20
Nov
14

Hunger Games Mockingjay Pt 1 REVIEW: These Foolish Games

"You saw me on Letterman. I'll walk out. Don't make me."

“You saw me on Letterman. I’ll walk out. Don’t make me.”

Okay fine, I’m not the hugest fan of the series but seriously, while watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, I was bored. Like, bored out of my skull. And I was in a preview screening so security guards were watching and I couldn’t pull out my phone lest they think I was trying to pirate the film.

Already these movies (and books) weren’t exactly cheerful affairs but with the lack of a Battle Royale in this installment, things are really, really dour. After seeing her do “Live and Let Die” in American Hustle, slinking around as Mystique and calling off her own interview with David Letterman, poor Jennifer Lawrence seems to have outgrown her role as Katniss Everdeen. She’s definitely no Kristen Stewart—J-Law looks like she’s absolutely busting at the seems to do something, anything. Alas, most of her time is spent looking morose and dejected, something K-Stew had no trouble doing.

Granted, the adapted screenplay doesn’t give her much opportunity since it basically cut the final source material in half. Even more so than The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 though, Mockingjay suffers from being a project comprised of only a first and second act. And unlike Peter Jackson, nothing entertaining is made up just to fill in space.

This is Sutherland's only scene in the movie.

This is Sutherland’s only scene in the movie.

Katniss wakes up on a rebel airship and spends the rest of the time trying to decide whether she wants to become a propaganda instrument against the evil Capitol and it’s equally evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She also worries a lot about her buddy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who got left behind in the previous film and is now in the hands of Snow, and losing weight very quickly. Hopefully his skinniness was CGI cause poor Hutcherson looks positively anorexic.

A few performers do what they can with what little they have. Elizabeth Banks still manages to be a diva as Effie, the fashionable emcee of The Hunger Games, even though she is now a political refugee in a jump suit. Donald Sutherland appears to be having a good time overacting with his Satanic line readings, but he’s hardly in the movie so he barely registers.

They wish their agents got them more money.

They wish their agents got them more money.

But esteemed actors like Julianne Moore, as the powerful leader of the resistance, is just going through the firm-jawed motions. The saddest though, is Philip Seymour Hoffman. As a member of the leadership committee, he just meekly agrees or disagrees with Moore. Tragic how this is the last role he will ever play.

But then it all must come down to tragedy with this bleak, dystopian series. Even the cinematography has a gray grain so thick that it almost blurs the scenery. Fans, of course, will not care. And considering that the fan base are pre-programmed admirers of the novels, they should be satisfied with this additional entry of loose-ended angst. Other audience members dragged into the theaters against their will might want to make sure their phones are fully charged prior. There’s a new version of Candy Crush to help pass the time.

The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 is now playing in theaters everywhere.

06
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: The Babadook

"Mommy, that's an Alexander Wang!"

“Mommy, that’s an Alexander Wang!”

Rye’s Take

Australia”s The Babadook has proven that the domestic ghost film has officially run its course all over the planet.

There was an intriguing premise here. A children’s book mysteriously appears on a boy’s shelf and his mother reads it to him. It turns out to be a boogeyman story and for a while, there is genuine tension between the sleep deprived, hard-working single mom and the precocious, possibly sociopathic boy. (He creates a dart-shooting crossbow and a shoulder mounted catapult.) The book has possibly “called” the monster known as The Babadook and unexplainable loud banging on furniture begins.

As the film reaches it’s end though, logic and story holes increasingly take over. As a climax to the mysterious shenanigans going on in the very-gray painted house, there is a roach infestation, an unnecessary tooth-pulling scene and derivative black vomit—all were not previously mentioned as in the Babadook legend—as well as a deceased husband/father that may or may not have something to do with the hauntings. Even worse, things get unintentionally hilarious due to one character’s attempt at fighting back with homemade booby-traps against the horror, which calls to mind Home Alone.

Let’s just hope there isn’t a sequel. The Babadook Part Doo?

Lady, who does your decorating? David Lynch?!

Lady, who does your decorating? David Lynch?!

Yoda’s Take

As a fan of the /Filmcast movie podcast, one of it’s hosts David Chen, proclaimed The Babadook as one of his favorite films of the year during the summer. From the way he was going on about it, it sounded pretty intriguing. Well, at the time I didn’t think I would ever get to see it since it sounded like an obscure foreign film that would never play anywhere near me. And then low and behold when the HIFF schedule came out . . . The Babadook was on there. Needless to say I had to check it out.

Having seen both The Conjuring and Annabelle, I was a little let down by The Babadook. /Filmcast hype aside, The Babadook carries the same premise that the aforementioned Hollywood movies do; as such, a lot of what I think makes The Babadook a decent horror movie was really old hat for me upon viewing. While atmospherically it was very chilling and a little scary at times, because I had seen the same convention in The Conjuring and Annabelle, I wasn’t as scared as I probably would have been had I not seen those other two movies.

What didn’t help my disposition on the film was that the kid in it was pretty damn annoying. I don’t know if it was the way his character was written, the nature of his behavior due to the storyline, or just the fact that he’s actually annoying in real life, but it really grinded on me. Half the time I was like, “who lets their kids act like that?”

Overall The Babadook is a decent enough horror film that I’m sure horror fans will appreciate, if just for the amount of tension and suspense that is built from situations in the film. If you’re at the festival and up for a late night scare, then The Babadook will definitely fit the bill.

The Babadook screens one final time tonight (11/7) at 9pm at Regal Dole Cinemas as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.

04
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: Revenge of the Green Dragons

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

One of the main problems with the gangster flick Revenge of the Green Dragons is the casting. Harry Shum Jr. from Glee as the godfather of Chinatown, New York in the 1980s?  Pfft. I’M more threatening than him and I stand at 5’2” on a good day with asthma. Justin Chon, a gloriously lively actor from 21 and Over , plays an immigrant who grows up within this criminal netherworld, but he was eventually reduced to screaming while pointing a gun and crying with extreme spittle throughout most of the film.

The real impressive performance actually came from Kevin Wa, also known as the hilarious YouTube sensation Kev Jumba. He’s the funny guy getting into Internet shenanigans with Ryan Higa and he’s absolutely, and threateningly, riveting here as Chon’s BFF who is also a loose cannon with a potty-mouth temper and an itchy trigger finger.

"That was my role on Glee."

“That was my role on Glee.”

In the end, even with the experience behind the directing team of Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo, the whole film felt like a production by a bunch of impressionable film school students who decided to do an Asian gangster movie.

There’s already a similar take on the subject in production, starring Lucy Liu as the Snakehead, the woman responsible for bringing in the Chinese illegal immigrants who become all of these gangsters; so as the characters tell each other throughout Revenge of the Green Dragons, karmically, what goes around, comes around.

There’s another HIFF screening for the film today (Wednesday 11/5) at 8:30pm at Dole Cannery. It may be an imperfect piece, but for Asian gangster flick fans or YouTube groupies, it’s worth it for the amazing Kevin Wa performance.

04
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: What We Do in the Shadows

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

It seems like only yesterday when vampires were all the rage with Edward, Bella, and Jacob running around in those Twilight movies. With them and True Blood gone, it does leave sort of a void for someone to step in and do something with the vampire genre. Enter New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi (Boy) and his latest film, What We Do in the Shadows.

Shadows is a vampire comedy filmed documentary style where cameras follow the subjects and then intersperses that with footage of the subjects being interviewed–the same format that was made popular by Modern Family. The “documentary” follows a flat of vampires that live in Wellington, New Zealand and the trials and tribulations that ensue.

Believe me when I say that Twilight this ain’t. Waititi and frequent cohort Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, MIB 3) lampoon the standard tropes of vampirism through low budget special effects and by showing the audience how ‘real life’ vampires would react in everyday situations. If there was a way I could best describe it, it would be like Interview with a Vampire meets Seinfeld.

Taika Waititi as Viago

Taika Waititi as Viago

The film depicts how these particular vampires have to deal with everything from mundane tasks such as washing the dishes and going out clubbing to the finer details of vampirism such as dealing with werewolves, learning how to fly, and keeping a low profile. Each endeavor depicted presents it’s own set of challenges as the guys have to balance practical reasoning with their own sensibilities and baggage. This is perfectly illustrated in one scene where the guys get dressed up for a night out on the town, but since they can’t see their reflections in mirrors, have to rely on each other for fashion guidance. Compounding their situation, since all of them are over 200 years old, their dated fashion sense is pointed out by the youngest member of the group.

While the everyday situations that the group faces are funny in and of themselves, it’s probably the low budget special effects that makes the film stand out and really adds some charm. From rising out of a coffin, to turning into bats, to flying; anytime special effects are employed you can totally tell they’re effects; but that’s part of the fun of Shadows–it’s in on the same joke that the audience is laughing at when it comes to effects.

You won’t be disappointed by taking in What We Do in the Shadows, in fact, you might just see one of the best films at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival. A vampire comedy? Who knew right?

The second and final showing of What We Do in the Shadows screens today, November 4, 2014 at 8:45pm. Director Taika Waititi was on hand to intro the film and conduct a Q&A at the first screening and we hear that his co-director Jermaine Clement will be joining him at the second screening.

22
Aug
14

Review: What If

Daniel Radcliffe bets he had some of that Harry Potter love potion right about now.

Daniel Radcliffe bets he had some of that Harry Potter love potion right about now.

How many guys (or girls) have faced the dilemma posed as the central conceit of What If: Can a guy and a girl just be friends without feelings/relationship/desire/sex getting in the way? It’s an interesting question and I’m sure at the very least someone you know has probably experienced the uncomfortable situation of being friends with a member of the opposite sex in the hopes that they can make the jump from friend to ‘something more’.

What If gives us Daniel Radcliffe, the grown up Harry Potter himself playing Wallace, a med-school dropout and relationship recovering 20-something living in Toronto. Still trying to get over his last relationship from a year ago, he happens to meet Chantry played by Zoe Kazan–a down to earth manic pixie dream girl who he has an instant connection with and who brightens up an otherwise dull party. After enjoying a wonderful evening of conversation and even walking Chantry home, she drops the bomb on him . . . she has a boyfriend but still wants to be friends with him. Awesome right? Dumbstruck and not really sure of what to make of the situation, Wallace talks himself into the friendship as having some sort of relationship with her is still better than nothing.

But that's what a good friend likes to do . . . watch you while you sleep.

But that’s what a good friend likes to do . . . watch you while you sleep.

What I like about the movie is that it feels pretty authentic how Wallace tries to navigate his friendship with Chantry. The role of being the good friend, the behind the scenes silent anguish, the rationalizing of it all; a lot of what Wallace goes through is exactly what happens when you’re in that type of situation. He wants to get his feelings out, but because of the complexity of the situation, he fears that once he does, he could lose everything.

The chemistry between Kazan and Radcliffe have between their characters quite good. Kazan plays Chantry as sort of a free spirit type, but a bit more reliable and reasonable as she’s always trying to make everything work (her job, relationship, friendship). Radcliffe on the opposite side is loveable and affable in his portrayal of Wallace. Their characters are obviously awkward at first, but as the film goes on and their friendship (and feelings) start to grow, you do see them as this cohesive unit and begin to wonder, “Why don’t they just get together?” If there’s one knock against them, it’s that their characters definitely feel like characters from an indie rom-com as they have a lot of weird and random banter between each other; more than I felt would happen in real life.

You're friend-zoning me? Seriously?

You’re friend-zoning me? Seriously?

Since it’s a rom-com, we’re obviously heading towards some sort of conflict where feelings come out, people are hurt and/or are mad, and we end up with a rift between the guy and the girl. While I won’t give anything away, I did feel the way both characters handled the confrontation was fairly reasonable (up to a point) and felt pretty authentic, unlike studio rom-coms where the girl has unbelievably high expectations or where a misunderstanding is blown WAY out of proportion. In these movies I also feel that someone has to be a dick since if there’s a love triangle, the third wheel is usually sacrificed so that the main characters can get together. What If handles both of these hurdles pretty well and I left the theater feeling pretty upbeat about where Chantry and Wallace ended up and how they got there.

With summer winding down and movie-date night options being really scarce, What If fills that void by being a rom-com that’s fairly realistic and isn’t melodramatic. I’m sure guys won’t be clamoring to see it, but they can take comfort in the fact that What If rises above the rest in the genre. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s cute; and you could do far worse seeing something else this weekend.

What If expands this weekend and can be seen at Consolidated Kahala 8, Consolidated Ko’olau Stadium 10, and Regal Dole Cannery 18.

3.5/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 1hr 42min

20
Aug
14

Don’t Let the Honoka’a People’s Theatre Go Dark!

The grand dame of Honoka'a.

The grand dame of Honoka’a.

Here on Oahu we’re fortunate enough to have a number of different theaters to choose from when we want to go to the movies. As the years have gone on, cinema and the movie going experience has changed and theaters have had to struggle to keep up or face going out of business. The biggest success story is probably our very own Consolidated Theatres which boasts nearly 100 years of “Entertaining Hawaii.” However, many of the small and community based movie houses that were quite prevalent 40-50 years ago have nearly all disappeared (more here).

On the Big Island, one of these small town movie houses is still in existence and to this very day and still provides an awesome cinema experience and public service for its community. The grand dame of Honoka’a, The Honoka’a People’s Theatre, was built in in 1930 and since then has been creating a unique cinema experience for the community for 84 years. On-going renovations since the 90s have diversified the theatre’s use and it has also become a renowned venue for live performances. Here’s a bit more info on the Honoka’a People’s Theatre from their website:

The People’s Theatre is the largest theatre on Hawaii Island, with 525 seating capacity and a large 50 foot screen. The theatre has a DTS surround sound system, 35 mm and digital film projectors, a 50 ft stage, dance floor, 30 stage lights, 4 roving scanner lights, two side balconies, dressing rooms, basic live PA, and a grand piano. The lobby hosts a concession stand, dining area, and ticket booth. Available upstairs for performers during large events is a greenroom area with a kitchen and lounge area.

The People's Theatre back in the day.

The People’s Theatre back in the day.

Though the Honoka’a People’s Theatre has managed to stay open, they are currently facing the same issue that many small mom and pop and single screen community theaters across the country have faced in recent years: digital conversion. With film prints almost entirely phased out by the big studios (Disney, Fox, Sony, Warner Bros, Paramount) theaters have had to convert to digital projectors or face shutting down. While the People’s Theatre may not shut down, they’ll definitely lose a big chunk of their history if they are unable to continue to show movies.

Currently the Honoka’a People’s Theatre is hosting a number of fund raising events in an effort to raise the $60,000 they need to secure a DCI-compliant digital projector. Along with these events, they have also created a campaign on Kickstarter to help those that want to donate. As of this posting they are about $22,000 away from reaching their goal with five weeks left to go.

Inside the theatre with a view of the screen, stage, and some of the 525 seats the theatre holds.

The interior of the theatre as it appears today with a view of the screen, stage, and some of its 525 seats.

The Red Band Project was fortunate enough to visit the Honoka’a People’s Theatre earlier this summer, and though we weren’t able to take in a show, we did get feel for how “grand” the grand dame of Honoka’a is. As lovers of movies and the cinema experience, the Red Band Project has already backed the Kickstarter campaign and now we put it out there for you to donate. Though you may never set foot in the Honoka’a People’s Theatre, please consider donating (even a small amount) as unique cinema experiences such as this are hard to come by these days, especially in Hawaii.

For more information about the Honoka’a People’s Theatre, check out their website or Facebook page. For more on the history and personal recollections of the theatre, see the piece written for Hana Hou magazine. If you’d like to donate to their fundraising efforts, head over to their Kickstarter page and leave a few bucks for a good cause!

See their Kickstarter video below:

15
Aug
14

Review: Life Itself

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert is front and center in the documentary Life Itself.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert is front and center in the documentary Life Itself.

When film critic Roger Ebert passed away last year I’ll be honest . . . I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until I started reading some of the many remembrances and tributes that I really got the sense of how big of a deal this guy was. Yeah sure he had that movie review show back in the day and the man did help coin the most recognizable rating system in the world, but outside of that I never really knew who he was or what made him so great.

Did I ever read him? No. Do I have aspirations to be like him? No. Then why the interest in watching a documentary about him? Since his passing I’ve read up on some of his work and I’ve come to better understand who he was and why he meant a lot to the film community. He helped turned film criticism into something that was legitimate, something that people read and respected, and had the forum to reach a lot of people and talk to them about film. He was knowledgeable, eloquent, and wrote with a voice that was quite unique. In the end, watching Life Itself is something that I felt I just needed to do in order to continue calling myself a movie lover.

Going into my viewing of Life Itself there were only a handful of things that I knew about Roger Ebert. There are the basics of course: he had the first tv film criticism show Siskel & Ebert with Gene Siskel, he was from Chicago and worked for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was husband to Chaz, and that he had lost the use of his voice due to cancer. While this knowledge base is probably more than most people know of him, Life Itself examines many other facets of his life and really dives into the things people knew most about him.

Roger with wife Chaz on the night of their wedding.

Roger with wife Chaz on the night of their wedding.

The film is broken up into three parts: his early life and his rise to being a film critic, the years of working with Siskel and Ebert colleague Gene Siskel, and his final years after the loss of his voice. Clocking in at two hours, the film gives you more of a look at Ebert’s life than you would expect. Documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) leads us through the usual steps in Ebert’s life, interviewing friends, family, colleagues, and other film related acquaintances along the way. Probably most heartfelt are the scenes of Ebert shot while in the hospital or in rehab as we get to see him at moments where he appears worn down and is a far cry from the critic that we knew him as on his tv show.

While a lot of the info from his early life that sets up his rise to being the consummate film critic as well as his more recent medical troubles was all very interesting; it was probably the portion that focused on his relationship with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune that was the most fascinating to watch. I had heard somewhere that they bucked heads a lot, but I didn’t realize to what extent until this documentary. Here you have two men, very knowledgeable, both very self assured, and both with strong viewpoints; opposing each other on many different occasions. How could the most recognizable film criticism show in the world happen with two men that were almost always at odds with one another? The answer . . . film.

Gene Siskel and Roger debate the merits of film on At the Movies.

Gene Siskel and Roger debate the merits of film on At the Movies.

From practical jokes on one another, to trying to out scoop each other covering the world of cinema, to taking pot shots at each other while filming the show; the sense that you get from the film is that these two men tolerated each other because they always wanted to be the best and the other guy was alway there to challenge them. Probably the most disheartening thing in the film is that both of these men didn’t realize the unlikely friendship (yes, friendship) they had until it was too late for both of them.

To kind of put a bow on the whole thing, Life Itself isn’t for everyone. It’s a documentary first so if you’re looking for fiction then this definitely isn’t for you. As for the subject matter itself–I found much of it engrossing. But then again, I love movies and I like talking about them so Life Itself is definitely in my wheelhouse. And that’s the kind of the demographic this film is for, for those that really love film culture. With just about a two hour runtime, it will probably wear on the average movie watcher. If you’re in the target demographic with me, then get your popcorn and be prepared for a film that I give two thumbs up.

Cinematic Scene: Tube Cleaning

With documentaries being rather straightforward (visually) and filmmakers using employing file footage and one-on-one interview shots, I was fearful that I would have to omit this portion of my review. However, one scene in particular stand out as soon as I saw it. By this point in the film Ebert is in the hospital and director Steve James does not shy away from some of the more unpleasant activities that he has to go through.

In the scene, a nurse is seen at Ebert’s bedside. She asks him if he’s ready for his tube cleaning or suction. At first you’re not sure what is about to happen, but then you see her make a motion near Ebert’s throat and next thing you know you see him wincing in pain. Up until this point we’ve never seen Ebert weak or sickly–even with his operation and the loss of his voice. He’s always remained upbeat and full of energy. However, this is the first time we see a chink in his armor; and it’s a startling one. It’s mainly because you can almost feel the pain he’s going through just from watching the reaction on his face. I’m not sure how painful that cleaning procedure actually is, but watching Ebert go through it sure looked like hell.

Life Itself will be playing selected days and times at the Doris Duke Theater at the Honolulu Museum of Art from August 15-21. It is also currently available on VOD services.

3.5/5 stars // rated R // 2hrs




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