Friday, November 21, 2014

Movie Review: Hunger Games Mockingjay

Books turned into movies have a funny way of either breaking your heart or surpassing your mildest expectations.  This one didn’t really do either for me.  While the book was mediocre (to me, think Breaking Dawn level of story), the movie pulled away from that, delivering a mix between chaos and organized annoyance from the movie’s marque characters.  With weak source material and flimsy premises, this movie still delivered some type of punch while still making women seem both weak and in need of being saved.

If you aren’t familiar with Hunger Games, the premise is pretty simple, on the surface.  The world was torn apart by war years ago and to teach those that had rebelled a lesson, the victors hold an annual ‘game’ in which children from each area of the world ‘volunteer’ to play in a fight to the death.  As you might expect, the character we are introduced to defies all odds and manages to subvert the government and win, possibly winning her freedom.  It isn’t that simple, of course.  The government thinks she has become a symbol for being rebellion and does what they can to eliminate her, even to have her return in a second game even though she should never have to.  The second game doesn’t see an outright winner, but she survives and is now being used as a tool for the rebellion to overthrow the government.

Seems dense?  Yeah, try nonsensical.  What makes the movie compelling also makes it unattainable.  At every turn, something unrealistic gets in the way, a contrivance that gets more and more unbelievable as the story progresses.  To me, what makes it worse, is that the movie does stick to the book, which is really a blueprint for what, exactly?  I don’t’ know what ‘we’ as a society are supposed to take away from this movie.  Katniss (the main character) only seems to show strength at prescribed moments and it feels so reactive.  While I do realize the character is being portrayed as mentally drained, having lived through two life-death situations, at the tenth breakdown of the movie, it just got old and annoying.  I argue that if Katniss had died, the movie and story would have been better off.  A martyr for the cause would have been much more effective than the loose cannon that Katniss is.

The movie has merit, don’t get me wrong, but from a story perspective, it was maddening.  The mother of four kids who sat next to me seemed to have the same opinion as we glanced at each other periodically as Katniss had one of her dozens of meltdowns.  If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, you’ll like this, if not, then save your money and go watch the Hungry Games with Cookieness Evereat.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Whiplash

I don’t always find time to see those ‘off the beaten path’ movies and this is one of them.  The story isn’t one that we encounter in real life, perhaps.  I feel like most of us are happy with continuing with the status quo, pushing to a place of comfort and then coasting along, as needed.  This story places an aspiring drummer, who wants to be great, against a teacher who will stop at little to push him past any sense of self to be something more, no matter the cost.

On the surface, it seems like it might be one of those feel-good movies, but with the first profanity laced tired from Fletcher to young Neiman makes it clear to the viewer that the road will be anything but smooth.  The story quickly devolves into a struggle between Fletcher being almost inhuman in his attempts to push Neiman, though in the context of the story, it looks like a terrorization and little more.  What makes the story come together is how Neiman begins to respond.  Both he and Fletcher share the belief that to be great, you must push yourself, push yourself past any reasonable line that most of us back off from.  Fletcher finds a way to, ultimately, make Neiman better, even if it looks terrible and Neiman borders on all kinds of troubling personality traits.

While I didn’t intend to spoil the movie, I do feel like the movie can connect with a wide audience.  What would you risk to be great?  If there could be a guarantee to be the best of this generation at something, anything, what would you be willing to give up?  Neiman is faced with this quandary throughout the movie and at every chance to give up, he doesn’t, he never backs down.  That dogmatic persistence makes the movie churn, more so as JK Simmons chews everything up in his wake in what is by far the best performance I’ve seen from him next to his stint as J. Jonah Jameson from the ‘original’ Spiderman movies.  Miles Teller plays a quiet character, but there are a lot of little things he does that make you somehow root for him and against him for Fletcher.  The entire movie set me on edge in a way I hadn’t been thrown for quite some time.  This movie is one you do not want to miss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

The first time I heard about this movie, I thought, wow, Jake Gyllenhaal doing a stand-alone X-man movie?  Yup, nope, that wasn’t what it was.  Not at all.  The first trailer didn’t really give me a good idea of what I was getting into until the very first scene finished.  The story is one I couldn’t quite get the scope of until about halfway through the movie, when the lead character truly reveals his life vision.  If nothing else, this movie will make you begin to question your own motives and the motives of others.  And for those who work with me, the lead character resembles a certain someone we work with – quintessential sociopath.  POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD

The movie begins with Gyllenhaal’s Lou Blume stealing fencing from one site only to attack the security guard, steal his watch and sell the ill-gotten goods to a construction site.  It is clear that Blume has no actual job, doing whatever he can to get by.  After witnessing a man recording a fiery crash, selling the footage for a tidy sum, Blume decides this is the next way to make money.  He steals an expensive bike and pawns it for a video camera and a police scanner, now trying to make easy money.  Blume finds a way to get his footage onto the morning news and he becomes consumed by this goal, a goal to sell his footage, have a reputable business and will seemingly stop at nothing to see this dream come true.

After hiring a man who was practically homeless, Blume has a corporation and starts to see the fruits of his labour.  Blume is befriended, to some degree, by a local news director, Nina, played by Rene Russo.  Blume goes to great lengths to manipulate all those around him, soaring higher and higher, making more and more money and making questionably ethical decisions.  It is that latter starts to make the movie almost uncomfortable at times.  Blume has little to no regard for anyone else, using people, as the character even states, “he doesn’t like people.”  The idea that his business is something he stumbled upon makes him that much more despicable.

I can’t quite put into words how turned off I was by Blume, yet Gyllenhaal kept you engaged, almost rooting for this ne’er-do-well character.  It also kept me fascinated that someone would live his life with no sense of how to live among people.  His only goal is to get ahead, there is no concern for anything else.  Currently, I work for someone like this and watching this movie was quite a clinic.  No matter what you do, it will be wrong because it wasn’t the sociopath’s idea, or isn’t directly related to the sociopath getting ahead.  That sort of lifestyle is foreign to most of us and for good reason.  The movie is well worth a watch, no matter the price.  The only detraction I had was that I really disliked the lead character, as I was supposed to.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Movie Review: Before I Go to Sleep

Up for contention for this weeks’ movie was either Nightcrawler or Before I Go to Sleep.  The decision was made based on which movie started earliest.  While the reviews for the former movie were better, it is all about timing.  After I discovered that the mall Cinnabon wasn’t open until 11, I might have changed my vote, but it’s too late now and I didn’t get to smuggle, or eat, a Cinnabon today.

This movie is another movie based on a book.  I didn’t know this beforehand and I’m not sure that knowing that, after seeing the movie, that I want to read the book.  The story was interesting.  Nicole Kidman’s character, Christine, suffers from daily amnesia, waking up each day not knowing what had happened for the last fourteen years.  Needless to say, the acting was superb, more so given Colin Firth played opposite Kidman and both are quite gifted actors.  With the main character searching for answers to her own past, makes the story move quickly and hastens the pace of the suspense.  Not long into the movie the audience learns that Christine had a child that died years earlier and that her husband had been hiding that and her other friends to, supposedly, spare her the turmoil of forgetting and remembering them over and over again.

The plot felt like it devolved in the last twenty minutes, but after sticking with Kidman for that long, it would have cheated the story to not give her, or the audience, closure.  I wanted to enjoy the movie more, and I was surprised by some of the twists and turns, even if the story was giving ample hints as to what is an obvious sort of plot point.  I would hate to spoil the movie, but I will say that for $7, it was well worth seeing, not to mention the fabulous cast.