Saturday, November 30, 2013


Tonight I saw Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #128, so please tune in a few weeks from now for our review.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Today I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.

The film begins where the book also started, as Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) are gearing up for their victory tour of the districts, as the winners of the most recent Hunger Games.

Spying on the wildly popular couple, the president (Donald Sutherland) calls their bluff and fears their love story act will not sustain, so therefore Katniss must be eliminated. His new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (a perfectly cast Philip Seymour Hoffman) soon constructs a plot to bring the victors back into the games and seal her fate.

Though all of the excitement and horrors of the games is well executed, it's the performance that Lawrence gives that truly makes the film worth seeing. Every note of emotion is pitch perfect; every complexity captured in her eyes.

I also confess to eating up the love triangle between her, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As with any well done triangle, I change my mind every few minutes about who I want for Katniss. My brain says Peeta will do everything in his power to make her happy from now to eternity; my heart sees the way she looks at Gale.

Only one more year until the first installment of Mockingjay hits theaters, right?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Delivery Man

Today I saw Delivery Man, starring Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt.

David (Vaughn) is an unreliable "meat chauffeur" for the family business. He's in love with Emma (Cobie Smulders), who is carrying his child, but unsure of whether or not she wants him to be a part of said child's life.

He wants to do better—he really does—and gets the chance to prove it when his world is unexpectedly turned upside down. It seems that as a sperm donor years ago, he fathered 533 children, over a hundred of which have filed a lawsuit to try to learn his identity.

His lawyer/BFF (Pratt) works tirelessly to preserve his anonymity, but David's impulsive actions don't help. He begins reading through profiles of his children (all of whom magically live in the vicinity) and finds them, following them throughout their daily lives.

Vaughn is fantastic as someone in awe of what the creation of a child truly means (there are some tear-inducing, tender scenes with one of the children, which I won't spoil) and at the same time frustratingly irresponsible.

Aside from that, and the side-story of the lawyer's four kids driving him nuts, this is a very slow-paced, often sad-in-tone film.

I really wanted to like it more than I did, and I wanted to laugh as much as the trailer implied I would. But I didn't.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

This morning I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Cecil Gains (Whitaker) was a real-life man named Eugene Allen, who was employed by The White House from the Truman administration all the way up through the Reagan administration. He began as a pantry worker and was soon promoted to butler, utilizing the skills he'd learned working in exclusive places around Virginia and Washington, D.C. And, he was black.

The film shows how he was trained as a child as a "house negro" to serve and dazzle the higher class, and takes great pride in doing good work for his superiors.

His wife Gloria (Winfrey)—who was named Helene in actuality—has a drinking problem and turns to another man for intimacy as her husband works long hours. Winfrey gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who clearly adores her husband, but has so much brimming just beneath her emotional surface, she has to find other ways to cope.

The film has fairly been compared to Forrest Gump for its predictable trip down memory lane, but just as I didn't mind it in Forrest Gump, I didn't mind it here either. Though the big-name stars (Robin Williams, John Cusack, etc.) who play the various presidents are distracting, the overall message is clear: it really hasn't been that long since America was a terribly unbalanced country, devoid of human rights for all. In fact, it reminds us that though things are better, we still have a long way to go.

For all its unfaithfulness to the true story, it was still an engaging, well-paced movie that made me wish I was more like its main character: content in hard work, patient in times of injustice and lacking in envy of the riches that surround him.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Today I saw 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender.

It will be the topic of our November Cinebanter episode, so tune in later this month for our review.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Captain Philips

Tonight I saw Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.

Captain Rich Phillips (Hanks) is an east coast merchant marine leading a new crew through the dangerous waters of Africa to deliver cargo. Muse (Abdi) is a Somali pirate that leads a handful of fellow pirates to take over the Captain's ship. Despite the elaborate security measures, Muse succeeds.

After a nerve-wracking chain of events (all happening while the U.S. Navy Seals are getting their ducks in a row to initiate a rescue), the pirates leave the ship and escape on one of its lifeboats with Captain Phillips as their hostage.

What happened over the course of five days in real life is chronicled in just over two hours here, but it's no less harrowing. The Captain talks to them, negotiates the extension of his life and feels compassion for the youngest pirate, who is just a kid. Tempers flare, weapons are drawn and physical fights are commonplace.

What makes Paul Greengrass such a phenomenal director is how real it all feels, though it's not something everyday people will ever truly know. His gift for capturing the sound of desperate breaths, the temperature in a space and the discombobulation of chaos is unique.

All of the performances in this film are first-rate; most notably those of the pirates who weren't even actors before they took on these roles.

I can't imagine this won't get a ripple of well-deserved Oscar nominations.