‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1’ is a movie comprised almost entirely of deleted scenes. As it says right in the title, this isn’t the final chapter of ‘The Hunger Games’ series; it’s just the first half of the final chapter, and that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s table setting for a meal that won’t be served until next November. ‘Mockingjay - Part 1’ is good-looking, well-acted, and utterly inessential.
'The Hangover' giveth and 'The Hangover' taketh away.
The first 'Hangover' made Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and especially Zach Galifianakis stars, and it elevated Todd Phillips from middling Hollywood director to name-brand comic auteur. But in the film industry, success that surprising and enormous demands more success; the beast must be fed. But as 'The Hangover Part II' and especially the new 'Hangover Part III' prove, it is very hard to make a good sequel to a truly original idea. 'Part II' went the rehash route, recycling the plot of the first movie so brazenly you almost had to admire its chutzpah. 'Part III' finally breaks with the formula a little (SPOILER ALERT: there is no hangover), but still doesn't produce anything even remotely worthy of the first film.
James Franco might not be the best actor working in movies today, but he's almost certainly the most fearless. His choices are as unpredictable as they are gutsy. He'll try just about anything: television dramas ('Freaks & Geeks'), soap operas ('General Hospital'), comedies ('Pineapple Express'), and big blockbusters ('Spider-Man,' 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'). His latest role, in Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers,' might be his craziest and most daring to date. He plays Alien -- pronounced "A-Leen" in Franco's South Florida drawl -- a drug dealer and aspiring rapper who likes to boast that he's from another planet. Franco's performance is suitably extraterrestrial: hilarious, disturbing, deranged, poignant and endlessly quotable. In an instant classic scene, Alien shows off all his prized possessions -- machine guns and money and nunchucks and 'Scarface' DVDs on constant repeat -- while screaming "Look at my s---!" Alien's orders are superfluous; any time Franco's onscreen, you can't take your eyes off him.
"I don't want to be a good man; I want to be a great one." So says Oscar, a humble (read: crummy) magician in a traveling circus circa 1905, just before a magical tornado sweeps him and his hot air balloon away to a land that just so happens to share his nickname: Oz. In 'Oz the Great and Powerful,' Oscar (James Franco) finds exactly what his heart desires; the chance to be a great man, wealthy and powerful, the ruler of a beautiful kingdom. And the kingdom does look damn good, and most of Oz's adventures in it are pretty entertaining as well.
If he hadn't already used that title for another movie, Tom Cruise could have easily called 'Jack Reacher' 'The Last Samurai.' There's a bit of Toshiro Mifune's Sanjuro in this Reacher guy: the masterless warrior who strides into a corrupt town, answers to no one, rights a few wrongs, busts a few heads, and wanders away to find his next challenge. He has no possessions; he owns exactly two shirts and one jacket. All he carries with him is a roll of $100 bills, a passport, a toothbrush, and his inflexible moral code. He would have fit right in back in feudal Japan. Or the Old West, for that matter. He'd make a hell of a Man With No Name.
Movies allow us to experience life through another person's eyes. Video games allow us to experience life through another person's eyes -- and to control their decisions. We spend hours upon hours with these video game characters, until we feel like we know them; Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, their adventures are so memorable, and their personalities so vivid that they almost seem alive. But of course their adventures and their personalities are all predetermined by programming, and they remain forever trapped by their unbreakable directives. If these characters weren't just a series of electronic impulses and computer code, it would be a tragic existence.
That, essentially, is the premise of 'Wreck-It Ralph,' a manic children's film about the souls of video game avatars. Made by Disney, it greatly resembles the premise of Disney's (and Pixar's) modern classic 'Toy Story,' in which toys are revealed to have lives and thoughts of their own when no one's around to play with them. Here we learn that when a suburban arcade shuts down for the night, the characters inside all the games cross over into each other's universes to socialize.
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