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.

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.

My Old Lady

My Old Lady
Posted by on Oct 2, 2014

Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) has hit rock bottom.  Alone and destitute, he travels to Paris using the last of his money in order to claim his inheritance from his father.  A townhouse in the center of Paris is all his estranged father left him from his large estate.  Looking to sell it to a hotel tycoon, he begins to appraise it the moment he arrives only to find that his inheritance is currently occupied by two stubborn french women.  Mathilda Girard (Maggie Smith) and her daughter, Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas), are in a special arrangement.  Instead of Mathias’ father purchasing the townhouse outright from Mathilda long ago, he instead formed a contract where he would pay her a monthly fee until she died.  That contract was signed nearly 70 years ago.  Mathias begins to reconsider his original plan and may just find out that he isn’t as alone in this world as he thought.

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My Old Lady is based on the play by the same name written by Israel Horovitz.  What is incredibly refreshing is that not only did Israel adapt the screenplay himself but he also directed the film.  So, while I may never see his play in its original format, I do believe I have seen a true representation of his original work.  I at the very least hope this is true since the film held many twists and turns along the way that I would be disheartened to find out where either rushed or incomplete compared to their stage counterparts.  I say this since these twists and turns are really what I remember most about the film.  You never really know what is exactly going to happen next as startling revelation after startling revelation continue to emerge.  These help to keep the story fresh as it would otherwise lack much more than the natural conflict that would arise when one is waiting for a “tenant” to die to claim multi-million dollar investment.

As is usually the case with me, the second part that really brought this film to life is the actors character portrayals.  Maggie Smith channels more than a little of her Professor McGonagall in her performance of a stern, stubborn, french woman.  With a performance that easily and gracefully slides between gracious host and irate business partner.  At certain times she seems to empathize with Mathias and his run of bad luck while other times she reveals no sympathy while firmly defending her position blaming Mathias for most of her troubles.  It really is truly entertaining to watch Maggie Smith work with a character that she seems to fit her so well.

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Kevin Kline and Kristin Thomas do pretty well themselves.  Most of the movie, they spend their time trading insults back and forth while slowly learning about the each other’s true intentions.  Not to mention that their relationship is what holds the majority of the twists and turns of this film.  To be honest (spoiler ahead), Israel makes it appear that they aren’t going to end up together.  For more than a moment, I truly thought that Israel would divert from the traditional model and end the film with a somber twist.  He doesn’t but nonetheless, he keeps you guessing throughout the film.

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Now, one thing that I have always found evident in film adaptations of plays is the amount monologues or scenes of extended dialogue.  This is where Kevin Kline truly shines with his acting prowess.  Giving more than a few powerful speeches and monologues that fully capture the characters forlorn attitude.  It is the kind of performance in fact that makes me want to go through his filmography to find more gems showcasing his skill.  His performance especially stands-out considering that the film has only three major characters.  Not unusual but the disparity between main and secondary characters is so great that one could easily only include the main three.  It would make for an interesting experiment but wouldn’t be that much of a risk to do.

Once again, I have not seen a stage production of the play but I feel that this is as close to the real thing as you will get.  With a great cast, plot, and direction this is definitely a must see.

My Rating 8/10

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The Drop

The Drop
Posted by on Sep 25, 2014

The Drop tells the story of “retired” mobster Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who know runs a money drop through his bar for the new mob boss.  His partner in crime Bob (Tom Hardy) who is a little slow and slightly socially inept helps him to run the bar keeps things going smoothly.  This all changes when two thieves rob the bar putting Marv and Bob on thin ice with their mob “partners”.

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The Drop is sadly the last film of the late great James Gandolfini.  He certainly leaves us with an incredible film from start to finish.  His performance is nothing short of superb.  Capturing the characters essence of a mobster trying to grasp at his once tremendous presence.  The subtlety at which he presents the struggle of the characters shines through in the patterns of his speech and his overall presentation.  At times seeming to ramble while remaining on subject provides layers of simultaneous confidence and anxiety.  Gandolfini’s performance is matched and supported by Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy portrays a character that seems at first, out of place with rest of these criminals and thugs.  This is highlighted by his floundering interactions with his female co-star Noomi Rapace.  His performance is truly telling of his potential with his ability to display the same mannerisms and characteristics of a character while providing completely different implications regarding intent.  I wish I could tell you more but I fear I am treading on the thin ice of spoilers.  Not to be overshadowed by her male counter-parts, Noomi Rapace excellently portrays a character trapped and pulled in two different directions.  She is forced to decide between two interpretations of wickedness.

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What I liked most about this film is how they misdirected the audience.  They lead the audience into making judgement’s about the characters which they flip later on in the film.  It is masterly crafted to lead the audience on.  The directing style is really slick, very simple and straightforward.  Camera shots are very steady and tracking shots are kept to a minimum.  The depth and complexity of the film is purely in the character portrayals and the choices they make.

Surprisingly, the subplot actually tied a lot of the film together.  This is where Noomi Rapace comes in.  Hardy first meets her when he walks by her house and notices that somebody place a puppy in her trash can.  Hardy ends up taking the puppy and starting to care for it.  Quickly realizing that he has never taken of anything else before, asks Rapace to help him with the basics.  She reluctantly accepts and a romance begins to bud.

What was also done very well is the balance between the plot and subplot.  Often times a subplot, especially that of the romantic variety, are thrown in without any relevance to the main plot.  You end up getting a subplot that adds nothing to the characters development, which is what a well executed subplot should do.  With The Drop, you get a romantic subplot that gives you insight into the minds and behaviors of the characters.  At first it seems fairly unrelated, just a random occurrence that allows the main narrative to divert to every once in awhile.  However, the subplot quickly interacts with the main plot and by the end the behaviors of the characters within, especially Tom Hardys, become clear.  I wish I could say more but I fear I’m starting to get into spoiler territory.

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All in all a great film and wonderful sendoff the late great James Gandolfini

My Rating: 8.5/10

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey
Posted by on Aug 27, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey  starts with the story of a family from India who are forced to flee after their restaurant is attacked by political extremists.  They flee to London where they aren’t exactly impressed with the culinary options.  So, they continue their journey to France where they decide to start a new restaurant, right across the street from one of the most famous restaurants in all of France.  Their traditional Indian cuisine and style clashes with the other owners classic French style with hilarity and drama ensuing.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey is all in all an average film.  It’s not awful but it isn’t fantastic either, it is simply a strong film that rides the middle ground pretty well.  The best part of the film by far is Helen Mirren’s performance which isn’t all that surprising since it’s Helen Mirren.  Seriously, she plays a stuck up french woman who is constantly trying to find a reason to close down her new competition.  However, in a completely “unseen” turn of events she eventually comes around to the family.  What makes her performances so fantastic is the subtlety of emotion.  Whether it be joy or sadness, she is able to express complete and pointed emotions with extreme subtlety.  My favorite example of this is a moment where the rival head chef’s hands have been badly burned due to some overzealous employees from her own restaurant.  Her recognition of what the damage of his hands means in every metaphorical and literal sense is purely heartbreaking.  Regardless, beside Helen doing her thing there isn’t much else to this film.

The two main characters, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bron do a solid job but due to the fairly predictable plot, it seems they lose the chance to really strut their stuff.  The rest of the cast do well enough to provide drama and humor where needed.  Outside of that they are easily replaceable.

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As said before the plot is predictable.  Partly because of the trailers leading to the film tell all that there is to the film and partly because it is a run of the mill romance/drama flick.  It has all the tropes from the shy pretty girl that doesn’t think she is pretty, the conflict that forces our two love-birds a part, even the whole two old people bickering who eventually fall in love shtick made it in.  While still well written in terms of dialogue, it still suffers from plot issues.

The best way to describe this film is a safe-bet.  It seems Steven Spielberg and Oprah, the two executive producers, set out to make a film that would return on investment.  They succeeded since this film has already made more than it cost.  Again, while not a terrible movie it still isn’t a good one.  If you are in the mood for a film that will leave you a little happier afterwards without giving you too much grief getting there than hunker down with your favorite snacks.

My Rating: 5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
Posted by on Aug 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of how five outlaws banned together to stop a religious fanatic on his conquest to destroy worlds.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are the only hope the galaxy has for survival.

Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the most unique Marvel film to date.  It takes the audience to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, far from earth and into a world with talking trees and raccoons.  At it’s heart and really what this movie does, is tell the story of five misfits who have nowhere else to fit it.  Peter Quill is an orphan who was abducted from earth when he was young boy in the eighties.  Drax is a killer whose family has been killed and has left him with nothing except the burning need to avenge their death.  Gamora is one of the deadliest assassins in the galaxy who became that way after Thanos killed her family in front of her and raised her as weapon.  Rocket Raccoon is a raccoon that has been experimented on until he gained sentience and intelligence beyond the average being.  Groot is in as few words as possible, a space ent whose vocabulary is limited to 3 words, “I Am Groot”.  This ragtag bunch of outlaws somehow winds up saving the galaxy by being at the right place at the wrong time.  What is great about this film is it seems James Gunn embraced this idea of misfits.  This is most easily seen with Peter Quill and his bevy of eighties references.  After all, he was abducted in 1988 when he was child and enamored with the pop culture of the time.  While the audience understands his references, those around him don’t and they often end up misinterpreting his metaphors in hilarious ways.  Without spoiling too much, this culture clash humor is takenand applied to each of the individual characters in their own way giving each one time in the spotlight.

With a cast that rivals The Avengers, this film has a strong talent base to rest on.  Surprisingly, no characters seem underdeveloped or pushed to the side.  Each character fulfills their role brilliantly which creates a narrative that flows very smoothly.  Now, one thing that I found this movie had trouble with was some of the dialogue.  At certain pints, the dialogue seems forced and awkward when it shouldn’t.  However, most of these moments occur in the beginning of the film, when these characters are still melding together into a cohesive team.  I could very easily see this as a ploy by James Gunn to enhance this idea that these characters are very much outcasts and misfits.  The only other part of this film that seemed to struggle was it pacing, it really was a roller-coaster of a film.  Still, this comes down to preference because after all roller-coasters are pretty fun.  What’s gonna happen is you will find that scenes have a certain emotional focus and then find the next scenes have taken a hard turn towards another focus altogether.  Again, this will come down to personal preference but it could very easily be found to be jarring.

In the end, this film might have a few flaws here and there but these flaws are vastly outweighed by the humor, wit, action, drama, and storytelling that you will have the pleasure of experiencing.  This film is a must see unless of course you’re not a fan of good cinema.

My Rating: 9/10

Edge Of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow
Posted by on Jul 3, 2014

Cage (Tom Cruise) is a solider in the US Army who joined up within the PR division so he could avoid combat.  However, when the last stand of humanity begins he is ordered to go to the front lines to record it.  He attempts to get out of it but in the end he is forced to fight against his will.  In combat he finds himself facing a slightly bigger mimic, the aliens that they are fighting.  This mimic is bigger, badder, and bluer than the others.  When Cage kills it and is drenched in its blood however, he finds himself in a Groundhog Day style loop.  With every time he dies, the day starts over and he gets another chance at survival.  With the help of Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero who used to have the same ability, and Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a physicist who warned that the enemy mimics had this ability, are out to try and kill the mother mimic.

Edge of Tomorrow is first and foremost a fantastic sci-fi film.  If it had to be summarized it would probably be a cross between Alien, Star Troopers, and Groundhog Day.  A weird combination, nonetheless, this film borrows aspects from all of these films.  It does a great job of balancing the inherent repetitive nature of the main plot device while still keeping things new and entertaining.  This was obviously my biggest concern going into the film and I was pleased with how well they handled it.  In fact, they actually use the repetitive nature of the film to their advantage which results in more than a few light-hearted moments that help the audience get past the initial repetition.  The action in the film was well done and they do a great job of not repeating the same scenes over and over again as the film goes on.  You often find out through exposition that Cage and Rita have already gone through this situation multiple times.  Ultimately, if you enjoy sci-fi films, than this one is an excellent addition to your must watch list.  Even if your not a huge fan of sci-fi, it is still a great film that would not be a waste of time.

Now, while this movie did a lot of good things, one of them was not the ending.  I will do my best to make this spoiler free but be warned that there will be a few spoilers in from here on out.  The ending, in my opinion, was ruined twice.  Meaning they had two opportunities to have a great ending and they botched both of them.  The first time around they completely ignore what this whole movie has been about, infinite re-spawns to borrow the video game terminology.  In a situation where there are no stakes, where Cage has an unlimited number of attempts, the film sometimes seems pointless.  However, he eventually loses these powers thus raising the stakes since he know longer has the option to be reckless and is faced with the very real possibility of dying.  You would think the film makers would keep like this since it makes the audience more invested in the film since the main character now has to be careful of paying the ultimate price.  However, in the end, in a “twist” ending he regains these power so that the day will start over and he gets to be with Rita, who he has fallen in love with (did I forget to mention that whole subplot?).  Instead of killing the main character making this whole adventure mean something, the director decides to just bring him back so we as the audience can have a happy ending.

Looking past this ending, they had the opportunity to redeem themselves slightly by making the last few moments incredibly romantic.  After Cage wakes up for the last time, he of course immediately goes to Rita to supposedly confess his love in someway.  The last scene shows Cage approaching Rita who questions him. as to why he is interrupting her training.  His response is to shrug and nervously chuckle at the whole situation before the credits roll.  On the surface this isn’t a bad ending.  However, when you take into account that earlier in the film when Cage is trying to get Rita to open up and we see their love slowly growing, she confides in him her middle name.  All the director would’ve had to do is have Cage walk up and say “Hey Rose” or even just Rose.  It would have tied the film together more completely and would have made a very sweet ending.  Instead, the instead decides to just kind of end.

All in all, despite the ending Edge of Tomorrow is still a great addition to the sci-fi genre.  It’s funny, action-packed, dramatic, and romantic.  If you haven’t seen it yet I highly suggest it.

My Rating (With a different ending): 8.5

My Rating (With the current ending): 7

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Posted by on Jun 23, 2014

The world has gotten much bigger in five years.  Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has been busy, inventing new dragon riding equipment and exploring the world.  Discovering new lands and new dragons.  The rest of Berk has been busy integrating dragons into their everyday life.  Stoick (Gerard Butler) has officially declared Hiccup the next chief.  This of course causes Hiccup to run away and do what comforts him, fly.  During a talk with Astrid (America Ferrera) at a brand new archipelago, they spot burning patch of land.  They consequently come across a group of dragon trappers, led by Eret (Kit Harington) who informs them of the malevolent Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who has been forming an army of dragons.  After a few conflicts with his father, Hiccup discovers another dragon rider.  One that has created a sanctuary for dragons from Drago.  This mysterious rider turns out to be Hiccups mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who has been presumed dead for the past 20 or so years.  In an inevitable turn of events, the residents of Berk ally with Valka’s dragons to repel Drago and his army.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great entry into Dreamworks pantheon.  It has plenty of heart, humor, and action.  Not to mention they aren’t afraid to add some real pain to the mix.  In a world where franchises are seen as easy cash cows, it is refreshing to see genuine effort put into another franchise entry.  Not to mention the great cast of characters surrounding the main protagonists.  While they don’t add much beyond some light-hearted humor, they are a nice tension relief during some of the more tense moments of the film.

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What this movie does the best, is expand upon the world that we were introduced in the first film.  They have truly created a world that is exciting and enjoyable.  Combining this whimsical world with improved visuals makes it all the more immersive.  Really, my one regret about seeing this movie is not seeing it in 3-D.  Not to mention the full on dragon war that occurs in the latter half of the film.  The design of the fight and flight scenes is absolutely perfect.  What is extremely interesting, however is this theme of dismemberment.  You have the heroes, Hiccup and Toothless, both missing a small piece of themselves.  What is important is that these injuries were essentially inflicted by each other.  To clarify, these injuries were not directly inflicted on them by each other.  However, these injuries were direct results from the others actions.  Regardless, these injuries go on to bond them to each other and shape their character.  This is put into contrast with the villains own dismemberment.  It is revealed that early on, Drago lost his arm to a dragon.  This turned him against the very idea that dragons could be anything more than mindless beasts.  Instead of choosing to grow from the incident, he chose to conquer his fears through domination.  Now this is all just my own musings since none of this is confirmed in the film.  However, it fairly easy to see when you observe how differently Hiccup and Drago approach dragons.  Hiccup always approaches new dragons with humility and calm.  Drago on the other hand approaches with rage and domination tactics.  Drago asserts himself over the dragons, demanding their obedience, while Hiccup earns their trust.  Honestly, I could write a whole paper Dreamworks representation of trauma and how it shapes.  That I will have to save for a rainy day.

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Now, all this to say How to Train Your Dragon 2 didn’t have its problems.  My main issue is how Dreamworks seems to rehash many of the same internal struggles.  We get it, Hiccup and his father don’t see eye to eye on things.  That was the last movie.  I can understand Hiccups struggle of entering adulthood and accepting more responsibility, but not in the way the represented.  Instead of focusing on that fear of growing up, they turned into more teenage angst about how his father doesn’t understand him.  It was really the exact same issue only with a different setting.  The peripheral characters were also very underwritten.  Taking Astrid for example, she really has no part in the movie.  Sure, she’s there but she offers very little substance to the film.  This goes for the rest of his childhood friends as well.  They do offer some excellent comedic timing but otherwise they seem over abundant and unnecessary.  It would have been nice to at least one of these characters at least add some kind of side conflict or telling Hiccup to just get over himself and take on some responsibility.

Now, since this is the second installment in a possibly 4 movie franchise lets take a look at where the franchise could go.  The best thing for Dreamworks to do, would be to show Hiccup struggling with his new duties as chief.  This seems fairly obvious but the majority of his struggles should come from one of his friends resisting and even becoming an enemy.  This could be difficult but not impossible.  Plus, it would be a new and very interesting situation for Hiccup to deal with.  Beyond that, since Dreamworks has exhausted the dragon army idea, they would need to go into non-physical territory.  For instance, there is some new disease that is affecting both dragons and humans.  Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the cure or the cause.  Not only does this raise the stakes by putting his loved ones on the line, but it would naturally open up the world even more.

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Wherever Dreamworks decides to take Hiccup and his friends, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an excellent addition to the series.  It plays to Dreamworks strengths while still bringing in fresh and exciting story elements.

My Rating: 7/10

Stardust

Stardust
Posted by on Jun 10, 2014

 

Stardust is a love story, just not one you have heard about.  Tristan (Charlie Cox) is a young man who lives in the small country town of Wall.  The kind of town where nothing particularly spectacular happens.  He has hopelessly fallen for Victoria (Sienna Miller) who is currently being pursued by Humphrey (Henry Cavill), the town stud as it were.  One night, as Tristan is attempting to woo Victoria with a romantic candlelit picnic, a falling star happens to pass over them and as a statement of true love Tristan vows to retrieve this star to prove his love.  However, over the wall, which the town is named for, is a magical land known as Stormhold where the next king is being chosen.  In fact, it appears this star was brought down by the kings amulet and the last remaining son will become king.  Tristan will truly have to prove his love by fighting off power hunger princes, youth seeking witches, and attempting to reason with a star.

If there is one word to describe this movie, it would undoubtedly be whimsical.  Based on the book of the same name written by Neil Gaiman, it tells the story of what true love really is.  Our hero, like many, has fallen for someone who quite frankly isn’t quite deserving of our hero.  Of course, blinded by his love for Victoria, Tristan goes on this quest to bring back a fallen star.  In turn of events, this star is less of a rock and more of women  named Yvaine (Claire Daines).  Of course hi-jinks ensue as Tristan must protect Yvaine from princes and witches who wish to devour her heart to live forever.

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The strength of this movie beyond the story telling is in its cast.  First off, you have Ian McKellen as the narrator whose narration skills could probably only be surpassed by Morgan Freeman.  Not to mention Mark Strong as the villain, and a villain he plays.  Killing his brothers, innocent bystanders, and even at one point aids in killing the leader of the church or at least sort of.  Nowadays, it seems villains are the only characters Mark plays, but that’s mostly because he does it so well and this time is no exception.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the other villain, the leader of three witches who are out to eat Yvaine’s heart to gain near immortality.  Michelle doesn’t let Mark steal the villain spotlight.  Where Mark’s villain bull rushes on, Michelle plays things coy and methodical.  Setting up traps and attempting to trick our protagonists to their death.  Her portrayal of the witch Lamia is an excellent balance to Mark’s Septimus.

The highlight of the film though comes in the form of Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of Captain Shakespeare.  With Robert DeNiro is most well known for his tougher than nails characters often for humorous effect (The Family, Meet the Parents).  Stardust switches this dynamic where the character of Captain Shakespeare, a blood thirsty captain who pillages, plunders, and kills with out remorse is just that, a character.  The true Shakespeare is a man who abhors violence all together and prefers to spend his energy on cross dressing.  Yes, Robert DeNiro plays a homosexual pirate with a flair for the dramatic.  This film is worth seeing just for his performance since it is something that you won’t see everyday.

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My main problem with this film is in its deus ex machina at the end.  Everything works out for the heroes where nearly nothing is lost.  I’m not against a happy ending, I just think with this particular movie it would have been made more meaningful if our heroes had to struggle more for it.  Most of the ground work is laid out for the big resolve in the film, it still feels very neat and tidy in a story that has had one twist after another.  However, this is hardly a reason to place Stardust on your do not watch list.  If you are looking for a fun film, one that would be perfect for a date night, than I strongly recommend Stardust.

My Rating: 8/10