Saturday, November 21, 2015

Respect for the Mockingjay

As I write this the final Hunger Games film Mockingjay Part 2 is now out in cinemas (I loved it myself despite it being too long) and it has inspired me to write about this question I've had rattling around in my mind for a while now.

Why has this series not gotten more respect?

Now I know that this will be a very divisive response (which I can understand but its good to generate some well meaning debate) but that is really just how I feel in all honesty.

And there are 3 big reasons:

- First off as a vision of the future this series has been almost impeccable at executing it in a way that feels very believable for a modern day audience but also has its roots in the best versions of how we view a dark future be it Orwell's 1984 or be it our own human history which for much of the 20th century had such a thing in the Soviet Union (and more than once did we come close to Nuclear Armageddon between them and the USA much like the Capitol and District 13 did prior to Snow's rise to power.)

The other part of this is also the utterly brilliant way it depicts how we view both the games and its victors and in our own life it is not too similar to how we tend to idolize celebrities something that has become more and more prevalent in our society over the past 10 years with the advent of Social Media as well as more and more 24 hour news stations.

I mean how many times have we watched interviews with them or followed them on Social Media or had their picture on our wall or in our diary in our youth and in the Hunger Games series the Victors are very much treated in a similar fashion (look at the fangirl screaming over Finnick in Catching Fire that would remind you of any number of male heartthrobs) or the way the Capitol adores Katniss much like we adore Jennifer Lawrence in real life (one of her scenes in Catching Fire reminded me a lot of Lawrence's interviews.)

As for the Games itself well again there are real life parallels be it Ancient Rome and the way it used its Gladiator games to bring the masses in line or indeed how some view the Horse Racing and Greyhound Racing sports or Boxing or UFC cage fighting (these feeling best manifest themselves I think in the first Hunger Games film where they play the most important role.)

- The second is that this series has been willing and able to trust what I call the storytelling river and the instinctive decisions that it requires and what was required after the events of Catching Fire was war and the Mockingjay Book and Movies delivered on that promise at least in my own view.

And this became as the Mockingjay movies came along very refreshing for me as it felt like an antidote to so many of the big films be they the near endless parade of Marvel Studios movies or Jurassic World as these films and with them the series became more willing to go darker and darker and actually show the consequences that arise from its big action set pieces.

This has been something that has made me more and more fed up with the Superhero movies that we get so many of these days I mean look at Captain America the Winter Soldier a film that promised a darker tone in terms of its story and the character motivations and action scenes that would lead to a fundamental shake up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but then just completely chickened out in the third act as if to say "Don't worry kids we didn't really mean to do that everything's going to be just fine."

And that wasn't the only time just this year Avengers: Age of Ultron made a very similar promise (a darker tone, a true threat to the Avengers and the World and the events playing out in such a way that would leave the world in ruins, its governments angry and the heroes bitterly divided) a perfect setup wouldn't you say for Captain America: Civil War right?

Wrong Age of Ultron just became more of the same jokes, childish action and well let's blow stuff up real good and real big but just don't show us the consequences okay this is a film kids want to go and see okay.

And don't get me started on Man of Steel although Dawn of Justice from what we've seen so far promises to rectify some of those criticisms though such promises have been made before and never kept so I will wait and see.

But with the Hunger Games the softness falls further and further away with each film and the latest gets very dark and very sombre which is the correct way to go and this film was not afraid to show how dark War gets and how we can suffer as a result.

- And lastly there is a wonderful heroine in Katniss Everdeen a hero I think worthy of sitting on the same shelf as Luke Skywalker, Connor MacLeod, the X-Men and the Z Fighters to use as examples I personally love.

Katniss is also someone who is very driven, determined but also someone who thinks things through and consistently assess each situation around her, she's not someone I think who shoots first and asks questions later she only kills when she has to and when she does she doesn't brush it off like other heroes do it stays in her mind and haunts her over the course of the series.

She's also someone who can be uneasy to like at times but again over the course of the series she earns the deep respect of both her friends and her enemies much like some political leaders do in our own world.

And lastly she is also a ground breaker for heroic female characters in film and I firmly feel now that the final film is now out for viewers to go and see that we live in a post Katniss world where the choice of gender in heroes can be safely made to be a woman if the filmmakers so desire as the groundwork has been laid, groundwork that George Miller then ran over at full speed with his Furiosa character in Mad Max Fury Road.

But yet with all of those strong positives why hasn't this series gotten more respect, the kind that the original Star Wars movies or the early Indiana Jones movies or the Back to the Future series got when they were released?

Sadly the reasons I feel are 2:

- The first is that we effectively live in the age of the fanboy and not just in the sense that those are the principal ticket buyers but also those are the people (Mr Kevin Feige would be one of them I feel) that are now helping to make these movies.

And traditionally those people that have embraced that geek culture (I like to believe that that has changed somewhat in the last few years) have normally been skinny, geeky looking and not that good at playing sport in other words not the kind of people who normally get the girls racing to their stead or indeed paying any kind of boyfriend/girlfriend attention in high school.

And now like I mentioned above those people are helping to make those films and I can't help but see that that sort of juvenile attitude towards girls and women (again I like to believe that this changes as people grow older) has become more and more reflected in the Superhero movies (how many times have we seen a demand for more female heroes in these films) and maybe it's that or maybe it's a reflection of the books not really having many female heroes or maybe it could be a little bit of both or indeed neither of those things.

At that same time though female heroes have been a rarity in those sort of films, James Cameron was one of the exceptions with his Sarah Connor character in his 2 Terminator films as well as how he used Ripley in Aliens and Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark was great and the new Star Wars films under Kathleen Kennedy's leadership of Lucasfilm are promising to make the brand more appealing to women which has rarely been the case over the years.

- And the second is that the more this series trusted its darker storytelling instincts along the river the more I feel the movie going audience has walked away (the very contentious split of the third book into 2 films could also have done this.)

In a way I feel like we're back in the 80s to a certain degree in that the majority of the big movies are inherently happy movies, they have a very soft feel to them, are very light and humorous in tone as well as being sort of fantastical.

The first 2 Hunger Games films had that fantastical tone as well as building towards the dark wartime ending of the last third and it's no surprise to me that those were the most successful of the series as it let the audience have its cake story wise and eat it too much like the Winter Soldier did.

And for me personally I have just gotten to the point where I'm like "I'm an Adult now and I want those sort of films which are more darker in tone as well as the happy stuff" and I suppose it's why Mockingjay Part 2 mainly because for at least 8 to 10 weeks straight I had to put up with nothing but soft happy movies like Pan, Oddball (I thought that films run would never end), Pixels, the Martian (which I really loved BTW), the Walk and Blinky Bill (which I also enjoyed) to name as examples.

And all during that time I just kept hankering, starving and CRAVING! A dark movie for grownups and they were out there (Sicario, Black Mass, Crimson Peak and Legend) but I just couldn't get to them no matter how hard I tried to do so and those sort of films just don't get made much anymore like they used to do and if they are made then they're effectively banished to the independent and art house markets and as someone who wants to feel like an adult at the movies sometimes this can get incredibly frustrating.

But I am now getting to the point of repeating myself with this column and I will leave it here but I hope that everyone enjoyed reading it and it got them thinking a little bit.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Film Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

Mockingjay Part 2 starts off where Part 1 left off with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) still in District 13 and having to deal with Peeta's brainwashing but Katniss has had it with Snow (Donald Sutherland) and decides that enough is enough it's time to go and put an arrow in his head and kill him once and for all.

Of all the films I've waited to see this year this has been at the top of the heap even ahead of the new Star Wars film mainly because I am a huge fan of this series, to my mind it has brought back what it felt like seeing Star Wars for the first time but also combining it with the more adult edge I like to see in films these days but could this last shot with the Arrow hit its mark or miss it completely.

Happily very happily this movie delivered the goods, Francis Lawrence did a great job directing this film and FINALLY there is a blockbuster franchise that is willing to go dark (and this movie is very dark and very sombre much like the Dark Knight was in 2008) as well as show the consequences of these big action set pieces that so many of the Superhero movies that dominate our cinema space so much these days just ignore completely because well we don't want to upset the poor little overprotected children now do we, UGH!

But not just that Jennifer Lawrence in this film is awesome, she is awesome all together I feel but here she just takes it to the next level and reminds you just how good she really is as an actress but she isn't the only one Sam Claflin (my ideal Yamcha from Dragon Ball), Jena Malone, the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Forbes, Donald Sutherland and Natalie Dormer among others are all great TBH I can't think of a bad performance in this film everyone stepped up to the mark.

However there is one tiny complaint and that is the film is too long, it runs near to the 140 minute mark and there's probably a good 10 minutes that needed to be shaved from the running time especially given the split of this book into 2 films still angers a lot of film fans.

I am so pleased this film delivered and I can't wait to own it with the other movies and see it once more in the cinemas, 4 out of 5.

Film Review - Man Up (2015)

Man Up stars Lake Bell as Nancy a single 34 year old woman living in England who goes to an engagement party mainly at the behest of her sister who wants her to get out there more and find a man, whilst heading to London one day she accidentally comes across Jack (Simon Pegg) and the two then hit it off.

I was keen for this film primarily because of Simon Pegg himself, ever since seeing Hot Fuzz in 2007 I have followed his work as much as I can ever since and he along with Nick Frost and Edgar Wright have pretty much earnt a free pass from me so could this new film with Pegg be good?

No it wasn't, this has to be the worst comedy I have seen all year worse than Vacation even which I loathed sitting through but at least had 2 moments in it that made me smile but this I just sat there cringing at the unfunny and really just weird humour and I hate saying this because I love Pegg and he and Lake Bell have a real chemistry but the script just has them both constantly fighting and arguing and bickering over and over and over again and after a couple of scenes I just got sick of it and wanted something more sincere.

But the biggest offence this film has is the character played by Rory Kinnear, he is a good actor but his character is just borderline repulsive in the way he goes about pining for Nancy and just treating her really really badly and I just thought to myself "YOU CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE, IT's JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!" and that was the point where I began to really hate this movie.

And so that was Man Up one of the worst films I've seen this year and I hate saying that being the fan of Simon Pegg that I am but I have to, if only he had rewritten this crummy script as he and Bell deserve so much better than this, 1 out of 5.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Film Review - SPECTRE (2015)

SPECTRE is the latest James Bond film as Bond (Daniel Craig) faces a grounding following an incident in Mexico City but Bond later receives a cryptic message about a sinister organisation that could have deadly consequences for the world if it's not stopped.

Going into SPECTRE I was fairly down the middle about it hopes wise for while I've loved Daniel Craig as 007 I also feel that the films he's made so far haven't measured up for me primarily because all of them had fairly weak villains to deal with but with the fabled SPECTRE organisation finally coming back into the fold after so many years of legal battles could the tide finally turn?

Well it does and it doesn't for while I feel SPECTRE is a fun ride it also takes a big nosedive in its third act but before I talk about that in more detail I want to talk about the first two thirds of this film in more detail as during that period of the film it's a great ride, Craig is on fine form even if he feels a little tired of doing the role (more on that down below), Lea Seydoux a wonderful French actress does well as does Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw (Paddington) and Dave Bautista aka Drax from last year's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Plus this first two thirds has some great humour and action sequences especially when Craig and Bautista fight it out first in an Italian high speed chase and later on a train where the two finally face off and watching that scene I thought "At last, a proper villain who can knock Bond off."

But like I mentioned above the films third act really doesn't work and watching this section of the film I was reminded of sitting through the new Fantastic Four film from earlier this year in that it felt like there was no one in charge of this segment of the film and it just went in every direction it could go in despite it being blindly obvious where to go and sadly Christoph Waltz while he does very well does not have the material he deserves to have given his casting is a great idea.

But before I wrap this up I want to now talk about where to go next as it is clear to me that Craig's days in the role are pretty well numbered much like Sean's was after Thunderball in 1965 and if he decides to say to Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson that he does not want to do the last film left on his deal then he should have that last part of his contract payed out and allow for a graceful exit from the role and the search for a replacement to begin.

And that replacement will have a tough time ahead of them as the series more broadly speaking needs to do 3 things going forward:

- The first is to embrace the growing calls for more diversity in our media these days whether that means casting Idris Elba as the new 007 or not the audience these days particularly people in their late 20s and early 30s want to see more women and people of colour in leading roles both in front of and behind the camera and that market has made its presence felt in the box office particularly with films like Straight Outta Compton becoming a huge hit in the US but whether Barbara and Michael will do this is a very tricky question.

- The second is that the series needs to craft more meaningful female characters in the style of someone like Tracy from On Her Majesty's Secret Service or Anya from the Spy Who Loved Me, the old days of Bond having his way with the women in the films I feel are over and given the global conversation about women in the industry and the huge challenges they are facing (just look at Jennifer Lawrence's recent essay about her pay deal for American Hustle) big film series like this one and Star Wars (which is taking those steps with the Force Awakens) need to lead the way because after all you don't see Paul Feig making Spy with Melissa McCarthy unless you sense that weakness in the spy film market.

- And lastly Bond has to leave Sony Pictures as their meddling with this film is all over the films third act and given the leaks from late last year Barbara and Michael who were rightly angry about their film getting caught up in them should consider Sony to be untrustworthy and find a new studio be it Warner Brothers or 20th Century Fox but given how Fox meddled with Fantastic Four in the way that they did perhaps WB could benefit from having 007 in their belt especially given how badly their Man from UNCLE did earlier this year.

And so that was SPECTRE one of the better 007 adventures but also has a bad third act as well as a sense of staleness to it and unless your a fan I cannot recommend you see it (what I can recommend though is Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman the Secret Service), 2 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Through Seven Magic Balls, The World Will Change

Back in September I got to see Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F on the big screen and it was a wonderful experience to have as not only was I seeing Goku and Freeza going at each other on the big screen with the fans who were having a great time as well but it was also the real deal in terms of it was done in the style of the TV series but also the original voices for the most part (save for Chris Ayres voicing Freeza who I wish had done the role from the start in 1999/2000.)

There are a couple of reasons I bring this up and the first of those was that I was a huge fan of the TV series when it was on in 2000/2001 (it also played in 2002/2003 but a very large chunk of its fan base had dropped off by that point) and I very nearly became inspired to study Martial Arts as a result of loving the show (I didn't though and in retrospect part of me feels this might have been a mistake but then again hindsight is such a wonderful thing.)

But there is another more fundamental reason I wanted to talk about this and that is about just how much the world has changed since the TV series was on air and the release of this new movie back in August of this year (I saw when my main cinema picked it up for a limited showing in September.)

This was the state of the world back in 2000 when Dragon Ball Z premiered in Australia:

- People were still using VHS players to watch movies as well as record their shows (which was not an easy task)

- The DVD format was still in its infancy and the players were still at a very high cost beyond the range of most consumers

- The Internet was still in its infancy and was still only on dial up speeds (remember the noise that came the DEEEEE BBBBBBEEEEEE DOOOOOO DOOOOOO)

- The notion of social media was nothing more than a pipe dream as was a 24 hour news cycle (though you did have Sky News but only on the subscription TV services like Foxtel or Austar or Optus)

- The notion of a global marketplace in terms of shopping for goods and services was also in its infancy and the idea of streaming services like Netflix as well as being able to Download shows from overseas was a pipe dream.

- John Howard was into his 2nd term as Prime Minister and his GST came into effect on July 1st of that year.

- 35mm film projection was still very widely in use at the cinema (though that damned yellow slide saying THIS FILM IS YET TO BE CLASSIFIED used to drive me NUTS! since you saw it so damned often)

- The world was also a relatively peaceful place (little did we know what would transpire a year later)

Quite a different world that sounds like isn't it and for some it will be hard to remember that sort of the world given what would transpire and also for some born after 2001 or in that year itself it sounds more like a dream world where there was peace in our time and all of the dramas and conflicts felt like they were someone else (hell even I think back to that time and wish I could see it more but not as a kid but as an adult like I am now.)

But that is merely just wishful thinking and will probably happen (and even if it did there's a more than fair chance it would probably doom all of humanity to extinction cause if the movies have taught us anything its not to change the future unless it's absolutely essential.)

But I'm getting off topic and the main point I wanted to make was to highlight the huge changes the world has gone through between then and now and it is certainly the case when it comes to films as well as how we choose to watch them.

Now with the advent of digital technology fully in stride there is now much more freedom to access content no matter what it might be whereas back in the day DBZ again as an example would only be on Cartoon Network at 8.30am and 5.30pm and if you missed it at either of those times without taping it well stiff shit.

Now you can pretty much get an entire season of a show either in a boxset and do a binge watch of a show be it that one or House of Cards or Game of Thrones or the Walking Dead to name as examples.

Indeed part of me wishes I had such an infrastructure when I was watching DBZ back then (as I show above it was there but was in its early gestation stages yet to bloom) as I would've taken advantage of it as best as I could and even looking up the original manga for it and Dragon Ball which was the preceding series I felt like I learned more now in terms of some of the back story and the character histories and the differences between it and the anime version now when I'm not watching the show than when I was actually watching it.

But also the nature of theatrical releases has changed fundamentally as well again coming out of the hatching of the digital age and the infrastructure that's been built out of it instead of waiting at times months for a film as was the case (the average back in the 80s used to be 6 months to a year) most of the big films come out within either a month of each other or day and date worldwide plus with the rise of online stores like Amazon consumers here in Australia can buy titles legally and watch them before/concurrent or after a cinema release (my favorite film of the year A Most Violent Year was seen this way by me.)

Although it is near impossible to talk about any of these changes without discussing the issue of piracy (a touchy issue I know) and it is an issue I think that has helped to accelerate so much of this change whether we want to admit it or not as it's rise and popularity with many consumers had forced the industry albeit probably through gritted teeth to make changes even though they don't really want to admit it.

However there has also been one more very positive change that has come about and that is the removal of the curtain in regards to global cinema and our being more aware of the fact that some of the things we love in films and sometimes the broader pop culture space come from all corners of the world:

- Dragon Ball (Japan)
- James Bond (UK)
- Mad Max (Australia)
- Minions (France)
- Tintin (Belgium)

And so on and so forth and this for me is a terrific thing as it makes you think outside of the box a little bit in terms of entertainment and how we consume it as well as thinking a little bit more about where it comes from and the culture that helped to inspire it.

This column got a little rambly and long winded so I will end it here in the hope that I made the point that I wanted to make in a way people can understand.

Monday, November 9, 2015

On the Air Season 2 Episode 10: Following the Spaceship, the Spaceship, the Spaceship

Well here we are again,

My 3rd last radio show for the year talks about some big titles:

- Blinky Bill
- Pan
- The Martian
- The Intern
- Miss You Already

As always you can click on the streaming options in your browser and/or right click and save them to your computer.

Link to the shows is here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Film Review - The Dressmaker (2015)

The Dressmaker is written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (who also made the 1991 Australian film Proof with Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe) and is based off of a book, the story here concerns Tilley (Kate Winslet) returning to her country hometown after being sent away as a child and it is that troubled childhood that she is determined to address whilst home again.

The Dressmaker is a fun watch I felt but not without some pretty big problems but before I delve into those I want to talk about what I do like about this movie and that is predominantly the first 2 thirds of the running time which were fun, quirky and anchored by a strong storyline worth following, Winslet is also superb in her role and not just because she did well with the Aussie accent but I also loved that her character was very strong but also feminine and it is a real pleasure to watch her here.

But it's not just her that's good, Shane Jacobson, Shane Bourne, Hugo Weaving and Liam Hemsworth are also pretty good as well, Liam in particular was surprisingly effective and it reminded me of when his brother Chris played James Hunt in Ron Howard's Rush 2 years ago in that he became more than just another hunk but also a good actor, I hope he does more roles like this one in the future.

However much like Baz Lurhmann's Great Gatsby film also from 2013 the third act of this film is very problematic and again much like that film the key problem for me is that it tries to strive for a more emotionally resonant tone that the film as it played out before me which was more of this dark quriky comedy mystery doesn't really earn all that much and it was during this part of the film that I began to get bored with it.

Which leads into my other major problem with this film and that is it's simply too long, the film plays out in a way where you are led towards a natural conclusion an endpoint and you begin to think "well this was fun but it's time to go home" but then the film starts up again with this really pointless subplot and I just kept thinking to myself "What does this have to do with the film I'm seeing" and that was when I just lost my patience with this film despite for most of its running time I was enjoying myself.

And so that was the Dressmaker, for its first 2 thirds its good fun but its last act brings the whole show crashing down like someone pulling the plug on a real life fashion show, 2 out of 5.