Nightcrawler (2014): The Perfect Job for a Sociopath

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    “Nightcrawler” is a wonderfully disturbing film within the same vein as “American Psycho” and “The Good Shepard,” where we follow the rise of a broken person who is unable to relate to others and is a textbook sociopath. It really is fantastic and worth taking a look at. I’ll get into what made it so good in the assessment.

    “Nightcrawler” was directed and written by Dan Gilroy and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Tony Gilroy, Jennifer Fox, David Lancaster and Mitchel Litvak.

    The story revolves around Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an employed man who steals from a construction site and kills and steals the watch of the security guard who discovers him. He tries to get a job with the construction company he is selling to the stolen goods too but is unsuccessful but when he stumbles upon a crash and a nightcrawler recording the event for money for the local news, Lou sells his stolen goods to enter into the business. From here the story unfolds as he gets more obsessed in the creation of the narratives and is his disregard for life beyond a tool to climb the ladder is made more apparent. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is amazing! It keeps the dark feel and captures the world through Lou’s eyes. Events also feel raw too as we see what he sees through the eyes of a camera so the scenes create another form of tension that way. Robert Elwist did great.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a dark tone and feel to it and pervades a sense of danger. In that way it is almost a direct expression of Lou who we come to realize is pretty dangerous in how he knows how to push peoples’ buttons and manipulate them to his own ends and power. James Newton Howard was the right guy for this soundtrack.

Okay/Con: The Minor Characters – Because this movie is through Lou’s eyes we don’t really get to know the side characters that well. We only know them as much as they matter to Lou, which narratively makes sense but I think also shows how this was Gilroy’s first time writing as well as directing so characters like the first Nighcrawler Lou meets could have been explored or the guy on the news who works with Nina but never fully goes against her. They feel lost because they don’t matter to Lou. I also feel this applies to the detective as she only functions as an antagonizing force and not a character in her own right.

Nina – Nina is a cutthroat anchor on the vampire shift of the news and is willing to do anything to get ratings up. She’s a fascinating character as the only one we see push her buttons is Lou who at one point blackmails her into sex because he wants sex and feels set on money. It’s a creepy scene and she fights how she can but in the end he knows her too well. She’s older so we get that from experience she’s gotten cynical where she only wants stories that feed the narrative of “Crime is creeping into the suburbs.” When a home invasion happens she takes that story that Lou records and hides the truth showing in the end she’s as ruthless as Lou as she doesn’t morn Rick’s death except in how it tells a good story and feeds the narrative. Rene Russo is fantastic. Her base philosophy is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Rick – Is a young man desperate for money who Lou preys on for most of the film. It isn’t until the end when Rick begins standing up for himself that it looks like things might change as he could tell the police everything. Sadly he never gets the chance as the story goes south and he gets shot down by one of the home invaders in the street. He was the only one holding Lou accountable and calling him out for his inhumanity…but he gets nothing for it. Riz Ahmed plays this role really well as a man who is at first desperate live and later desperate for respect and for his own morality.

Lou Bloom – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal in. He plays the person who doesn’t understand emotions or empathy well and is always wearing a face. Desperation drives the character initially, but once he’s in control it becomes about keeping that control. From blackmailing Nina for sex, to blackmailing Rick for not resisting the job or hiding evidence from the cops so he can paint his own narrative and story that he knows he’ll profit from. He’s creepy and a clear sociopath but a fascinating character to watch. I kept waiting for the fall that never came, which would be the one thing I’d change. We never saw him with his back against the wall which I think hurt the script and knowing his character. Still a fantastic job on Gyllenhaal’s part.

The Ending – Lou is a successful businessman. I didn’t buy this given the detective suspected him and I fully expected the police to do more to stop him creating stories even if they didn’t have any proof. In this way the ending felt hollow. It wasn’t bad persay since it showed how empty the promises to his employees were given what happened with Rick getting killed but it served no purpose the way the ending to “American Psycho” did where we don’t know what’s real but we know what he’s capable of now.

    This was a really good film, but not a favorite. The tone, setting and music are all done really well…but I didn’t care about the minor characters and I wanted someone to fight and hold Lou accountable. He faced resistance at the beginning, but once he started to rise he never stopped, we never saw him fall. When every good protagonist needs a fall, especially one as despicable as Lou. I liked this movie and would recommend it though. It’s worth checking out and even though it’s not a favorite it is worth the time to see it.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10. Solidly good and a great first film for Dan Gilroy.

Interstellar (2014): Creating a Future

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      We complete the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week with “Interstellar.” “Interstellar” is by no means the greatest film of the year, or the greatest science film I have watched…but it is great and a favorite. The themes it explores with humanity at the edge as explorers and as a dying species speak volume to problems that exist or could arise and the possibility of something more. The folks in charge of this did their research as well, of course there are science fiction elements since this is a fictional film, but a lot of how they present ideas are solid. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who was also one of the writers and producers. His brother Jonthan Nolan was the other writer and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Lynda Obst.

   The premise is the not so distant future where the death of crops has turned society into an agrarian society with limited means. This has lead to extreme environment devestation and dust storms are a usual occurrence. In this world former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is raising his children with their grandfather (), after tracking a strange occurrence he stumbles on the last of NASA who have a plan for discovering a new planet to settle since Earth is dying. He decides to take the mission, and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – “interstellar” is a beautifully visual film. Be it the desolate wasteland Earth is becoming, or the Black Hole that they pass through or any of the different worlds…each feels large, unique and powerful. Hoyte van Hoytema really did an astounding job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and great. It is Hans Zimmer so it makes sense. My one issue with it was sometimes it was difficult to hear the dialogue because of how loud the music could become. The techno rhyme throughout the film gave it a very real high science fiction feel though and Zimmer is once again amazing.

The World – The world is rich in this Universe. From Earth being a dying world where climate is making crops unsustainable, to a planet of Water, a planet of Ice and the planet Amelia settles and how Space is shown as well as Cooper’s Station at the end. It is a Sci. Fi. Universe that feels real and close enough to our own to inspire us to try and make that reality (the good parts anyway).

The Science – We are presented different scientific concepts that strengthen the film. From the bend of space and time in regards to Black Holes or theoretical wormholes would work, to planets with greater gravity where time is faster or slower than on Earth. These ideas haven’t really been tackled all that well in modern cinema (that I can think of) except this film.

The Main Cast – The main cast is fantastic. I’ll get into the details of the characters and their arcs next, but I found the drama rich and the dilemmas real.

Amelia – This is not Hathaway’s greatest role as her motivation is one of the simplest ones…to find her boyfriend. She has other aspects to like love of exploration but when it comes down to the final choice that is her focus and is part of what leads to her ending as she heads off to Edmund’s planet at the end. Hathaway does a good job with what she’s given though, and she does survive.

Tom Cooper – Is the son who becomes stuck in the mindset of the dying Earth as he has lost children but refuses to leave as his home is all he has left. When Murphy calls him out on it he asks he never come back again leading to her burning his crops and attempting to save his children. He is the one whose scars are the most blatant after Cooper left as he sends his father a video of him saying good-bye. He moves on and becomes a part of the world destroying himself and his family. Casey Affleck does great.

Doctor Mann – Matt Damon plays a character who has gone mad and sees the only end because of how Doctor Brand used him. He wants humanity to die because he’s stared into the abyss and seen only humanity’s destruction. He nearly succeeds too and it’s only due to TARS, Amelia and Cooper that he doesn’t. His story is a tragedy as he had to live alone with his fears on a strange world with no way of getting back and knowing he was sent to die…all he had was sorrow.

TARS – Is the Artificial Intelligence that travels with them. TARS is pretty cool as it has personality and wit and the ability to make choices and withhold information. It builds a relationship with Cooper by the end and saves Cooper and Amelia a few times. I like it’s design as it’s like dark metal Tetris cubes all put together, and the voice is human but alien sounding. Glad that it survives the film.

Professor John Brand – Michael Caine’s character is the one who sets everything in motion and who didn’t have all the answers. In this way he was sending the crew off on a suicide mission which Murph finds out later as he’s on his death bed. She takes up her father’s and Brand’s work and makes sure he doesn’t die in vain as all of his character drive is for the salvation of humankind. He’s idealistic, flawed and very human.

Donald – John Lithgow play’s Cooper’s Father-in-Law and is our glimpse into the past/our present as he talks about everyone owning electronics and devices and how people get anything. His view is a reaction to this as he is fine with the way things are and values being a farmer and having a family. He’s let go of the past and moved on.

Murphy Cooper – Murph is our main protagonist on Earth as she joins Brand’s team to try and find a way to get off of Earth or reach the team that went through the Black Hole. We see that even as a young child she is curious and really attached to her dad as she is unable to talk to him after he leaves and only talks to say that he isn’t there when he said he would be. Resolution is reached in this as she works with her dad to solve the equation that makes colonizing space possible and finding her Dad. In end they meet and she’s an old woman, but they are finally at peace. The Coopers saved the human race. I really liked her character.

Cooper – Cooper is the one who is reluctant, but goes when he learns how bad Earth is getting since it would be the last chance he has to save his kids. His story is sad as his actions destroy his relationship to his son and for his daughter for a lot of her life. In the end all he has is the mission until the Black Hole placed by the Future humans gives him a way to communicate the equation or Murph which leads to his eventual rescue and the colonizing of the Solar System. He is there as his daughter dies and in the end takes off to go and search for Amelia as he fixed TARS who he became friends with and the adventure is all he has left. It’s bittersweet but awesome as it captures the essence of his character and how living his dream…no matter how costly it was, shaped him to forever be that explorer.

The Messages – There are a few messages in this film, the greatest of which is our ability to create a future. The Black Hole that’s a Wormhole was created by us to make certain that we would have a future in the first place. We see this in how Murph working with her father through space and time is able to figure out the code which makes human colonization of space possible and we see it in how TARS, Amelia and Cooper work together to get the ship back and stabilize it after Mann attempts to destroy it and in the afterword where we see people worked together to create Cooper Station off of Murph’s vision.

Okay: Red Shirts – There are two crewmen who die, but they are so unmemorable that they aren’t really worth mentioning. There’s the one who knows the science and math who Mann kills and the other guy who dies on the water planet because Amelia tries to do the mission to the point of stupidity and puts them all at risk. Their deaths only exist to raise the stakes, so they are at least successful at that.

The Cons: The Beginning – I really didn’t like the beginning. It was showing interviews with old people who are implied to be the people we’ll be seeing (and we do) and this shows that everyone lives. We don’t know how the characters live, but they live. This takes away from what could have created good tension, since there already is so much tension in the film.

Doctor Mann’s Story – I wish we could have got more of his story…be it from Professor Brand, who was his friend…or more of his story when we meet him and find out he’s an antagonist. I get why he is mad but I still don’t fully get it…What was his life on Earth like? We know how Amelia’s and Cooper’s life was, why not Mann?

   This was a great film and a wonderful way to end the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week. I highly recommend this film if you like Nolan, High Concept Science Fiction and space travel as it executes all of these really well. The minor characters don’t get justice done to them, but the main is given good exploration in what motivates them and in how they relate to one another.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A few things could have got more exploration, and I would have cut out the spoiler beginning.

Birdman (2014): A Surreal Exploration of Meaning and Ego

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      I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of good and okay movies over Thanksgiving Week. Out of all those movies, “Birdman” wins hands down. It will probably be in my end of year Top 5 list, but we’ll see. December still lies ahead and there were some films that I saw before reviewing the blog that will be major competitors.

   “Birdman” or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also was one of the producers and writers. The other writers were Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo and the other producers were John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole.

      The premise is Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an aging actor famous only for being Birdman trying to make it big on Broadway and be relevant again. From here the story unfolds as he wrestles with situations, his ego and characters and his possible magic powers as well as the character of Birdman who pressures him into actions. From here the story unfolds as things become undone. From here the story unfolds.

The review does contain SPOILERS.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack –  The music for this movie has a life of it’s own. There is a snare drum (and you see the drummer) at different points during the film and it does a good job of giving New York City life and creating tension. It makes everything organic and tense and draws you into the scene at hand.

Lesley – Naomi Watts plays Lesley, a character who has been working all her life to get on Broadway and is roommates with the selfish method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), when he attempts to rape her on stage she fights back and has her dreams come crashing down as the one who had helped her get to where she was betrayed her and didn’t own up to it. After she connects with Laura (Riggin’s girlfriend) and they share a kiss and appreciate each other as Laura reaches out on how Riggin had never showed the appreciation for her performances the way he did for Lesley. After she sets the boundaries with Mike she is a rock throughout the rest of the film and is able to comfort Riggin when he loses it after another bad Preview before opening night.

Jake – This is the best role I have seen Zach Galifianakis play. His character is driven and does all he can to pull the play together…from hiring Mike and doing what Mike wants no matter how outrageous and finding the money for different things the play needs…no matter how tight it gets. He comes through and his darker side is only revealed when he lies to Riggan to keep him afloat telling him they were sold out and that famous people showed up tonight to cast for movies and when he is celebrating the show’s success even though his best friend just shot off his nose and he hasn’t checked into his friend’s mental state. He was compelling to watch though.

Sylvia – Amy Ryan plays Sylvia…Riggan’s ex-Wife who he cheated on. Post divorce she is the only person he is honest with and opens up about Birdman being in his head pressuring him to do certain things. She listens to him but keeps him grounded and it looks like they are able to resolve things as he shows he cares and has learned and it happens organically too as she’s the adult in the room and he’s the one growing past his ego.

Sam – Sam is Riggan’ daughter and is played by Emma Stone. She plays a young woman out of rehab and she plays the part well. From the apathy and skeletalness, to using what she learned there (marking a napkin with dashes to represent time) she is there for her dad and admits he wasn’t a bad father after she talks to Mike about he was never there and realizes he wasn’t bad. She makes him relevant again and uses the popularity he receives on youtube after he gets caught outside the theatre in his underwear to boost him to relevant again as at the end she’s the one running his social media sites. They are friends at the end and she knows he found freedom as when she goes into the empty room and looks outside, she smiles.

Mike – Edward Norton plays a prick who is only real when he’s on stage and being someone else. We see this in how he plays a critic talking poetry and meaning…but than bashes everyone and during Truth or Dare has Sam spit on a bald guy’s head…as well as when he tries to rape his friend. I didn’t like this character. He was complex but he doesn’t even compare to Riggan in regards to how good he is. He is driven by ego, jealousy and want above all else. He only really cares about people after Riggan calls him out and fights him and after he loses Lesley. That is when he begins to learn and see beyond himself. He is devoted to the craft and that is part of what makes him interesting. If the script says his character is drunk, he was real liquor on stage, etc. I’m glad he grows but because of the scene with Lesley I could never like the guy.

Birdman – Birdman is Riggan’s ego and desire to matter. He is core Id and at one point during Birdman’s monologue near the end that gets Riggan to imagine he’s flying he’s describing that people want action, special affects and most of all him as Birdman taking the screen and soaring. He describes how they’ll make billions and outdo to “The Avengers.” It’s a messed up scene and you see just how twisted that part of Riggan is as it is the part where he believes he can move objects with his mind and where the show is just about him…not all those apart of it. Birdman is defeated though after Riggan faces death on the stage and shoots off his own nose leaving him in a Birdman mask of bandages that he takes off to reveal is bedraggled face but who is finally free of Birdman’s voice as Birdman sits silently on the toilet.

Riggan – Riggan drives the plot as he wrestling with his own self worth which gets shot down multiple times as the press only wants to talk about a possible “Birdman 4” or shoot him down for entering into their world (the critic who hates him for bringing Hollywood to Broadway). He is a flawed character and we see how his ego drives him as he dismisses those who try and help him like his girlfriend and how he isn’t able to connect to his daughter and ex-wife until he is at the bottom. Everything is about his popularity and power until he loses it all. It’s only after getting through losing it that he comes out flying and free from the voice of his ego and the outside pressures around him. It’s a powerful arc.

Messages – Riggan’s arc is growing past his ego and realizing it doesn’t matter. That he can be free if he chooses to be and what everyone wants to see is himself not the character as when he is truly himself on stage (he describes the play as a twisted version of himself but in the end accepts that darkness into himself) that he is able to survive and grow from it. He dies and is reborn without the beard and without Birdman’s voice in his head. We also see that art transcends all mediums as this film is a film and not a play so the critic’s point about Hollywood not being art is countered as the film represents the use of both mediums. Mike is also revealed to be a selfish hypocrite who can talk deep things but can’t live it in any meaningful way until the ones who have been through Hell (Sam and Riggan) pull him out of it. There are more as well, but these were the major ones.

Symbolism – Birdman is a dark bird representing the darker side of the ego I got from the film and the flight is only true flight when he lets go of that part of himself and is free. We also see the symbolism of the city which is loud, large and confining. Riggan and other character care trapped unless they are above it all from Sam, Mike to Riggan himself. These were some of major symbolic moments I caught.

Okay: Ambiguous Ending – The Ending is pretty ambiguous so I have mixed feelings about it. It implies he flies or is free after he blows off his nose based on his daughter’s reaction and the fact that Birdman is present but is not longer pressuring him to become Birdman again…but I would have liked it to be a little clearer. I get the symbolism of freedom and rebirth but when he had an imagination sequence where he was flying it was just that as the taxi driver is angry at not getting paid when he returns after getting drunk for opening night. This is my only issue, but it isn’t a con. It’s just not a pro.

     This film gets so much right that I can’t help but recommend it. It explores the ego, meaning and the different identity of individuals and groups and how they relate to each other…as well as that in relation to the art of the stage and life as a whole. It is powerful and one of the best movies of the year I’ve seen. If you have the chance to watch it, check it out. It is worth the money and time as it tells a story with a point and with amazingly compelling characters.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that ambiguous ending. I would have liked to get what Riggin was thinking but his silence may have lended for good acting…but no answers on what actually happened.

St. Vincent (2014): A Dark Comedy With a Good Heart

St. Vincent Poster

     “St. Vincent” pretty much shows that Bill Murray is still in great form and part of what makes a good comedy (or any story) is caring about the characters. Everyone in this is flawed but not to the point of likability which means the humor comes from who the people are. This is the key to good comedy. Suffice to say I did like a lot about this film, though I wouldn’t call it great or a favorite. I’ll explain why in the assessment.

     “St. Vincent” was directed by Theodore Melfi who was also the writer and one of the producers. The other producers were Fred Roos, Jenno Topping and Peter Chernin.

     The premise is Vincent (Bill Murray) is someone who is very down on his luck both literally (gambles and loses) and figurativly (in debt to everyone and something personal that is revealed later). Everything comes to a head and things change when Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) break his fence and tree which later leads to Oliver being babysat by Vincent as his mom is working long hours. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – I really enjoyed the music in this film. It has an indie feel to it and Theodore Shapiro did a great job capturing the emotions. If you aren’t into comedies, definitely at least check out the soundtrack.

Daka – Naomi Watts plays a Russian stripper who sleeps for sex on the side but soon develops a relationship with Vincent over the course of the film, as well as Oliver and Maggie. She is the one who doesn’t put up with crap and speaks clearly to all of them. This gives her a breath of fresh air in a few situations where Maggie is dealing with crap from the courts and her ex-husband and Vincent refuses to deal with his problems and finds himself unable to speak or move that much after a stroke. She adds a great dimension to it as she doesn’t like people it appears at first but in fact does care about those she adopts as family and her baby.

Zucko – Terrance Howard plays a small but essential role in this. He’s the loan shark who in the end causes Vincent to get a hard attack after Vincent loses all his money and he comes to collect. He’s interesting in that he does keep giving Vincent chances and after never appears again. In that way he must have noticed that Vincent was already in a hell of his own creation and decided he should stay there.

Maggie – Melissa McCarthy is really good and playing the single mother on hard times is something she does really well in this. We see how overwhelmed she is just trying to make ends meet post divorce and how no one has her back. This remains the case until Daka (the stripper in a relationship with Vincent) and Vincent finally come through and she finds support and community. This is really the entire arc of the picture but it does it well.

Vincent – Vincent is a terrible human being in many ways, but you also get why he is that way at the start. His wife has Alzheimers and he goes to take care of her and reach out to her and puts most of his money towards giving her a comfortable life. This motivation is one reason he’s afraid to get close to people until others (Daka, Maggie and mostly Oliver) break through that as they accept him as he is and in the case of Oliver during his Saints Speech expresses how grateful he is that Vincent is a part of his life and recounts the life he lived and how he lived like a saint (leading to the movies title). Of course he still drinks, smokes…though probably doesn’t gamble anymore and is still a bit of a prick but he finds community and in it acceptance and love he hasn’t experienced since his wife lost her mind. Bill Murray did an amazing job in this, playing both the dark humor that makes up Vincent and the affection that shines through as he shares his world with Oliver.

The Comedy – There are some great comedic moments in this and the movie succeeds at being a comedy. One moment is when Oliver is reading “The Giving Tree” and how giving is the most important thing. Maggie expresses herself as the tree and the boy as her ex in how she gave everything and got nothing back. How McCarthy executes it is brilliant. Bill Murray does too in his monotone execution of scenes and when he and Oliver are in the bars, hanging out with Daka and when they go gambling at the races.

Okay: Oliver – The guys a child actor and the really great ones are few and far between, but he does alright. He starts out as the kid afraid to stand up for himself, but after Vincent teaches him how to fight he defeats the bully and becomes friends with him.

The Ending – Vincent finds acceptance from the community and keeps doing what he’s doing but with more awareness of others. The speech recounting his life was great but in the credits he’s just listening to music and not caring about anything…the two are pretty stark contrasts and that hurts the ending making it okay but not a pro.

The Cons: Where is Zuko? – Zucko disappears. I would have liked some sort of follow up since Vincent owed a lot of money.

The Catholic School – The teacher who does the Saints report is quite funny and an interesting guy…though we don’t get much of him beyond him being accepting of others and devoted to his faith. The school functions as an antagonist until the end when things are resolved with Vincent but that process is more sudden than anything else. I wish it had happened gradually as we saw more of their interactions with Maggie.

      This was a good but not great comedy. I would definitely recommend it nonetheless. If you are a fan of McCarthy or Murray they are in top form in this and Naomi Watts has some great joke moments too in relation to the two of them. The story is really good and cares about it’s characters. The characters have actual arcs and change over time and we see relationships form in realistic ways. If you like comedy, drama, Murray and McCarthy definitely check this out!

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. It was a good dark comedy.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): Selling the Revolution

Mockingjay Part 1

 “The Hunger Games” movie series is in many ways superior to the books. We see aspects of characters we never saw before like President Snow or Plutarch and visually get to see much more of Panam. In the lead up to Part 2 of “Mockingjay” I’ll cover the films and explain why to me they lend much more to the books even though we don’t see as much into Katniss’s mind. They add more in the best way possible, even if the final product isn’t always great (“Catching Fire”).

      I enjoyed a lot of things about this film but thing that splitting it into 2 parts was not needed. When Nolan can put out a 3 hour movie a book that isn’t all that long should be able to be completed in at least that time (“Hobbit” at most should have been two films). I’ll get into the details of what I think in the assessment though in regards to “Mockingjay Part 1.”

    The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, produced by Nina Jacobson and John Kilik and written by Danny Strong and Peter Craig. The film is of course based off of the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins.

     The film picks up where the story left off after “Catching Fire,” with Katniss in District 13 dealing with the loss of Peeta and being given the choice to become the symbol of the revolution against the Capital or to give up. When it’s revealed that Peeta is being used as the Capital’s mouthpiece her situation becomes more dire as District 13 sees her as a traitor and she realizes that 13 must act if the revolution is going to have any chance of success. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The soundtrack – The music in this one is amazing! From Katniss’s hang man song and the lived in feel of the soundtrack that rises to heights during the pivotal battles and goes quite when the scenes demand it.  James Newton Howard did a great job.

Plutarch – RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman. For one of his last performances he truly owns this character and role. In the last film we didn’t know him or his motivations but in this we see how driven his character is at painting a narrative to defeat the Capital. We see it in him putting Katniss out in the field to get the moments of passion needed and in how he is able to get President Coin to compromise and work with Katniss. In this we see just how well he sees the big picture and he’s around to give Katniss the wake up calls she needs to get out of herself throughout the film. I don’t remember him being as present in the books, but getting his perspective gave so much to this film.

Cressida – Natalie Dormer is fantastic in this role! Her character is one who fled from the Capital in order to join the rebellion because of how Katniss’s actions during both Hunger Games inspired  her to leave her life behind. She is great as we see how passionate and driven she is and in how she tries to keep Katniss focused and keep Plutarch’s narrative going as we see her interviewing Finnick at the end as he tells the story of how he and other victors were used as playthings in the Capital and the secret of poison that Snow used to get rid of rivals and keep power.

President Coin – Julianne Moore is great as this very complex character. We see some of her ruthlessness in the rules that District 13 has but we also see her kindness as she reaches out to Katniss on multiple occasions. In the books she was just a force of nature who Katniss didn’t trust…Moore makes her an actual character who functions as more than just as an antagonist. I liked this, it was an improvement from the book.

Effie – Effie has some great moments as she grows beyond her privilege and grows to value the human connections she has. She still knows she’s awesome which gives some great scenes with characters and she is still professional and all about her job which I think helped her character adapt. Elizabeth Banks did great.

Finnick – This character was one of the few things I liked about the book and the film as he always struck me as complicated and his ego was all show. We see more that in this as his vulnerability really comes through and you see just how much the Capital hurt him using him for favors. His story is tragedy, though he does get his love again at the end of film. Sam Claflin owns this role.

President Snow – Snow is evil and he knows and is willing to go to any lengths to keep power. That comes through in this though we could have seen more of other District fights and the cruelty that Finnick speaks about. The human we saw in the last film is still there but he has fully embraced the role of antagonist in this film and he is a good antagonist as we see his plans be successful on quite a few occasions. Donald Sutherland continues to rock this role.

Katniss – Jennifer Lawrence got famous from this role for a reason…she knows this character and it shows. In this we see her strength, vulnerability and conflict as she faces the hard choices that come with rebelling and being the symbol of a rebellion. Curious to see if they’ll change anything in the books in Part 2 as we actually didn’t get as much character growth from Katniss as we could have because of how the scenes were stretched.

Okay: Peeta – Josh Hutcherson did alright but he does not have the charisma he needed to carry his role as the Capital’s mouthpiece. His best moment is the moment where he’s vulnerable and when he’s crazy at the end. Beyond that I wouldn’t really call his performance good. For what it’s worth it wasn’t bad either though.

Okay/con: The Ending – The Ending is much better than the cliffhanger that was “Catching Fire” but still feels unfinished. This is my biggest issue with breaking movies up as it leaves things empty or forces stretching of scenes which was also another problem with this film. The ending is powerful but the speech feels hollow in that we don’t know how many other Districts have come over because of Katniss’s actions. We only really see 8 so it is still small and in the rising action phase even though it ended with President Coin giving a great speech and Katniss left facing a broken Peeta. The ending of Part 2 may redeem it and make it a pro, but taking it as it is…it is unfinished.

The Cons: Slow Start – The beginning is really slow. We are given some good action of flashbacks with Peeta and Katniss facing her trauma…but it doesn’t go anywhere. It takes others to force her into action rather than herself.

Not Enough of the War – I wish that we could have seen more of the war beyond the rescue of the tributes and a few fight sequences. There is war going on all over, show us more of this suffering world.

    This was a really good film and I would highly recommend it. It might be the best in the series but I’ll know that for sure depending on how Part 2 goes and after rewatching and reviewing the first two films. The actors got this even if the script doesn’t always and the world is still so rich even if we don’t get enough time in it. I am looking forward to seeing how it ends, even if I wish it had just been one film. If you like the books, chances are you will like this film and it is worth taking a look at.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10.

Big Hero 6 (2014): To Heal From Trauma and When Minor Characters Are the Most Interesting

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       Walt Disney Animated Studios is back being great again. “Wreck-It-Ralph,” “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.” Let’s see if they can continue this going forward. Suffice to say this film was awesome! It had consequences, a good message and had some of the best minor characters I’ve seen come out of this studio. I’ll explain more of what I mean in the assessment, but there is very little wrong I can say about this film.

      “Big Hero 6” is loosely based off of the Marvel Comics of the same name (which was inspired by Japanese anime and manga) which were created by Man of Action and was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, written by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts and produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter. Essentially a lot of people made this possible and it’s surprising that it all came together so well given when there are this many people on board if often leads to “Too many cooks in the kitchen,” and becomes a mess.

Spoilers ahead…

     The premise is Hiro (Ryan Potter) is the main character living in the future city of Sanfransokyo where he takes part in Bot Fighting until his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) inspires him to go to college. After tragedy occurs during the event that Hiro makes it in it is up to his brother’s healing robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) to help him heal which leads them to discover the fire wasn’t an accident as  mysterious villain named Yokai is using the the nanobots that Hero created as a weapon and for a mysterious purpose. From here the story unfolds as Hero deals with the loss of Tadashi and facing this new threat. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world of Sanfransoyko is awesome! It reminds me of a city out of “Akira” or “Ghost in the Shell” and is the perfect mixture of our modern world with future tech. For example the Bot Fights that are underground but also the fact that everyone drives cars and Hiro’s Aunt’s cafe is a major area where characters go too besides the high tech. University. I wanted to visit this future world since it captured my love of robots and tech. so well…you can tell at least someone in this project has a passion for this stuff too.

The Soundtrack – Henry Jackman is amazing! This score incorporates techno-electronic with soaring orchestra pieces to capture our characters highest and lowest moments. My favorite ones were a few of the running sequences where the electronic was blended in so seamlessly it made the future world real as well as capturing the threat of Yokai.

Tadashi – Daniel Henney does a great job as Hiro’s older brother who sets him on the path to greatness. We see his awkward charm as he’s building Baymax and also his care for his Aunt and brother as he rescues Hiro from a dangerous situation after the Bot Fight and goes into to rescue his mentor Professor Callahan which leads to his death. Only issue is I would have liked to see more flaws in his character…but his death, I haven’t felt something like that in a Disney film that wasn’t made by Pixar since the death of Mufasa. They nailed the loss of him to his friends at the University and Hiro…

Hiro – Hiro is a positive but I’ll be going into some of the cons of the film later which are entirely Hiro-centric for the most part. But, he is one of the first animated heroes of Japanese origin in the United States and he has a good arc as he goes from an arrogant guy who can’t see beyond himself to someone willing to risk and be a part of a team. He really cares about the group in the end as well as Baymax and becomes the character willing to risk it all even if it means risking his own life…given he does this when we learn about why the villain is doing what he is doing.

Baymax – Baymax is a great robot! He doesn’t really have a soul the way Wall-E does (he follows his programming and doesn’t make any choices…he does what he’s told and was programmed to do by Tadashi. This makes me think he may have an arc where he gets an emotion chip later akin to Data as at one point his care program is replaced by destruction program when Hiro wants him to kill Yokai…it take all Hiro’s friends to stop him and he protects his care program more deeply after that. He is very much out Aaisimovesque in he follows the Laws of Robotics in that he programmed not to harm people and clearly regrets his program being overrun after. Great robot and curious to see where the most likely sequels will take him.

Fred – Fred is the joke character who provides the headquarters for the team. He is the mascot at the college and obsessed with comic books. It is at his home when they are hiding from Yokai that Hiro gets the idea of turning them into Super Heroes. It is done really well and is all showing and not telling for the most part. I liked his character and I am curious to see where he goes from here as he is given purpose in becoming a super hero. T.J. Miller nailed this character.

Honey Lemon – This is a character I would have liked to see more of even though she isn’t one of my favorite characters in the film. She is bubbly, smart and loves pink. She breaks your stereotypes. She uses chemicals to break down metals and is the one who takes immediately to Hiro and is the most supportive of the group towards him. She doesn’t really have an arc which is a shame, but she’s a great character. Genesis Rodriguez is wonderful in the role.

GoGo – GoGo like Honey Lemon doesn’t really have a character arc but she is one of my favorite characters. She is an extreme sports enthusiast who designs her own vehicles  and is the on who puts up with the least crap from Hiro and Tadashi…which I wish she’d called out Hiro more. We see much more of her warmer side in this movie and she rocks in the last battle and saves them all on multiple occasions. Also I really like her for this line alone, “Women up.” to Tadashi in regards to be tough and fight on. Jamie Chung is fantastic as this character.

Wasabi – Wasabi is the one support character on the team who actually has a character arc! The guy is a neat freak and obsessed with order but Hiro throws all that into wack and he’s forced to face his fear of heights and not being clean throughout the story. This gives him a lot of depth. He’s smart and when it comes to the challenges he faces his fears and rises each time. He is the voice of reason and shines through and besides GoGo he is my favorite character. Damon Wayans Jr. did amazingly.

Teen Titans Similarities – This team reminded me of “Teen Titans” and I’m putting that as a plus. Fred was like Beast Boy, Hiro and Tadashi were akin to Robin, GoGo was Raven, Honey Lemon was Starfire and it rose beyond that analogue with Wasabi and Baymax being their own characters that aren’t really similar to Cyborg.

The Message – The message is forgiveness and growing beyond trauma and it is done really well. At one point Hiro uses Baymax as a weapon and we see his hate of Yokai has consumed him to the point of revenge above all else and as a way to not face his loss of Tadashi. Baymax shows him the video of Tadashi building him and Hiro is finally able to heal and accept the love from his friends. This takes time and it is a believable process and one of the things I appreciated most about the film.

Okay: Aunt Cass – She is supportive but a one note character…we don’t really get her motivation beyond caring for Tadashi and Hiro since their parents are dead. She isn’t a bad character, just flat.

Alister Krei – This guy is set up to be the big baddie as he offers to buy Hiro’s Nanobots which Hiro refuses…and the fire happens soon after. He isn’t guilty which is a nice touch but we don’t get the motivation behind his business…he is just corrupt and rather one note. Alan Tudyk does a good job with what he’s given at least.

Professor Callaghan / Yokai – James Cromwell does a good job playing the threat of Yokai when he appears as Yokai (the villain the the kabuki mask using Nanobots like tentacles) but as Callaghan he’s not fully fleshed out. We learn he wants revenge on Krei  for an experiment that lead to as far as he knows…the death of his daughter, so he starts the fire to steal Hiro’s Nanobots to use as a weapon. He never takes accountability for anything and at one point is near the University he was teaching at before he faked his own death in the fire. We see regret after Hiro saves his daughter for the life he’ll never have, but he still wasn’t great.  I would’ve liked to see more of his motivation.

The Cons: Hiro and Accountability – None of Hiro’s friends hold him accountable, even after he puts them at risk when he makes Baymax go all Terminator and overrides his programs to try and kill Yokai. This bothered me since he’s a teen and that doesn’t mean he should get away with crap, his friend are all in college and should know better. Especially GoGo who like Tadashi held him accountable for calling the school the Nerd School and motivating him to get into it. After Act 1 the only accountability is Baymax helping him heal. Which is good in a way, but Hiro still missed a major lesson.

Not Enough Time with the Team – Honey Lemon, GoGo, and even Wasabi to a degree never get the character exploration they deserve. They are all more fascinating than Hiro but we don’t get their backstory and motivations…I look forward to sequels to see this happen though as this seemed to be Hiro’s origin story primarily.

    This is a movie I’d highly recommend. It is one of the best animated films I’ve seen that has come out recently and really is a Gold Standard. If you like a great music, interesting world, coherent plot and characters who actually change and grow…you will probably like this film. So, check it out if you are looking for something that has loss and a message that is always worth remembering.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Would be higher if the minor characters had been explored more and Hiro had been more accountable.

The Book of Life (2014): An Exploration and Celebration of Family and Love

The Book of Life

         “The Book of Life” impressed me, and I wasn’t the only one. After the show the halfway empty theatre erupted into applause and for good reason. A lot of films just have a good time with fun characters and leave it that, but this one actually managed to have some pretty amazing points beyond just general points and messages. It truly got into the motivations of it’s characters and what defined them and critiqued and celebrated the culture that inspired it. I wish there were more children’s films like this. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

      This film follows both the Halloween theme (spirits and the dead) while also celebrating another culture and holiday in that it is inspired by the myths and legends around the Day of the Dead.

    “The Book of Life” was written by Jorge Gutierrez and Doug Langdale, directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Carina Schulze and Guillermo del Toro whose name is the first thing you see when the show begins. His vision is a large part of what made this film possible. Which is great since he’s one of my favorite directors.

       The premise of the film begins with troubled kids from detention taking a tour of the Mexican Cultural Museum where a mysterious lady who is their tour guide shows them the “Book of Life” and tells the stories of the characters after laying out the world where the afterlife has “The Remembered” in constant celebration ruled by their God La Muerta and “The Forgotten” who have been forgotten and are ruled by the God Xibalba. It begins on the Day of the Dead where three best friends have a wager put upon them by La Muerta and Xibalba on who will win the hand of Maria. Xibabla chooses the fighter and warrior Jaoquin to win her hand and La Muerta chooses Manolo, the muscian from a line of Bull Fighters. From here the story unfolds as family obligation is put on the characters, forcing Maria abroad to Spain for school, Jaoquin as a soldier for Maria’s father the General and Manolo as the Bull Fighter to win her hand. These are the main stories that unfold as the God’s act on the events around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world, especially when the tour lady starts the story is fantastic! Most of it takes place in the small town of San Angel, and when it isn’t there we travel between the Land of the Remembered and Forgotten. My only issue is I wish we had seen conflict in the other worlds but that might have been the point. The conflict is among the living and among the living we see drama between lovers, family and bandits. The colors are dark and stark so when there is color it is beautiful! Every scene is rich with detail that helps give us the worlds and minds of the characters.

La Muerta – She was my favorite character in this and the one who seems to have wisdom even if she quickly will give it up for a bet. This need to take risks and bet adds dimension to her as a God especially in her relationship to Xibalba as all she wants is honesty from him and true sorrow for the things he’s done. For this reason her making Manolo her champion makes sense since he speaks the most genuine and honestly and isn’t bound by social pressure the way Maria and Jaoquin often are by their father’s legacies. He has enough will from the beginning to break that, much like La Muerta with breaking the rules so that Day of the Dead can occur and families can reunite for a time. That is her doing and there is a reason she is loved. She also has a great character design with a flowing red dress, skeleton face and candles on her hat and dress. Kate del Castillo does a great job bringing gravitas to the part.

Xibalba – Ron Perlman plays a very crafty role, which is great to see. His character reminded me a lot of Hades from Disney’s “Hercules” except that he deep down did just want love. This drives his character to strive for power as he feels slighted and jealous at everything La Muerta does and hates that he is watching over a world that is dying with people forgotten, for he feels forgotten. This drives his recklessness and makes him compelling. He doesn’t want to be alone and left out and that makes him sympathetic even as he does some pretty bad things to the human pawns in the bets (poisoning Maria and tricking Manolo into giving up his heart). He also has a great design that looks like acid and tar, which at the beginning is what he’s described of being made of.

The Sanchez Family and Manolo – The Sanchez family is fascinating, we see the legacy of bull fighting and “Being a man” a huge part which Manolo turns on it’s head by being a musician. Much of the story is his father coming to terms with that choice and Manolo’s inability to kill. It brings great drama and it is this dichotomy between tradition and doing what’s right (not to kill) that leads Maria to falling in love with him. Manolo thinks outside of himself while his family is largely obsessed with legacy. His mother doesn’t agree with legacy and shows how complex their family is in the Land of the Remembered as they had ancestors who fought in the revolution and that at the core it is character and integrity that matters, which Manolo has. He discovers all this when he meets his mother and dead ancestors in the Land of the Remembered and his mother and grandfather help him reach La Muerta who has been forsaken to the Land of the Forgotten because of Manolo’s death by Xibalba’s snake. We see him change the family legacy as it comes to a head when Xibalba will grant him life if he can defeat all past bulls killed by the Sanchez family, which he does in an epic battle that ends in a song for forgiveness for what his family has done. In the end they all grow through Manolo’s actions.

Of Jaoquin’s Hyper Masculinity – Jaoquin is obsessed with fighting and being tough above all else and this is celebrated by the culture as seen by the Sanchez all being bull fighters. His father was a hero and when he saves the General who is the mayor of the town and Maria’s father he is taken under his wing. This shapes his tendencies in viewing people as serving him rather than the other way around that when Maria returns he can’t see past himself and only wants to talk about his medals. It takes his talisman that makes him invulnerable being taken and Manolo dying for him to rethink his priorities and to stop trying to be the hyper warrior his father was. He also stops assuming what Maria wants and in the process the competition ends between the friends as they both truly act from love. His arc is growing out of his hyper masculinity and finding tenderness and balance. Malono goes through this too but much faster as for him it’s the simple choice of not to kill the bull.

Maria – Maria is an interesting character. She functions as a plot device for the boys to get out of their families shadows and become their own people, but she also is her own person too. She’d marry Jaoquin if he’d stay to protect the town from the bandits but if that isn’t an issue and if Manolo loves her, she’d choose him. She’s educated and smart and she calls on the town to fight back against the bandit invasion. I kind of wish La Muerta had chosen her as her champion. Zoe Zaldana is wonderful in this role.

Relationship Healing – Xibalba realizes how selfish he was and in the end he rules together with La Muerta again, it’s implied as they change from their human disguises (museum guard was Xibalba, tour guide was La Muerta) and they kiss. Manolo and his father make peace, Manolo and Jaoquin make peace, Maria and her father are on the same page and the town fights off the bandits. The arcs get completed and it’s all the rich for it. “Write your own story.” As the Candle Maker (the 3rd Death God) reminds us at the end.

Okay/Cons: The Kids – The kids in detention are there giving commentary like the grandson in “The Princess Bride,” and like him they are pretty forgettable. I get that they are standins for us, but they aren’t really needed. The story is rich and I cared more about the final reveal of Xibalba and La Muerta than about them.

The Music – Most are mariachi inspired covers of popular songs…this film would have worked better with an original soundtrack given it is an original world without pop culture references besides the songs. The songs kind of took me out of it for that reason.

The Beginning – Things start out really slow, both with the kids in modern day (never really cared about them) and when our heroes are children. I get why it’s important as it establishes their motivations (Maria to prevent killing and her hatred of it, Manolo and his music and bull fighting dichotomy and Jaoquin haunted by his father’s martyr legacy). But it could have been done faster. The best parts of the early scenes are when La Muerta and Xibalba interact.

The Candle Maker – Ice Cube plays a God who is kind of like Robin William’s Genie and just as annoying. I couldn’t stand how annoying this guy could get which is a shame since the Candle Maker as the neutral party is an interesting concept. He isn’t bad and has some great wisdom, but in the end is merely a somewhat annoying plot device.

       This was a really good film. I don’t know if I’d call it great because the things that are okay are at many points cons through the film. The kids are super annoying at the beginning and the slow start makes it hard initially to get invested in the characters until we see them again when they are older and active agents in their own lives. We just didn’t get enough time with the Gods in the beginning and had too much time with characters who were children. Still a fantastic film that I’d recommend. If you like animated films that have their own style and a good message, this is your film.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10, really good and a favorite.

The Giver (2014): Bland Leads but Decent Adaptation

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The Giver is one of my favorite books from childhood, and the one that introduced me to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. The story is introspective and reflective and reveals the horrors of the community very slowly. Lois Lowry is a master of the rising tension and the book does so really well. The movie is different. Here is a good article on the differences between the film and book: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/18/the_giver_movie_s_differences_from_the_book_how_it_compares_to_the_lois.html

“The Giver” film had quite a few people on board with it’s creation. From three producers (Jeff Bridges, Nikki Silver, Neil Koenigsburg) two screenplay writers (Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide) but thankfully only one director (much more and I could see this film lacking any coherence), Phillip Noyce.

The basic plot is still the same as the book. After the Great War, in 2048 a community is founded where there are no colors and emotions and the world is one of sameness. It is here our protagonist Jonas is introduced and is assigned the role of the Receiver and to eventually become the Giver (the one who holds all the emotions and memories of the past and present). Jonas finds things slowly getting complicated for him as the illusions of his world break down and he is faced with the Community is missing in it’s sameness. The story continues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Giver – Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and he does an amazing job. We get to see the details of his backstory, such as his daughter Rosemary and the guilt he feels at giving her the memories of a child lost (euthanized) and how it is common in their world to keep the population in check. We see that he had a relationship with The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep) and they have a great debate at the end on the value of emotion in which the Giver advocates for love against Streep’s fight for stability. It is a great scene that should have happened much earlier in the film. He is really what makes the film interesting and he does a great job as The Giver, than again I have never seen Jeff Bridges do a bad job, so this is more of his fantasticness.

The Chief Elder – In the book you don’t see her at all, and I wish we hadn’t had her get so involved this time. Streep is great, but her being so intrusive gay Jonas no reason to stay. She was not really good at giving people a desire to serve and want, which is a shame cause we get moments where she is like that. Still a great character, even if I’d have preferred her as force of nature or background force that doesn’t need to give orders…like in the book (The Elders).

When it’s Black and White – In the book there is not any color and for much of the film, and whenever we get the perspective of a community member, the film is filmed in black and white. I loved that and wish they’d kept it the entire time except for sparing moments. When it got all colorful the fact that it looks like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and every other Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Film became apparent. The black and white it what set it apart and part of what made the book so unique.

Gabriel – This baby is awesome! It cries at all the right moments and has some fantastic moments of awe and sorrow when Jonas has escaped. It was one tough baby and managed to be and feel how it was supposed to in all the different scenes. That is a feat in and of itself.

The Red Sled – The part of the book with the red sled is handled well, from Jonas’s first time having the memory of one to finding the house with the family and going down to meet them on the red sled with the baby Gabriel. I loved both those scenes.

Okay: Futuristic – The town is very futuristic, which didn’t quite lend itself to making the movie feel unique. There were drones, which are in every sci. fi. nowadays…at least the sparceness of the Home Units fit with the feel of the community and the injections were a neat update, instead of pills.

Jonas’s family – His Mom is the one who conforms, his Dad cares for and euthanizes children and his sister is represented as hope as she enjoys the joy he shares with her and remembers the thing he tells Gabriel, the baby their father takes in to try and save by giving more time.

Cons: The Three Leads – The first mistake was making a love triangle, I think they chose to though because the three leads cannot act, at all. Like it is pretty bad whenever they are on screen. So love triangle at leads adds drama to what for the most part is wooden acting.

Fiona – She just goes along with whatever Jonas wants for the most part and rebels even though she has no real experience with it. Her love doesn’t quite feel believable too and it’s not just because she hasn’t known it, Jonas’s family does alright in acting…she feels to flat, and nothing she does feels believable.

Asher – He is the friend who becomes a tool and decides to save Jonas because…reasons. He has a permanent scowl and when they say he’s the joker he isn’t funny. They should have got one of the Weasley twins for this role cause this guy didn’t cut it. His friendship ending didn’t feel real because it felt like it was never there, which made him protecting Jonas feel alien.

Jonas – What do you do when your lead has a blank expression for most of the movie? He has some good moments where he is excited with the Giver, but everything else felt so artificial. He was not the right person to choose for the lead. I really wanted to like his character, like I did in the books…but he was so bland that it was hard to form any sort of attachment. The scenes with the Giver only worked because it was Jeff Bridges who can carry a scene on his own. This was sad since this could have been Brenton Thwaites breakout role…though that goes for the other two teenage leads as well.

The Magic Emotion Wall – There is a magic emotion wall that once Jonas passes with Gabriel will give everyone back their emotions. It is a giant magic Mcguffin. I would have preferred the book ending honestly, in this they turn it into a revolution when before there wasn’t a way to reach anyone, people chose to be how they were in the end. This that is taken away and it is much more like a police state (drones and all) and the magic mcguffin wall gives an easy out. Also having them use to save Fiona who becomes his girlfriend in this was an easy play on emotion. It gives the happy ending to a book and story that is best left ambiguous. Jonas even says in the voiceover he has no idea if he’ll be returning back to the community. That would have been a good way to end it. Let people wonder if Jonas’s leaving prompted the beginning of change.

The Lack of Introspection – As seen by the Magic Emotion Wall Mcguffin and the Chief Elder arresting the Giver and Fiona because they helped Jonas escaped showed a major lack of introspection. Again, the people chose to be slaves in the books, it was comfortable, whenever Jonas introduced ideas people went away from him, he was the outsider who saw the truth of the world. Here anyone can know the truth after Jonas shows them something and passes the Magic Wall. Life isn’t that simple and especially a society formed after a great war should be much more entrenched in it’s ways that have worked for generations. This easy out cheapened the plot and made the problems above much more obvious and apparent.

This was an adaptation of one of my favorite novels that’s potential was not fully realized. It played with cool ideas that happened in the book (World in black and white, the red sled) but it needed better young actors and actresses for the leads and The Giver and The Chief Elder better functioned as influences than major characters directing events. It took away the choice of slavery in the books and gave us easy to consume tyranny, which honestly is used way too often in young apocalyptic fiction nowadays. Tyranny should be subtle and ignorance a choice…like in the book. So, would I recommend it?

I will say yes, though it is not nearly as good as the book (seriously, read the book) it is a good adaptation that is carried by Streep and Bridges. Giving them a lot of screentime, though it hurt how the story was shown us, strengthened the movie as a whole, cause the leads were terrible.

My final Score for this film is 7 / 10. Decent adaptation, worth it for the Chief Elder, Giver and the moments where it is true to the book.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): Stupid Fun With Good and Bad Moments

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014

I’ve been a fan on Ninja Turtles for a while, even if at this point it is more of a passive fan and respect for such a crazy premise that has gone through so many iterations and managed to remain fresh while still staying true to the core characters (April, The Turtles, Shredder, Splinter). It is really from this place that this film can really be seen for both what it did well, and also how it failed.

There have been tons of iterations of the Ninja Turtles, some of which I haven’t seen or only seen briefly. For example, I haven’t read the original comics, I’ve only seen a little of the 80’s version, haven’t seen the anime version, saw most of the 2003 series and the Future Turtles and the first two live action movies as well as the CGI film and the new 3D animated series going on currently which I haven’t seen. Each of these brings or takes away something different. I have a soft spot for the 2003 series since it was serious but could be funny, and what got me interested in the lore in the first place, and April was an active character who didn’t always need to be rescued. Later on I’ll be reviewing all of them since this 2014 version already has a sequel in the works.

This film was directed by Jonathan Liebesman and produced by Michael Bay’s company. Michael being attached to this franchise was and still is worrying to me in regards to what some of the issues were and the future of the franchise…also the fact that it was written by 3 people (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty) and it shows.

The story this time around is April is a reporter trying to get out of the fluff stories so she begins following up on vigilantes who are fighting the Foot Clan (the terrorist organization) that is terrorizing New York City. When they capture and hold her and other hostage she discovers the Turtles after being rescued and the story unfolds from there as she learns they were the turtles she’d helped raise as a child in her father’s lab and the reasons on why he was killed, as well as Shredder (the Foot Clan’s leader) and what his plans are.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Opening – The opening credits are done in the style of the original comic book, which is awesome. I wish the whole movie had been done that way, or that they will do one in that style at some point. Black, White and gritty with sparse color.

The Action – Unlike Bay’s “Transformers Franchise” you can actually see what is going on. The fight between the Shredder and Turtles on multiple occasions is pretty awesome, as well as the escape from Sack’s lair on top of a snowy mountain.

The Turtles – Leonardo – Leonardo is great as the leader and being the balance between the happy-go-lucky of Michelangelo and the seriousness of Raphael. You get why he is the leader as he manages to be the one who figures out how to defeat Shredder near the end.

Raphael – He is threatening but has a good heart. You get that in his final scenes where he is rescuing his brothers from Sax and Shredder and confesses his love for all of them. It is actually a sweet scene. He has more depth than the guy who wants to dangerous and this helps get past his douchy exterior (he has oakley’s and is trying to look gangster).

Donatello – Is an Erkil style nerd, but within the story it makes sense, since their identities came from popular culture, since it was popular culture and Splinter who raised them. He is a good character though he gets his moment to shine in the mountain scene and whenever he gets the chance to hack a system or computer.

Michelangelo – Comes off as creepy…thinks April is his girlfriend even though she says nothing to show this and keeps trying to win her heart. It eventually becomes harmless when you see her with her camera man and the fact that he is basically a thirteen year old who has a crush on the teacher. He has quite a few funny moments in this.

Shredder – He is big and threatening and his plans of conquest make him a mini-Bane (though not nearly as fleshed out or cool). He still manages to defeat the Turtles on multiple occasions and Splinter. He is a worthy foe for sure. I liked Tohoru Masamune in this role.

Okay: April – Megan Fox actually isn’t bad, she isn’t good either though. She doesn’t elevate the okay sript and is the definition of safe…which is a shame considering how many times she saves  the Turtles and fights Sacks. Her plot is a bit contrived though, the big bad Sacks who is the billionaire industrialist wanted the mutagen from the Turtles to gas the city for money and to cure them while letting Shredder take over and her dad knew this so burnt all his material before getting killed. Oy vay…it’s like “The Amazing Spider-Man” all over again. None of that is needed.

Erik Sacks – Adopted by Shredder, all he wants his money. William Fichtner is great in the role, but his character is so weak and shallow. I expected more from someone raised by the fascinating antagonist of the Shredder. Money means nothing to guys like Shredder, and you’re his adopted son?

Splinter – Raised the turtles with a Ninjitsu book, yeah there isn’t much here for this character sadly. His plot is contrived, He is the old mentor figure without much there.

Karai – Shredder’s second in command of the Foot Clan is pretty much there to lose in every fight unless the Shredder is on hand. I hope they fix that in the sequel. She is great in the other material she appears in, but doesn’t do much but get beaten again and again in this. She isn’t a bad character, just not much there.

Cons: Vernon Fenwick – This guy is a dudebro and it is terrible. He hits on April on multiple occasions when she clearly isn’t interested, and unlike Michelangelo who everything is a joke to, this guy feels like his manhood is at stake. Give me a break…I wish Sacks had killed this guy. He is useless, give us Casey Jones instead. This guy is only there to do bad romantic jokes when no romance should even be there.

Eyes on April – This occurred less than I thought it would, thankfully. But it was still creepy when the Turtles first size her up…and any scene with Vernon…what a terrible character. He is there just to talk about her body it feels like. He has a moment where he fights with her against Sacks at the end, but than gets a nice car right after to flirt with…he is a much bigger problem than anything the Turtles do.

The Writing – The writing is a con in that Sacks’s plan is terrible, Splinter training the Turtles to be Ninja’s is contrived and Vernon Fenwick should not be in this film. I don’t know anyone who saw it who thought he was a needed or in any way redeemable character.

Would I recommend this film? If you like Ninja Turtles, it is worth seeing if only for it very much has it’s own flavor and flair. Is it good as a movie…no. Is it enjoyable, yes. It is isn’t bad either, it just is in no way a great or good film. I would still rate it above all of Bay’s “Transformers Franchise” though…and it got me interested in seeing the other Ninja Turtles works, which we’ll do as a week one of these times on the blog.

Final Score is 7 / 10. Okay, enjoyable fun with obvious problems.

 

Lucy (2014): Marvel, Make that “Black Widow” Movie

Lucy_(2014_film)_poster

“Lucy” is a movie that has garnered controversy for a lot of reasons. One which I think is justified (all the Taiwanese Characters in this film are gangsters or passive characters) and some which is not (the 100% use of brain premise is crap).

Here is the science on why using 100% of your brain and won’t give you god-like powers and why it is a myth that that we only use 10%: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-10-brain-myth-explained-in-60-seconds/

Now that the junk science of the premise is out of the way we can get into the real problems, with the story and I’ll get more into the Taiwan issue later, and also where it stands tall.

“Lucy” was written and directed by the French director Luc Besson, and produced by Europacorp.

The story of “Lucy” is around Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, a college student who is forced into becoming a drug mule when her boyfriend blackmails her into delivering a mysterious package to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik of “Oldboy” fame). He is than shot and the drugs that she was given are surgically put into her body. After they break she is given superpowers as the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Lucy – Marvel…Disney, please be paying attention. A “Black Widow” movie would be amazing. Scarlett Johansson has the talent for this as demonstrated in “Winter Soldier” and demonstrated as soul lead in this film. She plays vulnerability (calling her mom when she is feeling connected to everyone and everything) to hardcore (taking out the gangsters) and all the other feelings. She owns this role and is a hero worthy of Ridley from the “Alien Franchise” and Sarah Connor of the “Terminator Series.” We need more heroines like her, and definitely more who are women of color. At this point I’m up for any action star though that breaks out of the white male with stubble hero trope.

Mr. Jang – He should have been in charge of an international gang. Having all the gang members we see Lucy fight or who threaten Lucy just promotes horribleness of the other, which is a shame for what it promotes, and the fact that Choi Min-sik is fantastic! He is a worthy foe and manages to destroy most of the people who stand against him. I want to see more of his work now beyond just this and “Oldboy.” The man is a master of his craft. In this he is so cruel and frightening that you see why Lucy is afraid and you get why he is such a threat. He should have been  given an international crime syndicate given he was selling global.

Professor Norman – Morgan Freeman is here once again as the great mentor. Lucy reaches out to him when she realizes what has happened to her, given it is her theory she is living. He is the one who tells her to give and create with what time she has, which she embraces, even when he begins questioning it. He is great in this role and is there to explain a lot of what is going on.

Pierre Del Rio – He is the awesome French detective who helps Lucy stop the other mules and defends her when she is giving all her knowledge in creating a super computer. He is a great character and is the love interest that reminds her of her humanity. As he says to her at one point when she’s defeated some of Mr. Jang’s minions with her mind. “Why do you need me?” She kisses him. “As a reminder…” It is a sweet moment and he is great in the guy in over his head who does the right thing. Also, he is a French actor of arabic descent, the actors name is Amr Waked. Can’t wait to see him in other things!

Lucy’s Goal – Lucy’s goal and mission is good and admirable. She takes all the knowledge she gets from the Universe in the process of becoming one with it and gives it to Mr. Norman and the science team. She believes harm comes from ignorance and that full knowledge can stop that. It’s actually a pretty big endorsement of philosophy and science and one thing that I really loved in the film.

Cons: How Taiwan is Handled and Racism – The biggest Con is what I brought up at the beginning. Most of the gangsters are Taiwanese except for the first surgeon who puts the drugs in the mules. This is bad and could have easily been countered by a single nice person in Taiwan standing up for Lucy. We get none of that and the characters are all evil or passive. That isn’t fair to Taiwan or the Taiwanese people and was horrible writing on Luc Besson’s part. Mr. Jang should have been the head of an International Crime Syndicate, he was cruel and smart enough to do so. That also, could have easily solved this issue.

Editing – There are some strange editing moments, like going between the African savannah and and Lucy’s situation at the beginning. As well as seeing the missing link Lucy too. It was jarring, same with the going between Lucy’s predicament and Professor Norman’s explanations.

The problem in how Taiwan was handled and the editing really keep this film from being great. It is a good action film that has a good point about science and an awesome heroine but doesn’t realize it’s full potential because of how it handles Taiwan. Would I recommend it? If you are looking for a heroine of the likes of Ridley and Sarah Connor, Hell yes I recommend it. But know these problems. This was written and directed by one guy and whatever issues he had with Taiwan really come out, which is a shame cause it does bring the film down beyond just the editing issues.

My Final Score for this film is 8 / 10. Good but not great and giving a much needed heroine to cinema. Also, Marvel…Scarlett Johannson is amazing. Get on that “Black Widow” film!