Rob reviews The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight, 2015

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, James Parks, Zoe Bell, and Channing Tatum.

SYNOPSIS:
In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?

The Hateful Eight (the eighth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino) is unlike anything currently in theaters. There hasn’t been an experience like it in over 50 years, and there’s a strong chance that if you miss out on one of the 70mm, Ultra Panavision projected Roadshows, it’s an experience you will never have in your life.

From the overture of Ennio Morricone’s hauntingly tense score, to the intermission at the midway point that allows viewers to chat it up with strangers discussing various elements of the narrative (most probable will be the “who-dun-it” aspect of its Agatha Christie reminiscent plot), also giving you a chance to free your bladder and refill your beverages (at 187 minutes you’re going to be thankful for the opportunity), The Hateful Eight is a cinematic event. Not necessarily in the same vein as a cultural phenomenon like Star Wars, but something for unabashed cinema aficionados, Quentin Tarantino fans, Western fans, moviegoers in search of something different, and generally, anyone that likes a good fucking movie.

Even if by some small miracle, someone can’t become enamored by the hints of betrayal and mistrust, punctuated by multiple sequences of lengthy politically fueled conversations and ruptures of mass bloodshed, the cinematography on display is beautiful to an unparalleled extent due to the aforementioned stylistic filming decision chosen by Quentin Tarantino. Some may come under the impression that it’s only the white hell of a blizzard and other nature panoramic shots that benefit from the much added depth and detail on-screen, but even the two hours or so set in Minnie’s Haberdashery have uses found for the technology.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the setup of the story, there are all sorts of people from all walks of life holed up in a cabin from different races, genders, and post-Civil War backgrounds. Factoring in that there’s a bounty hunter handcuffed to his prisoner of $10,000 in value, under high alert with the impression that one of the other six individuals in the room, or maybe even multiple parties, are not who they say they are, but rather are in cahoots with murderous outlaw Daisy to free her, and it’s no surprise that claustrophobic tension rises. Thanks to the 70mm Ultra Panavision projection, that essentially allows a 15% increase on the screen’s width, viewers are able to watch characters more carefully, which becomes of the utmost importance once the building is sectioned off into North and South territory, also containing neutral ground.

What transpires here is that transcendence from all of these players acting as characters, to becoming real life grounded counterparts to the American populace at the time. In that regard, a lot of the back-and-forth banter comes across as Quentin Tarantino’s most assured and mature work to date; there’s something raw and real oozing out of the orifices of nearly everyone involved. To fully appreciate The Hateful Eight in both thematic context and as an engaging mystery, it will undoubtedly require multiple viewings; the conversations are rich (despite the fact that Chapter 3 might go on for too long than its own good) while the cinematography offers up many instances of clues that will easily be missed the first time around. The very beginning of Chapter 4 is actually Quentin Tarantino narrating a brief moment that I’m almost positive was actually in the frame, yet so many people will miss. There’s also much to debate; some conversations are left ambiguous due to unreliable circumstances, which most intriguingly add new layers of characterization to the personas present.

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And speaking of those personas, well let’s just say Quentin Tarantino is working with what is arguably the greatest ensemble cast of his career. Samuel L. Jackson plays the sassy back-talking black man you would expect him to play, while Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins chew up the scenery and spit it out. Kurt Russell has been around the block, but Goggins is the revelation here, putting in a performance so eccentric and filled with a strange vibe of glee for the situation he finds himself in as the sheriff of Red Rock, he’s a pure delight. Sure, he stole some scenes in Django Unchained, but given a major role now, the man takes the ball and runs with it, making you beg for Quentin Tarantino to cast him as a pivotal character in every film from here on out.

It’s Jennifer Jason Leigh though, who not only turns in a more subdued and restrained performance (after all, the first half of the movie basically sees the captor getting physically abused anytime she speaks or makes a sudden movement), that walks away as the show-stealer, and your potential front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Coming back around to that 70mm projection, watch all of her facial expressions and slight mannerisms whether she is in the foreground of a shot or the background. None of this is even accounting for her rough, raspy voice, elevating the character into something more than a prisoner in distress, but someone who almost deserves every bit of punishment flung her way after once having your sympathy. It’s a flawlessly measured performance.

Everyone else is serviceable, and you’ll definitely remember them, whether it is Bruce Dern’s quiet portrayal of a Confederate general vile racist of a human being, or Channing Tatum who has a surprise role (I won’t spoil what it is) that will assuredly please. The Hateful Eight has characters with depth portrayed by actors that, under the wildly off-beat direction of Quentin Tarantino, come alive in ways that are the very definition of unforgettable. Everyone here is despicably charming, filled with amusing bits of dialogue that will have audiences howling with laughter. They are also products of their time yet contain a slice of social relevance to the world today.

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As you would expect, the movie ends in a cacophony of bullets piercing flesh, but what’s most fascinating is that this is somehow Tarantino’s most violent film next to Kill Bill, which is probably impossible to top. Nevertheless, the gore and brutality on display here continuously ramp-up throughout the hour-long climax that flies by in what feels like 10 minutes. The first three chapters may be deliberately slow paced, but in the end it’s all worth it.

Each half complements the other in ways that contrast the dialogue heavy portion with the inevitable extreme violence, justifying the surface-level absurd length in both thematic and entertainment value. By the end of The Hateful Eight it’s crystal clear that you have witnessed something epic, and for as overused as the word “epic”is in modern journalism, this is one such film where it fits the bill. Furthermore, the closing scene, amidst harrowing brutality is poetically powerful, and is without a shadow of a doubt, Tarantino’s crowning achievement as an auteur.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook

Charles’ Two Cents: A Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars – The Force Awakens

Greetings folks it’s been a while but I’m back with a review for the amazing film Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens. And keep in mind that I will be avoiding spoilers in this review because I think all my amazing readers need to see this movie for themselves. So no spoilers. First off let me just say this movie has done it, Star Wars is great again. It’s not as good as the original trilogy, but definitely better than the prequel trilogy. The Force Awakens is the start of a whole new trilogy that has a strong chance to turn Star Wars back into a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Now let’s talk about what made Star Wars – The Force Awakens great, the characters. First we have Finn (played by Jon Boyega).

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Finn is exactly what you expected him to be, a stormtrooper that was forced to run away due to being ordered to commit horrible acts. He was the kind of guy that started out naive but the longer he was with The First Order the more he realized who they really were, so he left. Jon Boyega was great as Finn and despite my description about him he has quite a bit more depth than that. He had great chemistry with the rest of the cast and to be honest I was really impressed with his performance. I have never seen any of his other work but I’ve heard that he was amazing in Attack The Block. Overall Jon Boyega was amazing in The Force Awakens and I can’t wait to see how his character grows in the following sequels.

Now we have the character that came out of nowhere, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley)

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I’ll just come out and say it, Daisy Ridley is the star of the whole damn movie. Her performance was damn impressive for an actress that literally has nothing on her resume… yet. That’s right, The Force Awakens is her first ever movie and Holy Mother of Crap!!! Was she good in the role. The woman is extremely talented and I know for a fact that she has one helluva strong and successful career ahead of her. Now as for her character Rey, she’s the “Luke Skywalker” of this new trilogy, not really much of a spoiler but yeah, this trilogy is about her and how she grows into the hero. And I say J. J. Abrams couldn’t have picked a better actress for the role.

And let’s not forget Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Issac)

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Here we are, the bad ass of The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong, Finn and Rey are both bad asses in their own right but Poe Dameron is the type of hero that’s filled with a whole new level of badassery. Poe Dameron is set up as an ace pilot of the Resistance, a group that’s fighting The First Order. And with the attempt to avoid spoilers all I’m going to say about the character is that by the time you’re done with the movie, you will love this guy. Now as for Oscar Issac, well I don’t know much about him. I’ve heard that he was awesome in the film Ex Machina but I never saw it. After seeing him in The Force Awakens though I am seriously considering checking out his other work.

And now we have Darth Douchebag… err… I mean Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver).

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Kylo Ren is pretty much the villain of this movie, perhaps even the whole trilogy. However he also has quite an interesting story as well, but I won’t get into that for the sake of spoilers. So if you want to know more, then I highly recommend that you check out the movie and see for yourself. Now as for the actor, Adam Driver is in every essence of the word “Unknown”. Well at least he is to me. Before The Force Awakens I have never heard of Adam Driver so I have no idea how he is in his other work, but I can say that he was a great villain for The Force Awakens and I hope that we’ll explore his backstory further in the sequels, and I’m sure we will.

And finally we have the original cast, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa Solo (played by Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher)

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Having these three in The Force Awakens was like getting hit with a wave of nostalgia that literally brought me to tears. I was completely speechless, I felt like a kid again all those years ago watching the original trilogy for the first time. It was especially fantastic that see the original cast passing the touch to the new cast, it gives me a new sense of hope for the future of this new trilogy. I’m fully aware that they all won’t be back for the entire trilogy but it was enough to see them all in The Force Awakens. I completely understand that this new trilogy is not about the original cast but about the new cast and I fully support that.

And now it’s time to bring this article to a close. Do you agree with my thoughts on Star Wars – The Force Awakens? Disagree? Don’t really care? And for those of my readers that haven’t seen The Force Awakens I have only one question, what the hell are you doing here?! Get off your computer, tablet, or cell phone and head to your local theater and go see Star Wars – The Force Awakens!!! Don’t forget to check out our various discussion vidcasts which can be found on our YouTube channel and keep in mind that we are currently on our holiday hiatus and will not return until the beginning of the year. Also if you wish to join us during our discussion please feel free to let us know, we’d love to have you. So on that note folks I’d like to say thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the next article. Bye bye!

Second Opinion – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Tim Rose, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Ken Leung, Miltos Yerolemou, Max von Sydow, Jessica Henwick, Christina Chong, Simon Pegg, Billie Lourd, Crystal Clarke and Pip Andersen.

SYNOPSIS:

30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie. It’s actually a very flawed movie, but despite that, the film is successfully able to recapture that majestic sense of wonder and engagement that the original trilogy was capable of sparking and maintaining throughout the childhoods of many. There came a point during the adventure where, even though I knew things were wrapping up and headed towards a temporary conclusion, I never wanted the experience to end; the prospect of anxiously waiting another two years or so for another episode of the story can simply sink one’s heart like a rock.

Paramount to J.J. Abrams’ (who was also responsible for resurrecting both the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible franchises with positive results) triumphant revitalization of the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars, is a functionally working coexistence between the new major players introduced, along with fan favorite characters that have been heralded across multiple generations. The narrative kicks things off tending to focus on bringing the trifecta of new heroes (Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, and John Boyega’s Finn) and villains (Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke) into the fold, while establishing the central conflict of two major factions at war, and the fact that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing in action and has mysteriously disappeared for years.

While that is all I’ll say about the plot, I will express some disappointment that the structure takes many cues from the formula of A New Hope. Not only does it make for some bland, familiar beats, but it also makes the majority of the nefarious villains look like a bunch of idiots. Remember the Death Star that had one overlooked weakness in its blueprint, allowing it to be rather easily disposed of? Yeah, let’s do that again, along with using the film’s new concept for a droid, BB-8, to store some secret information for our protagonists to uncover.

Thankfully, a large portion of the film feels fresh thanks to the filmmakers having faith and trust in both the actors and new characters to guide the story, without reverting to an over-reliance on old, aged warriors to hog the spotlight. Han Solo and Chewbacca easily get the most screen-time of all the returning legendary, mythical beings, but it’s also a decision deeply rooted to serve as an extension of important narrative details. It also helps that Harrison Ford is having fun and more into this role than any other movie I’ve seen him in for the past 10 years, possibly even longer.

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Moving on to the heavily marketed and promoted dastardly antagonist, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he definitely lives up to the hype as the evil baddie nerds around the world would love to have a collectible figurine of on display inside a bookshelf in their living rooms. It’s a combination of the aesthetic designs of his body armor and breathing mask that is both similar yet different to what Darth Vader donned, a soft-spoken intimidating voice filled with malice, and that fancy new red cross-guard lightsaber.

Physical appearance aside, he is also in a conflicted state mentally and deeply troubled. It’s a little unfortunate that the events that led him to embark on this path aren’t explored at all much (although you get the feeling they obviously will be in future episodes), considering that there are moments where Kylo Ren takes off his mask and comes across as a bit of a whiny emo bitch without reason. It’s nowhere near as off-puttingly annoying as Anakin Skywalker, but for now, Kylo Ren should keep that mask on if he actually wants to impose a physical threat.

He’s also not the expert lightsaber dualist that I imagine many moviegoers are expecting him to be based on all promotional material. His training is actually incomplete, leaving a lot of his technique and battle maneuvers amateurish, subsequently giving the ending climactic battle a substance of unexpected grittiness rather than the flashing grandeur we have been accustomed to in past franchise installments. It’s like watching two rookies pick up lightsabers and go to town on each other, which isn’t a bad thing; the scene is very entertaining and looks stunning in a snowfield surrounded by trees that frequently get cut down to size amidst all the slashing.

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Speaking of environments, it should go without saying that many of the planets the journey takes us on are all beautiful to behold and varied in landscape. Jakku is basically a barren desert wasteland where scavengers struggle to survive by trading in random junk they can find at local markets, while another locale visited contrasts this by consisting of green pastures and forests. There are also many zoomed out shots to capture just how gorgeous some of these areas are.

The film also isn’t afraid to utilize some nostalgic touches, such as the classic screen-wipes to transition from scene to scene. I will also reassure you by mentioning that, yes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does begin with the traditional John Williams music and opening synopsis crawl. Where this movie goes right however, is never truly falling back on fan service and homage; it’s all there only in areas that make sense, and never done overbearingly. The only exception is a quick scene (this isn’t a spoiler considering it can be seen in the official trailer) where Kylo Ren is admiring the mask of Darth Vader. It’s made clear why he would want it, but how he acquired such a treasured possession is anyone’s guess, pointless, and at the end of the day, renders the whole moment as an unnecessary reach for fan service.

Aside from the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is essentially a re-skinning of A New Hope; audiences are being treated to a movie that largely feels different in terms of character definition. This will be appreciated by some more than others, but there is actually a lot of Marvel-esque comedic banter among protagonists during battle and life or death situations. It’s something that personally can get a little grating to me if not done carefully and in moderation, but it’s alright here, and most importantly gives the new trilogy some extra identity. I could go without the scenes of Kylo Ren throwing temper tantrums with his lightsaber whenever something doesn’t go his way (I should be fearing this guy and not laughing at him, which is something the script clearly wants us to to do at his outbursts of rage), but overall, the elements of humor work.

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Also welcome is the pacing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is consistently set to warp speed. Abrams somehow finds ways to bring new characters into the world, reintroduce old favorites, and tell a logical story, all while continuously jumping from one joyous action sequence to the next, whether it be a lightsaber duel or one of the numerous aerial dogfights. There isn’t a single break from excitement, which is an astounding feat for a film that is 136 minutes long.

Ultimately though, the one thing that pushes Star Wars: The Force Awakens from being a good film, to a great film, are the surprises and twists. And I’m not just referring to the ones that are present in this installment (there is a scene here that is absolutely guaranteed to make diehard fans cry their eyes out), but everything that is left to come. Abrams has done a lot more than rebirth this series, he has renewed it with hope for the future. The torch will be passed to director Rian Johnson next, and he has more than enough pieces in place to create this generation’s Empire Strikes Back.

Finally, I would like to close out this review by mentioning that Jar Jar Binks is nowhere in sight, thank the fucking movie gods. Hopefully the son of a bitch is rotting 6 feet deep somewhere.

Movie: 4/5 stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ /  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Force Awakens – Matt’s Spoiler Review

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! 

What once was old is new again

So I woke my butt up early Friday morning to see the first non-midnight showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I am just so glad I did. I had not originally planned to watch it until Monday, as that’s my first day off this week, but for fear of getting spoiled, I went without some sleep for this.

First off, I want to tell you that I felt separated from the film at first.  You have familiar scenarios taken almost directly from the original movies (Episodes 4-6) with unfamiliar characters.Then the half hour mark hit and we met our first returning character, the Millennium Falcon. Maybe you don’t consider the super fast hunk of junk a character, but it very much felt like it was in this movie. Then as time went on, they continued rolling out returning characters (total of 6 at last count) peppered in with a whole slew of new characters.

Wait.. you're not looking for Ben Kenobi? My mistake.

Wait.. you’re not looking for Ben Kenobi? My mistake.

So lets talk about those characters and the repetitive nature of this movie. First we have FN-2187, quickly renamed “Finn”. A stormtrooper for the First Order, he refuses to kill innocents and defects, running into Han Solo Poe Dameron, self described as “the best freakin’ pilot in the galaxy”. Poe lets Finn in on his plan to return a droid to Ben Kenobi the Resistance (our new version of the Rebel Alliance) because it holds the key to finding the Death Star’s Weakness Luke Skywalker, who seems to be running from a past failure in the training of Anakin Han Solo and Leia Organa’s son, Ben Solo, who now goes by the name “Kylo Ren”. Luke Rey finds and saves the droid from Jawas another scavenger and they become quick friends. Darth Vader Kylo Ren wants the droid so he can find and kill the rebel base his former master, much at the behest of his new master, Lord Palpatine Supreme Leader Snoke. (Every time I hear that name I imagine Snookie as a Sith master and it scares me to the bone!) Madness ensues, Anakin’s Luke’s lightsaber is found and held by Finn (even though Rey is the Jedi, long story) and then they have to blow up the Death Star Starkiller Planet. A battle ensues in the middle of a base militarized planet, and Ben Kenobi Han Solo allows himself to be killed. Follow that up with a lightsaber battle won by Obi Wan, Luke Rey to finish off, for now, Vader Kylo Ren. We then end the movie by finding the hermit Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda Luke Skywalker (who proceeds to say or do nothing, I assume the first step in Jedi training is a staring contest).

Okay, in this one am I Indiana Jones or Jack Ryan? Wait.. Han Solo? Really? Okay…

As you can see they very much followed the patterns created in the first movies in this one, just sometimes switching peoples roles and timing, but essentially stealing from itself. You know what though? I am alright with that and they do improve upon the formula. For example Star Wars has more.. well wars.. In the original movies and even in the prequels they would generally have one major space battle or one major land engagement, rarely both. In the Force Awakens, there were constant battles on multiple planets that included land, air and space. There, for example, were a few cases of “you have blaster rifles down there, I have my ships blaster canons up here, I win!”. At one point in the movie though, where there was a battle covering ground and air, I was reminded of the game Battlefront and how those two fronts are not mutually exclusive, they do affect one another. This is kind of new information for Star Wars movies and it makes me happy to see it.

Overall, I feel that it took me a little bit for it to feel familiar, I am sure partially because I watched it in 3D. But once I did, I don’t think I blinked for the rest of the movie. It was amazing. Only bad I can say about it is that I am not a fan of the Kylo Ren character. He’s just too young looking to be scary and the fact that a Jedi that has had exactly ZERO training using a lightsaber beat him just presses the fact that he is as threatening as a single Ewok. He is the leader of the Knights of Ren, but we don’t see them in this movie, so how are they going to take it when they find out he lost to a girl who didn’t even know she had abilities until less than a day previous. (But damn she accepts and harnesses her abilities fast!) I also felt we needed more Captain Phasma, but maybe next movie. I will give this movie a solid 4 1/2 out of 5 Death Stars.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review

Last year around this time, I wrote a piece for Flickering Myth about being underwhelmed by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, hypothesizing that many of its problems could be attributed to the Hollywood machine demanding the final novel be split up into two films. Not out of a legitimate concern for quality, but rather to squeeze more surefire money out of a franchise on its way out, which would also subsequently give Lionsgate a little more time to figure out what their next moneymaker would be. Simply put, Mockingjay – Part 1 was often boring (it felt like half the movie was spent watching Katniss stumble around collateral damage and collapsed buildings in shock) and didn’t advance much of the narrative outside of uniting the districts, and ending on a high note cliffhanger where Peeta was seemingly under mind control, conditioned to lash out emotionally and physically at Katniss.

Revisiting that educated theory after having now seen The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, and well, I still stand by that assessment. Somewhere within both of these two-hour films lies a spectacle free from exposition and lulls in forward motion that would have quite frankly made for one of the greatest blockbusters of the decade. As it stands, much of Mockingjay – Part 2 is more of the same before coming to an ending that is somehow both climactic and anti-climactic.

The journey there is riddled with breaks in the action for characters to rest up before advancing further onto the Capitol, where much dialogue is exchanged that no one feels to benefit from. The love triangle that was once interesting (one of my favorite aspects of the franchise was Katniss and Peeta staging a romance that may or may not have been real all for the sake of progressing the revolution as symbols of hope) falls surprisingly flat here as it disappointingly reverts and flounders into cliché young adult material. Not to mention, it also feels forced and awkwardly there just to appease teenagers, when the attempted assassination of a heartless dystopian future dictator should be priority one. It’s unfortunate to say, but I couldn’t give one shit as to who Katniss ended up choosing, especially when the rest of the tone is very grim, featuring numerous casualties of both key characters and civilians.

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What does work is the franchise’s ability to once again create an entry that feels wildly different in structure from its previous films. The Hunger Games was pretty much all about the titular games, while the sequel Catching Fire delved much deeper into the political side of Panem (even though it did reuse the actual games), whereas Mockingjay as a singular entity is about unification and all-out assault with greater themes of war at play. So with that said, the idea of President Snow effectively booby trapping all of the Capitol to make sure the rebels, and more specifically the Mockingjay herself, meet their demise before reaching the front door is a uniquely awesome way too keep the spirit of the franchise intact.

This also paves the way for some intense and clever action sequences, but one encounter in particular with seemingly undead creatures in an underground tunnel made me confused as to what movie I was watching. Basically, not every idea is a winner, although it doesn’t really take away from how entertaining many of these set-pieces end up being. As randomly unexpected as that aforementioned underground scene was, I can’t deny I liked it for multiple reasons. There is legitimate danger in each and every unfriendly encounter, no matter how crucial to the story any character may be. Without saying if she dies or doesn’t, I legitimately had no idea if Katniss would even survive some moments towards the end, which is a testament to how well executed some of these battles are.

For as exciting as the final act is though, it also feels clumsily handled and weirdly paced. Without even mentioning the epilogue that lasts an eternity, much of the final push feels like it jumps from scene to scene even when twists and major death are flying at the screen. It’s kind of a bummer that some of what you end up seeing is pretty predictable, but on the other hand I admire the franchise for sticking with an ending that is both subversive and bittersweet. To be honest, I expected the happily ever after ending, but instead surprisingly and pleasantly got something that muddled the lines.

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It is also worth mentioning that the acting is all over the place in terms of quality. Jennifer Lawrence is obviously fantastic but sometimes gets a little too over-dramatic in certain moments, while Liam Hemsworth is rather monotone and dull. Meanwhile, Josh Hutcherson is able to properly convey Peeta’s conflicted emotions and worrisome mentality of slipping back into uncontrollable rage. Naturally, veteran actors like Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (this is also his final role filmed preceding his tragic death) all once again give worthy performances.

As it stands, it’s really hard to pass off Mockingjay – Part 2 as a great or even good film, because too much of the first half is once again filler. Somewhere out there however, a talented fan-editor will undertake the task of combining the most important bits of both films into one three-hour epic that can stand alone as the grandstanding conclusion this franchise deserved. Disappointments aside, The Hunger Games is a franchise that will be sorely missed. Apart from the final film split, the adaptations were handled with care and a great understanding of what made the novels work, which is something that cannot be said for pretty much every other young adult series trying to cash in on its famed success.

Rating: 3/5

Spectre Review

Garnering hype is a challenge when your third act revelation and true identity of your nefarious villain is common knowledge to moviegoers months leading up to release. Studios and production members can deny astute fans uncovering the reality all they want, but all they were prolonging was inevitable disappointment; a reveal intended to shock that in actuality comes across hollow, eliciting the immortal three words of “No shit, Sherlock”. If you don’t know who the character is beforehand, that’s okay too, but I’m also not sure you’ll get anything out of it because the whole situation is handled surprisingly uneventful, almost rendered meaningless.

There is a point when Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) tells James Bond (Daniel Craig) that he is “The author of all his pain” which is quite the loaded statement, but one that never truly resonates or rings true. Yes, he’s the leader of the titular shadowy organization dubbed Spectre and has deep personal connections to the life of James Bond, but you never get an earnest sense of that relationship. Simply put, a rivalry billed as personal doesn’t feel personal at all. Waltz is admittedly fairly menacing in the role, but the movie also somewhat wastes his talent by giving him very little screen-time outside of the third act.

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That one problem stems from an even larger, overarching issue; Spectre‘s stubbornness to root itself in formulaic nostalgia. Outside of modern day Aston Martins, cutting-edge special-effects, and updated weaponry, Spectre is scripted and played out as if it were a James Bond film of old. The big baddie has a super secret base in the middle of nowhere that takes 66% of the running time to locate, disposable physically imposing henchmen to carry out his dirty work (I will touch on Dave Bautista’s impressive turn later in the review), incredibly stupid plans for global control, and nearly every woman in sight is ready to fuck James Bond, because he’s well, James Bond.

That last note in particular is more frustrating because Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) starts off resisting his suave posture and charming ways of comforting those under emotional distress. She is here for revenge in the name of her father just as much as James Bond is on a personal quest to bring down this organization, but after a superbly crafted fight sequence on a train with Hinx (Bautista), they decide to shag, presumably riding the high adrenaline of survival. It’s a shame because as the daughter of an assassin who hypothetically could turn down, at the very least, sexual temptation, it would have made for a nice juxtaposition between Monica Bellucci’s character who immediately gets down with James Bond after saving her life. Spectre is an homage to classic Bond through and through however, so prepare yourself for quite a bit of love making.

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Spectre isn’t an awful movie by any stretch of the imagination however, it’s just a soul-crushing step down from how amazing Skyfall ended up. In that film, James Bond failed to save various important characters (something referenced quite a bit here as a lazy attempt to make Oberhauser a more convincing threat), went up against a villain numerous times throughout the duration of the movie in a number of excellent action sequences, and most importantly, Skyfall examined characters on a deeper level than “James Bond and his associates are pretty cool, they save the day, James Bond gets the girl, the end”.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to deny the thrill of moments like the opening Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, complete with stunning Halloween reminiscent costumes and beautiful cinematography that tracks citizens enjoying the festivities all while James Bond walks across the rooftops of buildings before eventually getting into some peril including crumbling structures. The opening 15 minutes of Spectre (especially the mesmerizing opening credits montage featuring Sam Smith’s “Writings On The Wall”) set you up for what should be 150 minutes of spectacular storytelling and blistering chaos.

Unfortunately though, the movie does fizzle out quick and fast. One of the only enjoyable aspects of the action is the aforementioned Hinx side villain portrayed by Bautista. He makes the absolute most out of getting to take part in a James Bond film, and together with Craig creates some ferocious and primal carnage as they battle it out inside a train. Even his introduction to the scene where he out of focus casually walks up to the table James Bond and Madeleine are dining at, to kick it straight up in the air sends a message, jolting audiences. It’s an unexpected jump scare, and subtly one of the best moment in the entire film.

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It also goes without mentioning that even though Spectre can’t deliver on making its narrative interesting, even with plot twists, things do pick up considerably when Christoph Waltz is allowed to tear up the screen as a classically cheesy villain. The amount of punishment this guy survives is nothing short of ridiculous, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every single moment he came back.

Some have said that the official theme song by Sam Smith is a grower. Well, I found Spectre highly disappointing and mediocre, but who knows, maybe it too is a grower.

Rating: 2.5/5