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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 10:27 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Olivia Kantor shares her latest television experience.

House of Cards – Chapter 1” (2013)
★★★★★

Viewers are first introduced to “House of Cards” central character, the congressman and majority whip Francis Underwood, as he strangles a dog in a crisp white tuxedo shirt.

Clearly, this is not a typical political thriller.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” is Netflix’s first foray into the television industry. Based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the show centers on the deliciously ruthless Congressman Underwood’s collusive ascent to power in D.C. After getting passed over for secretary of state, Underwood goes rogue, and as he states in his velvety smooth southern gait, he doesn’t belong to anyone anymore. This liberation sets off a string of political conquests filled with scandal, revenge and delightfully sinister dealings.

Spacey is by far the show’s greatest asset. He crafts Underwood as a study in contrasts: On the exterior he possesses a charismatic southern charm, but internally he maintains an eerie, sociopathic demeanor. This tension between the congenial congressman and the cold-hearted realist grabs the viewer and propels the narrative, as told in gripping scenes of Underwood venomously outlining plans to annihilate the careers of his political rivals as he nonchalantly sanitizes his hands.

Though “House of Cards” plays into an already overflowing niche of political thrillers, it brings something new to the tired genre. Underwood often breaks the fourth wall by addressing the camera directly, plotting and scheming with the viewers. The audience plays Spacey’s confidante, and in return, he offers them a chance to become the ultimate Washington insider.

Welcome to Washington, as Underwood announces to us—and the world of binge television.

Director: David Fincher
Genre: Drama
Cast:
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Larry Pine

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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 10:57 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Jesslyn Angelia shares her latest movie experience.

Warm Bodies” (2013)
★★★½✩✩

In many ways, “Warm Bodies” fits the mold of an archetypal romantic comedy.

But then there’s the whole zombie thing.

An inventive mash-up of Shakespeare and zombies based on the novel of the same name, “Warm Bodies” revolves around the life of R (Nicholas Hoult), an unusual zombie who, despite being limited to grunting and uttering monosyllabic sounds, gives the audience a glimpse of his mind with his narrative voice overs. On a hunt for brains, R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer), a human, and falls in love with her after eating her boyfriend’s brain and inheriting his memories. From then on, R adopts a decidedly human trait: He becomes Julie’s protector, not her predator.

While “Warm Bodies” had a promising premise, its neatly packaged ending felt all too contrived. And in the scope of zombie movies, it’s entirely overshadowed by films like “Zombieland,” a more funny and original apocalyptic tale. I definitely expected more from director Jonathan Levine, known for films like “50/50.” Still, praise must be given for the solid cast and a fun, oldies soundtrack.

Ultimately, “Warm Bodies” is an elevated twist on a date night movie. It’s “Twilight” with more humor, less cheese-factor, a cohesive story line and an engaging cast.

Director:
Jonathan Levine
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco
Release Date:
Feb. 1

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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 11:03 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Emily Holland shares her latest movie experience.

Mama” (2013)
★★★✰✰

Not many horror films gain both critical acclaim and top box office ratings, but then again, “Mama” is not your average horror film.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, the mastermind behind “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Mama” skyrockets the horror genre out of its typical cheap stereotype and into the spotlight.

Based on a short film of the same name, “Mama” follows the story of two young girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), who are abandoned in the woods by their father. Together, they survive for five years under the care of a mysterious being they call “mama.” When their uncle and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) gain custody of the children after they are found, they soon realize that becoming parents isn’t going to be an easy task, especially since the girls have turned into savages during their abandonment. As the girls become more civilized and grow closer to their new family, “mama” gets jealous and strange things start to happen around the house.

The first three-quarters of this movie are full of suspense and mystery. What exactly is “mama”? Initially, only glimpses of her distorted figure shadow are seen. But as the plot continues to develop and “mama” becomes less of a mystery, the scare factor drops dramatically. By the end of the movie, she became almost funny to look at. Instead of being scared by this character, the audience laughed whenever it popped up onscreen.

Still, the movie boasts admirable performances. Chastain does well as the punk-rock girlfriend turned caring mother, and, let’s face it, not all Academy Award nominees are going to be stellar all the time (take Jennifer Lawrence in “House at the End of the Street,” for example). Charpentier and Nélisse display remarkable performances, and show convincing, subtle changes in behavior throughout the movie.

Even with its ups and downs, “Mama” is worth it for a quick scary movie fix.

Director: Andrés Muschietti
Genre:
Horror
Cast:
Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier 
Release Date:
Jan. 18

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Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 9:27 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet staff writers Julie Alderman and Karolina Ramos share their latest movie experience.

Les Misérables” (2012)
★★★★½✰

Devoted fans of the musical, and even those rare literature buffs who have read the novel in its entirety, may have their worries about “Les Misérables,” the film adaptation of the famed Broadway production. Will the film actors butcher the songs musical aficionados grew up with? Could the studly Hugh Jackman pull off the look of an old man? Can Russell Crowe even sing?

The answers to such inquiries prove surprising in one of the most talked-about films of the season.

Taking place in the post-French Revolutionary period, the story revolves around Jean Valjean (Jackman), a petty felon who seeks to establish a new identity after a recent jail release. Unable to catch a break, Valjean is vigilantly chased around France by scrutinizing inspector Javert (Crowe). As he ventures throughout France, Valjean comes across desperate characters vying to survive amidst proletariat rebellion, from impoverished mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to student activist Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

Director Tom Hooper departed from traditional approaches to movie musicals, having the cast sing live instead of lip syncing with a prerecorded track. Some fared better than others, like musical theater alums Jackman and Hathaway, while others, namely Crowe, struggled to deliver revered Broadway classics with skill.  Hathaway’s visceral rendition of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” rightfully left movie-goers in tears. And although we’re not complaining about Jackman’s abundant v-necks displaying off his muscular pecs, it was hard to believe he was playing a rugged 60 year-old man with a felonious past.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, a quick Wikipedia search may be in order to understand the complexities of the entirely-sung story. If you’re already averse to musicals, “Les Mis” is probably one to avoid.  Still, the film is sure to satisfy Broadway-devotees and French literature buffs alike.

Director: Tom Hooper
Genre:
Drama, Musical
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried
Release Date: Dec. 25

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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 6:16 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Emily Holland shares her latest movie experience.

Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)
★★★★½✰

When two major actors step out of their traditional cinematic comfort zones, it serves tales of mental illness well. Just ask Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

A quirky interpretation of a Matthew Quick novel, “Silver Linings Playbook” tells the story of Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder after breaking into a violent outburst sparked by the discovery of his wife’s cheating ways. Upon being released from a treatment facility after eight months, Pat adopts a new philosophy of optimism and belief in silver linings in order to be reunited with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee). Along his quest to fix his marriage, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow of a police officer with her own set of complicated mental issues. The pair’s friendship flourishes through their dance partnership, but even more through their shared emotional struggles and past pains.

The film boasts many other “crazy” characters, including Robert De Niro as the OCD, football-obsessed Pat, Sr. and Chris Tucker as Pat’s friend from the mental hospital. Both Cooper and Lawrence deliver their best career performances in the movie, and the role is a refreshing change for the typically comedy-leaning Cooper. With their surprising yet superb chemistry, the pair display their mastery of the entire spectrum of emotions and an ability to convey a hidden complexity beneath the surface of their characters. The performances felt so authentic that the audience couldn’t help but clap after Pat and Tiffany performed their dance.

With a confidence that garners favor from audience members and critics alike, and a carefully crafted script which reveals a soft, humorous side to mental illness, this crazy, fun, drama-filled film is nearly flawless, carried by masterful direction, a clever script and unprecedented performances.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Release Date: Nov. 21

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Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 4:43 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Jesslyn Angelia shares her latest movie experience.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” (2012)
★★✰✰✰

I’ll start by saying that Twi-hards will not be disappointed. When watching what we hope is the last of the “Twilight” franchise, one will get what anyone would expect from the teen romance saga: a shirtless Taylor Lautner, sappy clichés and sparkling vampires. If that isn’t what you’re looking forward to, then expect to be rolling your eyes throughout the movie.

The movie begins where audiences were left off in Breaking Dawn – Part One. Bella (Kristen Stewart) awakens from her slumber to find that she’s been turned into a newborn vampire and proceeds to experiment with her new supernatural skills. Bella sees her daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) for the first time, and is surprised to see that she’s grown so quickly. She’s even more surprised when she finds out that Jacob (Taylor Lautner) had imprinted on her daughter. The plot thickens as Irina (Maggie Grace), a fellow vampire, mistakes Renesmee for an “immortal child” and reports the Cullens to the Volturi, the ruthless group of vampire ruling class who immediately plan on exterminating Renesmee because of the threat she poses on exposing the vampires to the humans. In attempt to protect their daughter from the evil clutches of the Volturi, the Cullens go on a search for vampire witnesses all around the world in order to convince them that Renesmee is not a threat.

The movie is predictable and transitions poorly between scenes. The acting is less than mediocre (smile for once, Kristen Stewart?) and the awful CGI — especially of baby Renesmee — gives the movie a low-budget look. However, I must admit that there are some unexpected twists to the movie.  A steamy romance scene only fifteen minutes in proves scintillating, and the film’s climactic battle scene is largely entertaining and unforeseen until … well, let’s not spoil it.

Bottom line for all non-”Twilight” fans?  It wouldn’t hurt too much to watch this latest installment in spite of the inevitable eye rolling. If nothing else, you’ll at least get a good kick out of seeing all the decapitation.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Action
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning
Release Date: Nov. 16

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Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 10:37 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Andrew Avrick shares his latest movie experience.

The Man with the Iron Fists” (2012)
★★★★✰

Why did it take this long for us to get an actual kung fu movie from the Wu-Tang Clan?

Written, directed, starring and narrated by RZA, the leader of the legendary rap collective, “The Man with the Iron Fists” forces this question on us for 90 whole minutes of blissfully cheesy action set to the rapper’s handpicked soundtrack. Armed with the guns of producer Quentin Tarantino and co-writer Eli Roth, RZA tests the limits of his R rating in what seems like his dream film.

RZA stars as the title character, a blacksmith who creates and sells elaborately designed weapons, including the infamous “iron fists,” to all of the film’s factions at a time when significant amounts of gold are being shipped through the blacksmith’s small 19th-century Chinese village. From there, the plot is simplistic and the characters absurd: Russell Crowe fits a Han Solo role with his ridiculous spinning knife revolver; Lucy Liu leads an army of acrobatic prostitutes; and a gang known as “The Lions,” who tout bladed claws, make an appearance. The entire film is a gigantic grisly showdown.

“The Man with the Iron Fists” delivers the perfect dose of Tarantino’s trashy old movie style.  Much attention is paid to recreating the classic kung fu genre, as specifics like intentionally poor captions, unnecessary quick zooms, and some awkward cinematography are reminiscent of the genre’s most famed films. This RZA brainchild’s incredible soundtrack is also worth noting. Scored and prepared by RZA himself and recorded by the likes of Wu-Tang members, the Black Keys and Kanye West – just to name a few – the soundtrack presents well-placed and not overused rap, with samples that give off both a funky and exotic feel.

The movie’s gleeful violence and fittingly campy style work well in the theater, as blood squirts out of every opening in an unrealistic, yet entirely entertaining grindhouse fashion.  Without question, “The Man with the Iron Fists” is something memorable, an absurd film that will please anyone going in with the right mindset.

Genre: Action
Director: RZA
Cast: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune
Release Date: Nov. 2

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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 9:47 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Margaret Kahn shares her latest movie experience.

Flight” (2012)
★★★✰✰

When I was young, my greatest dream was to be a pilot. “Flight,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, would have crash-landed my childhood hopes.

While the movie may be framed by the descent of a plane, it is really about the descent of a man into a spiral of drugs, lies and severe alcoholism.

Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a hedonist pilot we are introduced to through a cocaine-fueled morning-after bedroom scene with a flight attendant. Whip is cocky and confident as he gulps down a screwdriver before entering the cockpit, and jokingly offers his nervous young copilot (Brian Geraghty) hits of oxygen. However, the short flight from Orlando to Atlanta is interrupted by bad weather and extreme equipment failure, and the plane carrying 102 people begins to plummet. As passengers, flight attendants and the copilot spiral into hysteria, Whitaker is put to the test.  The opening crash scene is the most nerve-wracking event I have witnessed on screen. Expect a huge adrenaline rush that feels exactly like the moment at the summit of a roller coaster.

While Washington is a terrific actor, it’s his character Whitaker who continually disappoints. By the time he managed to do something good, it was too late and I had stopped rooting for him. Over and over, supporting characters, such as Don Cheadle as a savvy lawyer and Bruce Greenwood, playing an old Navy buddy, try to help him, and just as the audience gets its hopes up, Whitaker fails us. His aggravating self-sabotage and lack of personal growth caused me to eventually give up.

To its credit, the film successfully evokes some true moral dilemmas that stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. While audiences grapple with the brave act of a less than virtuous protagonist, questions linger: Is it moral to commit a crime if the end result is admirable?

It is possible to create an unlikable character that audiences will still root for, and in “Flight” this isn’t done. Don’t go to this movie looking for inspiration – you’ll leave frustrated.

Genre: Drama
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Brian Geraghty, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle
Release Date: Nov. 2

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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 10:21 a.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Emily Holland shares her latest movie experience.

Seven Psychopaths” (2012)

In a tale of crime, gore and one adored Shih Tzu, director Martin McDonagh finds dark comedic gold.

This crime-comedy fusion chronicles the story of Marty (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic screenwriter struggling to produce his next script, aptly titled “Seven Psychopaths.” Noticing Marty’s inability to find inspiration, his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), an unemployed actor and professional dognapper, attempts to give Marty something to write about. This, however, results in the snatching of a Shih Tzu belonging to a notorious crime boss, Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Marty gets intertwined with Billy and his troubled dognapping partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), as they run from the gangsters. Along the way, he discovers hidden pasts and maniacal qualities in the people he has come to know as “friends.”

The film takes on a Pulp Fiction-like quality as each of the psychopath’s stories intertwine and connect through car chases, shootouts and the occasional murder. Even the movie’s comedic elements, brilliantly carried by Harrelson and Rockwell, seem to be directly inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s distinguished style.

McDonagh perfectly balances the violence of the film with characters who exhibit peaceful tendencies, such as Marty and Hans, which broadens the movie’s fan base beyond gore enthusiasts fond of the film’s blood-spraying murders.

“Seven Psychopaths” extends beyond what is portrayed in the trailers – it is pleasantly unpredictable and complex. Audiences can appreciate the script’s genius and the stellar performances from Walken, Rockwell, Farrell and Harrelson. The minor supporting characters in the film are equally entertaining, each establishing a complex story in a matter of minutes.

Led by an all-star cast, “Seven Psychopaths” crosses genre barriers and becomes a clever comedy as well as a gory crime film, exceeding expectations and surprising moviegoers with its fast-paced action and expertly constructed script. The movie is a must-see for any action-comedy lover or those movie enthusiasts interested in being pushed outside their comfort zone.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken
Release Date: Oct. 12

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Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 7:49 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Andrew Avrick shares his latest movie experience.

Looper” (2012)

Contrary to what Sony Pictures’ massive marketing campaign wants you to think, “Looper” is not a simple action film where Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis take on bad guys and travel through time.

Okay, that still happens. But the film proves much more complex than its trailers let on.

As protagonist Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) reveals in the beginning of the film, time travel is invented in the future, but is used only by underground criminal organizations to eliminate targets in the past before they produce problems in the present.  This is where assassin Joe finds his niche: As a “looper,” Joe travels to the past to murder undisclosed victims before returning to the future unscathed.

After a looper’s tenure of time travel and assassination is up, the crime organization “closes the loop” and sends the looper back in time, granting him not only youth but a substantial financial payoff, too. This presents a problem for young Joe when he returns to the past to assassinate his final victim: his future self.

The fascinating conflict between the two versions of Joe drives the film’s plot. Young Joe wants to revel in his earnings, living out his last 30 years in parties, drug use and debauchery. Old Joe’s (Bruce Willis) motives prove more earnest. His future wife’s life at the hands of the mob is at stake.

The characters’ conflicting and convoluted interests often make it difficult to assign “good guy” or “bad guy” titles, and this ambiguity continues as the film reaches its climax.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of a younger version of Bruce Willis deserves recognition and praise.  The prosthetics used to widen Gordon-Levitt’s face help to liken him to Willis. But his mannerisms and facial expressions indicate extensive review and study of Willis’ acting catalog. Gordon-Levitt effortlessly mimics Willis’ vacant stares and trademark lumbering, clever remarks.

Overall, “Looper” is an excellent and intense thriller, boasting a stellar cast and an interesting plot. It’s presentation of conflicting moralities and the technicalities of time travel may seem too confusing to understand, but this is part of the film’s genius: It’s just complex enough to keep you thinking.

Genre: Action
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano
Release Date: Sept. 28

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