Archive for Jena Malone

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt. II

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) recovers after nearly being murdered by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who had been “hijacked” by the Capitol. After rebel forces destroy the Capitol’s weapons supply in District 2, with a plan developed by Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright), Katniss shoots a propaganda film about the influx of Capitol refugees arriving in District 13, who are mistreated and brutalized by the rebels. When she attempts to intervene in the situation, a fight breaks out, during which Katniss is shot.

During recovery, Katniss spirals into depression. She approaches President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and volunteers to kill President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), but Coin declines in favor of preserving Katniss as the symbol of their revolution. During the wedding of Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) tells Katniss of an aircraft leaving for District 2, where Commander Paylor (Patina Miller) is planning an all-out assault on the Capitol. Sneaking aboard, Katniss is assigned to Squad 451, the “Star Squad”, led by Boggs (Mahershala Ali), but later finds out that their mission is to trail behind the invasion and be the onscreen face of the rebellion. They use a holographic map called a Holo to evade “pods” (booby traps) created by Gamemakers which line the streets of the Capitol. Peeta is unexpectedly assigned to the team by Coin despite still being vulnerable to the Capitol’s conditioning, and Boggs warns Katniss to be careful because she is seen by Coin as a threat to her power.

As they venture into the Capitol, they are ambushed by a hidden pod, and Boggs is fatally injured, transferring command of the unit to Katniss before dying. Another pod is triggered, which releases an avalanche of black ooze. Peeta’s hijacking drives him to attack Katniss again, during which he pushes Mitchell (Joe Chrest) into the ooze but is restrained long enough for the squad to evade the avalanche and escape into a building. With Boggs dead and command passed down to her, Katniss lies and tells her squad that she is under orders from Coin to kill Snow. The Peacekeepers eventually find their hideout, however the squad is able to escape before they arrive. Peacekeepers bomb their hideout, killing the Leeg twins (Misty and Kim Ormiston). The Capitol broadcasts a message with Snow announcing the supposed deaths of Squad 451 and of Peeta attacking Katniss, but Coin then hijacks the signal, and says that everyone should praise the sacrifice.

Nearing Snow’s mansion, the team decides to venture into the Capitol’s sewers in order to avoid the pods, but Snow, realizing the Squad is still alive, ambushes them with monstrous reptilian creatures called mutts created by the Capitol. Commander Jackson (Michelle Forbes), Castor (Wes Chatham), and Homes (Omid Abtahi) are killed. After the fight that follows, a mutt pulls Finnick down as he is escaping, forcing Katniss to use the self-destruct mechanism on the Holo to end his suffering, destroying what was left of the mutts in the process. They are chased by Peacekeepers shortly after reaching the surface, during which a pod kills another squad member, Messalla (Evan Ross). The survivors eventually escape and take refuge in a shop, where a former Hunger Games stylist, Tigris (Eugenie Bondurant), hides them in her basement. While they all mourn the loss of the rest of their squad, Katniss confesses that she lied about her orders to kill Snow, and as a result of her lie, Finnick and the rest of the squad are dead. The squad reveal that they knew this all along, but went with her because they trusted her. Peeta comforts Katniss, saying that if she kills Snow, she will avenge the deaths of everyone who has died because of him. That night, Gale and Peeta discuss their love triangle, with Gale stating he thinks Peeta has won her over, but Peeta thinks that Gale has. Gale eventually remarks that deciding which one she can’t live without is Katniss’s problem, and not theirs.

Snow announces that the rebels have invaded the Capitol and welcomes refugees into his mansion, providing them with food and shelter. With the traps deactivated, Katniss and Gale pose as refugees to gain access to Snow. Their covers are nearly blown when the rebels arrive and attack the Peacekeepers, killing many Capitol civilians. In the ensuing chaos, Katniss marches towards Snow’s mansion and finds Peacekeepers taking Capitol children to provide Snow with a human shield. A Capitol hovercraft flies by and drop silver parachutes similar to the ones used in the Hunger Games into the crowd of children surrounding the mansion, which explode. Upon the explosion, a team of rebel medics attempt to help the injured, among whom is Katniss’ sister, Prim (Willow Shields). Katniss heads towards her, but a second round of bombs go off, killing Prim and knocking Katniss unconscious.

Upon recovering, Katniss learns that the Capitol has been conquered by the rebels, and that Snow has been captured. Katniss confronts Snow, who claims that Coin masterminded the bombings in order to turn his supporters against him. When Katniss accuses him of lying, he reminds her of their promise to always be truthful to each other. Suspicious, Katniss realises that the bombs resembled a trap Gale had been working on earlier. When Gale confesses that it may have been his and apologizes, she orders him out of the room. Later, Katniss attends a meeting with Coin (who has appointed herself interim President of Panem) and the remaining Victors to discuss having one final edition of the Hunger Games with the children of the Capitol as retribution for the previous games. Realizing that Snow was right and that Coin has “played them both for fools”, Katniss votes in favor of the motion “for Prim,” which gains Coin’s trust. She is awarded the opportunity to execute Snow.

At the execution, which is being held before the whole of Panem, Katniss faces Snow once again. As she readies her bow, the two make eye contact, and Snow gives her one last smile. Katniss silently agrees, and instead shoots the arrow into Coin’s heart, killing her. While a laughing Snow is finally lynched and killed by an angry mob, Katniss attempts to commit suicide by consuming a nightlock pill, given to them earlier in case of enemy capture, but Peeta stops her attempt. Katniss is pardoned for her crime, being deemed mentally unwell, and through a letter delivered by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) advises Katniss to return home to District 12 until things settle down.

Katniss returns to her home in the ruins of District 12 to recover from her traumatic ordeal, where she is eventually joined by Peeta, who has recovered his memories of love for Katniss. Commander Paylor is elected the new President of Panem, and Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch bond over their shared trauma. Katniss and Peeta slowly grow back together, and Katniss admits her love for him. Years later, Katniss and Peeta are shown to have two children. Katniss reminisces about her recurring nightmares she still suffers from and explains she plays “a game” where she lists all the good things she has seen someone do. She notes that while the game has grown tedious over the years, “there are much worse games to play.”

REVIEW:

Well, the day studios have feared. Another franchise has come to an end, despite their desperate attempts to drag it out. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part II is surely all the action we didn’t get in its predecessor, which was more talking and planning than anything else, right? Let’s find out!

What is this about?

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.

What did I like?

Horror games. A few years ago vampires were everywhere, or at least what people were calling vampires. Now we have zombies all over the place, and these are true, mindless, killing machine zombies. Even this movie is not immune to the influence of zombie culture, as the mutts now look like zombies and/or creatures from Silent Hill. This is a big change for them since they were dog-type creatures in The Hunger Games. The design isn’t really what I liked, as mcuch as how this whole underground segment played out like a horror movie. I think I even saw some people jump when the mutts showed up out of nowhere. Can we say jump scare?

Pods. All over the Capitol, these death traps called pods, have been set up. I’m wondering what kind of twisted minds came up with these things. Tar traps that flood an arena type area, flame throwers on a motion sensor, floors that crumble as you walk on them and then reveal rolling spikes, lights that instantly disintegrate what they touch, etc., these are not the kind of things a normal person thinks up. Bringing the traps to t life from the book it impressive to me as they looked really deadly on screen and made the audience question whether our band of heroes could ultimately escape.

Aquaman. He’s not in this for very long, but Finnick Odair is still mastering the trident and water skills. Who else does that? Hmmm…oh yeah, Aquaman! I know that they have cast that Aquaman, but Sam Claflin is more of what Aquaman really is. Maybe someone casting over there at DC movies needs to read a comic book once in a while! Anyway, Finnick is a hero through and through, still protecting Katniss and fighting with the knowledge his new wife is waiting for him to come home.

What didn’t I like?

Peaked too soon. This is a franchise that has been superior from the beginning. However, this being the last film, I didn’t get that feeling that everything ended with a we will always remember these characters. Perhaps that should have taken a cue from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part II (in more ways than just splitting the last book), and show us what happened to all the characters, not just Katniss and Peeta. Yes, they do give us an epilogue, but it is more of a monologue with an older version of our heroes. Can it me that this film hit its peak in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? One can make that argument, because these two Mockingjay pictures have not felt like a fitting end that those of us fans invested since the beginning deserve.

Avox. Here we are in the final film of this series and they bring out a term from the books, avox. Know what that is? Chances are, if you haven’t read the books, you don’t have a clue, as these films never told us, and yet they gloss over it so nonchalantly, you’d think it was something as well-defined as the games themselves. An avox is a person being punished for rebelling against the Capitol. As such, they have their tongues cut out and cannot speak. With Pollux being such a somewhat major character, one would think this would have been explained somehow!

Little support. The focus of the film is obviously on Katniss, Peeta, and the usual main characters, which is fine, but what about the rest of the cast? Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, who has been a bright spot of comedic relief in these dark times might as well have been nonexistent. Jena Malone’s character deserved more screentime, and perhaps another elevator strip scene HA! I feel as if her character could have been fleshed out more, but that didn’t happen. If I recall, there was some real time for Prim, which we say in the last film, but all we got in this one was a quick glance before an explosion. WTF?!? She is the whole reason for this whole mess with Katniss, if you think about it. Give her and Katniss at least one scene of sisterly bonding! These are just a few examples of how little the filmmakers felt the supporting characters should support.

Well, that ends The Hunger Games franchise. What will take up the mantle going forward? I would say Divergent, but that’s about to end, too. I’m sure something will pop up. In the meantime, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, pt. II left me with a bit of disappointment. It isn’t that it was a bad film, but rather there is no excitement. Other than a couple of action scenes, this isn’t much different from its predecessor in term of excessive dialogue. Do I recommend it? Yeah, again, it isn’t a bad picture, just not what I feel the final film should be. Give it a shot, though.

4 out of 5 stars

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to District 12. On the day Katniss and Peeta are to start a victory tour of the country, she is visited by President Snow, who explains that when she defied the Capitol by breaking the rules so that she and Peeta both survived the last Hunger Games, she inspired rebellions in districts and now must continue to pretend to be in love with Peeta or her family will be killed along with Gale and Peeta’s families to maintain the illusion that her actions were out of love, not to incite an uprising.

The first stop of the tour is in District 11, home of Katniss’ friend Rue, the 12-year-old who competed in the 74th Hunger Games. Peeta offers to read the speech from a script Effie provides them, but throws it away and voices his thoughts instead. As they leave, a sorrowful Katniss delivers an inspiring speech that causes a man to whistle the tune Katniss used during the 74th Hunger Games to inform Rue she was safe, and provides the three-finger salute of District 12. Everyone follows the man until Peacekeepers shoot him dead, causing Katniss to scream in panic. Fearing for their safety, Haymitch tells Katniss and Peeta they have become a political target. The two youths proceed to visit the other districts. To solve disputes between Katniss and Snow, Peeta proposes to Katniss in public.

When they return to District 12, they find Gale has been punished and is being publicly whipped because he defended an old woman when the Commander and his troops were destroying the Black Market. Peeta, Katniss and Haymitch try to save Gale. Snow, watching them, reads out that the 75th Hunger Games will be the Quarter Quell, an event taking place every 25 years in which a new rule is added to the game. The new rule for this Third Quarter Quell states that contestants will be reaped from the existing pool of victors. Katniss is devoted to allowing Peeta to become the champion of the Quarter Quell and makes a deal with Haymitch that whatever he does he must make sure Peeta is safe and will win. Haymitch’s name is drawn at the reaping, but Peeta immediately volunteers and Haymitch has no power to stop him from joining.

During the individual training session, Peeta leaves a painting of Rue on the floor of the Training Center. Mad, Katniss hangs one of the Training Center’s dummies, leaving the words Seneca Crane (former Head Gamemaker) on it.

As the games almost start, with Katniss in the tube to the arena, Peacekeepers beats Katniss’ stylist until he is knocked out because he changed Katniss’ dress for interviews, to turn into a Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. Katniss goes up her glass tube as the games commence.

The games are set around a saltwater lake, during which Katniss becomes an ally of Mags and Finnick Odair, both from District 4. Mags sacrifices herself when they are attacked by fog of painful poisonous gas that causes their skin to blister, allowing Finnick, Katniss and Peeta to escape. The trio rests in the middle of the forest where they are attacked by mandrills. During the attack, the woman from District 6, a camouflage expert and drug addict, sacrifices her life for Peeta. After they escape the mandrills and rest at the beach, they are met by Wiress and Beetee from District 3, who are extremely smart, and Johanna from District 7, who is cunning and violent. Wiress soon learns the saltwater lake is arranged like a clock and that every hour another attack will come—the first being the fog, the second being the mandrills. At midnight and noon, lightning strikes a very large tree. After Wiress dies, Beetee suggests a plan that requires them to direct the electricity from the lightning to the lake to electrocute the remaining two tributes from District 2. When the wire snaps, Katniss attaches the remaining wire to an arrow and shoots it at the force field to destroy the arena, causing her to black out.

She awakens in an aircraft with an unconscious Beetee. Entering the cockpit, she finds Haymitch, Finnick and Plutarch, the gamemaker, who is actually their ally and a rebel against Snow. Learning Johanna and Peeta were taken away by the Capitol, she attempts to attack Haymitch for not fulfilling his promise, but Plutarch sedates her before she can do so. She awakens days later with Gale by her side and learns her family is safe but District 12 has been destroyed, and that she is on her way to District 13.

REVIEW:

It seems like forever since The Hunger Games was in theaters, and many people have been counting down the days for the sage to continue. In the time since the first film, I actually took the time to read the books. Actually, I just read and finished them a few weeks ago, so they are quite fresh on my mind, which could be a good or bad thing for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

What is this about?

After her triumph in the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen begins a new life and confronts more danger in this sequel to the postapocalyptic fable. As Katniss travels through the districts on a “Victor’s Tour,” a rebellion gathers steam around her.

What did I like?

Emotion. Very early on, the victory tour makes a stop in District 11, home of Rue and Thresh, who were very instrumental in Katniss’ win in the last games. Once Katniss takes the mike and starts to talk about Rue, all the feelings about how she was killed so quickly and needlessly came rushing in. Even a cold-hearted bastard like myself felt a twinge in the back of my throat once the people in the district started whistling those notes and holding up the fingers. In the back of my mind though, I have to wonder, are we sure Katniss is the one everyone is getting behind, or is it Rue’s memory? Hmm…

Arena. When I was reading this book, the thing that I was most looking forward to was how they were going to be translated the arena to the big screen. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised in how they brought all the dangers to life, even if some things were cut out, and also spend much more time in the arena than in the last film. There is a reason these films are not named after the Capitol or one of the districts. I’m not sure which of the dangers I liked the most, but I think it may very well be the killer monkeys, with the poison smoke a close second.

New stuff. The new characters introduced in the film seamlessly fit in just as well as the ones that return, most notably Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair. Personally, I think we could have gotten more development into his arrogant side, like the book, but the same can be said for just about any and all of the characters. An expanded role for Elizabeth Banks’ Effie (and her costumes) and Donald Sutherland helped to add to the newness of the film, as they just had a handful of lines in the first film, especially Sutherland.

What didn’t I like?

Connection. Earlier, I mentioned the connection we all felt to Rue in the last film, and how that connection is still here in the second. That same connection cannot be said for a couple of characters that don’t make it through the film. First, there in Mags, a tribute from Finnic’s district who is the only thing that he cares for more than himself. Also, there is Cinna, whom we briefly got to know in the first film, but should play a larger role here. Both of their deaths are parts that nearly bring the book to a screeching halt, but in the film they don’t have that same weight, especially Cinna’s. His just seem to be the beating of another designer, nothing special.

Get in where you fit in. This was actually brought up by someone else, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch is out of place. No, I’m not talking about him being cast as Plutarch. He seems to do job as far as I can tell. However, in the Capitol, everyone is dressed in extreme designer garb. That is, except Plutarch Havensebee, which seems to have just walked out of Salvation Army. The guy just doesn’t fit in with all the over the top outfits surrounding him.

Difference. I could sit here all day and list the number of changes that were made from the book to the big screen, but we’d be here all day and night discussing them. The reason the changes were made were to keep this film relatively short, well, under 3 hrs. Having said that, the parts they cut out leave the general audience wondering about some thing, such as the aforementioned emotional attachment to some of the characters. Whoever wrote this script could have done a better job of finding some level of continuity. As it is, with everything that was taken out, there is a bit of a random episodic feel to it that doesn’t quite work for me.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire obviously learned some things from its predecessor’s mistakes, such as no shaky cam, a bigger budget, etc. I still say Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” should be used somewhere in the soundtrack, but that’s just me. On a side not, I have to mention that when/if we ever get an Aquaman movie, or if they decide to feature him on Arrow, they need to look no further than Sam Claflin. In more ways that you think, Finnick is a version of Aquaman, but I digress. I had a great time with this film, despite my issues with it. I’ll gladly go see this again, and probably will. Now, we start the countdown for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part I.  While you’re waiting, go out and see this a time or two.

4 1/3 out of 5 stars

Sucker Punch

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the 1960s, a 20-year-old woman nicknamed “Babydoll” (Emily Browning), is institutionalized by her sexually abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane in Brattleboro, Vermont after she is blamed for the death of her younger sister. Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), one of the asylum’s orderlies, is bribed by Babydoll’s stepfather into forging the signature of the asylum’s psychiatrist, Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), to have Babydoll lobotomized, so she can neither inform the authorities of the true circumstances leading to her sister’s death, nor reclaim her recently deceased mother’s fortune. As Babydoll enters the institution, she takes note of several items that would be integral if she were to attempt an escape.

In the days prior to being lobotomized, Babydoll retreats to a fantasy world in which she is newly arrived in a brothel owned by Blue, whom she envisions as a mobster. She befriends four other dancers — Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Rocket’s older sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). Dr. Gorski is envisioned as the girls’ dance instructor, informing Babydoll that her virginity would be sold to a client known as “The High Roller” (Jon Hamm). Gorski encourages Babydoll to perform an erotic dance, during which Babydoll fantasizes that she is in feudal Japan, meeting the Wise Man (Scott Glenn). After she expresses her desire to “escape,” the Wise Man presents Babydoll with weapons. He tells her that she would need to collect five items for an escape: a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a fifth, unrevealed item that would require “a deep sacrifice”. Before parting ways, he instructs her to “defend herself,” and she is confronted by three demonic samurai, which she defeats. As her fantasy ends, she finds herself back in the brothel, her dance impressing Blue and other onlookers.

Inspired by her vision of the Wise Man, Babydoll convinces her friends to prepare an escape. She plots to use her dances as a distraction while the other girls obtain the necessary tools. During each of her dances, she imagines adventurous events that mirror the secretly ongoing efforts. These episodes include infiltrating a bunker protected by steam-powered World War I zombie German soldiers to gain the map (mirrored by Sweet Pea entering Blue’s office and copying a map of the brothel-institution); storming an Orc-infested castle to cut two fire-producing crystals from the throat of a baby dragon (mirrored by Amber stealing a lighter from the breast-pocket of a client); and boarding a train and combating mechanized guards to disarm a bomb (mirrored by Sweet Pea stealing a kitchen knife from the belt of the brothel’s cook). During the last of these fantasies, Rocket sacrifices herself to save Sweet Pea and is killed when the bomb detonates, which is paralleled in a fight between the cook and the other girls in the brothel, ending with the cook fatally stabbing Rocket.

Blue overhears Blondie relaying Babydoll’s plan to Madam Gorski. After discovering the gruesome scene around the cook in the kitchen, he has the grieving Sweet Pea locked in a utility closet and confronts the remainder of the girls backstage, proceeding to “make examples” by shooting Amber and Blondie. He then attempts to rape Babydoll, but she stabs him with the kitchen knife and steals his master key. Babydoll frees Sweet Pea, and the two start a fire so that, as a result of the fire alarm, the institution’s checkpoint doors unlock. The two manage to escape into the courtyard, where they find their way out to be blocked by a throng of gentlemen. Babydoll deduces that the fifth item needed for the escape is in fact herself. Despite Sweet Pea’s protest, she insists on sacrificing herself by distracting the visitors, thus allowing her friend to slip away.

The scene cuts back to the asylum in which the surgeon (Hamm) has just performed Babydoll’s lobotomy. The surgeon is perturbed by Babydoll’s expression and starts to question Dr. Gorski as to why she authorized the procedure. It is also revealed that the happenings in her dream world also happened in the hospital (stabbing an orderly, starting a fire, and helping another girl escape). Gorski realizes that Blue has forged her signature, and summons the police, who apprehend Blue as he attempts to assault a catatonic Babydoll.

Sweet Pea is stopped by police at a bus station while in line to board a bus to Fort Wayne, Indiana, but she is rescued by the bus driver, who misleads the police; he is revealed to be the Wise Man from Babydoll’s fantasies.

The film ends with the screen going black and Sweet Pea saying that “you have all the weapons you need, now fight!”

REVIEW:

I initially thought this was based on a comic, but, as far as I know, it isn’t. Critics have been lambasting it as resembling a video game or music video. I have to wonder…is this really a bad thing? Can you just imagine if they made a game like God of War into a game and not change anything about it?

So, this film is one of those weird, twisted flicks that messes with your head. I say that because just as you think you’re understanding what’s going on, it goes off in another direction and leaves you wondering WTF?!?

The plot revolves around a girl who is committed for accidentally killing her sister. Her stepfather, who is the typical douchebag stepfather one would expect, wants her to be lobotomized so that she doesn’t remember the sexual abuse she endured after the death of her mother, and so that he could get the inheritance.

Somehow, right before the lobotomy happens, we end up at some whorehouse of the 50s or 60s, which is where the majority of the film takes place. While here, Babydoll meets the other girls, Amber, Blondie, Rocket, and Sweet Pea. Together, they form a pact to follow the plan to escape we that is this brothel.

There are various fantasy sequences (which I think are the best part of the film) created by Babydoll when she dances tat apparently sends the people around her into a state of shock and awe, though it is never explained how or why this happens.

After the next to final part of the plan goes awry and there are some casualties, the remaining girls figure out what must be done and that only one of them can escape, which she does. following the exposition, we see Babydoll getting her lobotomy and we have to wonder…was it all a dream and more importantly, did she really find a way to keep her memories intact through the lobotomy?

On would think with all these sexy girl in this film, that it would be a true feast of eye candy, but that isn’t the cast. Truth be told, it was like they used them to bring in make viewers, but never really did anything with them. For goodness sakes, these girls are in a brothel! Is it too much to ask for a lap dance or something?

The highlight of this film has to be the fantasy sequences. One in particular sticks out in my mind, and that is the one with the demonic samurai. Granted, I love all things samurai, so I may be a little biased, but this scene just seemed to work so much better than the others and was definitely more interesting.

Sure, the action in the film was great, but it came off as secondary to the unnecessary, drawn out, forced drama (some may say plot).

The cast is comprised of mostly young actresses, but none of them are really that good. If anything, it should be noticed that Emily Browning, who was Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, has grown up (and gotten a bit hot!!!). If this film is any indication, we should expect big things from her in the future, as long as she doesn’t get boggled down with the likes of her co-stars and their bad choices.

Seriously, can you think of a good film that Jamie Hung or Vanessa Hudgens was in? Neither can I!

So, what did I think of Sucker Punch? Well, it is different, that’s for sure. Is it different in a good way? Well, see, that’s the problem…I’m not sure if I liked this or not. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not going to go buy the DVD, either. It was just one of those odd films that  left me with a strange feeling afterward. I recommend it, but tread lightly, it may not be what you think.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Posted in Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2009 by Mystery Man

 

PLOT:

The four “altar boys” in the film are best friends attending a private Catholic school, St. Agatha’s in New Jersey in the 1970s. They smoke cigarettes, drink, smoke pot, and rebel in normal, somewhat intellectual ways. (For instance, they examine William Blake’s poetry for subversive content). Francis Doyle is the protagonist, while Tim Sullivan is his best friend. Francis, Tim, and their two best buddies work on a comic book called the Atomic Trinity (shown in animated bits throughout the film), with the characters of Major Screw, Captain Ass-Kicker, the Muscle (later Skeleton Boy), and Brakken. In the animated comic book sections, the archvillain is an evil motorcycle-riding nun named Peg-Leg (based on an overly strict St. Agatha’s teacher, Sister Assumpta). Sorcerella (based on fellow student Margie) is a minor female character in the comic. She and Francis develop a flirtation that leads to a relationship.

REVIEW:

Independent films tend to be really well filmed and have excellent scripts and stories, but just don’t appeal to me and/or bore me. The exception to this rule are early Kevin Smith films. However, this film, for me was pretty ok.

Long before he would go on to star in The Girl Next Door and Speed Racer, Emile Hirsch shows off some young acting chops in his role as Frances. This has to be the most emotion I’ve seen him show on screen, and just goes to show that he has more talent than we’ve been led to believe.

Kieran Culkin is arguably a better actor than his more famous brother, Macauley. Although his role is pretty sizable, it is at the same time short of being a lead role, but actual in between lead and supporting. He does it justice, though, and you really feel for him at the end.

It seems as if every film I see Jena Malone in, she’s portraying a Catholic school girl. I hope this isn’t type-casting. Putting that aside, this role has her as the tragic female lead and she really pulls it off giving it all she has and then some. I hope that she gets some bigger roles in the future.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about what may be the best part, which is the animation that is beautifully drawn by Todd McFarlane. It really changes things up and keeps this film from getting uber-depressing.

As far as films go, this isn’t the best in the world, but it is pretty good. I kind of expected it to be a bit more twisted, but was pleased with it as it. This isn’t a picture for everyone, but for those that want to, it can be very enjoyable.

3 out of 5 stars

Donnie Darko

Posted in Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager in suburban Virginia in October 1988. He appears to be suffering the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. At the start of the film, he has recently stopped taking his medication. His parents, Rose and Eddie (Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne) and his sisters, Elizabeth and Samantha (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Daveigh Chase), are concerned about him. One night at dinner, Donnie and his sister get into a profane argument during which Elizabeth reveals she knows Donnie is no longer taking his medication. Rose confronts Donnie in his bedroom and he calls her a “bitch”. Guiltily, Donnie resumes taking his medication. On October 2, however, he sleepwalks and meets Frank (James Duval), a man in a menacing bunny costume. Frank tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. That night, a jet engine mysteriously crashes through the roof of the Darkos’ house, destroying Donnie’s bedroom.

As Eddie drives Donnie to the office of Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), Donnie’s therapist, Eddie nearly runs over Roberta Sparrow, also known as “Grandma Death” (Patience Cleveland). A senile old woman who spends her days walking back and forth from her house to the mailbox across the street, Grandma Death whispers in Donnie’s ear that all living things die alone. This greatly troubles Donnie, who worries that life has no meaning.

A few days later, Frank appears to Donnie in a hallucination and urges him to flood the private school he attends by breaking open the water main with an axe. Donnie also embeds the axe in the head of the school’s solid bronze statue of its mascot and spray-paints “They made me do it” on the sidewalk. School is canceled that day and Donnie walks Gretchen (Jena Malone), the new girl in school, home. She reveals that her stepfather nearly killed her mother and is still on the loose. Donnie reveals his own troubled past as well as his intelligence. Gretchen calls Donnie weird (which was a compliment in her case), which then prompts Donnie to ask Gretchen to be his girlfriend. She quickly agrees.

Donnie has a troubled relationship with the faculty at his high school. Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) appreciates his intellect and ability to engage with and understand the difficult material she assigns them to read in English class. The science teacher, Dr. Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), finds his questions hard to take on due to staff limitations on religion, and Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), the highly strung and socially conservative health instructor, is offended that he questions her use of self-help tapes in class. After he profanely rejects her use of the simplistic methods espoused by local celebrity Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), Donnie finds himself suspended from after-school activities. When Donnie verbally assaults Cunningham during an appearance at the high school, he gets in even deeper trouble.

Frank continues to appear to Donnie and tells Donnie that they can do anything and won’t get caught. Frank also tells Donnie about time travel, further confusing him. Soon, Donnie sees tubes of fluid light extending out of his family’s chests, indicating where they will go. His own tube beckons him to follow as it enters his parents’ room and reveals the gun his father keeps in a box in the closet. Donnie speaks about time travel with Dr. Monnitoff who gives him a book, “The Philosophy of Time Travel,” written by Roberta Sparrow. She used to be a nun and a teacher at the high school. However, the climate at the school is becoming increasingly conservative as Kitty Farmer leads a protest against Ms. Pomeroy’s choice of reading material; one of the stories she had assigned, Graham Green’s “The Destructors,” features teenagers who flood a man’s house by breaking a water pipe. Ms. Pomeroy is fired and Dr. Monnittoff, who is also her boyfriend, refuses to discuss time travel with Donnie once his questions take a theological direction.

Gretchen and Donnie grow closer. She is one of the few people he opens up to about his time travel visions, and they discuss how they wish they could travel back in time and prevent the bad things in their lives from happening. Dr. Thurman increases Donnie’s medication and begins hypnotherapy with him. But Frank continues to appear to Donnie. One night, Donnie and Gretchen go to see the cult horror film The Evil Dead. Gretchen falls asleep and Frank appears. When Donnie asks Frank why he wears a “stupid bunny suit,” Frank asks Donnie why he wears a “stupid man suit,” then acquiesces and takes the head off, revealing a young adult (who looks like Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Frank) with a gruesome wound in his right eye. When Donnie asks about the cause of the eye wound, Frank whispers “I am so sorry” and then directs Donnie’s attention to the movie screen. A portal opens, revealing Jim Cunningham’s house. Frank tells Donnie to burn it to the ground. Donnie leaves the sleeping Gretchen in the theatre and does as Frank tells him to. He is not caught, and firefighters discover a dungeon of child pornography in a hidden room in the mansion. Cunningham is arrested the next morning. Kitty Farmer, a friend and devoted follower of Cunningham’s, decides she must lead his public defense and asks Rose to accompany the school’s dance team, Sparkle Motion, to Los Angeles to appear on Star Search. Samantha is Sparkle Motion’s lead dancer and, against her better judgment, Rose agrees. Eddie is away on business, so this means Elizabeth and Donnie are on their own.

Elizabeth is accepted into Harvard, and she and Donnie decide to throw a Halloween party to celebrate. The night of the party (October 30), Gretchen comes to Donnie’s house for safety because her mother has suddenly disappeared. Donnie comforts her and they presumably have sex, ignoring phone calls from Donnie’s desperate therapist (who knows that Donnie is responsible for the vandalism to the high school and Jim Cunningham’s house) and Rose, who calls to announce that Sparkle Motion won their initial Star Search competition and that they will return on a red eye flight that night.

At midnight, Donnie has another hallucination about the fluid light tunnels. He realizes that the 28 days have passed, and that only 6 hours remain until the end of the world. Convinced that Grandma Death is in some way connected to Frank, Donnie persuades Gretchen and two other friends to go with him to her house. When they get there, they are assaulted by the high school’s resident bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen). Gretchen is thrown dazed into the road, where she is struck and killed by a car driven by Frank (James Duval), Elizabeth’s boyfriend who is on his way to their Halloween party. Frank is wearing the creepy bunny costume that Donnie’s hallucination wears. Donnie uses his father’s gun to shoot Frank in the right eye, killing him, he then carries Gretchen’s body to his home. He steals the car keys from a sleeping Elizabeth and, taking Gretchen’s body with him, drives into the hills above town.

From that vantage point, Donnie can see a time tunnel forming over the town. The red eye flight carrying Rose, Eddie, Samantha and Sparkle Motion enters the turbulence created by the time tunnel, and one of the engines on the jet breaks free and falls into the tunnel. Donnie looks at Gretchen with love and the primary universe is reset to October 2nd.

It is back to October 2. Donnie is in bed, creating predestination paradox. On this occasion, he chooses to stay in bed (presumably to save the girlfriend he will never meet). Shortly after he goes to sleep, the jet engine from the red eye flight on October 30 crashes through the roof, killing him (In a deleted scene director’s cut DVD it is revealed that he was actually impaled by a piece of wood from the broken roof while in an act of self-gratification ). All the people affected by Donnie’s actions awake as if from a nightmare, having some fragments of memories remaining. Frank, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, unconsciously touches his right eye. Jim Cunningham, in guilt and remorse for being a pedophile, and perhaps above all a hypocrite and phony, awakens crying. As Donnie’s body is taken away, Gretchen, having never met Donnie, rides by on her bicycle. She learns from a neighbor what has happened and waves to Rose, who is smoking a cigarette. There is an air of mutual recognition between them.

REVIEW:

I purposefully avoided this film for the longest time. The poster and DVD cover creeped me out and really turned me away from the film as it gave me the impression that this was a horror film.

I belive this is one of the few times Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal have been on screen togther. Make no mistake this is Jake’s movie, though. Maggie is just there in a supporting role as his sister (big stretch, huh?) Before this, though, I believe Jake’s only starring role was in Bubble Boy.Quite a change in direction, I’d say, not to mention the proof that he can really act.

Jena Malone really gives a great performance and is an underrated actress. Patrick Swayze, Noah Wylie, and Drew Barrymore’s appearances are nothing short of surprising and their roles are crucial to the film.

I’ll be the first to admit that this film confused me the first time I saw it, but each time I see it, things get clearer. Some films just do that I guess. Especially these psychological types, but I will admit that it is a pretty solid film. A person can really start to feel for Donnie as he’s going through his journey, especially at the end. not to mention care for him and his new girlfriend. If you’re into psychological thrillers, then you’ll enjoy this.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Saved!

Posted in Comedy, Independent, Movie Reviews, Spoofs & Satire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2008 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

At the beginning of the film, Mary (Jena Malone) has “been Born Again [her] whole life.” She is beginning her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School near Baltimore, where she is a member of the Christian Jewels – a “girl band for Jesus” – with her Fundamentalist Christian friends Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) and Veronica (Elizabeth Thai). She also has a “perfect Christian boyfriend”, named Dean (Chad Faust).

Two weeks before summer vacation ended, Mary was playing a game with Dean where they would tell each other secrets underwater. On his turn, Dean says that he thinks he’s gay. Mary, shocked by an obviously unexpected revelation, hits her head on the pool’s ladder when she resurfaces. A builder working nearby immediately jumps in to save her after Dean slips on the tiles. While being rescued, Mary has a vision in which Jesus says that Dean needs her, and that she must do all she can to help him.

Mary tries to help Dean by getting him to do more heterosexual acts, such as kissing her and squeezing her breasts, but they don’t seem to make much headway. Hoping for a sign, Mary goes to the shooting range with Hilary Faye, who has “a spiritual solution for everything.” Hilary Faye talks about how Christian girls need to protect themselves; but if all else fails, Jesus could still restore their “spiritual and emotional virginity.” Mary then believes that if she were to lose her virginity trying to save Dean, Jesus would make her pure again.

Despite Mary’s efforts, on the first day of school, when she and the other Jewelsstop by his house to pick him up, Dean’s parents reveal that they found gay pornography under Dean’s bed and that he is on his way to Mercy House, a Christian treatment center. Mary tells her friends andHilary Faye’s wheelchair-bound, cynical brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) about Dean’s homosexuality. After receiving a horrified response, she makes them promise to keep it secret.

As they get to school, Cassandra, (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish person at the school and a rebel against the school’s belief and disciplinary systems, establishes her dislike of Hilary Faye by throwing a cigarette at her. In homeroom, Mary also meets Patrick (Patrick Fugit), a skateboarder and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), who has recently been with his mother in South America doing missionary work. Mary is immediately attracted to Patrick, thinking that he is the only boy at school who didn’t look like a NASA employee.

But soon after, Mary learns that she is pregnant via a home pregnancy test. Doubting the results, she heads to Planned Parenthood, where she is spotted by Roland and Cassandra, who are sitting sharing cigarettes nearby. Their shared cynicism and black humour is causing them to bond romantically despite Roland being Hilary Faye’s brother. Mary finds out that she will have the baby after graduation and her birthday, so the good news would be that she will not have to go to Mercy House or give up her baby if nobody finds out before the birth.

Nevertheless, Mary loses faith in Christianity, which causes her to be rapidly ostracized by Hilary Faye and her other friends, who as such fortunately do not know about her pregnancy. The Jewels quickly replace her with a previously unknown girl, Tia (Heather Matarazzo), whose ambition of being part of the most popular clique in the school is fulfilled. Pastor Skip asks the Jewels to help Mary regain her faith, which to them means trying to kidnap and exorcise her. Following a botched exorcism, Mary runs into Patrick on her way home. He offers her a ride home and asks her out, to which she responds that she is not dating right now.

While at school for Christmas, no one has noticed that she is pregnant except for Cassandra and Roland, having seen her leave Planned Parenthood. For that reason Cassandra teases her by making suggestive gestures with a paper airplane and her fingers. Mary, worn out by the way her life is heading, goes into the bathroom and breaks into sobs. Cassandra comes in and confronts Mary about whether she is really pregnant. A broken Mary confirms her pregnancy. At this point, Cassandra is revealed to have a softer side to her nature. Realizing what state Mary is in, she begins to bond with the confused and lonely girl. They ditch the rest of school and go maternity shopping with Hilary Faye’s credit card along with Roland. The group later run into Patrick and Hilary Faye. Pretending to want to get saved, Cassandra distracts Hilary Faye while Mary and Patrick slip away. They almost kiss but end up not doing so. The next day, Cassandra sticks a piece of rotten bacon in Hilary Faye’s locker which causes a stench so bad around the area that Hilary Faye covers her face. Mary is overjoyed when she finds out that she is going to have a little girl.

On Valentine’s Day Mary debates giving Patrick the Valentine she made, and gives up when Hilary Faye gives him one, though afterwards she finds one from Patrick in her locker. In that scene it is also revealed that Pastor Skip is not fond of Patrick dating Mary but is nevertheless dating Mary’s mom, Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), unknown to either of the kids, showing that the Pastor is somewhat of a hypocrite.

On Easter Sunday, a school presentation is given with Patrick doing a reenactment of Christ dying on the cross. Afterwards, Hilary Faye tries inviting Cassandra and Mary to join them for lunch. Cassandra and Mary turn the request down, and a potshot from Hilary results in a fight. Roland then lets his friends in on a secret about his sister, and shows them a picture of an ugly Hilary Faye when she was a little girl. The next day at school Cassandra and Hilary Faye clash again. Hilary Faye reports them to Pastor Skip, who puts them on the prom committee–chaired by Hilary Faye–as a punishment. Later that day in computer class, the ugly picture of Hilary Faye as a child winds up as the wallpaper of the desktops of the system. Hilary Faye is humiliated and tries to tell Pastor Skip that Cassandra and Mary are responsible, but he says she has no evidence. That night Hilary Faye prays to God to show her how to get back at the outcasts.

The next day, someone has sprayed Satanic graffiti on the school overnight. Mary and Cassandra are automatically suspected given their nonconformist status. Spray paint cans are found in their lockers. Cassandra is expelled, but it is unclear what happens to Mary. In the midst of the search in Mary’s locker Mary’s sonogram is seen by a teacher, who decides not to tell on Mary and hides it in her folder. The teacher says nothing is there to Pastor Skip, but accidentally drops the sonogram on the floor, revealing Mary’s pregnancy. Hilary Faye and the other Christian Jewels are watching from an upstairs balcony and see the sonogram. Murmuring that she is she pregnant, then saying that they can’t believe they were friends with Mary, they look on as Mary collapses with shock at her secret being found out. Roland sees them and confronts his sister: “You have everything Hilary Faye. What are you afraid of?” Pastor Skip insists that Mary be sent to Mercy House, or else he will break off the relationship with Lillian. After giving it some serious thought, Lillian decides to send Mary away on the grounds that the girl is too young, the baby needs a father and a mother, and it would ruin Mary’s life, but the real reason is she doesn’t want to break up with Pastor Skip. This causes a fight with Mary, who suspects the real reason.

Cassandra and Roland set up a plan where they get Mary a dress for prom night and get Patrick there to take her as his date, while they themselves will go together as dates. Mary is touched by their action, and the two couples head back to the school bursting with confidence. At the prom, Hilary Faye attempts to denounce them for having returned uninvited and publicly accuses Mary andCassandra to have spray-painted the school. But Roland has got something with him- her credit card statement, which shows the purchase of the spray paint. This evidence is not sufficient to Pastor Skip, saying that anyone could have purchased the spraypaint with the card, however. Knowing Hilary Faye’s weak point, Cassandra asks her to swear publicly before God that she did not do it, which should not be hard if she is innocent. At first the fundamentalist Hilary Faye is incapable of doing it, but caves in to swear so as to save face. But Tia, disillusioned about her Jewel membership and fed up with Hilary Faye’s authoritarianism and snobbiness, pulls out a signed receipt for the paint used to vandalize the school which she found in Hilary Faye’s van, thus exposing her guilt to the entire school. In a fit of rage over being exposed as a hypocrite, Hilary Faye flees the room. As Mary, Patrick and the Pastor try to pursue her, Dean and the others from Mercy House show up there after swiping the program’s van. Dean finds out Mary is pregnant, news which he manages to receive well. Pastor Skip demands that Dean and company return themselves to Mercy House, telling Dean that he isn’t welcome at American Eagle because he is gay. Dean responds that Jesus still loves him even though he is gay. Mary, worn out by the events of the evening, confronts the Pastor telling him nobody is perfect- not even him, so why should God love only those who are perfect? An uncomfortable silence is interrupted as Hilary Faye crashes her van into the school’s effigy of Jesus, cursing him for having led her in the wrong direction. Realizing what she has done, Hilary Faye breaks down andhas to be led away by Roland andCassandra. She asks Roland if Jesus still loves her, to which he answers probably not, but then magnanimously says “Yeah, sure.” Mary abruptly goes into labor and has to be led off to hospital.

The movie concludes with Mary and Dean’s baby girl being born and Dean run’s out andannounces “she’s perfect.” Lillian, Patrick, Dean, Roland, Cassandra andDean’s boyfriend Mitch enter the room to offer her their moral support, while the troubled Skip waits outside holding some flowers (presumably for Mary) debating whether to come inside. Mary’s voice-over tells the audience how she changed her mind and went back to believing in God, a God who loves and helps those that love and help others in need. The assembled friends in the room have a picture of themselves taken, a true community that can always count on one another and not fear ostracization.

REVIEW:

Independent film never seem to do well at the box office, yet tend to be some of the best films. This is no exception. I’m sure there are those that will be offended by the religious satire of the film, but they just need to get over themselves. It’s just a movie.

A while back I reviewed Juno, and said that this was the better teen pregnancy film. After finally getting the chance to watch it again, I stand by that statement, but both films have their audience.

We all know people that take their religion a bit on the serious side, this film just takes that to a whole new level, especially since its set at a Christian school.

The case is excellent and Mandy Moore is extremely unlikable in her role as Hilary Faye. Jena Maolne should get more leading roles and Mary-Louise Parker is as beautiful as ever. Macauley Culkin has grown into his own as an actor.

If I have any issues with the film, it is that there isn’t enough development of the relationship between Pastor Skip and his son and the other Christian Jewels seem to be forgotten until one of the final scenes when they turn on Hilary Faye. Those are just my personal beefs, though.

So, I suggest you give this a viewing. There’s something for everyone. However, I do warn those of you that are easily offended, to steer clear, as the religious satire may agitate you.

4 out of 5 stars