Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Today I saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Julianne Moore.

I never thought the word "boredom" would ever go hand-in-hand with "Hunger Games" but unfortunately sitting through this movie proved it to be true.

In this installment, our heroine Katniss (Lawrence) agrees to become the fighting Mockingjay for President Coin (Moore) in a symbolic move for the survivors in Panem.

Never mind that she has severe PTSD from her previous exploits defending the good people, or that her partner/perhaps love-of-life Peeta still remains captive in the capitol. They figure, the more angry she is about the whole situation, the better a fighter she'll be.

Unfortunately, we barely get to the fighting by the time this film is over.

Spending time with Lawrence, Moore, Woody Harrelson and Philip Seymour Hoffman (R.I.P.) should never feel like a chore, but the endless dialog they pull out of these characters unfortunately commits that crime-against-audience.

I hurried through this book to make sure I'd finished it before seeing this, and now I wish I hadn't. Only the first fourth of the novel is truly represented here, which makes this a huge waste of about and a half.

Instead of all of the exploration, I wish they'd just have made one long film to close the franchise out.

Having to pay a full ticket price for so much chit-chat feels greedy.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Big Eyes

Today I saw Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.

Margaret Keane (Adams) was a single mother in the 50s when she met her second husband Walter (Waltz). They shared a love for art and quickly made a home together in San Francisco celebrating their creativity.

Margaret's signature style of painting included somber children with large eyes, as she claimed eyes were a "window to the soul." Walter instead created city landscapes of his travels.

They both struggled to sell their works until Walter convinced a local nightclub owner to display them, and patrons begin clamoring for her portraits.

This doesn't sit well with the egotistical Walter, so he begins to pass the paintings off as his own, and when they become a cash cow practically overnight, his greed only gets worse. He forbids his wife to reveal their secret and commissions her talent as if she was a factory worker, churning out loaves of bread.

She resents him for this, but dutifully keeps her mouth shut and continues to produce her art.

The film shows this absurd, true-life journey in a kaleidoscope of gorgeous Tim Burton hues. Cars that pop, lipstick that traces every sigh and of course the myriad of paintings that haunt anyone who observes them.

Adams is a pillar of pent-up pain and Waltz is a charming son-of-a-bitch who you alternately love and hate—though he only deserves your pity.

Oscar-caliber performances for sure, set against a gorgeous, retro Viewmaster palette, make for a satisfying delight of a movie.

A work of art in itself.


Sunday, December 14, 2014


Tonight I saw Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.

Everyone processes grief differently: some hide and retreat for the privacy; others weep every day until their tears run dry. Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) coped with the loss of her young mother (Dern) by having extramarital affairs and shooting heroin.

When those recreations weren't satisfying her anymore, she divorced her husband and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon—completely alone. She wrote a book about her journey, which is what this film is based upon.

Of course, because she wasn't a nature enthusiast or even regular hiker, Strayed wasn't truly prepared for what was in store. She read guidebooks and bought fancy supplies at REI, but when she got to the trail, her bag was too heavy, she didn't know how to pitch a tent or use her stove properly and her shoes didn't fit. Admirably (or stupidly, depending on how you look at it), she pressed on.

She encountered everything from foxes to snakes along the trail, and with the exception of one pair of creepy men, several human beings who were nothing but kind. Watching this just may restore your confidence in humanity.

Witherspoon does a stellar job of making Strayed's pain seem authentic and her mistakes almost necessary. What judgmental folks who scoff at the path she took will overlook is that at the heart of everything, she was searching for an experience to expel the grief that she couldn't let go of in any normal scenario.

I've never lost a parent, but I have lost love in life and it took me years to recover from it because I wasn't able to completely lose myself in that grief and step outside myself to process it.

Strayed gave herself a great gift by completing her trip and she gave us a great gift by sharing that journey. More than a story of pain, it's a meditation on healing.

We could all learn a thing or two from her courage.