Free Guy

Release: Friday, August 13, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Matt Lieberman; Zak Penn

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Taika Waititi; Joe Keery; Jodi Comer; Lil Rel Howery

 

 

 

***/*****

Following more the logic of the heart than the brain, Free Guy is a whacky but entertaining circus of big visual effects, videogame Easter eggs, and shameless (more like proud) product placement for parent company Disney, which now owns the world. It’s also the perfect environment for Ryan Reynolds to flourish, one in which cutting loose and just doing you is the whole point. Or was supposed to be!

The movie’s big draw is of course Ryan Reynolds doing his typical Ryan Reynolds thing, but this is also literally a love letter to gamers and coders. Being knowledgeable about technical stuff will surely elevate the experience though by no means is it a requisite. Free Guy takes a surprisingly high concept approach to a basic template. This is all about a guy (lowercase ‘g’) pursuing his dream girl, a pretty classic convention often obfuscated by all the chaos. Very little here is designed to be stored in the long-term memory. Instead director Shawn Levy and his writing team work overtime to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain as often as possible, injecting silliness, cartoonish violence and a surprising amount of heart into one hyperactive summer blockbuster.

In an open-world game called Free City, Guy (Reynolds) wakes up each morning in a Groundhog Day loop of obliviousness to what this place really is and his role in it. His best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery — Get Out; Bird Box), the cheerful security guard at the bank where Guy works as a teller. Neither has a clue that their lives are a programmed simulation. One day on his way to work he passes a woman humming a Mariah Carey tune and is smitten. He pursues her but unfortunately that train goes off the rails. However something profound has changed within him.

Molotov Girl’s the name and “Leveling Up” is the game he must play if he is to impress her. So of course the eternally upbeat and decreasingly naive Blue Shirt Guy plays along, but he won’t gain experience by doing what most players do — holding NPCs (non-player characters) hostage, blowing things up, generally being lawless savages. No, he’s going to do good deeds, a strategy that earns him Molotov Girl’s respect and a cult following. In fact he fast becomes a “player” of interest for many throughout the world plugged into Free City, represented in a series of stilted cameos by real YouTube celebrities and gamers.

His increasing autonomy also attracts the attention of game developer Antwan (Taika Waititi), for whom the brilliant code writers Keys (Stranger Things‘ Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer — Killing Eve; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) work as dogs for their master. I mentioned before how very little is going to be remembered for long, and if you’re a fan of the Kiwi comedian that’s definitely a good thing. He’s actually pretty awful as the movie’s one-note villain whose whole deal is stealing other people’s work and being as insufferable as possible. In fairness, the character isn’t written to be anything more but his acting is of a quality where you suspect the director didn’t have the cohones to edit his Oscar-winner.

Maybe the director didn’t feel like meddling because he has so much on his plate. Free Guy is arguably over-ambitious, particularly considering a sequel has already been green-lit. What’s going to be left to tell? Yet for all that it is burdened with, the story moves pretty fluidly as it hops in and out of the game, an anarchic environment inspired by the likes of GTA, Fortnite and The Sims, with spirited input from the young Keery and Comer keeping us invested in the affairs of the real world. Concurrent to the Guy plot is a heist involving precious data which could incriminate Antwan and potentially save Free City from his future nefarious plans. To get there, Millie and Keys need to access a secret location called The Stash, and they could really use some help.

Combining the playground aesthetic of Ready Player One, the voyeurism of The Truman Show and The Matrix‘s march toward salvation, Free Guy is a Frankenstein of elements and homages that somehow ends up morphing into its own ridiculous thing. I mean, where else are you going to see Reynolds as an evil David Hasselhoff avatar whose coding is disturbingly incomplete and whose face is super-imposed on an actual bodybuilder? Okay, so I lied. That’s one thing you’re never going to forget from this movie.

Lucky Guy

Moral of the Story: Huge entertainment value trumps logical storytelling and one seriously annoying villain. Because I am a big fan of Ryan Reynolds’ comedic act Free Guy is probably my favorite blockbuster of the year. It’s far from perfect but it is really fun and super easy to get along with, even for non-gamers such as myself. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Is this what recreational drugs feel like?”

Check out the pretty sweet new music video for Mariah Carey’s Fantasy here! 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; 20th Century Studios 

30-for-30: This Magic Moment

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Release: Thursday, April 14, 2016

[Netflix]

Directed by: Erin Leyden; Gentry Kirby

What happens when big money and even bigger egos obscure a clear path to victory? You get This Magic Moment, a documentary filled to the brim with ‘what-if’s and ‘what-could-have-been’s. In it, the flashy Orlando Magic finds itself under scrutiny for handling the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway era with butterfingers.

Many questions are raised here, but none linger quite like the one concerning the very fabric of what the Magic were and what they could have been. How could a team that slammed the brakes on the damn near unstoppable locomotive that was the Chicago Bulls, also make so many consecutive playoff appearances without ever bringing back the hardware? Even given Shaq’s infamous superstition, there was something else going on, something other than bad luck. Senior ESPN Films producer Erin Leyden and producer Gentry Kirby, sharing directorial credits here, seek tangible explanations.

This Magic Moment jettisons viewers back to the early days of the franchise, where we see a much younger (and trimmer) Shaq being courted like the new Prince of the Magic Kingdom. His noncommittal attitude at the time foreshadowing the uncertainty that lay ahead. These days weren’t all gloom and doom of course, and while Shaq doesn’t dominate the narrative quite like one might expect, he certainly gives us plenty of reasons why the years in Orlando were the most cherished of his 19-year career. The film is as much about the organization’s failures as it is about Shaq’s trajectory from collegiate talent to world-famous personality. (In the ’90s he was breaking backboards. Now he’s the seal of approval for at least 50 products, including essentials like Dove For Men, Drone watches, Vitamin Water, Gold Bond, and — oh yes — sleep apnea masks.)

Indeed this is more Shaq’s show than anyone else’s. Even still, Leyden and Kirby budget their time efficiently enough to make room for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway — the jelly to Shaq’s peanut butter — who, as he steadily worked his way into the national spotlight, threatened to take some of it away from the Magic’s most prized possession. Moving away from the formative years, This Magic Moment delves into the veritable pissing contest that developed between Shaq and a second burgeoning superstar, an off-court game of one-upsmanship that threatened to derail the whole enterprise. As per the life of a professional basketball player, success is typically measured based on their commercial appeal: shoe deals, new commercials, international trips to foreign lands to spread the goodwill of an American monopoly.

There’s also the whole debate swirling around whether Shaq made the right decision to bail for the sunny beaches of southern California in 1996 to become Kobe Bryant’s partner in crime on the Lakers, leaving Hardaway as the sole alpha male back in Orlando. Comments he makes in the present seem to suggest that Shaq at the very least thought it wasn’t the right one. He’s left pondering poolside with a 40-something-year-old Hardaway about what they could have done together had he stayed. How many titles could they have won if certain other things had worked out differently?

There’s a lot of emotion to be invested in this story, even if you’re not a diehard supporter of the glitz-and-glam of the Orlando Magic. Amidst all the talk of numbers, odds and probabilities, there lies a fundamentally human story about what it takes to be successful in life. And just because you find that success doesn’t mean it’s going to last.

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Recommendation: This Magic Moment isn’t exactly the definitive story of Shaq but it gives viewers and fans of the game some insight into his beginnings as an NBA star. The film is made so much more watchable due to the personalities involved, and for anyone who calls themselves a fan of basketball they can’t deny Shaq was one of the biggest players in NBA history, in more ways than one. This is a commentary on the business of the NBA as much as it is a personal journey for a big-time player. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 101 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.espnmediazone.com 

30-for-30: Trojan War

30 for 30 Trojan War

Release: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

[Netflix]

Directed by: Aaron Rahsaan Thomas

Another story lamenting how the mighty have fallen. That’s how Trojan War will look to anyone not familiar with the University of Southern California, Pete Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks . . . or really American football in general.

Carroll and his Seahawks have long been associated with some of the sport’s most recognizable brands, yet all this attention hasn’t always benefitted them. To a certain extent, that fall-from-grace trajectory is the genesis for the drama herein, although its exposure of infamous personnel (as well as famous personalities) is where the film sets itself apart.

Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who brings much experience writing and producing popular television series such as Southland, CSI: New York and Sleepy Hollow, turns the spotlight on the former head coach of the USC Trojans, rewinding the tape to reveal what events precipitated his jump back into the NFL after nearly a decade of coaching inspiring college athletes in a part of the country where stardom isn’t exactly hard to come by. (The campus is but a stone’s throw away from the entertainment capital of the world.)

The Carroll era kicked off in 2001 and ended in 2009. In that time, he resuscitated a program that found itself on life support having struggled through one of the worst four-year stretches in USC history, a period in which the Trojans were essentially cropped out of the national collegiate football picture, failing to crack the top 20 in the national rankings from 1996 until 2000. Trojan War rushes through backstory, hastily developing the environment into which the new head coach would be stepping before slowing down to catch its breath and focusing on what happened in the early 2000s.

The 2004 and 2005 seasons are of particular interest, for these were the years during which Carroll and quarterback Matt “Lion Heart” Leinart led USC to 34 consecutive victories, tying the fifth longest winning streak in Division I football history. Consequently they’re also the years upon which current and past USC players and alums reflect with deep-seated bitterness. In the interviews with former players like LenDale White and Leinart, even Carroll himself, you can sense the discomfort and tension. And for good reason.

In 2010 the NCAA wrapped up a protracted investigation into violations involving star running back Reggie Bush (who played for Carroll from 2003-2005), and went on to hand down particularly harsh penalties against the school: USC was required to vacate all of its wins from the 2004 and 2005 seasons, including Bowl games; they were banned from participating in postseason games for two years as of the 2010 season; Bush was stripped of his Heisman trophy and his name permanently scrubbed from the record books. The school also forfeited 30 scholarships over the next three years.

For all intents and purposes, those years of dominance ceased to exist — years during which their profile had risen so high it wasn’t unusual to brush shoulders with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Henry Winkler, Spike Lee, Flea (of course), Jake Gyllenhaal and Andre 3000, just to name a few celebrities, at any given game. Blame it on Carroll, said the NCAA; he was the one who had fostered an environment that was both unhealthy and unstable. The specific language cited a “lack of institutional control.”

Yet ultimately these dark days don’t represent the spirit of Trojan War. Thomas, perhaps conscious of the pain the school is still experiencing now five years after the findings, elects to spend more time backtracking down the path to greatness that the team once journeyed throughout those years, reminding skeptics just how effective Carroll’s coaching and his squad were as they met each team with ever mounting confidence and matching up against old rivalries such as UCLA and Notre Dame with a cockiness that felt earned rather than created out of spite.

He profiles a few of the star athletes — including Bush (who appears in archived footage but never in live interviews for the documentary as he’s presumably trying to put this chapter behind him) and LenDale White, who comprised the ‘thunder’ part of the USC “thunder-and-lightning” duo — while taking time to assess Carroll’s thoughts and feelings on this part of his coaching career. Actor Michael B. Jordan narrates. Yes, it is all a little generic and clichéd but it does serve at least one purpose. The NCAA can wipe clean from the slate any set of numbers and names they like but in the minds and hearts of those who paid attention to this club, this is the kind of legacy not even the slow, inevitable passing of time can render irrelevant.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans leave the field after another display of dominance

Recommendation: Trojan War will speak louder to California football fans but it should provide a sufficiently intriguing story to those who have been fascinated by Pete Carroll’s energetic personality. It could also benefit from a longer running time but I doubt a three hour feature would capture everything about this dynamic period either. This is a pretty worthwhile option for passionate followers of the sport and it’s right there on Netflix.  

Rated: TV-PG

Running Time: 77 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.usa.newonnetflix.info; http://www.bleacherreport.com 

OCMC: Alan Parrish in Jumanji

jumanji-1“AAAAHHHH!! AHHH!!! . . . . . . AH!”

Noises. Robin Williams came equipped with many of them, and in this outrageously fun film from the mid-90s, he’s provided an opportunity to tap into that part of him that was more. . . . shall we say, animalistic? As a child who got trapped inside the dangerous board game Jumanji, Alan Parrish has spent most of his “life” fighting for. . . well, a way out. An escape back to the real world.

And who can really blame him when he pops out of the middle of the game covered in vine and bramble, looking like George of the Jungle? I mean, my main man here is all hopped-up on some bath salts or something, dressed in foliage. Foliage dude. That style is SOOO 1960s. . .or whenever it was when he was rather unceremoniously consumed by a board game. When things were simple and dad made ends meet by pumping out shoes on a production line. Now (flash-forward roughly 20 years) it’s all complicated. Now kids are stumbling upon random board games in the loft of a mansion, getting into all kinds of trouble. . .like inviting random stampedes into the home or unleashing them upon the town. Bugs the size of Chihuahuas are the products of curious children snooping around where they perhaps shouldn’t.

But if there is one constant we always associate with the man when he’s up on the silver screen, it’s the adventure factor. Here is a film where that idea is exploited for the purpose of plot progression. In other words, comparatively Robin Williams is not the craziest thing about Jumanji; about a movie featuring kids battling flash floods and quick sand in their living rooms, and outlasting killer bees the size of, yes, small dogs. The environment is. Robin’s beard might be the craziest thing about his character. Well, that and the noises. Yes indeed, this is one of those performances that may not ultimately stand out from the crowd when comparing to his other creations but this is one that seamlessly blends in with the style and tone, this is Robin Williams basking in entertainment that, for once, has not been created wholly on his own.

When a new family moves into the Parrish’s gorgeous home twenty-six years after a strange occurrence involving the board game in the living room, history looks to repeat itself when two children — Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) — discover the relic and begin playing, unaware that their first experience is merely a repetition of a vicious cycle that will bring to life some very real (and surreal) things. They dared roll the dice, now they must be prepared to face the consequences. . . .or at the very least, to face a very hairy Robin Williams.

*

Quoted: “What happened to you, the Clampetts have a yard sale? What do you want, I never shaved before.”


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Happy Gilmore (1996)

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Well, clearly this month is going to go one of two ways for my loyal TBT readers — May is a month officially dedicated to the trashy, juvenile and downright offensive antics of one Adam Sandler. While I’m of the camp that actually doesn’t completely hate his guts yet, his insistence on recycling the same group of jerk-off friends and characters in films is a tactic that’s clearly established an alarming rate of diminishing returns. It’s not the slump itself that makes me lose respect for the guy so much as it’s his indifference to being in a slump. He’s acting as if he’s already entered his twilight years, which very well may be the case now, given future productions requesting his services don’t appear to be trying anything different. The funny Adam may as well be in retirement. Nonetheless, there was a time when I truly enjoyed what he brought to the big screen. Sure, he never was a contender for any award outside of a Golden Raspberry, and his routine has always revolved around foul language and debasing himself in a variety of ways, but these are things that I’ve never personally had a problem with laughing my fool head off at. The good old days have long since passed, but I still get a bit of nostalgia looking back on them. 

Today’s food for thought: Happy Gilmore

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Release: February 16, 1996

[DVD]

I’m sure to many Happy Gilmore will always be Adam Sandler. Wait, shit. Strike that, and reverse it.

It’s the role that competes with maybe only one other — his insanely childish Billy Madison from the year before — as being THE character I would frequently and mistakenly associate with Sandler’s real-life persona. (Maybe it really is similar.) There was something natural and believable about Sandler’s on-screen energy. This was also my first impression of the guy, so I had nothing to compare it to then. I was a sixth-grader in New York at the time when I first watched Sandler throw his temper tantrums out on the 18th green; when I witnessed golf clubs flying through the air with uncommon grace; when I first realized that, holy crap — some women really can rock short hair.

This was the story of everyone’s favorite hockey player-turned-golfer who switched sports out of necessity to keep his sweet old grandma in her home and out of the wretched old-people facility she was forced into by the government. An emotional person, Happy got tossed from his hockey team after getting into a fight with virtually everyone on it, and only became further enraged learning of his grandma’s situation. When his aptitude for golf was subsequently discovered by a former pro named Chubbs (Carl Weathers), who now spends his days maintaining a shoddy driving range, Happy’s quick to dismiss the idea and conveniently tried to prevent the rest of the film’s beyond-inevitable developments.

Speaking of inevitable: I think the time has come once again for the review format to change here. This showcase of Adam Sandler’s profound talents deserves a different treatment, seeing as it’s a true testament to classic cinema, and adds further proof that, indeed, “all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” (I hope to God that at least someone has picked up on the mounting sarcasm here. . .)

Instead what I’m going to do is list five life lessons you can learn through the film’s butchering of the sport of golf. Without further ado, let’s tee off, shall we:

  1. happy_gilmore_1996_baseball_maching

    Life requires thick skin, so learn how to thicken it. Try taking 100-mile-an-hour golf balls straight to the chest every day for ten minutes, and see how quickly you man up. If this doesn’t prove quick enough, maybe try taking them to the forehead.

  2. 4308_4

    Life’s going to force you to make some tough choices. For the love of God and all that is holy, please, make the responsible one(s).

  3. xcapture2ebh2.431

    The world isn’t an awfully logical place. It helps to be able to think rationally every now and again. When you feel like you aren’t, all you need to do is visit your happy place. Everyone has one.

  4. HappyGilmoreDL

    Life is going to kick, knock or trample you down. But no matter how you fall, it’s how you respond to that goddamn game-show host who’s all up in your grill that counts. So make it.

  5. draft_lens17663790module148391311photo_1298358222happy-gilmore-original.jp

    Above all, observe the Golden Rule. Yes, doing unto others as you would have others do unto you does apply to inanimate objects. Don’t be ignorant.

There we have it, a very hastily-compiled list of five profound take-aways from one of Sandler’s unquestionably stronger films. Happy Gilmore may not offer much in the way of genuine advice or even much of an inspiring story, but the film was a great deal of fun, and it excelled in generating fond memories. In particular, Ben Stiller’s cameo as the world’s worst orderly and the gigantic Richard Kiel (playing Gilmore’s construction boss, Mr. Larson) only seemed to get better with age. Adam may be broken now and in disrepair, but once upon a time he really worked well.

Now — on to the next phase! Tune in next week folks. Or don’t. Because it’s going to be Adam Sandler all month long. 😀

3-0Recommendation: Happy Gilmore stands out among Sandler’s filmography since it remained in an era that was more or less free from the symptoms that plague his films of today: it can’t exactly be called original, but it featured rip-roaring humor, a touching story (who doesn’t root for grannie, come on) and a hilarious foil in Christopher McDonald’s Shooter McGavin (what a great name, by the way) — three elements that eventually will come to be recycled to death in his later offerings. All that said, this film does nothing to sway the opinion of anyone on the other side of the fence. Of course, all of this is pretty obvious. . .do I need to actually recommend this one?

Rated: R (for really really really ridiculous)

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You can trouble me for a warm glass of shut the hell up! Now you will go to sleep, or I will put you to sleep. Check the name tag; you’re in my world now grandma!”

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Photo credits: google images 

TBT: He Got Game (1998)

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Yesterday marked the end of the regular 2013-’14 NBA season. I do realize that to a great many people this day passes with the significance of a fart, but to some, April 16 marks the official arrival of a much-anticipated point in the year, the moment when professional basketball becomes VERY interesting to watch (and some non-fans will even admit to this being the moment where basketball is watchable at all), the moment that beckons all players to step up their game, because now it’s not just about the paycheck. This is about something more lasting, it’s about establishing legacy. Its about how history will end up favoring teams and players, coaches and organizations. Yes indeed, the 2014 NBA Playoffs begin this coming weekend, and to help celebrate, 

Today’s food for thought: He Got Game

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Release: May 1, 1998

[Netflix]

Given that Spike Lee directed this film, it’s a wonder there is no mention of the New York Knicks anywhere in this basketball-centric drama from just before the turn of the millennium. A true blue-and-orange supporter, you can always find Spike Lee somewhere up-in-arms on the sidelines at Madison Square Garden. The man has his viewpoints and opinions, and though that may not be something that characterizes every director, it certainly applies to him.

He Got Game is the result of a stunt Spike Lee pulled by hiring then-NBA rookie Ray Allen quite literally in the middle of a game between Allen’s team at the time, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Knicks. When Lee asked if Allen would be interested in the part of Jesus Shuttlesworth (a name that’s in the discussion for one of film’s all-time greatest), Allen walked off the floor and quit the game. The Bucks lost 90-44. Not really, but everything up to and including the conversation actually did happen.

While Ray Allen’s best performances will certainly remain on the hardwood, the 23-year-old proved to be an engaging enough presence in one of the film’s major roles. He played the son of convicted murderer Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington in his third go-around with Lee), who, upon the governor’s wishes, would receive a shorter prison sentence should he be able to convince Jesus to attend and play for the governor’s alma mater. The governor arranged with prison staff to release Jake for one week so he could track his son down and ask him to sign a letter of intent, which would officially commit him to Big State, the governor’s school. Naturally, in a week this would prove to be a nearly impossible task given how far Jesus has distanced himself from his father.

Lee framed the story with a timeline that provides the ensuing drama with just a little bit more tension. Jake had exactly one week to not only locate his son, but then somehow speak to him and then give him significant career advice. If he failed to persuade the town’s most talented star to go to Big State, back to the grind it would be for Jake.

Jesus Shuttlesworth was a phenom, although his father liked to think his incredible talent was manifested in the gene pool. In Jesus’ childhood Jake liked to push him hard and often past the brink to strengthen his son mentally and physically. Unfortunately, and the shock is mostly due to Denzel’s incredibly balanced performance, Jake has something of a dark streak in him and his competitive spirit. . .and drunkenness. . .often seized control of his calm and gentle demeanor. At the same time fierce competition drove the father-son relationship, it often brought it to a screeching halt and Spike Lee handled these ups-and-downs better than anything in his lengthy final cut.

As a writer, Lee proved to be somewhat the astute observer of conversational dialogue and human interaction. He Got Game feels organic in its development, which might explain why Ray Allen fits better into this film than many athletes who are shoehorned into a 90-minute product-placement ad. Scenes tend to linger for longer than they should at times, while others are strung together in rapid succession; journeying through Spike Lee’s late-90s sports drama is a little like flipping through the pages of a photo album — you tend to gloss over several photos and pages and stay on others, and that’s precisely how the film is paced.

Though some became a little repetitive, Lee threw in a few vignettes involving Jesus’ increasing conflict with making a decision about where to go to school; his girlfriend Lala (Rosario Dawson) — a number of the scenes with her took place at the extremely photogenic Coney Island amusement park on Long Island — and also his relationship with his weirdo aunt and uncle who became his legal guardians following the death of his mother and the incarceration of his father. Together, these little stories merged satisfactorily to give the impression of a walking-in-his-shoes perspective. Jesus Shuttlesworth was on the verge of superstardom, yet had a responsibility to his young sister at the same time. He insisted she go to school and become educated, and by way of avoiding setting a double-standard, he came to understand he must play for a college himself.

The question remained, though: which one to select?

Spike Lee intertwined (arguably too) many subplots to create his realistic depiction of a chaotic time in a young basketball player’s life. It blended curious social commentary with sports politics to induce the headache athletes undoubtedly feel while going through the college selection process. But for Jesus, that was only part of the picture; his father being back around bothered him deeply yet at the same time forgiveness wasn’t what was being asked of him. Jake finally came clean and told his son what the conditions were for him being on the outside. And it was just one of many moments that played out with a painful realism.

Adding to the film’s dedication to keeping it real (damn, there’s a ’90s expression for ya), Lee managed to get a hold of several noteworthy names, including NBA Coaches Rick Patino and George Karl, and the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Bill Walton and even MJ himself literally get a word in during a brief montage. Can’t forget “yeah baby!” Dick Vitale, either.

He Got Game is Spike Lee’s ode to the late 90’s; from the romanticized settings at the amusement park to the dimly lit courts in the city where the one-on-one showdowns happened, its a visual treat as much as it was in tune with reality. It paid off to hire a top-talent athlete as well, as Ray Allen offered the film a vulnerable soul to care for, even if his acting chops likely won’t earn him anything more than bit parts. I’m sure that sits perfectly fine with Allen, as his role on the real courts is anything but a ‘bit’ part. I can’t wait to see how he performs in the Playoffs this year.

Go Jesus Shuttlesworth!!!

Ray-Allen-He-Got-Game

3-5Recommendation: As a non-fan of Spike Lee (typically), He Got Game appealed to the basketball lover in me, and there’s no doubt this is the audience it serves best. But anyone who has followed Spike Lee should see this as well. A Celtic fan? Then you must consider catching a piece of your boy’s acting career if you haven’t already (and if you don’t hate him for going to Miami).

Rated: R

Running Time: 136 mins.

Quoted: “People veer off the path, so what? God forgives them. When will you. . .?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Release: Friday, November 22, 2013

[Theater]

After struggling to find a decent seat at a showing at 3 in the afternoon, it would seem I had seriously underestimated the frenzy that The Hunger Games had thrown the world into; although I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite all of my hesitations as I watched the original — the first of three adaptations of Suzanne Collin’s brilliant dystopian vision of the American future.

Given the surprising quality of the first, it should’ve been easy, then, to see how the forthcoming sequel would stir an even larger wave of enthusiasm ($25.3 million on Thursday night alone, to be precise). To put this ridiculous number in perspective, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the most successful midnight-opening in box office history, earned $43 million in its first wave of Thursday night showings. This film wasn’t close to topping that, but given the circumstances (this being only installment number two, rather than being the final chapter in an eight-film-long franchise, and also being a considerably more obscure story than that of that magical little wizard) I’d say the odds will forever be in this adaptation’s favor.

The dizzying numbers, which are projected to skyrocket internationally and over the course of this weekend, shouldn’t really come as a surprise either, because everything that made 2012’s The Hunger Games such an engaging and enjoyable experience is further refined and expanded upon in Catching Fire.

Purists are sure to find some fault in how some specifics of Collins’ novel may be overlooked, but a tremendous amount of credit must be given to both directors Gary Ross (who helmed the first) and Francis Lawrence because both films have proven to be incredibly immersive experiences, capable of standing on their own, touching on everything from simple teenage heartache to the complex morality play at work involving the politics of this new world we’re arrested into.

At the heart of Collin’s novels lies the disturbingly oppressive political regime that dominates all of what remains of a post-apocalyptic North America, which has now been divided into 13 districts, all presided over by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the Capitol. The Capitol is the central point from which all evil is derived in this compelling drama about choice versus destiny. One woman, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), dared to defy the pre-existing “rules” set in place by winning the 74th annual Hunger Games in the previous film using unorthodox methods. Because of her actions, two tributes (the people chosen from each district to fight to the death in these games) are left standing: herself, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Without explaining away too much, the circumstances at the time were certainly dire enough, and to think that Katniss would end up getting away with this act of defiance unscathed, well you’d be dead wrong.

Hence, where we are now.

Catching Fire picks up almost directly off the back of its predecessor by showing the two winners obliging in a ‘Victor’s Tour,’ where the pair will go around to each and every district and make themselves known as the (read: perceived) true symbols of hope throughout the land. Katniss, being the fiercely intelligent protagonist that she is, knows that behind this facade of fake smiles and ill-begotten honor lies something that’s truly worth fearing. The games weren’t exactly fun, but they indeed were just ‘games.’

As it turns out, President Snow is well aware of Katniss’ adaptability and of her rare ability to think for herself. In fear of a resurgence of spirit amongst the millions of downtrodden and hopeless residents of each district and the inevitable rebellion thereof against the Capitol, Snow makes Katniss aware of the hell she is going to pay for giving the good people of Panem hope.

The ensemble from 2012’s games return here in fine form once again. Elizabeth Banks turns in one of her most inspired role choices for the second time as Effie Trinket, someone who looks like she just emerged from Willy Wonka Land dressed up in attire that would make Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby costume designers jealous. Woody Harrelson is back as the supportive, fun- alcohol-having Haymitch Abernathy, the survivor of the 50th Hunger Games; so too is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ costume designer and stylist; and Liam Hemsworth returns as the side-lined love interest for Katniss, Gale Hawthorne.

We are treated to newcomers, also: a pivotal character emerges at the culmination of the Victor’s Tour. Katniss meets a man named Plutarch Heavensbee (because they couldn’t find a less goofy name) who’s portrayed by the immensely talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, a casting choice that only cemented Catching Fire further as one of the year’s finest offerings. We also see new faces in new tributes, as a significant portion of the film is dedicated to the Third Quarter Quell — a special edition of the games in which a rule is changed. . . to make things interesting. To make the districts suffer for their previous insurgencies in the past. A cast this large and this inspired deliver terrific performances all around, giving the second elaborate step in the series an energy unlike any other.

But perhaps the strongest, most resonant aspect to the Hunger Games is also the same thing that drives the characters to do what they do: an incredible sense of fear. For us, it’s the fear of what we think may or may not happen to Katniss next (or for those who have already read the books, you know what is about to go down in some cases) — as the audience our fear is of the visual; but for the characters its a palpable fear of death, a fear of losing their loved ones, a fear of entering the hunger games again. Injustice, both physical and psychological, swells to nearly unbearable proportions in moments throughout Catching Fire. What Katniss, her fellow tributes and loved ones have to endure at times is painful, but it’s all attributable to the solid screenplay penned by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy. The general brutality of the oppression is appropriately given an extra dose of severe in the sequel.

At the same time, one should expect some incredibly beautiful things to happen as well. As per the excellent writing, Katniss as the central figure simply defines the term ‘burdened.’ The consequences of the first film have increased the spotlight on her throughout Panem, and she’s caught the close attention of President Snow himself. The pressure has mounted for her to demonstrate her love for Peeta, convince the nation. As Haymitch observes, her private life has become [theirs]. Given the complexity of someone like Katniss and especially the psychological element at play here — the live-broadcasted television shows that feature a host (Stanley Tucci) too frightening for me to describe being the most illustrious moments of this aspect — this film handles it all remarkably well. Not only is the character allowed to develop far more than she does in the first, the intriguing premise set up by Collins’ novels blends smoothly with it, creating one of the most exciting films released all year. Nevermind it being a sequel.

All of the elements that made its predecessor the hit that it was is evident here, only amplified. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours in length, Catching Fire is The Dark Knight of Collins’ vision on paper.

Without a doubt, this is how you adapt a book into a film (says the guy who hasn’t read the books yet). Don’t worry, I will be shortly.

youre-about-to-get-fucked-bro

4-5Recommendation: Francis Lawrence bats it out of the park in terms of appealing to genre devotees and general audiences alike. I believe at least three screenings tonight sold out at at least one theater in my area. The movie is set to produce near-record numbers after a weekend and expanded international release. Catching Fire is a movie you won’t be able to avoid, but don’t think of that as the groan-inducing kind of side-effect associated with something gone mad-popular, but more as a sign of appreciation for a film that got things right.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Let it fly.”

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