AEOS Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014)

What’s interesting about Mockingjay Pt 1 (2014) is the criticism its received for being a movie adaptation of half a book more than being critiqued for the movie it is. That’s not to say I’m hating on my fellow critics and movie fans as much as I’m saying that the film got a bad rap before it even screened.

Of course, there’s nothing the movie could do to repair itself from its already negative standing among critics. To offer up only a first half of a story and leave the audience hanging for a year is a cruel move. But I think punishing the film for this is like pointing the finger at the victim rather than the wrong-doer. Historically speaking, Twilight and Harry Potter started the trend of YA book series being adapted into films, and then slicing the epic finale into two films. The short version we understand this as? A cash grab.

The cash grab has become the center of discussion revolving around Mockingjay Pt 1, thus painting it black and predicting its future location on FYE clearance shelves next to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1 (2011) for years to come.

David Yates let me read only the first half of the Deathly Hallows before shooting this pointless film . . .

Personally, I walked into the theater expecting what everyone predicted: a cash grab that left me bored, disappointed, and unimpressed. But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now bunkered in District 13, where she’s demanding for the rescue of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), walking around angry and confused, and desperately hoping she can finally be left alone after suffering and surviving two Hunger Games.

As fellow readers and fans of the book series, we all know that Katniss will still be put on display in the third book. But instead of fighting to the death for public entertainment, instead she’ll become the official symbol of hope, representing the good in this battle against the evil Capitol, run by dictatorial President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

And it’s “moves and countermoves,” as Mr. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reminds viewers. It’s all about how Katniss is perceived. She’s to be an ally for District 13, a glimmer of hope for fighting districts, a threat to the Capitol, a demand to come home for Peeta, and perhaps a pillar of strength both for herself and Finnick (Sam Claflin), as they seek strength in knowing they’re loved ones are suffering at the hands of Snow.

RIP, Mr. Hoffman.

Seeing Mockingjay Pt 1 has really made me want to reread the book upon which its based. I wasn’t expecting the action, the blanks to be filled in, and the perspectives outside of Katniss’s to entertain me the way writers Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and book author Suzanne Collins presented them in this third film installment.

This new dark chunk in the dystopian cake seemed to present a new layer of young adult film adaptations to movie viewers. For me, the message was sent that for being a film based off a popular young adult series, that Mockingjay Pt 1 wasn’t required to sit in a box labeled “YA adaptations.” Mockingjay Pt 1 played to its strengths and took risks, not just because studios required the book to be split into two films, but because both the writers and director Francis Lawrence actually seemed to want to make a good movie.

While the previous movies showed Katniss’s struggle to deal with the hypocrisy of the Capitol and ultimately survive in the hunger games, Mockingjay focused its time on how Heavensbee, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) along with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and an entire camera team presenting Katniss to the public, which proved to be a greater struggle than fighting in the games for Katniss. In the games, Katniss could be her true self among strangers, because she understood she needed to survive, and she felt comfortable with a bow and arrow. But force her in front of a camera and ask her to rally the districts while she was still suffering PTSD and desiring to recover Peeta wasn’t working. So they took her to the ruins of District 12 and a makeshift hospital of other districts’s survivors.

It seems like more and more seasoned actors and actresses join The Hunger Games (2012) universe with each movie, and they support the foundation of an already solid script and coherent direction. While Jennifer Lawrence plays the star, it is the supporting cast that ultimately sells the film, from Woody Harrelson to Stanley Tucci, to newcomer Julianne Moore.

I actually pull off the gray hair rather well, yes?

James Newton Howard scores this third film, playing off the original themes he created in the first Hunger Games film. The special effects are even amped up, including explosions and some exciting action scenes. One particular scene had me especially fascinated and on edge, as we got to see some District 13 soldiers go on a rescue mission inside the Capitol while Katniss kept Snow on the line to “distract” him. The additions the movie offers that readers missed out on seem to work well for movie audiences, filling in the holes instead of confusing viewers who haven’t read the books.

Mockingjay Pt 1 did include a few things that bothered me, such as the wigs Jennifer Lawrence donned. It was obvious it wasn’t her real hair, and I found it distracting throughout the film. I also felt like Gale (Liam Hemsworth) wasn’t given enough to do, so he seemed to just be walking around, hoping to add to the film with his good Aussie looks since he rarely got any lines.

Despite those issues, I left the theater much more impressed than I expected to be when I walked in. I think if viewers and critics alike can overlook the obvious cash grab ordeal that has hovered over the film, I think many people can agree that Mockingjay Pt 1 is a solid installment in Collins’s epic book-to-screen adaptations. While the odds were certainly not in the film’s favor to succeed with critics, I give Mockingjay Pt 1

Eye Art1Eye Art1Eye Art1
1/2 EYES ON SCREEN.

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Do you think it deserves a place beside the first two films? Sound off in the comments below.

Five Film Trends in the Last Five Years

While the past decade has boasted higher ticket prices at the theaters, the art of film, or plainly stated, the box office records, have show some major trends in movies over the past five years. While this list can easily exceed five trends, these are ones I have noticed and researched.

5) Dystopian book-to-film adaptations on the rise

Recently, I published a post on a comparison of The Hunger Games (2012) and Divergent (2014) films. Those two movies are part of only two of the major book-turned-film franchises to hit the box office over the past five years. Most film fans are no stranger to the dystopian film genre. The Matrix (1999) series started in the late ’90s. Tom Cruise’s film The Minority Report (2002) was based on Philip K. Dick’s short story. Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and Twelve Monkeys (1995) are only three offerings of the genre we were offered in the 1980s and ’90s. But in the past five years (2010-2014), I have noticed many dystopian books get a movie deal.

Never-Let-Me-Go-30929_5

The first one in the past five years I thought of was Never Let Me Go (2010), a British sci-fi drama that focused on the lives of three clones who exist for the purpose of donating their organs to others. Another popular, although unsuccessful film, is Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (2010), a dystopian film based on the controversial novel by Ayn Rand. One book that, while may not be considered dystopian in nature, nevertheless has its film adaptation fit well enough into the dystopian genre is World War Z (2013), starring Brad Pitt. Two other noteworthy films to include in this category are Dredd (2012) and Oblivion (2013), each based off graphic novels, the latter inspired by Joseph Kosinski’s unpublished manuscript of the same name.

Of course, the most well-known dystopian book-to-film adaptations include the box-smashing The Hunger Games series, with the final two movies getting released this year and 2015; Divergent, the movie based on the popular YA series written by Veronica Roth; The Giver, an unsuccessful film adaptation that didn’t sit well with critics, yet was inspired by a prominent book written in the early ’90s (you can see my review of the movie here); and The Maze Runner, the the first of three popular James Dashner novels that will be released next month in theaters.

4) Female protagonist films lead the box office

In the 1950s and ’60s, there were women-centered films and female protagonists. They were marketed in a much more sexist way then, but the times have changed, and more films have starred women. But in the last five years, films with female-protagonists have led the box office. According to Time‘s article “5 Things We’ve Learned in 5 Years of Box Office Reports,” published just this past April, the year 2012 included three movies in the top eight that starred women: The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence; Breaking Dawn Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart; and Brave, starring the talented voice work of Kelly Macdonald. The same article notes that last year, three of the top six films had female protagonists (Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Indina Menzel in Frozen).

Perhaps the most notable fact that supports the idea that female protagonist films are leading the box office is that 2013’s highest-grossing film was the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the first movie since 1965’s The Sound of Music (starring Julie Andrews) to fill that top spot.

Of course, The Hunger Games franchise are not the only female-starring movies to make a splash at the box office over the past five years. Salt (2010), Hanna (2011), and Haywire (2012) were all female-led movies that obtained positive scores with both critics and viewers alike, with Angelina Jolie’s action film leading the box office with over $100 million.

3) Comic book movies no longer niche genre

When Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman (2002), I thought it was a special case. Personally, I loved that movie. My family regularly rented it from Blockbuster. It was the first superhero movie I had seen that wasn’t about Batman or Superman. The first Batman movie was released in theaters in 1966. I was amazed how odd it was that in 2002, it wasn’t considered a usual thing for a movie to be based on a comic book character, unless it was Superman or Batman. Blade 2 (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003),  Hellboy (2004), and Catwoman (2004) were all released in the next three years following Raimi’s first Spiderman, just a few of the comic-based movies to get released in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, was released in theaters in 2000.

In the early 2000s, there’s a sense that many film critics didn’t take the comic book based film as seriously as other film genres, such as dramas, biopics, and comedies. But times have changed, and there has been a new acceptance of comic-based films as Marvel has mapped out its future in movies for at least the next six years. (This is a fun article worth checking out, Marvel fans.) DC seems to take note of Marvel, now working on its own agenda for a Batman vs. Superman movie along with a Justice League film franchise in the works.

While it isn’t perfect, I found a list that compiles every superhero movie released, both on TV and in theaters, including both animated and live-action films. A quick view of the list would prove that comic book movies are no longer niche, but far more commonplace as they have found a place at the movies, considerably expanding its audience. I would personally credit Christopher Nolans’s The Dark Knight trilogy for giving audiences and critics a darker, more serious adaptation of comic based films, proving that just because the movie is based off a comic book character, doesn’t mean it can’t be a stylistic, entertaining, and bold film worthy of praise.

2) Sequels and remakes lead the way

Perhaps this trend has existed more than just in the past five years, but I imagine most anyone can agree that few original screenplays make it to the big screen today, and if they do, they usually do not sell the most tickets or perform as successfully. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, such as 2010’s Inception, the original screenplay penned by Christopher Nolan, but let’s get back to the point.

Fan art that just makes you laugh 🙂

Here is a non-exclusive, incomplete list over the past five years of major sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots that premiered each year:

2010: Clash of the Titans (sequel), Why Did I Get Married Too? (sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake), Iron Man 2 (sequel), Shrek Forever After (sequel), Sex and the City 2 (sequel), The A-Team (remake), The Karate Kid (remake), Toy Story 3 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (sequel), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (sequel), True Grit (remake)

2011: Scream 4 (sequel), Paranormal Activity 3 (sequel), Fright Night (remake), The Hangover Part 2 (sequel), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (reboot), Kung Fu Panda 2 (sequel), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (sequel), Fast Five (sequel), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (sequel), Cars 2 (sequel), Happy Feet 2 (sequel), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (sequel)

2012: The Dark Knight Rises (reboot, sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man (reboot), The Expendables 2 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (sequel), Men in Black 3 (sequel), Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (sequel), Prometheus (prequel), Wrath of the Titans (sequel), Total Recall (remake), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (sequel), The Bourne Legacy (sequel)

2013: Iron Man 3 (sequel), Carrie (remake), Despicable Me 2 (sequel), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (sequel), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (sequel), Kick-Ass 2 (sequel), Man of Steel (reboot), Monsters University (sequel), Red 2 (sequel), Evil Dead (remake), Scary Movie 5 (sequel), The Great Gatsby (remake), Star Trek Into Darkness (reboot, sequel), The Hangover 3 (sequel)

2014: Annie (remake), 300: Rise of an Empire (sequel), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reboot, sequel), Godzilla (remake), X-Men: Days of Future Past (prequel, sequel), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (sequel), Transformers: Age of Extinction (sequel), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (reboot, sequel), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (sequel)

What’s even funnier about it is that if you google “remakes and sequels for the year [fill in year],” every year for the past five years contains articles similarly titled to “[insert year]” is the year of remakes and sequels!

1) A billion dollars isn’t a billion dollars anymore

A quick check at recent box office records, or the same Time‘s article I’ve been citing throughout this post shows that the billion dollar list, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) becoming its first entry, has now grown to a whopping 19 movies, including both last year’s Iron Man 3 and Frozen.

List of Highest Grossing Films

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.” Green indicates the film is still playing in theaters around the world.

Looking at that list, you’ll notice that only three of those movies were released in the 1990s. Twelve of those films entered the list during the 2010s. But what’s most interesting about the list is that it isn’t adjusted for inflation, which changes everything, especially the list of highest-grossing films:

Highest Grossing Films Adjusted for Inflation

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.”

Now it’s your turn, folks. What trends have you noticed in film in the past five years? Which trends do you find to be most dominant? Have some trends lasted longer than others? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts! 

AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?

Favorite Five Films of 2012 (January–June)

I’ve been seeing some of these posts pop up on friends’ sites, so I decided to add my own. I actually have found the first half of 2012 to be relatively uneventful and dull at the movies. There have been just a few hits that I’ve seen, and even fewer films that have resonated with me. I really see the 2012 movie year starting in July as not only big films like The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises arrive on the scene, but also films like the next slice of the Bourne series hits theaters; the Total Recall reboot; the end of the Twilight mess series; the next movie featuring Viola Davis (Won’t Back Down); Tom Hooper’s sophomore Oscar attempt/highly anticipated musical, Les Miserables; Quentin Taratino’s next big looks-to-be-a-hit Django Unchained; Leo DiCaprio’s latest attempt at getting recognized by the Academy/major book-to-film adaptation (The Great Gatsby), and many, many more films I have left out.

Unfortunately, I have missed out on a few films that I think could have made this list, namely The GreySalmon Fishing in the YemenMy Sister’s Sister (geez, big year for Emily Blunt, eh?), Being Flynn, and Moonrise Kingdom (this is killing me as I’m typing this–wish I would have seen this while it was in theaters).

Honorable Mentions

The Woman in Black — You can see my post on play and film comparisons/contrasts.

This Means War — While the film was silly and thoughtless in parts, it was entertaining to watch throughout.

Five Year Engagement — The Sesame Street impersonations were worth the admission price.

5) The Hunger Games

This movie makes it on the list for a lack of better options. From a film perspective, it had its issues, but was very moving and done well in enough parts that I was able to get sucked into the story. The supporting cast performances really held the film together, and Jennifer Lawrence owned the lead role.

4) 21 Jump Street

Some of the best movies tend to be unexpected, and with leading dudes Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, expectations were flying especially low in my mind. However, the film exceeded many film critics’ opinions as well, landing a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was hilarious, it was well-acted, it was entertaining, and it had one great cameo in it. I look forward to watching this again.

3) The Avengers

I won’t admit to the number of times I saw The Avengers in theaters, but it’s safe to say that I loved the film. Great direction and writing from Joss Whedon lended itself nicely to the collaboration of multiple superheros sharing the screen in a project that clearly took years to fully develop. Hilarious and action-packed, The Avengers fed comic book and movie geeks alike the pure geekdom on screen that we crave.

2) Friends with Kids

loved this movie. It was so unexpected and underrated for how hilarious and touching it was. Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, directed, and starred in this film, and she deserves some serious recognition for accomplishing those feats. Westfeldt and Adam Scott shared a natural chemistry on screen, and the duo provided a fresh perspective to an idea that, while appearing impulsive and clumsy on the surface, really works well for a film.

1) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Perhaps I’m still on a high from seeing this film a little over a week ago, but I have yet to get the film out of my head. I’m already wanting to see it again. I’ve already downloaded half the songs from the soundtrack. This movie is a fun, thought-provoking treat from the hands of rookie director Lorene Scafaria. It’s heartfelt, it’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s entirely worth watching in my humble opinion.

OK, what has been your favorite film of the year so far? What do you think of my favorites? Any hidden gems from the first half of the year that you’d recommend I see?

AEOS Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

And . . . I’m back! It’s felt like forever since I blogged on AEOS, and I’m happy to be back after a very rough month. How’s everyone been? I’ve been able to check out posts by several of you when I’ve found the time. Bear with me as I get my footing again these next couple weeks. Originally when I set out to blog regularly, I didn’t take into account how difficult it would be to post that regularly with my current schedule. This time around, I plan to post 2-3 posts/week. If I ever reel more than that out, then I will just count myself lucky 🙂 OK, let’s get on with it already . . .

The most recent film I have watched has been rookie director Rupert Sanders’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Expectations were flying high with all the marketing and comparisons to that of the inferior Mirror, Mirror, the other of two takes on the fairytale classic. What can I say? I felt let down. A below average rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46%)  confirmed that this Snow White fell short of the mark, despite having some positive aspects to it.

Chemical Imbalance

There probably isn’t a better way to describe the film than that is was all over the place. The tone, the score, the characters . . . everything was constantly shifting, lacking an overall center to bring the film together as a whole. There was an imbalance that made the film fall flat. The actors did the best they could to show heart and express emotion, but I didn’t really care because they were under-developed. The script really dragged the story down, not giving the actors much to work with in the beginning, using recycled plot devices to carry the story through.

What came as a big disappointment to me was the score. I normally dig the work of James Newton Howard, even when I don’t care for the movie he scored for. But in this case, the score was all over the place, reflecting the movie’s primary issue.

Character Actors

Charlize Theron is one impressive character actor. She seems to know exactly how to play your average, everyday gal, as well as an evil queen desperate to retain her beauty. The make-up transformations were stellar, showing the effects of her aging. Theron embodied the necessary evil to play this creepy character.

Then you have an actor like Chris Hemsworth, who is still establishing himself, having only been in a few films and being known primarily for another character, Thor. I thought Hemsworth did a pretty good job. Although he was never known as anything more than “Huntman” and rocked an accent that made it difficult to detect what he was saying in parts, he did what he could with what he had to work with. Hemsworth lacks no heart or emotion in expressing himself, and that came through in his Huntsman performance.

As for Kristen Stewart . . . given my high dislike for the Twilight series and her association with it, it makes it difficult to judge her without making some kind of comparison. Unfortunately, she probably won’t be able to ever separate herself fully from the films. But putting that aside (as much as is possible!), I found myself impressed with the physicality of her role. Although a stunt person probably filled in for a lot of the hard parts, I can imagine the role was physically difficult for her, whether she was riding a horse, fighting, swimming, jumping off a cliff, or sliding into a sewer. As for the acting? There was a deafness to her performance. I really felt like she tried, but ultimately failed in giving a great performance. Perhaps with more opportunities she will be able to slowly slip away from her Twilight association and move into roles with more depth. That being said, I think Stewart wasn’t terrible. And that’s an improvement.

Channeling Aragorn

I couldn’t help but feel like Stewart was channeling Aragorn from Lord of the Rings during the second half of the film. Rallying the troops, leading the Duke and people into battle (without proper head gear, no less), and being crowned queen in the end. I was ready for her to look at the hobbits dwarves and say “You bow to no one.”

There were other moments when I felt like I was watching a rip-off version of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but perhaps so many films borrow and share themes, that it was difficult to not have those thoughts while watching. When Snow White and crew came riding in on the beach, I felt like the they were attempting to breech Helm’s Deep. The relationship between Snow White and the Queen made me think of Harry Potter and Voldemort. My sister did not appreciate my continuous commentary on such comparison during the film. I digress.

Saviors and Sinking Ship

The visuals were the savior of the film. Both the visual and special effects were stunning. The queen’s aging, the mirror, the scene in the fairy world–all were captivating to watch. One scene in particular that I appreciated was when the Queen tricked Snow White by channeling the Duke’s son. It was the first and only time I found myself surprised the entire film. I already knew Snow White would somehow kill the Queen by blocking with one arm and stabbing her with the other until her soul left. Too bad. I wasn’t even trying to call plot points.

Aside from the visual prowess, the film was average at best. I credit screenwriters Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock for dragging down the already sinking ship.

What did you think of the film? What parts did you like, and which ones could have been better? 

The Hunger Games . . . It’s Everywhere . . . Make It Stop!

There’s been so much hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games lately. My parents went to Hawaii last week, including during the opening of the movie “the world will be watching.” Neither of my parents are into fiction. Neither of them watch a lot of movies, or really get into current trends. Yet when I talked to them last night, both of them kept saying how everyone over in Hawaii was talking about the film! “The Hunger Games this and The Hunger Games that,” they kept saying.

I went to see the film this past weekend with four friends. I commented on multiple posts by several good blogging friends who saw the film and put in their two cents about it on the blogosphere. I talked to friends at work who want to see it. I noticed that my ten-year-old piano student had started reading the book yesterday. I walked into my old high school a couple weeks ago and talked to a couple students, one of which was reading the third book in the series. When I walked into the gymnasium of my previous church, there was a Hunger Games book sitting on one of the bleachers. I go on Facebook and read that one of my friends is asking for book recommendations . . . except for The Hunger Games (which made me laugh).

Last summer, I walked into a Borders bookstore that would soon be going out of business. One of the first book stands held several copies of the first Hunger Games book. I picked up a copy, never having heard anything about the series except for possibly the name in passing. I noticed that it was only $4 and figured, why not? If I hate the book, I’ve wasted only $4. So I bought it on a whim, never expecting to enjoy it. A month later, I had finished it (I’m not THAT slow of a reader–it just took me a while to get into it.). So I bought the second and then the third book, and by the time I had finished the third (which took me a grand total of 2 days), I was passing the series on to my sister and my friends, who mentioned it to their friends. This past January, I met with five other friends who had read the series and we discussed the themes, asked questions, and came up with “if this had happened, what would you do” type scenarios.

And now it’s all this “the odds will be ever in your favor” and “the world is watching” stuff. And I don’t want to complain about that–it’s marketing, and I think they hit the bullseye when they really pushed it through social media, namely Facebook. It seemed like there was a Hunger Games campaign everywhere, with no escape of it.

I’ll happily admit it–I thoroughly enjoyed the books. Whether I compare the series to other series or not, I can honestly say I enjoyed them. They’re interesting, there is a level of depth to them and to the characters, and I considered the books to be well-written. And despite a few minor quips, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. So much so, that I’ll probably see it again in theaters one more time.

All of this leads me to asking a few questions–when something is so highly marketed, when something is trending so much, gaining so much popularity at the time, do you enjoy riding the popularity wave with it, or would you rather wait it out and then get into it? Or how do you react when you “got” into something far earlier than the rest of the world? Does it frustrate you when people hop the bandwagon because it’s cool or popular, when you actually devoted time to a series way back when few had even heard of it? Is there a different sense of appreciation there?

I had a friend who enjoyed reading the Twilight series, but after it became this HUGE deal that was more about Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson, the idea of liking Twilight almost became embarrassing because of the crazy trend that it became. It was no longer some light story Stephanie Meyer composed–it was this tween love triangle that primarily attracted flocks of junior high girls rushing to the theater on opening night.

It seems nearly impossible for a film to take a popular book series (or original source material) and not change the status of the story, and particularly the way its viewed, these days. Would more adults be attracted to The Hunger Games if the series was in the Adult section and not the Young Adult section of a store? Film is a powerful, powerful (so powerful, I had to say it twice three times) medium to tell stories today.

How does marketing play such a huge role today in “who goes to see what” today? Does a popular film make you want to go see it, or does its mass popularity detract you from getting involved? Would you prefer to get into something when it isn’t trending, or do you enjoy being a part of something popular at the time?

The 5 Worst Movies I Saw in 2011

While unfortunately, I can’t include the latest Twilight, Nic Cage’s most recent debacle Trespass, or the Adam Sandler slip-up Jack and Jill because I didn’t bother seeing any one of those, there were five shining, terrible gems that worked hard to make this list.

5. Abduction/ The Hangover Pt. 2

Two movies tie for this spot because while both had their entertaining moments, both were pretty bad. Abduction had as many laughable moments as the second Hangover, while Taylor Lautner tried far too hard to be a young Jason Bourne. I will admit that some of the fight sequences were impressive on Lautner’s end, but between the over-dramatic dialogue and failed attempt to issue a sort of suspense that wasn’t quickly followed by a laugh, the script, Lautner, and the poorly used supporting cast made this movie all the more a mess and even painful to watch at times.

The Hangover Pt. 2 reigns as the biggest disappointment for a sequel for me.  Director Todd Philips took the formula that made the original a great hit and decided to repeat it action for action rather than employ any form of originality in this movie. For having such a hilarious leading cast under his belt, Philips really blew this great opportunity to make a hilarious sequel.

4) Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher was just a bad movie. It’s a great example of how to bring movie-goers in on opening weekend, and then allow bad word-of-mouth to drive any other potential viewers away. From the looks of the trailer, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, and Cameron Diaz were going to make us crack up throughout the movie. I can’t recall laughing one time the entire movie. Every one of Segel’s few scenes were shown in the trailer, leaving no possibility of surprise or laughs. Diaz played an entirely unlikable character that never felt like bringing you over to her side the entirety of the movie.

3) Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I'm as scared as Shia in this picture.

This was the movie I wasted the most money on in 2011. Michael Bay successfully made one of the worst movies of the year without batting an eye. Shia Labeouf must have been coming off his latest run-in with the police or argument with a random bar-hopper, because his bad attitude was the only visible emotion he displayed on screen throughout the long, laborious three hour-length movie–1 1/2 hours too long. Then, in steps Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model that has never acted before, and lets us know within five minutes that that‘s the case. I had to even laugh at Bay’s attempt at jabbing Megan Fox with a line from one of the characters that was something like, “I HATED your old girlfriend. She’s so *insert negative remark here*. Scene after scene of unexplained phenomena continued while I stepped out of the theater to get a break from the madness and go to the bathroom.

2) The Green Hornet

Luckily, the movie theater’s credit card machines were down and I was able to see this movie for free, because only my time was wasted in this case. Perhaps some of the failure of this movie is due to it not finding it’s direction under Marvel, which has made many successful action/superhero movies. Seth Rogen blows in this movie more than other flops he has turned in year after year. Christopher Waltz fills the role of the worst villain I have ever seen in a movie. I have no clue what Cameron Diaz was doing in this movie, because she didn’t fit at all, and the bromanship between Rogen and Jay Chou quickly plummeted as they both attempted to over-induce the audience with their version of being dramatic. James Franco made an odd, but interesting cameo in the beginning, and he is the luckiest of them all because he got killed off so early. I wish Rogen and Chou would have followed in his footsteps, or better yet, not made this horrible movie.

1) Beastly

Beastly holds the number spot for worst movie I saw in 2011, because I couldn’t think of any other movie that was as bad as this one. There are so many problems with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Writer-director Daniel Barnz wrote one of the worst screenplays to make it on the big screen. It has to be the poorest attempt at taking a story/movie gem like Beauty and the Beast and trying to make a spiff off it. While Vanessa Hudgens could be a believable Beauty, every last one of her lines were oozing with sap, refusing to let her portray a normal, actual person who talks like a normal, actual person. Alex Pettyfer plays the “beast” character, that instead of losing his six-pack, gains a new set of tattoos and goes bald. “Pretty gruesome,” his character refers to his new look, but Hudgens declares that she’s seen worse, and now we all know that somehow in this pile of sloppy, self-indulgent, pretentious script, Beauty will wind up with the Beast. Which leads me to question many of the movie’s plotholes: Why would her father allow a complete stranger to hole her up in a house? Why does Pettyfer think gifts such as a designer purse  or wearing a mask will “woo” a girl downstairs? Which leads me to the biggest question of sorts, why did I sit through this entire movie? Or even more so, how did I not vomit throughout the movie?

What were the worst movies you saw in 2011? Did you like any of the ones that I couldn’t stand, or would you put them on your worst list too?

The Hunger Games: Following the Marketing Footsteps of Twilight?

Posts with titles like these typically turn off the sensible and rational audience, and they won’t get past the title. I completely understand that, and in some sense, would probably be the same way. There’s so much unnecessary, childish controversy over such unimportant issues, like which team someone has chosen sides with (Edward or Jacob), or what’s really the better series . . . Harry Potter or Twilight?

It gets exhausting seeing these articles explode with controversial chatter regarding them. And there’s all the marketing, and the fans picking sides, and dressing up as characters and such. Not that there isn’t anything wrong with that. There certainly isn’t. But a lot of it is immature and downright annoying to many mid-twenty plus people who just want to watch a movie in peace without developing a strategy of convincing everyone they meet that Twilight really is the best book series.

Besides, it’s not. If you ask me.

I’m really looking to Lionsgate for the answer to the title question–Are they planning to use the same (or similar) marketing campaign for The Hunger Games as they did for Twilight? First, there was madness over Jennifer Lawrence giving a preview of the series at the VMAs because *wait for it* Twilight already pulled that.

The second offense (or *stolen* marketing strategy) of The Hunger Games is this photo spread in Vanity Fair, particularly the picture of the main cast:

The Hunger Games Cast

Look any similar to Twilight‘s cast picture from Vanity Fair?

Twilight Cast

The obvious thing to keep in mind is that Vanity Fair did both spreads, and that they’re dealing with a nice ensemble of late teen to young adult cast. The silly thing is that at first glance of The Hunger Games cast, they all look happy, and the three (well . . . truly, two) main cast members are all nicely slated on the side. If anyone’s read the series, he or she knows it’s not a happy set of books–which makes the picture a bit deceiving. The overall story isn’t a love story; in fact, *spoiler alert* everyone in that picture dies in the first book except for a few. Ironic?

Regardless, I’m trying to accept that The Hunger Games choice marketing will only continue to follow in its predecessor, Twilight‘s over-induced, tween-obsessive, marketed-to-death, painfully young, annoying, and naive footsteps. Although Twilight has grossed considerable income by said marketing, the sad part is that money has become the massive success of the series; not a respect for the story, the author, or even the fans. And while people can argue back and forth about its true success or greatness, at the end of the day, Twilight won’t be remembered for being an love-at-first-sight story, a love-triangle teen drama, or an action-packed story of werewolves versus vampires (am I right on all the facts, Twi-hards?). It’s going to be remembered as the silly series that grossed a lot of money, starring the pale and high-looking Kristen Stewart partnered with Robert Pattinson. And I think that would be a gracious memory for most viewers.

All of that to say, that I sincerely have higher hopes for Suzanne Collins’s series. She’s an excellent young adult fiction author who had a great story to tell. I suppose it really is up to people like Jennifer Lawrence to decide which direction the series will follow in terms of marketing. Yet looking at Vanity Fair‘s take on the series, I have a bad feeling . . .

Love Triangle? Not so much . . .

2012: A Peak for Film Series?

The year 2012 holds possibly some of the greatest film conclusions and beginnings of series (and then a few more . . . ) that have not only your typical fanboy jumping with excitement, but your average theater attender as well. Now, I will not be including Scary Movie 5 or Men in Black 3 (sorry Anna Faris and Will Smith) in this post, but that doesn’t mean I’m heartless. If anything, I shouldn’t be including the Twilight movie, but I think it’s too anticipated for me to leave it out.

Let’s start with the epic conclusions:

1) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Perhaps the most anticipated film of 2012, Christopher Nolan plans to wrap up his Batman trilogy in July of next summer. Already photos, videos, a teaser trailer, and various rumors have leaked from all the proper channels, just fueling the fire of what Nolan fans expect to be better than The Dark Knight, a film considered one of the most remarkable and best of this generation. He has the same crew and a few new faces. The big question is . . . will The Dark Knight Rises live up to the impossible expectations of viewers, or will it *just* miss the mark and be considered the film that couldn’t? Being a Nolan fan myself, I have high hopes, but I’m afraid all this pre-excitement feels dazzling for now, but will continue to build until there is no momentum left. Let’s hope the pressure doesn’t get to him and he delivers an even more epic film than the previous Dark Knight.

2) The Hobbit

If I were to get technical, The Hobbit would actually be a pre-sequel, opening a slot for it in the “beginning series,” but since Peter Jackson has already given everyone three fantastic Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit actually places fourth in that line, making it the last. Tearing out a page from the X-Men series playbook, and following suite via J.R.R. Tolkein’s intended order for the series (he first wrote Lord of the Rings, and then later penned The Hobbit), Jackson expectedly unexpectedly is directing this epic beginning end film. He’s been posting production videos to his Facebook page, only egging on the film geeks that will watch anything LOTR they can click their mouses on.

3) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (can this title be any longer?)

Stop with the Twilight!

Unfortunately for any Twilight fans reading this (are there any . . . ?), I don’t have much to say about this film because the only one in the series I ever saw was the first one, which was a big disappointment for me with all the uproar of how fantastic the series supposedly was. I agree – it’s just my opinion, but even a fan would have to admit that the overexposure of Bella, Edward, and Jacob marketing is driving even proud fans into dark corners to hide their embarrassment over liking the series. Perhaps Stephanie Meyers really had something special, but what could have been something worthwhile got destroyed when it went viral. The nation’s critics never gave any one of the films in the series an overall positive rating. And don’t even get me started with the Harry Potter comparisons (you should know where my allegiances lie, anyway!). Anyways, I know I should include some kind of information about this film, but the only knowledge I really have to offer is that this is the final film in the series. After mimicking Harry Potter‘s successful technique of dividing the final book of the series into two films, the second installment of Breaking Dawn will be hitting theaters mid-November next year. Personally, I look forward to the end of it so I can finally stop hearing about it (I can imagine Taylor Lautner has similar sentiments). I digress.

OK, let’s hit up the beginnings now:

1) The Avengers

If you saw Captain America and then waited through the end credits, you were probably one of the first to see the teaser for the upcoming Avengers flick, due to be released in May of next year. Since then, posters and a fuller trailer mainly focusing on Robert Downy Jr.’s humor, have been released online. This year we got to see Thor and Captain America, and last year we got to see the second installment of Iron Man. Now we get to see all three grace the screen with an additional Mark Ruffalo taking a swing at playing The Hulk (not that we’re going to miss Edward Norton . . . ), along with Jeremy Renner playing Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson playing Black Widow (remember her from Iron Man?), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This should be a pretty epic cast lead by none other than Mr. Joss Whedon, who has a big enough fanbase of his own to bring in viewers.

2) The Revamped (“Amazing”)  Spiderman

The Amazing Spiderman

This decision to already redesign Spiderman has divided fans . . . loyalists cling to Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire while the newer, younger generation who worship Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and were blown away by The Social Network are opening their minds to this new possibility. Especially since fanboys claimed the previous unfinished trilogy messed up the “true” story of Peter Parker’s love life (Spiderman wasn’t always in love with the slutty version of Mary-Jane Watson from the previous series?!), they believe Marc Webb, the ironically named director, will be able to make things right this time around.

3) The Hunger Games

I personally have a lot wearing on this first movie. I read the trilogy this summer and fell in love with Katniss, Peeta, and the world of Panem. But after the out-of-control marketing that spawned from the dreaded Twilight series, I feel a sense of nervousness that The Hunger Games might try to follow in Bella and Edward’s shoes. Between Winter’s Bone, the X-Men prequel, and a few other small roles, I believe in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting ability, but this new taste for over-marketing, tween obsession with fictional book trilogies turned film series has even me concerned for the overall appearance and direction that Ross might take the series. He’s made some gems in the past (Dave, Big), but I hope that in the end that the green isn’t the only reason this film series may become successful. Plus, Lawrence seems capable of taking a photo that doesn’t make her appear angry at the world or high or both simultaneously (Kristen Stewart, anyone?). So that’s a good start, right?

4) Superman: Man of Steel

Not much information has been floating around regarding this film, more than likely because of all the epic film conclusions/beginnings preceding it (just re-read this post if you’re confused). But the information we do have access to is that Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother, will be directing, and that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams will be starring. I’m trying as hard as possible to not have some kind of vendetta against JNolan for casting Adams, a redhead, as Lois Lane (PLEASE DYE HER HAIR!?), but I’m finding it difficult. Since her role in The Fighter, Adams has proven that she can effectively play an edgy character. But that doesn’t mean she’s a great fit for Lois Lane. Personally, I find it difficult to imagine the Enchanted princess to properly fill the sassy character’s shoes without looking completely out of place, but any hope lies in that a Nolan is directing the film.