Screened Out – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

By : Stephen Miller
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Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Toby Jones

What started as Brave New World novels for teenagers has morphed into action-packed filmmaking worthy of attention and intellectual comment. This second film is simply a better offering than the first one. Catching Fire takes a good franchise and clears the way for the possibility of a great one.

There are a lot of reasons this works. Everyone now knows what a good actor Jennifer Lawrence is (after her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook), so she’s given the chance to shine. The budget is noticeably bigger, so it doesn’t feel like studio Lionsgate attempted to make an opulent blockbuster with green screens, like the last time. The action and pace are tighter. Finally, more time is spent living within the world instead of trying to explain the backstory. More time is also given to the theme of how fascist leaders might attempt to entertain us to death.

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Screened Out – Thor: The Dark World

By : Stephen Miller
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Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo

In the olden days, we used to tell ourselves stories of gods and other super-humans for good reasons. We either used these legendary characters to express human heroics or foibles, or we cast gods in stories that explained things we didn’t understand, like where thunder came from and where our souls went we died.

Nowadays, it seems the only things gods and demigods are good for are a few jokes and lots of eye candy. At least, that’s all Hollywood can manage with Thor: The Dark World.

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Screened Out – About Time

By : Stephen Miller
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Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lydia Wilson

The instant do-over: it’s one of the great fantasies of anyone who’s lost a huge opportunity, screwed up a vital life decision, or stumbled through a serious social gaffe.

About Time shows us an English father and son who have this remarkable power, they can keep going back in time until they get the right girl, until they remember to tell the people around them they love them, and until they have the perfect day. With fun characters and intelligent writing, it’s an experience that’s not only fascinating, it’s also sweet, lively, and quite emotionally overwhelming.

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Screened Out – Ender’s Game

By : Stephen Miller
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Asa Butterfield, Hailie Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin

Should you see Ender’s Game? It offers some spectacular visuals; that alone wins over many moviegoers. The 1980 novel is well written enough (despite Orson Scott Card’s nasty comments about LGBT rights, and I’ll delve into that later).

However, this film is only average. So much emotional punch depends on teenaged actors who fail to deliver. The filmmakers never strike a balance between entertainment and exploration of difficult themes. The impressive effects have to carry this film, because the more dramatic, troubling moments are left seriously wanting.

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Screened Out – The Fifth Estate

By : Stephen Miller
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Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, David Thewlis

WikiLeaks and its leader Julian Assange changed the modern world. It is said that his website released more world-shattering, confidential information in six months than the Washington Post did in the previous 30 years. We’re still trying to figure out what it all means.

The Fifth Estate, a movie based on two autobiographies, is way too cluttered to give us any insight.

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Screened Out – A.C.O.D.

By : Stephen Miller
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Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch, Clark Duke

You can almost feel the film straining, straining to be funnier, to be more meaningful, to be meaner, and to be quirkier. Instead, it’s merely pleasant and a little dull, boring in that way a date turns dreary if someone starts talking about a horrible childhood.

A.C.O.D. stands for Adult Child of Divorce. Many, many people in my generation, Generation X, and the generations that followed are A.C.O.D. This flick says that mine is the first generation where divorce is a predominant reality. However, this film fails to convince us whether that fact has somehow psychologically shaped us, or whether this is just an invented problem.

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Screened Out – Romeo and Juliet

By : Stephen Miller
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Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Ed Westwick, Paul Giamatti, Stellan Skarsgård

I’m tempted to load this review with spoilers, just to taunt those readers who didn’t graduate eighth grade.

This actually brings up a good point; if you’re going to do something that everyone knows so well, you had better do it in a new way. Think of how Baz Luhrman rendered Shakespeare’s immortal tale in 1996, or even reflect on 1961’s West Side Story. Unfortunately, this new version of Romeo and Juliet offers nothing compelling.

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Screened Out – Captain Phillips

By : Stephen Miller
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Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener

Some actors are so subtle, so consistent, that you forget how good they are. Tom Hanks is, in a way, the perfect American everyman, not nearly as debonair as Clooney, nor really as versatile as Downey Jr. or Penn. But Hanks is sure-footed and steady. He’s been successful at both comedy and drama, and he’s one of our few actors who’s won back-to-back Oscars (Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, two entirely different roles).

Hanks’ fortitude is needed in abundance in Captain Phillips, the biopic about the Maerck Alabama captain taken hostage by Somali pirates in a deadly, six-day gambit for ransom money.

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Screened Out: We’re the Millers

By : Stephen Miller
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Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms


We’re the Millers is an average flick about petty criminals pretending to be the average American family. This is my namesake, and like my family, Millers is alternately very funny and very predictable.

Have you ever watched a film where you saw the next four plot points whole scenes before they happen? Millers is that kind of trip, but it’s bolstered by fine comedic chemistry.

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Screened Out: The Spectacular Now

By : Stephen Miller
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Miles Teller, Shailene, Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Lee

The Spectacular Now presented a new approach to teen-in-trouble films.

Most flicks about youth with serious problems, alcoholism, drug addiction, pregnancy, or depression, are heavy on the message. They also follow a pretty standard path, complete with finger pointing and a vital message, usually delivered by the protagonist in an overwrought monologue or voice-over.

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Screened Out: Percy Jackson: Seas of Monsters

By : Stephen Miller
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Starring: Logan Lerman, Nathan Fillion, Stanley Tucci

This kid-friendly epic isn’t going to get any Olympian attention.

Sci-fi and fantasy audiences who love exploring cohesive worlds with clear characterization are in for a letdown. PJSOM misses all these opportunities, plus a bit more. It feels cobbled together from Homer’s Odyssey, Harry Potter, and Spy Kids. The first Percy Jackson film wasn’t much better, but at least it aimed at a unifying theme.

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Screened Out: Men of Character

By : Stephen Miller
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SOFruitvaleStationFruitvale Station is an intimate biography that accomplishes great things. Based on an enraging 2009 tragedy, this film realistically shows us a deeply flawed character on the last day of his life. Michael B. Jordan’s nuanced performance deserves some serious award attention.

On Jan. 1, 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant (Jordan), his girlfriend, and their friends were coming home from celebrating New Year’s in San Francisco. A fistfight on the Bay Area Rapid Transit train got them pulled off and detained by an overzealous police force. While trying to handcuff Grant, surrounded by an increasingly confusing melee, an officer shot Grant in the back. Grant was at the time lying facedown on the platform at Fruitvale Station.

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