Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1 is the continuing story of Katniss Everdeen based on the popular young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. Katniss Everdeen is played by Jennifer Lawrence and also stars Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, her two romantic interests, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, as Katniss’ mentors, and Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland, as two opposing politician types.

mockingjaySummary from Wikipedia

The story continues to follow Katniss Everdeen; having twice survived the Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself in District 13. Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss reluctantly becomes the symbol of a mass rebellion, a mockingjay, against the Capitol and fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage.

I give Jennifer Lawrence all due credit for this being an excellent film. Also, the writers, they deserve a huge round of applause. I found the story engaging and the characters believable. This was not the case for the book Mockingjay. I thought the book was the poorest installment in the series and only finished it because I wanted to know what the writer thought happened, but it was not what I expected from a book that followed the Hunger Games.

With Jennifer Lawrence as their paintbrush, the writers paint a picture of a bewildered young woman trying to take care of the people she love, trying to rise to the occasion, and trying to handle all the of the responsibilities that have been thrust upon her while remaining true to who she is as a person. Katniss is a great heroine, because she isn’t perfect, she has her faults, but she tries, she grows, and she succeeds. That is amazing, and Lawrence took the character by the throat and pushed her to new levels as a role model. (Can you tell, I have a small crush on Jennifer Lawrence?)

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I really wish there had been more of Peeta in this first part, that was the only thing I was disappointed about. I wish there had been less Gale. Such a whiny character who busy so readily into the dogma of a military regime. Ugh. I didn’t like him in the books and I still don’t like him in the movie rendition of the story. But Peeta, I rooted for him in the books, and I love him in the movie version. So, I wish there had been a bit more about him.

Another brilliant piece of casting was Elizabeth Banks as Effie. She added warmth, spirit, and depth to a character that had very little of those qualities. Plus, she pulled off some amazingly outrageous costumes. I love how Banks is able to take on and slip into a role instead of turning the role into a version of herself. So, maybe I have a little girl crush on her as well.

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Effie by Pseudolirium on DeviantArt

While I am still a little sore that they decided to take a rather unremarkable book and elongate it into two movies (for the sake of extra coins in the pocket I can only assume), but I ended up quite enjoying the film, more than I thought I would. And I swear it had nothing to do with the several cocktails I consumed. Ok, maybe a little. The movie was well paced, well written, and excellently acted. My only other complaint is that the ending was a little rushed, and my sister turned away from the screen for a few minutes to pay her bill and missed a crucial piece that just kind of flew by at the end. However, I’m looking forward to part 2 and then a Hunger Games marathon some time in the future when I can sit down and watch all four movies and revel in my girl crushes.

 

Star Wars Official Teaser Trailer for Episode VII – The Force Awakens

I’m sure most of you all have seen this, but I thought I would share in case you were absent from the internets the last month and missed it. Or like me, wasn’t sure you wanted to see it and maybe missed it on purpose but finally decided that you should get around to seeing it.

My thoughts: I really need to rewatch the original three.

Movie Review: Total Recall (1990)

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Summary from IMDB:

When a man goes for virtual vacation memories of the planet Mars, an unexpected and harrowing series of events forces him to go to the planet for real, or does he?

Jami’s Comments: I wish I could totally recall this movie from my brain. While a SciFi flick that should have been my cup of tea, I had a hard time sitting through the entire thing. And not because it was Chris’ idea to watch it, though it totally was. I thought the movie was extremely gratuitously violent. I ended up not being able to watch about half of it except through my fingers. I called the plot arc within the first five minutes. And what is with that three breasted woman? Just. What? I didn’t like this movie at all. When it ended I told Chris I was going to find the girliest chick flick and make him watch that.

Chris’ Comments: I thought the movie followed Philip K. Dick’s way of thinking, but I have not read this particular book, so I can’t compare the movie to the book. But the movie asked his type of questions. What is reality? And what is just a matter of perception? The movie was pretty crazy and over the top. It is hard to even describe. I found it very funny for its dramatic scenes. Guns that never run out of bullets. The inability to hit someone ten feet in from of them with a hundred rounds. The alien baby growth out of the side of another person. I found it all very over the top and entertaining to watch. It is not the deepest or most thought provoking movie I’ve seen, but it is a good laugh.

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Movie Review: Blade Runner

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Summary from IMDB:

A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four [R]eplicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator.

Jami’s Comments:

This is one of Chris’ favorite movies and books. I’ve tried to read the book, but the beginning is a bit dry and so I’m slowing making my way past parts where a man rewrites his wives emotions so that she acts in a manner he wants. Yes, that is how the book opens. It was not my favorite moment ever. The book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, does get more interesting in time, and I’m sure I will eventually finish it. In the mean time, I convinced Chris that we should watch the movie together, because it would take me a bit longer to finish the book than originally thought. Last night we finally sat down to do so.

Well, I liked quite a bit of the movie, but the over the top 80’s feel that the movie is bathed in throughout every drawn out anxiety producing scene, was hard for me to get past to enjoy the message of the movie. I was intrigued by the first three fourths of the movie, because I do find the parallel universe idea interesting, especially how technology develops different than our own. I also really liked the set up of androids, or Replicants, hunting down their maker in order to extend their life’s existence. All of that was appealing, and well done. The acting is superb, if over the top, but that is more about the writing than bad acting, and I think everyone did a great job.

My problem is with the last quarter of the movie. I could barely watch it. I do not like drawn out scenes where it takes five minutes to break someone’s hand, or twenty minutes to howl at the moon? life? before jumping from building to building. So, while the message of the movie, and the concept of the movie, are some of my favorite things, I really did not enjoy the execution of that message or concept.

I am curious about the rumors that a Blade Runner 2 is in the works. I would like to see such a production with a more modern twist and execution than the original one.

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Chris’ Comments:

Blade Runner is one of the most amazing movies ever. Although it strays from the book quite a bit, I feel that the same questions and discoveries of humanity are explored in both. For me, the message of both reminds us humans that personal freedom of expression can be lost in the mundane. That we can become part of a standard, living our days in a manner of that which is expected of us instead how we want to live it. Free.

When the Replicants were created, they were meant to be “more human than human.” However, the result was a resurrection of the human desire for freedom and a need for true emotion, because they were created to be slaves without empathy. In the movie, one of the greatest moments was when the Replicant saved Deckard and tries to connect with a human, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”

When I first saw this movie, in particular that scene, I connected to those emotions. I was going through similar emotional experiences in my own life in leaving religion. When I was still religious, I lived with constant fear. Fear of doing things wrong, of going to hell, or displeasing god. This movie helped me realize that in such fear I was a slave to my mind, to religion, to fear.

Overall the movie leaves the audience with more questions than answers, but that is what I like about it. The message that life should be a constant discovery. That we should question our lives, and our beliefs.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I really enjoy when J.J. Abrams directs action movies. He captures movement and fighting really well, it is always captivating cinematography. As a small disclaimer, while my family did watch some episodes of Star Trek over the years, I make no claim to be a bona fide Trekkie. So my review is based on my viewing of the most recent Star Trek movies. I thoroughly enjoyed the first recent Star Trek movie in 2009 and was eager to watch Into Darkness. I had a recent opportunity to do so when I saw that it was on Netflix and Chris was watching some football game in the living room.

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Summary from IMDB:

After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction.

I really enjoyed watching the gang get back together again, along with a few new faces. Chris Pine does an excellent job leading the team as Captain Kirk. He and Spock have a hard time understanding each other, coming from different backgrounds, and different emotional mindsets. It was an interesting emotional connection in a piece of work that was mostly fight scene after spaceship chase scene after obligatory half naked women scene. I think Zachary Quinto does an amazing job as Spock and really helps the audience connect to the character. But by far my favorite character is Scotty. I love Simon Pegg, and as Scotty he is the perfect comedic relief in a very heavy movie. However, Scotty is more than comedic relief, he is also wise counsel at a time when Kirk is unsure who is telling him the truth.

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Kahn, the movie’s antagonist. It is a wonderful role for him, but I had no doubt he would do a wonderful job. He is an amazing actor. He brought complexity and dimension to the character, and was a wonderful intellectual foil that Pine played off of beautifully. I found the exploration into the background of the Star Trek story intriguing and a great concept for a movie. The slow revelation of who Kahn was and where he came from was well played between all the shoot ‘em out scenes. The movie’s pacing was executed with great precision and all the story lines come together in an epic way.

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The only comment Chris made about the movie (that he didn’t watch except for the few seconds when he came to check on me during commercial breaks in his football game) was that there were a lot of casualties. Which does seem a bit of an oxymoron because the whole movie is about saving people, but the result of the crews actions are that a lot of people die. In my opinion as long as the people I want to survive do, I don’t care about civilian casualties. After all, it is just a movie. One nice thing about a prequel was that I could rest assured my favorite people would survive (unless they were rewriting the whole franchise). If I know my people are going to survive, then I can just sit back and watch a movie instead of feeling anxious the entire time.

I thought Star Trek Into the Darkness was a fun film, full of interestingly choreographed fight scenes, an antagonist and protagonist that played off each other well, and an emotional story line that added dimension to the movie.

If you want to read a very very spoiler ridden but in depth review, check out Wil Wheaton’s, he has some really great points. (I tried to find some other wordpress peeps who have done a review of the movie, because I like to support our little online community, but wordpress search engine is a joke. All I was given were a dozen spam posts about how to download the movie online for free. This. This is why wordpress is in the doghouse.)

Movie Review: Walk of Shame

Walk of Shame stars Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden. Honestly, anything that stars Elizabeth Banks gets my attention and that was the sole reason I picked up the movie from Redbox. Plus, I like a good lighthearted comedy and this movie made me laugh, out loud, several times. Don’t be fooled by the previews before the movie. Mine included an advertisement for Jarhead 2 and the Scorpion King 4. I started to question my judgment in my movie pick, much like I imagined other people would be doing on their walk of shames the next morning. But I found myself having a wonderful time watching Elizabeth Banks navigate through a handful of hilarious situations with desperation and bad decision making.

When Meghan Miles finds herself one night having a pity party because her fiance dumped her and she didn’t get the promotion that she wanted, she decides to go out drinking with her friends. But a night of boozing becomes too much and during an attempted escape from a club of not so sober patrons, Meghan gets help from a charming stranger. Only so slightly sober herself, Meghan decides to go home with the charming stranger because only her emptied out rooms are waiting for her at her apartment. The two spend a night connecting, playing games, and laughing, but the next morning Meghan wakes up to find out that she might still get the promotion if only she can make it to an interview. In a panic Meghan leaves without her cell phone only to discover her car has been towed and just her luck her purse is in her car. Unable to even take a bus trip across town, Meghan begins a day of adventure in a pair of high heels trying to get her car and purse back and make it to her interview on time.

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Meghan is a desperate woman, out of her league, who finds herself running from the police, drug dealers, and people who want to Facebook her “Walk of Shame.” Elizabeth Banks plays desperate perfectly. She is hilarious. I love her so much! Super girl crush on Elizabeth Banks happening right now. There is so much fun to this movie that I can only highlight a few of those moments.

Ghetto Crack House

The only people awake early in the morning as Meghan tries to get back her vehicle are hookers and drug dealers (and a jogger), so in desperation Meghan tries to plead with a drug dealer to let her use his phone. But the 5-0 are about to raid that particular corner and Meghan follows after the drug dealer into his ghetto crack house only to realize when he finally hands over the phone, that the only phone numbers she has memorized are her own, her parents, and her ex-fiances.

I laughed so hard at Meghan’s response to landing in a crack house with limited phone options. The scene plays out as genuinely bewildering and it is hilarious. Thankfully, unlike Meghan I could call my mom, explain what happened, and get support, not judgement. But poor Meghan, her only option is to call the man who just dumped her and have him completely fail to help her in any way. Even after a couple of drug dealers yell at him to man up, he responds by telling her not to call him. Interestingly, as their interactions increased, her relationship with the drug dealers reaches a different level of communication and support. A bit over the top, perhaps, the scene left me in stitches.

walk of shame crack house

Kid Pushing

It’s a tiny moment. But when Meghan tries to reason with a kid that she needs to borrow his bike, like most of the people she tried to ask for help, he bargains with her. And it’s for her body. So, she lures him close, pushes his glasses into his face and his butt onto the ground, and takes off on his bike. I laughed my own butt off. Perhaps this was because I dealt with some extremely annoying children at work the other day who broke an apparatus off of a wall, ran around the store despite us workers asking them to stop for their safety and the safety of the other patrons they were running into, and barged into the dressing rooms of other patrons after being asked not to do so. Not once did their parental figure tell them to behave properly and not treat our store like their personal playground. Not once. So seeing an annoying and misbehaving child, get his own. That just made my day.

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Four Part Douche Test

Once Meghan’s friends realize she never made it home the night before and the only person answering her phone is a charming stranger, they head over to his place to look for clues and to find Meghan to make sure she is OK. When they arrive at Gordon’s house, Denise gives him a test to see what kind of man he is. My friend’s and I used to go through guys wallets. Each group of girls has their own way they sus out the character of a man, this one was pretty funny.  I started giggling just watching the clip again.

Does this movie have a few plot holes? Yes. Many Starbucks are open at 5 in the morning and would let her use their phone. But I’ve also found myself lost in certain areas of a big city that I had never been to before, it is scary, bewildering, and makes good judgement calls harder to hold on to, and I had my cell phone. In spite of more than a few plot holes, the solid acting comedy of this movie makes Walk of Shame a fun and laugh inducing piece of entertainment. But the biggest reason I liked Walk of Shame is that it isn’t about some girl’s walk of shame, it is really about a woman who has an adventure, owns her own story, and walks away from an experience having learned a lesson with a decision to move forward in her life toward that which makes her happy. It’s solid entertainment, and I quite enjoyed the movie.

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Movie Review: Her (2013)

One evening while browsing through Netflix suggestions, Chris and I came across a movie with a scifi bent that stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the voice talent of Scarlett Johansson. While housing some ridiculous moments the concept of the movie and its interesting execution kept us watching until the very end. The message of the movie is that we should all disconnect from our devices for a few moments and connect with the human beings sitting right next to us. Not a bad message, but it unfortunately had a rather on the nose execution. This movie proceeds in exactly the manner you think it will. So, I guess, *spoilers.* But really any kind of summary would lead you to know exactly what is going to happen. There are no major plot twist, and I don’t think there is meant to be one. The movie meanders through emotions and connections, and just kind of wanders off stage with no real great purpose other than to make the viewer think about such emotions and connections and wanderings.

Summary from Wikipedia

In the near future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely, introverted man who works for a Los Angeles business that has professional writers compose heartfelt, intimate letters for people who are unwilling or unable to write letters of a personal nature themselves. Unhappy because of his impending divorce from childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases a talking operating system with artificial intelligence, designed to adapt and evolve. He decides he wants the OS to have a female voice, and she (Scarlett Johansson) names herself “Samantha”. Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. They bond over their discussions about love and life, such as when Theodore explains that he is avoiding signing his divorce papers because of his reluctance to let go of Catherine. Samantha proves to be constantly available, always curious and interested, supportive and undemanding.

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One aspect of this movie that was hard to watch was Joaquin’s mustache. Really. It was distracting and made him look incredibly creepy. Add to this that, the whole movie is about a man who falls in love with his operating system, and the creep factor is intensified. But the oddest moment, one that made Chris and I look at each other and seriously ponder what the heck was going on, was the moment the screen went dark for several seconds as he has phone/operating system sex with his OPERATING SYSTEM! I. Just. What? More than a few odd moments pulled me out of the story on more than one occasion, which was unfortunate, because there were a lot of good and interesting moments as well.

For example, Chris Pratt makes an appearance as a Paul, security guard for the company that Theodore works for. He has some great quips and brings his funny lovable self to the screen. However, his complete acceptance of Theodore’s romantic entanglement with an OS was interesting, he even goes so far as to set up a double date with Theodore, Samantha, and his own real life girlfriend. His girlfriend also accepts Samantha as a person, as she and the OS have a girl on girl conversation while Theodore and Paul go off on a walk during the double date. However much I’m attached to my phone and the android OS, I do not think of it as its own person. Even if it were given a voice and some algorithm capability of learning human behaviors, I just have a hard time grasping the concept of total acceptance of an OS was a being I want to be emotionally attached to.

But the movie did make me think. What makes a connection? Is it necessary the other being have a physical body? I yell at my computer and treat it like a naughty child, is this the first step in an emotional connection with an electronic device. The reason for such a thought provoking reaction was Scarlett Johansson’s voice acting. She did an superb job. Samantha really came to life because of Scarlett Johansson. Her exploration as a algorithm that learns human connections and a way to express them was one of the more interesting things about the movie. Samantha felt like a person that just didn’t have a body. Where I had a hard time was the deep emotional connection that Theodore possessed for her. The leap to fall in love with a being who had no physical presence other than an electronic device was hard for me to comprehend.

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A refreshing presence was Amy Adams, who plays Theodore’s neighbor and long time best friend, Amy. Adams grounded what otherwise would have been a movie of just Joaquin walking around talking to himself. Their relationship played as fully real and convincingly long term. Her emotional support of Theodore was sweet especially  after some of the painful scenes with his ex. She was there for Theodore in all of his ups and downs, with his different relationships, even being there for him when his blind date with a live person went horribly wrong. It was a sweet show of unconditional love.

In spite of a few “Merr?” moments, the theme and message behind Her, along with the beautiful execution of the concept make for a compelling movie. The acting of each person attached to it carried the message forward adding gravitas. In spite of a few moments where I barked out a laugh as I realized that the main character was sad because his Operating System had broken up with him, the thought provoking connections in the movie make it stand out as an interesting and beautifully filmed movie. If you have a free evening and want to watch a movie that meanders through several interesting themes and concepts, have a little laugh at some of the ridiculous points it makes, and watch Amy Adams be a bit geeky for more than a few moments, check out Her.