Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hunger Games: The Mockingjay, Part 2

The last film in the popular Hunger Games series opened last weekend to the smallest opening weekend audience in franchise history.  Don't know why that should be, but it is. Like Harry Potter, Twilight, and other series, the filmmakers on this one elected to split the last book into two films.  Granted the industry may make more money that way, but the results are sometimes watered down versions of what they could be.

In the case of The Mockingjay, Part 2, it essentially split the climax into two, which can sometimes dilute the impact of the story.

I've read other reviews calling this sequel "grim" and it is. There is lack of explanation of motivation of some of the characters in the climactic events.  Anyone unfamiliar with the novel may wonder why some of these things happened and how one character, in particular, escaped punishment.

The original cast reprised their roles in this final sequel, including the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Everyone did a fine job, though some of them were reduced to little more than cameo roles.

Don't get me wrong, the film is entertaining.  I enjoyed it, but it would be so much richer as one film instead of two.

There were moments in Part 2 that dragged, slogging along with the speed of molasses.  I actually checked my watch a couple of times.

Of course I cheered for Katniss and the rebels and applauded the ultimate conclusion. We were just not given as much to cheer about this time around.

I think taken as a set The Mockingjay films will do justice to the last novel.  We'll just have to wait for this one to come out on video.

Until next time...

The new Star Wars film opens December 18th.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

FX Series - FARGO

If you haven't discovered the FX series FARGO, you should try it.  I'd suggest going to your cable carrier to watch the first episode of the season on demand, or go to Hulu, Netflix, whatever you have.

This series, created by the Coen brothers, who gave us the original film with Frances McDormand and an unknown at the time, Steve Buscemi, is just as quirky, funny, and outrageous (and not always in a good way) as the film.

Season 2 follows a slightly different storyline than the first season. In the first episode, the leader of the local crime family has a stroke, leaving the leadership position open.  Each of his three sons want to take it, including the most sinister, played by Jeffrey Donovan, late the star of Burn Notice. The youngest son decides to confront a federal judge in a Waffle House late one night.  In a monumental screw-up, he ends up killing her, the waitress, and the cook before he steals the money and runs out into the snow.  (This takes place in Minnesota and South Dakota, always filmed in the winter.) He sees a UFO in the sky and stupidly stands gawking at it, only to be run down by a hairdresser on her way home.  Kirsten Dunst (Peggy Blumquist) plays the ditzy woman.  The man is halfway through her windshield, but she drives home and leaves him in her garage still stuck.  When her husband Ed Blumquist (played by Jesse Plemons), a butcher, comes home, they panic as they try to figure out what to do. You won't believe what their resolution of the situation is...but that's FARGO for you.

The cast includes Ted Danson, as a Minnesota Sheriff, Patrick Wilson as his son-in-law (a state trooper still suffering from combat experiences in Vietnam in 1979 when the action takes place), and Jean Smart as the matriarch of the crime family, determined to take over for her ailing husband, no matter what her sons want.  She is different than you've ever seen her in this one.

There are a slew of guest stars...my favorite is Bruce Campbell (he's everywhere!) who plays Ronald Reagan on the campaign stump across the country in search of the Presidential nomination. You will not forget his Reagan portrayal, complete with memory lapses.  Painful foreshadowing for the real man, but that's FARGO for you, nothing is off limits.

When FX originally announced the first season of FARGO, I shook my head, wondering how they could replicate the ironic humor/tragedy of the film.  But they have.  The first season was excellent.  The second season promises to be even better.

I love FARGO, even the very broad Minnesota/Dakota accent which all the characters have down.

My favorite moment in the film? Pregnant Sheriff Frances McDormand inspecting an accident scene off a snow covered highway, leaning down to inspect something she doesn't get back up.  Her deputy asks her if everything was okay.

Her reply? In a wearily cheery voice,  "Nope, I'm ganna baaaaaaaaarrf." A star was born.

And I got the means to torment one of my coworkers...he couldn't stand the accent.

Check out FARGO.  It will leave you shaking your head in wonder.

Until next time...


James Bond - to many of you he may have been around for your entire life. I remember when I was a young teen going to see the first of the movies, Dr. No. It starred an actor, unknown to Americans, called Sean Connery.  I was hooked.

Ian Fleming was still around in those days and still writing.  I devoured all of the books as they were published.

Although I haven't always liked the later Bond films - I'm sorry, Roger Moore and the silliness of his era of the films drove me away. But Timothy Dalton with his one Bond film brought me back.  I've been back ever since.

Daniel Craig has become one of the best Bonds in my opinion, for all that my first thought of him was he looked more like a KGB agent than 007.

SPECTRE is the latest entry in the Bond collection. The entity SPECTRE is from the original Fleming books, worse than SMERSH, more deadly and more sinister, nihilistic in their enmity for all.  The head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, is also a Fleming creation.

The film SPECTRE opens with a crowded fast-moving scene in Mexico City on the dia de los Muertos. (Day of the Dead) similar to Halloween in the states, it celebrates the dead.

As the scene progresses, there's a lot to celebrate.  The action is huge, explosive, and loud with Bond triumphant when the scene ends.  But the sheer magnitude of destruction gets him censured and put on leave.

Of course he doesn't stay put as he's ordered.  Like an English bulldog with a bone clamped in his jowls, 007 keeps going after his nemesis. Do we ever expect him to do anything less?

This time, the entire 00 program is in jeopardy, seen as outdated, obsolete.  Drones and other electronic surveillance is so much neater than a single agent going about shooting indiscriminately, killing, leaving a mess.

Honestly, there's not much new to the story, but the story isn't the reason the Bond films remain popular. The action is bigger, louder, more improbable than ever before.

Daniel Craig does another fine turn as 007.  Ralph Fiennes, introduced as the new M  in the last film, is excellent. His character will surprise you.

Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld with relish, complete with the character's sinister white Persian cat. Nobody can play someone so unapologetically wicked as he can.  His villains are so happy in their evil.

Lea Seydoux plays James' reluctant love interest, although she gradually accepts the inevitable.  Her character is the daughter of a late SPECTRE member.

Ben Whishaw continues his fresh take as Q, the long-suffering quartermaster. (Aren't they all when Bond breaks their toys?)

Also notable is Dave Bautista as a cruel SPECTRE assassin.  I kept wondering where I'd seen him.  It was only when I sat through the cast credits I realized he played Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy.  This character is very different from that one.

If you like the Bond films, enjoy them as entertainment, check out this one. It's a great way to spend a couple of hours, enjoy your popcorn with an exciting movie.  Some of the stunts are amazing.