Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 - 3 1/2 stars

This is the third movie in the Hunger Games series.  Based on the first half of the third book – the second half, and fourth movie, will be released in a year – this is the best Hunger Games movie so far.  The games are over and now the rebellion is preparing to go to war against the capital.

I wasn’t a big fan of the first movie.  I thought the story idea was good and I enjoyed the buildup to the games, but once they got to the actual games, I started to lose interest.  The games just weren’t exciting enough to live up to all the buildup.  The second movie was ok, but once again, the second half of the movie was just more games. 

In this movie, things start to get really interesting.  Katniss has been saved by the rebels after she destroyed the arena in the last movie.  She’s taken to District 13 where the rebels have been living and hiding under the direction of President Coin (Julianne Moore).  The rebels are trying to mobilize the districts to unite and fight against the capital, and they want Katniss to be the Mockingjay, the symbol that will unite and inspire everyone to fight.

At first, it doesn’t go well.  Katniss realizes they want to use her the same way President Snow used her, as propaganda.  She hates President Snow, but she’s more concerned about the safety of her friends and family than she is with the upcoming war.  More than anything, she wants to rescue Peeta, who was captured after the events of the last movie. 

After giving President Coin some terms, she finally agrees.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to direct Katniss for a propaganda video.  She’s supposed to be holding a flag and giving a speech after being in a battle, and it just doesn’t feel authentic.  Katniss may have been through hell, but she can’t really act.  Heavensbee soon realizes that they’re going to have to film her in actual dangerous situations in order to get what they want out of her.  As the message gets out, the districts start fighting back. 

I really enjoyed this movie, and I wasn’t expecting to.  Once again, Jennifer Lawrence does a great job of carrying the movie.  Katniss is an interesting character and it’s easy to empathize with her situation.  And even though this is only the first half of the last book, it has a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t feel like they stretched it into two movies just to make more money off the franchise.

For the first time, I am looking forward to the next Hunger Games movie.  I just hope MockingJay – Part 2 can live up to expectations.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dumb and Dumber To - 2 1/2 stars

It’s hard to review a movie like Dumb and Dumber To.  I like the first movie, but partly that’s because I’ve seen it so many times over the years.  The characters and their lines are familiar to me.  I don’t know if I would like it as much if I hadn’t watched it over and over with friends.  It’s one of those movies that my friends and I can quote to each other.  It’s kind of like The Big Lebowski in that respect.

Supposedly the studio wanted to make a sequel in the early 2000s, but Jim Carrey wasn’t willing.  So instead we got Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.  Remember that movie?  Me neither.  So now we finally get to see Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey reprise their roles as Harry Dunn and Lloyd Christmas.   

Harry needs a new kidney, and at first he turns to his parents to see if they’re a match.  To his surprise, they tell him that he’s adopted.  They’re Asian, you see.  Then he finds out that he has a daughter he never knew about.  So he goes to find his daughter to reconnect, but also to ask for a kidney.  So we have another road trip, and Harry and Lloyd get mixed up with a scientist whose wife is trying to kill him. 

But the plot doesn’t really matter.  Did you ever care about whether Mary Swanson’s husband was alright?  No, we just want to see Harry and Lloyd do and say funny things.  There is a lot of that in this movie, but not as much as there should have been. 

I thought Carrey and Daniels did a good job.  They still look like these characters, although Jeff Daniels looks like he’s aged more than Jim Carrey does.  They throw themselves into these parts and it’s nice seeing these characters again.  But there were too many scenes where I was waiting to laugh and the jokes just didn’t land.

I guess I can’t quite recommend this movie.  If you love the first movie, you’ll probably like this one.  It isn’t as good, but there’s fun to be had here.  Just lower your expectations a little.  But if you don’t like the first movie, I don’t think you’ll like this one much either.

Force Majeure - 2 stars

A Swedish family is on a skiing vacation in the French Alps.  One day during lunch, they’re caught in an avalanche.  The mother grabs the two kids while the father grabs his cell phone and sunglasses and runs for it.  It turns out it was a controlled avalanche, and they weren’t in any danger.  What they thought was a mountain of snow coming towards them was mostly snow dust which dissipates within a minute.  But the damage is done. 

After the event, the family is quiet.  No one says anything, but they all know something big just happened.  It’s not until the parents are having drinks with another couple that the wife says what’s been on her mind.  She can’t believe that her husband’s first instinct was to save himself rather than his children. 

For the rest of the movie, they continue to discuss what happened.  There are long stretches of beautiful scenery – this movie really makes me want to visit the French Alps – but nothing much happens.  Sometimes there’s a good five minutes with no dialogue.  At some point, I started to get really bored with this movie.  It seemed like I was watching them have the same conversation over and over without really getting anywhere.

The performances were good.  It’s really interesting to watch these characters change.  At the start of the movie, they looked like the perfect family.  By the end, both parents are a mess.  At one point, the mother wants to go spend the day skiing by herself so she can get away from her husband and think. 

I feel like this would have made for a good short film.  There’s maybe enough here to sustain 10 or 15 minutes.  But the movie is two hours long, and it was really a chore to get through.  

Interstellar - 3 stars

In the near future, Earth is slowly becoming inhabitable.  Dust storms seem to happen all the time, and it’s getting harder and harder to grow crops.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) used to be a NASA test pilot but now he’s a farmer.  His wife died some years before, and now his father in law (John Lithgow) helps him raise his kids. 

One day Cooper and his daughter Murph discover the secret location of NASA.  It seems in this future society, all resources are devoted to growing crops, so the public isn’t interested in funding for NASA.  They also aren’t interested in electronics anymore, so Apple is probably no longer a going concern.  Anyway, NASA asks Cooper to join their mission of going into space and looking for a new planet.  They know it won’t be long before all life on Earth is dead, so if the human race is to survive, it needs a new planet to inhabit.

First off, I’ll mention what I didn’t like about this movie.  The first half hour felt really clunky to me.  It would have been nice to learn more about what life is like for these people.  Cooper lives in what looks like a small farming town in the Midwest.  But what is life like in big cities?  What was the transition like from the early 2000s to life in this movie?  How far in the future is it?  It seems like it’s only 20 years or so, since Cooper can remember a time when people were interested in things like electronics and looking up to the stars. 

Also, the people don’t look like they are living in any kind of a dystopian future.  Their clothes are clean and look brand new, and their teeth are white and straight.  Besides discussing what crops won’t grow, it seems the only problem they have to deal with is wiping dust off the table now and then.

The dialogue was bad and the first part of the story was very rushed.  The way they discover NASA and their plan seemed way too simple.  NASA already has a plan for the mission, and when Cooper shows up, they say “Oh, you were the best pilot we ever had.  Now that you know what’s going on, you need to lead the mission.”  If it was so important to have him on board, wouldn’t NASA have tried to find him and ask him to join? 

Once they leave Earth, the movie gets much better.  They plan to use a wormhole to get to another galaxy, and they already have potential planets in mind that they’re supposed to visit.  They don’t really know where the wormhole came from, but they know where it’s going to take them.  In order to get to the wormhole, which is located near Saturn, they’ll have to travel for two years.  I won’t spoil anything that happens after that. 

The effects in this movie are incredible.  The scene where they pass through the wormhole is just cool.  It made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In fact, there were a lot of things in this movie that made me think of 2001.  I’m sure that was a big inspiration to Christopher Nolan, and while this movie isn’t up to that level, it’s still pretty well done.  It’s a very intelligent science fiction movie. 

I have my reservations, but I’m still recommending the movie.  It really demands to be seen on the big screen.  I’m reminded of the way I felt the first time I saw Avatar.  It’s an incredible achievement, but the story could have used a little work.  It’s long and exhausting, but I’m glad I saw it.

Big Hero 6 - 3 stars

Based on the Marvel comic, the story is set in the futuristic hybrid metropolis called San Fransokyo.  A young robotics prodigy named Hero and his robot Baymax uncover a criminal plot and pull together a team of inexperienced crime-fighters to defeat a masked supervillain.

It’s an interesting idea to make a Marvel superhero movie as a Disney animated movie.  If it were live action, I’m sure Baymax would not be quite so cute and huggable.  But Disney knows that Baymax will be a huge selling point to young kids.  For slightly older kids, they’ll get a kick out of the action and technology.  The members of the team don’t have superpowers.  Instead, Hero invents suits they wear that give them their abilities. 

As a superhero movie, it wasn’t terribly original.  After all the super movies we’ve been getting over the last several years, I felt like I’ve seen the movie before.  It’s no surprise who the villain turns out to be, or what his plan is.  However, I did like the twist that the heroes were kids.  I think kids will be able to identify with Hero and his friends easier than someone like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.

The powers they get are pretty cool.  One has these discs she uses as wheels and as weapons.  One has laser swords that come out of his arms, and they look like the sword in Halo.  And one has a suit that looks like Godzilla, with claws and fire breath.

As an animated movie, it worked.  It had a good amount of humor and action.  I took my nieces and nephews (ages 5 to 10), and they all loved the movie.  Personally I have a hard time getting that into animated movies, but this one kept my interest.  Probably my biggest complaint was that it was too long.  It was two hours, and animated movies usually work best when they’re under 90 minutes.

Overall I enjoyed the movie.  It’s definitely a good choice if you’re taking the whole family.