Review: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1

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                Catching Fire was a huge improvement on the first Hunger Games movie.  It improved on story, editing, character development, special effects and more.  After the second film, many, including myself, were very much looking forward to the next installment.  Now I think everyone can agree that anti-capitalist capitalist Hollywood made a greedy and stupid decision to split the last book up into two films, which is why a lot of critics who saw this film were dissatisfied, it’s the way it is.  So how did part one of the final movie fair against the last film?  Will it leave you excited for the final installment or maybe make you feel like waiting for it to be at Redbox with your free movie night coupon?

                Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13 after being rescued from her latest Hunger Games and is not coping well with having left Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind in the arena.  Soon after arriving and reuniting with her mother and sister, Katniss is taken to see President Coin (Julianne Moore) who wants to recruit Katniss to be a propaganda tool known as the Mockingjay to encourage other Districts to revolt.  After seeing the ruins of her former district, she agrees to do so as long as the new Districts soldiers find a way to rescue Peeta.  Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), former Gamemaker and recent ally of the revolution, will direct Katniss in his “props” to show the other Districts the horrors that the Capital does under President Snow (Donald Sutherland).  Katniss and a team of filmmakers will now be the main tool against the Capital.

                After reading some reviews before finally being able to take my wife to see this film, I was worried that the quality had dropped back to the originals level.  Those worries were whisked away as soon at the end of the film.  The creators once again deliver a solid piece of filmmaking with decent performances and some great action sequences.  Jennifer Lawrence actually seems to stretch her acting muscle with her character, although there is a scene of overacting that was a little annoying.  Woody Harrelson is not given much to do here, which is a huge mistake because he is one of the best parts of these films.  The part of Effie has an expanded role in this film that was an addition that wasn’t in the book and Elizabeth banks does a great job with it.  Hoffman is great in the little screen time he has, which is no surprise there.  One of the better acting parts of the film goes to Sutherland though, who was a brilliant casting choice as the main villain.  There are some great scenes throughout the film and the stand out has to be the “Hanging Tree” scene that was edited and shot wonderfully.

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                Yet another great picture of what it means to fight against an evil that seeks to oppress people.  Both Donald Sutherland and Julienne Moore were great casting choices as their record of hating people that don’t agree with them is solid enough that they play their roles perfectly because of it.  Katniss’ character is given a little bit more to do hear in that she says the words that the oppressed wish they could scream at the top of their lungs.  There are many touching parts in the film that will make you cheer and then others that could be inspiring because of the courage certain characters show.

                This was a much better film than what I was led to believe and is worth the watch if you are a fan.  And if you are, you didn’t need me to tell you that.  The direction and camera shots are still as good as the last film and the added humor in parts of the story is very welcome in a film that could have been very humorless.

3 stars out of 4

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Love You Dad

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Yesterday, my hero died.  Leonard Richard Sostre, one of the best men I have known, went to be with the Lord with his wonderful wife, as always, by his side.  Dad was not only my hero because he raised me, but because he was one of the most selfless men I knew.  He sacrificed a lot for his family and for me, even in those years where I really did not deserve it.  Even before he was one who called on the name of Christ as his savior, he was a man that always said that everything will be okay.  That you have to have faith.

I will remember him for many things.  In Utah, when mom would be out of town, he would take me and my younger brother to Albertson’s.  There he would get the two movies and a frozen pizza for like five bucks.  They would always be the movies mom wouldn’t let us watch and we all understood that we were not to bring it up to her.  I will remember that.

I will remember my sixteenth birthday, where he was not around because he was trying to help make ends meet by working at a JC Penney call center at night.  I will remember the man that took me to buy groceries when I was on my own and even help me with gas, as he did for my brothers after that when they were on their own.  I will remember his smile as he held my newborn son up in the air for the first time.  I will remember that he cried during his speech at my wedding.  I will remember his very uncomfortable advice at the reception at my wedding.  I will remember sitting with him outside at a dinner table as we discussed with church leaders possibly becoming deacons.  I will remember him, my brothers and me lifting up beers to toast my grandmother after her death.  I will remember he was the oldest guy at my bachelor party and couldn’t hang.  I will remember interviewing him about Vietnam and him asking me afterwards if I wanted his Army stuff when he passed before giving me a tight hug.  I will remember that he would always comfort me after heartbreak and always say encouraging words.  I will remember his tears and the “I’m proud of you” at my high school graduation.  I will remember that even after 36 years of marriage, he would still hold my mom’s hand on walks.  I will remember the last words he said to me on Thanksgiving Day and of course they were “I love you.”

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I will miss not being able to call him up with parenting advice, husbandly advice or just to hear his encouraging words when I struggle.  Those were always important to me and always will be.  We may not have agreed on everything and butted heads more than once, but we loved each other still and looked out for each other.  I will treasure that in his last year he opened up to me on camera his time in the army and Vietnam.  Great stories that I hope to share one day I will always think of him when I watch We Were Soldiers and when I look at bald older Harrison Ford.

The tears will flow for his family for who knows how long, but we mourn as those who have hope.  Hope that he sees God’s face.  That he will no longer have pain, tears of sadness, anger, or anything that came from this sinful world.  He will know only true happiness and will feast with his Savior forever.  Praise God for His grace and mercies.  Love you dad.

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”  1 Thessalonians 4:14

“Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted” Mathew 5:4

“28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also  predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.  31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword”  Romans 8

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Quick Reviews

                Here’s a list of a few recent viewings I have gone through lately that I didn’t or didn’t want to review for whatever reason.  Hopefully I can give a short review that may peak your interests to either watch or pass on a film you might have been considering.  There can be a mix of newer/older movies with a few insights.  Here we go:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill for

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                The first Sin City was visually stunning and a really good movie.  It captured what some had thought too difficult to adapt, which was Frank Miller’s gritty dialogue and storytelling.  Flash-forward way too many years and the sequel, a Dame to Kill for, is finally released and it’s almost as good as the first one.  Mickey Rourke still proves that he was brilliant casting for the Marv character.  Eva Green is great as the villain and all the other characters save once again for Jessica Alba deliver in full.  Powers Booth’s expansive role in the film is a very welcome addition.  Still as violent as the first one and much more nudity.  3 stars out of 4

Space Station 76

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                His film has a great preference.  What if space technology was far advanced in the 70’s than it is today and what would that look like.  You’ll recognize the robotic therapist as well as the Nintendo power glove (even though that’s an 80’s toy) as one of the crew’s replacement hands.  Smoking is continuous throughout the film as is severe alcoholism, which fits the setting perfectly.  Not everything works as far as story.  The unbalanced Liv Tyler character seems like a waste of talent and some stories just seem to take away from the film (especially the ridiculous gay plot).  The highlight beyond the setting is Patrick Wilson’s performance.  His complete disconnect with his crew and delivery of very dry humor is done greatly.  Give it a chance just because of him and the idea of it all, but not for everyone.  2 and ½ stars out of 4

Raid 2

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                Wow, what a difference from the highly overrated first film.  Two things made this movie so much better than the first one.  One, the action is all over the place and the fights don’t have the same moves over and over again.  It could have been the constraint of the first films location, but these are far better action sequences.  Two, the characters are far more developed and you actually get invested in them.  The bad guys have more to do and the main character this time is not just a walking karate man.  The story may be straight forward, but it is great to look at in some scenes and I found myself flinching during some of the fight scenes.  Definitely worth a look for those of you who love inventive action movies.  Caution though, very graphic violence.  3 stars out of 4

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Review: ‘Locke’

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                After his all out incredible performance in Bronson, Tom hardy became one of my favorite actors.  His turn as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was remarkable all around and his turn as a military hero turned UFC fighter in Warrior is one of the reasons that movie was the best of 2012.  Check out Lawless, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and even RocknRolla to know how good this guy can be, even in smaller roles.  This film wasn’t even on my radar until my family and I went to visit her in Los Angeles before our move to Indiana.  She said it was her favorite film of the year and the trailer made me all that more interested, so we watched it that night.  So how did it hold up to Hardy’s other roles?

                Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction foreman in England.  The day before a big project concrete pour at his site, Ivan learns that a former colleague whom he had a one night stand with has gone into labor with his child.  Even though he has this big project and is dealing with a horrible cold, Ivan has decided to drive to her and be by her side because it is the right thing to do.  During his drive he must deal with a very angry supervisor and his right hand man who now has to deal with the giant project without Ivan.  Also along the trip he must come to grips with what he has done, how he can’t let the way he was raised effect his decision and how to tell his family what he has done.

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                Absolutely phenomenal performance by Hardy and he looks like he did it without any real problems outside of his real cold while filming.  His character is sympathetic, connectable and a very well rounded character to boot.  He keeps this movie interesting and even more so when you take into account the equally great performances of those that were only heard over the phone.  The look of the film is simple, but helps the viewer feel claustrophobic, cold and uncomfortable throughout the film.

                While what Locke’s character did, cheat on his wife, is a horrible thing, he still seeks to do what he thinks is right.  He sees himself becoming as horrible as his own father.  The entire time though, as the viewer, you are questioning if what he is doing truly is right which makes the story that much more compelling.  The odd thing is, Hardy plays Locke so matter of fact that there are times you wonder if he might not be his father, just a little more calm about things.

                Fantastic film and an even more fantastic performance by Hardy.

3 and ½ stars out of 4

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Terrific Trailer Tuesday: ‘Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens’

Cautiously optimistic on this one.  There are some great shots in here, especially the excitingly inventive Millennium Falcon shot at the end.  Please be good.

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Review: ‘Interstellar’

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                Christopher Nolan is a director who seems to most people, me included, unable to make a bad movie.  From Memento to the Dark Knight Rises he has created successful movie after successful movie.  As he is my favorite director, it came as no shock when I went through my list of movies to look forward to this year, it was number one.  After early rumors that it was going to be a global warming propaganda film, I was hesitant, but then remembered that Nolan doesn’t create the over handed peachiness of false gospels like that in order to tell a great story.  After the first trailer I was sold and looked forward to his take on science fiction.  Would it live up to the hype?

                In the future, the world is a barely inhabitable planet with constant dust storms and food growth extremely scarce.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot, is now a successful farmer of corn and lives on his farm with his two kids and father-in-law.  One night he and his daughter follow some strange coordinates that lead them to a secret NASA site run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) who is one of a team of scientists trying to figure out how to use a recently discovered wormhole to find habitable planets.  Unfortunately Cooper has to make the hard decision to leave his family behind for what could be years.  Cooper and a team of scientists then embark on the adventure through space to find a world that may someday house mankind.

                Lets get the bad out of the way.  I have one big issue with this movie that makes me give it the rating that I did.  The set up is completely contrived and unbelievable unless you know the ending of the film which even then doesn’t help.  For the first time watching a Nolan movie I groaned and rolled my eyes.  Our main character just so happens to end up at the only facility on earth currently going to space and he also happens to be the only pilot that can be perfect behind the wheel.  Not only that, he is then too easily convinced to leave his family behind within a day.  Takes you fully out of the film and if it wasn’t for the rest of the film making up for it, I would have hated my first Nolan film.  What about the rest of the film?

                As usual for a Nolan movie, the film looks great and has some interesting and oftentimes beautiful camera shots.  The acting is good, at least from McConaughey, John Lithgow and Mackenzie Foy.  The adult female characters for the most part, and this is still Nolan’s biggest weakness, are stilted and dry in their performance.  The other weak performance is from Matt Damon who probably channeled a younger and awful actor named Ben Affleck.  Thankfully all of this doesn’t drag the movie down as much as it really should have all considering.  It’s the story that gives the movie its legs.

interstellar still                 Interstellar is a movie about lost hope and the desire to regain it.  I think the quote that explains the films journey to rediscover hope was also in the trailer.  “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars.  Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”  It is a powerful line with much theological significance.  Unfortunately the promise of possible theological themes coming up later in the film with talks about the supernatural at the beginning lead nowhere, but there is still the instinctive themes of hope, love, family and perseverance.  Even though it is presented with arguably a man centered, if not atheistic tone, these themes work hear.  It is unfortunate that there was a missed opportunity here that seemed so promising in the beginning.

                Interstellar is a good film that could have been great with a few tweaks here and there, starting with the my main complaint above.  You’ll hear a lot about plot holes, and there are a lot, but just enjoy the movie because all science fiction movies have plot holes, but they don’t always look this good.

2 and ½ stars out of 4

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Review: ‘Nightcrawler’

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                It is hard to make me feel uncomfortable in a movie, which is probably not a good thing but is my reality regardless.  The Grudge is the only horror movie to date that scared the stuffing out of me and made me really jump from my seat.  There have been tense moments in other movies, for instance, the skyscraper scene in Mission Impossible 4 made my palms sweat because I’m scared of heights and that IMAX screen was huge.  When a movie is able to draw you into the point that you feel something visceral or you find yourself holding your breath, that’s a good film.  Nightcrawler’s trailer made it look like it could be one of those movies that make the audience feel something and most likely it would be an uncomfortable feeling.  So, was it or was it another trailer promising good things and delivering nothing?

                Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a very determined and motivated young man looking for a job in a down economy.  Problem is most people won’t hire a thief who steals chain link fence and manhole covers in the middle of the night.  One night he finds himself near a car accident and sees Joe (Bill Paxton) pull up in a van with an assistant and two high end camcorders.  Joe begins to film the accident and tells Lou that he sells it to local television news stations.  Inspired, Lou buys a camcorder and a police scanner to try and make some money by beating Joe to a crime or accident.  When he gets a good shot he of a man dying, he sells it to Nina (Rene Russo) at a nearby television station.  She informs him that he can contact her with anything else he can find because he has an incredible eye for film.  As Lou becomes more determined and excited for his work, he starts to cross certain moral lines that could have some big repercussions for him.

                This is a great film that shows the seedier side of the news business, especially in Los Angeles.  Gyllenhaal turns in his best performance to date and he mesmerizing to watch.  Every time he is on screen you can’t look away, he is charismatic, manic and an incredibly interesting character.  The way he decided to play the character is brilliant  His lines are delivered fast and confidently and sound like he’s reading from cue cards he memorized, but that is the great effect about his character, it draws you in.  Rene Russo is great, as usual.  A strong character that knows she’s in a business that make compromises regardless of how much she thinks she is above it all.  Paxton expands on his dirtbag character from True Lies and it works well to add to the drabness.  Riz Ahmed does a commendable job in his role as Lou’s assistant and he plays it subtly and innocently.  When his character finally finds his confidence, not only do you worry for him but you believe him.  The film looks great with some incredibly filmed action sequences that tense your muscles up.  The way in which the cinematographer decided to shade this film with dreary colors suits it well and helps to add to the tension of what is happening on screen.

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                That trailer delivered on what it promised.  This is the definition of suspense, you have no idea how each scene is going to play out and it is tremendous fun.  Many times I was surprised by decisions characters make and I usually pride myself in knowing what is going to happen.  This movie is also a well told story about the participation trophy generation.  In the midst of his character, Gyllenhaal has the entitled sensibility rampant in the generation that was raised by self esteem doctrine.  He does work hard, but he will get the job done immorally if possible and at the expense of others with little to no integrity.  Sounds too familiar in this day and age.

                Probably one of the better performances I have seen in awhile because of how engaging Gyllenhaal is.  See this movie if you like suspense and gripping movies that take you into a world you’re not used to being in.  Language and violence warning.

3 and ½ stars out of 4

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Quick Reviews

                Here’s a list of a few recent viewings I have gone through lately that I didn’t or didn’t want to review for whatever reason.  Hopefully I can give a short review that may peak your interests to either watch or pass on a film you might have been considering.  There can be a mix of newer/older movies with a few insights.

Automata

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                This is another one for me that came out with a good trailer that made the movie not only interesting but visually impressive.  Both were correct…sort of.  While the story of Robots helping humans in a post-apocalyptic scenario that are not able to hurt humans is not new, they did seem to add a twist to it.  The robots are not supposed to be able to repair themselves or other robots.  Some of course start to and that makes them learn at an incredibly fast rate.  Antonia Banderas plays an insurance agent for the company that makes the robots and one investigation takes him outside of the city walls to see who is helping the robots.  This is the halfway point to the movie and it is also where it becomes a little convoluted and its once interesting idea is wasted.  The movies story doesn’t live up to its potential but kind of just turns into a shoot ‘em up action ending, which could have worked if it made sense for the movie as a whole.  Visually the movie does look really good with light color tones, almost brownish to imply the dirtiness earth has become and the robots themselves look like they came out of Jim Henson’s brain and that’s a good thing.  2 stars out of 4

The Last Sacrament

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                I was actually looking forward to seeing this movie after watching a very good documentary on Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple on Netflix.  The trailer for The Last Sacrament looked exactly like that documentary and looked like Gene Jones would knock it out of the park as the Jim Jones character.  Unfortunately, anytime Jones isn’t on screen the film is slow and boring.  The found footage genre just didn’t seem to work for this film because there were very obvious problems with why a camera was filming the way it was versus the reality that certain angles and shots would not be possible with only two cameras.  I’ve tried looking online how they were able to pretty much recreate the Jonestown Massacre while never giving it credit for the story.  I’d say just watch the documentary and you’ll be more horrified by that than this poor attempt at horror.  1 star out of 4

The Equalizer

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                I was really, really looking forward to this one but, while it was a good movie, its disappointment lies in its pacing.  Taking it from what could have been a tremendous outing for fans of both Denzel Washington and his action films to a great story idea that didn’t really get off on the right foot for a possible future franchise.  What the trailers promised was a Washington pick in the vein of Man on Fire, which is my favorite Washington picture.  What we got was something that could have been that great but just couldn’t find its footing.  I did not hate the film, just disappointed that a film about a man who helps protect others because he has a special set of skills could feel so overly long.  The action scenes are fantastic and Washington as well as Chloe Grace Moretz were great casting choices.  The problem is it is about twenty minutes to long and you feel it.  A sharper and more focused edit would have made this film awesome.  2 and ½ stars out of 4

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Terrific Trailer Tuesday: ‘The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron’

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                Only two years ago an event happened that no comic nerd would ever have imagined possible…The Avengers were on the big screen in a big way.  Now we have had two great single outings and one somewhat decent one that leads us to its sequel.  Like any sequel the stakes need to be higher and they look incredibly high here.  With a new villain that seems like we could have the best villain since Loki who isn’t a one dimensional character in Ultron, voiced by the creep James Spader no less.  What we have here is a trailer that promises something better than the first and that may shake up things in a universe that some say is already growing stale.  Can’t wait.

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Review: ‘Gone Girl’

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Spoilers O Plenty

                Gone Girl was one of the year’s most highly anticipated movies apparently because of the popularity of the book it was based upon with the same name.  Also it had a high profile director and a star that as of late is “controversial” whenever cast in anything now.  It has had two consecutive weeks as number one in the nation and seems like another triumph for director David Fincher.  Not only that but the usual rumors swirl around this type of Oscar bait on whether or not it has a chance against such and such movie or could it take home Best Picture.  Off of a great looking trailer and an interest to see if Affleck is getting any better at acting like he seems to be, I went this weekend.  Was it up to the hype?

                One morning Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns to his house in the suburbs of Missouri to find that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) is not there like he expected.  It also looks like a struggle happened.  He quickly calls the police who begin to investigate the missing person and over the next several days find links that say Nick murdered his wife.  Expensive purchases, infidelity, an unraveling marriage, inaccuracies in his story and so on.  The media and his town quickly turn on him and also suspect him of a murder.  All accept his loving twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) who continually supports him and suspects his innocence because of how horrible his wife was.  She also helps him to enlist a big wig lawyer from New York, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who wants to help Nick not look so bad to the nation.  As the cops investigate, so does Nick and he finds things about his wife he never knew.

                Okay…turn away now if you don’t want to be spoiled on this movie because I am going to spoil everything because that’s how I want to review this movie.  Still here?  Okay then.  Let’s get the good out of the way.  The acting, across the board is all superb.  Yes, even Tyler Perry which really pains me to say.  The music and style of the film is all up there with great looking movies.  Tension in parts is really well paced and rewarding in making the viewer feel Nicks struggles as well as his growing frustration.  Now let’s get onto why this movie has nothing else to offer.

                Nick didn’t do it.  His wife hates him and has been planning to frame him for her murder for a very long time.  When her plan breaks down and she is forced to call upon an old boyfriend who she also abused mentally, that turns into her new plan.  She kills that boyfriend, framing him and coming back to Nick after Nick figures out what she is really doing.  She then manipulates him to stay with her.  Now, I know that this movie is supposed trying to feel smart, what with the hipster snarky dialogue through most of the flashbacks and making the audience guess what’s next, but it fails and it fails big time.

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                There are so many holes in the wife’s story that she would have never, NEVER gotten away with this in the real world.  She got away with it in the film because that’s what they wanted, but they left gapping plot holes.  One, the cop in charge of the case asks legitimate questions to poke holes in Amy’s story, but she is shut down by idiot FBI men who feel sorry for the battered woman.  I call bullstuffings.  No cop would just let her story stand without some sort of verification or follow up.  Two and this is the big one, the framing of the old boyfriend.  She states he was the one that kidnapped her, but he would have easily been found to be somewhere far away for the whole day by a quick call to his office, his cell phone records or the fact that every house he owns has cameras that record all the time.  When hiding out in his lake house, she plays for the camera that she is being beaten, but that’s one angle!  She had no access to the cameras to delete everything else and even if she did that would cause more suspicion.  Other camera angles would have showed what really happened, like how she dipped her freaking pajamas into wine to make her look bloody in the one camera angle!  Also, as Nick points out at the hospital, if she was tied up the entire time, how did she get a box cutter to kill the man supposedly holding her captive?  Also, the only supposed camera angle the police looked at, she could have easily gotten out because the ex-boyfriend didn’t lock her in. The whole premise of the second half of this movie and final act is that everyone but the Amy character are complete and utter incompetent morons.  To think this woman would get away with anything with all the mess ups she did is asinine and takes the viewer out of the movie.

                If the filmmakers had taken time not to have all this idiocy, and there’s a lot, maybe we’d have a better movie, but instead we have something that by role of credits you are angry at.  But the fact that Pike was so good in her role that you hated her character shows great acting, so that’s why this one barely gets the rating below.  Lots of unnecessary sexual scenes and one very violent scene as a warning for any of you who still want to see the film.

2 stars out of 4

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