WHERE FANTASTIC 4 WENT WRONG

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Or, “The List of Doom that keeps on Growing”

I’ll be honest, I’m completely fascinated by the waves of reports chronicling the behind-the-scenes turmoil on the recent disaster we know as the reboot of Fantastic 4.

Yes, I really wish every film could be a knockout and take no pleasure in a film’s repeated embarrassment. But my god, the juice flowing from this particular kill is more dramatic and harrowing than movie surrounding it!

At very least, this Tinseltown story is a particularly revealing lesson in pride and vanity that helps illuminate why the film we have now is such a train wreck.

Therefore, I have compiled a list of the most recent reports surrounding the tumultuous making of Fantastic 4. And to address the headline of this piece, the answer is almost immediately.

josh-trank-fantastic-four-final

 

  • The director’s attitude reportedly caused plenty of conflict between him and the cast. Michael B. Jordan starring was agreed upon by both parties but the studio wanted someone other than Miles Teller for Reed Richards. Trank got his way but the two still ended up in what was described as a “mutually disdainful relationship” (they don’t like each other). Kate Mara was a casting choice of the studio’s and Trank was reported to have treated her badly. Another instance of the director and cast not getting along.
  • There was a sentiment after filming that very little of what Trank turned in was salvageable. Most troubling was the absence of an actual ending. It was here that X-Men writer Simon Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker had to step in and retool much of the film.
  • The ending was mostly done in reshoots despite several of the cast members being unavailable. Most of the scenes were filmed months later in L.A. against a greenscreen with Teller being the only reported cast member in attendance, the rest being filmed with CG, stand-ins and stunt doubles.
  • Trank was present for the reshoot but was essentially put in the corner (“neutralized by committee”).
  • Days before the film’s release, Trank said this on Twitter:

josh-trank-tweet

  • While it was deleted just nine minutes after being posted, the timing of this tweet and the already sour mood towards the film proved disastrous for Fox. It is reported that this tweet lost the studio an estimated $10 million on opening weekend.
  • Apparently Trank wasn’t too down on the film a few days before opening. The director emailed the cast and crewmembers saying that F4 was “better than 99 percent of comic book movies ever made.” One cast member perfectly replied, “I don’t think so.”
  • Despite the embarrassing opening weekend gross of $26 mill (it was originally predicted at $46 mill) and even-more crushing critical reaction (9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the worst reviewed Marvel movie ever), Fox are sticking their collective heads in the sand again and forging ahead with a sequel to the film. I mean, you can’t have the rights revert to a group that might make a good movie in less than four attempts.
  • A release date of June 9, 2017 was announced a while ago but that date looks highly unlikely now, and may be used for a rumored Deadpool sequel instead.
  • Trank will not be involved with the supposed sequel (duh) and was also dropped from involvement with one of the Star Wars spinoff films earlier this year due to his behavior.
  • There is no word yet on the story, direction or cast situation with the sequel, minus some rumblings of X-Men director Bryan Singer being courted to helm the film.

Clearly there’s a lot of fault on both sides, as this was a project with a lot of cooks n the kitchen. However, given what we know now, the story is shaping up to look more and more like the studio cut lots corners on a dispassionate legal project and ended up with a worst-case scenario with Trank’s direction and attitude.

Whose side are you on? Is this Fox’s fault for being stubborn and not caring enough? Or did the director’s lackluster ideas and terrible behavior tank the film?

GUEST COLUMN: CAPTAIN AMERICA THROUGH A POST 9/11 LENS

Captain America Avengers Age of Ultron 2015 Wallpaper

How a Cinematic Captain America is Interpreted through a Post-9/11 Lens

by Michael Maurer

Comic book characters are currently at their most popular in pop culture since their creation in the 1930’s and 40’s. These characters are mostly superheroes, and their moral decisions set a standard for acceptable vigilantism and prosocial causes. While these characters saw their birth in the comic book medium, it is safe to say that a majority of the American population (and possibly the world) have only experienced them through blockbuster films and that is why in this study we will look at where Captain America’s values are founded in his box-office appearances, most notably the films Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. These films are one of many iterations of the hero, but as of 2015, this interpretation of the character is the most relevant. It will also reflect how a character created in a time of world war and moral clarity is now interpreted for modern audiences in a post 9/11 world where high levels of distrust for American government exist and America’s enemies are much more difficult to identify.

Captain America through name and action is a character directly attributed to beingRMK2338GM_Classic_Captain_America_Giant_Wall_Decal_Assembled_Product a representation of his nation the United States and the values of its population and government in ideal circumstances. He was created in 1941 by Marvel writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby. In the cover of his very first issue he is seen delivering a right hook to Adolf Hitler, which expresses that character’s original intent as a propagandist war superhero meant to encourage American involvement in World War 2. Since then, Captain America has evolved to one of the most respected superheroes in the Marvel pantheon. Steve Rogers (Captain America’s alter-ego) is consistently treated with the utmost respect by other Marvel characters. This is due to his history as a war veteran as well as his never faltering ethical code. But was exactly does Captain America Represent? How does he do it? And how does he reflect modern American culture in his new cinematic format?

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SCHUYLER’S TOP 10 OF 2014

Let it be noted that in a world where everything seems to be falling to shit, movies can be the thing that still delivers. And in my humble opinion, 2014 was indeed a good year for movies.

The films of the past year were a roulette wheel of emotions; there were movies to make you laugh, cry, lean forward in your seat, nearly fall asleep, tremble in excitement, get infinitely frustrated with, drop your jaw in shock and maybe come away feeling like you’ve learned a little something about life.

For me, the following list is comprised of movies from the last 12 months that delivered on so many fronts and stand out because of it.

As a rule of thumb, this list is pretty much the “subjectiviest” subjective thing a writer like me can make. You may agree wholeheartedly or scoff at certain picks. Coolio, since it’s all my preferences listed. No absolutes here, much as I would like them to be. 

As a college student with limited time and resources, I can’t say I’ve seen every single thing to gain release this year, but honestly, who has? [Notable 2014 films like A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice and Selma won’t hit theaters outside New York and L.A. until the coming weeks. How unfair is that?!] 

At the very least, it’s my secret wish that you, the reader, seeks out some of the movies here you haven’t yet seen and find that a pleasant surprise awaits ye.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2014.

Just missed: The LEGO Movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Birdman



10. The Babadook
Most of 2014’s horror movie offerings made me weep as opposed to scream, so maybe that’s why The Babadook stands head and shoulders above the rest. That, or it’s just a great little spook film. The monster may be terrifying but simply knowing he’s there is somehow even more bone-chilling. Atmosphere is such a huge part of The Babadook and the anxiety felt throughout is what helps separate it as a true champ. Even more impressive, there’s a real, thoughtful human story going on underneath the otherworldly happenings and lead actress Essie Davis brings it forward wonderfully. 


9. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is a tried and true awards-bait, prestige pic. Here’s the thing: it’s far from a hollow one. Putting aside that it contains exactly what awards voters love, at its heart, this is an appropriately moving story of a brilliant, tortured man. Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely excels as Alan Turing, perfectly capturing the man’s brilliance and standoffishness that masked some deeper secrets. The story has consequences and urgency while Graham Moore’s script fills the characters with life and personality. It won’t reinvent the genre anytime soon but it will certainly deliver a highly satisfying look into someone who changed history.


8. Interstellar
Problems with the general roughness of the film aside, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is undeniably ambitious filmmaking. You want a big movie? This is it. You want a movie where scientific theories are presented in an attainable and practical way — and are arguably something of a hero in the story  — and there’s still room for an emotional core that works? This is it. Also, they threw in waves that are hundreds of feet tall just for good measure. Shepherded by what might be Hans Zimmer’s best score in recent memory, Interstellar pushes past its relative shortcomings on the virtue that it actually tried. How does that incredibly ironic saying about shooting for the moon and ending up among the stars go again? 

7. Boyhood
“I think I might have witnessed something profound,” is what a movie like Boyhood leaves you saying. Funny since the film, excluding the unprecedented detail of filming a boy’s life over the span of 12 years, doesn’t really carry a self-important vibe to it. It’s a movie made up of the smaller moments in life; conversations that may end up shaping us without us realizing at the time. Because of that, the movie comes off as completely naturalistic. Again, this is all putting aside the fact that they filmed the same kid over the span of 12 years. I’m not a betting man but something tells me that you won’t see that become Hollywood’s new go-to production method.


6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier / Snowpiercer
Aka, the Chris Evans entry. Evans starred in two notable action adventure pics that, while on different ends of the spectrum, are both worthy of note. (Definitely not a coincidence they’re sharing the same spot, though).

Winter Soldier is the transcendent Marvel movie for me because it manages to be a) one of a small handful of the studio’s superhero offerings that feels like the events of the movie have lasting consequence, b) is socially aware and spun an engaging story from real-world concerns and c) found a perfect balance between their brand of humor and keeping the stakes high. Props to the film for having ScarJo be the least robot-y so far as well.


Snowpiercer, meanwhile, has just as relevant a message but is a little more tongue in cheek about its intentions. In a dark, messed up way. Keep in mind this is a film with a large section of ax murder and school children reciting the catchy tune “What happens when the engine stops? We all freeze and die.” It’s frequently silly and preposterous but doesn’t bat an eye as it barrels forward in its sci-fi action goodness. Satire, ladies and gentlemen.



5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’ll be the first to admit I have my problems with Wes Anderson. Maybe that’s what kept me hesitant towards this one. I’ll also be the first to admit I laughed my ass off at Grand Budapest. Anderson didn’t let his quirky obsession with symmetrical staging get in the way of delivering an interesting story (that’s actually about storytelling) and letting Ralph Fiennes truly shine in the limelight. The pastel pinks that engulf the movie are deceiving, as GBH is a dark comedy and nothing works for me quite like a dark comedy done right.


4. Nightcrawler
Character studies can be painful if you don’t give a crap about the character you’re watching. All the more impressive that Nightcrawler focuses on a man who is truly reprehensible, but very watchable due to his charisma, and keeps the film fascinating throughout. Add in the murky world of shock journalism in L.A. and the movie is a powder keg of salaciousness. Jake Gyllenhaal is in absolute top form as the slimy Lou Bloom and Rene Russo is great as well. Nightcrawler isn’t a movie you walk away from feeling joy or hope for humanity, but it is a film that is engrossing throughout.



3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn is the next entry in the “sequels that are better than their already good predecessors” cannon. And what an entry it is. Not only did things go bigger this time around, they went more emotional and certainly more tense. Just from the title (and about 50 years of material) we know how things will end up, but Matt Reeves crafts a well plotted film that focuses on the similarities between ape and man that pushes the technical wizardry that Rise is known for even further. Simply, Dawn is 2014’s blockbuster that concerns itself primarily with being a great film. Mission accomplished.


2. Gone Girl
I can’t recall exactly what I was expecting from Gone Girl besides it probably being a pretty good movie. David Fincher directing and all. I certainly didn’t foresee it being an absolute gut punch. Without getting too spoilery, the first 45-50 minutes of the film contain a great mystery set-up premise where we’re given as much info on the matter as the characters. Then the twist hits and all bets are off. The film completely shifts gears into something amazingly wicked while remaining an impeccably written piece of work. [Venturing further into SPOILER territory, Gone Girl is, ironically, a great piece of work about the piece of work the title alludes to. Rosamund Pike so epically delivers in the role of the narcissistic and calculating Amy Elliot that it’s stunning. Stunning.] Fincher’s latest had my head spinning and heart pumping as I left the theater, which I didn’t think was possible anymore.

Then one other film did the same…


1. Whiplash
Whiplash is as much a war film and horror picture as it is a music film. Only in this case, the anxiety level is so much higher than in any film I’ve seen in those genres. Maybe any film ever. Director Damien Chazelle must have had quite an experience as a music student because he perfectly conveys the pressure of striving to improve and ramps it up to 11 where the film stays for the remainder. The big band sequences are beyond amazing in execution. J.K. Simmons is a boss in every sense of the word as the tyrannical jazz band leader and Miles Teller hits a new high here. Sometimes films with high emotions leave you drained. Whiplash is the opposite and leaves you feeling alive. 


Check back later for individual awards for the year.

AWARDS FORECAST: SAG AND GOLDEN GLOBE NOMS


It begins. The 2015 awards season took its first major steps forward last week, following several weeks of various critics associations making their top picks, with the announcement of nominees for this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes.

The nominees for the 21st SAG awards were announced Wednesday morning and are as follows for film:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan HawkeBoyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Naomi Watts, St. Vincent
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Meanwhile, the nominees for this year’s Golden Globes were announced the following morning. Here are the nominees pertaining to film:

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore is earning raves for her role in Still Alice. 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Helen Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Quvenzhane Wallis, Annie
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes
Best Animated Feature Film
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Birdman swept the Globes with seven nominations.


Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Director – Motion Picture
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Best Original Song – Motion Picture
“Big Eyes” – Big Eyes, Music and Lyrics by: Lana Del Rey
“Glory” – Selma, Music by: John Legend, Common, Lyrics by: John Legend, Common
“Mercy Is” – Noah, Music by: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Lyrics by: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye
“Opportunity” – Annie, Music by: Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler, Will Gluck, Lyrics by: Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler, Will Gluck
“Yellow Flicker Beat” – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Music and Lyrics by: Lorde

What does it all mean? Well, as with any race, there are some surprises to be had, and a significant showing from films that have emerged as frontrunners. Let’s take a look.

Perennial favorites Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything showed that they are here to stay for the rest of the season and are basically locks in the Oscars’ Best Picture race. Each film is up for Best Ensemble at SAG with no less than two actors from each film recognized in the individual acting categories; a similar story unfolded with the Golden Globes, as each film garnered multiple nominations (Birdman has the most at seven).

There was a time when Foxcatcher‘s chances at awards gold seemed to be drifting away, what with its very limited run and good-not-great reception (supposedly, it’s a hard movie to love). This week’s announcements put it back in the ring. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo have solidified themselves as contenders, while Channing Tatum is essentially out of consideration. In addition to Carell and Ruffalo coming out on top, the SAG and GG noms for best picture keep it well within the running.

Apparently the GG voters for Best Drama are high on biographical stories, as every nominee — barring Boyhood — is based on true historical events and people.

One of those films, Selma, won’t see wide release for several more weeks but has gained a lot of traction within the last month or two. Chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery, the film was left off SAG’s nominees but found favor with the Golden Globes, as did its star, David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay. If more nods arise for DuVernay, she could become the first black woman to win a Best Director statue, much less garner continual nods.

Two yet-to-be-released titles that were predicted to be award darlings were noticeably absent from the proceedings: Clint Eastwood’s war biopic, American Sniper, and Angelina Jolie’s adversity-overcoming, sports drama, survival story, POW spiritual endurance story, Unbroken. The Oscars are known to split from the GGs on their picks but the early mixed/tepid response to the two might have done them in early. At best, expect just one of the two to proceed.

You know who was not done in, despite everyone expecting it to be? The Grand Budapest Hotel. Given the film’s very early release in the year, many were sure the limited memory of the various guilds would play against the film’s chances — after all, there wasn’t a single Best Picture nominee at last year’s Oscars that was released before October. Last week’s announcements blew away all doubts that Wes Anderson’s whimsical, multi-narrative tale will be a contender (with signs pointing to the director himself placing well in the running). Not only has room been made for GBH at the nominee table, star Ralph Fiennes is also getting noticed for his hilarious role as M. Gustave.

Grand Budapest is a success story in keeping interest going that puts other movies of its ilk to shame — movies that were released much closer to awards season. Several recent releases that were gunning to be top contenders seemed to have slipped in overall favor but are still getting nods in the areas they deserve praise for.

Gone Girl wasn’t present in the Best Drama list but still took nods for Rosamund Pike’s standout performance, Gillian Flynn’s whipsmart screenplay and David Fincher’s skilled direction.

Likewise, Dan Gilroy’s media thriller Nightcrawler probably won’t see much notice but Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformative role in the film as the slimy Lou Bloom did not go unnoticed by both SAG and GG.

Like Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher, Whiplash is another film that hasn’t found its box office stride (despite the fact that it is amazing). While that might have kept it from entering the forefront of voter consciousness, J.K. Simmons is still getting due attention in the Best Supporting Actor categories as a strong frontrunner.

As expected, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar didn’t make a splash with voters (more like a thud) and was absent from any acting, directing and writing categories here. I see no reason to expect any less from the Academy. However, Hans Zimmer’s score did make the cut at the GGs, and with Antonio Sanchez’s score for Birdman unable to qualify for the Oscar, that makes it something of a frontrunner come Oscar time.

As stated, Interstellar just won’t see any love from Oscardaddy in the major categories, despite Paramount’s plans to pursue it — mixed reactions and whatnot. That said, it would be foolish to not think the film will be everywhere come time for the technical awards to appear, especially visual effects and cinematography.

And finally, while it seemed pretty clear that The Weinstein Company would push The Imitation Game all the way in the drama side of the race, one surprise was in how far they bought campaigned for St. Vincent into the running. While it wasn’t predicted to gain notice (like, at all), the film still picked up a SAG nom for Naomi Watts, and two Golden Globe nods; one for the film and one for Bill Murray. Could we have a dark horse on our hands? Another The Artist situation? Probably not. Hopefully not.

We’ll just have to see where the wind takes us on this one.

The 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards, hosted again by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, take place first on Jan. 11, 2015 live on NBC.

The 21st Annual SAG Awards follow on Jan. 25, 2015 and can be seen on TBS.

THE BABADOOK REVIEW

For a minute there, it looked as if horror was lost on 2014. When your biggest offerings in the genre are Ouija and Annabelle, it might as well be a sign to pack it in.

Enter The Babadook.

Coming from Australian director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is this year’s diamond in the rough that stands apart. The film is not only a marvel of showcasing creeping terror, it’s grounded in a highly resonant story that spotlights one of life’s most destructive monsters of all: depression.

Seven years after the accident that took her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is struggling to raise her rambunctious son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), whose behavior becomes increasingly aggressive. One night Amelia unwittingly reads to Samuel from a bedtime storybook he brandishes called “Mister Babadook.” After discovering the book’s frightening content, Amelia is unsuccessful at keeping thoughts of the frightening titular monster from Samuel’s mind as he obsesses over it. Maybe it’s for good reason. Shortly after, Amelia finds herself slowly but surely stalked by unexplained visions and influences that make her a danger to her son.

In a landscape of “jump scare a minute” horror features, it’s beyond refreshing to see a film that finds power in building up sheer atmospheric terror. Pitch black corners and tricks of the light take precident over things popping out at the screen. Kent skillfully builds tension in several scenes through editing trickery and sound choices so chilling they cause immediate goosebumps. Reality bends to levels of uncertainty that are wild and upsetting.

While the terror of The Babadook is almost overwhelming sometimes, it’s the restraint the filmmakers show in handling the titular creature that keeps the fear ballooning. The Babadook itself is almost never seen in a complete way, often covered in shadow with only the briefest glimpse of the monster’s disturbing face. Truthfully, it’s more terrifying to know that the creature is present than actually seeing every detail of it.

What makes The Babadook so special, however, is that the overt horror aspects are secondary to the real human emotion that guides the story. Even more than lanky monsters that hide in the dark, this film shows these supernatural events as subsidiary to the tragic lifestyle Amelia finds herself in, day and day out. So often throughout we feel her hopeless frustration in raising an unruly child alone and it’s unnerving when we feel that she may not love her child… and what that may mean in the end. This being is literally feeding off her grief and depression, becoming a force that so clearly can lead to child abuse in many situations. Can you say “metaphor”?

Even when familiar trappings spring up, such as the mother becoming possessed by the evil spirit, the overall thoughtfulness of the film makes it a cut above the rest. This is the litter chiller that could. It’s harrowing in its drama and deeply unsettling in its tone, leaving an eerie feeling that, like the book says about the Babadook, you just can’t get rid of.

8/10

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 REVIEW

Two halves are better than one. This idea seems to have become white noise for Hollywood producers and that means no literary adaptation is safe. The trend of splitting final books in a series into multiple films has been, in a nutshell, creatively disastrous — exemplified by the uneven Harry Potter finale and the criminally overstuffed Hobbit films.

Things were looking up for the Hunger Games series, with director Francis Lawrence coming off delivering a spectacular entry that lives up to the hype with Catching Fire. Alas, good will alone can’t save the series’ last installment from the dreaded split, as Mockingjay – Part 1 comes up largely empty on content, making for the dullest entry in the saga of Katniss Everdeen yet.

After the events of Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taking refuge in the secret underground world of District 13, once thought to be bombed out of existence. There, publicity master Plutarch Heavensby (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and stoney district president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) are intent on molding Katniss into the face of the rebellion. Katniss, meanwhile, is more hung up on crying over Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the Capitol’s hostage, who is being used to denounce the rebellion. Once she witnesses the Capitol’s capacity for cruelty and with a promise to rescue Peeta in place, Katniss embraces her destiny as the Mockingjay.

The general justification behind splitting a final installment into two movies is that it allows for a more detail and closer adherence to the book. True to form, Mockingjay – Part 1 basks in capturing the intricacies from its source material, taking things slow to catch everything it can.The unfortunate result is a film that has, realistically, about an hour of good content stretched to two hours, stuffing filler in where it can and killing all pacing.

There is promise in the blocks of the film that do work, with a satisfying look at how this rebellion is fought with publicity as much as combat and a small handful of interesting action sequences and plot turns, including the destruction of a dam.

However, if any book in the series was in need of an overhaul, it would be Mockingjay. In cribbing from and expanding on its source material to the degree needed for a two-parter, the film never finds the visual and emotional pop that we saw in the last story. This can undoubtedly be attributed to so much of the movie consisting of people in identical grey jumpsuits having prolonged conversations in a dingy, underground bunker.

One thing that these movies had going for them through thick and thin was that Katniss was, for the most part, a relatable character and Jennifer Lawrence sold it. Here, even our steadfast protagonist reaches the point of unlikable. For a series that had wisely put the love triangle aspect in the background, Katniss’ whole purpose here seems to be to juggle her clearly-interested-friend Gale at an arms length while breaking down to an ever-increasing state of weeping. Every action this character takes here seems to revolve around her fake boyfriend, Peeta, as opposed to, say, the good of others in this rebellion. Unfortunately, in a war between fascists, she’s the best we’ve got to root for — if only this movie didn’t make that such a pessimistic prospect.

There’s no doubt that the Hunger Games films are in better hands with Lawrence as director than Gary Ross, but even the I Am Legend helmer’s skills aren’t enough to avoid being hobbled by an unnecessary split to two parts. After a non-conclusion, Mockingjay – Part 1 ends on a passive cliffhanger, befitting of such a passive movie. Hopefully, Mockingjay will follow the Deathly Hallows pattern of the final part going out with a bang, but for now Part 1 is a film that can’t sustain itself on just an hour of content and doesn’t come close to justifying it’s existence as a separate film. In the long run, it’s the equivalent of a big shoulder shrug.

5/10 

INTERSTELLAR REVIEW

At the risk of sounding like a Nolanite, let me just say that Christopher Nolan is one of the most respectable filmmakers around. Outside the obvious praise of him giving us the hands-down best series of Batman films to date, the hit director is commendable for intelligent, mind-bending stories exploring science and psychology, as well as his preference for practical effects and shooting on traditional 35 mm film.

With Interstellar, Nolan turns his focus to space travel, mixing in a heartfelt family drama with profound concepts like wormholes, relative time and gravity. At its best, Interstellar is majestic space odyssey rife with amazing visuals, intriguing concepts and good performances. But at its worst, suffering from a full, disjointed story and criminal pacing issues, Nolan’s answer to 2001 sometimes feels like it hasn’t delivered on its potential.

A resurgent dustbowl has wiped out all viable crops on Earth except corn, and the future of the human race looks grim. When former pilot and current farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) receives mysterious coordinates from an unseen specter, the struggling father is led to a secret NASA operation headed by a former colleague to look to answers beyond our solar system. Using a not-too-distant wormhole, a plan has been put in motion to send a team to survey far-away worlds that can sustain human life — a plan they need Cooper to pilot. Leaving his devastated daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain) behind, he embarks for strange new worlds, but can he ever make it back to Earth and if so, will it even be in his children’s lifetime?

Much like Inception, there’s no lack of ambition at play with Interstellar. Space travel isn’t a daring new topic in the film world but the details of Nolan and his brother Jonathan’s story are. It’s beyond admirable that these two can craft an engaging (well, mostly…more on that later), accessible story using high-concept theories of hard science and, for the most part, make them work in their favor.

As per usual, Nolan’s look and sound of Interstellar is top-notch. Despite splitting from mainstay cinematographer Wally Pfister this time out, the look of Interstellar is breathtaking. Space is a surreal experience here, as distant worlds and otherworldly anomalies are brilliantly rendered on screen. If any film is destined to emulate the elaborate visual trippiness of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on screen in this generation, this is it.

Likewise, frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer largely ditches the booming bass drums and low brass wall of sound for this score in favor of a more spiritual, majestic sound — complete with pipe organ —  that is invaluable to the emotion of the film.

On the topic of emotion, there’s a significant amount at the heart of this film. Nolan is a master of ratcheting up the tension, providing overwhelming stakes to Cooper’s mission (like, say, the fate of the planet) and dire consequences for each mistake.

At least part of the reason this works is because of the bond between Cooper and Murph, a more traditional motivation that grounds the movie quite well. Nolan likes to keep his players cool and collected much of the time and McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain oblige, but each are given notable opportunities to cut loose that hit home.

So, if all these elements of the film work so well — including an entertaining final act that starts as a thriller and ends diving into full-blown science fiction after several overt hints — why doesn’t the movie as a whole feel overwhelmingly good? It might be due to the fact that there’s a lot of movie going on with Interstellar; too much. To generalize, a great many 3-hour films don’t justify their runtime and Interstellar, at 2 hours and 49 minutes, falls squarely into that camp.

The final cut of the movie suffers from frequent sections of dragging while the script is in desperate need of doctoring to smooth out the extended sections of sciencey exposition and explanation, not to mention the somewhat episodic nature of the story as the team visits new worlds and deals with the hurdles each brings. It’s like Inception but not as good as Inception.

In fact, smoothing out is the perfect description of what this story itself desperately needs, especially in editing the script to trim the bloat and get the movie to an acceptable length. There’s a lot to cover with the film’s current story and one can’t help but wonder if trimming one plot thread, planet, concept or character would have helped. Interstellar is a smart film but it’s a rambly smart film when all the pieces are in place for it to be a concise one. Just because the material is epic doesn’t mean the length of the film needs to pump itself up to similar proportions.

Because of this, there’s a really disappointing feel at times in the movie — like you’re being kept at arm’s length investment right at the moment you’re feeling closest. As mentioned, Nolan’s space epic can be completely engrossing in parts but they’re sadly often followed or proceeded by parts that don’t match up.

Far be it to say Interstellar is a bad movie, it’s not. In so many ways it embodies why we go to the movies in the first place: to be transported to far away worlds and see something we’ve never seen before. It even throws in the bonus of making you think a little bit. Sure, there’s a frequent feeling that this good movie could have been great with more care in scripting and pacing but Nolan’s latest succeeds on visceral entertainment (a screening in true IMAX is a must for film junkies), performances and admiration for making a film about relativity interesting.

It may not be the knockout success akin to some of his earlier films or what some of us may have been expecting, but it’s far from something to turn your nose up at.

7.5/10