Knee-jerk review: "Mockingjay Part 2"

1. True story: the night before we saw this in theaters, we watched Mockingjay Part 1 for the first time on Amazon Prime.  An interesting experience because Part 2 essentially picks up moments after the end of Part 1, which means we had the chance to watch a single narrative (totaling about four hours) split between two completely different environments - one, an HD wide-screen television in our living room and two, a huge movie screen in a packed theater.  Cool.
2. The Hunger Games series revolves around a fairly ridiculous premise: a future world, as penance for trying to revolt against the government, agrees to sacrifice children in a battle-to-the-death live television special.  It's a fun, if dark, world... but only if you try not to think too much about how and why this world came to be.  It's just crazy.
3. But the point is that the filmmakers and actors play this stuff completely straight, giving the story genuine gravitas and import.  
4. Having an Oscar-winning actress as the lead for your PG-13 sci-fi franchise series certainly doesn't hurt either.
5. It's a touching and satisfying ending, but we're still on Team Gale.  Which is kind of funny when you look back at what we said two years ago about Gale in our Knee-Jerk Review of the second movie Catching Fire.
6. Woody Harrelson.  He's a genius.  But Jenna Malone always seems to be trying too hard.
7. We remember well reading the Mockingjay book and wondering how in the world they'd ever turn it into a movie.  It's a far cry from the bottle-vibe of the first book.
8. Some of the scares in the mutt-in-the-sewers sequence are certainly cliche.  But they still work.
9. Why do movie characters always risk their lives going back to save a pet?
10. President Coin, tsk tsk.
11. "Real or not real?"
12. Philip Seymour Hoffman completely disappears and we couldn't help but wonder how much of that was planned and how much of that was because of his unexpected death during production.  We get a rather odd sideways shot of him towards the end that feels wholly unnatural, plus another character delivers a letter from Hoffman's character.  If he hadn't died, would that letter have been replaced by an actual dialogue scene?  
13. Here's an interesting analysis of the creepy song "Hanging Tree."
14. That's one fantastic last line (which apparently came from the novel).  Slow clap.
15. Three books, four movies, all top notch.


Knee-jerk review: "The Martian"

1. It was a great book, but at times a little too Robinson Crusoe wonky when it came to explaining scientific minutiae.  The book takes pages to explain steps in making oxygen or growing food in the Martian soil.  It was our only real criticism of the novel.  The movie, of course, takes care of that problem. You get a taste of the science, yes, but the 2-hour running time means a good chunk of detail gets tossed to keep things moving.
2. Matt Damon is great, of course, but his character is so good-natured and cool-and-collected that it's a jarring - and effective - moment when he understandably starts to break down towards the end of the movie.
3. Donald Glover's Asperger's scientist feels a little gratuitous, especially in that it seems like he's doing a spoof of his old co-star Danny Pudi's character of NBC's "Community."
4. Some have compared it to Cast Away.  We get it.  But, to us, it's more like Apollo 13 in that a horrible problem is slowly and surely solved by smart, creative, determined math-geek scientists.
5. And that's the best part of the movie.  All of the math.  It's science and numbers that saves Damon's character and the movie actually shows him repeatedly putting pen to paper to work out calculations.
6. Hexadecimals.  Never heard of it.  So we would have died up there.
7. Going to the moon took days.  A Mars mission would take years.  That's a serious commitment not just of manpower and money, but the lives of the astronauts.
8. Michael Pena's always fun and interesting, but we're still trying to figure out the enduring appeal to casting directors of Jessica Chastain.  She's not really ever bad, but she's just so brittle and closed off.
9. Bonus points for the use of 1970s disco on the soundtrack.
10. The focus of the movie is the plot.  There's not a lot of the sweeping and spectacular "ooh!" special effects shots you might expect in a Ridley Scott science fiction movie.
11. The Hermes ship is pretty cool, though.
12. Speaking of Scott, he's in his 70s.  How much longer can he do this? His movies may not always be good, but they are always compelling on some level.  Three of his movies are, to us, among the best ever made: Alien, Blade Runner, and Thelma and Louise.  This one's probably a close fourth.