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.

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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!

Noah (2014): The Meaning of Humanity

Noah-2014-Banner

We end the first Apocalypse Week with Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” This was a film I’ve been curious about for sometime since Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and it really does have an all star cast, and the subject matter is interesting.

I’ve always been interested in mythology, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek, Norse, Egyptian or other…there are so many rich stories that have conflict and premises that are left pretty open ended giving a lot of creative leeway, assuming the director has vision. Aronofsky clearly did for this film.

The story is that after Abel was killed by Cain, Cain’s descendants spread throughout the world and over industrialized it the point of making it a wasteland while hunting down the descendants of Seth who saw it as their duty to protect the world. The story begins with Noah and his father Methuselah doing the ritual of Seth for caring for the Earth. They are than attacked by a tribe of Cain who attack Methuselah. Noah believes him dead and we flash forward. We than see Noah dealing with visions from “God” of the Earth being destroyed which sets the story in motion as Tubal-cain and his men attempt to take the arc and Noah’s wife Naameh and family try to save more of the line of Cain and humanity as Noah resists at every turn. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect any less of Darren Aronofsky. Some of the moments that stand out though is when Noah tells the creation story and it shows us the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on the planet. The other scene is when the flood occurs and the descendants of Cain are destroyed as they fight the Watchers (fallen Angels defending Noah and his family).

The Music – Clint Mansell is one of my favorite composers and he does a great job creating tension in this film. We see this especially when Noah believes it is his duty to keep man from spreading so when Ila is pregnant he plans on killing her children if they are girls. The music has it set so that the ship feels claustrophobic and being trapped with a mad man (Noah). It is brilliantly done.

The Writing – The screenplay is top notch, Aronofsky and Handel did a great job. Every characters’ lines feels real and it does mostly showing rather than telling. Especially as Noah is facing the consequences of what he has done. We are presented with dilemmas. The Canaanites who are men are bad people trying to enslave and kill Noah and his family…but the women and children are innocent…and Noah does nothing to save them. His wife and Ham call him on this, but he ignores it, blinded by his religious devotion to a being who doesn’t speak clearly and maybe is all in his head. It is really awesome.

The Watchers – Giant Rock beings that were once angels who came to fight for humanity. These guys are cool. They start out resistant to Noah and his clan because of how Cain’s line turned on them but in the end fight for Noah as they are rewarded with being returned to Paradise and Noah and his family treat them kindness. They have great designs and good voice acting.

The Line of Seth – They are vegetarians and planters. Tenders of the garden of the world. Kind and only willing to fight as a last restort seems to the theme. They are survivors, but mostly because they know when to run.

The Line of Cain – These are the warriors. Anything weak is prey and the story is empire. In extreme cases they are cannibals because they’ve killed off most of the animals and hunted them to extinction. They are the apocalyptic survivors in the apocalyptic world they created.

The Characters – The characters in this film are really solid. No one is really wasted except for Noah’s son Shem who is mostly a passive character and is only there to protect Ila.

Methuselah – Anthony Hopkins is great as Methuselah. He is found to be alive after Noah receives some of the visions and gives Noah the magic seed that creates an oasis of life that Noah and the Watchers use to build the arc. He doesn’t go with them and dies in the flood after a moment of bliss when he finds a berry. Why he decides not to go is unknown. He seems to be there as a guide and a counter to Noah as he gives Ila the ability to have children when she was barren before.

Naameh – Jennifer Connelly supports Noah but always reminds him of life, which he mostly ignores if it isn’t animal and plant life. She sees the bigger picture and fights him when he plans to kill Ila’s twin girls. You can see how powerless she feels given that she’s expected and told to follow Noah, when Noah, especially when they are on the arc and before hand in how he saves no one else and has gone insane. You can see the trials she faces dealing with that. She is the one truly good person in the film.

Tubal-cain – Played by Ray Winstone, he is the primary antagonist outside of Noah. He is a king and believes that humans were made in God’s image in order to dominate rather than to care and create. He is the one who tries corrupting Ham and almost succeeds as he taps into Ham’s anger at his possible partner being left behind by Noah in Tubal-cain’s attack. He fights to the end and is a crafty and interesting foe. He is survival of the species in the most extreme sense, though his inability to see how in ancestors had destroyed all life is sadly missed. I wish that had been brought up in the many talks he had with characters.

Ham – Played by Logan Lerman, he is the character walking the line between the way of Cain and the way of Seth. In the end when they find land he chooses to go his own way. He wants to learn how to care, since all his actions are tied to his own wants and desires. He does this really well too and you can see why he hates Noah for a lot of the film.

Ila – Emma Watson is the most successful of the “Harry Potter” cast post “Harry Potter” and rightfully so. She is damn talented. We see that hear too where she was a survivor of an attack on the mine where her family was raising her and Noah and his wife take her in. She is barren and it implied she was cut as a child. Because of this she has a lot of fear connecting but is able to heal from literally and figuratively after speaking with Methuselah. She is a great character and defends her children to the end. It is her showing them their innocence that staves Noah’s hand.

Noah – Is he mad? This is the big question throughout the film. So much of the film you are left wondering if it is all just in Noah’s head as he thinks God wants to annihilate man completely given the near extinction of all life by many of Cain’s line. You can see where he is coming from too as miracles do happen throughout the film. The big issue is when the daughters are born and he has to break away from what he believes God’s message is. He believed God wanted them to restore the Garden, so after they help the animals all survive…they would die out. What he misses in his nihilism is that humans are part of the world too and it is only after accepts that that we see him deal with the guilt of letting the innocent Canaanites die and the fact that he nearly killed his grandchildren and planned on doing so for quite a while once he knew they would be born, and if they would be girls. Russell Crowe does this really really well. He is good at playing complex mad characters, which Noah is. We see him wrestle with his decisions and face the reality of his character relationships. He eventually becomes a drunk when they reach land once more but is brought out of it when he is reminded once more of life carrying on…showing that he has changed from the man he once was.

The Message – The message is dilemmas. Is humanity redeemable? What makes a civilization worth saving or not saving? What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we we have as human beings? This film deals with all of this and lets us make our own decision. Noah is not a good person, but he is a human being. It is through his eyes that we are shown the question and can judge Noah for the decisions he makes. This is powerful and makes the film truly a masterpiece.

I’m glad this is how Apocalypse Week ends. This is one of the greatest films I’ve watched, though I can see why so many were torn about it. The thing to remember is to take it on it’s own merits. Like all films it is a story and a good story at that. What message you choose to take from it is up to you as Daronofsky leaves it pretty open ended. He leaves the hope for us with Seth’s line surviving after the flood, but doesn’t say that the flood was Just. That is up to the viewer. The actors and actresses, cinematography, music and writing are phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great film based off fantasy and mythology that lets you find the meaning in it.

Final score is 10 / 10. Shem isn’t a great character, but he isn’t bad. None of the minor characters who don’t get exploration hurt the film in anyway.