the districts with her camera crew felt like 120 minutes of set-up for the next movie. I essentially watched a poorly conceived 2-hour trailer for a movie that I’m not so sure I’m dying to see anymore.

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It’s also no secret that I’m a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think she was fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook, and she rightly deserves the praise she gets. Her acting in Mockingjay, however, just felt awkward. I don’t know if she was trying to hard, the lines were just cheesy (likely) or whatever, but I actually felt like laughing at how silly she seemed some times, which is a feeling I should definitely not be getting from someone whose boyfriend is being tortured in the Capitol.

The rest of the A-list cast didn’t really help out either. Elizabeth Banks has always been fantastic as Effie Trinket, but she was way underused, Josh Hutcherson seems to only have any worth as an actor when he’s with Lawrence, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin was just completely cold. The only star worthy of such a distinction was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the terribleness of the rest of the cast served only to highlight just how good he is.

woody mockingjay

Certainly I think much of the lackluster work from the cast stems from poor source material with ridiculous dialogue, but still, with all the assembled talent and all the funding I’m sure this project received, Mockingjay should have been better. Even so, the movie will certainly gross hundreds of millions of dollars. Hordes of tweens and dashing movie reviewing teens will throng into the theaters and pay a steep $11 dollar ticket price for a decidedly mediocre movie simply because it’s Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (and probably no mention will be played to Banks, Moore, and Hoffman). And I can’t blame Lionsgate for wanting to capitalize on that by splitting the book into two movies for double the profit (early reports show that Mockingjay grossed $123 million in its opening weekend, by far the biggest opening in the last few months), I just wish it had turned out better.

The film’s one redeeming quality was its interesting portrayal of wartime politics and, specifically, propaganda. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss is pressured into making staged and incendiary propaganda pieces to inspire the rebellion in the districts. Mockingjay’s directors use some intriguing subtext and satirize the abuse of rhetoric that is rampant in politics and military campaigns (which I’m sure amused all my AP Lang buddies out there) but ultimately it wasn’t near enough to save the movie. Still, it warrants a 6.5 simply because I enjoyed it. I am a Hunger Games fan, and so I was more than happy to go see Mockingjay. If you’re not already invested in the series, though, don’t bother fronting the $11 for the ticket. Go see the vastly superior Big Hero 6 instead.

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As one especially keen 12 year old who sat behind me in the theater pointed out when Jennifer Lawrence came on screen for the first time, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence! I love her!” Yes, that is Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Mockingjay.
~Will

7.0 out of 10

Just how much does context excuse a movie?

With the new trend of final chapters being axed in to two installments, that’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Just how slow can a first part of the end be, running on the excuse that “It’s only the first part”? Just how necessary is it? Just how many CEOs were jumping for joy and screenwriters’ days were ruined when they announced the end would be split?

katniss mockingjay

Well, I can’t get that last scenario out of my head. A bunch of my fellow writers laboring over how to pace some first half without slowing to a crawl just kills me. Mockingjay is a film that both defies and perfectly adheres to the tropes that plague “Part One” movies.

We’ll address the pacing first and, yes, it’s pretty languid (After Interstellar, this one felt faster than Barry Allen however). And a byproduct of that sluggishness is a cramped, claustrophobic feeling. In the books, as far as I can tell, Katniss spends the first quarter or so shacked up in a bunker and gets in on the action. Here, she spends 70% of her precious screentime in a base. A base that the movie flat out compares to a prison because it practically is.

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In fact, that’s one of the limiting reagents of Mockingjay. Around the fifty minute mark, I asked myself “Why am I not invested in Katniss’s story? She had my attention the first two movies.” and that query is easily answered: Katniss is a great hero but she’s an awful victim.

The very driving force of Katniss is that she’s “The Girl on Fire”. These movies repeat that ad nauseum. When we’re introduced to her, literature has conditioned us to think that she’ll be either a weak damsel in distress or a hero who will ultimately have to rely on someone else’s (Usually a man’s) help. But, no, she was a determined, strong character and she held up all the way through. In fact, she couldn’t be a damsel in distress for the cameras in-universe. Katniss was constantly shaping the plot and soaring to new heights in survival.

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And how does she spend most of this movie? Begging for a guy to return to her (When did she start caring that much about Peeta above everything else? The extents she goes to are a bit extreme) and staying locked underground.

Now, that being said, I do get what they’re trying to do. This series has often been about interdependence versus independence and it would be interesting to see Katniss have to lean on others for once and subsequently learn about finding strength in humility and compromising personal desires for larger stakes.

But Katniss does not get to learn about it by the end because this isn’t the end. All development seems to be braked by that “Part One” label and the need to stall to get to the “Part Two” label. I recently spoiled Mockingjay for myself in a moment of weakness and, if the producers opted against the two-part structure, it could be an incredibly exciting, tightly plotted movie, packed with mountains of character development.

coin snow

Yet this is where that conflict I talked about in the beginning of the review comes in to play. Since this is The Hunger Games, I trust the filmmakers a lot more than I usually would and I’m going to allow them to take their time. Until then, this installment still had plenty of creative action scenes to keep us occupied (Even if they didn’t include the characters we care about most).

I’m still impressed by how the films lampoon our insatiable appetite for the carefully-manipulated images that we’re often fed (The interview scenes where the characters have to exaggerate and tap-dance to earn sympathy are as relevant as they were when the series started). And the actors crush the material given to them. I can’t imagine it’s easy to play a character who’s practically playing a character.

So, Hunger Games, impress me with your (actual) final chapter a year from now and maybe this part will be retroactively boosted by its twin. If you haven’t read the books, there’s certainly new territory to see in this film. If you have, get ready to maybe check your watch if bunker-scenes don’t float your boat.
~Zach

Like Mockingjay? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This week, we’ll take a look at the newest installment in the X-Men series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Directed by Bryan Singer, it stars Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Jennifer Lawrence. It is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, brief nudity and language.

In 2023, the world is in ruins, plagued by dangerous mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. These robots, hunting down both mutants and the humans that aid them, have the ability to adapt and counter all mutant powers, leaving Charles Xavier (Stewart),  Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen), and the rest of the X-Men powerless. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), is sent back into the past 50 years, to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from triggering a series of events that lead to the creation of Sentinels. Logan must then find and convince young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his quest.

9 out of 10

As I’ve established, I love superhero movies. The X-Men series, however, has always disappointed me. X2 and X-Men were both solid, but nothing to write home about. The Last Stand and the two Wolverine movies were a mess. X-Men: First Class was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed an X-Men film. Regardless, tt seemed like X-Men: Days of Future Past was destined to fail. It was a sequel that featured time travel. That never seems to work out well. Yet somehow, Bryan Singer pulled a rabbit out of his hat and produced the best film this series has seen.

The best thing about the movie is unarguably the scene that features Quicksilver. American Horror Story star Evan Peters was a perfect fit, portraying Quicksilver with a cocky, lovable charisma. The scene where he is running around a room, changing the deflection of all the bullets and messing around with the slow moving scene around him sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Charismatic, action packed, and pure fun. The movie carries this tone, but does not lack in the serious, dramatic moments that make it so great. Singer manages to find the balance between the hilarity and tension that allows you to take the comic book movie seriously while also having fun doing it.

quicksilver

The inclusion of seemingly millions of different mutants was pretty cool as well. The beginning featured present day Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Storm, while flashing back to the classic Beast, Magneto, and Professor X, all regulated by the consistency of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In the same way First Class introduced various mutants, Days of Future Past brought many new mutants into the picture, while also bringing back many from the old movies, including Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Storm, with cameos from Rogue, Cyclops, and Jean Gray. Its a lot of fun to see all these different mutants to some extent, and Days of Future Past did a really good job of preventing it from getting muddled and excessive. WIth so many mutants, you gotta be able to control how you use them, and Days of Future Past did so.

The movie did a great job of controlling its plot as well. Somehow, I was able to see past the confusion that time travel presents. The movie had a very distinct narration that allowed the audience to understand what was happening. There are some questionable questionable details (JFK’s a mutant??) and some unexplained plot points (what ever happened to Havok), but overall, I could very clearly understand what was happening (at least compared to other time travel movies). The intriguing plot, mixed with engaging, fun action sequences, a very clear and balanced tone, stellar overall performances from the entire cast, and a noticeable lack of Halle Berry (jokes), push Days of Future Past into the upper echelon of superhero movies.

In the end, there are a lot of questions. Some that were left unanswered, some that have set up the future series, and some that I’m still trying to rack my head around. Though the abundance of questions is slightly irritating, they lead to  many possibilities for future films. The X-Men series has essentially been granted the ability to start fresh without actually eliminating the events of the first few movies. Singer got rid of all the messy continuity issues with a simple flick of the wrist. The future, especially X-Men: Apocalypse, is looking really bright.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

I love the X-Men. I love Wolverine. Love Professor X. And even (Despite my better judgement) Cyclops (Who happens to be my fave, yes).

What I don’t totally love is the X-Men movies.

Let me be clear, I love a good amount of them. A handful of them. Two of them. It breaks down as follows:

X-Men: Good. I like it. They got the characters spot on (Especially Wolverine, Magneto and Xavier). Its tough to say what I don’t enjoy about it but I think it comes down to this: it has less fuel than its tank can hold (In my eyes, you could say this about most of the films). X-Men is a pretty multifaceted series with a lot of ideas but this film kept it simple. Simple worked fine, though.

X2: Boom. Here’s the full tank. Ranks right up there with Spiderman 2 as one of the best pre-Dark Knight superhero endeavors. This one isn’t a step up from the first, its a goddang leap and then some. Cool and compact, this one was strong enough to carry all of the weighty ideas X-Men’s got.

X-Men 3: This one did not. Last Stand isn’t unwatchable, it’s just disappointing. It deflated the whole franchise. It siphoned 75% of the gas from that aforementioned metaphor-tank of our’s. And it’s mainly not disappointing because its bad at setting up all of the usual conflicts, it’s bad because it does but it just can’t deliver.

X-Men: First Class: This is the first X-Men movie I ever saw. Ho-lee God. I went because I saw historical figures and superheroes together in one film and I got all of that and so, so much more greatness. My brother and I (Two first X-Meners) were actually debating mutant politics at dinner after the showing. Need I say more?

So where does this one rank? Right up there with First Class.

Yeah, usually there’s a lot of buildup to a lukewarm or negative assessment in these things but, no joke, this was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in three years or so and is definitely among the top superhero movies of the decade. Let’s review.

Wolverine has to go to the past to save the future mutants from extermination (Inter-franchise crossover, ahoy!) so he rounds up Prof. X and Beast and springs Magneto (Why? It’s loosely explained but Fassbender’s performance lets me buy it) with the help of a beautifully played Quicksilver. Nevermind that that past sentence alone could carry a two hour movie, that’s just the premise.

magneto

What follows, I can assure you, is pure X-Men, unleaded. This movie doesn’t dilute any of the serious topics with cheesy throwaways but it doesn’t lose any of its fun. It moves pretty briskly but never stops building up. And seeing these characters from two different era interact is every bit as rewarding as the Disney Marvel characters crossover in The Avengers.

No single character carries the movie because, mainly, there is no one under focus. Sure, we follow Wolverine but you’d be surprised how much focus isn’t on him,as much as we love him. It’s on the X-Men, plain and simple. Moreover, it’s on the mutants.

By the end, the continuity’s messed up but the mutants are all together and (With Apocalypse coming) I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.1
Metacritic: 74
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Our 2014 Academy Award Predictions

And here we are, the Oscars only a day away. Here are our (mostly) expert predictions in every single category. We start with the ones we admittedly know the least about to the ones we know a good amount about. Enjoy!

Best Documentary- Short Subject
Cave Digger
Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of  Private Jack Hall

These first few categories, I’m honestly putting in researched/random guesses.

Winner: The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life
Runner Up: Couldn’t tell you
Personal Favorite: N/A

The best documentaries are ones that take us to places where we never thought we’d learn anything. In this case, it takes us to the last days of an aging man in a prison hospital.

Winner: Prison Terminal

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Documentary- Feature
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square

Act of Killing is a pretty enticing name, so I’ll go with it.

Winner: The Act of Killing
Runner Up: No idea
Personal Favorite: N/A

It’s not like documentaries are unfamiliar with war but it is still a great topic. Dirty Wars gives the audience some honest insight into some questionable motives behind the violence caused by the “civilized”.

Winner: Dirty Wars

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Live Action Short Film
Aquel no era yo
Avant que de tout perdre
Helium
Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa
The Voorman Problem

Voorman Problem is the only one in English, and it has Martin Freeman.

Winner: The Voorman Problem
Runner Up: idk.
Personal Favorite: N/A

Nothing like another prison film. Films that explore psychology often lead us to ourselves. The Voorman Problem is no different.

Winner: The Voorman Problem

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Animated Short Film

Feral
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Possessions
Room on the Broom

Get a Horse!

Get a Horse!

I’ve actually seen Get a Horse! but that’s the only one. So… yeah. That’s all I got.

Winner: Get a Horse!
Runner Up: Still drawing a blank.
Personal Favorite: Get a Horse! (by default)

Talk about back to basics for Disney. “Get a Horse!” is a classic return to subject.

Winner: Get a Horse!

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Foreign Language Film
The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
Omar

The Great Beauty won at the Golden Globe’s, so it has to have a good chance of winning. One comment I do have is that it is unfortunate and surprising that Blue is the Warmest Color wasn’t nominated.

Winner: The Great Beauty
Runner Up: Who knows? Not me.
Personal Favorite: N/A

The Middle-East provides a poignant environment that’s actually ideal for a tense set up like this.

Winner: Omar

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

 Best Animated Feature
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Frozen

Frozen

Here we go, finally getting into awards I know something about. Frozen has been super popular, and though I admit haven’t seen it, I’ve heard great things. It’s Disney and it’s critically acclaimed. Good luck to the other 4 nominees.

Winner: Frozen
Runner Up: The Wind Rises
Personal Favorite: Despicable Me 2 (only one I’ve seen)

Roger Ebert always said he loathed how “Animated” has become synonymous “Childish” in our culture and I really can’t help but agree. Why? Because of films like Frozen, that’s why. Just because something’s fun and light doesn’t necessarily mean it’s thoughtless and immature.

Winner: Frozen

Runner Up: The Wind Rises
Personal Favorite: Frozen

Best Original Score
The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Music is such an important part of making a film, as it provides tone to each individual moment and scene. Gravity’s ominous, eerie and entirely original soundtrack does just that to improve upon the lonely feeling of space, while also aiding the intensity that some scenes have. I liked Her’s soundtrack more just because it was a bit more my type, while also fulfilling the job of a good soundtrack.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Her
Personal Favorite: Her

Simple and subtle, I remember thinking that Her’s score played very well to the events of the movie. The score conveys many of the emotions the film’s addressing at once. It’s also somewhat cold but so is the environment the film sets up.

Winner: Her

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Her

Best Original Song
“Happy” from Despicable Me 2
“Let It Go” from Frozen
“The Moon Song” from Her
“Ordinary Love” from Mandela” Long Walk to Freedom

I loved ‘The Moon Song’. I thought it was really charming and fit the movie really well. It was a wonderful moment for the film. ‘Let It Go’ is no doubt a great song, and hands down the more popular one with Idina Menzel performing the song at the awards, which is why I think it will end up winning.

Winner: “Let it Go” from Frozen
Runner Up: “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Personal Favorite: “The Moon Song” from Her

It’s not easy to get on top of the iTunes top 10 when you’re just a song from a Disney movie but Frozen managed to do this and many more. A return to substance for Disney, “Let it Go” is somewhat representative of the heart Disney seemingly lost that we all missed.

Winner: “Let it Go” from Frozen

Runner Up: “The Moon Song” from Her
Personal Favorite: “Let it Go” from Frozen 

Best Sound Editing
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Gravity

Gravity

In case you didn’t realize, Gravity is set to win pretty much all the technical awards. Sound editing is no different (BTW, to all the haterz, we know there’s no sound in space. Who cares?). Anyway, Gravity will this award easy. Captain Phillips has a shot, but it’s not likely.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

The Hobbit, like the films that preceded it, is a loud movie. My friend told me if I was to watch them for the first time that I should rent a movie theatre for Lord of the Rings. Sound editing is very hard work but I imagine when you see a character like Smaug come to booming life it must all be worth it.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Go back and read the last summary about Sound Editing. It’s the same story. However, of any of the technical awards, this may be the one that Gravity has the best chance of losing. Lone Survivor and Inside Llewyn Davis both have a chance. This isn’t saying much, and I do think Gravity will end up pulling it out, but there’s always a chance.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Lone Survivor
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Ditto on my prediction about Sound Editing.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Production Design
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave

The Great Gatsby, with it’s lavish costumes and setting, has a pretty good chance of actually winning more awards than American Hustle. The setting is absolutely gorgeous, providing it with a very nostalgic, 20s feel. Really well done, I’ve gotta say.

Winner: The Great Gatsby
Runner Up: American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Her

Hustle had a feel to it that very few could match. It was an extremely consistent piece that gave its cast a beautiful backdrop to work off of. In fact, American Hustle is so absorbing it often feels like a scope to the seventies itself.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Jared Leto to Rayon

Jared Leto to Rayon

I think it’s hilarious that Jackass was even nominated, which is why I’m putting it down as my favorite. The makeup isn’t even half bad, either. However, there is no way in hell that Jackass or the universally panned Lone Ranger wins an Oscar. Dallas Buyers Club and it’s miniscule $250 budget takes the prize.

Winner: Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Personal Favorite: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

While Dallas Buyers Club may not fully rely on its makeup department to get the job done (Look at its budget, really, it’s unbelievable), this often plays to both sides’ favor. Using the few resources it has, Buyers Club creates a strong environment and assists its actors in their journey.

Winner: Dallas Buyers Club

Runner Up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Personal Favorite: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Costume Design
American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

American Hustle

This one is a matter of politics. I think Great Gatsby could easily win this one, but American Hustle needs a win somewhere. The Academy won’t shut it out after giving it 11 nominations. It could take either this award or Production Design. The costumes were pretty good too, adding to the smooth, nostalgic feel that the film should have had.

Winner: American Hustle
Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Same story with the Production Design, I view them as kind of similar anyways.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Film Editing
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Again, I don’t really expect Gravity to lose a technical award. This is another one where it’s possible Captain Phillips pulls off the upset, especially because it was shut out in a few categories, but I think Gravity will end up winning this one.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Its tough to take what could’ve been a very slow plot and expedite it while also having some breathers. Gravity may take place in few environments but it never gets bored, always shifting to the next development.

Winner: Gravity

Runner up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Best Visual Effects
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger

Gravity

Gravity

Of all the technical awards, I have absolutely no doubt that Gravity will win this one. It’s not even close. It is a visual spectacle, with the stunning creation of outer space, among other things. If Gravity doesn’t win, we can officially say that the Academy has gone mad.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Doesn’t even matter.
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Peter Jackson is a very talented man when it comes to set pieces and creating a fantasy environment and he hasn’t lost that ability whatsoever. Jackson may have introduced new characters and cameras but he uses new effects to his advantage, to make it feel like we haven’t really left Middle-Earth in the first place.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Cinematography 
The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

No doubt about this one either. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and there is little chance that something else takes this title. Gravity both exploited the emotions of Stone while also capturing the silent beauty of space. It will take the title. Meanwhile, it is a monstrosity that 12 Years a Slave was not even nominated. If you want to see what I thought of that camera work, check out my review of it.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Inside Llewyn Davis
Personal Favorite: Gravity/12 Years a Slave (I know it’s not nominated, but I. Don’t. Care.)

This is going to repeat a lot of the above but Gravity is a movie that tends to compact a very vast thing in a believable way that doesn’t feel like its evading its own setting. It’s a very streamlined and focused film which makes it all the more intense when atmosphere becomes so violent and chaotic. The environment provided by space somehow makes serenity feel like the cliff hanging over destruction.

Winner: Gravity

Runner Up: Nebraska
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Best Writing-Original Screenplay
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Her

Her

Here’s where things start to get interesting, as we start to get into the most important awards. I think this one could go either way, again depending on the rest of the awards. If Jennifer Lawrence wins for Best Supporting Actress, then Her will win Best Original Screenplay. If Lawrence does not win, then I think American Hustle will get this one. Personally, I thought Her was (far) more original, better written, and overall just the superior, more interesting film. Her deserves this, but with the way the Academy works, it’s possible Hustle wins.

Winner: Her
Runner Up: American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Her

When it comes Best Screenplay, it generally boils down to whether the actors are really using the words or whether they’re just a vessel to them. In short: how strong can the screenplay work on its own? Well, for me, Her was my first guess. It had a strong plot and premise with some clever dialogue but, eventually, Hustle took this for me. Mainly because Hustle could easily stand by itself while Her leans very much on its actors to do the deal. Hustle has some great comedy, drama and a clever premise under its belt which may just carry it to the Best Screenplay tier.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: Her
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave, adapted from Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, will most likely get this prize. Not only is it the best film, but it also has the best characters, the best story, and the best dialogue. Philomena was written well, but the characters were a bit skewed. The Wolf of Wall Street also has an outside shot, but this award looks to be going to 12 Years a Slave, and deservedly so.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Runner Up: Philomena
Personal Favorite: 12 Years a Slave

Suspense is a very powerful tool and its a very hard feeling to evoke from the audience (Even more so while working in the bounds of an adaption) but Phillips manages to get the audience involved as if its part of the crew. Its somewhat topical yet distant enough for the audience to focus one the story along for better or worse. Though all of the action involving could have cheapened to a Somalian could’ve been cheapened to Peter Pan ft. Some Navy Seals the writers used monologues and breathers to let the audience just take in the situation.

Winner: Captain Phillips

Runner Up: 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Captain Phillips

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto provided us with the most interesting and impressive acting performance of the year. Playing a transgender with AIDS, Leto was able to transform every aspect of himself, both mentally and emotionally, to construct a person, not just a character, in Rayon. There are other impressive performances, notably Michael Fassbender as the angry, evil Edwin Epps, and Barkhad Abdi, who went from cab driver to Somali pirate. Both of them would be deserving nominees in any other year. Unfortunately for them, Jared Leto is just unbelievable in Dallas Buyers Club.

Winner: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

One of the pleasures of watching a movie and the signs of a strong actor is that rigor mortis long after a film is over where you realize “That was THAT guy?!”. Without spoiling, Jared Leto was tasked with playing a cross-dresser in Dallas Buyers Club in a performance that many would have turned down. Comedic as it may sound, put yourself in a similar situation and you’ll realize it is actually a challenging task to step into that clothing and makeup while making sure it doesn’t totally consume the character and that you have space to interpret. Comedic, believable, and most importantly, somewhat tragic, Leto gave us a memorable character which readily deserves best actres-er-actor.

Winner: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Runner Up: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts in August: Osage County
June Squibb in Nebraska

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Here is probably the most unpredictable award of any, and could shape various other awards. If J-Law wins, and I predict she will, then Hustle might come away empty in other categories. If N’yongo wins, then the Academy cannot shut out Hustle and that could change the outcome of some of the other awards (this is complicated and excessively convoluted, I know). Meanwhile, I loved June Squibb. I thought she was hilarious and was the most believable of any of the nominees this year. I hope she pulls off the upset.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Runner Up: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: June Squibb in Nebraska

Yay for politics! Look at the history of this character and you can easily see that star power as its fingers on the scale. Most recently, Anne Hathaway was able to take home the statue for her performance in Les Miserables and I don’t think this situation is entirely different. Lawrence is a rising talent who is a safe choice for the Academy given her previous victory. In this film, she was also endowed with a strong wardrobe department and a great cast to work off of. On top of that, she has some real talent to her that’s heavily comparable to a couple of the past winners.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Runner Up: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor
Christian Bale in American Hustle
Bruce Dern in Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

Another award that could go either way is the Best Actor award. McConaughey has been winning all the awards (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild) and rightfully so. He is tremendous as Ron Woodrow. However, Ejiofor is fantastic in his own sort. He takes on a very challenging role and kills it. Ejiofor could win this, but I have to go with McConaughey now. Meanwhile, I love DiCaprio, and though I didn’t see Wolf of Wall Street (only Oscar nominee I’ve yet to watch), I kinda feel bad for him. So many internet memes.

Winner: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street

Not going to lie, this one’s pure politics. Remember what I said earlier about controversy? Well nowhere is this more relevant than the constant snubbing of Leo, poor guy. The Academy has taken a beating for rejecting DiCaprio so much and I do think there is an underlying desire to give him an award at some point when just the right film comes along. Wolf of Wall Street may not be the exact film they were looking for but, come on, do you really think the Academy would pass up a chance to award Leo right before his break from acting that they caused? That’d be so sadistic that it’d become hilarious.

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Runner Up: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Personal Favorite: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress
Amy Adams in American Hustle
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Judi Dench in Philomena
Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Not too much to say about this one by the looks of it. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, but I’ve heard great things about Blanchett. She’s been winning all the other awards and it doesn’t look there’s a chance someone else takes the trophy. Poor Amy Adams… Five nominations and still no win (since Blanchett appears to have wrapped it up). She is quietly becoming the next Leonardo DiCaprio.

Winner: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Runner Up: Amy Adams in American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Amy Adams in American Hustle (I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine)

Bullock took home this award around four years ago (Plus a Razzie the night before) and something tells me she is going to take it once more. Bullock was tasked with carrying almost an entire movie in a completely isolated setting with almost no set to work off of (Green screened backgrounds are very hard to work in) and she put herself there whether it was panic or awe she had to convey. Bullock didn’t necessarily have to work off the setting, in fact, she had to be the setting to a degree and she carried the film very well. I know Cate Blanchett is supposed to win, but sometimes crazy happens.

Winner: Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Runner Up: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Personal Favorite: Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Best Director
David O. Russell for American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Alfonso Cuaron

Alfonso Cuaron

Cuaron should win this one, as Gravity was an absolute gem of a film. A real spectacle. However, I wouldn’t simply hand it over to him. Steve McQueen did so many things in 12 Years that Gravity simply wasn’t capable of. McQueen used brutality and violence to show slavery in a light it hasn’t been seen on film ever. Both these films are extraordinary in their own sorts, and I actually I think McQueen was able to make a more memorable film (for me personally). However, Cuaron deserves it just as much, and I think he will end up winning.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
Runner Up: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It must be very challenging to make space an exciting environment much less a stage for some thematically complex events but Alfonso Cuaron shoots the film in such synchronization with the mood of the scene that it becomes it allows for the viewer to gently keep an eye on everything that’s happening without any distractions. Some of the film’s shots are a bit obvious and heavy-handed (The ending) but the film remains pretty consistent. Nice job, Alfonso, for making something that’s infinite and wide seem so claustrophobic.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

Runner Up: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: David O. Russell for American Hustle

Best Picture
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave

Drumroll, please! No surprise here. 12 Years a Slave is a great film and it’s historic. That is Academy Award porn. There are so many things I can say about this film, but you won’t understand how good it is until you watch it. So far it is the only 10 I’ve given out, and with good reason too. Nothing against Gravity, it’s a deserving film as well, but I don’t see it pulling out the win. You may ask why my personal favorite is Her then. My initial reaction to seeing Her was lukewarm, to be honest. But once I let the film sit with me, I realize it’s something that I would no doubt watch it again. It is something that will stick with me for years, which is why it is my favorite of the nominees this year. Is it better than 12 Years a Slave though? Nah. That is undoubtedly the best film of the year.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Her

~Vig

Tough call this year for Best Picture (Has there ever NOT been one?) but my cinematic instinct leads me to 12 Years a Slave. First of all, the Academy tends to enjoy history as a base whether the focus is fiction or not (Argo, Titanic, Gandhi). Second, the Academy also loves it some controversy, which will continue to factor into my predictions. I’m pretty sure it gets off to a degree on being called a snub. Couple all of that with great production value, a strong cast and a touch of star-power (12 Years used its Get One Brad Pitt Scene card) and you have a strong candidate for Best Picture.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Gravity~Zach

What do you think about the Academy Awards this year? Agree with us? Disagree with us? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.

American Hustle

We hope everyone enjoyed their New Year. So long to 2013, a fantastic year for movies. We will soon be releasing our favorite/least favorite movies of the year, but this week we take a look at Oscar contender American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. It is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle tells the story of two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner, and lover, Sydney Prosser (Adams). Sydney poses as a British women, “Lady Edith Greensley” in order to attract investors, and to fuel their con. They are very successfully, despite the insecurity presented by Rosenfeld’s crazy wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who Irving refuses to divorce due to the presence of their son.

Once the two are caught by the FBI, they are forced to work with federal agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in order to catch corrupt politicians and mafia members, including prominent New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Renner). Between his romantic struggles with two women, disdain for DiMaso, and a budding fondness for Polito, Irving struggles to survive with these new challenges he must face.

6 out of 10

I was pretty hyped for American Hustle, and why shouldn’t I have been? Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and Renner all in a move directed by the fantastic David O. Russell. The trailer dazzled me as well. Then critics praised it. I was excited. But after seeing the movie, I honestly couldn’t tell whether I was impressed or not.

Let me start off by saying this: the acting is fantastic, the direction is fantastic, and the cinematography, fantastic. Each of the 4 lead actors could easily get nominated for an Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lawrence or Adams win. The chemistry between the group is really good, and each of them is able to display the growth and development this movie aimed for.

In addition, the direction and the cinematography are beautiful. Russell does a great job of telling the story in a way that the audience is able to create their own perspective and their own point of view on what’s going on, in addition to understanding Christian Bale’s character’s, the narrator, point of view. The cinematography is dazzling as well. It really allows you to get a glimpse of what the time period is like but also doesn’t focus on that too much, and is still able to help with the characters and their emotions.

That being said, there are plenty of plot things about this movie that really concerned me. Being completely honest, I did not like the first hour and a half of this movie even though the characters are so good. The plot made no sense, I was so confused and I did not know where the movie was going. It had no point. I did not know what this movie was going to be about, even though the main conflict had been introduced. I was unable to stay captivated. I almost dozed off in the middle of it, it really dragged. The beginning couldn’t get me into it, in the middle still couldn’t get me into it.

They did manage to salvage the ending. I remember audibly gasping at what happened in the end – and I was laughing too, that’s something else about this movie that was really good. It featured really well written comedic moments that weren’t excessive. Anyhow, the ending finally provided the movie with the point. It wasn’t about the hustle, it wasn’t about the love triangle, it wasn’t about the plot. It was about the characters. Those characters had developed so much, and the emotions were so relevant, especially in Christian Bale’s character. By the end, I felt sympathy for Bale’s character. *Spoilers ahead* Even though he won the girl and he won the scam, he lost a friend and that’s what mattered to him. Those emotions were so prevalent, so raw, and it really helped punctuate the ending this movie. Did he win, or did he lose?

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

This is where I get confused. I liked a lot of aspects of the film… But i was bored for almost the entirety of the film. And this isn’t like Lincoln where I can expect to be bored. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the movie because of it’s (very) poor story, something that was prevalent for a majority of the movie. The movie ended up being about the characters’ growth, which isn’t a problem in the slightest. Regardless, this still doesn’t take away from the disappointment of the plot, especially seeing how that was a focal point, whereas other movies clearly prioritize characters, and the plot isn’t as important. A 7 may seem kinda low after all the good things I said, but with all the hype, I was kind of let down. The mundane plot was just too much for me.

I guess I was the one hustled in the end.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you think that the genre of criminal dramas must inherently involve dark situations, downward spirals, and seriously sociopathic characters then I highly suggest you check out American Hustle.

For Hustle is indisputable evidence that realism and emotional interaction with the audience do not necessarily warrant a barrage of dramatic moments and dark, dark, dark issues. Hustle tackles an array of the usual commentaries on greed and criminal power while some how being wildly funny, taking every advantage of its very talented cast (Of which Bradley Cooper stood out to me).

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

We’ll start with Cooper, in fact. Its universally agreeable that Bradley Cooper has grown immensely as an actor. Within three years, he effortlessly made the leap from passable films like Yes Man (You remember that? Good. Neither do I.) to remarkable showcases like Silver Linings Playbook. If his range was at all in question, then get ready for delivery after delivery to give an answer. Here, we see him play Richie, an FBI agent plagued with an insatiable desire to get himself in the headlines. Cooper, without spoiling too much, breathlessly bounces between a somewhat likable man to an utter (Entertaining to say the least) psycho. He blurs the lines between FBI agents and the people they chase all the while.

In fact, empathy for every character plays a huge part in what makes this movie the masterwork it is. Christian Bale, Jeremey Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams all evoke feelings that their character is trapped. The criminals may use humor (It’s their strongest tool after all!) as a coping mechanism but they’re ultimately stuck in the complex situations they’ve managed to drag themselves into. That’s not to contradict what I mentioned in the beginning of this review, as the film still manages to believably and appropriately

Yet what really ties the film together, even as it plods through some of its muddier scenes, is the beautifully done scenery and the somewhat kinetic directing. Scenery choice is one of the most underrated parts of filmmaking and boy does this film exemplify why it definitely shouldn’t be put on the back burner. The color palette and set pieces really wrap the viewer into the decade and give a sense of excess mixed with the unsettling anxiety a lot of the characters feel in their own tense situations.

Then there’s the camera movement. If you were to count, I don’t believe the camera will hold on any shot longer than three seconds without tightening, widening or switching perspectives all together. Usually, this wouldn’t give any leeway to absorb the scenery (Especially in a rich film like this) but it keeps the film moving even if there’s a sense that it is table setting for the plot or seemingly taking a break from its complex story. Even if does move fast, it does certainly give enough time for the average audience member to observe just not a terribly long amount.

Now, shall we address the impending Hollywood showdowns? American Hustle, in my view may sweep plenty of award shows with enough momentum but there is a certain bias against comedy and drawn-out plot payoffs as people are generally more impressed with something that can get them in suspense faster, even if it does feel somewhat cheap (We’ll delve into that if another movie that uses this comes up).

Overall, this is absolutely worth it. It can’t really be placed into one genre so just see it and attempt the impossible challenge of categorizing it yourself. It’ll most likely land in the “memorable” category no matter what.

By the way, was that Louis C.K.?
~Zach

IMDB: 7.3
Metacritic: 90
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all! We hope you are enjoying your turkey day with a good film or two.

Secondly, we are happy to introduce a guest writer for this piece, Nick, in place of Vig, who was unavailable this week.

And now for the feature presentation, The Hunger Games; Catching Fire. Based off the worldwide best selling series of the same name, The Hunger Games series has been adored/not by people of all ages, and the same goes with the films. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, thematic elements, and language, and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) in the aftermath of her defiant victory in the 74th Hunger Games, as she becomes the symbol of hope and revolution all across the Districts, much to the dismay of the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Before she embarks on her victory tour, she is confronted by Snow, who challenges her to prove her love with Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), the co-champion from the previous games, in order to convince the world that her defiance was love, not rebellion.

With the help of their team, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta attempt to continue on with their lives. However, Snow, in an attempt to kill Katniss to extinguish an uprising, announces that the 75th Hunger Games, the “Quarter Quell” will feature solely past winners. Katniss, being the only female victor from her district, is automatically chosen to the games. Katniss, with the hopes of millions on her shoulders, is forced to find help in those she trusts, and those she doesn’t.

8.0/10

I’d like to start out by saying I read the Hunger Games Trilogy which these movies are based on. The first movie, released last year, didn’t quite do the series justice. I was unimpressed by the stale acting, some pacing, and the horrible “shaky cam” that effectively ruined every action sequence. That being said, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improved on everything that was lacking in the first movie, and went above and beyond my expectations.

After comparing the sequel to last year’s film, it’s easy to see that a new director was at the helm this year. Hearing about the change actually worried me before seeing the movie. Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, was replaced by Francis Lawrence, known for I Am Legend and Water For Elephants. I thought his butchering of both those titles from the books to the big screen would foreshadow how Hunger Games: Catching Fire would turn out, but I’m glad to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

The film starts out with Katniss, now a victor of the 74th Hunger Games, struggling to live her life after defying the Capitol. Everything around her depends on her ability to convince the nation she really does love Peeta and defied the Capitol out of love instead of rebellion. As the story progresses, society around the characters begins to crumble, and by the end it is clear the film has set everything up to climax in the next two movies (Mockingjay will be split into two parts).

The acting in this film has seen a huge improvement since the first movie. After watching Silver Linings Playbook (for which Lawrence won an Oscar), I expected a lot more of Lawrence this time around. And I’m quite happy to say she definitely delivered. She behaves less like a cardboard cutout and more like the complex character that she is supposed to emulate. Everything from her screams to anxiety attacks feel real, and that is a definite difference in the sequel. Katniss’s relations with some other characters such as Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta are complicated to say the least. The chemistry between these actors is definitely interesting to watch, but the main relationship between Peeta and Katniss fell a little short for me. Hutcherson has certainly improved from the first film, but has still a ways to go in my opinion. Characters that get less screen time, like President Snow manage to absolutely nail their roles. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) was only on screen of about fifteen minutes, but his performance and role manage to stick out in the forefront of my mind.

Although the pacing was a bit odd (The actual games started an hour plus into the movie) the movie really focused on the bigger picture of the movement against the Capitol. I loved this, especially as the time in the actual games was far less interesting than out. By the end, you know the next movies are where the series will become even darker.
The fact that this whole movement started because of a helpless girl just being fed up with being played around with is very apparent. Katniss is constantly out of her depth, and the Capitol will stop at nothing to bring peace back to Panem. At this point in the series, it’s Katniss and her friends versus an entire omnipotent government that doesn’t have an inkling of what mercy is. And in short, the movie set up for the bigger picture events while also having a story of its own. Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a great film, and gives me hope for the next movie in the series.
~Nick

7.0 out of 10

Can we get a film about the guy who yells “HUNGER GAMES” in the trailer?

I kid. I kid….A little. But around two years ago, when Hunger Games had just wrapped up its trilogy and I was about to start reading the books, people warned me that there was to be a gradual decline in the quality of the books; culminating in the polarizing mess that is Mockingjay.

While I can’t say if that happened in the books (I’ve only read the first one), I can confidently say that the movies aren’t appearing to lose their strong points anytime soon. I went in under the pretense that it would be a lukewarm re-hash of the original as some have said the book is and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it expanded on it, just a sequel should do. The movie plays out like a bleak middle chapter that is shaped around our characters rather than the opposite.

But if there is one thing that the Hunger Games movie (s) tends to suffer from, its indecisiveness. The franchise has a lot of different types of fans to appeal to. There are those who see it as a character-study of Katniss while others see it as a commentary on modern day entertainment and inequality. Still, there are always going to be those who are a part of it just for the wooden love triangles that seem somewhat hastily set up. In reality, I do think it is a mix of the three elements (Yes, even the third one) but, in our world of fast-paced movies, asking for two hours and twenty-six minutes of a viewers time is a touch too much if the film is undecided on what exactly it wants to develop.

lawrence

The actors tend to keep the scenes rollin, however. I don’t think I can really say anything about Jennifer Lawrence that hasn’t been said by fans, critics or the Academy but I’ll reiterate that I feel like I’m watching the character, not the actor playing her. The others are also good picks as they fit pretty perfectly into the world their characters are in. Rumor says that Donald Sutherland found the role of President Snow so complex that he would continually write detailed letters to the producers of the Hunger Games films just to expand his role and confirm all of his choices and I think that shows here. Much like Tom Hiddleston with Loki, you can tell that Sutherland finds the villain he’s playing very interesting to the benefit of the audience.

As for what themes there are that need to be discussed, I would say they are relatively obvious. The Hunger Games perpetually and flawlessly depicts the brutality of modern media in such an extreme way that the viewer can not help but resonate with it. Its hard to believe that we, as a society, needed a franchise about kids killing each other to meet this realization but we meet it nonetheless.

Catching Fire falls into that category of sequels that about meet the quality of their predecessor. I would personally say that it surpasses it by a millimeter. With some direction, Mockingjay could cement this trilogy as a success.
~Zach

Bonus Video! Coldplay’s song “Atlas” made for the Catching Fire soundtrack.

IMDB: 7.7
Metacritic: 75
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%