Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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It's finally here, the culmination of all the anticipation and hype from when we first laid eyes upon that scene in Iron Man when Tony Stark and Nick Fury met for the first time and the Avenger's Initiative was first proposed. Hard to believe that was only 4 years ago almost to the day and let me say without a shadow of a doubt that all the hype, hooplah, press, wait, and anything else you can think of was well worth it and deserved.
There is just so much to like here from the astounding amount of character development as each ego butts heads with one another, to the script, to the CGI, to the action set pieces, and even just to the spectacle of it all. You really felt like something big was being accomplished on screen which is fitting with the scale of this movie. While I was worried that this movie would suffer the same treatment that was given to the likes of Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man 2 you can rest soundly that those movies were all just stepping stones to the bigger picture. There are so many nods to the comics that even die hard nitpickers will appreciate the movie. I refuse to talk about the plot because I don't want to spoil it for anyone else, I'll just say that simply the humanity of each character is never forgotten and is often the spotlight of the movie and this is a VERY VERY good thing.
As for Joss Whedon he puts his own flair on this movie. So for those of you who have seen his previous works in Serenity, Firefly, Buffy or Angel you'll be able to identify with his personal style right away. With that said he definitely toned down his personal style as many have called his work "campy." I can say that he meshed seamlessly into the Marvel light-hearted nature of movies. In fact instead of coming off corny or cheesy like many other Marvel films this film actively entertains in the best ways possible every step of the way as the theatre was roaring in approval with each joke, each nod to the fans, and even more hilariously so during the most mundane of scenes ever post credits. (Stay for the credits, there's one nugget at the beginning and another after). Another thing you'll appreciate from Whedon is his natural flair for showing the inner workings of a team, everything that makes them tick, quibble, or succeed. If you've seen Firefly or Serenity you know exactly what I'm talking about and he transfers this ability to the Avengers and quite frankly its awesome.
The team dynamic centres around the differences between Iron Man and Cap but every character gets his or her due... at least outside of Hawkeye. He's the only character in this movie that gets the shaft. Also I think its safe to say even without Edward Norton this is the BEST film adaptation of Hulk hands down as he has many scene stealing moments both as Banner and his alter ego. Seeing the team come together is a thing of beauty and seeing them finally work together to defend the Earth is every bit as amazing as we thought it was going to be. I would love to single out specific scenes but I can say without a shadow of a doubt every set piece in the film is worth the price of admission alone; but don't fret, there's plenty of them to go around!
Basically you're going to see this movie regardless of what I say but I'll leave you with a few more words. See the 3D as it wasn't an afterthought and it helped engross me in the movie. Even though I haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises I firmly believe that the competition for best superhero movie will come down to 1a) and 1b) and finally... Hulk, smash.
I'll be honest in saying that I didn't expect much out of this film, the ONLY things it had going for it was that Guy Pearce was starring and that studios had the confidence to not release it in the month that means universal box office death in March. Guy Pearce plays the wise-cracking agent named Snow who has been framed by some unknown foe while trying to help recover stolen government secrets. To try to clear his name he is sent on a suicide mission to save the President's daughter, Emilie (played by Lost's Maggie Grace), in a maximum security prison located in space.
Lets start with the negatives as there are a lot of things that ticked off my nitpicking senses. The CGI isn't very top notch here, but its only distracting when the action gets too fast paced for the camera to follow and everything begins to look "off." This movie borrows HEAVILY from other movies as Snow is clearly a derivative of Bruce Willis in Die Hard, scenes are stolen directly from Star Wars, and Maggie Grace ends up looking like Franka Potente in Bourne Identity, and most of the kills look like something out of a James Bond movie in terms of, "wow that was rather convenient that that thing was there to save him." Also this movie as expected is very clichÃ (C) and EXTREMELY predictable.
All that said this movie is within the category that its so bad its good. And not in the good movie way but in the way that coming out of it you'll definitely be entertained and you won't be looking at your watch waiting for the movie to end. Guy Pearce does the best with what he's given and his banter throughout the movie is actually quite hilarious from the delivery to the dialogue itself. He's essentially the main reason you watch this movie, that and the movie is so clichÃ (C)d its entertaining. I don't recommend you pay full price to watch this movie but I do recommend that you see it if you want an entertaining, turn off your brain, popcorn popping movie.
I'll preface this with a spoiler-free review for those of you who haven't read the book and are thinking about watching this movie. You mainly have to ask yourself these two questions: Do you like Jennifer Lawrence? Do you enjoy a movie with kids pit against each other in a fight to the death? If you answered yes to either of those questions then I'd recommend this movie to you.
Jennifer Lawrence is AMAZING in this movie. She single handedly carries this movie and while most of the other cast holds their own, Jennifer has the chops to carry this movie. She has the strong woman role down pat showing that her nomination for Winter's Bone (a movie you should see if you have any inkling of respect for Jennifer Lawrence) was not a fluke. She's established herself as a force in Hollywood and shut up any and all doubters.
Definitely give this movie a watch but I'd recommend either reading the book first or bringing a friend who has as some of the finer points of the movie will be lost to you and the weaker points seem that much more glaringly bad. It's not required but it'll certainly add to the experience.
Most of the changes they made from the book I enjoyed as they made sense for the movie medium. A lot of the key scenes within the book were well handled and while I felt some of the movie felt rushed (ex. the Reaping, the tributes highlights, and the star-crossed lovers scenes), it didn't detract from the movie that much because Gary Ross does a phenomenal job at pacing this movie so that you don't even realize you're in the theatre for two hours and twenty two minutes.
I'll start with my gripes... they didn't emphasize at all that Katniss was acting to the audience in order to gain favour from her sponsors. Someone who hasn't read the book will groan at the "intimate" scenes as they sound like something a high school girl wrote. I felt they made the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale an absolute joke as I found myself laughing rather than their desired effect which was to see the pain in Gale's eyes whenever he witnessed Katniss and Peeta together. Also they completely glossed over the end of the book and instead set up the next movie with President Snow's vengeance. They also didn't do a good job establishing Katniss' competition in the Hunger Games as we're only introduced to Cato and that's about it. While Rue was handled masterfully the other tributes were not. Fox-face was completely ignored until she up and died on screen. I don't usually comment on camera movement but some of this stuff is just plain bad. A note to Hollywood, please abolish this handheld camera style as its disorienting and incoherent.
Now let's move onto what I liked... If you liked the book then you'll like the movie, period. They give us as the fans what we want and how we want it. The casting in this movie is superb, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks are all great in their roles.
Ross did a great job establishing the post-apocalyptic world that is Panem from slums of District 12 to the wonder of The Capitol. Its odd for me to comment on this but the costume staff did a wonderful job bringing to life the caricatures that are the inhabitants of the Capitol. While out there they still manage to belong to the world somehow and not become distracting which is an accomplishment in itself given how they all look.
All in all they did a wonderful job bringing to life the world of Panem and have established a franchise that is sure to rake in the dough. But more importantly they did the books justice and have given us a quality movie.
To sum up this movie in a single sentence would be... This is a Martin Scorsese love letter to old school cinema. While I was certainly strung along thinking this would be a movie about magic instead its about the very real magic of the imagination. Scorsese shows a great respect for his craft in this movie and instead of relying on cheap 3D thrills he uses your imagination to further the sense of wonderment in the movie. The set design in this movie is absolutely fantastic and it always adds to that imaginative world it weaves but all the while staying very real. If you love movies and I mean LOVE movies then I strongly suggest you give this movie a watch. If not make sure your imagination is firing on all cylinders as this movie plays largely off of your own imagination.