Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is the first half of a two part finale to the hugely successful franchise.  Director Francis Lawrence returns to the helm, after the incredibly lucrative Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  The films are of course based on the novels of the same name.  Lots to talk about, so let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Performances
If there was something I enjoyed the most in this film, it would undoubtedly be the performances.  Jennifer Lawrence returns as our hero, Katniss Everdeen.  We didn't need this film to tell us that Lawrence is an incredible actress, with unlimited talent.  She IS Katniss Everdeen.  Lawrence demands our attention, and grabs hold of the audience fairly early on.  I noticed that with the darker subject matter of this film, we didn't explore nearly as many sides of Katniss' character.  It's understandable, but I enjoyed seeing a more playful, comedic side to Katniss, in previous films.  Nonetheless, Lawrence did a phenomenal job and brought her A-game to this picture.

The supporting cast is just as good.  I wish I could give examples of every actor's great work in the film, but you'll be reading this until tomorrow if I did.  Josh Hutcherson returns as Peeta; and while he has very little screen time, he relays the characters' emotions perfectly.  Liam Hemsworth plays Katniss' other love interest, Gale, and portrays a confused and frustrated young man very well.  Other notable performances include Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright and Stanley Tucci.

And how could I forget, the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman?  Prior to the films completion, Hoffman passed away; leaving a large fan base (myself included), wondering, in what capacity, he would be a part of the film.  I was most pleasantly surprised to see that he had a significant role in the film.  He has some really terrific scenes, where he gets to show off his incredible range.  From angry and frustrated to smart, sarcastic and funny.  I am going to miss watching this man on the big screen.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Story
Ok, just so you die-hard Hunger Games fanboys and girls are prepared; it's all negative from here.  So click off this site if you don't want to hear honest opinion, supported by examples.

There is no real story in this film.  A story contains a beginning, middle and end.  Peter Craig and Danny Strong are the writers of the film, but I can't completely blame them for this mishap.  The studio, for the most obvious of reasons, decided to split the final book in the series, into two films.  We've seen numerous examples of this in the past decade; most notably, the final Harry Potter book.  That being said, this film does not accomplish what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 did; tell a compelling story, AND, set up the epic finale to a beloved franchise.  Mockingjay Part 1 is just the beginning of one story.

There is a way to tell a tight knit story, AND slowly build up to final battle we all know is coming.  The film is so preoccupied with exploring the different ways governments are run, the way propaganda is used, and how leaders can be manufactured, that it forgets what made the franchise so popular... the combination of a human story, with incredible characters and eye popping spectacle.

The Themes
I'm going to get a lot of pushback on this, but I'd like to explain.  Government, propaganda and leadership are merely a footnote in the first two films.  They are definitely present, and are important; but they are not the primary focus.  They are in this film.  I'm not saying these things CAN'T be a part of a Hunger Games film; I'm saying they SHOULDN'T be the primary focus of a Hunger Games film.  If these issues were just a scene or two in the film, it wouldn't be a problem.  But I'm positive the writers were forced to produce 'filler' scenes, where the filming of a propaganda video become a 20 minute affair.  I'm guessing these are all explored further in the books, but the only reason they're focused on here, is because of the split of the final film.  I'm sure of it.  The theme of hope, which are predominant in the first two films, is just brushed over with a quick stroke of the brush; and substituted with sparking the flame of war.

The Scope of the Film
When I wrote the review for Catching Fire; I noted that everything was stepped up a notch, and the scope of the film was larger than the first.  This movie does the opposite, and pulls back the size and scope of the movie.  It honestly felt like a prison movie.  Again, I get it, it's important to explore character and be somewhat faithful to the books; but this is a Hunger Games film damn it!  The majority of the film takes place in such a confined space, we the audience, are desperate to see the light of day.  And before you even begin to argue that this was done 'on purpose', you're wrong.  Again, it goes back to the film being split into two part.

The Action
There is none.  I shouldn't say none... there is an arrow shot and a few guns fired.  Look, I'm not asking for a 1990's action film with nonsensical explosions and killing.  I'm asking for a Hunger Games film; the film we were lead to believe in the trailers and in the films that preceded it.  Francis Lawrence is an incredible director, but this just doesn't feel like his movie.  Even I am Legend, a film Francis Lawrence also directed; better juggled character development with the subtlety of a desolate landscape and over the top spectacle.  This was not a Hunger Games film, I'm telling you.

The Setup
All the dislikes you've read above make up this point I'm about to make... the movie was a setup.  WE were setup.  There is a scene towards the end of the film, where I can guarantee most audiences will assume it's the end of the movie.  And in my opinion, it's where the film should have ended.  But there's a few more minutes before the movie ends in the most unusual of places.  I literally watched filmgoers in my theater look at each other, as if to ask 'is it over?'.  It really is a headscratcher as to why it ends there.  And if it's fan service to the people who read the book, I'm going to dislike the movie even more.  I've always said a book is a book, and a film is a film.  They're structured differently, and their stories are told differently.  We'll have to wait a year to see where all this setup is going to take us.

The Verdict:
It's not the film we were promised
I honestly blame the studio for the way this film turned out.  The director, set designers, composer, and the cast are all top notch in the film.  I'll even give the writers a nod.  A greedy studio, motivated by profits, and trying to please shareholders, affected the final product of an art I love so much.  The first two films explored interesting characters, told conscience stories, and featured glorious spectacle.  By splitting the final book into two films, they forced these artists to have to do things differently than they normally would.  Now I sound like an overprotective father.  But that's how much I enjoyed the first two films.  And the fact that the second film improved upon the first, you can only imagine the level of expectation I had for this film.  Needless to say, I hope the finale offers the sort of redemption I'm hoping for, this time next year.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To review

Twenty years it took for the sequel to my favorite comedy of all time.  Twenty years it took for the Farrelly brothers (Bobby and Peter) to make Dumb and Dumber To.  The process of getting the movie made, and all its ups and downs could be a film in and of itself.  Regardless of the troubles, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are back!  Joining them are Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden and Rachel Melvin in the sequel we all wanted; let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Acting
Great characters are so important to any story.  And Harry and Lloyd are such great film characters.  Two dumb guys, who get into some crazy situations, managed to make us fall in love with them twenty years ago.  It's no different with this sequel.  Carrey and Daniels are, for a lack of a better work, charmingly dumb in the film.  They have such obvious chemistry, that seems to have lasted the test of time.  It must have been like riding a bike for the first time in decades for these two guys.  Carrey still gets top billing, and most of the well-written jokes.  Daniels proves his range with another great performance, that could have otherwise been a forgotten supporting role.  I love Harry and Lloyd and will always wonder what has come about for these two goofs.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Story
While important characters are vital to a film; a well-written story could be arguably more important.  This story is just re-hash of the first film.  A cross-country journey to find someone is not exactly exploring new grounds for a comedy.  In my opinion, road trip comedies are almost a lazy way out of a fresh and compelling idea.  The motivations for the characters are there, but they're dumb (no pun intended).  And the way the plot plays out has us rolling our eyes in disbelief, where the first film had us cheering on the characters until they reached their next stop.  I hate to be the one to say this, but the Farrelly brothers' best writing to date, was their first film... Dumb and Dumber.

The Re-hash
I can seriously quote 80% of the first film, THAT'S how many times I've seen the movie.  While I agree a little nod here and there to the original is nice, especially considering the amount of time that has passed, don't rest on the gags that made the first film so successful.  I will try not to spoil anything, but there are seriously jokes that replicate the first film beat for beat.  This was something I looked past with The Hangover II; but it's much worse here.  Remember that hilarious dream sequence in the first film?  I'll let you guess if there's one of those in this film.  Oh wait, the trailer already spoiled that for us.  The fact that the trailer spoiled a lot of great jokes, is something I'll leave alone for now.

The Supporting Characters 
I love the actors cast as supporting characters, I just don't like the characters very much.  None of them are really explored, and beyond the obvious motivations mentioned in the script, we don't know why else they're doing what they're doing.  Rob Riggle is a tremendously funny actor, and he's not even utilized in a comedic part for more than half the film!  Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead fame is a terrific actress; she's so incorrectly used that I couldn't care less what happened to her.  She has a high brow scene that just didn't play well to me.  And Rachel Melvin is a very bright spot in this film; but she's criminally underused here.  Melvin kills it in this movie, and should be under my 'likes' section of the review.  But the fact that we barely scratch the surface of her character, is enough to leave me frustrated and disappointed.

The Verdict:
I wish I wouldn't have seen the film.  Honestly, the first one means so much to me, I am having a hard time writing this review from an unbiased perspective.  I wanted this movie to be great.  I wanted it to be so good, it would warrant another sequel.  I didn't get that.  Instead I got lazy writing for two very gifted comedic actors.  I got one joke after another of the characters using words incorrectly, with not much else.  A silly plot that never grabbed my attention, and supporting characters that we don't explore and definitely do not care about.  This might be the last time I see Harry and Lloyd on the big screen, and that may not be such a bad thing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gone Girl review; an unnerving film by David Fincher

Gone Girl was a film I probably could have waited to see.  It wasn't a 'must-watch' for me, and that's probably because I wasn't familiar with the source material.  David Fincher's film about a husband accused of killing his missing wife, is based on the best selling novel of the same name; written by Gillian Flynn.  Flynn also wrote the screenplay to the film.  David Fincher directs Ben Affleck in a role that is very different from anything else he's ever done in his career.  Rosamund Pike plays Affleck's wife; and it just gets crazy from there.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
David Freakin' Fincher
Fincher is a tremendous talent, respected by so many people in Hollywood.  He has produced one commercially successful film after another.  And has been nominated for 2 Academy Awards for Best Director.  His signature style is apparent in every scene of the film.  The tone of the movie, and it's dark subject matter grab the audience from the very first scene.  Fincher plays with the audience as if we're nothing more than puppets at his mercy.  The settings, cinematography and more, all serve a purpose in manipulating our emotions.  Fincher's meticulous work paid off in so many ways with this film.  He is terrific.

The Story
Holy crap the story!  I wont spoil anything here, but the story is one of the best I've seen play out on the big screen in a long time.  Ben Affleck is accused of murdering his wife, and we have to figure out if he did it or not, as the story moves along.  I'm going to leave it at that, because I really will spoil the film if I say anymore.  Trust me, and go watch the film, if for nothing else but to see if Affleck's character really did commit the crime or not.

The Acting
Affleck is great in this movie.  You never know how to feel about him.  Did he do it?  Did he not do it?  I don't know, I'm not telling you here!  He's always had the charm to capture an audience, but there are some deep seeded issues with this character that he only subtly brings to the surface.  I also really enjoyed Rosamund Pike's performance as Affleck's missing wife.  She plays the role PERFECTLY, and while it's early, I'm predicting at least a Golden Globe nomination.  Great lead actors here!

I also want to take a moment to talk about the great supporting cast as well.  Kim Dickens plays a Detective who hasn't quite figured out Affleck's character yet.  She is basically sitting in for the audience, piecing together the clues to figure out just what the hell is going on.  Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry play small, but pivotal roles in the film, and are very good.  For me, the scene stealer was Carrie Coon, Affleck's twin sister.  She is PHENOMENAL in this movie.  Sweet and supportive with an undoubted chemistry with Ben Affleck on screen.  Then, when the story gets really heavy, she portrays an emotionally exhausted young woman trying to make sense of everything that's happening around her.  I have already looked up Coon's other films, so I can see more of her work.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Pacing/Third Act
The movie is long, but I'll get into that in a moment.  The movie moves at a really fast pace.  It is engaging and keeps you at the edge of your seat for two/thirds of the film.  And this is in large part due to a great script by Flynn.  But what I think happened was, the third act in the book, plays out differently than that of the film.  It wasn't as tight as the first half of the film, and didn't us guessing like it did before.  Plot holes reared their ugly heads, and the absurdity of some scenes totally pulled me out of the movie.

Run Time
The movie is about 30 minutes too long.  But here's my dilemma; without watching it again, I honestly don't know what I would have cut out of the film, off the top of my head.  I also don't know how true to the novel the film is, so I can't say it was to serve that purpose.  All I know is, by the end of the film, I was emotionally spent and ready to watch a Pixar film.

The Ending
Oh the ending.  In terms of the story being told, and the situation the characters are in, it's not a very believable ending.  And I think that's why I have it on my 'didn't like' list.  The movie is very serious, very dark and at times, difficult to watch; but it was realistic for 99% of the film.  It's one of those movies where you say, 'that could happen', over and over again.  But the ending comes, and you just roll your eyes in disapproval.  I did at least.

The Verdict:
An excellent film that will stay with me for a long time
Usually when I say 'a film will stay with me for a long time', it's because it was inspirational in some way.  Not this movie!  It's a very serious film, well written, and directed by a terrific talent.  Fincher and company will be contenders during awards season, from what I've seen so far this Fall.  I loved the acting and respected what they did with the story, until just about the end.  There are other aspects of the film I enjoyed as well, that I didn't mention; such as the score and production design.  Just all around great work.  Go see the movie, if for nothing else, than to be able to discuss the ending!

Quickie: Margot Robbie cast as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

Warner Brothers announced a few months ago that a Suicide Squad film was in their movie slate of superhero films; and that David Ayer (Fury) would direct.  Except the Suicide Squad are not heroes, they're villains!  While big names like Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Jared Leto have all been rumored for various roles, today it was revealed that Margot Robbie is being cast as Harley Quinn, the beloved character who made her debut in Batman: The Animated Series.

Harley Quinn was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the brilliant minds behind numerous cherished cartoons based on beloved DC characters.  Quinn is actually a psychiatrist named Dr, Harleen Frances Quinzel.  In some iterations she was a psychiatrist assigned to the Joker in Arkham Asylum, before falling in love with him.  She became his sometimes girlfriend, and sidekick.  The character became so popular, she can be seen in numerous mediums.

I personally love the Harley Quinn character, in every single one of her incarnations.  Whether it be an animated film, tv show or video game, the character has a HUGE following.  Just Google Harley Quinn Cosplay if you don't believe me.  I've only seen one of Robbie's films, and that was The Wolf of Wall Street.  She was ok in the film, I guess.  But the character really could have been played by any gorgeous blonde in Hollywood.  That's not to say Robbie isn't a good actress, just that I haven't seen her in anything where she's had a chance to shine.

While we're waiting for the rest of the squad to be cast, we now know Robbie is our generations first Harley Quinn.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quickie: Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass will return for a 5th Bourne movie in 2016

The title says it all.  It's been rumored for month; but now Matt Damon has confirmed.  He and Director Paul Greengrass will return for a 3rd 'Bourne' movie together, Damon's 4th overall.  The movie is set to be released in 2016, according to Damon himself.

You may recall there was a 'Bourne' film in 2012 titled, The Bourne Legacy, a film starring Jeremy Renner.  The film was set in the same universe as the 3 films that came before.  It was a film I enjoyed very much.  The movie grossed approx. 113 million dollars in North America.  Numbers most movies would be glad to have; except for the fact that it followed The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), which grossed double that amount, at approx. 227 million dollars.  Almost immediatley after 'Legacy' was released, the rumors began to fly about a shared-universe film, that would star both Damon and Renner's characters.  No word yet if this is the case for the new film.

I'm happy with the news, and somewhat annoyed.  I really enjoyed Damon and Greengrass' work on the franchise.  But what I liked about Renner being brought in to the world, was that Damon's story was told.  It had a great beginning middle and end, that we watched in wonder; and his story came to a satisfying end.  Maybe I'm just annoyed with that these franchises, that told conclusive stories, are being brought back from the dead.  Are you excited about the news?  Good or bad for Damon and Greengrass?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interstellar review; are we smart enough for a film like this?

Christopher Nolan is my favorite director working today.  He's imaginative and takes incredible risks, in an industry that has forgotten what that means.  His movies always tend to push the envelope and tell sophisticated stories involving fascinating characters.  Stories that make us think.  Interstellar is no different, but pushes the envelope far beyond the comfort level of this blogger.  Let's dive right in!

What I liked about the film:
The Acting
Matthew McConaughey is good in the film.  He does well with the scripted material.  For the most part, he charms the audience into caring about the outcome of his story arc.  He gets us invested.  I think there are problems with the script that stops me from calling his performance anything more than 'good'.  But overall, McConaughey has proven time and time again, he has the ability to pull us into a film, and keep us gazing for hours at a time.  

Believe it or not, I enjoyed someone whose acting I normally despise, and that is Anne Hathaway.  Hathaway is terrific in the film.  Her character could have been written off as a 'filler' character, and that's simply not the case here.  Hathaway packs a serious punch in this, her second film with Director, Christopher Nolan.  She gives an honest and sincere performance that I really really loved.

The rest of the support cast is made up of actors who really don't do much.  Big names like Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Michael Caine, are barely on screen, in the overly long 170 minute film.  I only wish they had more to do in the film.

The Spectacle
I said it earlier; Nolan is a genius with the ability to tell a human story, on the largest of scales... like, the galaxy!  I won't spoil anything, but the characters spend a lot of time in space; and it looks glorious!  The way Nolan and company depict space and everything that comes along with it, is hypnotic.  I loved the space sequences.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Script
Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the script, and in my humble opinion, it's not very good.  Allow me to explain my reasoning.  The entire plot is built on the science of time and space.  I consider myself a relatively intelligent person, with a mild understanding of the theories involving time and space.... and I had no freakin' idea what the hell the characters were talking about during this 3 HOUR ride.  Obviously I'm speaking about the terminology used, but there are other problems with the script as well.

The Nolan brothers almost always struggle with exposition.  Inception featured an Oscar Nominated Ellen Page, and she basically just stood in for the audience, so we could understand the 'rules' of the dream world.  McConaughey's character is tasked with learning the science of the film, on behalf of the audience.  The problem is, there are scenes where McConaughey's intellect is superior to those around him, and the next scene he'll need his cohorts to explain the most basic of theories to him, portraying him as less intelligent character than the rest.  This just did not work.  Towards the climax of the film, I could no longer suspend my disbelief, and was ready to move on with my day.

Another major problem with the script is the relationship it tries to sell on between McConaughey and his daughter 'Murph'; it teetered on the edge of annoying.  It's difficult to explain this without giving anything away, but watch the film and let me know if I'm alone on this.  The relationship felt so forced, and the reactions of one character after the actions of another just didn't equate to me.

The Sound Mixing
At first, I thought it was maybe just my screening.  But now I'm reading tweets and reviews of the film, where it wasn't just me.  The sound mixing in the film is awful.  At multiple points in the film, I literally covered my ears.  I haven't done that shit since I was a kid and was scared of the movie on screen.  Something had to have happened in post-production that fell on deaf ears (pun intended).

The Climax
The climax is so bad.  So so bad.  I rolled my eyes over and over, with every word being said.  The worst part is, as we approached the climax, I said to myself: 'This scene better not be headed where I think it is.  What's happening better not be what I think it is!".  Sure enough, I guessed correctly and wished I could have unseen what I saw.  There are other scenes where you just throw your hands up and go, 'This is beyond believable'.  Just remember the waves and come back and tell me if you agree.

The Verdict:
Maybe I'm too dumb for the movie
Seriously.  Maybe I'm not intelligent enough to understand what's going on, and therefore could not appreciate it.  Maybe Nolan has pushed the envelope so far, that a lot of people are going to be left in the dark?  I don't know.  I have the utmost respect for Nolan and his ability to take incredible risks with his storytelling. Nolan knows how to write characters that keep us invested in a smart and spectacular story.  Inception still holds up after the few years since it's release.  As do Memento and The Prestige.  I just wasn't a fan of this film.  I know Nolan can do better, and will do better.  We'll just have to wait a few more years for that to happen.

Quickie: Toy Story 4 announced today

It really was a matter of time wasn't it?  Toy Story 4 was officially announced today on the Disney Pixar promoting website,  The film will be released on June 16th, 2017.

I was a huge fan of the series, and more specifically the way the third film wrapped up the story of the toys we knew and loved.  To me, that movie was near perfect.  In the back of my mind, I knew the franchise was too big of a money maker for Disney to let fall to the wayside; I guess I was just optimistic.  The third film had a great conclusion, that left me completely satisfied.

I don't agree with this move by Disney, and am curious to hear what the rest of the world thinks.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quickie: Foxcatcher trailer. Is the film going straight to the Oscars?

I know I am waaay behind on spotlighting this film.  But I've promised myself time away from work, a couple of times a week, to update the blog and get caught up on all the great movies and trailers that have been released the past few months.  Check out the trailer below for the movie garnering a LOT of buzz, Foxcatcher.  

Reminds me an awful lot of the Whiplash trailer, released earlier this year.  Both films deal with a mentor/mentee situation of sorts.  In Foxcatcher, it's Channing Tatum training to be the best Wrestler in the country, and an obviously disturbed Steve Carrell training him.  The tone and style of the film make the hair on the back of your neck rise.  It's a terrific trailer, that leaves us uncomfortable with the events we're watching; but it makes us want to see what happens.  

The movie is getting a lot of positive buzz, and some are calling it a sure fire Oscar contender.  In fact, of the critics that have already seen it, 90% gave it a positive review on  The reviews are coming from critics that have seen the film on the film festival circuit.  I for one can not wait to see the film, later this month.  It looks dark, intense, and career-defining for both Tatum and Carell.  What are your thoughts?  Is it the kind of movie you'll jump at the opportunity to watch?  Or is it too much for you to see Magic Mike and Michael Scott fall into darkness?