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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1

"You're looking more like Thor now. That's great."

First of all, I need a show of hands: Who’s totally fed up with splitting a book into two movie adaptations? I know I am not alone.

I’m glad that director Francis Lawrence stayed on to direct the Mockingjay films, as the Catching Fire movie was really, really great. It’s probably the best book-to-movie adaptation that really captured my own experience when reading the book. Mockingjay Part 1 maintains the tone, the edginess—just about everything you loved from the second movie is still there, and that’s great.

It’s super—and I mean super-super—that Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is in the film, because I read the book and Effie didn’t have a big part in the third book. Banks, together with the rest of the awesome supporting actors Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I miss him already! Rest in peace.) played their part as expected. I secretly wish they had more screen time. Even the new supporting cast (Hey, Natalie Dormer of Game of Thrones!) is good, but they had even less screen time.

"All hail Katniss Everdeen, for surviving The Fappening!"

It’s also not a surprise that Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen) and Josh Hutcherson (as Peeta Mellark) have totally embraced their parts. This movie, though, does not give us enough scenes of them together (because plot), and it leaves me wanting. Also, Liam Hemsworth (as Gale Hawthorne) is looking a lot more like his brother Chris (Thor in The Avengers and People’s 2014 Sexiest Man Alive), but he still needs to step up as Gale. I loved Gale in the book, and I haven’t really met that Gale on the big screen. The “kiss” scenes both in the second and third movies were merely just glimpses.

But really, watching Mockingjay Part 1 is... bitin. I have no other words for it. It’s great and all, but since the book is split into two movies, the pace of the book was somewhat lost. I know the buzz and momentum will increase once again when the Part 2 trailers, teasers and shiz start showing up, but the whole experience of the whole book is now out the window. Then again, I understand while some books need to be split (because details, I know!), it’s a real toss-up. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt that it’s not just because of the money.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 just a 7 for me. Suzanne Collins’ dystopian world and everything in it (the tension, the emotions, the rage, etc.) is all there, but it will leave you wanting for more.

P.S. I still have “The Hanging Tree” song in my head.

Why does it look like the Lord of the Rings font?

Sue Denim still has issues with online anonymity.

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Short Film Review: Feast

What a waste of food.

Following the tradition of Pixar shorts preceding a feature presentation, Disney comes out with Feast. It's a story about a carnivorous man and his carnivorous dog─a win-win situation for both of them. That is until a herbivorous (okay, vegetarian) woman enters their lives, The dog doesn't like it, of course, and when the couple break up, master and mutt go back to their binging. The dog is more than happy to resume an all-meat diet, but the master is not, returning to meat more out of depression than dependence. And he finds out how far his dog will go for him, proving that a dog is indeed a man's best friend.

Feast is the accompanying short to Disney's Big Hero 6. Like its predecessors from Pixar, there is also no dialogue, which I think is the standard for animated shorts for both companies. This allows the animators to practise animating body movements and facial expressions instead of worrying how the mouth and lips should open when speaking a certain sentence. And they'll be needing all the practise they can get, as these shorts are the training ground for future directors of full-length features.

If you can, watch this in 3D. The original wireframe animation was done with computers but then rotoscoped with traditional hand-drawn animation. The result: a 2D cartoon that pops out like 3D. Actually, I only saw the 2D version, not the 3D one. But I could tell, because I am a big fan of animation and 3D.

And food.

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Review: Big Hero 6, or 6 Reasons Why This Film Is Nothing But a Modern Animated Super Sentai

"I'm scanning you for anything that might infringe on existing superhero franchises."

As the follow-up animated feature to last year's phenomenal Frozen, Disney has made sure to give us something very different from its "fairy tale princess" template. Thus we have 2014's Big Hero 6, a colourful spectacle of a superhero flick, loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same title.

Is it an awesome film? Yes, it is, by Disney standards. Its themes reach out across all age groups, making it a film the whole family can enjoy. Is it groundbreaking? Maybe. Probably in its methods of animation. I don't know. But is it fresh? Definitely not. Because Big Hero 6 is nothing more than a modern animated version of the Japanese Super Sentai genre, as evidenced by:

1. Fusion of East and West
The Super Sentai genre originated in Japan, but it couldn't have successfully crossed over to the other side of the Pacific without retaining its predominantly Japanese core elements. In order to make it appeal more to American audiences, there inevitably had to be a fusion of East and West. Hence the portmanteau "San Fransokyo", one of the more obvious clues, as well as the character and set designs, such as the city's bridge looking like the Golden Gate with unmistakeable Japanese arches.

2. Team Roster
As demonstrated in this film, the composition of Super Sentais almost always follow a specific formula, such as

  • A five-member roster, popular examples of which are Voltes V, Bioman, Voltron, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and Captain Planet (yes, I would argue that Captain Planet qualifies as Super Sentai);
  • A group composition of three (3) males and two (2) females, popular examples of which are the ones mentioned above, with the exception of Voltes V and Voltron, which have only one hot, kick-ass female on the team.

3. Team Composition
The team members are almost always made up of:

  • 1 Cool guy - Usually the leader of the team. In this film, Fred (TJ Miller) is the cool guy, but he serves as the film's comic relief instead of the leader.
  • 1 Little guy - Usually the brainiest in the group. In this film, the little guy is Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who serves as both the brains and the leader of the group.
  • 1 Hulk - Usually the biggest and the strongest in the group. In this film, it's Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.).
  • 1 Tomboyish Girl - Usually the less prettier of the two girls. In this film, it's GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), though I find her more attractive than the other girl in the group. In a cartoon-y kind of way, of course.
  • 1 Ethnic Minority Girl - Usually the less dominant of the two. In this film, it's Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez). Though she may stand physically taller, it's GoGo who has the stronger character. Honey Lemon's ethnic background is emphasised by the annoying way she says "Hiro" with a Latina accent.

Not on this list: One (1) robot, who is either the team's assistant, or the team's mecha fighting machine. In this film, it's Baymax (Scott Adsit), who performs a little of both roles as the team's medic and as Hiro's flying fighter robot.

In this scenario, Captain Planet would be the robot.

4. Character Names
Despite speaking in American West Coast accents, the characters of Big Hero 6 have unmistakeable Japanese origins. The brothers Hiro and Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney), GoGo Tomago, and even the dreadlocked Wasabi all have Japanese-sounding names. I think even the robot Baymax was named after the Betamax, the Japanese counterpart of the West's VHS.

5. Colours... Lots of It
The Super Sentai genre makes liberal use of colours, primarily to differentiate between team members who fight in identical costumes. Although the characters in this film are distinguishable from one another even in full battle gear, the art department made sure to use an extensive palette in the character designs, because let's face it–nobody wants to see a monochromatic Super Sentai flick. Colour is encoded into the Super Sentai DNA. That's just the way it is.

6. Character Secret Identities
The fact that they fight evil as a team puts them on the same level as a superhero group. Since they live normal lives as university geeks, then that means their Super Sentai personas must be separate from their real world alter-egos. Even the villain in the kabuki mask hid his face. The whole world of Super Sentai revolves around secrecy, which necessitates the need for costumes, masks, and helmets.

There are some who insist that Big Hero 6 will be a standalone film, but this film ended with so much breathing room, and Disney has a habit of bleeding franchises dry (hello, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lion King) that it's quite possible that they might throw in a sequel. And if you've stayed after the entire end credits sequence, you'll know what to expect.

A sequel? Yes, please.

If given the chance, watch this film in 3D. I only got to watch the 2D version, but I'm thinking of seeing it again, if only for the preceding short Feast, which I'm pretty sure looks awesome in 3D.

Big Hero 6. USA. 2014.

Original rating: 7.5 / 10
Character design: + 0.1
Set design: + 0.1
Alan Tudyk voicing another villain: + 0.2
Aunt Cass: + 0.15
Dramatic moments: + 0.1
Final rating: 8.15 / 10

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Review: Interstellar IMAX 70 mm, or 7 Reasons to Go See It in the Cinema

Not to be outdone by Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway also gets in a spacesuit.

Ah, Interstellar. You beautiful piece of cinematic art. And because you were the only film of 2014 that I've been genuinely excited about since last year, I shall try and convince others to lose their stinginess and go spend on an IMAX ticket.

1. Christopher Nolan
Sorry, I lied. I've been genuinely excited about this film since two years ago, after The Dark Knight Rises. Why? Because it's Christopher Nolan at the helm. Other films get me excited about, well, the film itself. Like how the Pacific Rim sequel and Star Wars Episode VII excite me because the franchises excite me. But Nolan is one of the few directors whose films I'd watch in a heartbeat, even without knowing what his film is about. I'm not sure if it's his brilliantly-paced non-linear storytelling style that excites me, or the fact that he likes to tackle subject matter that no filmmaker before him has ever dared touch. Like the astronauts on board the Endurance, Nolan is an explorer, venturing into uncharted territories in visual storytelling.

Directed by Christopher Nolan? Here, take my money.

2. Original screenplay
Go watch Interstellar. Don't wait for the torrent to be available, you pirate. Go and spend for a movie ticket, because we want this film to make money at the box office. Not because we want to make the Nolan brothers Chris and Jonathan rich, but because we want Hollywood business analysts to see that investing in an original screenplay not adapted from any existing source material (and by "adapted", we don't mean "loosely based on academic papers published in reputable scientific journals") can also make big bucks at the box office. Hollywood has been struggling with a drought of stories written specifically for the cinematic medium, and it could kill its film industry like the crops in Kansas. Or Texas. Or wherever the hell Interstellar is set.

3. Minimal CGI
Like all of Nolan's previous works, this film uses computer-generated imagery very sparingly. He prefers actual sets or miniature models over CGI, and it's more than just his cinematic style–it actually creates a realism you can detect with your naked eye, and it draws out a better performance from the actors, knowing that they are not reacting to a green screen.

Also noteworthy is how long the end credits are–just around one-tenth the time of the usual Hollywood blockbuster. That's because fewer people are needed for physical effects as compared to the long list of names required for CGI special effects, with rendering requirements necessitating the need to outsource their labour.

4. Free physics lesson
If you've always been interested in space exploration and intergalactic travel but have never had the fortitude to stare at a mathematical equation for more than ten seconds without throwing up, then this film is for you. It takes the brilliant ideas of renowned theoretical and astrophysicist Kip Thorne (no relation to Rip Torn, though their names sound very much alike), and simplifies them without losing their scientific bases. The famous "twin paradox", which discusses the passage of time as seen by two observers travelling at different speeds, or the effects of gravity on an extraterrestrial scale, such as its relation to the tides and waves which we take for granted on our seas on Earth–these are touched on by the film and dumbed down for the average moviegoer to fathom. I don't think it's been dumbed down enough, though, because apparently a lot of people still exit the theatres muttering how their minds have been blown, and not in a good way.

5. Grand space opera
Who doesn't love space operas? The word "opera" here doesn't mean something where a fat lady sings, but something like a soap opera set in space. That means melodrama and cheesiness played out to extremes, with Oscar-winning actors Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway at the acting helm. And Michael Caine? Don't mind him, he's always in Christopher Nolan movies.

This black hole is more interesting than ten Michael Caines.

6. (Possibly) the last IMAX film
Although not entirely shot in IMAX, there are a lot of scenes that are, and these are the scenes that matter. The swirling dust storms of a dying Earth, the vastness of the stars, the complexity of a wormhole, and the immensity of a black hole's event horizon–these are all best viewed in the glory of 70 mm celluloid. For cinephiles who enjoy the grainy look of actual film stock, or for those who just want the bragging rights of having seen what could possibly be the last IMAX movie shown on an analog projector, see it at the SM Mall of Asia, not only because it has the largest IMAX screen dimensions, but because all the other IMAX theatres will be showing it in digital format.

7. The fifth dimension
The idea of a fifth dimension is very hard for a normal person to comprehend. Only a chosen few have ever had a glimpse of it; these are mostly the shamans and sorcerers, and those who have overdosed on psychedelic substances. The human race is only in its infancy in its understanding of the four dimensions, let alone five, so don't worry if you didn't get the film's premise and left the theatre scratching your heads. Five dimensions isn't going to go mainstream anytime soon, in the near future, or in your grandchildren's lifetime. The least you should've taken home with you is an understanding about love's ability to transcend dimensions, a newfound respect for mankind's indomitable spirit in the face of the unknown, and a mind-boggling fascination with everything about TARS the robot.

What is this? I don't even...

Interstellar. USA. 2014.

Original rating: 8.5 / 10
TARS the robot: + 0.3
Douchebaggery of Matt Damon's character: - 0.1
Seeing what a black hole and a wormhole could actually look like: + 0.2
Nolan non-linear storytelling: + 0.1
Nolan plot twists starting to feel more and more Shyamalan-y: - 0.05
Jessica Chastain: undecided
Final rating: 9.05 / 10

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