Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast Headliners: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, many many others
Original Release Date : November 20th, 2015  

It's hard to believe that the Hunger Games franchise has come to its end since it seems like it just started. In some ways its as if each installment has been part of one really long epic experience, and this is even truer with this film. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the end of the road of Katniss' journey, and some great things lie in wait. It manages to end with a bang and a intentional whimper, with everything in between on the way there.

The original novel upon which this was based was quite lengthy and filled with happenings which caused the film version to happen as two parts. The first part was decent but filled with far too much dialogue and slow burn buildup since in the novel it was intended that way and director Francis Lawrence went for a mostly straight adaptation. However, luckily, with every buildup there most usually come a release of tension and that unfolds here as tons of brilliant, intense action and climaxes. Numerous dangers both physical and emotional await our heroes on their ride to the end. Perhaps a point that makes this film have a less stand alone quality since it ties so heavily into the past few and especially the last one for it begins very much in media res.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) begins the film barely recovering from meeting the apparently changed Peeta(Josh Hutcherson) after he has been rescued from the Capitol's clutches. The movie hangs for a bit but not too long within the safety of District 13 but then moves to the final battlefields of the revolution against the vile President Snow(Donald Sutherland)'s government.

Katniss isn't in her quest the battle reaches the final enemy strongholds and cities and she's joined by sometimes lover, oftentimes friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), flamboyant fellow victor Finnick (Sam Claflin), their military squad leader Boggs (Mahershala Ali), filmmaker Cressida (Natalie Dormer), and several more. The film has an extremely large cast beyond this and overall, as there's Katniss' home support team of Haymitch(Woody Harrelson, ever humorous), Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final ever film, and he ends it in style with a CGI version of him or two and a meta-tribute at one point), President Coin(Julianne Moore), Johanna (Jena Malone), and so many more. It can be confidently said that every character in this grand tapestry, heroic to villianous, big to small, is great in their performance. Though a couple get lost in the movement of things, the cast each get their moment to have something to say one more time.
Above all others, both in the world's lore and in it as a experience to audiences, is the impact Jennifer Lawrence has as Katniss. Lawrence, an Academy Award winner, is simply one of the best actresses around in the industry today and its so good to see that her last turn on the franchise is a good one. She brings emotion, inspiration, and badassness in every situation that arises. Of particular note are her interactions with Peeta and Gale and her attitude to the mega villain President Snow. Even with no others around she brings an craft that earns both her character and herself the moniker “the girl on fire”, as she burns up the screen with her heroic talent. Katniss will go into Hollywood history as one of the great heroines of all time.
There's more than just final dialogue and drama to go through in the film of course, which is what alleviates the problem that was faced in part 1 (though be prepared for for possible tears as the franchise reaches new peaks of sadness and darkness). The film has several incredible action sequenes as the battle to sieze the Capital occurs. Just as the book describes (The film is nearly a flawless translation), the city itself becomes an arena like the titular Hunger Games were. Danger looks at every turn from flamethrowers, soldier ambushes, and traps that have to be seen firsthand which gives the movie a constant thrill which rivals the best of what was seen in actual arenas of the first two installments. But here it is made even more intense in that Katniss is so close to the doorstep of the one who's pulling all the strings. Kudos to the other Lawrence on this project in his directorial expertise which mixes beauty and lethalness whatever the situation may be.

There's a lot to digest in this film and a lot to wrap up. But nearly every moment is worth it and the core thins come through, from seeing old friends to explosive final battles to exploring deep themes on the meanings of war and power. This film is the result of what the meanings of the franchise is all about, and Katniss , and Jennifer Lawrence and co, compete in this “final game” with incredible style. The series has had its ups and downs but it finishes just about as well as any epic saga does. When it was good, things got great. Rue would be proud. 8.8 out of 10

The Night Before Review

The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast Headliners: Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie
Original Release Date : November 20th, 2015

  The Night Before has a fairly simple premise. After his parent's death on the holiday, a New York City guy named Ethan (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) spends every subsequent holiday getting into some extreme ruckus with his friends Isaac(Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie). This sounds like the premise to any typical Christmas comedy, but this is actually the latest in a series of collaborations between Seth Rogen and his friend and producing partner Evan Goldberg so much like their works like This is The End and The Interview one can expect an emphasis on the word “extreme.”
The film picks up years later with Isaac expecting a baby with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) and Chris becoming a mega NFL star. Ethan's not really gone anywhere aside still having a big crush on his ex Diana (Lizzy Caplan). This was all seen in the trailers, which is a big detraction of the film. The core plot and most of the film's jokes were seen in some amount in the several trailers released in the promotional campaign. That's not to say all the surprises and gag are ruined however, such as a couple other actors that have to be seen and some wacky happenings. The surprise that can be talked about is that the movie actually has a , albeit dumb, main McGuffin for the crew to get to the “Nutcracker Ball” as this is to be the trio's last one together as their lives change.
That story exists mainly as a thread to tie together some gags of course, but it has its good moments as mentioned. Everyone has their moment to drop a funny line or get into a strange situation, with particularly Rogen offering his usual stupid (and narcotic assisted) shenangins that will cause some chuckles to be had. It's also nice to see Anthony Mackie be in more straight up comedy after his turns in the more actiony Marvel films and dramatic roles he's been in of late as he has a knack for making one laugh. JGL's Ethan is pretty good but acts more as a bystander of events around him than a comedic standout. There's also bit roles of people like Michael Shannon of Mr.Green and Mindy Kaling's Sarah ,but their roles are ones that have to be enjoyed as they unfold.

The film is largely shown by the trailers and falls largely into the Rogen-lewd/drug-influenced/extreme shenangins style, but there's a spot or two of serious emotion speckled in and a large dollop of holiday shtick. But this movie mostly sets out to the typical bar it aims for, and offers a lot of laughs and even more silliness for better or worse along the way. 7.7 out of 10

Monday, November 9, 2015

Spectre Review

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast Headliners: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Lea Sydoux
Original Release Date : November 6th, 2015

  The time has come for another James Bond film. And while Spectre delivers the staples of a new entry, it also brings in some cool connections as well. This is the fourth incarnation of Craig, and the second by director Sam Mendes so coming off the excellent Skyfall hopes were high. It lives up to a good amount but not all of those hopes but is overall pretty recommendable. But who can hate a Bond film, Quantum of Solace aside....
The movie picks up with a amazingly cool looking sequence in Mexico during a Day of the Dead festival. James Bond (Daniel Craig)'s world has been shaken up after the events of the last film and he's on a mission to track evil to its source. Scenes like this , with its colorful locale and skeleton costumes, really showcase Mendes' skills from a cinematic aspect. There's some greatly shot pieces from a visual aspect, whether its the pop of the unique scenery, sweeping vistas, crazy car chases, or following people through facilities. His touch has definitely been evident and one would hope he can return again. The one who also brings back good form is Craig with his ever great balance of charisma and coolness. Q (Ben Whishaw), Ms.Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), and the new M (Ralph Fiennes) also bring back their great supporting presence and actually get to be a bit more in on the action this time.
On that action specifically there are some quality things. Sequences like the finale and various encounters with Hinx (Dave Bautista who is all too undeveloped) are intense and exciting. Action makes sense and is visceral (with a couple exaggerated moments up to variable enjoyment depending on how crazy one likes to see their Bond films get) but that's when it happens.

A problem with the film is its pacing . A bit too long is spent in some sequences that could have been spent in others. While everything makes sense there is just some meandering moments in parts of the plot and repeated themes both from within the film and from Skyfall.
However once the plot gets going to its best beats its great. This comes from meeting characters like new head of British Intelligence C (Andrew Scott) who is shaking up Bond's organization, main “Bond girl” Dr.Swann (a great Lea Seydoux), and of course from the villian in Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Waltz, and his character's syndicate SPECTRE (brought from classic franchise films) are presented wonderfully. Their evil operation and objectives leads to some great scenes and really ties into all of the Craig films in some cool ways. And as for the man himself, his performances are so good. His villain is deliciously, diabolically evil. The problem is that there's not enough of him. Due to various circumstances, he gets sidelined to happenings. Between this and the sparse action the film does not use enough of its strong suits.

But though those good moments make up for any plodding. They keep one going through the film which arguably nearly matches the best of the franchise but falls short through little innovation. That doesn't mean its not a overall entertaining showdown, and perhaps says that sometimes all that a good James Bond film needs is just another adventure done mostly solidly. 8.3 out of 10