Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 A Bit Uneven

I liked The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the fourth and last installment of the Hunger Games movies.  I will try to be as spoiler free so I will not tell you who lives, who dies, who loves, and or how it all comes together.  If you've read the books, you already know.  The movie centers on the completion of the revolt against District 1 and the evil president/dictator Snow, the growth and burden that must be born by the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, and on the recovery of her lost friend and broken warrior, Peta Mellark.

The movie has the return of all the characters we came to love or hate in the first three movies.  The cast of actors from Jennifer Lawerence, Donald Sutherland, to Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson and Julianne Moore all turn in their usually strong performances. I must admit it is a bit hard seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman and knowing this subtle and talented actor was taken from us too soon.  That all said Mockingjay Part 2 is the weakest of the four movies and the reason is really quite simple.

I have not yet read the books, but I am told that Part 2 is the most faithful to the novels. It is also, as one reviewer I read put it, the problem.  Mockingjay should have never been split into two movies.  The second part is a good enough finale for the series, but it is unevenly paced and overly long in parts. It struggles to carry the weight of a full-length movie.  If it had been a more judicially edited addition to a longer version of Part 1, making the two movies one, it would probably make for a much stronger movie.  I am also told by those who have read the book, Mockingjay also suffers from the same uneven pacing.

What makes The Hunger Games series including its fourth installment work is that it captures a complex story.  This is a failing of the host of wannabe Hunger Games like the Divergent, Mazerunner, and The Giver.  While I know The Giver is a wonderfully nuanced novel, the movie misses these undertones.  This movie along with  Divergent and Mazerunner comes off as evil governments or politicians who use the youths for some unknown purpose.  We do not get that in Hunger Games.  The writers have captured the feel of the characters and the people of Panem.  They have also captured the undercurrents of the machinations of those driven by power.  Snow is not pure evil.  We come to know, despite the loss of the actor, that it is Plutarch Heavensbee who is the true Gamemaker in more ways than just one.

Mockingjay Part 2 shows us the damage not only to property the war brings but also how it war turns even the innocent into combatants on both sides when they shouldn't be.  It causes damage to even the victors.  The Games gives the audience a single insight into the people and the warriors.  No one leaves the games unscathed.  Mockingjay Part 2 is not just a vengeance of stopping Katniss stopping Snow.  It is the story of politics, power, and subterfuge.  It comes at a great cost.

While the movie suffers a bit from it having the last novel divided into two parts, I guess it is understandable since the weekend box office take was the lowest in the series and it still brought in $100 million.  Hollywood is, after all, about money too.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 does capture and maintain a feel that was established in the first three.   I liked it well enough; it just isn't as strong as the previous three.  Still we are reminded, in war no one ever really wins The Hunger Games.  "May the odds be ever in your favor."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

James Bond and the Dirty Martini

Ian Flemming's James Bond makes his 24th appearance, at least in this franchise, in Spectre.  Bond, now in the franchise's sixth incarnation played by Daniel Craig as the iconic assassin and spy, has become a grittier Bond - more of the "blunt instrument" as the character of M says.  This is Craig's fourth outing as the character, and he is considered by many to be the best Bond since the original, Sean Connery.  Since Craig took the role, the critics loved the first and the third and while the majority of reviews were positive for the second, it was not as well received.  It is looking like this will also be the case for Spectre. The reviews are mostly positive but not the raves of Skyfall.  I too must agree.  Spectre is a fun movie but doesn't quite have the edge that Skyfall did.

Don't get me wrong.  I am glad I saw the movie. What can I say? I am a fan of Bond...James Bond.  I like the Craig films probably better than any of the Bonds of recent years quite simply because it's good to see Bond go back to his roots in a more modern world.  Daniel Craig exudes charm and strength as the world's most famous misogynistic and alcoholic spy.  Ralph Fiennes who replaces Judi Dench as "M" is a much more active leader of the 00 program.  Ben Whishaw plays perhaps the best "Q" and like M, Q and Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris, are given more to do.  The bad guy, Oberhauser/Blofeld, is played by perennial villain Christoph Waltz.  He is as always the most charming and creepy psychopath in the room.  We also have the henchman, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) whose "killer thumbnails" were silly even for a Bond movie. There is also the bureaucrat, Denbigh (Andrew Scott) who is more than he seems. The love interest, Dr. Swann (Léa Seydoux) is also more than just a pretty face for Bond to bed.  Finally, we can also add Monica Bellucci who, at 51, becomes officially the oldest Bond girl in franchise history.

The movie centers on the rise of Spectre a group led by the evil Blofeld.  (You may remember Blofeld as the guy with the white, Persian cat who appeared in about half a dozen Bond movies including the one where he is unceremoniously dropped down a chimney at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only.) As it turns out, all the villains of the previous Daniel Craig three movies all work for Blofeld and Spectre.  Bond sets our to destroy Spectre. That's pretty much the plot.

The movie has the usual over-the-top chase scenes with cars, boats, planes, and cars.  It also has some astonishing real helicopter stunts. While the stunts were flown off site and then stitched into a CGI representation of Mexico City, it is still some impressive flying that was actually done just 30 feet above the 1500 extras hired for the shoot. Spectre has Bond gadgets.  It has knock down, drag out fights which one scene later Bond shows no sign of having had. It has explosions and villains who are almost as difficult to kill as Bond is. It is all the things we've come to love about the exciting and often cartoon style violence of a Bond film.

It will help if you've seen the other movies, but it is not a requirement.  The movie does tend to get a bit long in the middle, but this too is not a new Bond problem. This may be Craig's last time as the character, but I hope not.  He really is well suited to the role.  All in all, it's a fun movie and was worth the bucks.