MOCKINGJAY PART ONE (2014) movie review

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the truism states. I’m starting to understand the genius and momentum of the Hunger Games series. Suzanne Collins’s art does imitate life in that the reign of the Capital and it’s king mimics most historically dogmatic despotic dictatorships. “Moves and counter moves.”hunger-games-mockingjay-trailer-comic-con-2014-lionsgate I’ve been told that her stroke of brilliance in the books was her use of first person narrative. Every reader’s point of view is through the eyes of Katniss making each reader the hero or heroine of the story. She is the symbol as Mockingjay, but is she savior or pawn?2014TheHungerGamesLionsgateeffie mj still Well titled, well layered, well played. James Newton Howard’s score in this sets the tone, pacing it out to steady build and crescendo. Effie’s delightfully upbeat ignorance mirrors Haymitch’s comical cynicism – both necessary relief in a film about a holocaust which leads to civil war. Once again, these are not lightweight kid flicks. Children should not see them. No one should feel comfortable in theater seats as witness to mind control and murder. The scenes with Peeta are shocking and heartbreaking.the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1This film is a mere echo of true historical events. Life, and art’s echo. No character demonstrates this more beautifully than Plutarch, played by Philip Seymor Hoffman, who has posthumously released a succession of brilliant performances. His premature death reeks of tragedy. Hoffman’s talent was a gift. He is uniquely comfortable on screen. Immersed in his broken characters, he always stole the stage, so to speak. The people he brought to life in his performances were so often weighed down by choice, response, and duty. Yet, watching his characters, you feel he has dice in his hand. At any moment he could throw and redirect course. He is flawed, unsafe, and somehow paradoxically both calculated and flippant. And Katniss, (and subsequently the audience) is caught in the balance of his imbalance. In Mockingjay, he plays cupbearer, navigator, first mate to the President of the future Panem, Julianne Moore. Is she untrustworthy? Perhaps. Unstoppable? No doubt.first-look-at-julianne-moore-in-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1-162964-a-1400221686-470-75 The stage is finally set. The first two arenas were literally child’s play. The Capital is the true arena, and the real game is afoot.

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INTERSTELLAR (2014) movie review

inter5 inter6 inter7 inter8 inter9 inter3 interstellar inter2 inter4I like movies that take me a few days to process. Just as Inception was essentially a grand scale ensemble heist film, Oceans 11 without the humor, so Nolan’s Interstellar is an unlikely hero flick, Gravity add Star Trek sans quirk.

Wormhole space-time theories pre-date Einstein. String Theory represents years of mathematical probabilities working out into possibilities. Stories of space travel would be bland without wormhole potential, other worlds, the broadening of our galaxy.

Interstellar is intricate. Most sci-fi films feel heavy on the fiction and light on the science. This film makes the not-so-distant potential for a planet in crisis via natural disaster and global warming seem believable.

Interstellar is intriguing. I have always said that a good actor makes us believe that his or her totally unique world is real. Matthew McConaughey does just this. He’s good. We know he’s good. He knows he’s good. However, ironically, I kept waiting for him to get into his Lincoln and philosophize from the driver’s side. Anne Hathaway won me over by underplaying for the most part. Other phenomenal actors got less screen time than deserved: Jessica Chastain, perfectly cast, and Michael Caine, precious.

Interstellar is mystifying. Masterful. Like a sonata, notes on a page build to glorious melody evoking tension, future suspense, resolving with hope. Beautiful.

My one disappointment was the unnecessary humanist turn at the end. Spiritual hope is not ignorant propaganda. Most of the world claims some sort of spiritual and religious bias. Claiming humanity’s potential for evolutionary future and inevitable deification nullifies the mystery, cheapens it somehow. “It must be us. We got us here. We don’t know how, but we’ll get there someday, somehow.” (Loosely quoting Matthew McConnaughey here). Build up and let down. I prefer to hope in the unknown, not in humanity’s potential but in the paradox of hope in the unseen. I guess I choose faith.


Filed under Drama, Sci Fi

CHEF (2014) movie review

sxsw-opening-blog480Jon Favreau has his moments. Sure. He’s won over Hollywood and Marvel, and made a lot of amazing friends along the way. He seems the quintessential action movie maker now.jon-favreau-not-directing-iron-man-3In my film class, I teach that he loves primary colors and that he sold an entire movie on a title alone. Guess which one…*cough *Cowboys & Aliens *cough. He’s an idea man, a dreamer, a big thinker. I respect that.DGAQ_proflie_favreau_ironman jpg.ashxNotches in his directing belt include Iron Man 1 & 2 and the Christmas Classic for this generation: Elf. He has also directed single episodes of favorite tv shows like The Office. DGAQ_profile_Favreau_J_Elf jpg.ashxHe was an actor first. His presence on screen as an actor is sweet. He is likable. And though likable big thinking dreamers are not exactly rare, they are Willy Wonkas, a little mysterious, and potentially explosive. (Check out his impressive imbd credits). In the movie Chef, he decided to become triple threat, so he wrote, directed, and acted. He said he did this because this way he wouldn’t have to explain everything to everyone. This “little” film, compared to his big budget busters, stretches the big screen limits. To be honest, I didn’t really like the movie, but I loved all of the characters. Ironic. Food movies are fun, and this belongs on the thematic food movie shelf for its glorious twirling of noodles, cutting of cucumbers, taste-testing-slicing and event-making of food. chef-jon-favreau-emjay-anthony-aaron-franklin-john-leguizamoMy expectations low, a few friends called and told me to rent it. I knew the rating was for language and should have expected the frivolous freedom used, but this was real backstage, in kitchen, outtakes of Chopped kind of language. It totally removed from the story. Moments that were, I suppose, indie-funny, were unnecessary and distracting. Some scenes lingered and lacked story to hold audience attentions. Don’t see it for RDJ’s five minutes of unscripted screen time or Dustin Hoffman’s 10 minute window. Favreau has made great friends who were willing to film fast scenes and help him boost his indie.  Lastly, I know I should not be bothered by the use of technology in films, but I am usually bothered three years later when everything is out of date. Perhaps this will gain an 80s timeless element, like a mix tape. Sadly, for me, the story didn’t carry the sweet characters very far. All were likable: all flawed, all gifted, and all rewarded when they decided to use their potentials selflessly for the good of others. I love the happy ending, and if anything, this film does have that payoff.chef-emjay-anthony-jon-favreauSo I suppose my critical review is that I liked the lava cake and the scallops because I don’t mind the classics, but the garnishing left much to be desired.  The story was simple and the language was…expectedly indie. That, and you’ll crave a cuban sandwich for a week.


Filed under Indie, Skip It

POMPEII (2014) movie review

My ritual theater attendance has been hindered by life events and lack of interesting plots of late, so I offer a shredding of a recent rental: Pompeii.


If the sci-fi network and the movie Gladiator had a love child it would be Pompeii 2014.  It is the exact story set in a new location. Perhaps plagiarism is excused when hot people reenact epic film moments. Not really.

Pompeii-241This film stars many models who try to act and Kiefer Sutherland as …well Jack Bauer dressed like Julius Caesar. You’ll also recognize Moriarty from the RDJ Sherlock 2 & Mr. Eko from the show Losttumblr_n06k48kqO81sdkelro1_500Some have British accents, and many have 8-pack ab muscles...if these abs could speak.

Tons of killing…but no blood. Well, okay a little blood. The city of Pompeii burns at the height of its power and glory. And they never saw it coming…despite the ash falling from the sky and constant earthquakes throughout. Also, despite the lava flow. The giant volcano erupted …out of nowhere, destroyed everything …literally everything.

If there is nothing left to watch. If it’s this or Sharknado 3. It’s still a tough call.tumblr_myuvmeli4v1sdkelro1_1280

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THE GIVER (2014) movie review

thegiver1-1024x576It is usually considered better to give than to receive. In this 2014 film, the man known as the Giver must bestow on his new Receiver the entirety of humanity’s hurt, fear, and sorrow as well as its love, joy, and peace. An emotionless society, set apart (but never really explained), lives in safety, secure from all issues brought on by squeamish emotions or daily discomforts. Climate controlled, policed, and vaccinated from human emotion, this society employs the keeper of memory, Jeff Bridges, to provide the wisdom of  the ages when necessary. He is the only one capable of empathy, also the only one who lies. He is the one who can see through the thin veneer of the “perfect” society, run by evil silver-fringed Meryl Streep who organizes the ceremony of selection which allows for each member of the community to be selected for his or her . Of course, when the memory is passed on and the younger, hotter Giver knows the truth and is brave enough to follow his convictions, he seeks to end the cycle of servitude and drone work by dispersing the kept memories of the ages to the whole community.

thegiver4-1024x681The sheer innocence of these characters makes world peace seem possible and the film feel implausible. Disappointing. Jeff Bridges, illustrious talent, co-produced this film. Perhaps this is why the film feels overly emotional and forced…he was too close close to it. Bridges wanted this film to be made. It meant something to him. He is the Giver, the mentor, the bleeding heart, the true hero.

thegiver2-1024x640Accepting this film as a faithful adaptation would require more than “precision of language.”  The Lois Lowry novel, written post “1984,” the novel, but pre-Hunger Games and Diversion is the original Gattica. The book is beautiful, subtle, disturbing, intense, mysterious. Jonas is 13. He is gifted. His “stirrings” are only ever hinted at and not the essence of a budding romance but of puberty. There is no boundary. The memories, once given, cannot be retrieved, so the Giver shares once then loses them. Jonas becomes a Giver as he transfers memory to the child. The ending is illusive, questionable, fearful, precious, unresolved. The book is a Jackson “Lottery”-esque thinker left open-ended allowing the reader to imagine a hopeful ending despite the very few vague hints at hope.

the-giver-movie-actorsDespite my disappointments at the simple-fixes of the film, I still liked it. I liked the characters, the transfer from black & white to color, the stories created, the happy ending. I liked that. It was too easy to fix the whole world. The transition to color was brief. The long slide down the banister was a hard to connect with moment, obviously meant to make more impact. Jonas has innocence and power. Idealistic. Taylor Swift’s overacted cameo makes her portray, well, a dramatic musician. Stretch.

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MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) movie review

Magic-in-the-Moonlight-Emma-StoneGreetings from beyond the grave… Knock once for yes and twice for no.

Would you call this film one of Woody Allen’s best?

One knock.

magic-in-the-moonlight-colin-firth-emma-stone-600x399We do write ourselves into characters, writing what we know, but don’t you think that the delightful, big-eyed Emma Stone is too many decades the junior to our flawed likable hero Colin Firth?

Two knocks.

True, Allen would have no trouble with the age-old question, so it could be good to note Allen’s perspective walking into this film. I believe that Allen’s accolades, well deserved, should not be withheld in lieu of his life choices. That’s taking personal vendettas too far. He is a brilliant filmmaker and writer. No question. He still pushes boundaries making viewers think. I have great respect for that skill as he puts it to use.

On a similar note, Allen girls rarely resemble Bond girls. Allen’s women are bold, conversational, talented, complex, sometimes quixotic but still intelligent, sexy, and confident.  Allen paints women that women don’t mind watching and can relate to. Emma Stone is no exception. She is exceptional. Wouldn’t you agree?

One knock.

DSCF0410.RAFThis film waxes Gatsby, doesn’t it?

One knock.

Lush 20’s sets, costumes, and lighting: perfect from every feathered hat to draping beaded gown. It’s silver screen smudged hues on golden twilight backdrops transport these modern actors into a golden age of Hollywood. You expect Cary Grant to attend the party and Grace Kelly to step into the scene for a quick visit at any point.

magic_article_story_largeMagic in the Moonlight is a talkie, but the lack of action is rarely felt.  Audience members are allowed somehow to feel equal with the characters on-screen.  Tricked and sung to, questioned and valued.  The actors saunter from one room to another, adjusting bow ties pondering the weather and waxing philosophical. Allen unabashedly tackles common taboo topics like religion and politics. Perhaps like Scorcese whose seeming quest is to find himself redeemable, Allen’s obvious discussion on-screen mirrors this by asking  questions of the afterlife. This film questions the existence of God, mankind’s purpose on the planet, the truth in daily living, and the romance of magic.

Is he perhaps squeezing the brain to make room for the heart?

Three knocks.

Wait – what does that mean? Don’t you know? Okay, spirit from beyond, one final question:

Do you think that since Woody Allen’s last two films took place in France in the 20’s, that we can dare hope for  a trilogy of sorts?

One knock.

Wonderful! Thank you so much, kind spirit, for the interview from beyond. Until next time…



Filed under Chick Flick/ Rom Com, Classic, Comedy, Comfort Film, DramCom, Family friendly

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) movie review

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-poster-wallpaper-1920x1200-the-best-of-sdcc-2014-wonder-woman-guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-godzilla-2-moreThis comedic 80s mix tape romp through a new Marvel universe takes on the big dogs by standing strong beside the Avengers series. It paints the Avatar honey green, suffers classic daddy issues, gives Lee Pace a full body makeover, and offers Kirk from Gilmore Girls more face time than he even got on the show. Written and directed by his brother, James Gunn, perhaps Kirk (Sean Gunn) had more to do with the success of this hit hero flick than we think.Sean-Gunn-and-Michael-Rooker-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2014-Movie-ImageWhile Bradley Cooper continues to make his acting career more about his quirk than his face as the voice of Racoon Rocket, Vin diesel gets to make one line count as the new Chewbacca Groot. Yes, the quintessential Star Wars comparisons must be made, but I believe this new universe created a name for itself and a life of its own.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-characters-1920x1080Chris Pratt takes center stage and owns every scene as the relatable, flawed, likable hero, still quirky like the kid from Parks & Rec. With more Star battles yet to come, we can expect Pratt to keep the physique for yet another season.





Filed under Action, Classic, Sci Fi