Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Review

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is entertaining, but feels incomplete. The film picks up where its predecessor The Hunger Games left off: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the 74th Hunger Games, which has incited a swelling of rebellion in the twelve districts – especially those in constant strife. Katniss is now under pressure by the President to act her part and not encourage further revolution. But the president soon realizes that she is far too dangerous to live, as are the other former champions. Thus, for the 75th Hunger Games, he decides that the tributes from each district will be made up of former winners, as a means to eliminate their threat to his power.

While I liked The Hunger Games overall, much of my problem with the film came from Katniss never really being faced with a truly difficult choice. Narratively and dramatically speaking, everything was just too easy for her (and on her). And more or less the same is true in Catching Fire. Katniss is still the main character, but much of the more interesting narrative elements seem to be taking place behind the scenes without her involvement or knowledge, which leaves the film feeling like just a basic remake of the first film (only, supposedly with higher stakes because this time all the tributes are trained killers).

Overall, Catching Fire does have more dramatically poignant moments, however. This is true particularly of Katniss’s visit to District 11 to pay tribute to Thresh and Rue. The relationships between characters feel more organic and steeped in reality than just emotionally dramatic for the sake of appealing to their targeted audience of youth adults (which has certainly grown substantially to include mostly all filmgoers). This is something that works well for the film. The audience actually cares about these characters this time around, which only heightens the tension throughout (though, the writers still clearly do not really know what to do with Gale and his relationship with Katniss – the audience sees them kiss and so on but really there is nothing of substance for them to care about in the actual narrative, while Katniss’s relationship with Peeta is much more developed and believable). In the first film, all the other tributes were also basically throwaway characters, with only Rue meaning anything – and that is solely due to Katniss caring about her. This time around, a number of the other tributes are actually given their own dramatic character moments that the audience can latch onto, take stock in, and relate to. Again, what works much better in this film is that outside of Katniss the audience is actually invested in other characters this time.

And yet Catching Fire cannot overcome its big story flaws to be something great. It is a good, entertaining adventure/action drama with a social message (which can be somewhat extrapolated in comparison to the world’s own current wealth distribution inequality). Katniss is a very likable character, even if she is basically left out of the primary narrative of the film. And that is the problem. Because Katniss is left out, so is the audience. Director Francis Lawrence does this because he wants the big reveal (that is not really that big a surprise for anyone actually paying attention) for Katniss to also play for the audience. Thus, the audience is saddled with pretty much the same film again: Katniss is a heartbroken tribute. She goes to the capital, where she is paraded around, trains, makes allies/enemies, all before being dropped into the arena to fight to the death. Lawrence does give the audience better and more exciting action this time (as he clearly also has a bigger budget and skill for the genre), but still the audience has already seen all this before in the last film.

Worst of all, just when the narrative starts to get interesting and Katniss is finally let in on the primary plot (which is all behind the scenes in the film, as the audience is fixed to Katniss’s perspective), the film ends. This leaves the film feeling frustratingly incomplete, as effectively Catching Fire is nothing but act one for the bigger narrative that plays out in Mockingjay – a big tease for better things to come. While Catching Fire is better in almost every way in comparison to The Hunger Games, at least that film has a satisfying narrative and character arc.

Narratively, Catching Fire is not a feature film, rather merely part one of a three part story structured similarly to a television miniseries.  It is common in Hollywood for series to be split into multiple films (often one story being split into two or even three films), but so far writers have done a good job structuring the breaks so that each part in a way tells its own story and the character(s) grow, develop, and change from beginning to end, while also having a goal or dramatic journey. Catching Fire seemingly has no real narrative structure – and if it does, it is essentially the same as the first film. The film essentially is about all the chess pieces being organized into their strategic positions in order to strike at their opponent, but then the film ends before they can make their move. And, on top of that, the audience is not even involved in their positioning; rather they sit on the sideline while things happen around them, only clued in once they are on the board (but by then, the film is over). Katniss’s dramatic struggle in the film (trying to survive yet another Hunger Games, while primarily trying to keep Peeta alive) is completely undermined by the reveal at the end, because really her struggle was just a place holder until the real narrative was ready to begin (which we will have to wait a year to see the first half of). This whole film could have easily been condensed into act one of the next film (book) because that is essentially what it is. Therefore, while the action is bigger, the stakes higher (I guess), and so on, the narrative that the audience is a part of is boring (as they have already watched this film last time), plus Katniss does not really have a character arc (because she is essentially sidelined). The viewer is only engaged because of their investment in Katniss and she is in peril, but again from a story perspective this leaves a lot to be desired and is almost wholly unsatisfying (as a standalone film).

Now, in the scheme of the whole series, Catching Fire might end up working quite well as a companion piece to the Mockingjay films, but as a standalone film it just does not have a strong enough narrative to warrant its existence, at least in the framework of a narrative feature film. And yet, it is entertaining and enjoyable for what it is and it does leave the audience ready and excited for what comes next – and therefore one could say it does its job.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: What a difference a director makes. The Hunger Games presents a strong female character in Katniss and a compelling idea of a society that celebrates the spectacle of its youths fighting to the death, but Gary Ross took this material and delivered a rather dull film that is really only good due to its lead actress and the strength of its story and world. Francis Lawrence does a much better job with the look and action. Catching Fire is much more fluid and exciting, if only it had a strong narrative too. Despite its flaws, it very well might be Lawrence’s best film (edging out Constantine and I Am Legend). I do look forward to seeing what he does with the finale two films, which likely will actually feature a full story and a real dramatic arc for Katniss.

Composer James Newton Howard already had a strong foundation with his music for The Hunger Games, thus his work on Catching Fire was more or less already done for him. Some composers take their music to new heights with each sequel (like Hans Zimmer with his phenomenal The Dark Knight Rises score), while others rest on their laurels. Howard’s score for Catching Fire works well with the drama on screen, and thus does what it needs to do, but it does not really bring anything dynamic or new to the film (and yes, Howard did work with Zimmer on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight scores). Meanwhile, the soundtrack inspired by the film is probably better this time around. Production designer Philip Messina again does good work on the film, which takes full advantage of the stark juxtaposition between the poorer districts and the rich Capital. Costume designer Trish Summerville also does standout work. In taking over for Ross, Lawrence brought in cinematographer Jo Willems, who provides a much richer look for the film (accentuating what appear to be greater production values).

Catching Fire also features what feels like a much better, fuller cast this time around, especially in the smaller supporting roles. As far as returning supporting characters, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks are again fun in their outlandish roles, but this time they get to play with some emotion as well. Donald Sutherland does a good job playing what is essentially a snarling role as the President. Despite his appearance, he seems menacing. While barely in the film, Willow Shields actually has some strong moments as Katniss’s sister Primrose. Liam Hemsworth has the difficult job of playing a character with no development – Gale – who exists seemingly to be handsome and likable. Woody Harrelson is very good as Haymitch, but as he is primarily involved in the main behind the scenes plot that is kept secret from Katniss (and the audience, though poorly) he has little screen time. There is a lot of good work from the new faces. Patrick St. Esprit is strong as a ruthless soldier (in a very small role). Amanda Plummer plays crazy in an ‘I am actually really smart’ way quite well, while Jeffrey Wright plays smart in a fun annoyed genius sort of way. Jena Malone is fantastic as Johanna Mason, a former champion who feels very put out by having to compete again and is not afraid to vocalize it. She, more so that most of the other former champions (that are not just balls of muscles), actually is able to be very intimidating without seeming physically imposing. Sam Claflin is strong as Finnick, as he is able to play things close to the vest. The audience is not really sure if he is a hero or villain (even at the end, when it seems clear). Much like Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman who just commands the screen is desperately short on screen time, because he is involved in the more interesting narrative that audience is not involved in (but will likely play a bigger role in the upcoming films). Josh Hutcherson is much better this time around. His Peeta seems to have discovered himself and is not afraid to actually try and put himself out there. His acting was timid in the last film, he seems much more confident, allowing himself to actually take on a character this time. Jennifer Lawrence is again the main reason that the film succeeds on any level. She brings so much to Katniss. The audience seems to forget that this is just a film and Katniss is not real. She plays her so naturally that it feels like Katniss is a real girl facing horrors, which pulls the audience in and has them glued to the screen.

Summary & score: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is better in almost every way to its predecessor, but it is also essentially the same film rehashed again with the far more interesting narrative played behind the scenes and left for later films in the series. 7/10

Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie of the Week – Revolutionary Road

This week’s movie: Revolutionary Road (2008).

Frank and April Wheeler have the life they thought they always wanted – a beautiful family, a nice suburban home, and a good job in the city. But each feels lost, the abyss of mundane life has swallowed them up. They desperately need a change. This story takes place in 1950s Connecticut.

Director Sam Mendes made what is probably his best film to date with Revolutionary Road. It is a scouring look at the myth of the 1950s’ ideal American family. Mendes is one of the great directors working today to come out of theatre – his other notably films include: American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Skyfall. Mendes worked with a brilliant group of technicians on the film. Thomas Newman provides a strong score, while Roger Deakins delivers his patented wonderful photography (both are frequent collaborators of Mendes). Kristi Zea’s production designer is good as well.

The film stars Kate Winslet (who was Mendes’s wife at the time) and Leonardo DiCaprio each giving one of their career best performances. The film marks their on-screen reunion following Titanic. David Harbour, Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn, Zoe Kazan, Dylan Baker, and Michael Shannon (who is also electric) feature in support. Revolutionary Road is quietly one of the best acted films of the last decade, and yet only saw one Oscar nomination for acting (for Shannon, who lost to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, who gave maybe the best performance of the decade; meanwhile Winslet was nominated and won that year for The Reader, but I would argue that she is even better in this).

Revolutionary Road is emotionally draining and deeply affecting, but it is also a must-see for fans of brilliantly directed and acted dramas.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 11: 55-51

Rank: 55
Title: Nashville
Release Year: 1975
Genre: Music/Drama
Director: Robert Altman
Plot Summary: An ensemble drama telling the stories of various people associated with the music business in Nashville in the days leading up to a big political convention/concert.
What Makes It Special: Nashville is a standout film for its music alone, which captures the glory days of country and western music. However, what makes it a classic is its ability to display such a range of characters, each feeling developed and whole. The film speaks to a feeling or attitude in America at the time, a mixture of hope for the future and apathy that nothing really changes. It is at the same time honest and a satire.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray

Rank: 54
Release Year: 1945
Genre: Drama
Director: Marcel Carne
Plot Summary:  Claire Reine, who goes by Garance, is loved by many men, but she only loves a theater mime named Baptiste. However, after she is falsely accused of stealing a man’s watch, she flees Paris under the protection of another man. Both Garance and Baptiste toil in loveless relationships until one day, she finally returns to Paris.
What Makes It Special: Children of Paradise is a French epic that features almost everything cinema has to offer as a medium. It blends visuals, music, and emotion fluidly. Each aspect of the film seems to meld together creating almost a dream-like experience of wonder. The film is often referred to an allegory for the French Resistance against German occupation (Garance the purity of France’s soul), as it was made during the occupation. It is a grand film, achieving artistry unlike any film before or since (something that can also be said about Barrault’s performance).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray

Rank: 53
Title: Goodfellas
Release Year: 1990
Genre: Gangster
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot Summary: This is the story of Henry Hill, an outsider who worked his way up through the mob only to rat them all out, and his friends – their rise and fall.
What Makes It Special: With Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese made a gangster film that feels both classic structurally and modern stylistically. It is hyper-violent, yet hip and cool. It takes terrible, bad men and makes them extremely likable and engaging, only to slowly warp that perception. In many ways it is not just a gangster film, but also a look at the cultural change that America underwent from the 1950s through the late 1970s. Goodfellas defines the gangster genre, while irreparably altering it forever.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 52
Title: Metropolis
Release Year: 1927
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi/Drama
Director: Fritz Lang
Plot Summary: A futuristic city is divided between the controlling city planners and the anguished working class. However, salvation might finally be at hand for the working masses when the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with the working class’s prophet – a young woman, who predicts that such a savior will arise.
What Makes It Special: At the time of its release, Metropolis was maybe the most visually ambitious film ever made (rising to the heights of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance) – its production design is still a marvel even today. It is also one of the most influential films in cinema history, setting the baseline for sci-fi in popular culture going forward. The film is ripe with social, religious, and philosophical ideas and overtones. It is a film that simply cannot be missed for those intrigued by the genre and film’s history.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 51
Release Year: 1957
Genre: Drama
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Plot Summary: During the black plague, a knight seeking the meaning of life and answers about the existence of God plays a game of chess against the Grim Reaper.
What Makes It Special: The Seventh Seal is a visual poem, shouting in the darkness, grasping for anything of substance and meaning. It expresses man’s fear that his life has no meaning, that death is inevitable and final, and that faith may have no validity. This is all beautifully played through the story of Antonius Block, a knight returning from the Crusades (a Holy War waged in the name of God) to find his homeland plunged into despair and death with the onset of the Black Plague. Ingmar Bergman’s mortal struggle is breathtakingly visualized and stunningly ambitious in regards to its intellectual engagement with the viewer.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stars to Watch: Part 13 – Movies Spotlight – November 2013

What He Has Been In:

Domhnall Gleeson, 30, is the son of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson. He went to the Dublin Institute of Technology where he studied Media Arts. After graduating, Gleeson began taking roles in shorts, small British films, and TV series. His first big film came with a small role in the sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go.

His next big break came in the Harry Potter Series, winning the role of Bill Weasley (his father plays Mad-Eye Moody in the series as well). Gleeson appears briefly in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I and has a slightly bigger role in Part II (but still rather small overall). He also has a great, but small role in True Grit playing one of the bandits caught in the crosshairs.

Other British films of note that Gleeson has appeared in include the fantastic comic-book action film Dredd, in which he appears as a criminal, and the IRA drama/thriller Shadow Dancer.


Gleeson’s breakthrough, if you even want to call it that, as the film was not widely seen and he plays the third or fourth lead, came with 2012’s Anna Karenina (directed by Joe Wright), giving him his largest role to date in a major motion picture. The film stars Keira Knightley in the lead, while Gleeson plays Levin, a wealthy farmer looking to court the lovely Kitty (played by Alicia Vikander). Gleeson is quietly very good as Levin, and has great chemistry with Vikander. The film is utterly stunning and a must-see for those looking for a film that is as much art as narrative.

November Film:

In November, Gleeson stars opposite Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy in the time-travel romance About Time. The film, written and directed by Richard Curtis, is about Tim, a young man who is told by his father that he has genetically inherited the ability to travel through time. Tim then uses this gift to try and win the heart of Mary. The film mark’s his first true leading role in a big film. Trailer: Here.


Gleeson has five upcoming projects slated for 2014. First, he is set to star with his father, Chris O’Dowd, and Kelly Reilly in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. Next, he stars opposite Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the strange dramedy Frank. Then he stars with Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander in writer Alex Garland’s feature directorial debut Ex Machina. Gleeson then stars in Angelina Jolie’s next film as a director Unbroken about an Olympic runner who is taken prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. The screenplay is by the Coen Brothers. Finally, he is set to star opposite Saoirse Ronan in the film Brooklyn about Irish immigrants in New York during the 1950s. He certainly has a fantastic slate upcoming.

Career Highlights:

1)      Never Let Me Go (2010)* – cameo (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
2)      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)* – cameo (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
3)      True Grit (2010)* – supporting (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
4)      Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)* – supporting (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
5)      Dredd (2012) – supporting (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
6)      Anna Karenina (2012)* – lead (Blu-ray, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

What He Has Been In:

Tom Hiddleston, 32, started his career, as many British actors do, on television, appearing in such things as, Conspiracy, The Gathering Storm, and Cranford. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began to get more roles and bigger roles in Brittan, including a sizable one on the BBC (remake) detective drama Wallander.

After appearing in Thor, Hiddleston began booking even bigger films (including some outside England), including: a great supporting role as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, taking a leading role in the drama The Deep Blue Sea, and a supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.


Hiddleston’s breakthrough came as the character Loki, appearing first in 2011’s Thor. The film was a success, but not overly so, yet it got his name and face out there as he was one of the best parts of the film – his performance being equal parts villainous, slimy, and charming.

However it is Joss Whedon’s The Avengers that really has made him a star, and a favorite among the fans of Marvel’s cinematic universe. The film was a massive hit, and Hiddleston clearly enjoyed his role as its central villain – basking in his own glory. Maybe more so than any other actor in the film, Hiddleston emerged as a new talent to regard.

November Film:

Turning in his third performance as Loki, Hiddleston is back with this month’s Thor: The Dark World (directed by Alan Taylor). This time, however, Loki is not the central bad guy, rather Thor must battle Dark Elves set on returning the Nine Realms to darkness. But, that does not mean Loki cannot have his fun as well. The film is highly entertaining, and among the better films to come from Marvel Studios so far. Trailer: Here.


Hiddleston has a few upcoming projects. First he is set to feature in a supporting (possibly cameo) role in 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted, starring Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey. The sequel sees James Bobin returning in the director’s chair, helming a European jewel-heist Muppets caper. Next he stars in the animation fantasy The Pirate Fairy, and finally he stars opposite Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain in Guillermo del Toro’s new horror film Crimson Peak (slated for 2015). In all likeliness (and hopefully) he will also appear in the inevitable Thor 3 (though, sadly, he is not scheduled to be in The Avengers: Age of Ultron – at least as far as we know at present).

Career Highlights:

1)      Thor (2011) – lead (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
2)      Midnight in Paris (2011)* – supporting (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
3)      The Deep Blue Sea (2011) – lead (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
4)      War Horse (2011) – supporting (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
5)      The Avengers (2012)* – lead (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

What She Has Been In:

Elizabeth Olsen, 24, got her start appearing in a number of her twin-big-sisters’ projects. However, it was somewhat tough for her early on, always in their (notorious, some might say) shadow. Finally, in 2011, she was able to make a career for herself on her own name.

She has since appeared in the horror film Silent House, the mystery thriller Red Lights, the romantic drama Liberal Arts, and the indie drama Kill Your Darlings.


Olsen’s breakthrough, however, came in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Not only did she take the lead role in the film, but she also gave one of 2011’s most intriguing and brilliant performances. It is really a challenging character, requiring Olsen to exhibit a vast emotional range, and yet she beautifully (and tragically) captures each beat.

November Film:

In what may potentially be cool or completely ill-conceived, Olsen stars in Oldboy coming Thanksgiving weekend opposite Josh Brolin and Sharlto Copley. The film is a remake of the wonderful 2003 Korean film by Chan-wook Park (and both are adaptations of the manga comic). The film, directed by Spike Lee, is about a man who is trapped in a room for twenty years and then set free. The man then dedicates everything he is to figuring out: A) who trapped him and B) why.


Olsen has some big projects upcoming. In 2014, she is set to star opposite Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston in Gareth Edwards’s remake of Godzilla (hoping to undo all the ill will that 1998’s Godzilla has brought about). Edwards is a perfect fit – see Monsters. Then, in 2015, she stars as Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In addition to Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader join the franchise. Although she has primarily done indie films to date, her future looks to make her a big name.

Career Highlights:

1)      Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)* – lead (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

What She Has Been In:

Hailee Steinfeld, 16, has been acting since the age of eight, but is relatively unknown. She has primarily lent herself out for short films. While her breakthrough came in 2010, she then took a break until 2013, filling her schedule. Her first film to come out this year was Romeo and Juliet.


Auditioning among 15,000 other girls, the Coen Brothers chose Steinfeld to play Mattie Ross in their remake of True Grit. She is fantastic in the role playing opposite Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, in many ways stealing the film despite the very good work from all involved. She gives such a strong performance that she essentially became a star overnight, which makes it all the more surprising that she then took two years off. It is the best western of this decade so far.

November Film:

In November, Steinfeld features in a supporting role in Ender’s Game, which stars Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford (and is written and directed by Gavin Hood). She plays Petra, a friend and potential romantic interest to Ender. The film is about a future version of Earth that has narrowly survived an alien invasion. In an effort to counterstrike any future attack, the military has turned to training children to be heartless killers due to their gift for strategy and susceptibility to brainwashing – Ender is their most promising candidate to lead their fleet of warships. Trailer: Here.


Steinfeld has been very busy since returning to Hollywood. Coming in 2014 she has a supporting role in the music dramedy Can a Song Save Your Life? starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. It is John Carney’s follow-up to his brilliant and terribly under-seen musical Once. Next, she features in support in Tommy Lee Jones’s second feature film The Homesman, which Jones also stars in opposite Hilary Swank. Then, for a change of pace, she stars in McG’s Hollywood action film Three Days to Kill with Amber Heard and Kevin Costner. Keeping with the variety of projects, Steinfeld will also star in the Civil War drama The Keeping Room opposite Sam Worthington and Brit Marling. Kyle Newamn, who also directed Fanboys, is back with a new comedy Barely Lethal, in which Steinfeld plays a 16-year-old assassin who just wants a normal life (it is like the American, watered-down version of Hanna). And finally, Steinfeld is set to star opposite Sam Worthington in the action thriller For the Dogs (also centering on an assassin character, making it three upcoming projects to do so with Three Days to Kill and Barely Lethal). All six of these films are slated for 2014, but likely a few will be pushed back.

Career Highlights:

1)      True Grit (2010)* – lead (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)

*Editor’s picks

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TV Series of the Month – Fringe

This month’s TV series: Fringe (2008-2013).

The sci-fi mystery series follows FBI agent Olivia Dunham as she is brought into the Fringe unit to investigate strange and classified cases. To help her, she recruits a brilliant but mad scientist Walter Bishop and his estranged son Peter.

The series is created by J.J. Abrams (his best show to date), Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, but J.H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, and Akiva Goldsman are also very influential in the show’s creative development. This group of writers is responsible for many of the biggest recent Hollywood films (like A Beautiful Mind, Star Trek, Super 8, and the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and 3).

Abrams is known for ability to find great female leads, and with Fringe he found maybe his best in Anna Torv. She stars with Joshua Jackson and John Noble. Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Michael Cerveris, Kirk Acevedo, Seth Gabel, Mark Valley, Leonard Nimoy, Jared Harris, and Georgina Haig feature in support. The cast is fantastic overall.

Fringe follows in the steps of The X-Files, feeling very much as a modern update of that series. In today’s overly generic and commercial network TV landscape (basically, the networks know they have already lost and are just counting the days to extinction, so they are trying to make the most of it money wise and not it terms of making what is even close to quality television) it is shocking that a show like Fringe, especially with its production values, lasted as long as it did, and was able to remain as weird and great as it does. Network TV needs good sci-fi, but sadly Fringe might be its last best effort. It is a must-see for fans of the genre.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Monday, November 18, 2013

Movie of the Week – The Fugitive

This week’s movie: The Fugitive (1993).

Dr. Richard Kimble’s wife is murdered and Kimble contends that he is innocent, but is convicted and sentenced anyway. After his transport bus to prison crashes, Kimble is able to escape. He returns to Chicago to prove his innocence and find the one-armed man responsible.

The action thriller is directed by Andrew Davis, who directed a number of action films in Hollywood, but The Fugitive is by far his best (other notable films by him are Above the Law and Under Siege). He worked with composer James Newton Howard, cinematographer Michael Chapman, and production designer J. Dennis Washington.

The Fugitive is a great thriller from the 1990s, a decade that is probably better remembered now for its indie films than its Hollywood output. It is based on the 1960s TV series, and Tommy Lee Jones’s character was so popular that it produced a sequel in which his character chases down another innocent fugitive called U.S. Marshalls. It is worth checking out for fans of good action thrillers and fans of Harrison Ford; it is one of his best of the 1990s (along with Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and Air Force One).

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 10: 60-56

Rank: 60
Release Year: 1978
Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Terrence Malick
Plot Summary: After running away from an incident at a steel mill, the hot-tempered Bill decides to try his hand as a farm laborer. Travelling with his companions Abby and Linda, he gains employment for a rich but sick land owner. Bill encourages Abby to give in to the rich man’s advances in a play for his fortune (but is secretly jealous, as he too loves her).
What Makes It Special: With Days of Heaven American auteur Terrence Malick found the cinematic language that he is now best known for: an experience of beauty and emotion more than a straightforward narrative. The film is incredibly stunning visually, as Malick and cinematographer Nestor Almendros shot most of the exteriors during the ‘magic hour’.  There is almost no dialog in the film (aside from Linda Manz’s great voiceover narration), as Malick uses the montage of his images to evoke character and emotion. This film changed the landscape of American cinema (and then Malick did not make another film for twenty years).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 59
Release Year: 1962
Genre: Western
Director: John Ford
Plot Summary: Senator Ransom Stoddard returns home to the small town of Shinbone for the funeral of a friend. While there, a local newspaper writer asks him to recount his famous duel with ruffian Liberty Valance. Stoddard obliges, but as he tells the story he decides to leave the legend behind and finally tell the truth about what really happened.
What Makes It Special: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is John Ford’s final great film and collaboration with John Wayne (they did work together again after this on a segment of How the West Was Won). What makes this Western particularly interesting is that it signifies the end of the genre (in a classic sense) and of the West as it was depicted in the genre. White hats and black hats would no longer be so easily distinguished – gruff heroes stepping aside for heroes of a new world. It is in some ways a sadly nostalgic experience, as the classic Western is now nothing more than an American Myth.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 58
Release Year: 1964
Genre: War Thriller/Comedy
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot Summary: An insane general initiates the United States’ failsafe against nuclear attack by the U.S.S.R., setting U.S. bombers on a collision course with targets within the Soviet Union, giving them no other choice than to fire nukes back.
What Makes It Special: Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is an on-point satire of what was a very serious situation in the 1960s. People were terrified that the world really could come to an end at any moment if the Cold War escalated to a point of no return, the film coming out just over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition to its sharp wit and daring political overtones, the film has stood the test of time thanks to Peter Sellers delivering a comedic performance for the ages, playing three separate characters.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 57
Release Year: 1938
Genre: Screwball Comedy
Director: Howard Hawks
Plot Summary: David, a paleontologist, is desperate to secure a one million dollar donation for his museum from Susan, an heiress. However, she proves to be impossible, pulling David into difficult and awkward situations – none more so than searching for her lost pet (a leopard named Baby).
What Makes It Special: While not the first, the screwball comedy was more or less born with the films It Happened One Night and The Awful Truth, but there is maybe none better than Bringing Up Baby. It features the genre’s two biggest stars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and is packed with wonderful comedy bits and laughs. The dialog and jokes come at the audience fast, as Grant and Hepburn are constantly at each other’s throats. Like many great films, audiences were not quite ready for it when it was initially released, as it opened as a box office failure. It has since found its audience and place among the cinematic comedic elite.
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand

Rank: 56
Title: The Shining
Release Year: 1980
Genre: Horror
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot Summary: A writer Jack Torrance decides to take a job as the caretaker of a grand, secluded hotel so that he can work on his new novel. He moves up to the hotel with his wife and son, but strange things begin to happen. Evil and spiritual forces influence Jack leading him towards violence. Meanwhile, his psychic son sees horrific scenes from the past and future.
What Makes It Special: The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s take on the horror genre. With the film, he spawned one of the most terrifying and affecting in the genre’s history. Kubrick is a master of visual imagery, and here he creates so many classic moments that continue to grab and scare audiences of each new generation. It is an atmospheric experience that while it finds its audience trembling is also an aesthetic marvel.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand