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Just as well-made as Catching Fire. Another solid entry in the series.
I wasn't excited to see this film. That's because I've read all three Hunger Games books by author Suzanne Collins, and I knew that the first part of Mockingjay includes very little action. Still, I like what director Francis Lawrence did with Catching Fire (2013) so, when I had the time, I watched Mockingjay - Part 1. This was over a month after it was released in theaters. I have to say that I was again impressed by what Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson managed to do. Mockingjay - Part 1 is not a dull film. In fact, it's quite entertaining. In my opinion, director Lawrence should get most of the credit. Together with the producers he once again made a thrilling and well-paced film in which not one scene is wasted. Parts of the film can even be called inspired. The actors also did a good job. I don't think that there's one performance that stood out for me but every actor was solid. This time Josh Hutcherson, playing Peeta Mellark, managed to pull off a good performance. It's particularly effective during the Capitol television interviews. In my previous reviews I mentioned that Jennifer Lawrence doesn't have the looks to play Katniss Everdeen. But I admit that she really is a good actress, and for this film she delivered her best Katniss performance yet. But it's Donald Sutherland, the master actor, who continues to impress the most as Coriolanus Snow. The way he speaks and his facial expressions are mesmerizing. He makes every second count, and in the bleak offering that is Mockingjay - Part 1 he is particularly memorable. Of course, this film is a Hollywood product, even if it is very well-made. It also doesn't leave a lasting impression on viewers, which is the big reason why reviewers didn't like it as much as, for example, Catching Fire. There's no big payoff or struggle at the end of the film. It can only be viewed as the first part of a larger film. But I still recommend it. The film's marketing campaign made me interested, and when I watched Mockingjay - Part 1 I wasn't disappointed at all.
Penguins of Madagascar (2014)
Don't miss this comedy-filled animated adventure.
I can't say that I wanted to see Penguins Of Madagascar, but my girlfriend convinced me to go with her. I wasn't against it because for me there weren't any exciting movie releases during December of 2014 and January of 2015. I've seen the penguins (Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private) before in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012), a film that I definitely enjoyed because of its creativity and comedy. The penguins are adorable secondary characters, and I thought that they should have their own spin-off movie. It seems that others thought so too because now we have Penguins Of Madagascar, which takes place right after the events of Madagascar 3. It is unrelated to the TV series about the penguins. It's a kid-friendly movie, but it still contains the comedy and action that adults love. Directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith squeeze in a few lessons during the film, most importantly it's what you do that counts and not how you look. But these don't make much of an impact in the formulaic setup. Penguins Of Madagascar is an obvious attempt to make more money, so it never seems like an important film. Still, the jokes come often, and the brief origin story at the beginning is fantastic. What follows doesn't measure up to the inspired opening though. The film never becomes desperate or lazy even when it's not particularly funny. The voice cast did a good job bringing the characters to life. Tom McGrath (Skipper) in particular never ceases to amuse with his fearless drill-sergeant voice. So, even if there's nothing great about Penguins Of Madagascar, it's definitely a good time at the movies. My girlfriend and I both liked it. I recommend it.
Gone Girl (2014)
Gone Girl is disturbing, yet undeniably entertaining.
When going to see this film I had no idea what it's about or what it'll be like. I only knew that David "Seven" Fincher is the director of the film. Two things become clear when you're watching Gone Girl - it's surprisingly entertaining and it's for adults. Only adults will appreciate the clever humor and characterization in this film. Most people have been raving about how good Rosamund Pike is in Gone Girl. She's definitely good but, in my opinion, Ben Affleck is the one who provides the best performance. In fact, casting him was a brilliant move. Affleck does expert work as the "lazy, lying, cheating, oblivious" Nick Dunne. With his excellent performance Affleck carries most of the film, especially the first half. The scenes that Affleck shares with Carrie Coon, who plays Nick's twin sister Margo, are some of the best in the film, easing the tension that's been building up. Coon is very good, as is the rest of the cast. Rosamund Pike, playing Nick's missing wife Amy, sure does deserve the praise that she's been given by critics. Pay attention to her facial expressions, especially in the second half of the film. Her attention to detail is commendable. She practically makes every second worthwhile. I've watched the cast interviews on the internet, and author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn has pointed this out too. I generally like British actresses, even if they are from the establishment. Pike looked terrific in her first film, the entertaining but ridiculous Die Another Day (2002), and she's delivered good performances in other films, like Barney's Version (2010) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Pike is bewitching in the film, especially in the first half, but when it comes time to show "amazing Amy's" or rather "pretending Amy's" mental imbalance she's frightening. Even Tyler Perry delivers his first solid performance as Nick's attorney Tanner Bolt. The plot of Gone Girl is similar to a number of Alfred Hitchcock's films. In this mystery thriller a man is accused, maybe falsely, of a crime. What follows is compelling and often unexpected, as Fincher and Affleck examine dishonesty, the media, the economy's effects on marriage, and the way people perceive one another. For some time I couldn't figure out what the establishment message of Gone Girl is. But when I was writing this review it finally hit me - the message is that marriage is a difficult and unpleasant affair, especially after the initial "good" days have passed. Still, I recommend this film even if it does have this anti-marriage message. It's Fincher's most entertaining release yet.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
A likable, funny and sweet film that introduces characters people will be happy to revisit.
Big Hero 6 is a film for children but adults will easily enjoy watching this animated superhero action-comedy too. In fact, it's so entertaining that it's easy to overlook that the story is practically incoherent. The typical lessons about sacrifice and the importance of forgiveness seem forced as well. But the characters are a distinct and likable group. There's been much talk about how cute and lovable Baymax (Scott Adsit) is. And Baymax is certainly a clever creation. Considering the robotic voice of this warmhearted machine it's a big success that Adsit never makes this simple character seem repetitive or boring. Baymax is such a likable character that one genuinely begins to care about the robot long before the film is over. The other characters, however, are just as interesting. It's a formula of appealing to just about everyone in the audience. I mean, of course, the Big Hero 6 team. The genius boy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) suffers a big loss and goes on a compelling mission to find out what happened. With him are Fred (T. J. Miller), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez). They're cool characters. In the hands of the voice cast and directors Don Hall and Chris Williams they're often funny too. In addition, the comedy is surprisingly clever, going above what's usually shown in animated fare these days. Since the film is an origins story it's actually very similar to other superhero movies if you take a closer look at what's happening. But because of the setting, comedy and action (let's also not forget the fitting music by Henry Jackman) it's easy to overlook this. The city of San Fransokyo is a futuristic metropolis that just has to be seen. Like everything else in the film it's beautifully designed. The colors are bright and the designs are fresh. I guess it's no secret that the filmmakers drew inspiration from Japanese anime and Japanese culture. John Lasseter, who's been overseeing the projects of Walt Disney Pictures for years now, is known for being a fan of Japanese animation. He's honestly managed to improve the quality of Disney films. Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), Wreck-It-Ralph (2012) and Frozen (2013) were all terrific, memorable releases. Big Hero 6 is no different, and it may be the craftiest, most appealing release yet. I recommend it.
Interstellar is driven by scientific concepts that fascinate and thrill in equal measure.
Interstellar is a film about space travel and the heroism of reaching for something greater. The optimistic and forward-looking themes of this film are something that we haven't seen in American science-fiction movies for a long time. Because of this, Interstellar is definitely closest to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Right Stuff (1983). And like those two masterworks of film-making it's mostly about human nature and going into the unknown. Director Christopher Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan have always tried to bring intelligence to their screenplays. One can find faults with the execution of the ideas in this film but it remains thought-provoking regardless. There isn't much action in Interstellar. Most of the time is spent on showing a nearly inhospitable future world and the mission to explore new worlds. Still, since this is a Nolan film, the action that's included is thrilling and no less awe-inspiring than in his previous films. In fact, the action alone is worth the price of admission. It's that good. I can fault Nolan for spending too much time on Earth because in Interstellar this setting just isn't that interesting. The messages of Environmentalism are also easy to notice. Sure, the time is spent on getting to know Cooper's (Matthew McConaughey) family and why he decides to leave. But because this is a science-fiction movie it would have been better to spend more time on what happens in space. Interstellar is a slice of escapism with surprisingly good performances from the actors. Fascinating and thrilling scenes in the film are especially aided by Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Wes Bentley and Matt Damon. McConaughey effectively brings Cooper's internal conflict to the surface. He turns the widowed astronaut into a likable protagonist. I'll end my review by mentioning that Interstellar feels like an epic film. When it's over there's a feeling that a lot has happened. This visually dazzling experience takes unexpected turns. I can easily say that it's Nolan's best film since The Dark Knight (2008). Some people may disagree with me on this. I like Inception (2010) too, and I like The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in particular. Interstellar, however, is Nolan's most ambitious film. It's good enough to stand among the most ambitious science-fiction films ever produced. I recommend it.
John Wick (2014)
A faint echo of the past rather than an invigorating retro blast.
I can't say I understand why many people are raving about John Wick. Is it that people's expectations are so low these days? Maybe it's because the film is reminiscent of The Matrix and because it features refreshing old-school action choreography. Sure, it seems like with the character of John Wick, Keanu Reeves is back to his glory days of Speed (1994) and The Matrix (1999). But this alone doesn't make for a good film. John Wick is an often enjoyable action movie, but there's nothing original about it. Gone are the days of bright upbeat action movies like Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987) and Under Siege (1992). Yes, those days seem so far away now. Today we have to watch dark, depressing and truly violent action movies like John Wick and The Equalizer. If you want to see action in an upbeat movie now you have to watch a special-effects summer blockbuster. But, to be fair, John Wick does contain some humor, the cinematography by Jonathan Sela is impressive, some of the action scenes are truly entertaining, and that movie poster of Keanu with a gun sure does look cool. In fact, sometimes the film reminds one of the glory days of action movies. Reeves is confident in the leading role. Michael Nyqvist seems to be enjoying himself as Viggo Tarasov, the film's main antagonist. In addition, most of the supporting cast are good, though there isn't a single character that I found interesting. Director and stunt veteran Chad Stahelski refuses to embrace the post-Bourne Identity (2002) trend of shaky-cam action. That's commendable but the action choreography is still unremarkable even if it is competent. John Wick can kill people without problems. If the character had been infused with more style, however, and provided with more of a personality the film would have been more enjoyable. Derek Kolstad's traditional and predictable screenplay also drags the film down. When Wick goes on his vengeful killing spree he begins with the pawns and works his way up to the head of the crime syndicate. So, even though John Wick is mostly a competent action movie, there's nothing in it that can elevate it to the status of a classic. I don't recommend it, but if you're in the mood to see an action movie you may like it.
The Quiet Ones (2014)
A memorable film that provides old-fashioned chills instead of modern gore and still seems fresh.
The Quiet Ones is one of the few horror films of recent years that I really enjoyed watching. The very beginning of the film doesn't hint at the intrigue and horror that follow. There aren't many scenes that are meant to be scary, but the ones that are there are definitely frightening. The Quiet Ones is primarily an atmospheric thriller reminiscent of old horror films because of its muted, grainy look. This is why I like the film. Sure, the screenplay is rather weak but the characters are developed. Jared Harris does his part well as Joseph Coupland, the mad professor trying to create a poltergeist, and so does Sam Claflin as Brian McNeil, one of his students. Jane Harper, played by Olivia Cooke, is the most memorable character in the film. Harper's connections to the other characters aren't well-developed and seem irrational. Still, Cooke looks the part of the sweet lost girl and her performance is often effective. The Woman In Black (2012), another recent release by Hammer Film Productions, is better than The Quiet Ones because it makes more sense and has a better screenplay. However, The Quiet Ones is just as spooky and terrifying. It's much more cultured than anything being made in the peripheral USA these days because it's a British film. So you should watch it and see how effective it is. I recommend it.
The November Man (2014)
A dull and forgettable spy flick.
Yeah, Pierce Brosnan is 61 now but he's still a fine leading man in movies. I usually enjoy watching Brosnan in films, and my mother thinks that he's the most attractive actor out of the ones who've played James Bond. Can't say I agree with the man's politics though. Brosnan is really the only reason to see The November Man because the film is not memorable or entertaining. It's no wonder that Brosnan's photo takes up most of the film's poster. It's an above average spy action thriller that gets a few things right but it's nowhere near as engaging as, let's say, GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) or The World Is Not Enough (1999). In addition to Brosnan, the film has good-looking actress a) Olga Kurylenko and good-looking actress b) Eliza Taylor, as well as some well-photographed international locations. Other than that though there's really nothing else to like in The November Man. The biggest problem is the screenplay, written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. It makes the film confusing, it contains terrible dialogue, and the characters are not interesting. Sure, as producer, Brosnan got the right ingredients for a good spy movie, including director Roger Donaldson. But because of the poor screenplay the result is disappointing. By the way, Donaldson directed No Way Out (1987), White Sands (1992) and The Getaway (1994), films that you should really see. The November Man, on the other hand, is definitely something that you can avoid. What one should know about Donaldson as director is that he's usually at the mercy of the screenplay. This is obvious in The November Man, which is confusing and at times offensive. Even if it didn't contain those anti-Russian bits, The November Man still wouldn't have worked because at one moment it shows women as victims, at another moment it shows women as ruthless killers, and at another moment it shows women as seducers. It just doesn't make sense. I don't recommend The November Man.
The Equalizer (2014)
Watching The Equalizer is almost like watching the Iraq War.
The Equalizer is one very brutal film. There's hardly any humor in it and, at times, it's violent in the extreme. It's definitely not something that you should watch with your girlfriend because it deals with prostitution, corruption, murder, loss and the underworld. If The Equalizer didn't contain any action it would have been a truly depressing and unpleasant viewing experience. I guess the only reason to see this film is Denzel Washington, who plays Robert McCall. One can think of The Equalizer as a superhero movie because of its break with reality and McCall's ability to kill people in impressive and often ridiculous ways. McCall also has a knack for avoiding injury and he deals with the bad guys mostly at night. There are attempts in Richard Wenk's screenplay to develop the characters but they don't go far, and the result is a simple fight of good against evil. The mobsters are mostly clichés, their victims are clichés, and the only thing that McCall has to decide is whether or not he should again become the unstoppable killing machine that he was before. The gruesome and violent action scenes manage to entertain because of Washington's slow-burn, perfectly modulated performance. It's just shootouts and fights. There's nothing new or original about them even if they are expertly staged. As the film moves along it gets more and more ridiculous, going from McCall wanting to help a brutalized girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to McCall taking on almost the whole mafia underworld, foreign and domestic. The Equalizer is no Lethal Weapon (1987) or Die Hard (1988). It's more like Death Wish (1974). The film isn't really entertaining but it can be compelling, especially when the mobsters try to find McCall and take him down. I don't recommend The Equalizer because it's not much of a thriller and it's not much of an action movie. It has its moments but it's predictable, brutal and mostly forgettable.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
The Boxtrolls is as memorable for children as it's entertaining for adults.
The Boxtrolls is another must-see release in Laika's solid filmography. Over the past several years the studio has gone through lay-offs and departures, worked on commercials, and is now focusing exclusively on feature film production. I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to seeing this film because the trailer and the story didn't impress me as much as Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012). But I decided to give it a go. The Boxtrolls turned out to be an enjoyable family-oriented comedy. It's not quite as good as Coraline but it's easily one of the best animated films of this year. There's a certain charm to stop-motion animation. Russian animator Ladislav Starevich is the pioneer in this field, and his work has inspired animators and special-effects technicians. The Cameraman's Revenge (1911) is one of Starevich's most well-known films. I also recommend seeing Cheburashka (1971) by Roman Kachanov. The reason why I like The Boxtrolls is its characters. Sure, the style here is as visually inspired and fanciful as anything that Laika has put out. But it's the distinct and memorable characters that make this film such a treat. Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is the villain, but he's a product of poverty. Because of her father's preoccupation with wealth, Winnie Portley-Rind (Elle Fanning) is rebellious. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a boy who has to deal with difficult truths once he meets Winnie. The boxtrolls themselves are gentle creatures but they're far less interesting than the human characters. Because the film is based on Alan Snow's novel Here Be Monsters! it has the themes of social injustice and economic disparity, which make little impact because they're delivered haphazardly. Still, the film manages to correct itself because it shows what complacency can lead to. Complacency runs strong with the townsfolk, the boxtrolls and Snatcher's henchmen. At a time when the animation market is dominated by Walt Disney Studios, Pixar and Japanese anime, a stop motion effort like The Boxtrolls is a breath of fresh air. It succeeds uniquely because of its European, and especially Russian, influences. It also delivers action and adventure to appeal to a large audience. Most importantly, it makes a statement without losing its sense of humor and whimsy along the way, which is a sign of respect for the young audience. I recommend The Boxtrolls.