The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The final installment of the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay – Part 2, received relatively little fanfare compared to the releases of the previous films. Though it is probably fair to say that the interest dwindled after Catching Fire due to many audiences feeling the series had become “too dark,” it wasn’t really until after Mockingjay – Part 1 that the general fan base seemed to disappear entirely.

For me, the issue with the Hunger Games film series is relatively simple: it is neither brutal enough nor committed enough to what the essence of the Hunger Games story is.

I read all of the books in the Hunger Games series, and remember that I felt a similar disinterest about the final book as I did with the final film. It just seemed that the idea had run its course by the end of Catching Fire, and that anything that followed the second book’s publication was just a feeble attempt to bring in more money and to wrap up a story that didn’t particularly need more wrapping.

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Better Call Saul 2.6 – “Bali Ha’i”

For a minute there I forgot that Better Call Saul‘s main character was not in fact Mike Ehrmantraut, nor any of the other characters dominating the landscape of “Bali Ha’i”. Jimmy McGill is here, yes, and he’s probably got more time on screen than in the phenomenal preceding episode “Rebecca“. He has a nifty little cold open highlighting the fact that he’s the kind of guy who’s more comfortable in his shitty little office than he is in his cushy new digs. He pulls another barroom short con with Kim, as in “Switch“, and the two have a meaningful make-up session after weeks on the rocks. The end of the episode belongs to Jimmy, too, as he attacks his stupid little cupholder with a tire iron in order to finally make room for his travel mug.

But for what might be the first time since the beginning of the series, the A Storyline felt like the B Storyline and vice versa. Shifting from Mike to Jimmy, frankly, felt like downshifting. Partially this is because of where we are in the second season of Saul, coming off a solid mid-season episode and entering that spate of hours tasked with setting up the final few. Last season we had “Five-O” in this slot, which in fact had a grand total of one scene with the esteemed soon-to-be Mr. Goodman. The rest of that episode was about Mike.

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Film & TV News: March 18

News

  • It’s Batman Week on Motion State for several reasons, not least of which is because no self-respecting film criticism consortium would ever be caught dead hosting a Superman Week.
  • Zack Snyder will be tackling the first installment of the Justice League two-parter following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now he’s stated that he also wants to adapt…The Fountainhead? Will Howard Roark be the hero we deserve?
  • J.K. Simmons will be taking the role of Commissioner Gordon in that Justice League movie, presumably leaving behind any chance of him playing J. Jonah Jameson again. Gary Oldman’s got some big shoes…
  • In other Batman news, the animated Killing Joke released a teaser photo to mark the start of production. The exciting prospect of adapting Alan Moore‘s comic with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Bats and Joker is almost enough to wash away that nostalgia for the more endearing animation of Batman: The Animated Series in favor of the new style. Almost.

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The World According to Garp (1982)

The name “George Roy Hill” might not be a household name here in 2016, but if the man himself doesn’t ring a bell you probably still know his films. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting are his best, riding high on the indomitable pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That pair would be separated for Hill’s ensuing films The Great Waldo Pepper and Slap Shot, both of which are well-crafted if not ultimately as powerful as those other two. The one that might throw you for a loop is The World According to Garp, a film from late in Hill’s career starring Robin Williams in his first dramatic role.

…that phrase doesn’t mean what it did back then, though, because “Williams in a dramatic role” isn’t as much of a novelty nor is it even something that seems worthy of being highlighted today. Dead Poets, One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings and Fisher King let Williams be Williams — not merely Comedic Williams or Dramatic Williams — and despite the films themselves being best suited to the “Drama” category at your local rental store you probably don’t think twice about the star being a guy who most consider to be one of the funniest ever to walk the planet.

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Better Call Saul 2.5 – “Rebecca”

Better Call Saul talks to itself. In this YouTube video about the various callbacks to Breaking Bad throughout the companion series Saul, showrunner Peter Gould refers to the “encyclopedia” of the world — the people, places, items, songs, sayings and histories of Bad and Saul — and there’s no doubt it’s an interesting way to craft a serial. We talked about the “slavish devotion to itself” present in both series in our review of this season’s opener “Switch“, but that phrase somehow makes it seem like a negative thing. So: Better Call Saul talks to itself. It talks to Bad, bringing back characters and diners and trinkets galore, but midway through the second season it’s able to turn heel and talk to itself as well. In “Rebecca” Jimmy returns to the courthouse where he spent his public defender days — seen largely in “Uno” and “Mijo” — and his return highlights both the ways in which he’s changed and the ways in which he hasn’t.

But Saul talks to us, too, and that can be a mark of a great show. Without being condescending or hand-holdy in the least, Saul pivots outward every now and then and asserts something that’s not exactly a callback or an easter egg per se; more of a cue, visual or otherwise, that acknowledges something that only the viewers would be able to appreciate. The people in the show may realize that there’s a connective thread running from the Salamancas to Mike Ehrmantraut to Saul Goodman and beyond, but there are other things that only the people outside the show would appreciate.

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Jenny’s Wedding (2015)

Released on Netflix earlier this year, Jenny’s Wedding is somewhat of an enigma. The film, which was originally independently produced, and then featured as part of an Indigogo campaign for post-production costs, stars Katherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Grace Gummer, and Alexis Bledel as a group of family and friends learning to cope with a daughter coming out as gay and announcing her impending marriage. While the cast is well-known and more than competent in their art, the movie itself is puzzling in its attempt to tell a story of growth, resistance, and eventual acceptance, while never seeming to actually embrace the people around which the story revolves.

I should start by saying that I am always skeptical of “coming out” pieces – whether it’s a play, a TV episode plot, a movie, etc. The arc itself is inherently tricky because of the sensitivity of the coming out trope, and it is easy for writers to fall into the trap of making that coming out process overly dramatic. That isn’t to say that coming out isn’t rightfully dramatic for those who do go through that process, but is merely to suggest that is doesn’t always need to be a thing of tragedy.

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Gods of Egypt (2016)

For a long time now the internet has been a halcyon refuge for those steadfast in the belief that opinions can be equated with facts. Prior to the actual release of Gods of Egypt the film was subjected to the fervor whipped up by the fact that the cast was almost entirely white, and before you could say CGI sphinx most had written off GoE as a waste of time. In what may have been a heartfelt apology or one driven entirely by a marketing scramble to save face, director Alex Proyas publicly stated that they dropped the ball on the whole diversity thing. #EgyptSoWhite persevered as if Proyas had stayed silent because, hey, it’s the internet. No well-meaning statement is going to stopper a good ol’ fashioned media frenzy.

After GoE came out, though, the film was subjected to another kind of criticism, this time whipped up by the notion that the movie was actually really bad. Ah, the internet. Proyas responded, as Proyas seems wont to do. Here is his post from his Facebook in near-entirety, edited only slightly for length:

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Film & TV News: March 13

News

  • Fresh off his Oscar win, Leonardo DiCaprio has joined J.J. Abrams in seeking the rights to Killers of the Flower Moon, a tale of the early days of the FBI. This sounds right up DiCaprio’s alley but decidedly not up J.J.’s, which actually makes it more exciting. Of all the zillion things you can do after directing a Star Wars movie, moving out of your comfort zone is definitely one of the more rare options. Let’s hope these guys go for it.
  • In what might be the most surprising news of the week, Amazon has announced a new Tick series (live-action) to be helmed by Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s old cinematographer and director of the much-maligned Transcendence. Cool?
  • Speaking of Nolan, his upcoming Dunkirk is allegedly casting relative unknown Fionn Whitehead in a leading role. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Mark Rylance are already on board in other roles, and you can bet your ass Michael Caine will be making his way in there too.
  • David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter has cast Fringe‘s Anna Torv and Fight Club‘s Holt McCallany in leading roles. The problem is that Fincher will be executive producing and directing the first episode while Scott Buck – of Dexter “fame” (sigh) – will technically be showrunner. Here’s to second chances, right?

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The Danish Girl (2015)

There’s something about Eddie Redmayne that just crushes your soul. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing — he’s a beautiful soul-crusher — but man, I feel like every time I sit down to a Redmayne movie, I’m going to leave feeling any one of, or a combination of, three things: 1) uncomfortably mortal, 2) disastrously under-accomplished, or 3) questioning my sexual identity.

The Danish Girl is no exception to this inevitability, though in this case, it is perhaps a bit more of a forced conclusion than in some of Redmayne’s other roles. In fact, all three of these reactions are obviously sought by the end of the film, with the lead dying – “Shit, I’m so mortal!” – the two leads both being successful, talented artists – “Shit, I’m so bad at doing stuff good!” – and of course, the main character transitioning in order to become his true self – “Shit, what even is a ‘true self’?”

However, the real issue I take with this film, aside from the generally predictable feel of the method-acting made-for-Redmayne award-seeking plot, is that it isn’t actually accurate at all to the life of the person it is supposedly based off of, Lili Elbe (Elvenes), and her relationship with Gerda Wegener, played by the stunning and Oscar award-winning Alicia Vikander — but we’ll get to her later.

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Netflix Picks #6

Shayna: I’ve been in a David Cronenberg frame of mind lately, and after watching Crash — a brutal, totally visceral film experience that you can somehow find on YouTube — I felt like slipping further down the rabbit hole with eXistenZ. While this 1999 film didn’t leave me curled up in the fetal position and near tears like Crash did, it does provide plenty of bleak takeaways about the state of human existence. Plus it stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, who pretty much owns in everything.

Set in a not-so-distant future where people can enter virtual realities and video-game designers are fawned over like rock stars (so perhaps not so unlike today), eXistenZ also stars a young Jude Law and features appearances from Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley. Leigh is frosty and vaguely menacing here as Allegra, the designer of the not-yet-released game eXistenZ. After someone tries to kill her during a focus group session, Allegra is forced to go on the run with Ted (Law), a security guard/would-be “PR nerd” tasked with protecting her and helping ensure the survival of the game itself.

Admittedly, the plot gets Gordian-knot levels of convoluted very quickly, making it difficult to keep track of characters, corporate espionage subplots and even what reality the characters happen to be in most of the time. But the real attraction in eXistenZ is the atmosphere and the props that go along with it. There’s a gun made of bones, which fires teeth and is dripping with slimy viscera. The “bio-pods” used by players to access the game look like squishy embryos and mew contentedly when rubbed the right way. Once inside the game, Ted and Allegra are compelled by its power to follow game script, which at one point leads to an all-you-can-eat feast on mutated frog parts.

It’s wild. While the film feels very much like a product of its time, more aged and less visionary than earlier Cronenberg works like Videodrome and The Fly, eXistenZ is necessary viewing for body horror and sci-fi aficionados alike.

Continue reading Netflix Picks #6