Monthly Archives: April 2012

Beginners: Passed Down from Father to Son

As people, we are constantly trying to learn how to love each other. It’s a funny thing, love; it can be both beautiful and messy, incredible as well as painful. One day it can seem so real, so tangible, and just when we think we have a hold on it, it slips right through our fingers. In the end, we’re pretty clueless where to start when we fall in love.

‘Beginners.’ That’s what we are, and that’s what ‘Beginners’ is all about. However, the movie doesn’t approach the subject with cynicism, but sincerity. It is so heartfelt and alive; a beautiful love letter to the idea of Love itself.

It is about an artist named Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor) and his father Hal (played by Christopher Plummer). After Oliver’s mother dies, Hal tells his son, after 38 years of marriage, that he is gay. He tells his son that he no longer wants to be ‘theoretically gay,’ that he wants to ‘do something about it.’ 4 years after telling this to his son, Hal dies of cancer (by the way the audience is told all of this in the very first scene, so don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything for you).

The film is chronologically centered around the death of Oliver’s father. Half of it views their relationship in retrospect, focusing on the years between Hal’s coming out and his death. The other half is focused on a romantic relationship that Oliver develops with a young woman named Anna (played by Melanie Laurent) that begins shortly after Oliver’s father passes away.

That is the story of ‘Beginners,’ and as far as the story goes, it is so simple. But don’t be fooled; I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It deals with so many deep and complex themes. It discusses how we learn to love from our parents, how happiness is not as simple as it looks, and how it is better to love deeply and passionately than to never love at all.

The true spirit of ‘Beginners’ lies within the honest and authentic relationships that the characters develop.  Oliver and Hal bring so much truth to the father and son relationship. The authenticity of this relationship is vital when the viewer begins to discover that Hal’s last few years have changed how Oliver views his entire life; past, present, and future.

The movie itself is partly autobiographical. The writer and director Mike Mills wrote the script after his father came out to him following his mother’s death. To me, this makes ‘Beginners’ such a personal and brave film that shares such a intimate life experience. It is done with such subtle grace though that it feels real to the audience. It is Mills’ life experiences deconstructed for the screen. So in a way, the film reads as almost an homage to his father; how his father’s honesty changed how he sees love.

There are also brilliant little pieces of filmmaking where Oliver reflects on his relationship with his mother. All of these scenes are of Oliver’s childhood and are rich with of bitterness and regret. With these moments we see the true conflict that is happening within Oliver; his mother is the parent of his childhood, the one who really raised him, while Hal is the parent of his adulthood, who seems much happier now that is mother is gone. With his mother he sees the negative side of love, a side that was caused by his incapable father. In his last few years with his father, he is able to see the joy that comes with finding love for the first time. He learned what love was from his parents, and his parents are working in opposition to each other, even in death.

Although sometimes sad to watch, the film as a whole carries a note of optimism. It makes us believe that if we continue to search for love, that love with eventually find us, and when it does, we should fight for it.

Christopher Plummer is so incredibly brilliant in this movie. Think about how difficult this role is: play a gay man, who was married to a woman for almost forty years, and is a father to a middle aged straight man, and is also on his death bed. To have this role and not make a caricature of gay pride, but an honest look at what it means to lie about being straight for so long that coming out can be just as confusing. This past year, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this performance; he deserved every bit of it. By the way, if you’ve never seen an interview with Christopher Plummer, check that out. He is just delightful.

As I’ve been reflecting about this movie, I’ve also thought about my own relationship with my parents. Anyone who knows my family knows that I am my father’s son. I have his voice, his walk, and his laugh. But I also know that there is so much of my mother in me; her passion, her heart, and her eyes. But rather than working in opposition with each other, they work in harmony within my spirit. I’m glad that I learned to love from them, because they’ve become pretty skillful at it. I hope someday I can learn to love as deeply as they love each other.

My Note: ‘Beginners’ one of the most honest, heartfelt, and authentic movies that you’ll ever see.

My Grade: A+

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The Last of the Mohicans: Love in the Midst of Sorrow

Picking up an authentic, historically accurate movie, one that’s not found on the History Channel, seems to be a rare occurrence. Completely twisting the facts to fit the action packed scene is the norm. Even though there are added love interests and catastrophic battle scenes that are not historically correct, they represent situations that could easily have been found in that distinct time and place. With that in mind, we get exceptional movies that have at least one fantastic and accurate scene, situation, or portrayal such as Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Gone With the Wind, Dances With Wolves, The Godfather, and The Patriot.

The reason I love movies like this is with the knowledge that it is, basically, a historically relevant movie with a compelling story. It’s not full of blue aliens, Disney characters, or futuristic worlds. Granted they aren’t 100% accurate, like Defiance or The Conspirator, but they do share a common spirit. One of the reasons I love movies is they allow me to experience something special and put me in the moment; historic movies take me to a time period that I sometimes wish I would’ve been born into.

Another movie I’d like to add to the list is not a “box-office blockbuster” or a “Best Picture” winner, but it certainly has the qualities necessary to throw it into the mix. The film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is a movie full of courage, devotion, and passion. Directed by Michael Mann, and scored to the exquisite compositions of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, the film itself is one of great beauty. 

Set during the French and Indian war, the movie depicts the siege at Fort William Henry and the following battle after the British surrender to Marquis de Montcalm. The portrayal of these events resonate with authenticity. We see the lives of the soldiers and their families living in close quarters within the fort, the wounded accumulating by the hour, the skirmishes outside the walls, and the chaos within the trenches moving closer and closer by the day. The eventual surrender is well depicted, as well the unwarranted generosity and gentlemanly behavior on the part of Montcalm towards his British opponents, including Lt. Colonel George Monro. After the surrender, the evacuation of the able and wounded English and subsequent brutality of the hostile Indian tribes leaves a mark on the memories of those viewing the savagery. One senses the confusion and utter panic on behalf of the English, being attacked with intense ferocity without the availability of safety within sight. 

In addition to the accurate historical depictions, what solidifies my love and appreciation for films are the emotional and realistic relationships that form between characters. The movie opens with the Mohican indian Chingachgook (beautifully played by the famous Ogalala/Lakota Sioux and first national director of American Indian Movement, Russell Means) and his two sons, Uncas (Eric Schweig) and our hero, Nathaniel, (played by the famous Daniel Day Lewis also found in There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York) hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They later visit the homestead of their friends, Camerons, “hack[ing] it out of the wilderness with their own two hands.” 

The three men initially reject the offer to join their friends as volunteers in the British army, but the eventual murder of the Camerons and the encounter with a detachment of officers, including the two daughters of Colonel Monro, throw them into the ranks of the war. 

As a result, our heroes lead the surviving officer, Duncan, and the daughters, Cora (played by the stunning Madeleine Stowe from the TV series Revenge) and Alice to Fort William. In the course of their travels, Nathaniel and Cora are found in a treacherous war in which their love is discovered and validated amidst the firing cannons and flying tomahawks. This love is one that we all dream of: all sacrificing, unwavering faithful, and passionately sustained. 

Cora’s devotion is clear when she challenges her father’s authority to save Nathaniel from being hanged for sedition. Nathaniel is equally faithful when he saves Cora from a slit to the throat. He climbs up the highest mountains to rescue her from the antagonist Magua (played by the infamous Wes Studi), and free falls into a trecherous waterfall to ensure her safety. His love will forever be marked and defined by the ever famous line “No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive… You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.”

During the development of Nathaniel and Cora’s relationship, a bond is formed between Uncas and Alice. Uncas subtly watches over the meek and pure Alice who is evidently fragile and delicate in the midst of the wars waged around her. Before Uncas joins Chingachgook and Nathaniel jumping into the waterfall, he pulls Alice from a rash suicidal decision to end her life; she believes that she cannot go on after witnessing such evil and death. His tender affection for her is unmistakable in his embrace and comfort. The love that Uncas feels for Alice is moving and foreshadows the painful climax to come.

After Nathaniel once again saves Cora, Uncas sets off to save Alice from the clutches of Magua. Regrettably, Uncas is sliced before her eyes and kicked off a mountain after repeatedly trying to outmatch Magua. Although defeated, Uncas refuses to give in without one last blow. His sacrifice is the last straw for Alice who is united with Uncas through the same tragic death. Is there a greater picture of true love other than the sacrifice of one’s own life for their soul mate?

After watching his son’s sacrifice from a distance, the overwrought and enraged Chingachgook has his revenge in the brief but power defeat of Magua. He is able to rip his enemy apart with the surest and swiftest movements formed over years of perfection. Before enacting the final blow, Chingachgook looks his enemy square in the eye and that moment is the epitome of a father’s righteous justice. His mouth is silent, but his eyes say, “You messed with family, and you will die for that.

In the final scene, Chingachgook, Nathaniel, and Cora gather together to grieve their lost ones in the only way they can. We glimpse a future full of hope for Nathaniel and Cora despite the extreme pain and loss at the end of the film, but at the same time the final moment is mixed with intense despair from a man who has experienced unspeakable tribulation throughout his long life. It is at this point that we hear the words of a man who is the definition of wisdom:

“The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us….The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here….Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one – I, Chingachgook – Last of the Mohicans.”

My Note: A movie with historic merit in addition to relatable passionate connections and true devotion to those connections.

My Grade: A

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Diving into the Nightmare

I love the mystery of a detective story. There is a new brand of thrilling possibilites when a film revolves around a investigator unraveling dark secrets from the past. It is thrilling because I’ve learned over the years what solving a mystery requires; the characters must go somewhere they don’t want to go in order to find the truth. To really find out the reality of the past, the detective must overcome their fear of the unknown and become enveloped and dive into the darkness.

Although, it is easier to take the plunge if you have somewhere there with you; someone that already understands the treacherous waters.

It is at this crossroads where Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander meet in the American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”The best-selling Swedish novel has been able to resonate with readers world wide, but when director David Fincher was able to take give his spin on the story, the best-selling novel became a piece of ambitious filmmaking that deserves recognition.

Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) is a business journalist living in Stockholm known for his “keen investigative mind.” When the film opens, Blomkvist has just been convicted of libel, having recently published an article that accused powerful Swedish executive Hans-Erik Wennerstrom of having ties with organized crime. Embarassed by the conviction and nearly broke from the judgment, Blomkvist receives a phone call, requesting a meeting with the founder of powerful Swedish Firm, Henrik Vanger.

Knowing that Blomkvist is desperate, Henrik Vanger brings him to their eerie island mansion. Henrik wants the journalist to investigate something that has haunted him for years; the murder of his niece Harriet, a murder that occured more than 40 years ago. Mikael agrees to find out what he can, but as he searches, he realizes that Harriet’s death is not just a solitary event, but part of a chain of murders that began years before her disappearance.

The title character of the film, Lisbeth Salander (played by Rooney Mara), is seemingly different from Blomkvist is every way. She is a goth-punk hacker who is pierced from head to toe. Her raven black hair is in stark contrast to her bleached eye-brows which also work in opposition to her blackened retinas. Although she is constantly dressed in leather and chains, the only thing more offensive than Lisbeth’s appearance is her demeanor. You can see that she detests being around people, especially men, and even more especially the wealthy bureaucratic men that she is subject to. She is a ward of the state, being passed around through foster care since childhood. She is plagued by a history of physical and sexual abuse, which she carries around like heavy luggage, making her unwilling to trust anyone that might harm her.

In the first half of the film, the audience watches the separate lives and undertakings of these two people who are separated by age, personality, and circumstance. As Mikael works to find the clues and the missing pieces to Harriet’s death, we watch as Lisbeth is forced to endure the horrible abuse of her new legal guardian. It is truly horrifying to see this sequence of events, how this young woman is forced to endure terrible things for her survival. But, as awful as it is, it is also that much more vital when we see Lisbeth exact her vengeance, not only on her violent and disgusting abuser, but also on all men who want to hurt women.

Blomkvist has found himself in waters that he doesn’t fully understand, forcing him to find someone to help him navigate through the veiled past. It is because of this that Mikael is able to find Lisbeth, only initially searching for a research assistant. When Blomkvist eventually comes to Lisbeth for help, it is an incredible important dialogue that the two characters share. Although they have their different reasons for wanting to find the truth about Harriet, Blomkvist seeking personal redemption and Salander wanting to punish a world of violent men, they both in the end want the same thing. We see them unite for a common purpose; “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

By deciding to dive into the mystery together, Lisbeth does something that she has, until this point, refused to do. She must put her trust in man.

There are so many things that I love about this movie. Rooney Mara truly does deliver the performance of the year with her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander. She is able to be both vulnerable and fierce, fragile yet powerful, and the way she brings this character to life is what brings the story together. Although Mara deserves all praise she receives for this film, there is no doubt that Director David Fincher was the master architect of ‘Dragon Tattoo.’ The way that Fincher is able to create a mood for a film is unbelievable, how with a few simple shots in the opening he is able to set the tone for the entire narrative, and he is able to make this movie feel as chilling and mysterious as the subject matter would suggest. However, I’m more than biased. In my mind, David Fincher is the best Director working today.

But Viewer be warned: Although I believe this movie is a fantastic piece of filmmaking, it takes the audience to places that it does not want to go. It is very purposeful in this, trying to get the audience to see everything the characters must go through, and I mean everything. Specifically, there is one scene in which the heroine is brutally violated. It is because of this scene that I can’t openly recommend it without a disclaimer of sorts. The film is graphic in its depiction of violence towards women, and I believe that the viewer deserves to know this before watching.

My Note: If you are prepared to dive into the shocking world of ‘Dragon Tattoo,’ take the plunge, because in the end, it is worth it (but don’t say I didn’t warn you).

My Grade: A

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Munich: A Sandcastle Built to Fall

The list of those responsible.

Terror comes to us in many forms. It can be a story on the news, a man with a bomb, or an airplane being flown into a building. The madness of extreme and disillusioned men can be overwhelming. It makes no sense to us; how men could have so much hate within their bones for people that they have never met. But at the Olympic Games held in Munich the Summer of 1972, terror came in the form of a man wearing a ski mask on a balcony, while his fellow Arabian terrorists, members of a group known as Black September, were holding 11 eleven Israeli athletes hostage inside. Eventually, all of these hostages were killed, sending the Middle Eastern world into a frenzy.

Israel was determined to respond.  And this response is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s ambitious film ‘Munich’.

The film opens with a filmmaker’s perspective of the events that happened that day. It is shocking, violent, and an aggressive bit of chaos to watch on screen, as news cameras tune in and take notice of what is happening. We are then shown the world tuned into their television screens, united in horror over these atrocities. The world watches while the terrorists take the hostages to an airport, and it is here that the world watches them die. Let me tell you what a well done opening sequence this is; a perfect set up for the rest of the film, done in textbook fashion by Spielberg.

Then comes a scene of great significance: We are then brought into the Israel “war room” with Prime Minister Golda Meir (played by Lynn Cohen). Meir informs her generals that the world must know that Israelites cannot be slaughtered in front of the entire world without consequence. And in a Biblically profound speech, she tells her generals that “every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.” She orders her military to take action against those responsible for Munich.

The narrative centers on five ex-Mossad agents that are charged with a seemingly simple task; to assassinate 11 men involved in the planning of the massacre. The team’s leader, Avner (played by Eric Bana), is a young Israeli father who is asked to lead this mission of Zionist vengeance. Accompanied by a trigger man, a bomb maker, a forger, and a forensics expert, Avner takes his team all over the capitals of Europe, tracking down and killing their targets with bullets and homemade explosives.

This central portion of the film where the Israeli assassins scheme and eliminate their targets is truly one of the most entertaining things that you can watch. Watching the characters come up with ideas for explosives, develop a plan, and experience problems that cause them to improvise is thrilling. It reminds me of the old Hitchcock films, with their patient pacing and suspense, and I feel like Spielberg even channeled some of Orson Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil’ with a particular scene involving a telephone bomb. And Mr. Movie Magic himself still never ceases to amaze me with some of his action sequences, how the chaos of a moment can be filmed in such a compelling way.

Avner and Ephraim discuss the mission.

Not only are the first two acts of this movie entertaining in its action, but it is also thought provoking in its dialogue and character interaction. Like when Avner meets for the first time with the Frenchman who sells agents information, a man known as Papa. He tells Avner that they refuse to work with governments because governments cannot be trusted with power. Papa believes that family is the only thing in this world worth protecting. In another scene, the team is forced to stay in a safe house with Palestinian terrorists. While together, unbeknownst to the Palestinians that they are staying with Israelites, Avner and one of the Palestinian men talk about what they want most in the world; a place to call home. This scene humanizes the enemy for our hero as well as for the audience.

While on their mission, some of the men begin to question the morality of what they are doing. All of them Jewish, there is this prevailing thought that they are called to be righteous, and what they are doing is not what they were called to be. At this time, Avner justifies it by saying that with every man they kill, they are saving Israeli lives. These dialogues between the protagonists are both deep and challenging, causing the viewer to also question the moral value behind the violence they are watching. At what point do these men start to become terrorists themselves?

Now, let’s pause for a moment. At this point, we are about 2 hours into the film, and there is about 30 minutes remaining. Up until this point, ‘Munich’ is an incredible movie. It is exciting, deep, meaningful, and it seems to be going somewhere. Although so far the ride has been fulfilling, our characters are beginning to experience opposition and the audience is in need of a very strong third act if we are going to be able to pull it all together. It is a tight 30 minutes away from greatness.

Then, something unexpected happens. The movie begins to fall apart. Our characters who were once bound by a mission begin to implode psychologically. Avner, the leader of the unit, becomes paranoid and untrustworthy, not only for other characters, but for the audience as well. The story that was once so put together and purposeful, loses focus from the goal. It begins to take detours and tangents that make the audience want to ask “Where are we?” The protagonists begin to share something in common with the viewer in the fact that we both become lost in a world of violence with no real way out, so much so that by the end of it all, we forget how meaningful it was when we started.

It’s hard to say when this really begins, although I have two scenes in particular that “jump the shark” for me.

One involves the failed assassination of the most well protected Palestinian leader on their list; when the coup is broken up by a patrolling teenage guard, Avner responds by shooting him in the face. This, to me, is the first real evidence that Avner is no longer the man we thought he was. The other involves a scene in which Avner is making love to his wife accompanied by haunting flashbacks to the Munich massacres. Although I understand the purpose of this scene (at least I think I do), it seems unnecessary, out of place, and in all seriousness, overindulgent film school garbage. And trust me, I’m being kind with that description.

There are many who believe that this is done by design, that the writer Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg purposefully allow the film to go downhill, as a way of showing the viewer that the conclusion of these violent acts is not glorious, but ugly. In the same way that Avner is in conflict with himself, the film begins to contradict the ideals that it once believed in. With the opposition that the team is experiencing, the audience begins to feel opposition with what they want; a great ending. If this is true, then kudos to Spielberg because he accomplished this self-destruction with flying colors.

However, from where I’m standing, that’s not what I see. What I see is a writer and director that didn’t truly believe in the message that they were originally preaching. They decided that they were not comfortable with going all the way to the end. Like the characters in the story, it is truly the creators of this film that are lost. They couldn’t choose what to believe in, so instead, they chose to believe in nothing.  To end the film by telling us that the conflict between Israel and Palestine will never end through violence is not a profound statement to make. It is merely an echo from what we know in our conscience to be true.

My Note: ‘Munich’ is two hours of a fantastic movie followed by wave of disappointment that brings the entire sandcastle crumbling down.

My Grade: A-

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The Hunger Games: Why I Love the Girl on Fire.

Katniss Everdeen played by Jennifer Lawrence

Well, Welcome to the Obligatory Movie Blog about the movie that everyone has already seen. Although it seems redundant, I couldn’t let this one slip by because I feel like ‘The Hunger Games’ has accomplished something that few movies have been able to do. So, for the baker’s dozen of you readers that haven’t seen this movie yet, I hope this can push you out the door, because  it really is worth the price of the ticket.

Not since the first of the Harry Potter films were first released, what seems like a billion years ago, has a popular young-adult series been able to gather public appeal, critical acclaim, and be a legitimately good movie. Us young readers who dived into ‘Eragon’ and ‘Percy Jackson’ were forced to watch in horror as the literature was massacred before our very eyes. And then there was ‘Twilight.’ The vampire inspired series of romance novels that none of us read but we all were forced to hear about. As I type this I can hear the moans of thousands of men around the country that were dragged into one of these movies. The movies ended up being awful, but made billions in the process (High-school Girls: Please refrain from throwing your nail polish and ‘My Chemical Romance’ CDs at your laptop screen in anger. I assure you, this is all in good fun.)

Yes, it was painful. But we endured, hoping that someday a movie would come along that would outlast the hype. We dreamed of a movie that would not only meet, but exceed our expectations.

People: the wait is over. ‘The Hunger Games’ is that movie.

Former champion Haymitch (played by Woody Harrelson) consoles Katniss before the games.

The story centers around Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence). An odd name, I know, but get used to it because it will be the name on everyone’s lips for the next 3-5 years. Katniss lives in Disctrict 12 with her mother and younger sister, Primrose. She often hunts with her hunky- totally platonic- companion Gale, who will later in this blog become the subject of great division and controversy. However, there is something wrong with Katniss’ world, beccause there is an annual event that happens in District 12 that will change her entire life.

Every year representatives from the central powers of Panem  (the nation made up of 12 separate city-states known as The Districts), travel to each district to select one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to participate in a national event known as the Hunger Games. During this particular selection, the powers-that-be select young Primrose Everdeen. Out of fear and love for her sister, Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her place. Katniss, along with a awkward looking teenage boy named Peeta, are then taken to the Capital to prepare for the Hunger Games.

Now, what are the Hunger Games?

‘The Hunger Games’ is a nationally televised event in which 24 teenagers, known as the Tributes, are placed in a large arena and are then forced to fight to the death for their eager audience. The more brutal the better, each kill being broadcasted throughout the Capital as well as all 12 Districts.

So imagine the Super Bowl, but instead of touchdowns and interceptions, we get bombs and axe murderers. The purpose of the event is to remind the once rebellious districts that the Capital is still the supreme power of Panem; a power so great that they take the children of the Districts to be slaughtered.

I would prefer to not reveal any more of the plot than that, again not wanting to ruin the ride for the seven of you that haven’t seen it yet, except to bring up a few key scenes that allow ‘The Hunger Games’ to transcend from popular blockbuster to authentic quality filmmaking.

You see what this movie has that the ‘Twilights’ and other young-adult literature movies do not is a deeper meaning behind the story. Something more than just the characters in the arena. It is a movie that is trying to say something about protest, civil disobedience, and also a yearning within ourselves to be free.

Here are two examples of what I’m talking about…

1. The night before the games begin, Katniss and Peeta are speaking to one another about what to expect the next day. This is a segment of dialogue in the book that I am SO thankful that they left in the script (there is something to be said for a solid adaptation, but I digress.) Peeta tells Katniss that the one thing that he hopes is that these games don’t change him; that he can show everyone watching that the Capital doesn’t own him. He doesn’t care so much about whether he lives or dies, death is almost assured, but he is more concerned about staying true to himself. How powerful is that, in a world today where most movies are telling teenagers that they must compromise their identity to be accepted? You won’t find that in ‘Percy Jackson’.

2. Another breakout scene: Katniss, while in the arena, shows respect to a fallen tribute in the games by decorating the place where the competitor was killed. She honors their district by doing what Peeta was describing the night before the games; she is telling all of the Panem districts that Capital cannot take away their hope. The film then shows one of the outlying districts watching the games, and out of inspiration from Katniss and hatred for the Capital, they begin to revolt. They rise in rebellion against their tyrannical government. It is so powerful and holds so much truth about the nature of hope and the human spirit.

This has to be said as well: ‘The Hunger Games’ is a very tight, well-made film. The movie is directed by the Oscar-nominated Gary Ross, a seasoned Hollywood veteran. Many know Ross for his work in ambitious and creatively written films such as ‘Seabiscuit’, ‘Pleasantville’, and ‘Big’ (one of my personal favorites). Ross, who also co-wrote the script, is able to bring new life to the story that so many have already read. He shows the world of Panem from many different perspectives, not just from the eyes of the tributes in the arena, but also through the Game-Maker Seneca Crane and the drunken mentor of District 12, Haymitch Abernathy. Ross has directed a very compelling, exciting, and beautifully filmed movie, and trust me, fans everywhere appreciate this.

‘The Hunger Games’ is also driven by an exceptional cast. Jennifer Lawrence is just so stinking talented for her age, earning her first Oscar nomination at age 20 for ‘Winter’s Bone’, and she has found a way to make Katniss come to life. Major props to the producers of this film for making an extremely gifted actress the face of the franchise. (There were early rumors that Megan Fox was being pursued for the role. Can you imagine?) Lawrence is also joined by Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, and Elizabeth Banks, all of whom give fine supporting performances. I am always especially impressed by Kravitz, who showed me in ‘Precious’ as well as ‘The Hunger Games’ that the former rock star may have a bright career in acting ahead of him. And of course I wouldn’t forget about future pre-teen poster models Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as Miss Everdeen’s love interests.

That moment in 'The Cave'

My thoughts on the Peeta and Gale argument: there really is no argument. Gale is her good looking hunting-buddy, Peeta was willing to sacrifice everything for her. Gale taught her how to snare rabbits, Peeta saved her life half-a-dozen times. When Peeta was selected for the games, Gale just stood there with everyone else. If he really loved Katniss, wouldn’t he have volunteered to protect her? In the end, I think Gale hates the Capital more than he loves Katniss, whereas Peeta would rather die than see anything happen to her. That’s that.

My Note: Don’t write off this movie because it is a blockbuster based on a young-adult novel, because it is truly worthwhile in so many ways. (Also, a big round of applause for the writer of this article that did not include any spoilers.)

My Grade: B+

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Lost in Translation: A Lonely Place

Bill and Scarlett

That moment when he comes back.

Movies are able to capture emotion in a way that few other art forms can. Feelings like anger, happiness, triumph, and sadness are easy to display on the screen. All you need is a decent actress and characters that can carry a story. But, very few movies out there can show you what it is like to be lonely in a crowd of hundreds. It is much easier for a filmmaker to show someone falling in love than to bring truth to a young woman that is caught in a loveless marriage. These emotions are complex, subtle, and difficult to understand.

Very few movies are able to pull this off. You need a great cast, an even better directing effort, and a knockout script.

“Lost in Translation” is one of those movies. An enlightening tale about a truly human connection in a foreign world, “Lost in Translation” is a delicious piece of Sushi-flavored originality in a world of fast-food style chick flicks.

It tells the story of Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray), a past-his-prime movie star who visits Japan on business; he is starring in a commercial for a Japanese whiskey company. While in Tokyo, he drinks often, tries to understand the Japanese locals, avoids calls from his wife, and then drinks more in the hotel bar. More than anything, Bob is unhappy.

It is also the story of Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson), a young woman traveling with photographer husband. Charlotte is realizing that her husband is not the man she thought he was, and these feelings are brought out in their Tokyo hotel. She is noticeably unhappy and out of place in her marriage.

If you haven’t guessed it, Bob and Charlotte meet in the hotel and make a connection. This is such a fun relationship to watch unfold on screen, and it is played so well by Murray and Johansson. The two lost and wandering people, separated by age and life experience, become companions in this brand new world. They sing Karaoke together, eat Sushi together, take advantage of universal health care. You know, the normal things you do in Japan.

The scene that pulls this relationship together for me comes when Bob and Charlotte are talking to each other in a hotel room. Charlotte tells him that she feels stuck and wonders if life gets easier. She asks Bob about marriage and being a father. Murray is absolutely brilliant in this scene, making the dialogue seem so natural and real. And then, in a situation where it would be so easy for Bob Harris give into temptation and take advantage of this beautiful girl, writer/director Sofia Coppola does something brilliant. Bob and Charlotte simply fall asleep next to each other, proving to the audience that their relationship is not sexual, but one of deep affection and respect.

While watching this movie, I found myself connecting with the characters in a such a meaningful way. It is in theses moments that I realized the real message of this movie. Loneliness is something we all can relate to, and for these two people, it is what brings them together. The title itself is alluding to the feeling we all experience when we are unhappy; like we are trapped in a foreign land where no one understands us. And when we’re stuck, all we need is someone to set us free.

My Note: This beautiful film deserves nothing but praise.

My Grade: A

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