Sunday, January 31, 2016

The 2016 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) - The Winners

The winners of these prestigious awards were announced last night. Whether all the talk about #OscarsSoWhite influenced the voting (if there was still time) or not, we'll likely never know, but African American actors were clearly the big winners, sweeping 5 of the 10 acting awards, and with Idris Elba taking home 2 on the same night!!

Leonardo DiCaprio seems poised to finally take home an Oscar next month after winning this award (one of the surest indicators since the two voting bodies pretty much overlap).

Lastly, Queen Latifah was recognized by the largest voting block of her peers for her role in Bessie, besting even Nicole Kidman and Susan Sarandon, so I think my hunch about the HFPA favoring Lady Gaga because of her name rather than her performance at the Golden Globes was right.

Here are the winners:

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO / Hugh Glass – “THE REVENANT” (20th Century Fox)

  • BRYAN CRANSTON / Dalton Trumbo – “TRUMBO” (Bleecker Street)
  • JOHNNY DEPP / James “Whitey” Bulger – “BLACK MASS” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • MICHAEL FASSBENDER / Steve Jobs – “STEVE JOBS” (Universal Pictures)
  • EDDIE REDMAYNE / Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe – “THE DANISH GIRL” (Focus Features)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
BRIE LARSON / Ma – “ROOM” (A24)

  • CATE BLANCHETT / Carol Aird – “CAROL” (The Weinstein Company)
  • HELEN MIRREN / Maria Altmann – “WOMAN IN GOLD” (The Weinstein Company)
  • SAOIRSE RONAN / Eilis – “BROOKLYN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • SARAH SILVERMAN / Laney Brooks – “I SMILE BACK” (Broad Green Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
IDRIS ELBA / Commandant – “BEASTS OF NO NATION” (Netflix)

  • CHRISTIAN BALE / Michael Burry – “THE BIG SHORT” (Paramount Pictures)
  • MARK RYLANCE / Abel Rudolph – “BRIDGE OF SPIES” (DreamWorks)
  • MICHAEL SHANNON / Rick Carver – “99 HOMES” (Broad Green Pictures)
  • JACOB TREMBLAY / Jack – “ROOM” (A24)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
ALICIA VIKANDER / Gerda Wegener – “THE DANISH GIRL” (Focus Features)

  • ROONEY MARA / Therese Belivet – “CAROL” (The Weinstein Company)
  • RACHEL McADAMS / Sacha Pfeiffer – “SPOTLIGHT” (Open Road Films)
  • HELEN MIRREN / Hedda Hopper – “TRUMBO” (Bleecker Street)
  • KATE WINSLET / Joanna Hoffman – “STEVE JOBS” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
SPOTLIGHT (Open Road Films)
BILLY CRUDUP / Eric MacLeish
BRIAN D’ARCY JAMES / Matty Carroll
MICHAEL KEATON / Walter “Robby” Robinson
RACHEL McADAMS / Sacha Pfeiffer
MARK RUFFALO / Michael Rezendes
LIEV SCHREIBER / Marty Baron
JOHN SLATTERY / Ben Bradlee, Jr.
STANLEY TUCCI / Mitchell Garabedian

  • BEASTS OF NO NATION (Netflix)
    ABRAHAM ATTAH / Agu
    KURT EGYIAWAN / 2nd I-C
    IDRIS ELBA / Commandant
  • THE BIG SHORT (Paramount Pictures)
    CHRISTIAN BALE / Michael Burry
    STEVE CARELL / Mark Baum
    RYAN GOSLING / Jared Vennett
    MELISSA LEO / Georgia Hale
    HAMISH LINKLATER / Porter Collins
    JOHN MAGARO / Charlie Geller
    BRAD PITT / Ben Rickert
    RAFE SPALL / Danny Moses
    JEREMY STRONG / Vinny Peters
    MARISA TOMEI / Cynthia Baum
    FINN WITTROCK / Jamie Shipley
  • STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (Universal Pictures)
    NEIL BROWN JR. / DJ Yella
    PAUL GIAMATTI / Jerry Heller
    COREY HAWKINS / Dr. Dre
    ALDIS HODGE / MC Ren
    O’SHEA JACKSON JR. / Ice Cube
    JASON MITCHELL / Eazy-E
  • TRUMBO (Bleecker Street)
    ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE / Virgil Brook
    LOUIS C.K. / Arlen Hird
    BRYAN CRANSTON / Dalton Trumbo
    DAVID JAMES ELLIOTT / John Wayne
    ELLE FANNING / Niki Trumbo
    JOHN GOODMAN / Frank King
    DIANE LANE / Cleo Trumbo
    HELEN MIRREN / Hedda Hopper
    MICHAEL STUHLBARG / Edward G. Robinson
    ALAN TUDYK / Ian McLellan Hunter

TELEVISION PROGRAMS
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
IDRIS ELBA / DCI John Luther – “LUTHER” (BBC America)

  • BEN KINGSLEY / Grand Vizier Ay – “TUT” (Spike)
  • RAY LIOTTA / Lorca/Tom Mitchell – “TEXAS RISING” (History)
  • BILL MURRAY / Himself – “A VERY MURRAY CHRISTMAS” (Netflix)
  • MARK RYLANCE / Thomas Cromwell – “WOLF HALL” (Masterpiece/PBS)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
QUEEN LATIFAH / Bessie Smith – “BESSIE” (HBO)

  • NICOLE KIDMAN / Grace – “GRACE OF MONACO” (Lifetime)
  • CHRISTINA RICCI / Lizzie Borden – “THE LIZZIE BORDEN CHRONICLES” (Lifetime)
  • SUSAN SARANDON / Gladys Mortenson – “THE SECRET LIFE OF MARILYN MONROE” (Lifetime)
  • KRISTEN WIIG / Delores DeWinter – “THE SPOILS BEFORE DYING” (IFC)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
KEVIN SPACEY / Francis Underwood – “HOUSE OF CARDS” (Netflix)

  • PETER DINKLAGE / Tyrion Lannister – “GAME OF THRONES” (HBO)
  • JON HAMM / Don Draper – “MAD MEN” (AMC)
  • RAMI MALEK / Elliot – “MR. ROBOT” (USA Network)
  • BOB ODENKIRK / Jimmy McGill – “BETTER CALL SAUL” (AMC)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
VIOLA DAVIS / Annalise Keating – “HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER” (ABC)

  • CLAIRE DANES / Carrie Mathison – “HOMELAND” (Showtime)
  • JULIANNA MARGULIES / Alicia Florrick – “THE GOOD WIFE” (CBS)
  • MAGGIE SMITH / Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham – “DOWNTON ABBEY” (Masterpiece/PBS)
  • ROBIN WRIGHT / Claire Underwood – “HOUSE OF CARDS” (Netflix)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
JEFFREY TAMBOR / Maura Pfefferman – “TRANSPARENT” (Amazon)

  • TY BURRELL / Phil Dunphy – “MODERN FAMILY” (ABC)
  • LOUIS C.K. / Louie – “LOUIE” (FX Networks)
  • WILLIAM H. MACY / Frank – “SHAMELESS” (Showtime)
  • JIM PARSONS / Sheldon Cooper – “THE BIG BANG THEORY” (CBS)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
UZO ADUBA / Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren – “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” (Netflix)

  • EDIE FALCO / Jackie Peyton – “NURSE JACKIE” (Showtime)
  • ELLIE KEMPER / Kimmy Schmidt – “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” (Netflix)
  • JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS / President Selina Meyer – “VEEP” (HBO)
  • AMY POEHLER / Leslie Knope – “PARKS AND RECREATION” (NBC)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
DOWNTON ABBEY (Masterpiece/PBS)
HUGH BONNEVILLE / Robert, Earl of Grantham
LAURA CARMICHAEL / Lady Edith Crawley
JIM CARTER / Mr. Carson
RAQUEL CASSIDY / Baxter
BRENDAN COYLE / Mr. Bates
TOM CULLEN / Anthony Gillingham
MICHELLE DOCKERY / Lady Mary Crawley
KEVIN DOYLE / Mr. Molesley
JOANNE FROGGATT / Anna Bates
LILY JAMES / Lady Rose
ROBERT JAMES-COLLIER / Thomas Barrow
ALLEN LEECH / Tom Branson
PHYLLIS LOGAN / Mrs. Hughes
ELIZABETH McGOVERN / Cora, Countess of Grantham
SOPHIE McSHERA / Daisy
LESLEY NICOL / Mrs. Patmore
JULIAN OVENDEN / Charles Blake
DAVID ROBB / Dr. Clarkson
MAGGIE SMITH / Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
PENELOPE WILTON / Isobel Crawley

  • GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
    ALFIE ALLEN / Theon Greyjoy
    IAN BEATTIE / Ser Meryn Trant
    JOHN BRADLEY / Samwell Tarly
    GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE / Brienne of Tarth
    EMILIA CLARKE / Daenerys Targaryen
    MICHAEL CONDRON / Bowen Marsh
    NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU / Jaime Lannister
    BEN CROMPTON / Dolorous Edd
    LIAM CUNNINGHAM / Ser Davos Seaworth
    STEPHEN DILLANE / Stannis Baratheon
    PETER DINKLAGE / Tyrion Lannister
    NATHALIE EMMANUEL / Missandei
    TARA FITZGERALD / Selyse Baratheon
    JEROME FLYNN / Bronn
    BRIAN FORTUNE / Othell Yarwyck
    JOEL FRY / Hizdahr Zo Loraq
    AIDAN GILLEN / Littlefinger Petyr Baelish
    IAIN GLEN / Ser Jorah Mormont
    KIT HARINGTON / Jon Snow
    LENA HEADEY / Cersei Lannister
    MICHIEL HUISMAN / Daario Naharis
    HANNAH MURRAY / Gilly
    BRENOCK O’CONNOR / Olly
    DANIEL PORTMAN / Podrick Payne
    IWAN RHEON / Ramsay Snow
    OWEN TEALE / Ser Alliser Thorne
    SOPHIE TURNER / Sansa Stark
    CARICE VAN HOUTEN / Melisandre
    MAISIE WILLIAMS / Arya Stark
    TOM WLASCHIHA / Jaqen H’ghar
  • HOMELAND (Showtime)
    F. MURRAY ABRAHAM / Dar Adal
    ATHEER ADEL / Numan
    CLAIRE DANES / Carrie Mathison
    ALEXANDER FEHLING / Jonas Hollander
    RUPERT FRIEND / Peter Quinn
    NINA HOSS / Astrid
    RENÉ DAVID IFRAH / Bibi
    MARK IVANIR / Ivan Krupin
    SEBASTIAN KOCH / Otto Dűring
    MIRANDA OTTO / Allison Carr
    MANDY PATINKIN / Saul Berenson
    SARAH SOKOLOVIC / Laura Sutton
  • HOUSE OF CARDS (Netflix)
    MAHERSHALA ALI / Remy Danton
    DEREK CECIL / Seth Grayson
    NATHAN DARROW / Edward Meechum
    MICHAEL KELLY / Doug Stamper
    ELIZABETH MARVEL / Heather Dunbar
    MOLLY PARKER / Jackie Sharp
    JIMMI SIMPSON / Gavin Orsay
    KEVIN SPACEY / Francis Underwood
    ROBIN WRIGHT / Claire Underwood
  • MAD MEN (AMC)
    SOLA BAMIS / Shirley
    STEPHANIE DRAKE / Meredith
    JAY R. FERGUSON / Stan Rizzo
    BRUCE GREENWOOD / Richard Burghoff
    JON HAMM / Don Draper
    CHRISTINA HENDRICKS / Joan Harris
    JANUARY JONES / Betty Francis
    VINCENT KARTHEISER / Pete Campbell
    ELISABETH MOSS / Peggy Olson
    KEVIN RAHM / Ted Chaough
    KIERNAN SHIPKA / Sally Draper
    JOHN SLATTERY / Roger Sterling
    RICH SOMMER / Harry Crane
    AARON STATON / Ken Cosgrove
    MASON VALE COTTON / Bobby Draper

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)
UZO ADUBA / Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren
MIKE BIRBIGLIA / Danny Pearson
MARSHA STEPHANIE BLAKE / Berdie Rogers
DANIELLE BROOKS / Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson
LAVERNE COX / Sophia Burset
JACKIE CRUZ / Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales
CATHERINE CURTIN / Wanda Bell
LEA DELARIA / Carrie “Big Boo” Black
BETH FOWLER / Sister Jane Ingalls
JOEL MARSH GARLAND / Scott O’Neill
KIMIKO GLENN / Brook Soso
ANNIE GOLDEN / Norma Romano
DIANE GUERRERO / Maritza Ramos
MICHAEL J. HARNEY / Sam Healy
VICKY JEUDY / Janae Watson
SELENIS LEYVA / Gloria Mendoza
TARYN MANNING / Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett
ADRIENNE C. MOORE / Black Cindy
KATE MULGREW / Galina “Red” Reznikov
EMMA MYLES / Leanne Taylor
MATT PETERS / Joel Luschek
LORI PETTY / Lolly Whitehill
JESSICA PIMENTEL / Maria Ruiz
DASCHA POLANCO / Dayanara Diaz
LAURA PREPON / Alex Vause
ELIZABETH RODRIGUEZ / Aleida Diaz
RUBY ROSE / Stella Carlin
NICK SANDOW / Joe Caputo
ABIGAIL SAVAGE / Gina
TAYLOR SCHILLING / Piper Chapman
CONSTANCE SHULMAN / Yoga Jones
DALE SOULES / Frieda
YAEL STONE / Lorna Morello
SAMIRA WILEY / Poussey Washington

  • THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS)
    MAYIM BIALIK / Amy Farrah Fowler
    KALEY CUOCO / Penny
    JOHNNY GALECKI / Leonard Hofstadter
    SIMON HELBERG / Howard Wolowitz
    KUNAL NAYYAR / Rajesh Koothrappali
    JIM PARSONS / Sheldon Cooper
    MELISSA RAUCH / Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz
  • KEY & PEELE (Comedy Central)
    KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY / Various Characters
    JORDAN PEELE / Various Characters
  • MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
    JULIE BOWEN / Claire Dunphy
    TY BURRELL / Phil Dunphy
    AUBREY ANDERSON EMMONS / Lily Tucker-Pritchett
    JESSE TYLER FERGUSON / Mitchell Pritchett
    NOLAN GOULD / Luke Dunphy
    SARAH HYLAND / Haley Dunph
    ED O’NEILL / Jay Pritchett
    RICO RODRIGUEZ / Manny Delgado
    ERIC STONESTREET / Cameron Tucker
    SOFIA VERGARA / Gloria Delgado-Pritchett
    ARIEL WINTER / Alex Dunphy
  • TRANSPARENT (Amazon)
    ALEXANDRA BILLINGS / Davina Rejennae
    CARRIE BROWNSTEIN / Syd Feldman
    JAY DUPLASS / Josh Pfefferman
    KATHRYN HAHN / Raquel Fein
    GABY HOFFMANN / Ali Pfefferman
    CHERRY JONES / Leslie Mackinaw
    AMY LANDECKER / Sarah Pfefferman
    JUDITH LIGHT / Shelly Pfefferman
    HARI NEF / Gittel/Gerson
    EMILY ROBINSON / Rose Boymelgreen
    JEFFREY TAMBOR / Maura Pfefferman
  • VEEP (HBO)
    DIEDRICH BADER / Bill Ericsson
    SUFE BRADSHAW / Sue Wilson
    ANNA CHLUMSKY / Amy Brookheimer
    GARY COLE / Kent Davidson
    KEVIN DUNN / Ben Cafferty
    TONY HALE / Gary Walsh
    HUGH LAURIE / Tom James
    PHIL REEVES / Doyle
    SAM RICHARDSON / Richard
    REID SCOTT / Dan Egan
    TIMOTHY SIMONS / Jonah Ryan
    SARAH SUTHERLAND / Catherine
    MATT WALSH / Mike McLintock

SAG AWARDS® HONORS FOR STUNT ENSEMBLES
Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

  • “EVEREST” (Universal Pictures)
  • “FURIOUS 7” (Universal Pictures)
  • “JURASSIC WORLD” (Universal Pictures)
  • “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series
“GAME OF THRONES” (HBO)

  • “THE BLACKLIST” (NBC)
  • “HOMELAND” (Showtime)
  • “MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL” (Netflix)
  • “THE WALKING DEAD” (AMC)

LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
52nd Annual SAG Life Achievement Award
CAROL BURNETT

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Gist: A family vacationing in Morocco witnesses a murder just in time for the dying victim to whisper something to the father about an upcoming attempted assassination. In order to keep him from telling what he knows to the police, his son is kidnapped. He and his wife will have to find a way to prevent the assassination and get their child back unharmed.

Another Alfred Hitchcock movie for which I have mixed feelings. James Stewart, Hitchcock's favorite, is as good as ever, but Doris Day doesn't impress me.

From what I know about her, she was a star in the heyday of musicals, and is a good singer. So I think that in order to allow her to showcase her singing talent, what feels like a gimmick was added to the plot. Her singing just doesn't feel organic. Rather it feels pretty forced.

The Bottom Line: Other than that, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a very intriguing tale of international spy networks trying to outdo one another. Definitely a very good Hitchcock film.

Grade: 8

The Trouble with Harry

The Gist: The body of a well-dressed man is laying out in the open on top of a wooded hill. Several people stumble upon the corpse, each with different reactions and ideas on what to do with it. Eventually, four of them agree to take matters into their own hands.

Among the many Alfred Hitchcock movies I've watched in the course of my marathon of his oeuvre, this is the only comedy. Hitchcock was the master of suspense, murder, and treacherous plans, so I guess one day he decided he wanted to try his hand at something lighter, but still retaining his style.

Certainly, The Trouble with Harry is not what one would expect from Hitchcock or from a comedy, but I think it's very much tongue-in-cheek, and therefore ultimately successful.

Starring John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, and Shirley MacLaine, this is not the typical Hitchcock fare, so make sure you go into the viewing with an open mind.

The Bottom LineThe Trouble with Harry, although fundamentally a comedy, still deals with a murder and a bunch of people who get themselves into trouble while trying to get themselves out of it. All in all, it's pure Hitchcock, just with a shinier twinkle in his eyes.

Grade: 7

Rear Window

The Gist: A professional photographer, confined to his house with a broken leg, ends up obsessively watching the activities of his neighbors through his rear window and a pair of binoculars. The sudden disappearance of a woman leads him to suspect her husband of murder. He enlists the help of his girlfriend and his nurse in trying to collect proof of the crime, but they're all playing a very dangerous game.

Hands down one of Alfred Hitchcock's best and most memorable films. Rear Window once again features his go-to actor, James Stewart, who turns in a wonderful performance.

He's flanked by Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr, who are all perfectly cast.

The Bottom Line: Rear Window is a must-see. The tension is palpable and no matter how many times you watch the movie, you'll always fall prey to it. A true masterpiece of cinema.

Grade: 9

Rope

The Gist: Two upscale New York students share an apartment with a third guy, whom they decide to strangle to death simply to prove their intellectual superiority and their disregard for inferior beings. Afterwards, they simply hide the body in an unlocked chest in the middle of the apartment and proceed with the party they had planned to host. The guests are all people who knew or were related to the victim, who was also one of the invitees. Among them is their old schoolteacher, whom they consider intellectually equal, and according to whose teachings they justify their actions. Will they get away with it?

Alfred Hitchcock proves once again that he's the master of suspense by pushing the boundaries of common decency, morality, and human arrogance.

James Stewart is excellent and the script is superbly written.

The Bottom Line: Rope is a must-see that is arguably one of Hitchcock's best films. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable by the actions performed on screen.

Grade: 8

Shadow of a Doubt

The Gist: A young woman adores her dapper uncle and lives for his occasional visits. His latest, however, is accompanied by some odd behaviors and the presence of a couple of investigators looking for the Merry Widow Murderer, a rich widows' serial killer. As her doubts about who her uncle might really be start to grow, so does the danger to her life and that of her family.

Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt is a quite unsettling thriller. I think that the family ties between the main suspect and his next possible victim add to that feeling.

Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten are perfectly cast in the lead roles.

The Bottom Line: This is a great thriller, primarily because the relationship of the two leads is such that the stakes of the usual game of cat and mouse between victim and perpetrator are upped considerably.

Grade: 7

Saboteur

The Gist: A worker becomes the main arson suspect of a devastating military aircraft factory. Having witnessed the real saboteur, and in an effort to clear his name of wrongdoing, he goes on the run from the police to follow the only clue he has. A woman he encounters by chance ends up helping him in his quest, which uncovers a much bigger and more dangerous conspiracy that it first appeared.

I have mixed feelings about Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. While the story bears his usual imprint, with lots of suspense and plot twists, I found that there was an unusually high number of convenient occurrences and easily predictable outcomes.

The Bottom Line: If you're a Hitchcock fan, then you shouldn't pass this one up. In spite of the drawbacks, the convoluted treacherous scheme at its core is provocative and intriguing, and overall the movie is quite enjoyable.

Grade: 6

Primaries Time

After all the infighting and the crazy rants on the Republican side and the fight to prevail on the Democratic side, tomorrow, February 1, the first primary in the nation will take place, and the process of winnowing down the field to two contenders will begin.

It's no secret that I am a liberal and could never support the policies or politics of the GOP, but this year one can hardly argue that the Republican's choice, whoever that ends up being, would be a better President than either Democratic candidate.

In support of that statement, I present to you The New York Times's editorial that just endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket and clearly favors her over any Republican (emphasis mine):
For the past painful year, the Republican presidential contenders have been bombarding Americans with empty propaganda slogans and competing, bizarrely, to present themselves as the least experienced person for the most important elected job in the world. Democratic primary voters, on the other hand, after a substantive debate over real issues, have the chance to nominate one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history. 
Hillary Clinton would be the first woman nominated by a major party. She served as a senator from a major state (New York) and as secretary of state — not to mention her experience on the national stage as first lady with her brilliant and flawed husband, President Bill Clinton. The Times editorial board has endorsed her three times for federal office — twice for Senate and once in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary — and is doing so again with confidence and enthusiasm.

Now, there will be those among you who will reply, well of course a liberal paper like the Times would endorse a Democrat! Then, here's the opinion of a staunch Republican, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates:
"The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler," Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday. "People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they're saying or they're cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it's the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they're saying."
He has more to say on that subject, and you can read that at Shakesville.

I still cannot vote in this country, but I'm rooting for Hillary, and if she doesn't get the nomination, for Bernie Sanders.

Either way, I really hope the White House doesn't fall into the hands of the Republicans again, otherwise we're all doomed, especially as far as the Supreme Court future appointments is concerned.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Family Plot

The Gist: A phony psychic and her dull boyfriend are trying to con a rich elderly woman by looking for her estranged and illegitimate nephew for a substantial sum. Unsure whether he's even alive or dead, their only lead brings them to a jeweler who kidnaps rich people on the side in order to collect diamonds as ransom. Things will only get more complicated from there.

Family Plot turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last feature film, back in 1976. It's a thriller with a hefty dose of comedy that keeps you guessing whether the lighter tone will deliver the usual dramatic payload in the end.

The Bottom Line: While not one of his best, this is still a good Hitchcock movie. Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, Karen Black, and William Devane are well cast and play to their strengths for an ultimately enjoyable tale.

Grade: 7

Frenzy

The Gist: There's a serial killer on the loose in London. His targets are random women, whom he rapes and then strangles with a tie. The police finally get a break in the case but the suspect, claiming he has been framed, breaks out of jail in a desperate attempt to find the real culprit.

Alfred Hitchcock is at the top of his game once again with Frenzy, a very good thriller that keeps you guessing who's guilty of what and whether the real killer will ultimately get caught.

The Bottom Line: This is a thriller that will please and entertain not only Hitchcock fans but the general audience.

Grade: 8

A New Beginning

Hello Reader,

I started this blog back in the summer of 2005, in the heyday of blogging, so to speak, and have enjoyed having a place where I can express myself ever since.

Here I could write reviews of the movies and TV shows I loved watching, the music or art I enjoyed, the books I read, and I could comment on all the topics that interested me, whether they be politics, the environment, space, or LGBT issues.

One thing I never particularly liked, however, was the name I had chosen for the blog, that is BlogElution -- The Blog Evolution. I tried hard to find some catchy or clever name that sort of related to all that I wanted to write about, but it was no easy task. So eventually that's what I settled on, always wishing I had picked something different.

Finally, after having made sure that I wouldn't lose all my years of writing (over 10!!), I sat down and started brainstorming, until I finally came up with a new name (that was still available as a url of course).

So today marks the birth of a head of my own, with a new banner but the same focus.

Now, back to writing!

Ciao!
Massimo

Topaz

The Gist: American and French intelligence officers jostle with Cuban revolutionaries and Russian spies leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War.

One of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces, Topaz keeps you glued to the screen as the intricate puzzle slowly comes together.

The Bottom Line: Whether you're a Hitchcock fan or not, this is a great thriller and won't disappoint you. On top of that, one also gets to experience a bit of the tension that certainly permeated the world during the sixties. A must-see.

Grade: 9

Daybreakers

The Gist: A plague has turned most of the human race into vampires. With reserves of fresh, clean blood dwindling, the race to find a synthetic blood substitute is on, but a scientist is also hoping to find a cure and bring humanity back from the brink of extinction.

Ethan Hawke is as hot as ever as the forlorn vampire longing for his lost humanity. Willem Dafoe is a bit too crazy while Sam Neill plays a good villain.

The problem I have with this sufficiently entertaining movie is that apparently a vampire is turned back into human form after being almost burned to dust by the power of the sun.

Now, aside from the fact that there can be no coming back from burning up in the sun's light (unless it's the tiniest sun ray on a little patch of skin), how is a vampire supposed to go back to being human if he has no more functioning organs??!

I've complained in the past about changing the fundamental rules of the game just so that one can come up with a new story to sell. Vampires have their canon and it can't just be thrown out the window like that. If you want to do that, then just make a new creature altogether, but leave vampires alone.

Vampires are deceased human beings still able to walk around by feeding on human blood. They can't stand garlic, silver, and crucifixes, can be killed only if staked through the heart with a wooden stick, and sunlight is deadly to them. That's why they rule the night. You simply cannot just say, Oh well, in our movie the sun is actually what cures a vampire, making him human again.

Number one, there's no coming back from the incineration brought about by the sun. Number two, there is no heart that can be revived to pump fresh blood again. Not only that, but there is no digestive system of any kind either, so how would a revived vampire feed himself now?

The Bottom Line: Daybreakers is a fairly high-octane tale of life, death, love, and hate and the fast pace will keep you entertained, but when the dust settles and the credits start to roll you realize that you've been conned. Hopefully, given the finale, there'll never be a sequel...

Grade: 6

Swimming Pool

The Gist: Afflicted by writer's block, a successful British writer of mystery novels travels to the French countryside to unwind and recharge in her publisher's vacation home. The unexpected arrival of the publisher's daughter, a free-spirited and sexually adventurous girl who's the exact opposite of the uptight and reserved writer, will upend the woman's stay and jolt both her nerves and her writing.

Charlotte Rampling is one of my favorite actresses. She seems to effortlessly embody any character she plays, always delivering excellent performances.

Rampling was the main reason for watching this movie, but from the get-go it sucked me in. And Ludivine Sagnier perfectly holds her own.

The Bottom Line: I don't want to say more for fear of saying too much. Swimming Pool is a brilliantly written thriller that uses suspense and innuendo as well as it can be expected. A can't-miss.

Grade: 9

A Year in Movies


I realized I forgot to post the list of movies I watched in 2015, so here it is:

9

Overall, I would say a very good crop of films. Out of 46 titles, only two failures and a whopping 35 earned very good grades.

If I had to pick my top five, they'd be:
12 Years a Slave
American Sniper
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Imitation Game
Whiplash
And my favorite movie of 2015 was The Imitation Game.

Friday, January 29, 2016

American Sniper

The Gist: Chris Kyle's impressive targeting precision turns him into a legend among his fellow soldiers, but also makes him the biggest target of the insurgents in Iraq. Meanwhile, his ability to handle the stress of the battlefield deteriorates with each passing tour of duty.

Chris Kyle is known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history and this movie is a fitting tribute to his efforts to protect his comrades.

It is very sad to think that after the countless lives he helped save in Iraq in the thick of battle, he couldn't save his own back home.

Another great movie by Clint Eastwood. Bradley Cooper turns in a fantastic performance, probably his best to date.

The Bottom Line: American Sniper is a great war movie, intense, intimate, suspenseful, violent, and raw. Don't miss it if you're into the genre.

Grade: 9

Selma

The Gist: In his quest to secure equal voting rights for African Americans, Martin Luther King found himself staring down the forces of discrimination and racism in Selma, Alabama.

Directed with focused intensity by Ava DuVernay, this is one of those movies that makes you shake your head in despair and astonishment at what people had to go through just to be seen and treated as equal by their fellow citizens and by the law.

An excellent cast is topped by David Oyelowo, who incredibly wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the civil rights icon.

He's joined, among others, by Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Tim Roth, and Wendell Pierce.

The Bottom Line: Selma is a must-see film for anyone. It educates you about important historical events that are, unfortunately, still very timely.

Grade: 9

Interstellar

The Gist: Ravaged by climate change, Earth is experiencing an endless cycle of droughts, resulting in famines that have killed millions. When it looks like humanity's time might be up for good, a wormhole appears in space. A brave crew will have to dare going on an interstellar trip to try and find us a new home before it's too late.

Christopher Nolan has solidly become one of my favorite directors. His movies are always mind bending and thought provoking, supported by original scripts (usually by he and his brother) that are well written and daring.

To top it all off, fresh, inventive, and challenging visual effects and camera work only add to the wonderful movies he whips up for us.

Matthew McConaughey, as the space cowboy, once again proves he's more than just a pretty face (but damn is he pretty!!!) and he is counter-balanced by a level-headed Anne Hathaway. Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, and Matt Damon round up a great cast.

The Bottom Line: I love sci-fi movies, and when they're well made it's an indescribable treat. Interstellar qualifies as a fantastic one and its themes should appeal to everyone. Don't miss it.

Grade: 9

Captain America: The First Avenger

The Gist: A sickly guy, rejected by the Army but determined to serve, accepts to be the test subject for a serum meant to create an army of super-soldiers. The experiment is a success, but now he becomes a target.

The first installment of the Captain America franchise is a clear success. Excellent visual effects allow the super-gorgeous Chris Evans to transform from the feeblest of physiques to his spectacular self. And really, can you name an actor who would embody Captain America better than Chris Evans?

This being the first movie, the backstory of our hero has to be established, so a lot of time is devolved to that task. With that out of the way, the follow ups will be able to more promptly jump into the action, but this one is built well enough not to be lacking in that either.

The antihero is played by Hugo Weaving, who does a fair job, even though he looked more natural in The Matrix movies. Rather, it's the great Tommy Lee Jones who gets to steal the show whenever he's onscreen.

The Bottom Line: I'm very ambivalent about the endless stream of adaptations of comic book heroes, but since they seem to be here to stay (for the time being), might as well enjoy a few. This one definitely came out good, so unless you hate the genre, go ahead and watch it. Also, there's Chris Evans.

Grade: 8

Wild

The Gist: After her recent divorce, Cheryl decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, in order to rediscover herself.

Wild is a fairly straightforward movie, very linear in its construction, aside from the many flashbacks, but it is one of those movies that make me want to drop everything and go on an adventure like the one depicted here.

Another such movie was Into the Wild, although that one is much darker.

Here, Reese Witherspoon delivers the performance of a lifetime by carrying the film's entire weight, not unlike that backpack, all on her own. She's utterly believable as the doggedly determined woman on a journey of self-rediscovery.

Needless to say, the landscapes and the cinematography are spectacular.

The Bottom Line: I started watching this movie without expecting too much and was rewarded with a refreshing tale with a great performance. Watch it!

Grade: 8

Edge of Tomorrow

The Gist: A military officer is grudgingly drawn into combat, to fight against an alien enemy who seems unstoppable. When he's endowed with some special powers, he tries to turn things around.

Because of all the Scientology crap that's become an unbearable drag on his persona, Tom Cruise is an actor I can hardly stand to watch these days, but he is still a movie star, and certainly hasn't lost the flair for picking good projects.

Edge of Tomorrow is just one example. The story is intriguing and well developed, and it keeps you on edge beginning to end. And Tom is good enough as an actor to succeed in making you forget his role as that cult's poster boy for a couple of hours.

I also enjoyed enormously watching Emily Blunt, a fine actress hardly pictured as a war hero, get down and dirty and playing badass.

The only gripe I have is with the predictable Hollywood ending. It never ceases to amaze me how studios always fall into the trap of having to save the day on the last few minutes, just in case there's a half chance of getting a sequel made. Unless they're just afraid that the audience would get too upset by a less than rosy ending (they aren't, a sequel is already in the works apparently).

The Bottom LineEdge of Tomorrow is a good sci-fi/action movie that keeps you glued to the screen and even makes you chuckle a couple times in the process.

Grade: 8

The Judge

The Gist: A big-city lawyer is called upon representing his estranged father, a judge, who's accused of murder. During the course of the trial, many secrets are revealed and some old wounds are healed.

The Judge follows a fairly standard plot construction but that doesn't really deter from the final result.

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, both great actors, beautifully play off each other, even though Downey Jr. seems at times to just rehash the arrogant know-it-all character from other movies (not unlike his Tony Stark persona).

The Bottom Line: If you are a law procedural fan or admire either of the lead actors then The Judge is for you. Overall, a decent film, but soon forgotten.

Grade: 7

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Into the Woods

The Gist: A baker and his wife need to gather a list of items for a witch in order for her to lift the curse that prevents them from having children.

Musicals can be interesting and fun to watch, but they do feel quaint. Wildly popular decades ago, they've been resurrected time and time again, sometimes with excellent results (Moulin Rouge, Cabaret), but I always feel wary going into one because their very own premise (people singing rather than talking) is absurd and feels foolish.

I decided to watch Into the Woods primarily because it starred my favorite actress, Meryl Streep, and because she was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress for the role.

Gods, did I need not to worry! The movie is an amalgam of several famous fairy tales perfectly strung together.

The songs are clever, the dancing organic, and the script skillfully weaves all the many pieces together.

The cast includes Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp, and Chris Pine and they are all incredibly good. Naturally, Meryl tops them all in yet another perfect and unforgettable performance.

The Bottom Line: Fear not the genre and confidently go and watch this excellent tale of love, loss, and magic. You'll love it!

Grade: 8

The Impossible

The Gist: A vacation in Thailand suddenly turns into a horrific nightmare for a family caught in the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Another movie based on a true story and another incredible story of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love.

Naomi Watts is fantastic as the mother separated from almost her entire family and severely wounded, who comes very close to dying.

Ewan McGregor, another excellent actor, makes you feel the pain and heartache of every step he takes in the desperate quest to reunite his family or all that survived.

It's impossible to guess what it must have felt to be in the middle of such a catastrophe, but this movie gives us an idea.

The Bottom Line: I had been wanting to watch this movie for a long time and wasn't disappointed. Watts and McGregor are incredible and the feelings of sorrow and loss are tangible. A must-see.

Grade: 8

Unbroken

The Gist: Famous Olympic runner Louis Zamperini joins the armed forces during World War II, but ends up in a plane crash over the Pacific ocean. Most of the crew dies, except for him and a couple others. After almost 50 days at sea, the survivors are captured by the Japanese navy and brought to a prisoner-of-war camp, where they will have to fight for survival all over again.

This was Angelina Jolie's second round in the director's chair and, although I didn't see her first effort, she held her own here. The movie was obviously physically challenging, given both theme and locations, so I think she proved herself more than capable.

Watching the three survivors waste away in a raft for all that time one can't help but wonder how they did it, but knowing this is based on a true story, all doubts wash away.

Jack O'Connell delivers a performance for the ages, flanked by an excellent Miyavi as his tormentor.

The Bottom Line: Unbroken is a good movie, well made, and I usually recommend movies based on actual events in order to deepen one's understanding of the human condition and of historical events. In this instance, both will leave you tense and astonished.

Grade: 8

The Challenger

Thirty years ago today NASA suffered its first major disaster during a Shuttle mission to space. Less than two minutes from take-off the Challenger exploded in flight, killing all its astronauts.

I was just 14 at the time, and my fascination with all things space had barely begun, so this terrible accident left its mark.

Here's a news report, live, on the fatal flight.

Mr. Turner

The Gist: A presentation of the last part of British painter J.M.W. Turner's life, with all his eccentricities, creativity, and peculiarities.

Movies about great artists aren't the easiest to make because sometimes the pace makes them tedious. Such isn't the case here, as Mr. Turner seems to have had a rather exiting and interesting life.

Timothy Spall turns in the role of a lifetime as the man with a talent greater than life but slovenly, sullen, and often seemingly sad.

Of note is the cinematography, which is absolutely stunning.

The Bottom Line: Mr. Turner is a good movie that might turn some people off because of its somewhat slow pace, but it's definitely worth watching.

Grade: 8

Here's an example of Mr. Turner's work and one of my favorite paintings of his, Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway


Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway

Nightcrawler

The Gist: A morally ambiguous, unemployed man suddenly discovers the world of crime journalism and has no qualms in undermining the competition, breaking the law, lying, threatening, or bending the rules in order to establish himself.

Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a mesmerizing performance and shows a willingness to shed his stunning attractiveness in order to prove he's a good actor. I believe the point has been made.

One of the most striking things about this movie is how much it likely reflects reality in the way that news are obtained and produced. I have no difficulty believing it's a cutthroat environment where unscrupulous individuals often rise to the top faster than more conscientious ones.

The Bottom Line: Nightcrawler is not a movie for the faint of heart. It's high-octane entertainment peppered with unethical choices and a good dose of suspense. All that to say that it's a really good movie.

Grade: 8

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

The Gist: An in-depth look at the cult of the Church of Scientology. How it sweeps people into its folds and how hard it is to come out of it unscathed.

Through the years I've read enough about this so-called church to firmly believe it's nothing but a cleverly designed front to make money, evade paying taxes, avoid paying for any work, and launder all sorts of shadily and forcibly obtained funds.

This documentary decidedly shows that Scientology is not a real church, abuses its followers, severely punishes any acts of disobedience, and is free to operate under the sun because it strong-armed the US federal government into approving its church status, which for all intents and purposes puts all those responsible of any wrongdoing beyond the reaches of the law.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is as explosive an indictment as I've ever seen and it's utterly incredible that an organization such as this, which corrupts and mistreat those who fall for its lies and promises, is allowed not only to legally operate, but to flourish.

I hope someday there'll be enough proof to take the whole scheme down once and for all.

The Bottom LineGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a fantastic documentary that, appallingly, wasn't nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar this year (I'm sure in no small measure thanks to the threats and called in favors from all the Academy members the church was able to reach). It should be watched by everybody and those in a position to do something about stopping David Miscavige should get to work.

Grade: 9

Bessie

The Gist: The story of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, from her days singing backup to becoming a star.

Bessie Smith had one of the best voices in the history of blues, a voice I like very much, so I was looking forward to watching this movie. I wasn't disappointed.

The writing is nicely paced between more crucial events of Smith's life and less important ones. And the fact that it didn't try to whitewash Smith's bisexuality or the fact that people would simply turn a blind eye to it even when it was publicly displayed is to be commended. Times surely have changed.

Queen Latifah shines in a role she was born to play, baring (literally) her body and soul in order to embody one of the greatest singers who ever lived.

Michael Kenneth Williams plays her husband, through thick and thin, and delivers another great performance. When will this excellent actor get his dues?

The Bottom Line: Bessie is a good movie, in spite of the seemingly lower budget of a television production, and if you like blues, or Ms. Smith, or Queen Latifah, you shouldn't miss it.

Grade: 7

P.S. I Love You

The Gist: A couple is hit by sudden tragedy when the husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After his funeral, the widow starts receiving a series of letters set up for delivery by her husband before his death.

A non overly exciting premise whose execution is nevertheless acceptable. Gerard Butler is perfectly cast as the handsome, proud, protective, loving husband who deeply cares for his wife's happiness.

It's Hilary Swank, cast as the wife, who hardly shines. Swank is a great actress (she already has two Lead Actress Oscars!!) but I'm starting to think that she's unmatched when it comes to roles that eschew femininity (a transgender man, a boxer), and much less suited to regular female roles.

The cast also features Kathy Bates as the concerned mother, Gina Gershon, Harry Connick Jr., and my adored Lisa Kudrow, who steals every scene.

I was quite impressed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, not only for his gorgeousness but also for his striking resemblance to Javier Bardem!

The Bottom LineP.S. I Love You is not memorable in any way, but it's not terrible either. If you're a romantic, you will enjoy it.

Grade: 6

Citizenfour

The Gist: The documentary that recounts the timeline and motivation behind Edward Snowden's decision to reveal to the world one of the NSA's most secretive programs.

When I first heard what Snowden had done, I thought it wasn't in the best interest of the general population to find out that such a program existed, because it meant that the terrorists and random bad guys knew it as well.

Furthermore, countless lives might have been put in danger and missions threatened by his revelations completely unnecessarily, because, frankly, if you thought that your government wasn't monitoring everyone's private communications, then you were deluding yourself.

That's what governments do and have done ever since the dawn of civilization, when humans started congregating in tribes who were suspicious of each other, thousands of years ago.

Reading more about Snowden's motivations and watching this Oscar winning documentary, however, really made me realize that even if I always suspected that a government, any government, spies on its citizens, it doesn't make it right.

I actually sympathize with Snowden now, and hope against hope that he'll receive a presidential pardon so that he can actually come back to the US and live as normal a life as he can, rather than being exiled forever or face life prison for treason.

The Bottom LineCitizenfour is a gripping documentary that is a must-see if you are interested in finding out more about Edward Snowden the whistle-blower and why he did what he did.

Grade: 8

Pride

The Gist: Britain, 1984. Miners are on strike nationwide to protest government cutdowns. A small group of London gay and lesbian activists, the most unlikely of sympathizers, will come down on their side to bring attention to their plight and help them in their fight.

Another tale based on a true story I had never heard before, even though it apparently got the ball rolling on gay rights in the UK and allowed the community to make important strides forward.

Watching this movie I realized how true the maxim, Even the smallest person can change the course of the future, really is. Here was a regular guy, Mark Ashton, who decided he had to do something about an injustice he couldn't abide any longer, and in so doing changed both history and society.

What he was able to do with the simple goal of helping a group of people he knew nothing about (and was ostracized and vilified by), and what his actions resulted in, really made me mourn his premature death. Just imagine what else he could have accomplished as the premier leader of the gay movement in the UK. Sort of a similar to losing Harvey Milk in the US.

The Bottom Line: Pride tells a very important story with lots of comedic accents and dramatic turns. The acting is phenomenal and the writing won't let you look away.

Grade: 8

"WHITE PRIVILEGE II"

Although I'm not a big hip-hop fan, I've come to really like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (and no, you perverts, not just because of their looks...).


Their latest once again strikes a chord. I've heard some criticism about the fact that they were taking advantage of the current mood rather than actually being interested in acknowledging the state of racism today in America and what white privilege means.


I think the duo has demonstrated in the past that they actually genuinely care about making a difference with their music, so I give them kudos for coming up with another good tune that also has a very important message.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Days, One Night

The Gist: After a sick leave, just when she's ready to go back to work, a woman is informed that her coworkers were asked to pick between her keeping her job or them receiving a bonus thanks to the financial savings derived from her dismissal. Having secured the go ahead for a new vote, she only has a weekend to convince a majority of her coworkers to give up their bonus and allow her to keep her job.

Such a small cinematic gem, so simple in its inception and yet so riveting. It goes to show that you don't need millions of dollars in sets, costumes, makeup, and visual effects. All you really need is a good story, well written, and perfectly delivered.

Marion Cotillard plays the woman caught in an impossible situation with understatement and a striking physical determination. The handsome Fabrizio Rongione plays the loving husband determined not to see his wife struck down by events beyond her control.

The Bottom LineTwo Days, One Night is a great indie production that should satisfy any cinema lover. Cotillard is a spellbinding.

Grade: 8

The Normal Heart

The Gist: It's the early days of what will become the AIDS epidemic and no local, state, or federal government official seems to care about the sudden spike in death rates, since the deceased are only gay men. A few courageous activists decide to take on the system and fight back before they all succumb to this still unknown disease.

This TV adaptation of Larry Kramer's autobiographical play is shocking for its simple rawness even though I mostly knew all the facts described, like the lack of interest in the loss of life, the scarcity of funding, and the stigma that still accompanies this plague in many segments of society.

Ryan Murphy directs with a decisive touch and the cast is absolutely riveting, with incredible performances from Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, and Jim Parsons (fascinating in the first role I've seen him play).

The Bottom Line: It took decades to bring The Normal Heart to the screen, and now that it's here, it's a must-see for everyone. This disease affects us all, no matter one's sexual orientation or activities. While it may have affected gay men at the onset, it is now a global disease that has killed millions without an end in sight.

Grade: 9

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

The Gist: After having destroyed the games' arena, Katniss Everdeen is whisked away to safety to District 13, where she's asked to be the face of the rising rebellion against the Capital. She warily accepts to take on this new role, but with Peeta still captive and President Snow out for blood, she will face some tough choices.

This third chapter was supposed to conclude the Hunger Games trilogy, but of course the studio decided to break it into two movies to make more money off it, so this is only Part 1.

All things considered, the movie is entertaining and flows pretty well. Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss and certainly delivers the goods. This time around Gale (hunky Liam Hemsworth) finally features more prominently, while Peeta (the adorable Josh Hutcherson) is mostly relegated to the sidelines.

This episode features the great Julianne Moore as President Coin and is dedicated to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. What a loss.

The Bottom Line: The Hunger Games as a whole is a pretty entertaining tale, so I would definitely recommend it, although if you haven't watched the first two installments, make sure you start there. These are definitely not to be jumped into randomly. Anyway, a good third round. Looking forward to the conclusion.

Grade: 7