Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Movie Reviews: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Spectre, Minions, Paper Towns

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2: This movie, while not as good as the first two films, is a fine action flick with some unique elements that sets it apart from other modern action movies. One is that it tackles the question of whether the resistance is really a better substitute than the existing tyranny. Another is the fine, strong and useful heroine as the central character.

The acting and directing are good and the movie is put together well. But this movie is only half a movie, and you won't understand most of it without having read the books or seen the first three movies, especially the third. If the third book would not have been split into two movies, the result would have been one much better movie.

As usual, I don't ding a movie just for leaving out parts of the book or for changing elements in the book. However, what was left out of the movie includes some of the central themes the book, and that's a pity. Perhaps the most crucial element left out of the movie is that Katniss was a selfish, spoiled, and lazy heroine who had to train in order to be able to handle herself in the field. Also left out of the movie is the brutal and permanent physical disfigurements she sports by the end of the book; she lives out the remainder of her life with half of her face burned off. J-Law's Katniss suffers no such problems in the movie, despite a scene showing her getting burned. Like in the first movie, the physical and social desperation and psychological trauma are dispensed with in favor of the kind of insensitive and careless video game violence that we come to expect from movies, where no one eats or goes to the bathroom and children can kill hundreds of people or watch hundreds of people die horrible deaths and yet suffer only a brief cry or angry outburst. Pity. Go read the books.

Still, this last movie is worthy and entertaining. We will watch Jennifer's career with great interest.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: At least this series, like the original Bourne trilogy, but unlike the current superhero movies or the Bond franchise, gives us thrilling action sequences that appear semi-possible and even - occasionally - make you think that they may end with the main characters dead.

This MI, like the last one, is far more entertaining than it should have been. It only crashed for me in the middle during a car chase that had one too many car flips. When the occupant jumps sprightly out of the overturned car onto a motorcycle, my disbelief could no longer be suspended and the movie was ruined for me for about twenty minutes.

The end also seemed rather impossible since the plan required a bunch of people to be exactly at one spot at a specific time with certain hardware and construction that could not possibly have been obtained or constructed, but whatever. Tom Cruise manages to not crowd out everyone else in the movie, at least.

It's all still pretty dumb, but it's entertaining and occasionally clever. The whole plot is a mcguffin for the action sequences. Something about an organization taking over the world.

Spectre: Spectre completes a four part mini-arc for Daniel Craig's James Bond. It is better than the frenetic and unwatchable Quantum, and not quite as stupid as the ridiculously plotted Skyfall. I would rank it below Casino Royale, which was the most straightforward of the films.

While not quite as stupid as Skyfall, please tell me Bond's plan wasn't to walk into the lair, let himself be captured, trussed, and tortured, and, while drills are going into his head, hand his watch to his girlfriend in full view of many bad guys, have her toss the watch so that it blows up exactly the right way to knock out exactly the right people and release his electronic locks, and have all the bad guys miss him from close range, and walk to the unguarded and available helicopter, and have the lair blow up from a couple of bullet shots due to ... actually, I still don't know why it all blew up. It's like the scriptwriters are not even trying anymore. The surveillance capabilities are also presented as ridiculous; I don't put it past governments to have more surveillance than many of us know, but I feel pretty confident that they still can't capture video inside a remote house without at least having placed a video camera in the house first.

And since when can nine different governments cooperate sufficiently to put all of their surveillance into the hands of a British guy? Heck, since when can nine different government organizations in the same country even connect their computers to the same network?

The film tries to introduce an actual romantic interest, as opposed to just a sexual interest, for our hero. And it brings into question whether Bond really wants to continue being a 00. Watchable, but silly. The whole plot is a mcguffin for the action sequences. Something about an organization taking over the world.

Minions: The prequel to Despicable Me, this fluff kids movie contains many funny moments but a pretty bad plot. It is the movie equivalent of a game with a lot of tactics but not a smidgen of strategy.

Despicable Me at least had the bad guy turn into a good guy, which makes sense when the main characters all care for and love each other. This movie dispenses with any kind of character arcs or growth, has only bad guys, and hangs the movie on a quest by three walking babbling banana slugs in search of "the most evil" person to serve. This really makes no sense. The movie ridicules the idea of evil, making "the most despicable" characters into jewel thieves who steal lollipops from kids ... and not much worse. I can think of worse people who work at my bank. And no one ever gets killed or hurt for real.

The animators and director do an incredible job of carrying the movie along with almost no understandable dialog for most of it. The silent movies did it 100 years ago, and apparently these were part of the inspiration for how to achieve it in this movie.

I am uncomfortable with the whole premise, since there is no one to root for, really. If we ignore that, the movie is basically plotless, and the quest is nonsensical. Despite this, in between holding my head at the inappropriateness of the whole endeavor, I laughed out loud quite a few times. Scene after scene is thrown at you with joke after joke, and some of them are quite clever and funny. Something like The LEGO Movie (which didn't suffer from the problems that this movie has). But ... are all the minions boys? Why?

There are so many better movies with better values that I wouldn't buy it for my kids or go out of my way to see it. However cute the banana slugs are.

Paper Towns:  John Green is having a few good years. After The Fault in Our Stars, he comes back with another movie based on one of his books. This one has more normal teenagers, none of whom are heading for imminent death.

Quentin (Nat Wolff) loves a neighbor girl Margo (Cara Delevingne) who has a habit of disappearing. Near the end of high school, she takes him out for a night in which she exacts her revenge on her (now) ex-boyfriend, ex-friends, and a few others and then disappears the next day. He and his friends decide to track her down based on the clues she left as to her whereabouts. Meanwhile, high school is drawing to a close and each of the friends has his or her own stories and concerns about the present or future.

Part high school romcom, part mystery (very small part), and part road trip, I started off not liking the movie because neither Quentin nor Margo initially appeared to be likeable. The disappearance to come was predictable, so I am not spoiling that for you. It is after this that the movie picks up, slowly, slowly the characters evolve and they all become likeable. The minor things in the movie are not always predictable, and even the major ones, while more predictable, are handled well.

A sweet movie with several interesting allegories that I expect (hope) are explored more thoroughly in the book.

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