Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her allies prepare to liberate the people of Panem and defeat President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his troops once and for all. The fourth and final chapter in this franchise is largely an overblown war movie, with scenes that might remind audiences of Full Metal Jacket and Aliens. Far from a family-friendly experience, in spite of its PG-13 rating, the film does offer a lot of excitement in 3D (especially a scene where mutated animals attack) and a gruesome twist near the end that ups the stakes even more. Impressively staged, but less satisfying in its quieter, emotional moments.
2015-U.S. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Novel: Suzanne Collins. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore… Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Mahershala Ali.
After surviving another Hunger Game, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is in District 13 where the rebel leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), wants to turn her into the Mockingjay, a symbol of the resistance. The third and fourth films in the franchise cut the last novel into two. A pointless decision creatively (as we know from earlier Harry Potterand Twilight examples), but this first part still makes everything work, as it skilfully brings emotional depth to a story that also has a lot of action. Once again it benefits from a strong performance by Lawrence, but Moore is also good as the rebel leader, unable to become the inspiration people need.
2014-U.S. 123 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Novel: Suzanne Collins. Song: “Yellow Flicker Beat” (performed by Lorde). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman… Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, Jena Malone, Mahershala Ali.
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, a fur trapper (Al Pacino) and his son are reluctantly drawn into it; an aristocratic daughter (Nastassja Kinski) has more idealistic reasons to help the colonists. The box-office bomb that was so poorly received that Pacino didn’t make another movie for four years isn’t quite that bad. Technical details in the 1700s scenery and battles are impressive, but the British are painted as almost comically evil, a few accents are ludicrous and we never get a firm grip on Kinski, or her romance with Pacino.
1985-U.S. 123 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Hugh Hudson. Cast: Al Pacino (Tom Dobb), Donald Sutherland (Peasy), Nastassja Kinski (Daisy McConnahay), Joan Plowright, Dave King, Annie Lennox… Steven Berkoff, Robbie Coltrane.
Trivia: Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford and Richard Gere were allegedly considered in the lead role. Reedited in 2009; that version runs 115 min.
THE DESTINY OF A SOLDIER. THE HONOR OF A SLAVE. THE FATE OF AN EMPIRE.
Twenty years after the whole Roman Ninth Legion disappeared somewhere in northern Britannia, its commander’s son (Channing Tatum) arrives hoping to restore the honor of his family’s name. Inspired by the actual disappearance of a Roman legion in AD 120, this film throws a Roman centurion and his accidental young slave into an adventure where their loyalties and convictions are tested as they face hostile tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall. Tatum is a bit too low-key in the lead, but the film is well shot in Scotland and the story exciting in spite of its formula; it’s obvious that Kevin Macdonald had ambitions.
2011-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Novel: Rosemary Sutcliff (“The Eagle of the Ninth”). Cast: Channing Tatum (Marcus Flavius Aquila), Jamie Bell (Esca), Mark Strong (Guern), Donald Sutherland, Tahar Rahim, Denis O’Hare.
Trivia: The novel was previously filmed as a British miniseries in 1977.
A LAWYER AND HIS ASSISTANT FIGHTING TO SAVE A FATHER ON TRIAL FOR MURDER. A TIME TO QUESTION WHAT THEY BELIEVE. A TIME TO DOUBT WHAT THEY TRUST. AND NO TIME FOR MISTAKES.
Young Mississippi attorney Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) takes a case where a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) stands accused of having murdered two white supremacists who raped his ten-year-old daughter. One of the most successful adaptations of a John Grisham novel. The way it addresses racism in the South may be simplistic and crowd-pleasing, complete with a resurrected Klan, but attempts are made to complicate things and the febrile atmosphere adds to the tension. It’s a long movie, but doesn’t really feel that way. Some of the courtroom scenes pack a punch, especially near the end where McConaughey is electrifying; this was his breakthrough performance.
1996-U.S. 149 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John Grisham, Hunt Lowry, Arnon Milchan. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman. Novel: John Grisham. Cast: Sandra Bullock (Ellen Roark), Samuel L. Jackson (Carl Lee Hailey), Matthew McConaughey (Jake Tyler Brigance), Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt… Ashley Judd, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Patrick McGoohan, Kurtwood Smith, Chris Cooper, Charles S. Dutton, Octavia Spencer.
Trivia: Spencer’s film debut. Kevin Costner and Val Kilmer were allegedly considered for the part of Brigance.
Last word: “Everyone knew when they saw ‘Dazed and Confused’ that [McConaughey] leapt off the screen. The Grisham books were so hot at that moment, but John didn’t want to make a movie of his first book. I just stalked him and John loved ‘The Client’, which helped. He said I could do ‘A Time to Kill’, but he had approval over the lead character. A lot of actors wanted to do it, and John didn’t want them. When I brought in Matthew, I thought of him to play the redneck bad guy at first [later played by Kiefer Sutherland]. I was talking to him and realized this guy would be great in the lead. He asked me if Brad Pitt was doing the film and I said he’s not. Anyway, I didn’t want to ruin his career. With some friends, we went way downtown in L.A. and did this little audition, because if John didn’t like it, no one would know. I sent it down to John. And the next day he called me and said, ‘Who is this guy? I love him.’ We got to call Matthew and tell him he got the lead.” (Schumacher, Variety)
After winning the Hunger Games, tributes Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson) inspire rebellions in several districts, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) comes up with a new version of the games. The sequel has a new director and a somewhat darker shade of colors, but it is also obvious that a successful formula is repeated. Still, the games in the film’s second half are exciting and handsomely staged; long, but fans get what they expect and the mechanics of a dictatorship are explored in effective ways. Good cast, with an ambiguous performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
2013-U.S. 146 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Novel: Suzanne Collins. Song: “Atlas” (performed by Coldplay). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman… Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Stanley Tucci, Lennie Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Toby Jones, Jena Malone.
As punishment for a past uprising, twelve districts must offer their rulers two “tributes”, a boy and a girl, to compete in the Hunger Games where they fight to the death. This adaptation of an immensely popular young adult novel is head and shoulders above most other similar projects, boasting an impressive production design and plenty of action as we follow the tributes of District 12, Katniss and Peeta, as they fight and scheme their way through the games. Jennifer Lawrence is ideal in a star-making performance as the 16-year-old who knows how to handle a bow and arrow; Stanley Tucci stands out in the supporting cast as a smarmy TV host. Long, but worthwhile.
2012-U.S. 142 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik. Directed by Gary Ross. Screenplay: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray. Novel: Suzanne Collins. Song: “Safe and Sound” (Taylor Swift, T Bone Burnett, John Paul White, Joy Williams). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci… Lennie Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones.
Last word:“I think it has a lot on its mind. That’s why I wanted to do it. I wouldn’t do it if it was just a glossy piece of entertainment. Just before this, I was offered a sequel in a really large franchise, and I turned it down. I won’t say, but I turned it down and my agents were sort of stunned. I said there’s nothing fresh I could do and it doesn’t really have much on its mind and I’m not just interested in a piece of entertainment, per se. What I loved about Suzanne’s novel was that it was so intelligent, had so much to say, was so relevant. The idea of Katniss fighting for her own humanity in a system that wants to strip her of humanity, who wants her to be complicit in these games, to play the game, and the evolution of her own sense of ethics and her empathy and her compassion and her sense of who she is and her own moral line that leads to this act of defiance that is the thing that sparks the revolution, I thought that was fantastic. That’s why I wanted to do it.” (Ross, Screen Rant)
TRAIN THEM! EXCITE THEM! ARM THEM!… THEN TURN THEM LOOSE ON THE NAZIS!
When Roger Ebert sat down to review this film in 1967, he couldn’t get past one scene that comes near the end. I’ve seen so much senseless violence in movies (and so has he) that I would have barely reacted had I not read Ebert’s review. But his gut reaction is true and it’s a murderous sequence that takes away some of the fun that you’re after all likely to have when watching the whole movie. The last half hour is one long massacre that is certainly well staged and not as visually bloody as, say, Sam Peckinpah would have made it… but it is a jarring comparison to what comes before it.
In 1944, Allied forces are preparing D Day. One way of causing mayhem among the German military leadership in France would be to kill as many high-ranking officers as possible in one blow. A daring suicide plan is put together and a man is chosen to carry out the mission. Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) is ordered to turn a small number of felons into a commando unit able enough to penetrate a chateau in Brittany. Should anyone survive they can expect to have their sentences commuted. Reisman is disgusted with the whole idea, but decides to train these men in his own way. Any felon who views the experience as a chance to escape will be severely punished, and Reisman immediately sets an example with the rebellious Franko (John Cassavetes) who has a death sentence hanging over him… but on the other hand the major realizes that the only way to make these rugged, dangerous men work as one is to allow them some leeway and motivate them in various ways.
Few links to real life The story was allegedly based on the “Filthy Thirteen”, a group of U.S. soldiers who demolished targets behind enemy lines in World War II. Although there were rumors regarding these men’s past, they were not criminals. Robert Aldrich’s film is an adventure with few links to real life. The camaraderie among the felons is portrayed with some amount of credibility, but there are moments when the playfulness becomes a little too much to take (especially when it’s accompanied by a music score that is far too clownish in nature). In short, these guys are getting a little too cute after a while. Still, a sense of humor is part of the reason why this movie became such a massive box-office hit in its day and remains popular. The filmmakers cleverly build our sympathy for the dirty dozen and their uproarious attitude toward the army and its overly bureaucratic leadership, especially as represented by Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan), who believes that success grows out of… cleanliness. Marvin is terrific in one of his greatest roles as the major who detests his superiors as much as his men do, but still knows how to bring them victory; Ernest Borgnine is equally amusing as a general who gets to witness the dirty dozen in action up close – and gets a kick out of it.
The final showdown at the chateau is an exciting and explosive affair. However, the fact that the Nazi officers and their wives receive a similar treatment to Jewish death camp prisoners is horrifying in a way that betrays the director’s earlier, lighter touch.
The Dirty Dozen 1967-U.S. 150 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Kenneth Hyman. Directed by Robert Aldrich. Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, Lukas Heller. Novel: E.M. Nathanson. Cast: Lee Marvin (John Reisman), Ernest Borgnine (Worden), Jim Brown (Robert T. Jefferson), John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson… Donald Sutherland, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas, Richard Jaeckel, Trini Lopez.
Trivia:John Wayne and Jack Palance were allegedly considered for roles. Followed by three TV sequels, starting with The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985), and a TV series in 1988.
YOU’D NEVER TAKE HER FOR A CALL GIRL. YOU’D NEVER TAKE HIM FOR A COP.
When Jane Fonda started preparing for the role of a self-assured and sexy prostitute in Klute (1971) she became convinced that she was simply not attractive enough and told the filmmakers to hire her friend Faye Dunaway instead. This idea that she had probably illustrates a deep-set lack of confidence that should have been more of a problem for the movie than her body. In the end, though, Fonda is a pro who delivered a performance that has become one of her strongest, one that outshines certain other aspects of the film.
When a businessman called Tom Gruneman disappears, the police find an obscene letter in his office addressed to a prostitute in New York City, Bree Daniels (Fonda). Unfortunately, the investigation leads nowhere and Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi), who worked with Gruneman, hires a family friend and police officer called John Klute (Donald Sutherland) to do a little research on his own. The only lead Klute has is Daniels and he starts following her around and listens in on her phone calls. When it doesn’t look like that she has any secrets, Klute decides to approach her. Bree tells him that she doesn’t remember Gruneman, nor does she recognize his photo, but there was a john a few years back who beat her up. There were other hookers with similar experiences. When one of them turns up dead, Klute thinks he’s on to something…
Genuinely creepy setting
This was director Alan J. Pakula’s breakthrough picture, one that is sometimes lumped together with The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men(1976) as part of a “paranoia trilogy”. Bree has the feeling that she’s being observed and we in the audience learn that Klute’s not the only one who’s watching her. Thanks to Gordon Willis’s moody, dark cinematography, tension remains high throughout the film – which is actually a kind of feat, because when the killer’s identity is revealed it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. A great mystery this ain’t. But Pakula and Willis still achieve what they’re aiming for on account of sheer technological know-how. The final showdown may be obvious, but its setting in New York’s garment district is genuinely creepy because of the way it is directed, lit, shot and edited. Another key ingredient is Michael Small’s music score, which has an eerie, dreamy quality, both as illustration of Klute and Bree’s love affair and the stalking sequences. This is also obviously Bree’s story as her visits to a shrink and the encounters with very different johns tell us a lot about who she is; Fonda brings depth to the character. Why the movie is named for the male protagonist is a mystery, but it’s typical of how Bree in the end has to be rescued by him, even though she should be strong enough to take this killer down on her own.
On Oscar night, Fonda’s speech simply stated that “there is a great deal to say and I’m not going to say it tonight”. An obvious reference to her struggle against the Vietnam War, Fonda knew when to pick her battles. She certainly had courage, though, and overcoming her fears to play Bree is a sign of that.
Klute 1971-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula. Screenplay: Andy Lewis, Dave Lewis. Cinematography: Gordon Willis. Music: Michael Small. Cast: Jane Fonda (Bree Daniels), Donald Sutherland (John Klute), Charles Cioffi (Peter Cable), Roy Scheider, Dorothy Tristan, Rita Gam… Jean Stapleton.
Trivia: Barbra Streisand was allegedly considered for the lead role.
Oscar: Best Actress (Fonda). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Fonda).
Last word: “It was the story of a girl who’s obsessed with seducing. She feels impotent, herself. The only time she feels any sense of power is when she’s sexually in control and knows a man wants her in a way she doesn’t want him. It’s this need to seduce that almost kills her. So I said to Michael [Small], ‘How can we express this in the score? I want her pulled in, as though she is pulling herself toward her own destruction.’ We’re talking about a siren song. He said, ‘Then we should use a woman’s voice.’ There’s a sick voice, like her own voice, pulling her forward, and it’s threatening, endangering.” (Pakula, AFI)
Best buddies Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day) are all abused at work by their mean-spirited bosses; eventually they come up with a radical solution. This raunchy comedy borrows its premise from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) in a not too inspired way, but offers many laughs and a chance for three stars, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell (in heavy make-up), to play outrageous characters as broadly as possible. Goes overboard at times, particularly in the final fifteen minutes, but the three buddies are fun (in the mold of The Hangover).
2011-U.S. 98 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brett Ratner, Jay Stern. Directed by Seth Gordon. Cast: Jason Bateman (Nick Hendricks), Charlie Day (Dale Arbus), Jason Sudeikis (Kurt Buckman), Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey… Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx, Ioan Gruffudd, Bob Newhart.
SOMETIMES IT TAKES MORE THAN JUST GOOD LOOKS TO KILL.
Empty-headed high-school cheerleader Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) learns that it is part of her destiny to slay vampires. Joss Whedon probably realized that the original script he had written was better than this movie; five years later he would create a superior TV adaptation that would run for seven seasons. The basic premise is still entertaining enough in this film (in spite of its dull teen intrigues) and it is somewhat boosted by the performances of Swanson and Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer as a couple of campy bloodsuckers.
1992-U.S. 86 min. Color. Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui. Screenplay: Joss Whedon. Cast: Kristy Swanson (Buffy Summers), Donald Sutherland (Merrick Jamison-Smythe), Paul Reubens (Amilyn), Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Michele Abrams… Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Thomas Jane, Ben Affleck. Cameo: Ricki Lake.
Trivia:Swank’s debut; Affleck’s part is so small that he’s uncredited.
In 1817, a woman casts a spell on the Bell family in Tennessee; a demon consequently possesses the daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood). One of the classic ghost stories is brought to the screen, but with a twist that virtually begs you to ignore everything that led up to it. It’s a 19th century version of The Exorcist with far too many dull scenes where bed covers are pulled off and doors slammed; don’t expect to be startled. The cast is far from compelling.
2006-U.S.-Britain-Canada-Romania. 90 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Courtney Solomon. Cast: Donald Sutherland (John Bell), Sissy Spacek (Lucy Bell), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Betsy Bell), James D’Arcy, Matthew Marsh, Thom Fell.
Tess Finnegan (Kate Hudson) is about to divorce her treasure-hunting husband (Matthew McConaughey), but when new clues to a legendary deep-sea gold stash surface, the proceedings are put on hold. Many critics seemed to loathe this breezy adventure, but there’s no reason. Admittedly, it is a thin and somewhat messy movie, but the two stars are pleasant to watch and the farcical villains add to the fun. An old-fashioned touch and the sunny environs are other bonuses… but why cast Donald Sutherland as an Englishman?
2008-U.S. 112 min. Color. Directed by Andy Tennant. Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Benjamin Finnegan), Kate Hudson (Tess Finnegan), Donald Sutherland (Nigel Honeycutt), Alexis Dziena, Ewan Bremner, Ray Winstone… Kevin Hart.