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Tuesday, April 10, 2012 1:33 p.m.

What We’re Watching

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Hatchet reporter Arich Morales shares his latest movie experience.

American Reunion” (2012)

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After two sequels and several spin-offs that went straight to DVD, I did not have high expectations for the latest “American Pie” release. But almost nine years after the last installment, the latest film is definitely worth the time.

Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, “American Reunion” returns to East Great Falls, Mich., where the gang assembles once again for a high school reunion. But fans will find a lot has changed for these five close friends.

Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married with a child, but the new addition to their family seems to be putting a damper on the couple’s sex life. Oz (Chris Klein) works as a sportscaster in Los Angeles and has a supermodel girlfriend but has grown tired of his shallow lifestyle. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) brings an assortment stories back to East Great Falls after being missing-in-action for years. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), true to character, is happily married and works at home as an architect. Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still the same immature womanizer, except he works a temporary job at an investment firm.

The film features the same lovable characters and the same grotesque humor that fans love, but aged characters add a new level of intrigue to a familiar setting. “American Reunion” adds a touch of drama as old feelings of love are rekindled and the group reverts to its childish ways despite newfound maturity.

From start to finish, there is not a dull moment. Jim and Michelle’s marriage is put to the test when an 18-year-old girl Jim once babysat tempts him with an intense crush. His father, who became a widower three years earlier, falls for Stifler’s mom, making for a hilariously uncomfortable storyline.

As for the film’s supporting cast, the actors manage to show that some things never change. Stifler sports his maniacal smile each time he is about to do or say something absurd. Oz shows he is still the same sensitive sucker for love as he longs to get back together with his ex-girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari). Jim’s dad continues to give outrageously sexual advice – both laugh-out-loud funny and cringe-worthy at the same time.

The film’s added dramatic elements set it apart from its predecessors while creating a sense of nostalgia through various references to the first “American Pie.”

Overall, the sequel deserves its spot in the series. Whether you’re a fan of the films or a first-time viewer, “American Reunion” is a must-see that maintains the familiarity of the characters and plot but also adds some distinctive story elements.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Cast: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas
Release Date: April 6

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012 1:05 p.m.

What We’re Watching

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Hatchet reporter Morgan Viehman shares her latest movie experience.

The Hunger Games” (2012)

The screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy is masterfully executed in “The Hunger Games.” Directed by Gary Ross and with contributing screenwriting from the author, the film will leave both movie lovers and super fans of the books anxiously awaiting the next installment.

The story is set in a fictional future of North America known as Panem, in which 12 laboring districts surround the shining Capitol. The Capitol, to entertain its gluttonous citizens and to keep the people of the districts subordinate, select a boy and girl from each district to compete in an elaborate, highly televised annual fight to the death known as the Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a passionately protective teenager toughened by hard times. After her father’s death and her mother’s resulting emotional detachment, Katniss supports her family by hunting illegally for food. On the day of “the reaping,” her sister’s name is called and a panicked Katniss volunteers to take her place as District 12’s female tribute.

Katniss, along with District 12′s male tribute, is thrust into a blood bath where only one of 24 can survive. The two play the cameras and vie for supporters as a teenage couple desperately in love. Whether the romance is just an act or something more is a question both Katniss and the filmmakers leave unanswered at the end of the film.

While the entire supporting cast is spectacular – namely Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy – it is Lawrence who truly carries the film. Nominated for an Academy Award for her role in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” Lawrence has the astonishing ability to portray a number of emotions with just a look. It’s a credit to the entire production that the role of Katniss was not played by the traditional “action movie” type but by a skilled actress with a clear understanding of the character.

In addition to the outstanding cast, it is the costume and set design, by Judianna Makovsky and Larry Dias respectively, that make the many worlds of “The Hunger Games” come to life. The starkly barren scenes of District 12 with its outdated plains-people garb stand in gratifying opposition to the Capitol.

As with any film based on a novel, some avid followers will find problems with continuity and a romance that is significantly less steamy than as portrayed by the books. But it is clear that everyone involved in the film respected the story and spent the time and energy into making it a spectacular piece both on its own and as a realization of the novel.

Genre: Action, Drama
Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson
Release date: March 23

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012 3:39 p.m.

What We’re Watching

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Hatchet reporter Julie Alderman shares her latest movie experience.

Friends With Kids” (2012)

We’ve all seen that movie, the romantic comedy with attractive leads who are funny, can afford a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side, and yet somehow are still alone. The protagonists are platonic friends who attempt to beat the system by having casual sex or living together with no romantic entanglements.

“Friends With Kids” is the same thing, except this time they have a kid.

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt star as Jason and Julie, two best friends of almost 20 years who realize they want children but haven’t found the right person.

The true star of the film turns out to be Westfeldt, who wrote and directed the film in addition to starring as Julie. Westfeldt shines in her role. She is charming and delightful, but maintains a realistic portrayal of her character.

Westfeldt’s writing and directing seem smart and honest, but the rest of the film’s talent leaves much to be desired.

Scott works through one of his first leading roles in a major film – an effort which could have gone better. Though he is supposed to be playing a ladies’ man, his performance is uncomfortable to watch. His sexual relationship with Mary Jane, played by Megan Fox – who always looks like she smelled something terrible – is far from realistic. It also doesn’t help that Scott’s haircut makes him look like he should be living in his parents’ basement.

The supporting cast is strong on paper but weak in practice. Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd and Edward Burns round out the cast, making for a star-studded display. But given the material they had to work with, none of the actors manage to make their characters likable.

“Friends With Kids” has some funny moments, but the quality of the acting puts a damper on the overall experience. The film is entertaining enough to be worthy of buying a ticket, but it may leave many viewers wanting more.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Cast: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Edward Burns
Release date: March 9

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012 11:31 a.m.

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Hatchet reporter Talia Weisner shares her latest movie experience.

The Lorax” (2012)

A lesson in environmentalism in the form of a classic children’s story, “The Lorax” ventures beyond the bounds of your classic animated film. Loosely based off the Dr. Seuss story of the same title, “The Lorax” tells the tale of a 12-year-old boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) on a search to find a tree in an apparently tree-less, greedy, industrialized world.

Finding this tree is the key to winning the affection of his best friend and crush, Audrey (Taylor Swift). To find it, he must enlist the help of the short, furry orange creature called The Lorax – the grumpy, mustached protector of the trees (Danny DeVito), who isn’t too keen on human intruders on his land. Through befriending his furry mentor, Ted learns how his world ended up as it did – artificial and without nature – and subsequently, the reason for The Lorax’s ill-tempered demeanor.

The film’s young stars, Swift and Efron, do an excellent job of fitting into their roles. Efron, whose acting talents don’t go unnoticed even hidden behind his animated visage, delivers a particularly impressive performance. That said, DeVito is arguably the picture’s real star, executing jokes with the skill – and voice – we’re all familiar with. The star-studded film also features Ed Helms as the Once-ler and my personal favorite, Betty White as Ted’s grandmother.

Though at times a tad lecture-filled, “The Lorax” does its job, and a pretty good one at that. The anti-capitalist undercurrents of the plot are well-balanced with comic relief, most coming from DeVito. The film features bright colors and skillful animation you’d expect from a Dr. Seuss adaption and a pretty touching story about a young boy’s quest to win the heart of the girl he loves.

Genre: Animated, Family
Director: Chris Renaud
Cast: Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Betty White
Release date: March 2

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Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 8:08 p.m.

What We’re Watching

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Hatchet reporter Chelsea Huang shares her latest movie experience.

Wanderlust” (2012)

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“Wanderlust” follows the story of a New York City couple, who find themselves in a rural hippy commune after unemployment forces them out of their West Village micro-loft. George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) embark for George’s crass older brother’s house in Atlanta after he offers them a temporary place to stay and work.

On the drive down, they stumble upon a bed and breakfast in the clothing-optional, free love community Elysium. Exhausted by their uptight urban lifestyle and fed up with George’s arrogant and insufferable older brother (co-writer Ken Marino), the couple decides to stay for two weeks as they consider the alternative, freewheeling community as a viable permanent home.

The contrast between the lifestyles of George’s older brother and those in the commune is transparent. Elysium’s community of hippies teaches George and Linda the importance of truth, trust and love, while George’s brother, successful from his porta-potty rental business, shows them the vices of material wealth.

The characters are caricatured and stereotypical – the hippies portrayed with hallucinogenic tea and truth circles, and George’s brother with a shiny black escalade and a superiority complex.

The jokes are at times tired and gimmicky, but the talented cast makes up for this with a variety of smart improvisations. The result is fresh, absurd and absolutely hysterical. Paul Rudd, who coincidentally played a naïve hippy in this summer’s “Our Idiot Brother,” puts his comedic background to good use throughout the film. In arguably the most memorable, albeit uncomfortably prolonged scene, Rudd prepares for a sexual encounter by practicing his dirty talk in a bathroom mirror.

The total experience can be summed up as overheard from a fellow appreciative moviegoer: “What was that?” It is absolutely ridiculous and out of this world, yet grounded in the reality of finding your way through life. The result is a hilarious, easily digested film.

Genre: Comedy
Director: David Wein
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino
Release Date: Feb. 24

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Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 3:07 p.m.

What We’re Watching

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Hatchet reporter Arich Morales shares his latest movie experience.

The Woman in Black” (2012)

“The Woman in Black” follows Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young but struggling lawyer mourning the death of his wife. When Kipps receives a new assignment to travel to a remote village, he expects another routine task. But nothing can prepare Kipps for the dangers he encounters as he discovers a scornful ghost is haunting the locals.

Though the story follows a progression stereotypical of most horror films, it executes the formulaic plot structure in a fresh and exciting way. The plot includes the cliché of murdered children but the film manages to incorporate this arguably overdone theme without creating a cheesy flop. Though we’ve seen the concept before, it still fits the mood of the film perfectly.

The makers of the film could have included some more genuine scares, but the most frightening moments are definitely effective. The film uses suspense to its advantage and does not rely solely on cheap scares. The set and dark lighting also contribute to an overall eerie mood that is present throughout.

The first half of the film starts off slow, but this could have been a tactical choice by the director to lure the audience into a false sense of security. Kipps’ transition from the comforts of urban society to the strange uncertainties of the rural village is apparent and does not seem forced.

And where many horror films fail to deliver, “Woman in Black” is a standout success. The filmmakers knew exactly when to stop in the sense that the story comes to a close before the scares become repetitious.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, and Ciarán Hinds
Release Date: Feb. 3

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Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 12:08 p.m.

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Hatchet reporter Arich Morales shares his latest movie experience.

Man on a Ledge” (2012)

I went into this film expecting two things. First, that the premise would be relatively obvious and second, that the film would be entertaining but not a real blockbuster.

Directed by Asger Leth, “Man on a Ledge” follows the story of fugitive ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), who spends most of the film on the ledge of a Manhattan hotel. As police and pedestrians crowd around the building in anticipation of a possible suicide, the police call Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) to mediate the situation. Having been personally requested by Nick, Mercer quickly learns that Nick may have ulterior motives.

Mercer discovers that Nick is trying to prove his innocence for a crime he did not commit. Framed with the theft of a rare diamond, Nick steps out onto the ledge to distract the police while his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), sets out with his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) to prove Nick’s innocence.

Though the plot offers some interesting twists, the movie itself fails to leave a memorable impression.

A number of scenes either don’t add much to the film or are simply unrealistic. The film suffers from some cliched inconsistencies, among them a character sprinting on a supposedly sprained ankle.

As for the scenes with Joey and Angie, they are entertaining without much other value. The two characters’ roles as comic relief seem out of place and unnecessary.

Possibly one of the strangest aspects of the film is the reaction of the New Yorkers gathered around Nick’s apparent suicide attempt. Many of these extras are depicted as cheering for Nick and encouraging him to jump. I still find it an odd decision on the director’s part.

But I must award credit where credit is due. Banks gives one of the strongest performances in the film. She succeeds in bringing her role to life and outshines many of the other characters, who seem to fade into the background.

Genre: Crime, Thriller
Director: Asger Leth
Cast: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Release Date: Jan 27, 2012

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Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 4:39 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Arich Morales shares his latest movie experience.

Underworld: Awakening” (2012)

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There is finally another sequel to the “Underworld” series. After the 2009, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” Kate Beckinsale is back and hasn’t lost her touch.

Directed by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, “Underworld: Awakening” continues to provide the action and thrills that made the franchise famous. The vampires and lycans, or werewolves, continue to wage war against one another, but now there’s a twist. Humans have discovered the two clans and plan to eradicate them. With this imminent threat, Selene (Beckinsale) must lead the battle against extinction.

Considering that nowadays vampires sparkle in the sun and werewolves like to walk around shirtless, it’s refreshing to see a film that places mythology in a modern context without doing much damage to the genre as a whole.

Though this movie is arguably the best installment in the series, some critics disagree, finding it too generic considering its predecessors and weak in its delivery of a quality screenplay. To some extent, they have a point. I found that some crucial characters just don’t get the amount of time on screen they deserve. And despite the added conflict with the human race, human characters don’t seem to have much of a presence in the film at all.

But the film makes up for these shortcomings with plenty of gore, action and guns to entertain the audience. You can’t help but feel entertained watching Beckinsale pull stunts like shoulder-bashing a van and reviving someone’s heart with her bare hands.

And though it’s a bit on the expensive side, the IMAX 3D version of this film is by far one of the best movie theater experiences I’ve had in a while. The intense reverberations and unmatched graphics make an unforgettable hour and a half.

But don’t worry. Judging by the ending, I think we can expect another installment is on the way.

Genre: Action/Adventure, Horror, Fantasy
Director: Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, India Eisley
Release Date: Jan. 20

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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 8:02 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Arich Morales shares his latest movie experience.

The Devil Inside” (2012)

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Having seen all the recent exorcism movies like “The Rite” and “The Last Exorcism,” I did not have high expectations for “Devil Inside.” But like everyone else, I was intrigued by the trailer. The disturbing images and haunting plotline drew me in like the horror movie addict I am. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how poorly this movie was presented.

Directed by William Brent Bell,  “The Devil Inside” follows the story of Isabella. She goes on a journey to discover what exactly happened to her mother, who murdered three people and was sent to a mental institution in Italy.

The movie itself is a mockumentary about exorcism. Using fictitious footage, the cameraman follows Isabella’s every move from her departure to Vatican City to the supernatural events that follow.

But the overall package is a bit disappointing. While the story adds some unique elements not found in the average exorcism flick, expect the same bone-breaking demonic possessions. The plot is incredibly predictable and does not provide much to set it apart.

Aside from its mediocre presentation, the thing that disappointed me the most is the ending. Though I respect the makers of the film for trying something unorthodox, I’m not so sure they achieved the effect they were going for. I was left wanting more, to say the least.

As a whole, this movie is spooky but definitely does not meet the standards of great horror films. The film’s scariest moments rely heavily on the element of surprise and do not provoke the quality scares of a good horror flick.

My advice: Save your money. There are plenty of other movies worth watching.

Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: William Brent Bell
Cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth
Release Date: Jan 6, 2012

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Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 2:13 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Roxanne Goldberg shares her latest movie experience.

Melancholia” (2011)

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In the beautifully strange science fiction film, “Melancholia,” director Lars von Trier explores the poetic finality of time and inevitably of life.

When life on Earth is threatened by the approach of a previously hidden planet, Melancholia, sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) grapple with their own melancholia, both privately and within their various relationships.

Harkening back to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Melancholia” is economic in script but rich in aesthetic dimensions.

The bizarre yet absolutely spectacular nature of “Melancholia” is evident from the very beginning when a series of slow motion scenes foreshadowing the most poignant moments in the film are played against an awe-inspiring overture of “Tristan and Isolde.”

Split into two chapters, the first half of the film focuses on Justine, who is celebrating her recent marriage to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). The end of the world becomes a source of comfort for the young advertising genius, who finds no value in the rituals and social conventions that fill up what she finds to be an otherwise empty existence.

Justine’s character is a symbol of the depths of depression and the influential power of mind over body. Throughout the film, her story becomes an exploration of life’s most unanswered questions.

Dunst gives a tremendous performance that leaves the viewer asking questions and searching for answers.

To juxtapose Justine is her sister Claire, the namesake of the final chapter. Claire is more or less the average person. She fears death and values human relationships above all else. In the last days of all existence, Claire steadily spirals into a state of hysteria in very much the same way the planet Melancholia collides into Earth.

Set against the backdrop of stunning cinematography and amplified by the poignant sounds of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, “Melancholia” is a breathtaking film that challenges the viewer to take a look into feelings regarding death, and the joys and heartbreaks of life.

Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama
Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Alexandar Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Release Date: Nov. 11

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