Sunday, November 30, 2014

Choose Your Side

Don't worry - Third Age Thursday will be returning! Between Thanksgiving Day and Dr. Franklin's absolute insistence that a few more samples be taken for some tests to be run (I keep telling him that there's simply no way I could have contracted hoof and mouth disease, but he won't listen and insists that some bacterium hitched a ride on a Drazi freighter and that he's seeing all sorts of weirdness as a result), no new post was created for this past Thursday, but I expect to be back this coming Thursday, even if I have to sneak a tablet into the medlab.

In the meantime, I've seen two new movies that I'd like to talk with you about. What we think of as a "kids' movie" has changed dramatically in the last twenty or so years. In many ways, that's a good thing - the quality has certainly improved. But one of the down sides is that the creators of many movies that are intended for children know that they also need to capture the attention of adults who are taking the kids to the movies in the first place, so themes sometimes get darker and more "adult" for no good reason.

Then you have the Hunger Games films. Mockingjay, Part 1, the third of the four planned movies, is out in theaters now and I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. The whole film is a set-up for the climactic battles that will take place in the final movie and it would have been easy to just sort of phone this one in. But sometimes the set-up can be a strong film in and of itself (Empire Strikes Back, I'm looking at you!). While I generally disagree with the idea of stretching a franchise out to as many films as possible (oh, Hobbit, you and your infernal scenes of "walking in New Zealand" and creating entire subplots and characters that have zero to do with the source material! Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug notwithstanding - I'm still disappointed in you.) The original Hunger Games novel took a lot of criticism for being too closely aligned plot-wise with Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, but Suzanne Collins had a much larger picture in mind and we're really starting to see it here in Mockingjay 1. Yes, Katniss has survived the Quarter Quell and has discovered that there's a bigger battle brewing. So much of the film deals with her deciding who gets to use her - she's freed herself (or been freed from) the machinations of the Capitol, but is she willing to the be face of the coming Rebellion - an uprising which is going to get an awful lot of people killed for no certain outcome? The film has a strong, strong cast, with many reprising their roles from earlier films and some actors getting more screen time to develop their characters. For me, the most fascinating aspect of this film was the use of propaganda. Katniss is a symbol with tremendous value - and it's all in the editing. Remember that popular culture reflects the culture that created it and you'll watch Mockingjay 1 with a fresh appreciation for the wheels within wheels that are turning and you'll also wonder just whose hands are pushing those wheels.  Consider the District 3 salute being used in political uprisings in Thailand. Also, don't blame me if the eerie song "The Hanging Tree" gets caught in your head. Good movie - go see.

The other is Big Hero 6, based on a manga and "updated" to include a more diverse cast. The setting is moved to San Fransokyo and that's not the only nod to the film's Japanese roots.  Look for the "Lucky Cat Cafe," the lovely cherry blossoms, and a certain Kabuki mask. Big Hero 6 is a lovely movie about friendship, fitting in, revenge versus love, and the proper role of science. It's a great team ensemble piece and is letting some new vocal talent have their day in the sun, (Along with the ever-reliable Alan Tudyk, who plays a villain in this one.) There's a particularly interesting twist as the very pale Caucasian girl ("Honey Lemon") is the only one to pronounce lead character "Hiro's" name with a Japanese flair, instead of the Americanized "Hero." Go see this with the kids - and watch for Stan Lee.  Also, you get a short - "Feast" - at the very beginning that made me long for the days of shorts and cartoon being an integral part of the feature film experience. Ah, Pixar. Maybe you and Disney can reform us after all.

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