Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Hunger Games: Two Movies, Two Directors

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Different directors bring a different style or emphasis to the film, even when cast with actors we know and love. The Hunger Games (2012 PG-13) was directed by Gary Ross and the sequel The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire (2013 PG-13) by Francis Lawrence.  Each stayed true to the young-adult novel the film is based upon, yet each director has a distinct style.

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Hunger Games director Gary Ross

Director Gary Ross, in the Hunger Games, took pains to paint the bleak living conditions the people endured, and the emotional price they pay for living in under an oppressive government.  This government, currently led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), conducts elaborate annual games in which two children from each district are pitted against other children in a fight to the death in an artificial jungle arena, broadcast live for all the people to see.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), from District 12, are sent to kill or be killed.  But Peeta has secretly loved Katness for years.  Can his love save them both?

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Director Ross creates a dismal atmosphere, in which the Hunger Games celebration in the Capitol rings false and death lies behind every bush or bug in the Arena.  The film is intense, and there are so few light moments, that when Peeta makes a little joke while in the Arena, the audience is so battered that they don’t get to enjoy it.  It’s a tragic, oppressive movie about a tragic story set in an oppressive world, and the director doesn’t let you forget it.

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Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence

Director Francis Lawrence, in the Catching Fire sequel, can build on the audience’s memory of the Hunger Games setting, and doesn’t need to show the bleakness as much.  President Snow is not happy that both Katniss and Peeta survived, stirring rebellion in the districts, and plots to force them back in the Hunger Games along with other Hunger Games survivors from the past years.  Surely Katniss will be killed and the rebellion squashed.

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Director Lawrence brings a lighter touch to the second movie.  The living conditions in the Victors Village do look stark and cold, but comedic moments are added with the funny remote camera scene.  And Effie (Elizabeth Banks), who is in charge of preparing Katniss and Peeta for their many public events before fighting to the death, shows her emotions in this film for light comedic effect, while in the first we only get glimpses of her being disturbed by her job of preparing children for death.

You probably have noticed differences in movie series shot by different directors.  Think of the Harry Potter series (directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates) or the Twilight movies (Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, David Slade, and Bill Condon).  Do you have a favorite?

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The Gettysburg Address, Steven Spielberg Style

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On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke the Gettysburg Address, touching the crowds and stirring a battered nation.

About 150 years later, that same Gettysburg Address is spoken by an actor in a movie, and is equally stirring and touching.

Lincoln (2012 PG-13), under the direction of Steven Spielberg, focuses on President Lincoln’s political struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the end to slavery.

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The movie opens with a rain-soaked battle to pounding music.  Next, various union soldiers speak to an unseen person about their reasons for fighting.  They are in awe of this person, respectful and a bit hesitant to speak, but in the end, each soldier begins reciting the words of the Gettysburg Address.  The meaning of the words sinks in, the music swells and we see it is President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) himself.  The soldiers are saying his own words back to him.  Very powerful!

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Watch this movie, especially to see this opening scene.

Read the Gettysburg Address, especially to marvel at the perfect phrasing of an important idea for our country.

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Baggage Claim: Can Predictable Still be Fun?

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You go to the movie, and quickly you determine how it will end.  Who the girl will end up with. Can the movie still be fun?  Yes!

In Baggage Claim (2013 PG-13) a single young flight attendant reconnects with all her past dates with the goal of getting engaged to one of them by the day of her younger sister’s wedding – in 30 days!  Is it predictable?  Yes!  Is it still fun?  Sadly, no.  You really want it to be fun, you really see the potential, you really see how hard the actress is trying.  But, no.  It is just tedious.

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Paula Patton plays Montana, whose best friends in the airline business (Adam Brody and Jill Scott) encourage her to search out all the former men in her life, thinking that it would be faster to get engaged to someone she already has a history with.

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Watch this movie, and you know pretty quickly who she will end up.  Yes, William (Derek Luke) is the right man for her.   Yes, he is the boy next door, who she had known for years.  Yes, he watches as she goes on one disastrous date after another.  Yes, he is a shoulder to cry on.  But for a movie that is predictable, this is okay.  He is the clear choice, but it could be fun to watch her stumble through the wrong men for a while first.

It is the dates that just don’t ring consistent in tone.  It is consistently funny to see her frantically dashing through the airport with the help of her airport friends at the curbside check in, ticket counter and security point.  These three workers stall each man so that Montana ends up “accidentally” running into them, thus inviting herself into each of their lives for a day/date.

One date is funny.  A big-shot singer (Trey Songz) living in luxury is actually whipped by his producer’s daughter.

One date is clever.  A rising politician (Taye Diggs) wants an idealized woman to be seen and not heard at a political dinner.

One date is all about, well, looking at a good looking man (Boris Kodjoe) who is really no good.

But together, they are a mishmash.

Watch this video clip.  You’ll see the potential.  But when you watch the movie, you’ll see it doesn’t quite work.

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Gravity: A Special Guest Review

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Some movies transcend language and cultural differences.  They speak of universal hopes and fears.  The storyline is recognizable.  Gravity (2013 PG-13) is one such movie.

Our Korean friends who are here in America studying English recently saw Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, in which two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) struggle to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.  They were kind enough to share their review here!

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What did you like best about Gravity?  (Korean Boy) I think this movie’s best part are the dramatic sound effects because the sound effects made strain and I was immersed in the movie.  (Korean Girl) I have two best scenes in this movie.  One is the northern lights.  I could see the northern lights in the universe.  It was awesome because I missed the northern lights when I had visited Alaska a few days ago.  The other scene is the last scene.  I felt how amazing and nice we live in the earth with gravity after I watched that scene.

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How could the movie be better?  (Boy) I think this film is good, but I hoped for a little more spectacular images, like the other planets of the solar system.  (Girl)  I have seen beautiful space pictures with the earth before I watched this movie.  I had expected to see more of the solar system, like Mars and Jupiter by computer graphics and 3D.  But they focus on the earth.  If they tried to show other planets with nice computer graphics it would be better.

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Who would like this movie?  (Boy) I think all ages can enjoy this movie.  In particular, twenty-somethings who are interested in science scenes.  There are scientific elements all over this movie, so someone who has a related college major would like this movie.  (Girl) Everyone who lives in the earth would like this movie.  We could see our awesome planet in space.  I suppose someone who is studying and likes science would like this movie more than others.  I love science!!! I strongly recommend to you watch this movie, especially in IMAX 3D.

Thank you for sharing your opinion with us!

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Arsenic and Old Lace: A Creepy Old Comedy That Still is Hillarious

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Here is a good bet for spooky fun – Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, not rated).  Directed by Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), the entire movie takes place on Halloween night when reluctant groom Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) stops by home to say goodby to his sweet old spinster aunts before going on his honeymoon with girl-next-door Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane).

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The problem is Mortimer’s black-sheep brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) comes home the same evening to hide out from the police while he heals from plastic surgery. Boris Karloff, who played many monsters in 1930’s films, played the role on stage, and was wanted for the film version.  As a tribute, every person who meets Jonathan comments that he looks like someone in the horror movies, which further enrages him towards his surgeon (Peter Lorre), who has been in his fair share of horror films himself.

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There is also the crazy brother (John Alexander), who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt and possibly has resorted to murder.

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This is a comedy, but spooky in the right ways.  The use of shadows increases the feeling of impending dread without unnecessary gore.

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Will Mortimer find a solution to Teddy’s insane behavior?  Will he survive a night with Jonathon and his doctor? Will his aunts hold another funeral? Will he remember that Elaine is waiting for him?

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Give this old movie a try, with it’s older style of acting and stylized lighting, and you will have a fun evening!

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Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Still Is

Michael Jackson’s Thriller

I visited my sister and her family this week and was inspired by her Halloween decorations.  I just had to watch Michael Jackson‘s Thriller (1983) again!

It is clever how Jackson uses a movie-within-a-movie style, and he is the star of both.  Initially he is the shy 1950’s teenager on a date, then he is the hip 1980’s young man on a date.  Both times end badly for his date!  But it is fun to watch the fashions and monster styles and dance moves from this ground-breaking 1980’s video.

You can learn the dance moves, too.  There are many YouTube tutorials.  It’s important to be prepared for any “Thriller” flash mobs you may stumble upon.

13 Going On 30 (2004 PG-13) is a fun movie that features “Thriller”, too.   Jennifer Garner is an awkward teen girl who magically becomes her 30-year-old self, with her 1980’s mentality.  She saves a boring work party by pulling everyone on the dance floor to dance as zombies, including her best friend from her youth, Mark Ruffalo.

Here is a now-famous “Thriller” performance, by prisoners in the Philippines.

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