The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1

“I’ll be honest, as much as I love this franchise (books and movies) I really wasn’t that excited for this one. Three reasons. 1-It was my least favorite of the books. I barely even retained any of it. B-The last movie felt like it lacked a little punch or something. III-Did they really need to split this into two? Except maybe a little for Harry Potter, did it ever work well? As fate would have it, I was actually quite into this one.

In retrospect, yes, it does feel like it was a little stretched, and I’m worried as all hell about part 2 being all action and not plot, but in the moment, I really did enjoy this one. I think a big part of why the first installment (book and movie) is my favorite is the games themselves. 2 dropped off since there was less games, and now there are no games. I’m always more interested in the status quo of these futuristic dystopian societies than I am in their rebellion and downfall (see also: Divergent). But something felt different. Maybe it’s because I didn’t remember the details and the story unfolded like new. Maybe it’s the ridiculously strong cast. Maybe it’s that Katniss is one hell of a character.

I was actually reflecting on her as a literary character while I was watching, and she’s incredible. Someone I would want my one day future daughter to look up to. She’s a strong leader, an independent thinker, fiercely protective, compassionate, and possessing so many other great traits. What I love about her is that she doesn’t seek out the role that she has in the games and the rebellion, but bravely accepts her place out of love for those she cares about. That’s ultimately what drives her, and it’s beautiful. Within the past year of blogging I seem to have started caring much more about how women are portrayed in film, and I’m happy to report that this one passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Katniss, Coin, Prim, Effie, all fully realized and strong characters.

Of course Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss without Jennifer Lawrence behind her. She gets under her skin showing her strength and vulnerability with such grace. For me, though, as far as performance, the one I couldn’t take my eyes off of was Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. What stood out for me with this role is that for once he allowed himself to just let loose a bit. He’s not digging into his emotional depths for a masterful but intense performance. He was clearly just having fun, and I loved watching it, and I wish he would have been around longer to see more of those kind of roles for him. There’s some other examples early in his career, but he had such an air of freedom around him. *tear*

I’m still a little leery about our final installment next year, but I think this one got the job done quite well.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 -\m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Friday Night Lights

“For all intents and purposes, I was watching this for the first time. I’ve never seen the tv show either (although I’ve got it in my Netflix queue) but I’m starting to understand why it was so loved.

I grew up in Texas, and I can honestly say that yes it really is a big deal. And that’s that I’m from south Texas, not the real football country up north. My private high school was too small to sustain a football team, but my Daddy taught at a local high school, so we often went to their games. The experience in the film is not exaggerated.

I hadn’t realized this was based on a real team until we got the “”where are they now”” blurbs at the end. It follows a small football town, where the game is the entire population’s livelihood. For me, it’s tough to watch because I can’t see having my life revolve around something like that. Sure, I enjoy football (basketball more though), but it’s something that’s so fleeting. Outcomes can change on the turn of a dime. But for these small towners, that’s all they had.

THe other thing that made it a little difficult to watch was their star running back Boobie Mile’s knee injury. He tears his ACL in the first game we see, and that injury is something I do know what a bit about, having done that myself a decade ago (wow I feel old now). I don’t understand how he was walking, let alone trying to play. I always took my doctor’s directions very seriously, understanding that the added inconveniences at the moment would result in a better recovery and less problems down the line. I would not have been able to bring myself to take the risks that he did, and it was so tough watching all that play out.

Led by the force that is Billy Bob Thorton, we have a pretty awesome cast here. A lot of up and coming young guys who went on to bigger and better. Okay so maybe Garret Hedlund was the only one on to bigger, but guys like Lucas Black, Lee Thompson Young (*tear*), Jay Hernandez all showed up here and there for a while. I was most impressed with country music star Tim McGraw in his big screen debut. I remember thinking it seemed a lil strange that he would try acting, but watching him now, his character is so far from his real persona. I’m impressed.

Another thing I loved was the music, particularly during the final game. Such great classic rock hits electrifying the air and ramping up the energy. I tell ya, it had me on the edge of my seat.

This one plays out a little slower than most sports movies tend to, but it’s also more substantial than they usually are. I’m thinking maybe I need to hurry up catching up on my current shows so I can get around to watching the one that this spawned.”

Rosewater

“Just getting around to writing up last week’s movie because I’ve been lazy and/or busy. Actually last weekend really was kinda busy. I lucked out in that I’d caught advance screenings of most of the new releases, leaving only my obligatory minimum of one movie thus maintaining my 26+ week streak on foursquare of going to the same theater. Reason for the craziness is that I was in a dance show! Kind of a low key deal, but last minute rehearsals and performances left lil time for cinematic adventures.

Rosewater is the true story of an Iranian born journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was working in the UK for Newsweek. He’s sent back to his home country to report on their elections and ends up imprisoned and falsely accused of being a spy. What I find most interesting about this is that one of the pieces of supposed evidence against him was an interview he’d filmed for The Daily Show. Clearly meant as a comedic piece, the Iranian officials holding him instead used it against him. Because of the friendship they formed as a result of his role in these terrible events, Jon Steward adapted Bahari’s book about the ordeal, and makes his feature film debut as a director.

There are a lot of current events and political issues around the world that I know nothing about. To be honest, I’m just not that interested. You can make any dumb American accusations at me, but I’m just not likely going to pick up a Time magazine and start being an activist for these myriad of causes. However, sometimes I feel that it is right for me to at least make some effort to educate myself, and this film felt like that kind of opportunity.

I saw a review that said this film felt split in half. The stronger half being the opening where Bahari was covering the elections and trying to expose the government corruption. The second half deals with his imprisonment. I do agree with those observations. Much more happened early on, and that’s where I felt I learned so much. The second half had less action and plot advancement, but it was certainly the more emotional piece. Neither part would have amounted to anything without the other.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari and gives an incredible and weighty performance. He’s such a good actor and does not get the type of attention he deserves, and he deserves to be noticed by Oscar some day soon. He plays the role with such sympathy and conviction, this is the guy you want to play you in your biopic.

I also think Stewart was an interesting choice in director, not just because of his connection to our protagonist, but because of his media savvy and general knowledge of world events. There were of course lots of newscasts thrown in, as well as a glimpse into the infamous Daily Show bit, but I also liked how he’d overlay headlines. Or would display news on the walls. I’m not describing it correctly, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it. And you should. It’s not as flashy as some of the awards bait that’s out there now, but it’s just as important and affecting.

Rosewater – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Hours

“Tonight’s (or last night’s since I’m future dating this) post brought to you by Netflix. Because it was “”new movie”” kinda night. Said new movie is Hours, one of the last films of Paul Walker’s career, released just two weeks after his death. Sad face.

The film begins with Walker’s Nolan rushing to the hospital with his pregnant wife in duress. He loses her, but not before she is able to deliver their daughter. Since the baby is premature, she’s dependent on a ventilator for the next 48 hours or so. Oh and also, we’re in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. Nolan is trapped in the hospital, unable to move his premie baby and her equipment. When the power goes out, he has to manually crank the back up battery on her machinery every couple of minutes to keep her alive. Meanwhile, he needs to try and find help.

This movie was intense, even if the action was limited. It just starts off on such a tough note, and then the impact of Katrina is almost too much to handle. It lightens up a bit with flashback sequences as Nolan is telling his daughter about her mother, but every time he thinks he has his situation under control, there’s another obstacle or crisis. Add onto that the fatigue that he’s feeling as the hour stretch on. I’ll admit to getting a little emotional at the ending (even though I knew how it had to conclude), but that’s simply because I am a total sucker for a good father/daughter story.

So sad that this was about where Walker’s career ended, because this may just be his career best performance. He had made a niche for himself with the Fast franchise, and often took on similar roles, but this one is so different. Nolan still has that good guy core that is essential for Walker, but there’s a range of emotion we don’t see from him often. Also, it was incredibly demanding physically as Nolan’s strength wore out. All that, AND for a good majority of the film, Walker is the only person on screen. That takes talent and guts, and it’s such a bummer that we never got to see more of this side of him.”

The United States of Leland

“Grabbed this one from the wall the other day. Way back in the day, there used to be a used DVD store near where I used to go to church up here. As incentive, if I could drag my butt over to church, I allowed myself to shop for cheap movies. Besides the presumably low price, I’d chosen Leland for two reasons: Ryan Gosling and the unique title.

Gosling plays the titular Leland, a shy and quiet boy, who seems like the nicest kid in the world, except that he’s accused of a pretty terrible crime. He’s currently in a juvenile prison for some of the more disturbed cases, and forms a friendship with his teacher Pearl (Don Cheadle). Leland recounts his events for Pearl, who like the rest of the world, is baffled by what happened.

It’s certainly a downer of a film. Interesting and unique, but the tone makes you shy away from subsequent viewings, which is why I suppressed most of the memory of the film from the time before that I’d seen it. I’d totally forgotten that the cast also includes Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams, Chris Klein, and Jena Malone. There’s also a pre-Scandal Kerry Washington. It really is a bold movie, and one that won’t leave you unaffected. You just gotta be in the mood for being affected, because whoa.”

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

“Holy delayed blog post, Batman! So it was just over a week ago now that the Brattle had a special screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Why would I pay to go see a movie that I already own on DVD? Because Casey Affleck was gonna be there. Yeah huh.

First there was an intro from the guy who’d put this screening together. About a year ago, he decided he wanted to do something about how underappreciated this movie is. So he started organizing screenings for what he described as “”the greatest movie of the 21st century””. Um, okay, that’s a pretty big statement to make.

I’d seen this once before, when I purchased said DVD. I found it kinda dry, but I was happy to have an excuse to give it a second try. I was with it for the first hour and change. Such strong and incredible performances from a remarkable cast: the aforementioned Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, a pre-Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner, a criminally underused Mary-Louise Parker, and even more underused Zooey Deschanel. According to Affleck in his post viewing Q&A (more on that shortly), writer/director Andrew Dominik’s goal was to portray a story about the relationships between these outlaws. It was not meant to be about action and gunslinging. I certainly got that point, and I agree it was the right move. However, Dominik really needs to learn how to kill his darlings and trim the movie down. 160 minutes of a heavy handed talky film is A LOT. The film didn’t need western action, but it needed something to happen to move the plot.

Still, it was worth the second look, and I do appreciate the film more. But let’s be real, I was really there to be in the presence of a real live Affleck. He had some fun stories, such as how Sam Rockwell, in the adjacent hotel room, would scream out his lines every morning with different impersonations. In response to a question about whether the sometimes perceived homoerotic subtext, he took a jab at his costar “”No, it wasn’t intended. I mean, Brad Pitt’s not that good looking, no one would believe it””. He had a later laugh at his expense, when lamenting that the low reception has prevented Dominik from garnering more work “”When a Brad Pitt movie doesn’t do well at the box office, people get worried””.

He continued on about how he approached the character, and how he reconciled Ford’s actions with his own mentality. There was talk about his heroes, about how certain scenes were filmed, just all over the place. When it was over, I followed the lead of a girl in the front row and I rushed towards the stage. I got him to sign my DVD of Gone Baby Gone (although I really should have taken Assassination as well) and take a pic. He may have unintentionally stolen my sharpie, destroying the clippy part as he absentmindedly twirled it in his hands as I debated whether or not to wait for it, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. Twas quite a fun evening indeed!”

Big Hero 6

“I don’t know what I was really expecting from Big Hero 6 other than a really cute robot, Baymax. I certainly wasn’t expecting the level of tech nerdy goodness we got, nor did I realize that it was going to be a team superhero thing. I knew that Baymax (who I keep wanting to call Betamax) would be outfitted as a hero, but I guess in my mind Big Hero 6 may have just been like a version 6.0 type of naming thing.

Young robotics genius Hiro is taken under the care of Baymax, a healthcare robot built by Hiro’s brother, Tadashi. Baymax becomes Hiro’s companion as he tries to move on from his brother’s death. He gets himself into some trouble chasing down an evil genius who has reappropriated one of Hiro’s robotic inventions, so he reprograms Baymax as a superhero and enlists the help of some other grad student friends of Tadashi, forming their own group of superheroes.

First off, Baymax, cutest robot ever! He has a childlike wonder and a fierce loyalty that make him such an endearing creature. Throw in his inflatable make up and some slight technological challenges, and he further captures your heart. I don’t think it’s possible for a person to leave the theater not wanting their own Baymax to pal around with.

The film may have lost a lil momentum once we got into the more super-centric half of the film, leaving most of the emotional core behind in favor of action, but it was such a sweet and exciting film. I still think Lego Movie should wear this year’s animation crown, but Big Hero 6 gave it a good run for a while there. Besides the fun with Baymax, TJ Miller’s Fred had a few scene stealing moments. In any other movie, he wouuld have been the best one to watch. Oh and if you do like Fred, be sure to stick around thru the end credits for an after scene. Might be a little bit early to start the holiday movie season, but we certainly have a good pick for family fare

Big Hero 6 -\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Theory of Everything

“I’ve been describing lots of movies lately as beautiful. There’s some that I consider inspiring, even if I don’t say it in so many words, or maybe uplifting. There’s even the rare films that I would describe as perfect, in that every aspect is perfectly executed and there are no glaring flaws. Theory of Everything qualifies as all of those. However, the word that I would really use to describe it is encouraging.

I love the extent to which “”nerdy”” things have started to take the pop culture spotlight: superheroes, space, advanced mathematics, etc. And now we get to see the story of one of the biggest and most revered science nerds of our day, Stephen Hawking. He’s made incredibly valuable contributions to theoretical physics, but it wasn’t an easy road for him. He was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease while starting his graduate studies, told that he would lose control over his muscles and likely not survive longer than a couple years. The film centers around those struggles with particular emphasis on his relationship with his first wife, Jane.

There are several reasons why I describe the film as encouraging. One is just Hawking’s vivacity and will to live and overcome. He should have died in his 20s. He’s now in his 70s. There’s also the strength of his relationship with Jane. She perseveres thru some incredibly difficult years, far longer than she had signed up for, loyally remaining by his side. In many ways, this film is as much her story as his, maybe even more so. Despite everything both go thru, giving up is never an option. They stick to their guns and keep their humor and face the world head on. I’d say an inspiring movie makes you want to get up and do something. I call this encouraging because to makes you want to keep going. If they could make it thru their trials, certainly I can make it thru mine.

Our leading performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were utterly fantastic. Redmayne not only had a trying emotional arc, but he had one of the most physically intense performances I’ve ever seen. From the early losses of balance or clumsy moments to being mostly immobile and bound to a wheelchair, the discipline needed is unfathomable. The resemblance the make up team pulled off is uncanny. Hawking himself has said that parts of the film felt like watching his own life, it was that realistic. Jones has such a strength and presence, she does not let herself get lost in the background. Truly truly beautiful.

I think what I loved best about it was the sense of humor laced throughout. Once Hawking started having trouble speaking, he made sure his words counted. That often meant some cheeky humor thrown in to diffuse a situation. I feel I can relate to that, since as a generally quiet person, in large groups the only thing you’ll hear from me is the occassional sarcastic but clever (if I do say so myself) response. Still, it’s nice to know that Hawking still has that sense of humor.

I’m just still in awe of how moving that film was. Executed to absolute perfection.

Theory of Everything – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Interstellar

“The key to enjoying a scifi movie is ignore the science and stick with the fiction. The key to said scifi being any good is if the focus also emphasizes the fiction, building strong enough characters and relationships that glossing over the science is acceptable. In making what is his most personal film to date, Christopher Nolan seems to have embraced this strategy. Knowing his intentions and wanting to have an open minded and positive experience with the film, I too tried to focus on the characters and their emotional journey rather than the details and implications of the science and theory. It resulted in an absolutely beautiful and absorbing movie watching experience.

Christopher Nolan, the brilliant mind behind such films as The Dark Knight, Inception, and Memento takes us on a journey into space with Interstellar. It’s an unspecified time in the future. Humanity’s lust for excess has mostly wiped us out, and those who are left struggle to find the resources to survive. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former engineer and pilot turned farmer, trying to raise his children in this world that is far more challenging than the one he grew up in. He stumbles on a secret NASA base run by a former professor of his that is looking to space for our salvation. Hoping to rescue his children (particularly his daughter, Murph) from the bleak fate that awaits our planet, Cooper agrees to pilot a mission that will take him thru a wormwhole to the otherside of the galaxy, in hopes of finding a hospitable planet.

While a lot of people are making the mistake of focusing on the hazy science and frustrating plotholes, at it’s core, this film is about a father/daughter relationship. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite trust the science completely, and I particularly have a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around the concept of time as it’s used here. What I do understand is the bond between a father and daughter. I’ll admit to tearing up a few times during the film, especially as Murph is absolutely begging Cooper not to leave her. She doesn’t understand that he’s leaving for her, and she simply does not want to be separated from her Daddy. Hell, I’m tearing up just writing about it. Throughout the whole film, Cooper doesn’t care about saving the world. He cares about coming back for Murph and taking her to a safe place. Their connection is what keeps him going, and their disconnection over the distance is truly heartbreaking. Maybe I didn’t quite get what was going on with a lot of the science, particularly when it started stretching in the third act, but I did understand what kept those two going. And that was enough for me.

Something that Nolan is so great at is creating a story filled with suspense and anticipation. While I had some theories about where things may be going, I never really knew exactly what was going to happen. The nearly 3 hour run time did not feel so daunting because I was enthralled throughout. The incredible incredible cast sold it with complete conviction. McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, and a few other surprise appearances along the way. Another thing I love about Nolan’s films is that it’s impossible to just walk away. They stay with you. Keep you thinking and processing. Interstellar was no different. I understand why it didn’t work for some people, but I got it. And it is staying with me.

Interstellar – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

In a World…

“I love it when a movie gives me insight into an industry/lifestyle/world/etc that I previously knew nothing about. In this case, it’s the secret underworld of voiceover artists. Okay maybe its not such a secret underworld, more of a quirky cadre or something.

Written by, directed by, and starring Lake Bell, In a World follows Carol, a struggling vocal coach and daughter of a legendary voiceover artist. Carol stumbles into some voiceover work and before she knows it, she’s up against her father and another superstar voiceover artist for an incredibly high profile job.

It was just a very fun and interesting movie. A lot of honest and clever humor and a lively cast. Maybe walking a little closer to the chick flick line than I’d like, but Bell is a pretty tough chick, so she keeps it real. I loved her in Million Dollar Arm, and she really gets a chance to shine here, showing off some fun accents and vocal abilities.

So thank you, Netflix. You pushed this one on me for a while. I’m glad I listened”