Category Archives: Film Reviews

Mockingjay: a film that just fails to engage.

Last night I saw the film Mockingjay and left the cinema disappointed. I haven’t seen the two earlier films in this series, but a film, even if part of a series, should be able to stand on its own feet. MockingjayIn this film the bad guy, President Snow, fails to behave in a way that evokes any emotional reaction from an audience. Katniss fails to do a great deal to establish herself as a sympathetic character, except for an early scene where she decides not to shoot a wild stag. Her supposed feelings for Peeta are not convincing. So unless you are already emotionally invested in disliking Snow and being on-side with Katniss, there’s not much to make you feel like taking sides. On the good side, some of the outdoor photography is quite well framed, and this is, I believe, the last film of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Sadly, unless you are already a fan of the Hunger games series, I can’t recommend this film. It’s not that it’s a terribly made film, it just fails to engage.

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Why would you ever trust a human? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

It seems ironic that I saw the new Planet of the Apes movie in the week that the news has been dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the shooting down of a civilian airliner over the Ukraine. An no I’m not comparing any side in this conflict to apes. What I am comparing is conflict to conflict, mistrust to mistrust, and the sad tendencies of groups to fall into factionalism, and coups.

In a post-epidemic world, humans try to reopen an electricity plant, which happens to be located in a territory controlled by apes. Leaders on both sides, the humans and the apes in this film, have underlings who conspire to overthrow them and wreck any chances of peace between the two ‘tribes.’ Each side has characters that have lost family. Caesar, the leader of the apes, wants to avoid war. Koba, his second-in-charge, betrays him and accuses him
of loving humans more than his own kind. Does any of that sound familiar? Americans who are old enough to remember the civil rights era might recall an insult flung by whites at whites who supported the black struggle for equality.

The film makes us primarily see the conflict through the eyes of the apes. After all, why should apes trust humans who kept them in cages and experimented on them? And how should apes respond when a group that has oppressed them in the past wants to restart the generation of electricity – a thing that gave humans so much power in the past?

As a film, the ‘motion capture’ technology that takes the movement of humans and translates it into animated apes is clever.  I generally dislike films that rely too much on special effects to compensate for not having a decent script. This film doesn’t have that problem, although there are more ‘action’ scenes – smash, bash, crash, boom – than I usually like in a movie.  Unfortunately, the females get relegated to the roles of grieving parents and caregivers. No female character makes a decisive change to the direction of the plot. All the ‘serious’ roles go to men, far more than in the average Hollywood movie. All that being said it’s a good movie, perhaps very good, but not brilliant.

Note: this is my blog site. For my site about thesis editing services, go to the  RichardSnowEditing site.

Jersey Boys: Okay for the music, but not a strong plot.

Jersey BoysJersey Boys will appeal to those who have a fondness for the music of the late 50s and early 60s, but if you’re looking for a story with a strong conflict  and character development, this isn’t your film. A lot of the plot is a device to let the singers do a song, but – hey- aren’t all musicals? The plot is mostly a mish-mash of personal conflicts and squabbles between the band members over who gets credit for what, and over the financial troubles that Tommy DeVito caused for the group.  The film covers the group from the late fifties to around 1970, with no attempt to ‘age’ the actors’ physical appearance during that era. The passing years are suggested by changes to clothing styles and haircuts. The acting is competent, but the director uses four characters all speaking directly to the camera at different times during the film. This is a hard technique to pull off in a film even for one character, and I found it constantly took me out of being absorbed in the story. In my view, the use of four characters speaking straight to the audience is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. Personally, I don’t like the falsetto voice registry that almost all Frankie Valli’s songs were done in, but that’s just me. If you’re after a light-hearted bit of musical entrainment to kill a couple of hours, this might be a reasonable choice. I’d give it 3 out of 5.

Note: this is my blog site. For my site about thesis editing services, go to the  RichardSnowEditing site.

How do we deal with loss? Review of ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, superbly-acted film that deals with some of the big questions in life: how does loving someone with a terminal illness affect our own life and theirs, how do we want to be remembered after our deaths, will we be remembered at all, and does it matter one way or the other?

The Fault in our Stars film poster
The Fault in our Stars film poster

Teenagers Hazel, Gus , and Isaac all have different forms of cancer. Hazel has thyroid cancer that  has migrated to her lungs, making her cart an oxygen bottle everywhere. Gus had cancer resulting in the amputation of a lower leg. Isaac has had one eye removed due to a tumour, and will soon lose the other eye. They all meet at a teen cancer support group. Gus declares that he wants to live an extraordinary life and be remembered after he is dead. Hazel thinks this is grandiose nonsense:

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”

A relationship starts to bloom  between Hazel and Gus, but Hazel tries to warn Gus off investing too much emotion in her. She anticipates that her death will be like a hand grenade, damaging everyone around her. They swap favourite books, and Gus finds that Hazel’s is about a kid who dies of cancer, and the bookends in mid-sentence. They contact the author, an American living in Amsterdam, and arrange a trip to Holland to meet him. Instead of answering Hazel’s questions about the end of the book, they discover the author is a nasty drunk who kicks them out of his apartment. (They don’t know it just yet, but the author’s book is based on the death of his own daughter from cancer.)

They return to America, where Hazel’s condition worsens, Gus’s cancer returns, Isaac has lost his other eye, and the three write eulogies in preparations for each other’s funerals. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the film, I won’t reveal who dies first, or in what circumstances.

The notion that loving someone exposes us to hurt is not new. There is an old saying that, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The film puts it a little differently. One character says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.” After watching the film, I thought about how loss is inevitable. I have two kids in their twenties. Both practice sports that carry a  risk of death. Perhaps I’d be happier if they did basketball or karate or surfing, or some other fairly harmless activity,  but as a parent, I can’t control what my adult kids do. And I can’t spend my life worrying that they might get killed. The possibility of loss is just something we all have to live with. The characters in this film fight over how exactly you face loss. The dialogue is superbly written, and the acting is excellent. If you go to see it, watch the facial expressions of the main characters, and listen carefully to the dialogue. You might want to go see it twice. I did. So, has anybody else seen it, or read the book? What did you think?

Note: this is my blog site. For my site about thesis editing services, go to the  RichardSnowEditing site.

The Butler: preachy propaganda or historical truth?

I saw this film just after taking a course at my local college about the history of the civil rights movement in the US. You can read the demeaning treatment of blacks in segregated facilities, or about lynchings (which often involved much grotesque tortures than just hanging someone), but movies have the power to make intellectual issues hit home emotionally in a way history books can’t.

The Butler posterCecil Gaines was born in the 1920s,and became a butler who served eight presidents, from Eisenhower to Regan. One of his sons dies in Vietnam, while the other joins the Black Panthers. The conflicts between the family members about how Gaines serves the white man, and has to pretend to have no opinions, while one of the sons decides to fight the whites with violence by joining the Black Panthers, must have torn many black families apart.

The film repeatedly comes back to the issue of equal pay. The black staff in the White House were paid 40 percent less than the white staff, and various “progressive” presidents, (including Kennedy) did nothing to change this.

The film is well acted, and the photography is good. Some critics have said it tries to cover so much history that it comes across as a series of postcards. I guess that’s inevitable when you try to capture one person’s reaction to all the major events  of a thirty-year period. There is no time to explore any one event in depth.  A lot of people under the age of 30 would have no (or little) knowledge of some of the events shown (the Freedom Rides, the Vietnam War, the Resignation of Nixon.)

I found the film’s subject matter often depressing, even tho the film attempts to end on an up-beat note, showing the elderly Gaines witnessing the election of the first black president. It’s a well-made film, and may give some non-Americans a bit of a glimpse into race relations and how they have or haven’t changed over recent decades.

The reviews are mixed. some call it “preachy.” Some say it is designed as “Oscar bait.” On Rotten Tomatoes one reviewer writes:

  • Think of it as a Trojan horse. Apparently harmless, it takes key myths about the land of the free and inflicts an impressive amount of damage.

That reviewer obviously thought the myths of the “Land of the Free” were just myths and needed debunking.  Another writes:

  • Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.

It would be hard for a film to deal with the situation of black people in America from the 1920s to the 1980s and not show that some were not as free as others. It’s good film,  but I don’t think I’d see it twice. Did it seem to you like propaganda?  Was it “Oscar bait?” I’d be interested to hear what others thought. Feel free to leave a comment!

‘Gravity’ with Sandra Bullock: In space no one can hear your ship getting smashed up.

Gravity Film Poster
Gravity Film Poster

The film ‘Gravity’, with Sandra Bullock, and George Clooney is a visual masterpiece. Set initially aboard the  space shuttle Explorer, Bullock, Clooney and another astronaut are outside the Hubble telescope  attempting to fix some technical problem, when earth control tells them that a Russian attempt to destroy a defunct satellite has gone wrong, and space debris has been scattered in all directions. The debris soon hits Bullock and Clooney, and the Explorer, killing everyone but them. They have lost communication with earth. Using the booster packs they have on their backs, they get from destroyed craft to the International Space Station, only to find it abandoned. I’m guessing the ISS crew have left due to the space debris problem, but that point didn’t seem one hundred per cent clear from the film.  They then try to get from the ISS to the Russian craft Soyuz, but Clooney becomes entangled in chords, and he has to cut himself loose, sacrificing himself to save Bullock, and leaving Bullock to make it to the Soyuz alone. She has 90 minutes before the space junk completes a full orbit of the earth, and comes back to hit her a second time.

The basic theme of the film is survival during disaster, so the plot resembles the plots of other films and books where people find themselves in earthquakes, forest fires, floods and other natural catastrophes. Bullock is on her first space mission, so she’s a newbie who has to learn and figure out things as she goes along, and because of losing communication with earth, she is thrown onto her own resources.

The photography of the space shuttle and the explorer with earth below it is completely convincing, although I found myself unable to recognise a lot of the bits of earth as views from space. Perhaps my geography isn’t as good as I believed. Large parts of the film take place in silence, since we, as the audience, only hear what the astronauts themselves hear, and collisions of junk in space are, obviously soundless. This adds realism to the film.  A lot of the camera shots are held for a long time, so the film doesn’t suffer from Hollywood’s tendency to give us a new camera angle every two seconds.

I won’t discuss the ending, but I can promise the film is worth the money to see. I intend seeing it a second time before it finishes its run at the local cinema.

So has anybody else seen this film? What did you think? would you pay to see it again?

best wishes – Richard Snow

My novel Fire Damage, an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here. The novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here. A paperback version is available here. It’s also available as a Kindle on Amazon UK .  Blog: http://richardsnowwriter.com  twitter: @Richard_A_Snow

The Internship: good fun, worth seeing

The Internship: funny movie, well worth seeing

Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne

Last night I went to see The Internship, staring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Rose Byrne. It’s a classic “fish out of water” story, where the fish makes good against the odds. Two middle-aged guys who know less about technology than the average seventy-year-old get an internship at Google because they’ve run out of other job prospects. (The process of getting in seems a little like the way Reece Witherspoon got into Harvard in Legally Blond.) They find themselves with a bunch of twenty year old who can program in C++ and half a dozen languages I didn’t recognize. When asked to design an app, they suggest with something that already exists, and which is already known to all the twenty-somethings. Along the way, they have conflicts with another group of interns who are out to spoil their chances. A love interest arrives half way through the film (like all good Hollywood scripts). In this case she’s supposed to be Australian and she actually is. (Too many ‘Australians’ in American movies are British actors who can only do a half-plausible accent.) The film had a lot of good comedy lines, and they play the tech-newbie aspects of the Owen Wilson for all it’s worth. It’s a good film. You’ll probably like it. Take a night off and go.