The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – You Know Who You Are

Mockingjay

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) РRated PG-14

When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.”

Well this is a rather pointless review. You already know whether you want to see this film. If you enjoyed the first two, then of course you will want to see how the story turns out. If you didn’t, then you won’t. Mockingjay is quite good even if there isn’t an actual Hunger Game involved.

Regal lines

Everyone returns and Philip Seymour Hoffman is present throughout so most of his scenes must have been in the can before his unfortunate passing. I was fortunate enough to have a day off and went to Regal’s marathon. Not only did I get to see the first two movies on the big screen (again) but I also didn’t have to wait in Regal’s cattle lines (seen here prior to opening crowd showing up).

Mockingjay keychain

 

Marathon attendees also got a $5 medium combo coupon. If you upgrade to a large, you have popcorn and soda for the entire day (I upgraded the soda and had far too much Coke). Attendees also got a FREE Mockingjay keychain (above) and lanyard (below).

Mockingjay lanyard

X-Men Days of Future Past

I was lucky enough to slip away and catch X-Men Days of Future Past the other day.

X-Men Days of Future Past

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) РRated PG-13

The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.”

Finally! I was beginning to give up hope for the summer season. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t, Godzilla was barely in his own movie, and Neighbors was just plain boring. X-Men Days of Future Past is a wonderful start to the summer.

Bryan Singer returns to direct this, having left after the first two installments (i.e. the good ones). I would rate this one as between the first and second one in quality, with X-Men 2 being the adamantium standard for the franchise.

Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) was exactly what you don’t want. As with Spider-Man 3, the powers that be decided that more was better (and I don’t mean more quality). Sure, comic book fans got their first looks at The Beast, Angel, Juggernaut, and Ratner’s version of the Dark Phoenix saga but it was all amped up to 11. They threw in more characters, more battles, more explosions and somewhere along the way story, character development, dialogue, and sense flew out the window.

X-Men: The Last Stand was at least better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) which was basically The Last Stand with a single X-Man and a quarter of the budget. The Wolverine (2013) overcorrected by making it all about the story and turned the Frank Miller comic into a snoozefest. The best scene in The Wolverine is the post-credits sequence alluding to Days of Future Past.

Matthew Vaughn, a writer on Days of Future Past, was handed the directorial reigns for X-Men: First Class (2011), an interesting reboot of the franchise. The story is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, necessitating younger versions of the X-Men. I am sure this allowed them to save enormously as instead of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, etc., we got a talented cast of newcomers.

Michael Fassbender is amazing as younger Magneto. James McAvoy is quite good as young Professor X, in spite of the magnetic Fassbender. A pre-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence is also excellently cast as Mystique. First Class has a few problems but is overall quite solid.

Days of Future Past is wonderful though not without its flaws. It assumes that you have at least seen X-Men 1, 2, and First Class. If you have not, you’ll have some catching up to do. Even with that knowledge, there are a large number of new mutants whose stories we are not given. We just see them in action periodically.

The movie belongs to Magneto, Wolverine, Professor X, and Mystique and the story keeps the focus squarely on them. Other mutants are in various supporting roles, with good roles for Beast, Kitty Pryde, and several surprises along the way.

While there are plenty of action sequences in the film, Singer underplays them. The focus is always kept on the story and the action sequences often develop the storyline. I did not find any of the fights to be showstoppers but all are good.

The reason Days of Future Past is so good is the overall story and the interactions between the main characters. Many of the post-modern mutants are not developed at all, just shown in combat. Many of the surviving First Class are not present here at all. Yet the story is full and rich and once again we are treated to multiple characters who see the same problems but have vastly different approaches to resolving them.

The acting is exactly what you would expect from accomplished veterans Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, and relative newcomers Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklage, and James McAvoy.

There is a single post-credit scene at the very end of the credits. It apparently sets up the next movie without featuring any of the known characters. In my opinion, it isn’t worth staying through the credits. Still this is far better than Amazing Spider-Man 2’s coda which was a scene from this movie.

Frozen and Catching Fire

Being at opposite ends of the temperature scale, one might expect these two movies to be vastly different and they are.

Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Rated PG-13

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.”

I really enjoyed The Hunger Games. I have not read any of the books but Jennifer Lawrence is hugely likable and Katniss is a real heroine. She does her best in the face of adversity while staying true to her ideals. She is neither a wilting flower constantly in need of rescue nor is she a parody of a female buttkicker.

The world was well-realized and the supporting players quite good. The only problem was that the direction was just awful. Supporting characters weren’t fleshed out properly. The action was absurd with shaky cam all over the place to hide the seams in the budget.

Catching Fire has a much bigger budget and a better director. The action is clear and concise (there was only a moment or two where I couldn’t tell what was going on). The acting is much better and the characters are fleshed out quite a bit. Effie, while quite bizarre, no longer seems the caricature she was in The Hunger Games. Costuming and set design are wonderful.

Catching Fire is an enjoyable romp through a dystopian landscape. I am very much looking forward to the two MockingJay movies.

Frozen

Frozen (2013) – Rated PG

Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.”

Disney boardroom:

Exec #1: Sales in our princess line are sagging. Toy sales are flat and revenues in our music division are falling.

Exec #2: I’ve got it. How about we throw together a movie with a princess, a cute sidekick character to turn into a toy, and have lots of songs so we can sell the soundtrack. We can even get a big singer to sing the credits song so we can qualify for an Oscar.

Exec #1: No, no. That’s why you’ll always be Exec #2, you’re thinking too small. Take your idea but let’s have TWO princesses and TWO cute sidekicks. We can sell twice the toys. Also let’s make them sing all of their dialogue so we can sell a double soundtrack.

Yes, this appears to be what happened. Sven the reindeer is cute. Olaf the snowman is even cuter. Sadly the movie is not about them. Even the scene in the teaser where Olaf and Sven fight in a lake over a carrot is NOT IN THE MOVIE! Maybe it would have been too cutesy to make the movie about them. I feel certain they will return in direct-to-video sequels.

Instead the movie is about Anna and Elsa. Their parents are dispatched surreptitiously – blink and you’ll miss it. Everything is strictly by the numbers. Disney really appears to have skimped on the voice-casting. Wreck-It Ralph was filled with recognizable names and voices as are most Disney animated movies. The songs are banal, so much so that my daughter and I were singing our dialogue for the next hour or so after we left the theater. It was more interesting.

All of this is not to say that Frozen is bad but more that it smacks of assembly by committee. The only thing memorable was the adorable Mickey Mouse short in front of Frozen, which will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar.

 

House at the End of the Street

House at the End of the Street (could this title be any more generic?) is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Inoffensive, watered down horror brightened by Jennifer Lawrence.

House at End of Street

House at the End of the Street (2012) – Rated PG-13

“Moving to a new town proves even more stressful for a teenage girl when she learns that the house next door was the site of a double murder. But after making friends with the victims’ son, she realizes there may be more to the story.”

“Is that Mr. and Mrs. Dead People’s house?”

Okay this isn’t fair to lay solely at the feet of this movie but House at the End of the Street begins with an animated logo from Relativity Media. This is followed by animated logo for Rogue, which is a Relativity Media company! We then get another animated logo from Filmnation and not to to be left out a final animated logo from A Bigger Boat. This is before ANY of the credits, which by the way begin with “relativity media presents” and then segues into “a filmnation entertainment / a bigger boat production”. Ugh – definitely one of the annoying trends in movies is this double-thanking of everyone before the movie even starts. /rantmodeoff

You can’t really argue with the cast here. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence is our teenager in distress. Elissa. Before you point out that Lawrence won after this film, she had also been nominated for her performance in Winter’s Bone back in 2010. Lawrence plays her role well while still always exuding likability. She really reminds me of Tom Hanks in that regard.

Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue plays her mom, Sarah, and is another actress that always seems affable. Max Thieriot, currently seen as Dylan Massett on Bates Motel, is good as the mysterious orphan, Ryan. The other young people involved are rather neutral, not being given much to do.

The basic premise is intriguing but not well-realized. Some of the plotting leaves much to be desired. I certainly had my share of encounters with bullies growing up and they don’t tend to commit felonies out in the open, such as destroying a car in front of dozens of witnesses without provocation. The movie was obviously written with the end shot in mind and yet that shot is a foregone conclusion unless you fell asleep.

House at the End of the Street is more mystery than horror and, because of the teen-friendly PG-13 rating, the violence is toned down quite a bit. The reveal is nice and the cast is good but overall the film is just meh.

People Watch: Gil Bellows, who plays Weaver here, has certainly had a colorful career. While not instantly recognizable, he played regular Billy Thomas in Ally and Ally McBeal as well as roles in The Shawshank Redemption and The Weather Man.