2012 Movie Mini-Reviews: Dredd, Seven Psychopaths, The Paperboy

I was able to indulge in a movie marathon of sorts over the weekend, catching up another few films that I missed out on last year. Here are some quick reviews for all three:

Dredd [2012]
Dredd [dir. Pete Travis]
I always know I have come across a great comic book film when it has made me want to read some of the comics afterward. The only other franchise that has made me want to do so is Batman, namely Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Now I can say the same for Dredd, a gritty action film that surprised the hell out of me.

Dredd feels like a throwback to the old school, ultra-violent 80s action movies, but in a setting not unlike last year’s kinetic Indonesian film, The Raid. Karl Urban stars as the eponymous character, a badass police officer who acts as a judge, jury and executioner. He is partnered up with a rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is a mutant with psychic abilities. When the two of them are sent to investigate a triple homicide, they are locked into a 200-story slum tower block by the evil drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey, completely unrecognizable from her even more sinister role as Cersei in Game of Thrones). Now, rather than capture a suspect and leave, the officers must fight for their lives to escape.

In terms of plot, Dredd is remarkably simple, but there is enough style to draw you in and not let go. This is a dark, brutal film that never really lets its foot off the pedal. Some of the visual effects — such as an overabundance of slow motion techniques — seem to have been created for 3D and therefore fall flat on DVD, but these are just small issues in what is otherwise a very enjoyable action flick. 8/10

Seven Psychopaths [2012]
Seven Psychopaths [dir. Martin McDonagh]
Seven Psychopaths is the second collaboration between director/writer Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell (the first being 2008’s critically-acclaimed In Bruges), and it doesn’t miss a beat. Farrell stars as Marty Faranan, a struggling screenwriter who gets tangled up in a ridiculous series of events when his best friend (Sam Rockwell) steals the Shih Tzu of an explosively-tempered gangster (Woody Harrelson). Like In Bruges, the writing is extremely clever and loaded with biting dark comedy and Tarantino-esque violence. Occasionally a joke will fall flat, but then another will pop up shortly after that will bring out the major laughs.

The cast here is incredible, with some noteworthy supporting roles from Christopher Walken (in his best performance in years), Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton. There’s even an amusing wink at Boardwalk Empire during the film’s opening scene, as it involves cameos from two of my favorite actors from the show: Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. The real star here, however, is Sam Rockwell, who is an absolute riot for most of the film. His monologue in the desert is hilarious, and it is one of the best scenes I have come across this year. Seven Psychopaths may be too spastic for some, but I had a great time with the film. 8/10

The Paperboy [2012]
The Paperboy [dir. Lee Daniels]
The Paperboy is a hot mess of a film, one that revels in its trashy Southern Gothic atmosphere. The film follows two brothers, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack Jensen (Zac Efron), who are investigating a death row inmate (John Cusack) that they believe may be innocent. Or rather, Ward is looking to get a story out of this that he can write for the Herald. He doesn’t really care if the man is innocent or not. They become involved with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a middle-aged woman who has fallen in love with the inmate despite never meeting him.

There are many different subplots at play in The Paperboy, and as such the film never really knows where it wants to go. Occasionally there are random moments of incredibly bizarre actions — there is a certain scene involving jellyfish that everyone seems to talk about — and director Lee Daniels often appears to just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see if it sticks. The lack of proper direction is frustrating, but there is still an entertaining film underneath (albeit a rather filthy one). If there’s one thing the film nails, it is its visual appeal. The washed-out color tones are a perfect fit for the sticky Floridian setting. The Paperboy is all over the place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this gather somewhat of a cult following someday. 6/10

Have you seen any of these? What did you think of them?

Movie Review: The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]
Director: Gary Ross
Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Runtime: 142 Minutes

I don’t know what’s more shocking — the fact that a movie about kids killing kids has been a monster box office smash, or that author Suzanne Collins claims to had never heard of the Japanese cult hit, Battle Royale, before writing The Hunger Games. Of course, stories about people killing people for the sake of sport are hardly anything new. Before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man, and shortly after its release came Series 7: The Contenders. While an intriguing concept, it is amazing that such a violent storyline was written with young adults in mind.

Set in a dystopian environment, The Hunger Games shares its name with an event set up by a repressive government. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are selected from each of twelve districts via a lottery to become participants (or “tributes”) in the games. The goal is to be the last person standing. If not, you’re dead.

The Hunger Games [2012]

We follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old who boldly volunteers to take the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who was initially elected to participate. The other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we later find out is in love with Katniss. Since The Hunger Games event is presented as a television broadcast, the creators try to stir up a romance between these two for those watching in the districts. In fact, the creators have full access to the games and can alter the environment in order to pique the interest of its viewers. This adds an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a spectacle of murder.

Although 24 children are selected as tributes, we really only get to know two (Katniss and Peeta). This fits in line with the idea that nearly all of them will die, but it does not translate well to the film. When one minor character is killed off, director Gary Ross tries desperately to tug at our heartstrings, even going so far as to show an extended, impromptu burial. While fans of the books may appreciate this scene, it felt forced to me and I was rather apathetic about it all.

The Hunger Games is a PG-13 movie, which is a tad peculiar considering its violent concept. Ross is able to get away with this in part because of the sped-up action scenes. We rarely get a clean look at any deaths mainly due to an overreliance on “shaky cam” techniques. Some of the fight/action scenes are almost unbearable to watch because of this, and it is hard to tell what is actually happening. I get the reasoning for going PG-13, but I can’t help but feel the movie would be improved if the action sequences were better executed (i.e. more graphic, matching the theme of the story).

The Hunger Games [2012]

The movie’s greatest asset is its cast, led by the surprisingly badass Jennifer Lawrence. Her stock has been rising steadily over the last couple years, but this role has just taken her to another dimension. I can’t think of a better lead for this film. Other noteworthy inclusions are Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic mentor, Stanley Tucci as the vastly entertaining MC of the broadcast, the stern Donald Sutherland as President, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as fashion extraordinare Cinna. Even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are competent in their roles.

While I don’t quite get all of the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, I still enjoyed the film well enough. The lack of character development is disappointing, as is the overuse of the shaky cam, but underneath there is still an absorbing sci-fi story with a unique dystopian setting.