The Silver Bullet ~ The Forest


Synopsis: An unexplained horror occurs in a Japanese forest.

Release Date:  January 8, 2016

Thoughts: At the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan is Aokigahara, a dense forest that stretches 14 miles. Rumors of ghosts haunting the area are to be expected when you find out that it’s also called The Suicide Forest, with several dozen documented suicides each year.  So The Forest already has some built-in history to it, and I’m guessing it won’t have to work too hard to elicit some decent scares out of audiences awaking from their holiday reverie.  Headlined by an appealing star (Natalie Dormer, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), I’m giving you the second trailer released for The Forest.  The first one was too long and I much prefer this shorter look at what horrors lie inside.

Movie Review ~ The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2


The Facts:

Synopsis: As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Michelle Forbes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 137 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Unlike many readers of Suzanne Collins trilogy of novels, I wasn’t as disappointed in the final entry as most.  For me, all three books had their high and low points but Mockingjay was the one that felt like it had the most consequences within its pages.  It wasn’t an easy read with the fates of several characters being painfully revealed so it was with great trepidation that I approached The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 because I knew what lay ahead.

I still feel deep down inside that Mockingjay should have been released as one long movie.  Audiences are willing to sit through a three hour (cinema) tour if the characters are appealing and the story engaging and I spent the first hour of Part 2 thinking that it came across as the middle part of a longer film, opening with the part where the action dips and audiences are given a breather before the final act begins.  It was a mistake on my part to not re-watch Part 1 before because the film isn’t concerned with bringing anyone up to speed.  Needless to say, I can’t write a review of Part 2 without including some spoilers from the previous films so…you’ve been warned.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, as usual investing herself 130%) is still reeling after being violently reunited with a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), her former ally and would-be love interest.  That pushes her back into the arms of brawny Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2) and she still can’t seem to make-up her mind as to who she believes she should be with.  There’s no time for dewy eyed romance though with the final drive underway by the rebel army to seize the Capitol and destroy President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People) before he can deploy more troops to wipe them off the map.

With the rebels being led by President Coin (Julianne Moore, Still Alice, looking fierce with a short haircut, cat-like contacts, and a wardrobe that feels Jetsons-esque) under the advisement of Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master, in his last film role), Katinss finds a way back to the front line after being remanded to merely being the figurehead mascot of a force of people fighting for their freedom.  Katniss has her sights set on Snow and will do anything to be the one to end his reign, if she (along with a small band of allies and officers) can avoid the booby trapped city blocks that lie ahead.

I never noticed it until my partner pointed it out to me but with its prominent golden eagles and red color schemes, the leaders in the Capitol have a distinct Nazi vibe going on.  Themes of oppression and barbarism plague our real-life news feed and Collins’ novels tapped into some of that.  While her world has definite fantastical elements, the underlying message of independence hard won is prescient.

The film is light on softness, deciding instead to keep its edges razor sharp and unforgiving.  It’s not, I repeat not, a movie parents should remotely consider bringing their young children to.  I’d ask parents to heed the PG-13 rating and know that it probably should have carried an R due to the amount of violence and frightening sequences of death.  The carnage here is a far cry from the good old days of the first movie where young prospects picked each other off to become the victor of The Hunger Games.  Here, the losses are devastating and uncompromising…making for emotional and exhaustive viewing.

After taking over for original director Gary Ross, Francis Lawrence (no relation to our star) has helmed the remaining films and done so without making concessions.  From the production elements to the costume design and make-up, there’s a fully realized world on display, one that resembles ours but feels distant.  Is it futuristic?  Other-worldly? Yes and yes…but it also feels like it could be happening mere years from now.  That’s a scary thought and one not to dwell too much on.

Since the first film was released, Jennifer Lawrence has become a true movie star with an Oscar under her belt yet she doesn’t show any signs of boredom with her involvement here.  Other actresses may have started phoning these in once the first checks had cleared but Lawrence takes her job seriously…maybe a bit too seriously at times.  No matter, the film has become the success it has largely due to her and the emotional depth she’s brought to a complicated character.  Hutcherson too has evolved nicely over the course of the films, not just as his character but as an actor.

The main players involved are all given their due (even if Hoffman’s final speech is relegated to being read by Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me) and the good-byes have a sting to them.  Watch the final shot of the exquisitely styled Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) as Effie Trinket and you’ll see how so much can be sadness can be conveyed with a single expression.  I wish there were more for Jena Malone to do as Johanna Mason, a tough as nails former victor that both reviles and envies Katniss.  Malone made a grand entrance in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and has been a value add to the series ever since.  The final moments of the film may come off as maudlin and treacly to the more jaded among us but it feels like a fitting tying off of a well taken care of commodity.

There’s talk of the studio working on a new sequel or a prequel and I would beg of them to drop it.  There’s plenty more YA literature waiting for their moment in the cinematic sunshine and the four films that have comprised The Hunger Games franchise have earned their chance to be distinguished.  Don’t muck it up.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1


Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.

Release Date: November 21, 2014

Thoughts: We aren’t that far off now from the beginning of the end for the tale of Katniss Everdeen. Though I’m no fan at all of the recent popular trend of splitting every film franchise written as a trilogy into four movies, in the case of this second sequel to The Hunger Games it may turn out to be a good thing. I’ve yet to read the book the film is based on (choosing instead to read it closer to the release date) but fans of the series have always been divided as to where Mockingjay stands against its printed predecessors with some loving it and some condemning it. So there’s room in two movies for the makers to right some potential wrongs devotees of Katniss and her quest may still be smarting over. It’s going to be a mega-watt blockbuster no matter what…but will Part 1 be more than a device to set the stage for the final hurrah? 

Check out my review of The Hunger Games here

Check out my review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire here

Check out my review of the teaser trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 here

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1


Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion against the autocratic Capitol.

Release Date: November 21, 2014

Thoughts: Though I’m still not crazy about the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy being split into two parts being released this year and next, I have to admit being fairly excited for November to roll around so I can get a look at the first chapter in the epic finale. I’ve held off on reading the book until the release is closer but based on how well The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made their way to the big screen, I have high hopes that these next two installments will maintain the gold standard of its predecessors. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Julianne Moore (Carrie), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace), and Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) should be sitting pretty this Thanksgiving.

Movie Review ~ Rush (2013)



The Facts:

Synopsis: A biography of Formula 1 champion driver Niki Lauda and the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life. Mere weeks after the accident, he got behind the wheel to challenge his rival, James Hunt.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The most exciting thing about Rush is not the impeccably staged Formula 1 racing sequences, or seeing star Chris Hemsworth turn in a strong performance that doesn’t require a superhero costume, or finding a fresh new star on the rise. No, while Rush has all of the above mentioned they are mere bonus points when compared to how the film represents a return to fine form for director Ron Howard.

After a small misstep with middling The Dilemma and turning in too literal adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons the director has returned to the kind of filmmaking that put him on the map in the first place. Rush is very much in league with Howard’s work on Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, capturing a time and place that zoom off the screen – a period drama that doesn’t feel stuck in the past.

I didn’t have much knowledge of the world of Formula 1 racing before the movie and I don’t have a much more after – but the more swerves around being an introduction to the sport in favor of illustrating the rivalry of two very different men with the same competitive spirit.

Australian Hemsworth (The Cabin in the Woods, Snow White & The Huntsman, Marvel’s The Avengers) plays Brit racer James Hunt with a frat boys wink and a playboy’s good looks. When we first meet him he’s as reckless off the track as he is on…clearly not taking the sport as seriously as his colleagues would like. He talks a big game and usually delivers…until he meets his match in the form of Austrian Niki Lauda (Spanish star Daniel Brühl).

Lauda may not have Hunt’s good looks or affable charm but what he lacks in that department he more than makes up with an understanding of racing and what it takes to win. He’s not shy about speaking his mind no matter who he offends…his only focus is winning and he’ll drive over anyone that gets in his way. That doesn’t sit too well with Hunt and the men find themselves at odds at every turn.

The first half of the film is a well staged introduction to the two men as they come into their own in the racing world of the late 70’s. On an international stage with races all over the world we follow Hunt and Lauda as they go through the paces of their races and see how they are always looking in their mirrors to see what race position they’re in. Howard keeps the races moving ever forward, sometimes showing the full race and other times showing just the end stats.

The second half of the film focuses on the effects after a devastating accident and shows how the course of both Lauda and Hunt’s careers takes a turn that will test the resolve and willpower of the two men. Brühl and Hemsworth are both strong in their interpretations of these racers with Brühl acting as a semi-narrator of the piece. We get the chance to peel back some of the layers and gain some insight into what makes these men tick…what drives them to put their lives at risk race after race.

Howard has enlisted cinematographer Anthony Dodd Mantle, a frequent collaborator with Danny Boyle (he won an Oscar for his work on Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire). Also lensing Boyle’s recent Trance, Mantle brings a hyper kinetic energy to the film most notably in well filmed racing sequences that never lose the audience who can sometimes be forgotten by filmmakers just interested in showboating their technique. His shots are clever, clear, and spot on the right choice for this type of film.

Aside from Brühl and Hemsworth, the film is notable for introducing Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara to US audiences. Howard really made a find here because this actress is a fascinating addition to the already strong cast. Though her part is mostly relegated to the supportive wife of Niki, Lara finds some special moments in the script from Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan to make her own – it’s a performance that really stuck with me and here’s hoping we see more of her soon.

Into every movie a little rain must fall and in the performance category the two weak leaks are a badly miscast Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, People Like Us). One of the only Americans in the cast, she dons not only a blonde wig but a poor British accent to play Suzy Miller, wife of James Hunt. Though her first scene hints at a fiery performance to come, there’s not enough meat from the script or from Wilde to make much of an impression which is disappointing because Wilde is a good actress but her choices lately haven’t landed like they should. Same goes from Christian McKay as the owner of Hunt’s racing team. Sporting a pudgy fat suit (I hope it was a fat suit) and a foppish accent straight from a Benny Hill sketch, McKay seems to have walked in from the aforementioned Benny Hill skit and forgot he was in a drama.

Those two performances aside, Howard fills the other characters and extras with actors that look like they really are from the late 70’s thanks to costume designer Julian Day’s restrained 70’s attire. The music from Hans Zimmer is typically solid and the overall production design from Mark Digby allows the audience to become enveloped with the era with rolling their eyes at yet another pair of flowered bell-bottoms.

Rush is a strong entry for Howard (The Paper, Backdraft, Parenthood, Splash, Gung Ho, Far and Away) and a welcome return of a director that I’ve missed in the last few years because Howard is a great storyteller and a strong filmmaker. Wisely being released after the big boom of summer blockbusters, Rush has the potential to be a sleeper hit for the fall and rightfully so. It’s a skillfully made biopic that should have audiences on the edge of their seats.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Counselor


Synopsis: A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.

Release Date:  October 25, 2013

Thoughts: Three time Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott (Prometheus, Thelma & Louise, Alien) is one of my most trusted directors not because he’s been involved with some of my favorite films but because he’s never been one to be locked in a box.  Comfortable with drama as much as he is with muscle-y bravado action films he’s willing to take risks with material usually to strong results.  In The Counselor, he’s assembled a truly A-List cast to bring prolific author Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay to life.  McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men inspired a truly haunting film that deservedly won Best Picture in 2008.  I’m not sure The Counselor will be going after that big prize but with a cast this impressive teaming up with Scott and McCarthy…this is a movie to get excited for.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rush


Synopsis: A biography of Formula 1 champion driver Niki Lauda and the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life. Mere weeks after the accident, he got behind the wheel to challenge his rival, James Hunt.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: What I’ve always enjoyed about the films of Ron Howard is that even though they may not all be winners (I’m looking at you EdTV), he at least likes to keep things interesting where genre is concerned.  No stranger to historical biopics (A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon were helmed with grace), Howard sets his sights on the racetrack for this 70’s set look into Formula 1 racing to tell the story of two rivals bound for glory.  While I’m not yet convinced that Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman) has the chops to pull off a leading role, I trust in Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) to deliver a movie that handle a few dangerous curves.