Entertainment // October 13, 2014

Filmmaker Justin Simien has a message for white people and his new film is not holding anything back. Dear White People is a satire created with the intent of waking people up and starting a real conversation about the new generation of racism in America. The story takes place at a fictional Ivy League college amid a heated racial uproar. The film’s lead character, Samantha White (Tess Thompson) hosts a radio show called “Dear White People,” her tongue in cheek way of shedding light on the racially divided culture on campus. She says on air, “Dear white people, the number of black friends required of a white student to not seem racist has been raised to two. (Weed dealers don't count.)”

Incendiary at best, racist in its own right? Maybe. Nothing is off limits in this film and black or white, it takes aim. But don’t be fooled by the title. The message is for everybody.

The film took an incredible route to creation, starting off with a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, getting picked up by a production studio and winning prizes at Sundance and San Francisco film festivals. It was also selected for the New Directors/New Films program in New York City. Now, it’s opening week and the stage is set for Dear White People to make the splash it seems destined to. I chatted with one of the films stars and my good friend Marque Richardson, who plays Reggie in the movie, and talked to him about his experience working on the project.

Serena Watson: Can you sum up the film’s plot for me in your own words?

Marque Richardson: It’s basically this sly, satire that follows four black students at an Ivy League college campus and each character explores a stereotype of the African-American race. So a race riot breaks out when this white fraternity throws a blackface, African-American themed party. You hear about this happening across the country, white students in college are throwing blackface parties. Which has always happened.... But now that we have the internet and social media people are more aware of it.

SW: How long did it take to film Dear White People and where did you shoot?

MR: It took about a month. We shot from August to September in Minneapolis, Minnesota at various locations out in Minneapolis. A couple scenes were shot at the University of Minnesota. There was a women’s college that we did a lot of interior shots at and we shot all the exterior stuff on University of Minnesota’s campus.

SW: So this film had a smaller budget and was a smaller project but you guys are winning awards and getting people talking. You even won an award at Sundance. What was that experience like?

MR: For me anyway, it’s like a numbing sensation. In the sense that, we were all friends before we shot this thing. So [when we were filming] it felt like we were at summer camp. We had a good time, we went to camp and then we came home. We knew there that it was something special. Especially because of the following it had from the Indiegogo campaign and social media. It was a grassroots movement. And we wanted to do it justice. Everyone went there and we did our best work. We just left it on the field. And just seeing the response that it has gotten from Sundance to… all of them. It’s been amazing. In the sense that, to have your work be appreciated is a great feeling. It just feels like a dream.

SW: That’s really dope. How did people start hearing about this film? How did the movement spread?

MR: It raised a lot of money during the Indiegogo campaign and that garnered a lot of attention. Justin, the director, went on CNN and that video went viral and drew more attention. It showed that there was an audience for this conscious type of movie. So from there that’s where it drew the interest of other studios. Another small production company called Code Red decided to help produce Dear White People.

SW: Speaking of the audience, of course you have a very strong following from African-Americans. But in terms of other races, why should they see this film?

MR: Other races should see this film because it’s actually a story for everyone. And it’s funny, and it’s fun, and it’s smart. The film itself has a mirror effect. That’s been the most interesting response that I’ve experienced just from being at the different screenings of the film. Especially at Sundance where the audience is so diverse. When we had our showing, there were like 1200 or 1300 people and it was sold out. But the majority of the people were white people. We had people of all different races, all different ages, all different backgrounds, coming up and telling us that they identified with one of the characters. You see yourself in these characters. It’s a universal story. The title “Dear White People” is just to be controversial and get people talking; to start a conversation. But its not like it’s a black film. It’s a controversial film, or title anyway. But it’s a different experience than the title or what you think it’s going to be.

SW: You talked about the film being a mirror. How close to the film was your own college experience, if at all?

MR: I didn’t realize that I lived this until I was Sundance getting ready to do an interview with Democracy Now. And I was sitting there with Justin and then it was like an “Ah ha” moment that hit me out of nowhere. And I was like “Wait a minute… I lived this!” I’ve had an entrepreneurship professor tell me “I’m so glad you made it out of the hood.” [Laughs] What are you talking about? But how much of the film did I experience at USC? All of it. My character is more of a black militant. I wasn’t a black militant. I had a lot of different friends. But yeah, it was pretty dead on.

SW: Got you. So why do you feel the themes and messages in Dear White People are important and need to be heard?

MR: Some people think that we’re in a post racial America…We’re not. I think the most important thing that people should take away from the film is that it’s okay to be themselves and to be unique and to be comfortable with that. Not to feel the need to be confined to the norm or what society expects you to be.

SW: Of course such a strong message and strong characters are going to create a reaction. Have you, the filmmakers or any other cast members experienced any negativity as a result of the film?

MR: Oh, I mean… people have thrown negativity. I haven’t received any of it. People talk shit all the time, especially on YouTube and the message boards. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. But that’s what it was meant to do. It was meant to spark a reaction. It was created to make the audience to feel some type of way. So yes, there was tons of negativity. There’s also tons of positivity. But it’s all a conversation. And that’s the point of film, to create a conversation. And the negativity hasn’t affected my career or any of the other cast members.

SW: Right, people are talking. I know that Common tweeted about the film. What were the most memorable reactions that you’ve gotten from famous or non-famous people?

MR: For me, it was P. Diddy, he’s one of my idols. So, when he tweeted about it I was like “ohhh! That’s dope!”

SW: What’s next for Marque? What other projects do you have coming up?

MR: I’m working on this indie film called “Dating Daisy.” And a couple things that I’m producing myself. One project in particular called “The Come Up” -- it’s a mockumentary.

Published in Current
Friday, 28 February 2014 22:07

Entertainment | Oscar Night Recap

Entertainment // March 10, 2014

I don’t know about you but I found last night’s Oscars immensely entertaining. Host Ellen DeGeneres eased the audience with her unique brand of humor, interacting with them, even serving A-listers delivery pizza and tweeting selfies with the likes of Meryl Streep and Bradley Cooper. As you can imagine, the resulting frenzy broke Twitter for a few minutes.

But the big winners of the night were arguably some of the most hard-hitting and memorable nominees of last year. Taking home the most coveted spot of the night was 12 Years A Slave, the amazing story of free African-American man, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and had to fight to regain his freedom in a pre-Civil War America. The film won the award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay as well as earning newcomer Lupita Nyong’o the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

12 Years A Slave wasn’t the only film that swept multiple award categories last night. Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey, who plays an HIV positive man working to find proper medical care and acceptance in the heart of Texas, earned he and co-star Jared Leto, Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

The film also scored the award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Award winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews said they only had a $250 budget and had to showcase the transformation from sick to healthy with only makeup.

Another film that won multiple awards was Gravity, the space adventure drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, where the stars face their own demons as well as the fight for survival. The film won the awards for Best Directing, -- making director Alfonso Cuarón the first Latin-American director to win this honor-- Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Score. Basically, if you want to experience a movie that is going to push the boundaries on visual effects and sound, this is the movie to see.

Following the accolades of critics, frontrunner Cate Blanchett won the award for Best Actress for her role in Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine, adding to her Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for the role as well.

Disney fans can also rest easy, as fan and critic favorite film Frozen, won the awards for Best Animated Feature as well as Best Original Song for “Let It Go.”

Other notable awards included Spike Jonze’s modern story of love and technology Her, which took home the award for Best Original Screenplay, Italian film The Great Beauty, which took home the award for Best Foreign Language Film, and 20 Feet From Stardom, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Noticeably absent from the awards was fan-favorite 70's era American Hustle, as well as the greed and debauchery themed Wolf of Wall Street, which both had nominations in a number of categories, but did not take home any Oscar wins.

Which were your favorite films this year? Did you agree with the award selections? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or tweet us at @MadeWomanMag!

Published in Entertainment

Entertainment // November 18, 2013

I hate trends. Trends in music, fashion, beauty, TV … it’s just not my thing. I learned my lesson with trends years ago (remember velour Juicy sweatsuits and Sidekicks? Terrible.) and now I’ve found that I’m better off remaining true to my individuality and not following behind something because it’s popular. More than my dislike of trends, is my disdain for the avalanche effect they cause. Often times, people rally behind a trend uninformed, dragging other ignorant supporters with them. Before you know it, the crazy train is so long and out of control it’s hard to tell where or how it even originated. Example? Hollywood’s obsession with telling the “Black Story.”

Within the past couple of years, Hollywood has had a resurgence in the trend of telling African American history through slavery or Jim Crow inspired struggle films and casting Black actors in self-deprecating roles. I started to notice the trend with 2011’s ever-popular “The Help.” “The Help” captivated audiences with it’s telling of life in the Jim Crow South.  The film’s success included Oscar nominations for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, followed by ample magazine covers, interviews and media coverage; thus, starting the snowball effect of Hollywood’s interest in African American history with Black actors and actresses portraying the less than glamorous side of their heritage. Since “The Help,” Hollywood continues to capitalize on that specific culture with studios releasing “Django,” “The Butler,” and most recently “12 Years a Slave.”

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Most of the aforementioned films have received rave reviews, but when you have to emotionally prepare yourself for the language, visuals and subject matter of a film, I think it’s time to dial back on the period pieces. We get it - African Americans have a rough history, but for many Black people having to hear depictions or see reenactments of their background over and over again, it becomes insensitive. Hollywood has OD’d on slavery/struggle films and should spark a new trend du jour in telling Black history. Black people were more than maids and field slaves; they also have made a wealth of advancements and achievements not only for their culture, but for American culture as a whole. But I guess those stories are not trendy enough for Hollywood.

I never thought I’d say this but the 1990’s fashion brand FUBU had it right ... with it’s focus on creating things “For Us, By Us.” If history is going to be told, no one can tell a story better than the person who lived it. When it comes to Black history, Black people should be the ones telling the story - the WHOLE story. Thanks to innovators like director Spike Lee or Howard Johnson, who’s publishing house highlights the achievements of Black people through their publications Ebony and Jet, is the true Black story told. Past and present, African Americans are a forward -moving people and that cannot be ignored. Recently, cable network BET (Black Entertainment Television) had a presentation honoring not just the achievements of Black people, but specifically of Black women titled, “Black Girls ROCK!” The showcase was a whirlwind of positivity displaying just how multi-dimensional Black culture truly is.

It’s high time Hollywood takes an interest in the constructive side of Black history  - for heaven’s sake, the leader of the free world is a Black man. There is a whole spectrum of colorful, rich stories from African American history. If the accurate and real portrayal of Black heritage is to be told by Hollywood, the least they can do is their research.

How do you feel about the trend in Jim Crow/slavery themed movies? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Entertainment
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 18:55

Movie Review | The Great Gatsby

Movie Review // May 15, 2013

To say I have been waiting for this movie to come out is an understatement. When I heard it was delayed from December to May the stakes became even higher.  I was one of the first to buy tickets to see The Great Gatsby in 3D when it finally premiered, and it was a lot like attending one of Jay Gatsby’s famous parties: loud, glittering and in your face.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s earlier work, such as Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, is known for being over the top.  The Great Gatsby is no different.  Luhrmann paints for us the image of a whirlwind era where great men are striking against a sky lit up by fireworks, and women are coated in crystal dresses and Tiffany & Co. jewelry. But beneath all the pomp and the Jay-Z soundtrack, there is a haunting story. It is one many of us know from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, but probably haven’t heard in a while. Luhrmann’s films all seem to be about tragic romances that are doomed from the start, and Gatsby is no exception. Despite this being a familiar tale, Luhrmann is able to reintroduce this story to us and even catch us off guard a time or two.

Luhrmann got a lot of things right with this film, which he and his wife spent two years researching. His casting choices are spot-on.  It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, or Carey Mulligan as “golden girl,” Daisy.  Both light up the screen. Everything about them is rich, from their clothing (which I am sure costume designer Catherine Martin will be getting an Oscar for) to their passion for each other in this forbidden love story. Tobey Maguire is the perfect Nick Carraway, and he successfully carries the narration throughout the film, a task that many other Fitzgerald adaptations struggled with.

The authenticity of the era is greatly appreciated. Everything from the Art Deco design and architecture to the clothing, cars, and social mannerisms have been reconstructed to a tee.  It’s obvious that Luhrmann is meticulous and that several scholars were consulted for the film. But I delight in the fact that he mixes in slight anachronisms to make the film relevant to modern day audiences. Luhrmann weaves Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Jack White and Beyonce into the background music, reminding you that this tale is not the Jazz Age’s alone, but a timeless one; one that could even take place today.

As someone who has studied literature, Fitzgerald, and this period, I feel that Luhrmann’s Gatsby accurately sums up the 1920’s: a big party that is ruined by a great crash. Leaving the theater was like leaving Gatsby’s house after a long weekend. While Luhrmann dazzles us with effects he is also telling us a deep story, a sad story, one that if told differently would perhaps eat at our core. It is my hope that audiences are able to recognize the depth of Carraway’s words and the portrayal of this period among the champagne soaked parties. I recommend seeing the movie in 3-D (how Luhrmann intended it), buying the soundtrack, and re-reading the book. The memories of Gatsby linger long after it ends, and any story that stays with you is a story worth examining.

Published in Current

Movie Review // March 15, 2013 

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and that is exactly what you get in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The film boasts an all-star cast, including Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey, backed by director Don Scardino, best known for TV comedy gold like 30 Rock.

The film takes us through the transformation of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) from nerdy kids to performers in sparkle-encrusted costumes, putting on their sold out magic show every night on the Las Vegas strip.

They climb to the top of the magician’s pyramid and enjoy the perks it brings: money, fame and women.  Steve Carrell’s Wonderstone is, well, a jackass, living a lavish lifestyle with lots of booze and women, but losing the love of magic and his showmanship in the process.  Meanwhile, trouble is brewing as street artists like Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) perform graphic and disturbing tricks for live audiences, stealing the spotlight.

Subsequently, Wonderstone and Marvelton lose their place at the top and sink to rock bottom (think penthouse to seedy motel). After the fall from the top, Wonderstone must redeem himself, embracing the wonderment of magic and relearning the basics. This forces him to think outside his box of old tricks.   He realizes all the things he did wrong along the way and gains a hot girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) in the process.

Wilde plays Wonderstone’s abused assistant, Jane, who aspires to be a magician herself. Her character is funny, and she manages to give the role some magic even though it is thinly written.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone both celebrates and pokes fun at the magic community, parodies famous illusionists (Siegfried and Roy, David Blaine, and Criss Angel), and brings the glitzy world of stage magic down to earth. If you're in the mood for an entertaining, lighthearted comedy and ready for some on-screen magic, then The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a great choice to liven up your weekend.

Special thanks to Knockout Image for holding this advanced screening of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Published in Current
Wednesday, 27 June 2012 21:36

Made Movies | Best Foreign Films

July 2, 2012

Hollywood studios consistently feed us ‘commercial’ fare. They think that all we want are big explosions, action heroes, supermodels and a source of escapism that requires little thought. But after you’ve gone deaf from explosions in movies like Battleship, what’s next? For those of you with a hankering for stories with far less Hollywood ‘glitz” and a different perspective, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite foreign films of all time. None of these films are for a lazy night in. They’ll make you think, learn, laugh and even cry.

So now, in no particular order:

1. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi)

A Separation addresses issues surrounding family, loyalty, faith and justice. The actors are phenomenal and it’s no wonder that it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. Its win was a huge victory for Iranian cinema.

2. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)

You have to be in a very special mood to watch anything by Ingmar Bergman. You’ll have to read subtitles and interpret subtext. This film might be difficult to find on Netflix, but the Criterion Collection is sure to provide a beautiful copy. Watch this on a night you’re interested in exploring existentialism… you know.. like a Wednesday. 

3. Saving Face (2012, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy)

This must watch film won the Academy Award for best documentary short in 2012. It explores acid attacks on women in Pakistan. I cried for the entire film. It’s always refreshing to have a real, visceral reaction to a film. Everyone should see this.

4. El Abuelo (1998, Jose Luis Garci)

The first time I saw El Abuelo was in my 11th grade AP Spanish class. At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was nominated for an Oscar. The film explores heavy issues surrounding war and family, but I must say El Abuelo made me fall in love with foreign cinema. A must see! 

5.  (1963, Fredrico Fellini)

The Criterion Collection will come to the rescue once again if you search for 8 ½. This film is a little avant-garde so you may have to take a leap of faith. Trust, this 2-time Academy Award winner, about a film director’s creative struggle, is worth the watch. 

6. Biutiful (2012, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

I’m not embarrassed to admit that Biutiful made me cry. Without giving too much away, the film follows one man as he fights to provide for his family in the moments leading up to his death. It’s incredibly well acted and directed. 

If that’s not enough to satisfy your craving, here are other foreign films to consider: Breathless, Circumstance, Sin Nombre, Abel, Fanny and Alexander, Like Water For Chocolate, Chico & Rita and the list could go on.

I hope you enjoy these selections! And please, post below if you have a suggestion of your own. 

Published in Entertainment

June 7, 2012

We’ve all seen the classic Disney film Snow White. After watching it a zillon times and riding the ride at Disneyland more times than I care to admit, the storyline is embedded in my brain. Hollywood just won’t let go, however -- Mirror, Mirror was released this spring and Snow White and the Huntsman just hit theaters last weekend. Honestly, I had very little desire to see the latest installment, directed by Rupert Sander and starring Kristen Stewart, but my boyfriend really wanted to see it (#truestory). And since relationships are about the art of compromise, I accompanied him to a matinee this weekend. To my surprise, I was glad I did.

You might think you know the story of Snow White, but this is a wild, new ride through the classic tale. While it stays true to the basics (7 dwarves, a poison apple, a mirror), it is full of adventurous twists and turns, and is by no means predictable. It also deviates nicely from the original Brothers Grimm version, making this adaptation its own unique story.

The solid plotline is backed by an even cooler cast. I’m somewhat scared to admit this online, but I’ve never been a Twilight fan, so this was my first experience watching Kristen Stewart on the big screen. I had my doubts, but was pleasantly surprised to see her play the role of a kickass Snow White with ease. She doesn’t just stand on the sidelines and watch her prince go to war for her, she picks up a sword and shield and leads the way. It’s a welcome departure to see an anti-Disney princess. Her call to battle and storming the gates of the Queen’s castle was probably my favorite part. I would definitely go into battle beside this Snow White; she’s ride or die.

Even though you are rooting for Snow White the entire movie, you have to love Charlize Theron as Ravenna, Snow White’s wicked stepmother. Charlize’s portrayal of a truly vain and evil queen is fascinating to watch. Since the traditional villain in Disney movies is usually ugly or an old stepmother, it’s a great spin to see beautiful woman embrace such a dark role. (And I have to  take a moment to give mad props to the costume designer on this film. Charlize’s outfits and regalia were gorgeous!) Ravenna thinks she is avenging all the men who have wronged her, and feasts on hearts and youth to gain strength. But her vanity is toxic and her narcissism is, of course, what causes her downfall. So Snow White must hate this b@*( right?  Nope!  She never spouts hate for her stepmom. In fact, she says she feels only sorrow for her. While I never really pitied the queen, I enjoyed the contrast between two strong female characters who both felt they were doing what was best. The major difference is Snow White is interested in what is best for everyone, and Ravenna is interested in what’s best for herself.

So what about the prince in this movie?  Chris Hemsworth played the Huntsman, and I really enjoyed his performance. I am in no way a Thor fan, but he killed this role. He is your typical anti-hero, and perhaps the most human and relatable of all the characters. Despite being down on his luck, he is extremely loyal. He is also rebellious and slow to fall under the spell of Snow White, but when he does, they make a great team.

Snow White and the Huntsman is action packed and a great visual feast, with amazing costumes, great set design and, of course, Chris Hemsworth. It’s not your typical retelling, not the Snow White you grew up with, and it’s not even really a love story. This is a movie about standing up for what you believe in and the power of kindness. Since we live in a society that is fueled by vanity, it’s nice to see a movie depicting the pitfalls of it. Snow White and the Huntsman promotes inner beauty, strength, and women standing up for themselves. For a great summer action film, forget The Avengers and see Snow White in a whole new light.

Published in Current

May 7, 2012 

Other than cute dresses and fruity cocktails, there’s nothing I love more in the summertime than a summer blockbuster. Last year’s season brought us mega-hits like Bridesmaids and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but as crazy good as those films were, summer 2012 looks to be even better. There’s a slew of summer flicks on the horizon, but these have me the most excited.


There are plenty of movies in May to catch (The Avengers, Men in Black III, Battleship) but if your pockets are tight, save your cash for Prometheus, which hits theaters in June. The first time I saw this trailer I was struggling to figure out what was going on, but then I caught a glimpse of my favorite eye-candy, Idris Elba, and I didn’t even care. Turns out, Prometheus is another sci-fi/save the planet flick. Helmed by Black Hawk Down director, Ridley Scott, it looks to be a doozy.  

Magic Mike

Channing Tatum stars in two films this summer: G.I. Joe Retaliation and Magic Mike. Both are likely to show a lot of why we love Tatum – his abs – but if you want something easy on the eyes, plus a little romance and a good laugh, your best bet is Magic Mike.  Tatum plays at veteran stripper who takes a younger stripper under his wing.  Sound silly? Sure, but Tatum plays a stripper. I repeat. A stripper. 


When Seth MacFarlane’s uncensored Ted trailer was released last month the Internets went nuts, and rightly so. Anything starring a pot-smoking teddy bear and Mark Wahlberg looks hysterical. I’m a sucker for Wahlberg’s thick Boston accent, but the MacFarlane writer/director/producer credit just takes my excitement over the top.  

Dark Knight Rises

I’ve only been waiting for this film for four years but it seems like it’s been forever.  Christian Bale’s back with a voice that’s deeper than ever, but the real creeper in the Dark Knight series finale is villain Bane, played by Warrior star, Tom Hardy. In the sequel, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker was terrifying, but Hardy’s take on Bane looks far more menacing, which is exactly what I want to see. 

The Campaign

Starring funnymen Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, upcoming comedy film, The Campaign, will likely be everything the real 2012 presidential campaign is not: raunchy, lowbrow, and hilarious. Ferrell and Galifiankis play two rival Southerners fighting for a seat in Congress. Written by the dudes who penned Eastbound & Down, I don’t expect President Obama or Mitt Romney to borrow anything from this film. 


The remake of the 1976 musical Sparkle was highly anticipated before the death of one of its stars, but the passing of the great Whitney Houston has pushed the buzz for this film into overdrive. News about Houston’s tragic death will likely overshadow the rest of the film’s stellar cast (Jordin Sparks, Derek Luke, Mike Epps), but early reviews of Sparkle say the late singer’s performance is worthy of the attention.  

As temperatures rise this summer, grab a loved one and head to the movies to see any one of these films. I doubt it’ll happen, but if they fall short of expectations, at the very least you’ll be cool.  And if a dark theater doesn’t cool you down, you can always put on a cute dress or grab a fruity cocktail! 

Published in Entertainment
Monday, 26 March 2012 02:48

Made Movies | Hunger Games

March 26, 2012 

I was one of the countless people who witnessed the sheer cinematic bliss that is The Hunger Games over the weekend--and let's just say there's definitely a reason this movie kicked monster ass in ticket sales.  Between having read all three of the books by Suzanne Collins and the unrelenting hype surrounding the movie, my expectations were about as high as possible.  I was pumped to head to The Arclight and finally see it for myself, and I can't tell you the last time a movie did that to me.  I'm happy to share with you that I was not disappointed.

For the uninitiated, here's a brief synopsis of the first installation in the Hunger Games trilogy.  The nation of Panem exists in the distant future and is divided into 12 districts, all of which are governed by The Capitol.  The people in the districts are kept starving and poor, and those in the Capitol are Oprah-rich.  Decades prior, the districts attempted to stage an uprising against the Capitol and failed miserably. As a sort of never-ending punishment and constant reminder of the power the Capitol wields over its nation, it holds an annual event known as "The Hunger Games".  And what are they?  Well, they're a freakin’ bloodbath.  The Capitol goes to each district, tosses the names of all the children aged 12-18 into a big bucket, picks one male and one female in what I nominate as the worst lottery ever, whisks them away from their families, trains them to utilize weapons and then puts them in a sort of controlled forest area and makes them kill each other. The last kid standing is the winner, and he or she will gain notoriety and riches for his or her accomplishment--hopefully enough riches to pay for the lifetime of therapy they're going to need when they return home.  

The entire thing is treated as a game in every sense of the word: the battles are broadcast live 24/7, bets are placed on who is most likely to be the winner, “the tributes” (those that are competing) are fed well and groomed to look as attractive as possible in order to gain “sponsors” that can toss them some food or medicine during the games when necessary.  The Capitol runs the entire thing from a sort of control room, where they can start fires to drive the tributes in the direction they want them to go or set killer dogs to chase them if people aren't dying fast enough.  And you thought Survivor was rough.  

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We experience this story through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a girl who ends up volunteering as the female tribute from District 12 when her little sister's name is drawn.  Katniss is already a badass--a girl who uses a bow and arrow to hunt food for her family while others surrender to having to scrounge forever.  She and the male tribute from her district, Peeta, are established as star crossed lovers before the games begin, with Peeta confessing a crush on her during a pre-game interview.  Their relationship is a focal point of the movie, with him serving as an early ally for her.

Seriously, there's so much more I could say but this is supposed to be a BRIEF synopsis.  There's a lot going on in this movie, and that is evident by the hefty 2 hour and 24 minute running time.  Luckily, the film keeps the action going at a perfect pace, and you are invested in the story immediately.  Perhaps the best compliment I can give it is that it looked exactly like I imagined it in my head as I read the book. Everything from the elaborate costumes to the death-forest to how the characters looked--it all matched my vision to a tee.  (While I'm on the subject of characters, can I just throw in a shout out to the eternally beautiful Lenny Kravitz – who plays Katniss's stylist?  Does this man bathe in the blood of newborn babies to stay so pretty?  Okay, sorry.) The people behind the movie were clearly fans of the trilogy, determined to blow this thing out of the water. They do a great job of building the storyline, devoting the first half of the film to chronicling Katniss's preparation for the games, from seeing her in her element at home, to the point she takes the place of her sister, and then to her time in the Capitol getting acquainted with the people who prepare her to fight.  The other half is the actual games, where we watch Katniss's attempt to survive as people slaughter each other all around her.  Jennifer Lawrence's interpretation of Katniss is spot on; she does an amazing job of capturing her strength and humanity despite having to kill in hopes of getting back home again eventually.

Will people who haven't read the book be able to appreciate this film?  Absolutely.  It's a hell of an imaginative story, with a great mix of action, adventure and emotional depth.  You're really rooting for Katniss from the get go.  I was literally clutch-my-pearls nervous for her as she stepped into that portal to get to the Games. A  movie that actually lives up to the hype!  Hallelujah!  So what are you waiting for? Head to the theater and see The Hunger Games right away.  Tell them Amanda sent you.  Or, ya know, don't.  That might be weird.  Have fun!

Published in Entertainment
Monday, 13 February 2012 10:50

Made Movies | "This Means War" Review

February 13, 2012

Gilt LA hosted a screening of the romantic Valentine’s day comedy “This Means War” starring Chelsea Handler Reese Witherspoon last week. Witherspoon plays Lauren, a single thirty-something who somehow ends up dating two CIA agents (who are partners, of course). The secret operatives, FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), use their spy gadgets… and their charm to battle for the love of this one lucky lady (have you seen Chris Pine?).

While low on plausibility, this film is full of fun. If the lighthearted boys-will-be-boys banter between Pine and Hardy isn’t enough to keep you laughing, then Chelsea Handler does the job. Her timing in this film is great. She manages to maintain her snarky humor and dry irreverence while aiding the plot lines by feeding horrible dating advice to her friend, played by Reese. While I did enjoy seeing Reese Witherspoon play a confident, feisty protagonist, I think she was somewhat lackluster in this role compared to the rest of the ensemble. Your attention is more likely to be taken by the high intensity action sequences, Chelsea Handler’s self-deprecating humor, or the antics of our eye-candy heroes.

I really enjoyed the film and I loved Gilt City LA’s take on making movie-going an event again. Guest were invited to enjoy wine and appetizers before the movie and were offered cute little “This Means War” candy hearts. The experience as a whole was lovely. Check out “This Means War” in theater’s Feb 17th and keep your eyes glued to Gilt.com for more deals like this!

Chris Pine, Tom Hardy And Reese Witherspoon In This Means War, In Theaters Valentine's Day

Published in Entertainment
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