Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1… Full Review

Thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight, we can get used to having the final installment of every young adult book being split into two separate films. While the studios justify this by claiming they want to do the finale justice, it’s more about milking out every precious cent from these cash cow franchises. Mockingjay, the third and final installment in Suzanne Collins’ young adult book series, is the newest victim of this trend. And just like all of the part 1’s before it, it’s all about the build up.

MockingjayPart1Poster3If you need me to explain that the story follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) or what the Hunger Games were, then there’s no need to read this review or watch this movie. You have catching up to do. Mockingjay Part 1 picks up where the previous film left off. After being rescued from the games by former head gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss and refugees from District 12 are taken to District 13, a military district once thought to be destroyed decades ago. There, they meet President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Commander Boggs (Mahershala Ali) who plan on using Katniss’ image to ignite the already rising tides of rebellion. The only problem is that Katniss can’t take her attention off of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is President Snow (Donald Sutherland)’s prisoner and weapon against the rebels. Other familiar faces return, including Katniss’ snarky mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), former Hunger Game victors Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and former Capitol escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).

I have read all of the Hunger Games books, but just as I did with my Catching Fire review a year ago, I’ll try and do my best to judge this movie as a separate entity. And as a film, it starts off feeling like what it is; half of a whole that was meant to be a half. We spend the better part of the first hour watching Jennifer Lawrence ironically doing her best job to be a bad actor as Katniss is prepped and filmed in hokey propaganda adds. These moments don’t nearly equate to the riveting build up of the games in the previous films. Katniss is also at her whiniest and most melodramatic. We realize these are devastating times, but does she have to act like such a brat towards the people who are clearly trying to help?

But like the first two films, once the action comes, it is entertaining. This time around though, these enthralling moments come from every character that isn’t Katniss. We’ve known that these are trying times in the country of Panem throughout the series, but for the first time, we get more than just glimpses of riots and protests. We get dam bombings, air strikes, and violent resistance from un-armored civilians willing to die for their cause. For the first time in the Hunger Games series, the action feels more real and much more powerful.

The early moments might seem dull and dreary, making Mockingjay Part 1 likely the weakest link in the chain, but there is still plenty to like. Harrelson is still a breath of fresh air anytime he’s on screen and Elizabeth Banks adds welcomed warmth (Effie only appeared in the book at the very end). Even Gale is much more likable than in previous films thanks to a noble performance from Liam Hemsworth. Fans of the book will also be pleased with casting of the numerous new characters. And if you’re one of those people who loved Hunger Games for the actual action of the games and might dose off once or twice, don’t worry, because the games are just beginning.

FINAL GRADE: B

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1… Full Review

Big Hero 6 Review

Big_Hero_6_(film)_posterThis isn’t the first time Disney has tried their hand at the Superhero genre. Back in 2004, Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles (one of my personal favorites) created the perfect blend of superhero action and adventure with the warm heartfelt tone that accompanies all Disney animated features. But can Big Hero 6, stack up to that? Better yet… can it stack up to Disney’s most recent hits, Frozen and Wreck It-Ralph?

The film, based loosely on a Marvel comic of the same name, tells the story of two best friend brothers, Hiro and Tadashi, who live with their aunt (Maya Rudolph) and are both brilliant robotics experts. Older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) spends his time at a University, honing his skills with his four friends and developing his healthcare robot Baymax, while 14-year old prodigy Hiro (Ryan Potter) hustles people in illegal robot fights. After Tadashi encourages young Hiro to do more with his gifts, Hiro develops a clever invention that gets him a scholarship offer from famed robot professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). But, after a freak accident, his invention is stolen, leading to Hiro, his friends, and loveable Baymax, to become a superhero team to stop the masked thief.

For starters, the movie should be called Big Hero 2. Most of the film is centered around the two brothers and most of the laughs come from their interactions with Baymax. The four aforementioned friends; Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Gogo (Jamie Chung), and Fred (T.J. Miller) have a few funny and exciting moments, but they are otherwise forgettable. But the biggest flaw with the film is not its lack of character development, but its lack of story.

Disney has become almost formulaic with its storytelling. At this point, we know some important character related to the main hero will die, so when it happens we feel some emotion, but its still feels predictable. Nothing that happens in Big Hero 6 feels like a revelation which, in a film meant to be cool more than laugh-out-loud funny, makes it a bit forgettable. Even the masked villain, who looks dastardly enough, seems to lack the ambition to be truly iconic.

The animation for this film is even more beautiful than usual. The location, a mixture between San Francisco and Tokyo, provides a unique backdrop that is awe-inspiring. The technology in the film is also exciting, but the action sequences aren’t quite as lively. The story itself, a.k.a. the most important element, isn’t as good as Wreck-It-Ralph or Frozen so while little kids may get a kick out of it and want to go out to buy Baymax action figures, you’ll just want to go home and pop in The Incredibles.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Big Hero 6 Review

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar… Full Review

Memento. The Prestige. The Dark Knight Trilogy. Inception. There are few directors with a track record like Christopher Nolan’s. His hot streak of not just good movies, but great ones, is uncanny. Over the years, he seems to have mastered the art of story telling without the bloated CGI and over the top action sequences that other blockbusters deem necessary. But at some point, logic dictates that he has to make a bad film. Doesn’t it?

93adf4cc94ee6641c38e9cb64706abf5cf528229Interstellar, co-written by his brother Jonathon, is Christopher Nolan’s newest work. The film tells the story of a dying Earth’s waning years. Swarming dust clouds are an everyday occurrence. Crops are dying out little by little. There are no more armies and no more engineers. Pretty much everyone is a corn farmer. With the situation dire, the last remnants of NASA (Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, and Wes Bentley) plot a risky voyage through a wormhole in space with the hopes of finding a new planet capable of sustaining human life.

Like most of the films Christopher Nolan has both written and directed, this one is long and complex. There is tons of science mumbo-jumbo implemented into the movie that you won’t understand. Some of it, mostly the actual theories and factual science implemented for the film, is conveniently explained in layman’s terms, but a lot of the equations and theoretical algorithms might as well be wizarding spells from Harry Potter. Luckily, the overly convoluted science doesn’t take away from the real story, which isn’t space exploration or a dying earth, but actually the story of a father’s need to do what’s best for his kids even if they’ll hate him for it. Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as widowed father, Cooper. As a former NASA pilot, he is the best candidate to navigate the voyage through the wormhole, but returning from the trip will be difficult, if at all possible.

The overarching relationship between McConaughey’s Cooper and his daughter Murph (played brilliantly by Mackenzie Foy) as well as the chemistry with co-star Anne Hathaway give this movie heart and soul. Nolan knows who to pick for his movies and here he has put together a splendid group. A who’s who of great actors (Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck) repeatedly, but pleasantly pop up in the film in unexpected places. And though long, the movie is far from boring. If you enjoyed last fall’s Academy Award winning hit Gravity, then you will be riveted by Interstellar. There are plenty of eye-popping visuals, many of them coming from two shape shifting blocky robots. Like the Batpod in The Dark Knight and the hallway fight scene in Inception, Nolan continues his knack for impressive, but believable special effects through resources other than CGI.

The movie is far too long and the ending will either be a head scratcher or an eye opener depending on how much you pay attention. But the overall payoff is indeed splendid thanks to emotional performances and captivating imagery. Surely, Christopher Nolan will make a bad movie at some point, but Interstellar isn’t it.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar… Full Review