The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Up next is the finale to the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 2. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material.

From IMDB: After young Katniss Everdeen agrees to be the symbol of rebellion, the Mockingjay, she tries to return Peeta to his normal state, tries to get to the Capitol, and tries to deal with the battles coming her way…but all for her main goal; assassinating President Snow and returning peace to the Districts of Panem.

5 out of 10

I am not a reader. The only books I read are for school, and even then I tend not to. The three books in the Hunger Games trilogies are some of the few books I’ve ever read for pure entertainment. Since I don’t read many books, I don’t really hate many either. Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, is one of those books I really didn’t enjoy. Spoiler alert: I didn’t like the movie any better.

mockingjay 3

First things first, did anyone actually ask for it to be two parts? It works for Harry Potter because the seventh book had enough substance for the split to work. Mockingjay does not, so the split is just a giant cash grab that totally ruins the quality of both films. The first part was slow because it lacked the material to work around, and this one fell into the same trap. Every little thing was stretched out, making the pace of the whole thing ridiculously slow. It was just a pain to sit through.

Not to mention, the characters didn’t really do much to help. Poor Jennifer Lawrence… she is so much better than the Katniss that the screenwriters presented her with. Katniss might as well have been the Hulk because she is always angry. There was no inflection in the emotions she output. The same thing can be said for Peeta and Gale— two characters with tremendous potential, but instead poor writing makes them one sided and boring. The writers focused too heavily on the whole Gale vs Peeta thing, probably in hopes that the battling romances would provide something interesting to an otherwise mundane film, which it did not.

mockingjay 2

My biggest problem with the novel was that I had no idea what was going on, as it lacked flow and general organization. I can easily say the same for the film; I quite literally had no idea what was going on. I could not keep track of where Katniss was going and when. Every time I thought she was going to the Capital to finally end the mov— I mean the fight, she went somewhere random and proceeded to waste ten to fifteen minutes doing nothing. When she finally gets to the capital, and the big battle happens, they decide to knock her out for all of it. I’m not sure how much of this I can attribute to Suzanne Collins’ poor writing, but I can say I went through the same struggle while reading the book. Take that as you will.

What this movie missed was action. It was too much dialogue, too much political talk. What made the first two films successful was the balance between the politics and the action. Mockingjay is ruined by a misplaced focus on the politics of the world, rather than giving audiences what they want.

mockingjay 4

Its pretty late in the game for me to be writing this review, but if you have yet to see this movie, I’d advise you to save your time. There is no use in ruining the first half of the series, which is actually pretty solid. I really like the Hunger Games as a whole, which makes it really upsetting that I feel obligated to say such poor things about its finale. But alas, here we are, at the end of a solid series with a disappointing final sequence. Too bad they can’t wipe it out like X-Men did.
~Vig

6 out of 10

This is the final installment of the Hunger Games franchise that seems to have ended
rather quickly considering the speed of which the movies have been produced. I read all three books a few years ago and while I enjoyed the first two, the third felt very slow to me and didn’t amount to a huge conclusion to the trilogy. But I was actually surprised to find the first part of
this finale last year to be interesting in its focus on propaganda yet unnecessary considering its shortness of the book.

In this film Katniss, again played by Jennifer Lawrence, leads a rebellion with all of the districts banding together to take on an uprise against the capitol and President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland. She joins love interests Gale and Peeta in a squadron of rebel leaders
enroute to seize the capitol. And her conversations with them are the best part of this movie, reflecting a mature element of this film from these well fleshed out character that was not present in the book. If you pair this character motivation with the three solid performances, especially from Lawrence who can’t turn in a bad outing if she tried, and you have a very interesting layer to the film.

mockingjay 1

But with that being said, the film is extremely slow for the first two acts. There are many scenes of characters just walking or sitting while not talking each other that feel much more like filler than real moments poignancy that the audience needs to watch. There are some very
exciting and at some points haunting action set pieces, but they come and go so fast that it goes right back to the slowness that weighs down on the film. This slowness, which is my main qualm
with the film, is not the director or the actors fault but more the studio for deciding to split a small book that was already very slow into two parts for the sake of sucking more money out of the
franchise. It caused the first movie to be very slow and not build up to anything and the second movie to be very slow as well, but does have a thrilling and mostly satisfying conclusion. The film ends in a very sophisticated way that is much more mature book concludes. But these
stakes of the conflict aren’t very well presented until the climax which is very disappointing considering the amount of time they had to present that within these two films.

mockingjay 6

This film is very dark and somber considering it being based off of a young adult novel, which go to varying degrees of success. In some instances, the darkness works to display it as an allegory for how many governments and leaders have been run throughout history with the idea of power being a common theme. But at other times, the dreary tone feels melodramatic with the PG­13 rating that the filmmakers have to abide to, which causes a lot of the dark elements to be very watered down to accompany a full audience.

mockingjay 5

Overall, the film is a mixed bag of good and bad elements with the diagnosis being that splitting up a book into two movies hurts the overall product of a franchise.
~Seth

 

Advertisements

Steve Jobs

Hi everyone and Happy Holidays. This week we’ll take a look at Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, and Seth Rogen. It is Rated R for strong language.

From IMDB His passion and ingenuity have been the driving force behind the digital age. However his drive to revolutionize technology was sacrificial. Ultimately it affected his family life and possibly his health. In this revealing film we explore the trials and triumphs of a modern day genius, the late CEO of Apple inc. Steven Paul Jobs.

8.5 out of 10

Steve Jobs, named after the one and only, has Sorkin written all over it. It’s got the same fast-paced grit of The Social Network and the smart, sleek style of Moneyball. This may just be his best one yet though, thanks to a pair of dynamic performances and direction that gives Steve Jobs, one of this generation’s most influential people, a movie that accurately depicts his accomplishments and his failures, both as the co-founder of Apple and as a human being.

steve jobs 2

I didn’t think he could get any better than 12 Years a Slave, where he played brutal slave owner Edwin Epps, but alas, he has outdone himself. Michael Fassbender is the driving force of Steve Jobs, bringing both the good and the bad to the titular character. Jobs is not a hero. He is not a good guy. He is not even a nice guy. But he’s human, and that is where Fassbender’s portrayal comes close to perfection. Despite there being no physical resemblance, Fassbender plays the man that we know and want to see; The hard nose, rude, egotistical man who has no mercy for his subordinates. But the most incredible thing is that there is still another side to it all. Steve Jobs still loves his daughter and despite neglecting her for the longest time, eventually shows that his love is unconditional. You’re going to be hearing Fassbender’s name during Oscar season, and deservedly so.

Backing Fassbender up is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and more importantly, Jobs’ confidant. She is a tour de force, proving to be the only person that can stand toe to toe with the powerful, intimidating Jobs. She matches him blow for blow, proving to be a voice of reason that he not only listens to, but follows.

steve jobs 4

The direction of the film is done in a way where everything is very fast paced and continuously moving– much like the life of Jobs. The transitions between scenes and time periods are flawlessly done through montages of what happens in between the events of the scenes that are taking place. There are really only three or four actual moments illustrated in this entire movie, but each is stretched out to capture every ounce of tension. Every emotion is exposed and used.

The opening of the film is a perfect example of that– one particular moment in which Jobs is demanding his employees to fix the computer for a presentation without regard for the risk of the fix. Intertwined with a fight with his ex-lover over child support, the direction in this scene maximizes the intensity of both sides of Jobs’ life and fuels them together. This is done throughout the movie, making every scene more intense than the one before it.

steve jobs 3

The fast-paced nature of Steve Jobs, mixed with a soundtrack and styling that give it a high energy, would not seem appropriate for a biopic. However, this film is anything but conventional. Danny Boyle does an outstanding job of controlling the pace and emotions of the film, aided by a fantastic script. However, in the end, Michael Fassbender is easily the star, commanding this movie with unmatched grit and power, masterfully playing one of the most admired and loathed man of our generation.
~Vig

9 out of 10

We’re gonna need some background here (Minor spoilers): Steve Jobs (No, your brain isn’t melting. We did get one of these biopics about two years ago as well.) is spread over three sections, three different Apple product launches over three different decades. It’s pretty claustrophobic with all the major plays taking place in the backstage of every presentation and the roster limited to a tight chorale of characters (Funny enough, it kind of gave me Birdman flashbacks).

steve jobs 1

So, what’d I think of this structure? Did the whole three act thing behoove the story exactly or did it just staccato things? Here’s the short answer: it was like seeing the same story three times with escalating tensions and stakes, each execution better and more powerful than the last. We’ll get that negative out of the way first, of course: make no mistake and be warned, this is an identical story on repeat. The movie’s enclosed cast of characters kept it limited to glossing over the same points and arguments over and over (We see Jobs wrangle with his wife over money and with his companion “Woz” over the state of their company several times each. Strap in.) .

What’s the upshot to this production choice though? Well, as I said before, it’s all about the slow swell of tension. We may be seeing the same people debating the same things every section but, each time, things get a little more intense, a little more ground is covered and everyone gets a little angrier. In that respect, the movie perfectly plunges us into Steve’s top entanglements with impeccable pacing. It’s all also theatrical enough to be satisfying but realistic enough to ensure that its not straying from or romanticizing the true story (See Social Network for some of these mistakes.).

And I really can’t stress this enough: if there’s one thing West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin behind this can write, it’s a heckuva pounding argument (He always does that moment exact moment where ego flickers on and seizes control so well). Michael Fassbender may just be the best vessel out there for Sorkin’s talents as he churns out a cool and calculating yet bubbling, fiery performance (As expected, dear Magneto did me proud with some Oscar-tier work). Coupled with fantastic work from Seth Rogen (You read that right) and Kate Winslet, some of these spat scenes hit such a climatic pitch of writing and acting that they leave you feeling absolutely throttled.

steve jobs 5

Part of me does indeed wish I got a linear, lengthy “rise and fall of Steve Jobs” story or something along those lines but I appreciate director Danny Boyle’s foray into a more abstract, bare bones, no B.S. type of biopic. With some lush, breezy transitions to keep things moving and equally powerful acting, Jobs takes it place as a solid contender to be one of the top films of the year and (pretty much as expected) surpasses its Ashton Kutcher predecessor.
~Zach

Bridge of Spies

This week, we take a look at Stephen Spielberg’s latest piece, Bridge of Spies. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, and Amy Ryan, the film is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

In the cold war, A lawyer, James B. Donovan recruited by the CIA and involved in an intense negotiation mission to release and exchange a CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot, Francis G. Powers that was arrested alive after his plane was shot down by the Soviet Union during a mission- with a KGB intelligence officer, Rudolf Abel who was arrested for espionage in the US (from IMDB).

7 out of 10

If you can remember, I put this film on my ‘Top 5 Most Excited For’ list way back at the beginning of this year. With Steven Spielberg directing, Tom Hanks acting, and the Coen-Brothers writing, this film is guaranteed to be a success. Might as well give it Best Picture already. This were my thoughts a few months ago when first coming across Bridge of Spies. Maybe it’s because my expectations were too high, but I can’t lie; I was rather underwhelmed. Not to say it was a bad film, because it wasn’t, it just was, well, underwhelming.

bridge of spies 3

Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors of all time, and again he delivers as James B. Donovan. As the protagonist, Hanks drives the film, and thank god he does, because without him I can’t imagine how charmless this film would be. He has charisma, humor, but also a sternness that grounds his character in the film and makes him realistic. The turmoil that his character goes through and the way he deals with it is ultimately what makes this another outstanding Hanks performance. There are some other strong showings, including Mark Rylance as a persecuted Soviet spy that Donovan grows fond of, and Amy Ryan as Donovan’s fearful, but supportive wife.

bridge of spies 1

Per usual, Spielberg does an incredible job of creating the historic setting, the camera work serving to prolong the drama and keep the atmosphere of the Cold War tense, dark, and moody. This solemn tone was maintained throughout, largely due to the fantastic production design and cinematography that kept the film in the midst of the Cold War.

Yet the tension stops at the production design. For a spy thriller, I did not get much of a thrill at all. I felt the mistake was that the film was split into two parts, one being the trial of the Soviet spy, the other being Hanks’ attempt to trade the Soviet spy for the United States’ own spy. The first part felt like an interesting commentary on nationalism versus morality, whereas the second part felt like a cute middle school dance between the Americans and the Soviets, when you knew that the two would get together in the end to make a deal, but they spend the longest time skirting around it. That was my biggest problem: it was too predictable. Argo was predictable, but still thrilling. For a solid five minutes, I was convinced that Ben Affleck and co. would not get out of Iran alive. I just didn’t get that same feeling from Bridge of Spies.

‘Bridge of Spies’ by DreamWorks Studios.

Perhaps the reasoning for that is a lot of the tension built up circulates two characters that no one really cares about. Frederic Pryor and Francis Gary Powers were characters that I did not empathize with, and I doubt many others did either. There was not much development for their characters, so when they were captured, I could have cared less if they were killed or not. In fact, I liked the Soviet spy more. I’m not sure whether this can be attributed to poor acting or poor writing, but those two characters lacked appeal that removed any tension the film could have had during its final act.

Overall though, it is impossible to discredit Spielberg and Hanks from what is overall a well made film that should get nominated for plenty of Oscars. Perhaps you can attribute my disdain for the second half of the film to it being nearly 11:00 PM by that point, while being on the tail end of a double-header in which I witnessed Michael Fassbender absolutely dominate as Steve Jobs (but that is a review for another day. Soon. I promise). Bridge of Spies lacked the tension and thrill that would have made it an all time great, instead forcing it to settle with being another solid film that will be forgotten in a few years.
~Vig

7.5 out of 10

Bridge of Spies brings together the powerhouse duo of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks once again, who have made successful films such as Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can, with a trun to the cold war, one of the few American history time periods Spielberg has not touched on in his filmography. Add this stellar pair with the Coen brothers (of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men fame) writing the screenplay, and you have talent that almost guarantees a slam-dunk. And Bridge of Spies does succeed, for the most part.

The film tells the true story of James B. Donovan, played by Hanks, who was put in charge to defend a Soviet spy caught in the U.S., then ultimately has to negotiate a trade between the spy and a captured American U-2 pilot in the Soviet Union.

bridge of spies 6

Above all, the craftsmanship is what makes this film shine. Spielberg and his customary cinematographer Janusz Kaminski create a world that feels so much like the time period without spoofing it. This is seen especially in the opening eight minutes, which is purely visual imagery with no dialogue, that hooks you into the story. Spielberg also uses an old style of filmmaking where he prolongs every shot for as long as possible; so when one a cut is made, it gives the audience a subconscious feeling that a beat has changed within a scene, even if it is just between two people talking. This style makes the film come alive and proves once again that Spielberg is a master of the screen.

As the case in pretty much every Spielberg film, the acting is top notch. Hanks succeeds once again in his usual charismatic role, also with some humor, making us root for him as he has to deal with both stubborn sides (with a cold as well!). But because we always see him in this every man role, it is a little safe for him, and does not necessarily stand out in his impressive filmography. But who does stand out is Mark Rylance, who plays the soviet spy. Rylance has a tranquility to him despite the character’s desperate conditions, and forces the audience to feel for him despite him being an accomplice on the other side. Other notable performances are Amy Ryan as Hanks’ wife and Austin Stowell as the captured U-2 pilot.

bridge of spies 2

But for a thriller, the film has very little suspense in it. The film runs right by the numbers, with no twist and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat as most Spielberg films do. The narrative is split into two parts with the trial then the negotiations for the swap and while I found the former to really say something strong about Americans and the complication of patriotism in yesterday and today’s society, the latter feels like the story is going through the motions, despite the really great shots of the split up Berlin, where the negotiations take place.

Also I was a bit disappointed in the Coen Brothers script; it did not contain their usual idiosyncrasies or dark humor, but rather is more paint by the numbers than you would expect from them.

bridge of spies 4

And if there is ever a complaint to be made about Spielberg’s films, it is his cheesy, feel-good endings, and that is no different in this one, with a very gooey conclusion from a film that was much more mature than that.

But the way the film presents its historical material is so well done that I have to recommend it on that basis alone. Even though it feels like there is something missing in it, possibly from the absence of Spielberg’s usual composer John Williams, not many films today are made with this amount of care, and so gets my support nonetheless.
~Seth