The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I, the first of a two-part finale wrapping up the beloved and lucrative Hunger Games franchise, is a stand-in representation of a number of rages in Hollywood. A dystopian future in which the people, under the control of a brutish government, are beginning to rebel? Check. A tough, female protagonist who finds her emotions torn between two men? Double check. Even the idea of splitting the final novel in Suzanne Collins' young adult series into two films is matching the current "way to do things." Despite its familiar tendencies, Mockingjay - Part I is a solid beginning, a fine launching point for the true finale yet to come, and for what it's worth, it's as entertaining as it is justified.
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Wait, wrong movie. I wish we could wait until next year to write about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, because it's a two-part finale and this first one really is just half of a movie. And while I have so much to say, I'm just as anxious to see it conclude properly before I really get into The Hunger Games series in-depth. However, we can't wait a year because Mockingjay - Part 1 is in theaters, and if you want that big screen experience now's the time to make the trip. Unfortunately, Mockingjay seems to be experiencing the same problems as Harry Potter, with the split forcing the story to be drawn out a bit too much taking away from the visceral experience that made the first two films so good.
It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since The Farrelly Brothers brought audiences the silly comedy Dumb & Dumber. It was the directorial debut of Peter & Bobby Farrelly, and they were lucky to land the rubber faced comedy star that was Jim Carrey just as his career skyrocketed following the release of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask earlier in the same year (yes, all three of these movies came out in 1994), and his pairing with Jeff Daniels was more than intriguing. Now here we are 20 years later, and the lovable idiots Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas are back for another road trip in Dumber & Dumber To, and while the energy is still there, the comedy just doesn't land the same after two decades. More below!
There used to be a time when we would look up at the stars and dream. We would wonder what it was like out there, what we might find out amongst the endless black of space. But then things changed, we became obsessed with ourselves again, with battling each other for money and power, and we forgot how to dream. Along comes Interstellar, an exhilarating science fiction creation that once again reminds us that we can dream, that we get to breathe this fresh air on this beautiful planet, that we get to smile, cry and laugh. And it's those feelings that matter the most. It reminds us that the desire to connect is one of the most important aspects of humanity and that nothing–whether it be time or space or others–can break those bonds of love.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, there's a darkness surrounding Los Angeles that captivates moviegoers when it's presented in film. Writer/director Dan Gilroy understands this and realizes the darkness in its truest form with Nightcrawler, a crime drama that not only dishes on the grimiest of LA grime, but revels in it. With equal parts style, wit, and discomfort - the latter getting the slight edge, especially given the scuzzy-above-all-else performance from Jake Gyllenhaal - the film wallops the viewer's senses and expectations, a hint of satire pushing it well into the forefront of modern crime drama conversations, making it shine.
There's an odd correlation between cineplex screens and toy-store shelves these days. The movies-being-turned-into-toys-being-turned-into-movies cycle is hardly a 2014 revelation. But, with Michael Bay's most recent Transformers movie scraping the well in search for content, it finally felt like that synergistic cycle was a foregone conclusion. Entertainment and, God forbid, story were afterthoughts to the dollars and cents the film ultimately pulled in. I use Transformers as the example, because Bay's horror-movie production company, Platinum Dunes, has a product in which they'd like you to invest. It's called Ouija, and it's awful.
Writer and director David Ayer brings his particular brand of hard-hitting action and remorseless intensity to the muddied front of World War II-torn Europe in Fury, more specifically the metal beasts that rolled through the landscape on rusted tracks. Fury’s heart is in both the hardened men inside those tanks as well as the hellish events that made them that way. It pulls up a number of war movie tropes, some of which give the film a shopworn feel. Regardless, the out-and-out ferocity of Ayer’s camera and action with a staggering slate of performances led by Brad Pitt makes Fury as solid as any good war film before it.
While attending a film festival it's always exciting to hear buzz about films that may not have been on our radar before. One film in particular at Sundance 2014 that I kept hearing my colleagues raving about was actually a documentary, one called The Overnighters. It took a little while but I finally caught up with the film after the fest and was so taken aback, so impressed and surprised and genuinely moved by what I saw, I couldn't help but write about it. Overnighters is a refreshingly modern documentary, an utterly compelling, nuanced film that precariously balances the big questions of one of the great dilemmas of this day and age.
Is this what happens when you get too high? Perhaps. Over the weekend, the New York Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, Inherent Vice, starring Joaquin Phoenix as "Doc" Sportello, the stoner private detective character from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name. A very faithful adaptation, the film is a smoke-filled mystery that unfurls like Chinatown if Jake kept getting stoned every five minutes. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, the look and feel is spot on – it's like they made this in the 70s and time traveled forward to 2014 just to premiere it. But does it make any sense? Not really.
It's hard to detect a good reason for Annabelle, the horror prequel to last year's terrifying The Conjuring, to exist. It's not as if the makers behind this latest film have anything groundbreaking to say about haunted house movies, creepy doll movies, or even possession movies despite the film dabbling in all three. Annabelle's creativity appears in its scares, something the film does quite well. But no matter how many times it makes you jump, regardless of the menacing tone it accomplishes in droves, Annabelle ends up being yet another standard, generic supernatural thriller that only succeeds in surface-level horror.
David Fincher became master of his craft by honing technical skills first, using the newest technology on dozens of music videos and his first slate of films: Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room to name a few. A technically gifted film from him now is expected, and it's allowed him to play around with storytelling rules. Gone Girl, Fincher's latest, is more akin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo than his earlier works, the only constant in his career being an ability to create damn good art. Gone Girl is just that, a cynical thriller bordering on dark comedy too often to be unintentional and another success from a master filmmaker.
To live. To fly. To be free. Why is it that the people who live on the edge seem to be the most inspiring? Because they are thrill-seekers, they are the ones who know that the best life is one lived without worry, without fear, without the concerns that society forces upon us. They live with an open mind, a big heart, an appreciation for this planet. They know that genuine thrills make the heart beat faster; thrills remind us that we are still alive, we're still breathing, and that we should make the most of it. I love films that capture this feeling in ways that can't be easily described. Marah Strauch's Sunshine Superman is one of those films that is exciting, moving, heartfelt, but above all it's inspiring to watch. Because it's about inspiring people.
The evil genius returns. David Fincher has thrown the doors to the bedroom of modern society wide open, showing us how deceptive and twisted some people in this world can be - the "ugly truth" has been revealed. His latest film is Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel about a married couple: Nick and Amy Dunne. Closer to Zodiac or Fight Club in tone and style rather than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher's Gone Girl starts out as a mystery, evolves into a dark comedy, and twists itself around a self-reflective look at the follies and fallacies of the American dream.
An oblivious, big-city lawyer gets in over his head in No Man's Land, a neo-western thriller directed by Ning Hao. The film, shot in 2009, sat on a shelf of censorship as the Chinese government deemed it too "nihilistic." To this, the Fantastic Fest crowd, who got their first look at No Man's Land, said, "Yeah, what's the big deal?" What ends up being the big deal is that the film is as smart as it is cool, a deliberately paced trek into the Gobi Desert with a handful of badass trimmings and a nice, rustic fringe. It's the kind of quirky actioner with even quirkier characters that's getting comparisons to the Coen Brothers, and for good reason.