Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)

Last night I watched D2: The Mighty Ducks film for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast. And now the review...

The Plot

Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), who set off at the end of the first film to join a minor-league hockey team, finally scores the goal he needs to get into the National Hockey League but then suffers a career-ending (or at least career-derailing, since he's able to skate later) injury soon afterward. He returns home to Minnesota and is offered the chance to coach Team USA at the Goodwill Games. Many of the original Mighty Ducks return along with some new faces from elsewhere in the U.S. for a trip to Los Angeles, where they face off against the dreaded Icelandic team.

The Good

*The movie is quite entertaining, much more so than the original film (which I reviewed here). It is written that love covers a multitude of sins, and the film's pure entertainment value does much the same. I'll single out a few particularly good ones in this section later. I saw both movies as a kid and I remember the second one being better than the first. That still holds true.

*The two big kids who bond over being, well, big kids who can terrorize the other team are really funny as the "Bash Brothers." They get a lot of amusing moments, most of which revolve around them inflicting violence on opposing players or rocking out to heavy metal.

*The antagonist Icelandic coach has more shades of gray than the a-hole coach of the first film. That one (Coach Reilly) was vindictive, domineering, and emotionally abusive, while Stansson (except for one out-of-character moment I'll get too later) is depicted as supportive to his players even when he's a major jerk to everybody else.

*The street hockey team from South Central came off initially as being a bunch of "Magical Negroes" (with one Hispanic I noticed), but escapes that territory because one of the players (played by none other than Keenan Thompson) ends up actually joining Team USA. One of the players even sacrifices his spot on the ice to accommodate him.

*Some of the humor is more adult this time around, which makes some degree of sense given how the kids are probably now at least freshmen in high school or older middle-schoolers. The scene where they manage to infiltrate a chic Beverly Hills clothing store is amusing.

The Bad

*The last 20 minutes get kind of ridiculous. The Texan kid straight-up lassos an Icelandic player who's being overly rough with Connie. I'll complain some more about him later, but if they're willing to kick players out of the game permanently in the first match for stuff that's much less absurd, I would imagine he'd be in more serious trouble. Foreign objects, perhaps? The two big enforcer kids skate by the Icelandic team in their box whacking them on the helmets like they were drums, which the Icelandic a-hole coach (who's depicted as being ruthless and treacherous) doesn't even try to use as a pretext to get them kicked out of the game. An attempt to inspire the kids by chanting "DUCKS FLY TOGETHER" was Narm-ish. And then they just happen to have upgraded versions of their old Ducks uniforms (product placement for the Anaheim Ducks alert) sitting around. I know the last game of a sports movie is supposed to be a big deal, but this is one of the few things the first film actually did better.

*The romance between Bombay and Charlie's mother from the first film is written off with a line from the Magical Scandinavian who refers to her as having remarried and Charlie works at his shop now. Instead they have Bombay dating a woman who works for the Icelandic team for all of ten minutes and a lot of meaningful looks between Bombay and Michelle McKay, who's responsible for teaching the kids when they're not playing or practicing, that's never really followed up on. That's a twofer--something that was a very big deal in the first movie is abandoned with a single line and the replacement for this movie pretty much does nothing.

*Some of the new characters are depicted in stupidly stereotypical ways. The presumably Cuban-American player from Miami is introduced to what sounds like mariachi music (mariachi is a specifically Mexican style), while the Texan kid makes a lot of cowboy references, wears a cowboy hat and a giant belt buckle, and even straight-up lassos a rival player (more on that later). Sometimes stereotyping can be funny or serve a dramatic point, but this was just lame.

*Bombay starts neglecting his team due to the celebrity he's acquired and has to be set straight again by the Magical Scandinavian, complete with another sepia-toned solo skating sequence. A bit repetitive, considering something very similar happened in the first film.

*Stansson's characterization (see above) is undermined at the very end when he berates one of his player, who snaps back at him. That whole exchange could have been eliminated completely. Not only does it undermine Stansson's grayer portrayal, but it's way too late to actually give the Icelandic characters any major characterization.

*On that note, it would have been better to depict some more internal goings-on in the Icelandic team. The first film managed that with the Hawks (the two kids who fight over whether or not to "take out" Adam, their former teammate) without taking the focus off the Ducks, so it's not like the filmmakers didn't know how to do it. Instead, we see a relatively harmonious (among themselves at least) situation disrupted at the very end by one of the players talking back to the coach.

*The original Magical Scandinavian is replaced by his brother, since apparently he's visiting family back home. Put on a Bus indeed. Seriously, if the actor wasn't available, they should have re-cast him. He wasn't a major character like Bombay, so this wouldn't have been a problem.

*Some of the more adult humor really isn't that funny. In a scene where the hockey players are tied together to learn to skate as a team one of the female players complains about other players' hands and later the player comments about pads when hassled by the Icelanders. Those jokes didn't really work.

The Verdict

An improvement over the original. 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Last night I saw the third The Hunger Games film, Mockingjay - Part 1,with a friend. Here's my review...

The Plot

With the aid of a group of rebels including Capitol dissidents and the people of the long-thought-destroyed District 13, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and some of the other tributes have escaped from the arena. Now they're in hiding in District 13, whose leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) plans to lead the rebellious districts in the final war against the decadent Capitol. Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plan to make Katniss an iconic figure for the rebellion, but the Capitol has cards to play of its own...

The Good

*I liked how they made District 13 look. There's a giant central shaft and tunnels radiating off in different directions, with bomb shelters below and aircraft hangars at the top. The vibe I got off it was that they were living in a re-purposed missile silo, which given what District 13 produced for the Capitol before the rebellion, makes a lot of sense.

*I like how in the overhead shots of District 13 you can see buildings engulfed by the forests, broken bridges, etc. It shows that the people once lived on the surface and retreated below-ground before Capitol aerial attacks without having to explain it.

*Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress. She does a great job conveying emotions like horror (the ruins of District 12) and blinding, straight-up FURY ("you will burn with us"). Bravo.

*I liked Jennifer Lawrence's rendition of the song "The Hanging Tree." It's apparently one of the most popular songs in the world right now. So in addition to being a talented actress and (from what I've read about her) an awesome person in general, now she's a pop star. :) I need to come up with some folk music for the wider culture of my Wastelands world. Something akin to "The Hanging Tree" would really fit. I've gotten the song off iTunes and I've listened to it a whole bunch of times...

*When they cut from her singing "The Hanging Tree" to District Five rebels marching on the giant dam complex that fuels the Capitol, carrying no weapons to defend themselves but explosives to attack the dam, it shows just how much of a cult icon Katniss is becoming to the people of Panem.

*Per my earlier comment, the scene where Katniss returns to District 12 and finds in absolute ruin, complete with, well, go to this image, is well dramatic and well-done. Especially when you see off to the corner what a surviving dog is doing. TVTropes calls it Scenery Gorn and damn if it isn't effective.

*The propaganda campaign the Capitol wages against the rebellion is actually quite clever. No details for spoiler reasons, but it's something that on the surface makes a lot of sense. It's a testament to human ingenuity and fallibility that the most evil things (like the Capitol's exploitative system) can be made to sound so good. If you want something similarly clever, there's this rumination on the Sith.

*The producers have been criticized in many quarters for splitting the singular Mockingjay novel into two movies, but where they split the book makes sense.

*There are some good moments of humor, many of which revolve around Katniss's sister Prim's cat.

The Bad

*It was a little slow in places. I found myself looking at my watch a couple times. That being said, there weren't any obvious places where material could be cut.

*It would have been good to see the Capitol bombers attacking District 13. Although there are good, dramatic reasons to focus on Katniss, her mother, and her sister hiding in the bunkers while dust falls from the ceiling, it would have been cool to intersperse those scenes with images of Capitol aircraft engaging District 13's air defenses.

The Verdict

Go see it. 9.0 out of 10.


According to this link I found while doing some Twitter work for a client, the producers of The Hunger Games film franchise are planning more movies even after the second Mockingjay film is done. It looks like they're leaning toward new characters in the pre-existing universe rather than trying to come up with more adventures for Katniss, whose story is pretty much done with Mockingjay.

(Not going to go into any more detail for spoiler reasons.)

Although this looks like a blatant cash grab, it could actually be pretty interesting. Here are some ideas I just spun off the top of my head:

*A prequel about Haymitch Abernathy--how he became a victor, how his family was murdered in reprisal for his figuring how out to use the Arena itself as a weapon, and how he started the path toward becoming the ornery drunk he is. To make things even more interesting, he'd competed in a previous Quarter Quell where the Capitol demanded twice as many tributes as usual. It'd basically be the first movie with twice as many tributes and (apparently) twice as much brutality, with a male protagonist and a downer ending I won't be getting into for reasons of spoilers.

*The rise of the evil Capitol President Coriolanus Snow. He apparently murdered and manipulated his way into power, so he could be a Villain Protagonist. Think a sci-fi version of House of Cards set in probably one of the most thoroughly vile fictional societies ever created. Given how Snow apparently prostitutes victors to the other decadent aristocrats of the Capitol, this is something that could get into serious rated-R territory here.

*The rise of the Capitol and how it took control of the Districts and established the exploitative system that presumably provoked the first rebellion. If things were really so dark and desperate that one can make any case that the Capitol's system was needed to save humankind (at least in North America) from extinction, this could have a lot of Grey and Gray Morality going on.

*The first rebellion-This is when the Districts rebelled and after defeating them (with the exception of District 13, which made a separate peace), the Capitol imposed the Hunger Games on them. This could be really interesting, especially with the referenced rebel attack on the Capitol in the Rocky Mountains and how it was foiled by aerial bombardment. It could be a Hope Spot (like the scene in Valkyrie where all the top Nazis are getting rounded up and the viewer actually thinks the coup will succeed) followed by a massive downer when the attack is defeated and/or when District 13 betrays the rest of the rebels. This could be so epic it could be made into multiple movies.

Life lesson for writers--create worlds so detailed and "big" that you can write lots of stories set in this world, not just stories about the important characters. This is by no means advice to scrimp on characterization though--I doubt The Hunger Games could be the phenomenon it is now if not for the character of Katniss.


Producers of The Hunger Games, if you read this, please don't discard any of the above ideas for legal reasons. I've heard that Hollywood people sometimes ditch good ideas that they find others have come up with due to fear of lawsuits. Remember, ideas can't be copyrighted.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Last weekend, I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas as part of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the actual podcast. I haven't seen the movie in its entirety until now, so here goes...

In this stop-motion animation film from the early 1990s, Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town is getting rather tired of doing the same-old, same-old. After going for a thoughtful walk and losing track of time, he comes across doorways to towns representing other holidays, including Christmas. Jack decides to give Santa Claus a break and give Christmas a try, self-absorbedly oblivious to the warnings of shy love interest Sally that this is going to end in disaster and the notion that maybe he should perhaps ask Santa before usurping his holiday.

The Good

*The movie is very creative. As far as I know it's completely original, not even based on any sort of prior fairy tale the way most Disney films are. Granted, there are some horror-movie tropes like a mad scientist and a werewolf still wearing most of his human clothes, but that's pretty small potatoes. It's a stop-motion (more on that later), rather macabre fairy tale and that's kind of cool.

*Visually, it's well put-together. Stop-motion animation is an incredibly cumbersome, difficult process, but it's very well-done in the film.

*I like the characterization of Jack and Sally, the male and female leads. Jack is enthusiastic and well-meaning but too unbelievably self-absorbed to listen to anyone telling him that what he's planning is a bad idea, while Sally is in love with Jack but too shy to actually say anything about it. She also wants her freedom from her overbearing creator Dr. Finkelstein, but is too kind-hearted to truly harm him--whenever she wants to go out she puts him to sleep with nightshade in his soup and then tucks him in.

*There are some funny bits, like Jack discovering that antiaircraft guns (yes, you heard that correctly) are actually being fired at him rather than some kind of fireworks show celebrating his macabre usurpation of Christmas and just how Sally manages to distract the villainous Oogie Boogie from her attempt to rescue the captive Santa Claus.

*There are some good songs, including one where a trio of evil child minions of Oogie Boogie assigned by Jack to abduct Santa Claus sing morbidly about just what they're going to do to him.

*As I've said before, I strongly object to the hero being too "pure" to finish a villain and so the villain has to kill themselves. I liked that Jack and Santa both deal decisively with the monstrous Oogie, which you can watch here  (skip the Beetlejuice clip that's at the beginning for some reason) if you're so inclined.

The Bad

*It's not a very exciting movie. In fact, it's actually pretty dull. It's a very pretty pretty dull movie, but it's still rather boring. That's the primary flaw, but it's a pretty big flaw given how the movie is just over an hour and fifteen minutes.

*Jack Skellington's song about how he's depressed and bored with Halloween goes on too long. It didn't make me depressed and bored, fortunately, but it's best not to trifle with such things. Kind of a microcosm of the actual movie.

The Verdict

See it once, if that. Great concept, but not entertaining even if it isn't, strictly speaking, bad. 6.5 out of 10.