11.18.2015

By the Sea - Review

R  |  132 min  |  Drama, Romance
Review - Matt Mungle

**In select theaters November 20th 2015**

SynopsisBy the Sea follows an American writer named Roland (Brad Pitt) and his wife, Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt), who arrive in a tranquil and picturesque seaside resort in 1970s France, their marriage in apparent crisis. As they spend time with fellow travelers, including young newlyweds Lea and Fran├žois, the couple begin to come to terms with unresolved issues in their own lives. 

ReviewThis film comes on the heels of Angelina Jolie's directorial endeavor UNBROKEN. Here she not only directs but also stars in the film, portraying a character from the script she wrote. It is safe to say that she does all three impressively. If you want to get the Oscars to notice then give them a lot of options. Regardless of its Academy Award potential it it not necessarily a film for everyone. 

The story is well penned and you immediately engage with the characters. Roland and Vanessa obviously have some baggage other than their Louis Vuitton. This is a couple who are amiable to one another but just below the surface is a torrent of emotion and anger seething through marital fissures. Roland adores his wife but her catatonic emotional state and refusal to talk about their troubles is bringing him to a breaking point. He spends his days at the local pub drinking and searching for inspiration for his writing. She barely leaves their hotel room and stares blankly into space with sorrowful eyes. 

The mystery revolves around an incident in their past. Something has caused pain and separation for them. You can speculate and soon get a pretty good idea, yet their is still an intrigue to them that keeps you a tad unsure. Most of this comes from Vanessa. The movie takes a turn when a young newlywed couple rent the apartment next to theirs. Vanessa's fascination with them is a mix of voyeurism and contempt. Neither  her or Roland are extroverts so their desire to mingle with these two add to the plot. 

Brad Pitt was a good choice for the role. The fact that his character is so in love with his wife comes easy since he more than likely feels that for Angelina. The way he looks at her is probably no different than real life. Jolie too seems at ease in her characters pain and anger. It is widely known of her own personal journey and there is no doubt she tapped that tree for this performance. The supporting cast of actors will be unfamiliar to American audiences. This helps to ground you to the village in which they are staying. You get the since that these people have lived there their entire lives. 

The film is also beautiful to watch. Cinematographer Christian Berger uses the French seaside to his advantage creating a movie that looks timeless. Every detail captures the 70's wonderfully. The slow pace of the story and the expansive shots also add to the time period. You can almost feel the salty air as it gently blows the curtains of an open window allowing the atmosphere to swallow you up. 

That is all good news. The problem with BY THE SEA is that 132 minutes is a long time to watch the repetitive days of the characters. The film can be summed up in ten minutes. Not a lot happens. Yes we are being introduced to their pain slowly. True that it takes time to capture the rhythm of the story. But unless you adore films of this tone and nature the minutes will drag by. Also it is not a standard couple drama. Events unfold and Vanessa and Roland engage in some very off putting decisions when it comes to their new neighbors. This adds to the intrigue but the graphic depictions may create awkward moments for some mixed company viewers. Just say I would not recommend it for a first date. 

Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language it is an adult drama. If those three things do not bother you in the realm of mature and non gratuitous film making then you will be ok. Most of the graphic sexuality comes in a voyeuristic manner. Sadly for many this will distract from the very emotional journey that Roland and Vanessa take. It is touching and poignant. A story that easily could have been told without the visual nudity. Adult viewers are smart enough to know what is going on. The conclusion would have unfolded just as well either way. I give it a 3.75 out of 5. It is a beautiful film to watch and Jolie proves that regardless of what hat she is wearing, she will deliver one-hundred percent. 

11.15.2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 - Review

PG-13  |  137 min  |  Adventure, Sci-Fi
Review - Matt Mungle

**In theaters November 20th 2015**

SynopsisAs the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

ReviewTHE HUNGER GAMES franchise comes to a close with an emotional, action filled conclusion as MOCKINGJAY PART 2 releases. PART 1 ended with a climactic cliffhanger and this one picks up right where it left off. 

MOCKINGJAY is the third book in the popular YA book series by  Suzanne Collins. Most readers would agree that this final book was the least popular and at times hardest to endure addition. While THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE were expertly written and riveting, MOCKINGJAY seemed forced and boring. Fans were pleasantly surprised when the first MOCKINGJAY film was so powerful and explosive. It is arguably the better of the movie versions. That fact makes part two highly anticipated. 

Part 2 begins with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) licking her wounds which came at the hands of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Once allies and the couple all districts fell in love with Peeta was kidnapped and brainwashed by the capital in Part 1 to hate Katniss. This bit of distraction has not stopped Everdeen who is still the leader of the rebellion and the girl on fire has set her sites on destroying President Snow (Donald Sutherland). This will take infiltrating the Capitol, hunting down, and murdering Snow. 

This is a very fitting tribute to the franchise and one which fans will revel in and enjoy. There is plenty of action and Hunger Game style challenges. But also there is a palpable element of emotion. Many issues are coming to a close and Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) have to figure out where they fit in this overall scheme. For the moment they need to trust President Alma Coin (Julianna Moore) as she leads the rebellion but always keeping their eyes on the objective. 

The film somehow takes the mediocre text of the book and elevates it to a top notch film. Maybe the action elements on screen fail to sizzle on the page. Normally it is the opposite. We are used to saying that the film, "is never as good as the book" when it comes to movie adaptations. But as we witnessed in Part 1, this one certainly sizzles. 

There is of course a twinge of sadness the moment that Plutarch Heavensbee's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) face emerges the first time. Hoffman's death still weighs heavy on our hearts and he is horribly missed. There was a collective sigh as we all felt the impact of the reminder. The supporting cast includes familiar characters like Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). 

If you have never read the books but only amerced yourself in the movie franchise you will engage with this one from the first frame. As the final conflict draws near it pulls you closer and closer to the edge of your seat. The twist and turns are heart wrenching and intense. If you have read the books and know the outcome it will be awesome to see it all flesh out in front of you. 

This is not a perfect film nor is it without a few holes and frustrating story arcs. The relationship triangle with Peeta, Katniss, and Gale is often too "Twilight" in nature. Granted not as eye rolling and stomach turning as the Edward vs. Jacob fiasco but sadly Katniss does channel Bella one too many times in her finicky bouncing from guy to guy.  Also they set up impossible scenarios that Katniss and her squad seem to overcome easily. There is a lot to squeeze in to the 137 minutes so often it feels like really cool moments are sped by too quickly. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. Obviously if this is on your radar you have seen the three prior flicks. This one is not nearly as visually assaulting as the earlier films which had kids killing kids. This one is more on the dramatic side and the violence and action more war like. I give it 3.75 out of 5 white roses. It is successful end to what has been a long anticipated finale.