The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Posted by on Nov 27, 2014

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescued from the games by being whisked away from the coliseum by the resistance. She is left with the horrible reality that her friend and fellow tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), was left to the whims of the Capitol. She struggles with her new role as a symbol of the rebellion while still trying to maintain a grasp on her life before the games.

Before I get into this review a few things must be mentioned. While I have read the books, as pointed by one of my coworkers, I am mainly relying on my impressions from the book as well as consultations to Wikipedia for summaries. With that being said, I am mostly judging this film as it is, a film. Since no adaptation of a book will ever be perfect I never expect any filmmaker to stick to the books exactly without taking a few artistic interpretations. I will also not be shying away from including items from the final Hunger Games movie since they are a book series and you have full power to go read them.

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To get right to it, I felt this film was unnecessary as a stand alone chapter and could have easily been condensed to a 30 minute section of a 2.5 hour Mockingjay film. It could have been great as a stand alone film, since up until this point each Hunger Games has been an action based thriller that seeks to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. It would have been refreshing to see a more nuanced film exploring the dynamics of the rebellion and its deceptively noble leader. Instead, we got about 2 hours of Katniss being told what to do and trying to decide whether she’s Team Gale or Team Peeta.

While I do understand that this love triangle is pretty central to the book and some form of romantic tension is needed in the young adult genre, it seemed forced in this time around. It seemed like these three, mostly Katniss and Gale since Peeta is largely absent during this film, have not grown at all. They are still in this weird gray area like they were at the beginning of the series regardless of everything they have been through. I’m not saying their relationship shouldn’t have been addressed, it just seems weird that we are covering the same romantic beats we have seen before.

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On the subject of character development, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) seemed the same as he did in the first film. I mean, he has been a part of the rebellion for what I think a fair estimate is a couple months. I was expecting to see Gale jump right into the rebellion since he has always been fairly rebellious in the past. Instead of seeing a rising star in the rebellion, we see a glorified bodyguard. It’s not until the end of the film that we see Gale starting to be more involved with the rebellion.

Looking past Gale, we similar development problems with President Coin (Julianne Moore). President Coin has much sinisterly motives that should have been played up by this time to lay the groundwork for her true agenda to be revealed. In the books most of this is done with internal monologue which is understandably hard to bring to film. Instead of seeing Coin as leader with dubious motives we see a rebellion leader who is strong in her beliefs and willing to make sacrifices to achieve her goal, even abandoning Katniss as the Mockingjay.

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To put this idea simply, instead of getting a film about a rebellion they take a rebellion and treat it like the Hunger Games. Instead of meeting and understanding the other players involved we get a group of people that are fairly one dimensional and there just to add variety. It almost seems the writers got stuck between focusing on Katniss like the last films and opening up the cast. Instead of getting either of those we get a weird gray area that is a lot like Katniss and Gale’s relationship. We’re not sure why these characters are here but they seem to be important to Katniss for some reason.

With Katniss, I have a few thoughts. Besides what I have already stated about her relationship status, she seemed less like the Katniss we have come to know. I read an interview about how the author, Suzanne Collins, was largely okay with any changes that were made as long as the focus was kept on Katniss dealing with PTSD from the games. When I read this things just kind of clicked. Of course she would be dealing with PTSD. At a young age she just went through a very traumatic few years culminating in losing the only person who went through it with her. Yet, we didn’t get that. Besides the opening scene and the scene of her sleeping troubles we don’t really see her struggling with this. Focusing more on this in the film would have added a layer that this film needed.

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Beyond this lack of mental instability, I felt as a supposed rebellion leader she isn’t very rebellious. Part of the story is about how she comes around to being a symbol for the rebellion. I get that she has to struggle with this at least a little bit but she largely just sits around waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Not too mention that as a supposed symbol she isn’t very inspiring. At no point during the film was I captured by her moving speeches. Her only real inspirational tool is that she survived the games and made the Capitol alter their rules for her. Which while powerful can only last so long, especially after the fact the rebellion is in full swing.

All of this being said, this is not a bad film. If you enjoyed the books than I’m pretty sure you will enjoy this movie. It was well directed and all the performances where great. What I have detailed mainly deals with the story and the actual character development. I fully expect that Part 2 will be better for me and am excited to see the last chapter in this thrilling story.

The Incredibles Vs. Big Hero 6

The Incredibles Vs. Big Hero 6
Posted by on Nov 20, 2014

Big Hero 6 released about a week and half ago and has earned a global 148 million box office gross. It’s sure to continue its upward trajectory and inspire more than a few kids to pursue science. Being the first Disney superhero film, it was a little rough around the edges but is definitely a continuation of what Frozen began with its positive messages. However, this isn’t the first animated hero film we got from the Disney family. The Incredibles which came out ten years ago on November 4th was our first hero treatment from the House of Mouse. The Pixar film was a story about a superhero family with a particular focus on the mother and father. Robert Parr, the father, was experiencing his mid-life crisis and was eager to take up the mask and tights again. His wife, Helen Parr, was ready to put their past exploits behind them to try and live a “normal” life.

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After watching Big Hero 6 I was struck with the similarities while at the same time realizing their stark differences. With The Incredibles, we get a group of heroes that are bound together by family. Coming from a big family myself, their household disputes where pretty accurate, accept for the addition of superpowers of course. It expressed to me what a family should be, they are the people that will always have your back no matter what. Not only that but a family is a team. One person can’t carry the family, no matter how strong or flexible they may be. It requires cooperation and shared responsibilities. You see this in the struggles and conflicts throughout the film.tumblr_mzk5frZu8I1t63aw2o1_500

For Mr. Incredible, trying to go back to his golden days instead of creating new ones with his family works for a time. He eventually loses his control though, putting himself and his family in danger. Taking this to a metaphorical level, Mr. Incredible’s lack of family focus and his attempt to be as incredible as he was causes him to shirk his familial responsibilities. That he can keep his family a float on his own marginalizes not only his wife but his kids as well.

Elasti-girl on the other hand has different set of problems. She is ready to begin a normal life, where super villains and spandex are nowhere to be seen. She wants to hide her family’s gifts so that they can appear normal or to fit in. When it comes time to rely on her families gifts, they fail since they have seen them as something to hide.

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The big conclusion of course is the family coming together to defeat Syndrome. We see each character shed their insecurities and failings realizing that their family is their to cover what they can’t. With The Incredibles 2 now coming our way I am extremely excited to see where they go next.

What chiefly sets The Incredibles a part from Big Hero 6 is the perception of powers. With The Incredibles we have a world where super powers are a bad thing. Using one’s individual and sometimes extraordinary talents is seen as a bad thing. Even Syndrome uses this concept as his big evil plan, to make everyone reliant on an external force to make them feel “super” which in turn makes them not. Which coincidentally could be the focus of another article, “Syndrome’s Social Media Plan”. Anyways, the point I am attempting to get at, which at this point feels like I’m stumbling through, is that The Incredibles is all about family and how they help to shape who we are by encouraging us to embrace are individuality.

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Big Hero 6 takes a slightly different approach. It shows that sometimes family can let us down. Before you decide to click away just hear me out. Yes, Hiro’s family did not intentionally let him down but they weren’t there when he needed them. Hiro’s aunt was still present sure, but she was still very much a secondary character in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it’s Hiro’s friends that handle the brunt of the emotional support.

The differences don’t stop there. While the world of The Incredibles sought to surpress individuality and talents San Fransokyo encourages individuality. Each character is unashamedly themselves. They follow their passions and use their talents to make their dreams realities. The important bit in this film is that using our gifts selfishly is just as bad as not using them at all, which we see with main villain almost destroying the city by selfishly using his gifts. This message adds responsibility not only to those close to us but the rest of the world.

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The best way I can describe my thoughts about these two films is that they are a continuation of each other. The Incredibles teaches us that hiding our gifts and trying to be Superman will only lead us to failure. Big Hero 6 showed us that we need to encourage each others gifts and that friends are family. While these two films are different, the do compliment each other very well and teach us a valuable lesson on respecting our own gifts along with others.

Big Hero 6: A Love Letter to Geeks

Big Hero 6: A Love Letter to Geeks
Posted by on Nov 13, 2014

Big Hero 6 premiered this weekend and is already pulling ahead in the box office, beating out Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. To say I was looking forward to this movie is a little bit of an understatement. Being a self described Disney and comic book geek, having a Marvel inspired Disney movie was a dream come true. So, going in with a set of established expectations I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

I was expecting a pretty straight forward origin story involving the typical loss and an eventual rebirth of our main characters. While our main protagnist, Hiro (Ryan Potter), did go through that traditional arc there was something else going on within the film. Leading up to the premiere, there were many articles pointing out that Big Hero 6 was set to be one of the most diverse Disney films to date. With a group of characters that seemed to break every mold, there was truly a character for everyone to relate to.

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There was Hiro, who was struggling with the loss of his parents and his brother. A genius who was unchallenged in everyday life and simply needed a place that fit him. Go Go (Jamie Chung), one of my favorites, is the Wolverine of the group who just does her thing, always looking to go faster and not getting hung up on others perceptions. Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) who at first you’d expect to be the big, rough and tumble member of the group is actually the type-a OCD team member, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), the “girly-girl” of the group who would be just as excited going shopping as designing a new chemical concoction to aid in her crime fighting. Lastly, Fred (TJ Miller) is the simple enthusiast, he might not be able to build these incredible inventions but he will be the first volunteer to jump in and test it.

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Combining their varying geeky styles with the cultural diversity of each character, you see how anybody from any background could be anything. A clear lesson in diversity and about forming judgments based on a persons appearance. So, how does geek culture fit into this? Simple, every single member of Big Hero 6 is a geek! A geek is, at least by modern definitions, a person who is enthusiastic about a subject. Most often these interests lean more towards pop culture and academic pursuits. However, you can still be a football, shopping, marketing, or even a cooking geek.

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Big Hero 6 takes this approach of having multiple passions that interact with each of its main characters. Instead of making each one of Hiro’s friends a stereotypical one dimensional geek, we get a variety of characters with different interests that help shape them. Go Go is all about racing and she is hard at work creating mag lev suspension. Wasabi is a neat freak who borders on having OCD whose plasma swords cut with such precision that it would make even Monk proud. Honey Lemon has an eye for fashion and embodies that in her power purse that she uses to combine chemicals into crime fighting pods. Fred who while not scientifically inclined is a science enthusiast with a passion for superheroes is unashamed of letting his geek flag fly. Each character has their own quirks which clearly show through each one and makes some of the most unique characters in Hollywood today.

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We have established that we are dealing with a superhero team comprised of geeks. What this all means about geeks and geek culture is something any self-described geek already knows, everyone is a geek. I mentioned up above that being a geek is about being excited about something so much that you can’t help but tell others about your passion. For me, it’s film and comic books with a particular focus on those people or companies that tell great stories. I have had many brain dumping sessions involving coworkers and friends who asked just the right question to kick off an hour lesson on a particular subject. If you think about it, I’m you yourself probably have one or two subjects that people would have to physically stop you from talking too much about.

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Disney shows that this is okay. That being passionate about anything is okay. Fashion, science, robotics, chemistry, racing, kids, superheroes, everything is open to geek culture and that’s okay. Big Hero 6 does a lot of things well, showing diversity, showing how cool science has always been, superheroes are fun, friends are important, and while losing someone hurts we have to keep moving forward. What is most important is that it’s okay to be passionate about things and to surround yourself with people that fan the flames either through support or participation. This is what Big Hero 6 does the best. My favorite scene is when Hiro first meet his future teammates. You see the joy and passion they have for their individual projects that just brings a smile to your face.

Big Hero 6 may not be the best Disney film out there. I certainly still have my favorites and few criticisms. What is so special about Big Hero 6 is it presents its message in a very clear distinct way both actively and passively. Representing diversity passively by just having a wide range of characters that are different by being themselves. From backgrounds, to physical appearance, and even their little quirks, it’s easy to see how each character is there own person. The dialogue actively presents their messages of togetherness and support. From Fred’s science enthusiastic comments to the teams words of comfort and advice as Hiro struggles with the loss in his life.

Disney has made a huge step in terms of stepping into the modern era with their story telling and character diversity. We’ll just have to wait and see if they continue the trend with Moana and  Zootopia in 2016.

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The Judge

The Judge
Posted by on Nov 6, 2014

The Judge tells the story of a lawyer son disconnected from his judge father, who in all fairness made it pretty easy to happen. However, he is brought back to his hometown for his mothers funeral which thrusts him back into his family’s life. During his time their, his father becomes involved in a hit and run that could ruin his reputation. His son rises to the challenge and defends his father.

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First and foremost, what stuck out the most in this film is the chemistry between the son and the father played by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Perfectly balanced, they do a great job of matching each others intensity and demonstrating true natural feeling of a strained father/son relationship. They both keep their usual mannerisms that you will see through out their acting careers. Downey delivers lines in short erratic spurts and Duvall delivers them in such powerful way that is frankly needed to stop Downey. However you choose to interpret it, they are the heart and soul of this movie and their are very few other pairs of actors that I believe could bring a similarly emotionally charged performance.

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If you do see this film, you should pay attention to the framing of the shots. There are multiple times during the film where I mentally “Oh, that’s a cool way to do that scene”, I literally took a moment to realize what the director was doing. For example, the chief drama in this film is drawn from the confrontations between Downey and Duvall. After one particular event and subsequent argument we see them both storm out of the car half way home, leaving in different directions. The other two brothers who have been caught in the middle of these two are perplexed as to who to follow. The shot itself is a medium shot that shows the car in the center with father and son walking off in two separate directions. It’s fairly obvious what the director had intended here. To visually represent the current relationships of each character, summarized in one shot.

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There are a few other moments that are similar that I won’t spoil for you but pay attention to the last scene in the film, it was a particularly well done little sequence. While our two leads definitely stand out, they are well supported with a cast fills out their roles nicely. They are out of the main view enough where you feel they don’t need too much development while still being relevant enough where you care about them.

Ultimately a well-balanced film and in my opinion worth a watch.