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Checked Out: Nebraska

This is the first Checked Out article of this Blog. Checked out is where I visit films that got a lot of attention when they came out and I finally got around to seeing. Being that they are older than most of the things I’ll review there will be some lite spoilers but no major plot points will be revealed.

Nebraska is the 2013 film starring Will Forte and Bruce Dern as Woody and David Grant, Father and son. The film was nominated for 6 academy awards and rightly so. It’s funny to say that the film is completely deserving of all its nominations but not deserving of actually receiving any awards its nominated for. This probably sounds ridiculous but let me explain. The film is a story about a father, a salt of the earth, old-fashioned type man, who is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimers. Basically he’s in that point that we all have seen where at moments he’s there and the next he’s talking about nonsense or just staring into space. This particular man receives a letter that we all have gotten, a sweepstakes winning ticket… IF your number has been drawn and if you come in person to pick it up etc.

Bruce Dern is fantastic as an aging and ailing father, if you’re someone who grew up around that type of old school hard-shelled quiet type of man you will have a lot to connect to.  Will Forte also does an excellent job as a son who is seeing a shell of what his father was and balancing the empathy he feels with the frustration of taking care of a parent. The father son dynamic is really where the film shines. The two leads feel like a real father and son, you can see a lifetime of love and resentment just under the surface all the time. Bob Odenkirk does an adequate job as Will Forte’s older brother though at times his scenes feel a bit forced not quite as natural as Forte’s.

The film feels a bit unfocused though and while the performances elevate the material some, when it comes right down to it there’s not a whole lot going on here. We get some allusions to regrets by both father and sons about paths not taken or dreams not followed. We also get a hint at what their father was and why he became what he is now but there’s no singular focus to the narrative. The prize money is just a macguffin here, just there to put our characters into different situations than normal. The rest of the movie is scatter-shot, while pleasant enough it’s fairly forgettable and feels more like a great student film than a studio release.

The strongest element of the production would have to be the cinematography. The film is presented in black and white and while there is a version of the movie available in color you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not watch it in its intended format. The contrast in the shadows is gorgeous and there are some great shots of a battered and broken mid-west of yesteryear.

If you’re bored one night and come across it on cable it’s a fine way to kill two hours but I doubt it’s a film you’ll be talking about in 2 months much less two years down the road.

 

 

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

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Agents of Shield S2E8: The Things We Bury

Wow. No really, wow. This exact time last year I was trying to decide whether to keep watching Agents of Shield and now… Wow. Ever since last years game changing events in Captain America: Winter Soldier this show has taken off and not slowed down. Every episode this season has been fun, action packed, and constantly setting up and answering questions. No more filler episodes and dragging the same questions out until we’re sick of them, yes there are overarching plotlines but generally they answer and ask new questions every week now.

 

This week the team is dealing with the new information that Agent Coulson’s drawings are of a hidden city that could hold some great and terrible power. Add to that some flashbacks to World War II Nazis, along with Agent Peggy Carter (nicely setting up her miniseries starting up soon), as well as a lot more from the Skye’s mysterious father “The Doctor”, played by Kyle Maclachlan with obvious glee.

 

Just about everyone on the team got their moment to shine in this episode without it feeling overstuffed. We got some great moments from Grant Ward finally confronting his brother, though you’ll still be wondering how much can you believe a confession given under the threat of death. Coulson and Fitz get a confrontation with Skye’s dad where we got the line of the night when Coulson asks The Doctor if the obelisk is as powerful as the tesseract and with the best madman smile “The Doctor” replies “Sure… I don’t know what that is”. Little moments of humor like this have been a welcome surprise this season after season one’s humor fell flat most of the time. We also got to find out who Skye’s mother is and why The Doctor is so angry. The source of his anger and the target of his retribution was still not completely clear by the end of the episode but for the best reason, the writers are allowing things to be a bit murkier this season, not just black and white but shades of grey. I’m still guessing where things are heading and how everything is going to shake out and I love it

 

Plus for the real Marvel geeks in the audience we got teases to several elements from the comics that all seem to be leading up to the announced Inhumans movie slated for November 2018. Marvel seems to be focusing this season on pointing us in this direction, the alien Kree(featured in Guardians of the Galaxy) humans with hidden potential to be superpowered, and the obelisk all point that direction. Whether they can keep this momentum up without being able to have their big reveal four years from now will be the real test. Unless of course they decide to introduce their new team of superpowered heroes through the show rather than wait for the film to come out. Marvel has shown they have the guts to do the unexpected and that would certainly surprise a lot of people. All I know is in the span of a year this show has gone from dud to must watch and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes us.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The first of the two-part finale of the hunger games series is a difficult one to review. Much like the Harry Potter films this series has taken the popular approach of splitting one book into two films. So right off the bat we have the screenwriters trying to split a 3 act structure into six to flesh out two films and still have build-up and payoff in both. For the most part here they are successful, though not nearly as much as the first and second films were. When you get to the ending you’re painfully aware that you spent two hours just setting up for next years conclusion and it can be a bit frustrating to get no real resolution and just more questions.

Cards on the table I am one of the many, many people who read the books so I did know where it was heading and where it will end eventually but i was still able to enjoy the ride though with maybe a slightly different outlook than i would have going in cold. One thing that struck me and even now I struggle to decide whether it was intentional or not is the staging and set design in the film. I found many of the shots and scenes to come off as false, almost like watching a play rather than a film. Why I struggle with the intention is because, and some small spoilers here, the film is mostly about, at its core, propaganda. How it’s used and to what ends. In this installment we aren’t just seeing how the Capitol uses propaganda to sew fear and obedience, we also see how the rebels use propaganda to spur on people’s passions to rise up and risk their lives for a cause. A big part of propaganda of course is manufacturing moments. Trying to make something false, or planned, appear to be a real spontaneous moment. There is even a point in which the rebels see a beautiful moment that is real and when we see the resulting video they produce you can’t help but think it looks a little cheesy and if we hadn’t seen it happen in the narrative you’d assume it was manufactured.

Similarly the sets and some of the dramatic scenes of the film come off as made, not true. One moment that especially sticks out is when Katniss and her group are at the aftermath of a bombing and they enter through what appears to be a tunnel of rubble the tunnel just being large enough for people to fit through single file. All I could think is there is no way in hell I would walk through the remains of a blown up building, within hours of it happening mind you, with such a small and dangerous path. This is one of many reasons  I was never not aware that I was watching a movie, I enjoyed it but i never crossed that threshold of watching to experiencing it. A part of me thinks that a film so about propaganda that comes off almost as propaganda itself couldn’t be a coincidence. If that is what the Director, Francis Lawrence, is going for, I can respect that. In fact if that turns out to be the case it would encourage me to revisit the film to examine where else I might find these  themes woven through.

Another issue with the film is the love triangle. Through all the films they’ve teased a Katniss, Peeta, and Gale love triangle and all they ever have done is tease. It’s never been fleshed out and it’s certainly never been the most interesting past of the films and that still holds true in this installment. There’s the hint of a love story here but nothing to really sink your teeth into or get invested in.

Taking it as a straight forward film it comes off as a fun but flawed setup for what is most likely a much larger and more eventful film to come. Probably the weakest narrative of the hunger games films so far but still head and shoulders over all the other YA novel adaptations of the last few years.

Pros

– Story is interesting, deals with more complex themes than last films.

– Katniss is still and engaging and likeable.

– Well choreographed action.

Cons

– Set Design and writing feels false.

– No real conclusion, all setup.

– Uninteresting love story

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

Big Hero 6

Before I get to our main feature I’d quickly like to address the opening animated short Feast. Feast is the latest in a line of fantastic animated shorts attached to Disney theatrical releases. These have been, and with this entry, continue to be fantastic little films that convey a wide spectrum of emotion and great original stories in a small window of time. This entry follows a dog from life as a puppy on the streets to being taken in by a kind passerby and onward through his life. To tell anymore would do you a disservice, this short is one to experience firsthand. All I will say is that its well done and if you’re one prone to tear up bring your tissues.

Now on to the main event.

Big Hero 6 is the story of a young super genius named Hiro with his group of super science proficient friends, Go-Go, Wasabi, Honeylemon, the not super intelligent Fred, and the robot every kid will love by this Christmas, Baymax. Along  with his Friends Hiro uses his incredible intellect and tech building skill to turn his friends into a team of tech outfitted superheroes.

This film continues the new golden age of Disney produced films ( Disney proper, not Pixar), that being said Big Hero 6, while a whole lot of fun, is not particularly as memorable as the past few years releases  have been.  Whether that’s a strike against the film or just a result of the last few years productions being so well done and memorable you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The film has all of the familiar tropes of a classic superhero story. A young smart kid who has lost someone close to him driven to take matters into his own hands, nothing new here. Where the film takes a unique stance is the emphasis on technology, intelligence, and education. A great message for kids today, there are no radioactive spiders, industrial accidents, or giant inheritances that give our protagonist his abilities, its his mind that gives him his power.

Big Hero 6 is a very easy film to like, its quirky, has a unique style, and its lots of fun but its not without its problems. The movie centers around Hiro and his robot pal Baymax. Baymax is by far the highlight of the film, the interactions between Hiro and him range from sweet to hysterical. The film wisely centers the story around the growth of their relationship. The drawback to this is the rest of the film feels rushed, an afterthought.  I found the villains motives and reasoning seemed like the biggest stretch, and those that check out the cast list prior to seeing the film will probably be able to pick out the bad guy if you’ve been paying attention to movies the last 15 years. Not only does the villains turn seemed forced but the supporting players get very little time to really flesh out their characters. We take so much time focusing on Hiro and Baymax that the final scenes feel like two thirds of the way through someone realized they didn’t have an ending and just tacked on some cliche scenario to drive the plot forward.

Big Hero 6 started as a comic,  as a comic reader I had never even heard of it before the advertising started for this film. From what I’ve been told the source material is so vastly different having no knowledge of it won’t affect your experience. Overall I would say the film is an enjoyable way to kill a couple hours but leaves no real lasting impact. You probably wont think about it much after viewing until the trailer for the inevitable sequel hits.

Also like any other Marvel film don’t leave until the post credits scene hits, its one of the funniest yet.

Pros:

– Baymax!!!

– A story that encourages kids to get educated without seeming preachy.

– Unique setting and characters.

Cons:

-Two dimensional Villain

– Rushed third act.

– Supporting characters not fleshed out.

Total score  3.5/5

5_Star_Rating_System_3_and_a_half_stars