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The funny fact about Mockingjay - Part 1 is it's a setup for a bigger installment, even though the franchise has already done that with Catching Fire. Predictably, the studio wants to make the same strategy of any successful YA finale have done recently. But after this film, I feel like there should be a rule that not every successful franchise must have a "split" conclusion, but this is the part that will definitely be ignored. But seriously, the movie is already good as itself; the storyline is nicely constructed, there's tension even without the noise. This isn't probably the most showy blockbuster you'll see, but there is a terrific quality to be found in any of its scenes, even if the movie itself isn't so satisfying.
There are movies exist that has an opened ending and yet satisfies as an experience as a whole. We can point out a number of titles, but one of them is Catching Fire. Although there was a cliffhanger, there is a meaty story embedded within the piece. This one is nothing more than a half part, preparing the audience for the real revolution. To those who haven't read the book and expecting for tons of action, regarding this as a blockbuster hit, would definitely be disappointed. However there is still a fight going on, this is basically a battle where both sides are using the power of media, convincing people to stand along with them. This is an intriguing portrayal of how modern society reach out through politics and other concerns, the movie excitingly rises up tension of bringing unpredictable consequences at every campaign they release.
The film put these scenes together with an excellent pace. It just simply gives necessary details at their campaigning precision and concerns what affects would appear outside their district. Overall, even at the scenes of talking in rooms, the movie is totally gripping. The action of the franchise was never about the spectacles, and once again, it's the quiet and grim suspense that make the set piece work. It just keeps showing the unpleasant results of their supposedly glorious revolution. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is engaging, as usual, backed up with also great Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Donald Sutherland also gives some compelling threat even when his villain character is at the distance. The rest just did what they usual do.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 feels rewarding until it literally stops. This is the major complain one would clamor. What's wrong with an extra hour or more of runtime? But again, we are wasting our breath, the answer is at the corner of obviousness. The movie, again, does a good job at telling its own story, it would have been a way better movie if it just continues without waiting for another year. If we are going to take the series's revolutionary metaphor in our own terms, then: if the first movie is the spark, and the second is (duh) the "catching fire", then this one is basically the slow burn. It's not a bad thing, neither is a great one. I mean it's fun leaving the theater with questions scattered around your head and those thrills still looping on your memories, but they could have been wiser by just finishing it. There is hardly any reason for us to wait, in fact, leaving the storyline intact might possibly make it a classic.
White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)
Perspective Through Adolescence
White Bird in a Blizzard is a coming-of-age film that bounds to a plot of a thriller. We follow a teenage girl who is curious at exploring more of the life of being an adolescent and having a hard relationship with her parents, until things changed when her mother has gone missing. The most effective part of the story is when it focuses on Kat's feelings; troubled by angst and confusion towards the situation. The mystery however lacks the same interest, which rather makes the answers a little too predictable. The result of this effort is admirably captivating, but also ends up being a little underwhelming. Thankfully made more watchable by its lead actress, but the film still has potential that needs to live up to.
The film takes the mystery a bit too easy, by putting pieces of memories and nearly showing obvious hints to how each of those parts would connect to the big picture. The process wasn't really that subtle, and whatever resolves in the end hardly went anywhere. That is why it is totally essential to go through the emotions of the main character, when hormones lead her to being rebellious and careless. We see why she is so unlikeable, this is a familiar stage of growing up that the movie compellingly portrays. She is probably the only realistic character throughout the movie, while the most of the adults seem like made out of caricatures.
It just lets her express what she should be expressing and let out the pain that often haunts her. The mystery could have been a sideline, but it eventually becomes a huge priority as well. The problem is the movie is unable to juggle both well, as it keeps shifting two kinds of movies at every turn. Unfortunately, one of them felt inert until it snaps back the momentum at the third act, but returning to that priority also hurts the other not letting its own themes flow. Again, the direction looks captivating, plus a pacing that is well handled. The best among these merits is simply Shailene Woodley who perfectly convinces the angst and the feeling of being lost in this serious problem the character is facing. Her more credible humanity makes the film much interesting to follow through. Eva Green, however, is still the same misandrist maniac she is often playing in almost every movie she is in lately.
There isn't much happening at the mystery, but the real center of White Bird in a Blizzard is the case of growing up as a teen in an environment this.complicated, that is a better nightmare the film has depicted. There are still more things needed to consider in this mess, probably a more consistent build up to both elements of the story, but there is already an appropriate atmosphere built around the surface. If I am being too fair about the movie, then maybe Woodley's performance alone is probably already worth the viewing.
The Drop (2014)
Smaller Side of Crime
The Drop appears as a crime thriller, taking its audience to a gritty life of gangsters hiding their dirty money in drop bars, but this is mostly a drama about a lone bartender thinking on living a different path apart from his cousin's. It also involves a subplot of a man trying to retain his already faded glory. But there is a deadlier conflict lurking in the dark. There isn't much remarkably grand to be found in this story, but telling the details of the characters' past and waiting for the impending danger behind their backs instantly makes it compelling. It benefits by being low-key, but still far from classic. In any way this is still one fine basic crime drama.
This is a story where you find no heroes. Bob is basically not the kind of person anyone would fear. In spite of his reserve and kinder personality towards people, you may not know that he is still a tough fellow since he's been adapted into this mess. Things get lighter when he adopts a dog, meets a new friend and starts a relationship, thinking that his life would change for a bit. Once the real threat appears into this small side of his world, we expect him to protect them from harm, but this is not one of those glossy heroic deeds that lead to some action set piece. The thrills are simply calm and with that calmness, you can sense more of the danger coming after himself and his loved ones. If there is one thing we've learn about gangsters in great crime movies then that is how unpredictable they are at killing. That is how often the movie displays its suspense.
The story relies to many backstories within its main characters and we could easily comprehend those on their conversations and their lifestyle. The cast helps making these characters engaging, with Tom Hardy layering coldness above Bob's remaining humanity. The late James Gandolfini does beyond brooding, you can feel the character's despair from his old days. Anything else, the actor did what he does best. Noomi Rapace makes for a likable backup for Hardy. And Matthias Schoenaerts is effectively threatening. These performances just live up to the depth of what's written for these characters.
The Drop is plain simple, that the only value it provides to its audience is some entertaining cluster with the stars like Hardy, Gandolfini, and Rapace, and some grounded tension. This won't end up being one of the greats since it doesn't actually satisfy in whatever happens in the end, but this is already an interesting study of a corrupt lifestyle at the streets of Brooklyn, with people hiding their own dirty secrets and facing some uncertain consequences. That alone could bring a fine recommendation to this movie.
Horns is, at times, a black comedy, and at the director's perspective, it might as well be a horror, and for the sense of its core, it is also a love story, and concentrating at the plot, it is mainly a murder investigation, added with some devilish flavor. The basic idea is definitely the main character's unknown condition of having horns grown from his head, realizing what the community sees him after the murder of his girlfriend. But the movie juggles too much in an already two hour feature, and what faults here is its only commitment goes to the weirdness and the humor, and once you see the whole of it, those elements are nothing but a design. The film seems to require more interest in its deeper parts, or else it's a total momentum free experience. Horns is nothing without its camp, otherwise it's a drag.
The movie is much entertaining before it goes anywhere farther. The point where the hero notices the horns growing from his head leads to some appealing nasty humor in Ig's journey of figuring out where it comes from. But after all of that curiosity, the story jumps back to the murder mystery. No matter how much information the film spills, it still doesn't help giving any flow to its investigation. We are just watching more flashbacks, waiting to find a bigger clue. With the new ability Ig has, it could have made his investigation simpler, probably a little challenging, but the tension is nonexistent. It's just doing the same routine of hexing people and stumbling to some backstory, until it reveals its villain. The fantasy elements could have made this detective work at least fun, but it's not. This side of the story is lazy, and the director seems be to just waiting for another sequence to show more insanity of comedy and violence.
What also kills the momentum is the lack of an at least decent character development. We sure know their pathos, but giving excessive flashbacks doesn't necessarily mean it manifested some soul within these people. Their world is probably built for a much lively material, but it only shines when they are poked fun at. The film has some admirable horror movie style to keep things alive, providing a good sense of schlock and irony. How those scenes are constructed, with some cool production, actually brings more enthusiasm than the other parts of the mystery. Daniel Radcliffe is always an appealing protagonist, and he does fine to the role.
The movie doesn't explain much about where Ig got his horns other than stating it as a symbolism, but in the end, this certain talk turns out to be thematically vague, but I don't know. I never even read the book, but all I see here is a non-compelling personal detective work and an unclear ambition. Sure, there is a lot of promising aesthetics and a sign of an amusing high concept, but everything else is lacking depth, almost enervating the entire middle act. There is a better movie to be found in Horns, but the cons took most of the time, which is hard to think if the film itself is going to be as memorable as its production.
All in a Night's Work
Nightcrawler seems like a satire to modern television news about how they choose their leads or often seek for more ratings by entertaining their viewers rather than aim straightly to the facts. But there is a much interesting story beneath here and that is the main character, Louis Bloom. The guy that easily manipulates people with his sinister tricks of persuasion. Everything else may just be the natural world of crime and accidents, but in the eyes of this character, the experience is made far stranger and oddly fascinating. This provides a compellingly menacing and provoking piece of commentary which results to such engrossing film.
What the plot mostly does is to fully absorb the viewers into the character of Bloom by studying his sociopathic behavior and the words coming out from his mouth. He is a charming young man with a dark intention hidden behind his grins. He pushes the limits of the law and his own safety, only to accomplish on what he must do in the job, even if it risks many people's lives. The actions of this antihero is ought to feel terrifying on how it affects to both the business he's working on and the society he is watching. The media's side however is more of a picture of cynicism on how they broadcast the scariest stories of the city, giving the people fear so they could earn more viewers out of the concern. It just breaks down on how the evil of their success is disguised as their own ethics.
The filmmaking perfectly captures their night's work. You couldn't clearly see the scenario they shoot unless you watch them on a video footage. The violence and peril they witness are shown without any hint of sympathy, since they only use them for the news show. The horror of these gritty scenes once again belongs to the nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the biggest highlights here. His character obviously has the personality of a psychotic villain; he is mostly bluffing, and by the dashing enthusiasm he shows to the people around him, you probably may not know when his inner total madness will burst out from his frightening eyeballs, and that provides more tension than you expect. This is one of the Gyllenhaal performances that will be remembered for his career.
Out of common sense, this story may lead its main character to a moral about how much he is taking this job too far, probably destroying his humanity. But no, this guy is relentless, almost inhumane, and his style in fact helps his career grow bigger, which turns out we are actually rooting for a villain. And that probably pictures to some oppressive ambitious beings out there behind some system. This is where things go in the end, bringing an outcome to a social satire. You can spot a lot of relevance even when some of the situations get a little out of hand. Nightcrawler is something else than a sentiment, what we must focus here is Lou Bloom: a new, possibly iconic, movie vigilante, except the only skin he is purposely saving is himself and his career.
The best way to describe Interstellar is "Wow." Aesthetically though. This might be one of Hollywood's milestones of transcending their technical abilities. Those parts of traveling through time and space are totally magnificent, a journey that would blow people away on how a movie could depict such scenario of space odyssey, since of course, 2001. How I explain this may sound too hyperbolic, but really it is a pretty breathtaking ride that the audience may forget its heavy flaws. But sometimes that cannot be possible, the film begs its audience to join with its own philosophy as well, and once it goes deeper to that subject, things somehow become complicated. As a visual feast, Interstellar is perfect, but the movie inevitably wants to preach which robs much of the Sci-Fi potential.
The movie pushes human elements to the story, evidently and verbally. The mission should always have to involve Cooper's sadness of letting go of his family. It could have worked if it was all that simple, but it stretches like it's as important as the survival of the human race. The real problem there is it rather feels like a plot device. Mostly a distraction, hindering the better story happening to its actual journey. To the main side of the movie, there are many interesting bits at the concept, like how the Earth falls apart isn't some destructive disaster. Instead it's just some massive climate change and dying plants. The space travel's situation however is encountering unexpected phenomena when they pass through some wormhole or visit a planet. As a narrow minded science fiction, this could have been gripping, but the movie wants some soul within its characters, but the script overdoes the monologues, which ends up sounding pretentious at attempting to be poetic. Especially the one that Brand explains whatever about love, it sounds more of a speech worth groaning at.
Much of it just doesn't work at all, the drama only earns vitality when it's simply about trying to live up a promise of coming back to Earth and save humanity, but once it gets to the third act, things gone to vast absurdity for the sake of connecting their mission to the relationship of Cooper and his daughter. Some might say it's affecting, but it's more of a compromise. Thanks to its actors, it at least makes the melodrama tolerable. Aside of that concern, the space adventure is still quite the experience. Christopher Nolan has a conservative technique when it comes to visuals, but no matter how real or CG-ed the images are, they are all still pretty stunning. There is a total amazement at shots of comparing the scale of their vessel to the largeness of the galaxy, or warping into wormholes, or sights of any cold alien planet. From special effects to cinematography, the movie triumphs.
Interstellar could have been more keen at showcasing its scientific concept than attempting to make inspiring pick-up lines. No matter how gorgeous the visuals are, you still couldn't completely blind yourself from its space-soap-opera that leads to a silly climax and a creepy epilogue, but the idea and technical achievements are very big merits, it provides plenty of intrigue, more mind-blowing than its dramatic dialogues. It's not that I have any problems with drama, the choices the film picks just doesn't help transcending the material. If you are only in for the journey, then prepare to be awed, because that space adventure is the best thing the film could offer: nothing more, nothing less.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Big Hero 6 is based on Marvel's comic book, which obviously means that this is a superhero movie. While the genre has been growing bigger, this movie sticks to the basics. In spite that it takes place in a larger than life world where a city called San Fransokyo exists, the stories beneath the characters are simple classic superhero stuff. The action is just teased with a couple of breathtaking sequences, there's a lot of build up to deal with getting there. This is more Spider-Man and Iron Man than The Avengers type of film, it's the heart that aims more of the impact than the action. Big Hero 6 is awesome in many of its elements, easily making this one of the most delightful and heartwarming films you'll see all year.
The only quibble here is the superhero movie elements feel a little forced. How the team is formed doesn't have the development it seems to deserve, they're just a bunch of misfits that join forces, relying to only one definition to each other which is the fact that they're geniuses, and that's probably enough for the movie, apparently. Even the villain doesn't have any distinction in his arc. They are all just displayed there for the sake of the genre. It's not that it's badly done, it's just doesn't sound so fresh anymore. But the movie has better priorities. This is generally about Hiro dealing with the loss of his brother and having an unlikely friendship with his legacy, Baymax. The theme of loss is not a stranger to both animation and superhero, but how the film handles it is a surprising turn that outweighs the rest of the experience. The scenes with Baymax are also the film's greatest moments, consisting with memorable gags and some adorable parts of the robot trying to overcome Hiro's emotional pain.
The bigger parts end up being the secondary appeal, while I said their origins may not be that innovating, there are still some cool stuff to explore. Their world is dazzling to look at, you could find plenty of fascinating inspirations from both cultures that were combined in San Fransokyo. The heroes aside Hiro and Baymax each have a set of abilities and personalities that that the audience would still root for, even if they are yet to be fully fleshed out in the upcoming sequels. This is a totally likable environment, but what's more important here is really the main duo. Everything else, including the spectacular action and flying sequences around the cities, are just additional entertainment to make the overall film totally fun. The voice acting brings enough pizazz throughout, while manifests genuine emotions beneath the drama.
Big Hero 6 could have been a typical superhero set up, except except this one has a unique world and the capability of delivering relentless excitement and laughs, but what made the movie special is when it focuses on the main character; his relationship with his brother and his invention. Those are the parts where the story seems really sincere, making its entirety quite compelling, possibly almost leading the audience to tears (or just me.) But as a superhero movie, everything you seek for is all there, and that would be enough for a fun blockbuster. Big Hero 6 has the superhero bombast and the superhero heart.
John Wick (2014)
Seeking for Flavor
If Death Wish is a revenge for a murdered wife or Taken a revenge for a kidnapped daughter, then John Wick takes vengeance over a death of a dog and a stolen car. At glance, people might find it quite silly, but the movie touches no irony within that plight, it simply just pictures a desperate man with nothing left to lose. However, it still displays a strange mix of tones: it introduces the story as some sort of a serious tragedy, and then we discover that this world turns out to be surrounded with a punchline of him having a normal reputation of killing people. The combination of gritty revenge thriller and tongue-in-cheek world of assassins is fine, but how the film connects them can be a little uneven, but once the guns appear, the fun is presented perfectly. It just lives up to what it is meant to be. There isn't anything big, neither mind blowing. John Wick is as straightforward as any fine revenge movie must be, plus an odd brightening flavor.
Despite of setting up with a bleaker drama, John Wick actually builds a cooler mythology of its own. Sure, Wick basically has a legend of being the most lethal hit-man his enemies will ever face, that also defines to the characters who personally know him. Example is a cop who just found him wacked a few bad guys and still lets him go, because he is "John Wick!" It's his thing! Everyone else in this world also has their own backstories, there must be some richer stories behind them, but in the end, that's just the movie giving this typical revenge flick some personality, and it indeed helps, keeping the experience from being stale.
The plot never compromises with any twists, it just slow burns to the point until the anti-hero finds his target. This slow burn can be a little dragging, it introduces too much exposition that most of it turn out not going to matter in the end, they are probably designed to build more tension. The movie is better when it's finally on the action. The film biggest credit here is the camera work. There is not a shot that misses some sort of violence. Every gunshot and fist has to present the consequence on screen which manifests his boiling anger. And even without the fights, there are still some slick, stunning sights to see around. Predictably, Keanu Reeves must be the only one who is taking this silliness seriously, which makes sense since his character is the only one who is in real pain in this fancy mission. That vast seriousness just perfectly suits at depicting Wick's desperation and madness, also his fighting hits even harder compared to those days in The Matrix. But the show stealer here is Michael Nyqvist who brings the joy in his nutty yet menacing performance as the villain.
John Wick sometimes feels like there is a larger world meant to be explored or a deeper theme to be considered, but the film has priorities of following the classic roots of the revenge genre. It's not so bad since it makes for an easy viewing through its fine looking action scenes, but it also leaves a lot of potential hanging. But if you are only here for Keanu Reeves back in action, then this movie totally sells, in fact that is what we are all here for anyway. Still, we might have thought of some possibilities if the movie was more ambitious, but then most of us won't think it matters. It's already stunningly crafted, if not original or special. Just sit right in for a straightforward show of violent gunfights.
Fury strives to depict the true nature of war. There isn't much of a plot to discuss, neither any historical events worthy to mention within its World War II setting. It simply just pictures the job works: violence is scary, war changes people, and their journey could be a lot dreary than exciting. Director David Ayer is perfect when it comes to this strategy; this bleak, unfeeling atmosphere alone makes it quite compelling for its themes. But it also moves a little backwards when it starts featuring the main action. Though the precision stays faithful, the loudness and spectacle rob the focus of its more ugly view at war. In the end, Fury still deserves credit for both elements, even if they don't seem to fit appropriately for the central message.
As said, it is not about the plot. We're basically just watching what soldiers experience in the field or inside the tank. There is no historical background needed to explore other than the fact that this is WWII. Another story here is about a recruit, whose only skill in the job is typewriting, forced to kill no matter how old or desperate the enemy is. His point of view is meant to portray a soldier's growth into the battlefield; we first encounter him known for his incompetence towards violence, and then slowly subsides his sensitivity and starting to gain the same attitude of his crew. Not only towards humanity it tries to examine, even the war itself may not be easy nor adventurous after all. Traveling through places, although getting attacked in unexpected minute and discovering bodies around the road, can be boring, which suddenly makes the crew bond every once in a while. Not everyone at the enemy side are bad, neither everyone in their side are nice. The film succeeds at breaking the misinterpretation of the context of war, giving awareness to what people actually struggle in this conflict.
Once we get to the action, the tank battles are impressively constructed with consistency at showing each of the soldier's duty beneath their tank. There is suspense, violence driven in every set piece. The only setback in these sequences is how it tries to build some bombast at the explosions. No matter what, it's always going to be loud and there will always be lights flashing (especially when they have tracers,) but during the fighting, it suddenly becomes one sided, no longer feels for their enemy, unlike the complexity at the smaller scenes. The characters also don't get the development they deserve, they do have some intriguing backstory, but still remains being in one note. Thankfully, the cast helps adding some depth in them.
Fury is solid enough, but the anti-war element can be a little unsatisfying. It portrays the horrors of war by heart and soul, and yet finds glory at the actual battles. The action could have suited better if the movie's only intention is to be accurate in a military work, but it come into question when it also have this strong sober perspective to human violence. The climax as well feels it like it belongs to a movie built for blockbuster filmmaking. But the thing is, none of them are actually bad; it effectively pictures what kind of hell war is and the action is terrifically directed. It's just that both aspects tell a different opinion. In spite of that, it's still one of the most absorbing films you'll see in a while, with excellent production and filmmaking. These are the qualities that endures the value of Fury overall, also witnessing real military routine, firearm, dirt and battles already makes it quite interesting.
The Book of Life (2014)
Love in Spectacles
The Book of Life is ought to give the mass audience a unique kind of tale for the mainstream animation genre. This is a story that is supposed to represent the Mexican culture and their legend, and when it focuses on that theme, it becomes really lovely. The more fabulous appeal is its distinct designs that brings its own color. Those merits alone immediately makes the film a whole lot beautiful, but once it gets to deliver the main story, it moves okay, but also too conventional for its own good. But still, The Book of Life is visually unique and full of heart that is guarantee a worth of watch.
The story is clearly sort of a fairy tale that handles heavy themes about love and death. This is the surprising darkness that ends up being fascinating for a film that is intended for kids and families. Before the plot goes anywhere, it first takes us to an easy exposition of its rich world. This promising setup brings total spectacle, and wonderfully stays loyal to its own elements and tells the legend behind the tradition of "Day of the Dead". The subplots involving the families of the three main characters are also quite admirable, adding more personal depth to this larger than life tale. But when it finally moves to the supernatural adventure, it is still stunning, but it also lacks definite directions to where they are exactly going. The film, as a whole, does trouble for being often too reliant to its antics, broad humor and zany set pieces, while the sense of its theme's gravity only gets considered rarely. There is definitely nothing wrong with having too much fun, but this storytelling does need some concentration.
It's the animation that becomes the best of its highlights. The characters' puppet-like appearances and their whimsical looking places are pretty much of its own visual personality. Every action sequence creates an amazing scale fun, in spite its speed may get too far. And even at the smaller moments, the designs speak through the scenes' emotions. The vocal performances; such as Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, and Channing Tatum; charmingly bring their characters to life. And for the supporting such as Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, and Ice Cube as well gave a delightful job.
The Book of Life has the potential of a greater movie; the story and themes, even the world it sets are nearly apart from today's typical animation filmmaking. It might as well be a little throwback from the classics when character work and lessons appeal more than anything else, but sometimes this movie just can't leave a scene without showing some grand action or any sort of silliness. Though the movie accomplished more tremendous things than its missteps. Despite much of the mess in some parts, The Book Life succeeds at showcasing the spirit that it loves to deliver. Maybe next time, it could have been a little more steady.