Mockingjay Part 2 Review

Mockingjay Part 2 is a masterful extension and conclusion to the foundation set by The Hunger Games.

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A few years ago I binged-read every single Hunger Games book. Lebron James actually read The Hunger Games during the post-season leading up to his first championship. This was in 2012.

I say this to point out just how long these stories have been floating around. The original Hunger Games film came out in March of 2012. This was a year before Jennifer Lawrence won her Oscar, and two years before 24 aired its comeback mini-series (Kiefer Sutherland is Donald Sutherland’s son).

Seeing this last film was kind of like seeing an old high school buddy three or four years after graduation–you know them well, but you’ve kind of lost touch.

It just feels like the series lost some steam.

This is less about the timing, and more about the fact that the previous film–Mockingjay Part One–really sucked. I’m serious. I knew it was going to suck too, because I read the books; a whole lot of nothing happens in the first half. I just went to see the film because I had to if I wanted to get to the last one–where all the themes really reach a beautiful crescendo.

When I saw that Mockingjay Part 2 had a weaker opening weekend than the first one, I actually kind of liked it. Studios really ruin the stories by stretching them over multiple films, and this one lost a lot of steam because of it.

I digress.

The great news is that this movie was everything I wanted it to be. 

SPOILERS

It’s true, this is the best film of the series by a longshot. Jennifer Lawrence carries it, Josh Hutcherson delivers a nice performance, and it is so freaking easy to hate Julianne Moore as we find out she’s the films actual villain.

There are more themes in this movie than pods scattered throughout the Capitol. I give less of the credit to the director and more of the credit to Suzanne Collins, who really wrote an incredible story.

The scale of the books (and films) matured well while also sticking to the original formula of Katniss having to survive game-like conditions. In this one, Finnick refers to the pods in the Capitol as the 76th Hunger Games–no kidding!

With the first one, Suzanne Collins started a small ember that she tended to and developed over time. When Cinna dies in Catching Fire, she was pumping air into the flames. When Peeta turned out to be insane by Mockingjay, she was throwing wood into the pit. When Primrose dies near Mockinjay‘s conclusion, the fire is literally burning on the costume Katniss is wearing. This is the most powerful image of the movie.

The girl on fire couldn’t control the flames. The one thing she wanted to protect in the first Hunger Games was gone. Katniss never cared about starting a revolution, she just wanted to protect her sister. Suzanne Collins’ most poweful theme plays out in these few moments near the end.

The final film also has so much to say about Marketing. The whole series does really, but it becomes particularly blatant in the last two films. We are a society controlled by the media–make no mistake. There are figures behind the scenes spinning a story to control the masses.

We’re lead to believe Katniss is doing good with the promotions she shoots, but really she’s just playing into the hands of President Coin, who seeks to unite the districts just to crown herself the “Interim President” at the end.

Not only does she do that, but she also proposes a “symbolic Hunger Games” be held to quench the “thirst for blood” the districts have for the Capitol. First of all, when did President Coin start smoking crack? And second of all, The Hunger Games were symbolic anyway! Wasn’t she watching? My hatred for this woman boiled over years ago when I read the books.

Here we stop at another theme–history repeating itself. There will be revolutions, peace, and then more revolutions. Somebody will always find a way to exploit the system. We’re just a messed up society.

These stories are not happy ones. I realized that when I read them. There are sacrifices we must make if we want to progress as a society and achieve freedom. Finnick, Cinna, Prim, and my personal favorite, Rue all died so the people of Panem could be free.

It’s obvious from the start, but The Hunger Games series is making a statement about America. These messages are particularly haunting when we realize that.

By the end of the film I felt oddly nostalgiac. I got back in touch with this beautiful story quicker than I thought. To add yet another analogy, it was like somebody pulling out a Strawberry Shortcake after a wretched dinner. Suzanne Collins saved the best for last, and I’ll never forget the messages and lessons these stories taught me.

 

 

 

 

 

My (Freelancing) Journey

If you told me that I’d be a full-time freelancer six months after graduation, I wouldn’t have believed you.

It’s been a crazy few months. I have been employed as a server, an associate at Panera, and a marketing assistant since May. If you want me to be brutally honest I didn’t last three weeks at any of those jobs. I quit within days, and one time I quit on the exact same day I started.

Sheesh, I’m sure this is exactly what clients want to hear. I just didn’t feel happy in any of those positions–I wanted more. Now, most people would’ve just kept at it–sucked it up as it were, but not me. I don’t know why I physically couldn’t do it.

I had endured long wrestling seasons full of weight cutting and general suckyness but I literally couldn’t bear to work an 8-hour shift and be treated like a dog by managers and customers.

It’s because I wasn’t going to settle. I kept hearing this voice in the back of my head remind me that I’d be doing this the rest of my life. I didn’t go to college for four years to be a damn server. So I quit.

In between applying for jobs that I really didn’t want I decided to shoot for freelance work. The whole idea of working at home and never having to dress up really appealed to me. The pay wasn’t the greatest at first, but that was back then.

Sometimes I wonder how I got any work to begin with. I have a degree in Marketing–not Journalism or English. I guess I sold myself well. My first job was to write a 5,000 word ebook for $100. It was about ten pages long.

You wouldn’t have thought I had any problem with that too–because I didn’t. I was walking on air. Someone actually liked my writing and was paying me for it. How incredible was that?

In a way I was my own boss, setting my own schedule. I loved the freedom. You would’ve thought I had just cashed in a million dollar check when the funds cleared into my account. Now that I marinate on it, $20 per 1,000 words was way too low a price–I could do better, and I did.

If you didn’t yet realize, I really like dashes–so get over it.

Attracting more work became a tad easier after landing that first project. I used Upwork.com to jump from job to job, which was actually perfect for me considering my track record with employment. My work was always new, I got to research a wide variety of topics (I basically have my PHD in coffee now), and I was making money doing it!

I wrote product reviews, white papers, letters, articles, and blog posts. I even dabbled in copywriting, which is something I love doing. As I kept getting work, I raised my going rate. I was making twice as much freelancing as I was as an associate at Panera, and ironically I started using the leftover salad-build packets as scratchpaper for my early drafts.

Yes, I’m still using them. And yes, I know how to make the best chicken caesar salad you’ll ever eat.

Somehow I gathered enough samples strewn around in unorganized word documents to make a half-decent looking portfolio. A portfolio for a guy that never went to school to write. I then started to apply for jobs outside of Upwork, and within a week I landed my first position writing for a website called ThriveWire.com.

Landing this was a huge boost to my confidence. I was going to be published by a real news authority–it’s still cool to see my name pasted at the top of an article.

I recently went to an interview. I know, crazy right? The position I interviewed for was writing intensive, and in a weird round-about way, I had actually put myself in position to do what I really wanted to do (writing) by not compromising from the start.

If I kept being a server I wouldn’t have had the time to progress this quickly. My interviewer told me it was impressive that I achieved so much in a matter of months. It truly felt so good to hear that.

Here I was, a confident beam of light in my interview, a completely changed man. Months earlier I was stuttering through easy questions, swimming in a pool of sweat in my shirt. I realized in this interview a few days ago that I didn’t need the system–I really never did.

I made my own path. I changed myself, by myself. It became evident that I didn’t need this job. I was perfectly fine without it, and I needed to keep doing what I was doing because that’s what I loved to do.

Words are a powerful thing. People are quick to write them off (pun completely intended), but we are all so affected by them, even if we don’t want to show it. The ability to write things and move people even if only in the slightest way gives me a lot of purpose.

I’m far from being any good at it, but writing is about telling the truth. In the end writers are just observing, and writing what they observe. Some are more observant and therefore better writers than others, but we all see things–whether that’s the way a person pauses when they see someone they love walk into a room, or how our dogs know to nudge their noses into the crevices of our arms when we’re upset.

In books I always read that your destiny is in your own hands. And I’m so happy that what I read wasn’t some fantasy. Many people are quick to give up after a few failed job interviews, but the trick is to pursue something you’re infinitely passionate about from the start, and the rest will fall into place.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not what you majored in.

I’ve learned so much about writing, the freelance world, and client relationships in the past few months–but what I’ve learned about most is myself. This is why I will never go back.

 

 

The Time Of Our Lives Is Now

I find myself saying “I miss this” so much. Truthfully it’s my Disney College Program I’m talking about most of the time. But as I keep thinking about it, I never stopped to think about how awesome my experience was while in the midst of working for Disney.

I was too busy trying to get to work on time.

And get groceries.

And then I realized that the only time we appreciate something is when it’s over. We look back with pointed fingers and say “That was it, why can’t I go back there?”

I remember I was very homesick during my college program. My first week I didn’t know how I was going to make it through 8 months. It’s a long time.

I looked backwards even then. I remembered my house during the fall, my college, and I started missing even my most distant friends. Our minds find ways to constantly make us nostalgiac.

If you’re like me, chances are your life has been absolutely awesome. I mean, between the cliff diving, lamborghini driving, and secret covert missions where I had to jump out of planes at 2 in the morning, I’ve had a pretty blessed life. By cliff diving I mean doing a pencil into my local public pool. And by Lamborghini driving I mean having intense daydreams of driving one whenever I spot the car on the road. Now that I think about it, my life really hasn’t been all that awesome. Go figure.

The truth is, instead of living in the moment we’re thinking forwards, backwards, upwards, downwards, and all other directions instead of where we’re currently standing. As if I had it so much better when I was 12 and couldn’t drive to 7/11 whenever I wanted a Milky Way (times were tough).

I’m no expert on the intricacies of human thought, but if this trend continues, I’ll be missing the life I’m living right now in the not-so-distant future. And then when I have kids I’ll be missing that not-so-distant future I was just talking about. And then when my kids hit high school I’ll be missing when they were just 5 and 6 years old.

Then it hit me.

According to what I just said, the time of our lives is right now. It’s not when I won a team state championship in high school, or worked for the mouse. It’s right this second. Someday I’ll look back on this and say “That’s it, I wish I was there.”

I don’t care what you’re doing. Whether you’re in school or working or having kids, this is the time of your life. Each stage of our existence is different than the last with differing freedoms, responsibilities, and perspectives. You might have had more “freedom” when you were guzzling drinks in the club and acting like you were the coolest thing since sliced bread (which kind of sounds like an intellectal jail cell if you asked me). You might have a husband or wife now and have children, but the joy you receive from parenting and having a great person constantly there are things that our teenage selves with our 4-month anniversaries could never fathom.

The time of our life is now. Go outside and take it all in, because chances are our brains will make us miss this moment sometime soon.

Spectre Review

Can Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig keep making Bond movies?

Spectre feels like an old Bond film. And it’s awesome.

It’s got the henchman, the opening gun barrel sequence, and the dashing white tuxedo. It’s got the quirky torture scene and the ejector seat in the Aston Martin. It’s got M,Q, and Moneypenny. But what really sent me back in time was the inclusion of Spectre, the organization that the second best Bond of all time so famously had major dealings with back in the day.

Once again Daniel Craig absolutely shines as 007. He plays Bond how he’s always played him: tough, smooth, and vulnerable. One thing I couldn’t help but noticing was how old he’s gotten. Casino Royale came out in 2006, making it almost 10 years since he’s taken over the role. Something in me wants him to be Bond one more time, but only if it’s just as brilliant as the past two, not worse.

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The movie begins with a quote reading “The dead are alive”, before opening on the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. The camera pans down and fixates on one character wearing a skeleton mask–all we can see are his eyes, and they’re noticeably blue. More on the eye motif later.

Obviously this is Bond, and he’s following somebody. I won’t tell you much more except that a helicopter’s involved and it does aerial tricks resembling a master gymnist.

In true Bond fashion he gets suspended for causing quite the ruckus, and the credibility of the “00” program is questioned as well.

Just like Skyfall, there’s a major theme concerning the old and the new–as if you didn’t already understand that from the film’s title.

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There’s drones, surveillance cameras, and computers now, so why do we even need people anymore? Bond answers this question by constantly being in the light on things the newly merged MI6 is in the dark on.

This culminates in a scene where Bond drops in on a chilling meeting between the heads of Spectre. This was one of my favorite scenes, and I don’t care if you thought it was boring. The lighting, timing, and dialogue made me a nervous wreck. When Franz Oberhauser(Christoph Waltz) comes in, every head in the room turns to him, and there’s a deafening silence for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) chairs a meeting in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE.

Mendes did an incredible job on this sequence. Truthfully I’m scared of this guy because a large room full of people seem intimidated out of their minds. It doesn’t help when Hinx(Bautista) comes in and practically gouges out the eyes of a member of the panel for failing.

Let me talk about the eyes motif for a second. Metaphorically and sometimes quite literally, there are eyes everywhere. The main conflict of the movie deals with a program called “Nine Eyes” that feeds footage of intelligence agencies directly to Spectre. Q asks Bond how he knows Spectre exists, and Bond replies “I saw it.”

Perhaps the biggest in-your-face offering of the eyes theme is Blofeld’s (yes he’s in it) scarred right eye. It happens, and his eye turns a chilling white, just like the old Blofeld of the early Bond films. What’s the meaning behind it? More on that later.

The scenery in the next few settings are reminiscent of old. There’s a train scene that oddly resembles “From Russia With Love”, and a wintery Austria scene that resembles “On her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

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Sandwiched between these scenes is one involving an old hotel that Mr. White used to stay in. There’s an important moment where Bond wakes up in the night to see a mouse on the floor, staring at him. After a few seconds the little animal scampers off across the floor, into a mouse hole. This minute sequence is actually very important thematically, as James Bond tells a secrity guard that he’s “Mickey Mouse” earlier in the film.

After Bond notices this mouse crawling into the hole, he realizes that there’s actually a hidden room behind the hole with important information regarding Spectre. I’d never thought I’d say this, but Bond IS a mouse in the sense that he is figuratively going behind the walls of a hidden operation and exposing it to the light of day. Great job, Mendes.

After the train scene we’re taken to the central point of Spectre’s operations. The center is housed in an actual crater that almost resembles the Volcano in “You Only Live Twice”. It’s here where we really meet Olberhauser, who turns out to actually be Blofeld.

Bond really goes through it in these scenes. He’s tortured with these odd drills that penetrate his skull, affecting parts of his brain. This is a gentle nod to the “psychological” theme of the film–with Madeleine Swan being an actual psychologist as well.

Blofeld argues that the eyes are the most important part regarding the mind. He says the man who had his eyes so famously gouged out earlier in the film was not himself anymore after that moment. They are what make us, us. Psychologically nobody believes that Bond is on to something regarding Spectre, because nobody actually sees them.

All the eyes of the world are turned to the intelligence agencies, and it’s because of this that Spectre is winning.

The brilliance of Mendes is that he uses the most defining physical feature of Daniel Craig as a theme in the movie. The eyes are so important psychologically because they can both trick us or reinforce our belief in something.

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The ending of the film is one of the most memorable in recent memory. Bond is in the middle of a bridge, with a gun pointed towards Blofeld. On one end of the bridge is M, and on the other is Madeleine Swan. He clearly has a choice to make between his job and love. Instead of shooting Blofeld, Bond throws the gun away, and chases Mrs. Swan–she actually lives. It’s a happy ending for Bond, and it ties everything off in such a way that I’m not sure whether I want this ending to be ruined.

A part of me just wants to believe Bond is happy.

This movie is tough to put my finger on. Yes, we see the return of Blofeld, memorable henchmen, and Spectre, but I wanted to see more of them.

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Hinx, which is Bautista’s character, has this thing where he likes to crush people’s eyeballs with his thumbs. This is distinguishing enough, but couldn’t he do it a little bit more? It seemed like Jaws wrapped his teeth around anything he could find.

Mendes was going for that timeless henchmen, but to do that you really need timeless characteristics. Hinx was cool, but I doubt audiences will consider him a part of James Bond lore, just because he didn’t distinguish himself enough. I needed maybe two more pairs of eyeballs decimated for me to reconsider.

Now, let’s talk about Blofeld. Christoph Waltz offers up a noticeably un-bald version of the character. He’s definitely quirky, but once again Mendes needed to dump maybe one more cup of quirkiness into the mixing bowl for him.

Blofeld has a fascination with meteors, small drills that make people go insane, and killing parents. The torture scene is one I’ll never forget, and it made me cringe even more than the famous “cut-out-chair” scene from Casino Royale.

Lea Seydoux was beautiful in this film, and she’s one of my favorite Bond girls of all time. She’s strong, smart, and is impervious to Bond’s advances at first, which makes her a much tougher love interest than most.

Monica Bellucci was cool too, but her scene with Daniel Craig was awkward and I think her age caught up with her. She’s still beautiful, but something about it felt weird to me.

From a bigger picture, this movie is a celebration of Bond–but I’m afraid this is what ultimately accounts for its biggest failure. They were too busy trying to copy old aspects of the grand Bond movies that they forgot to make something wildly original and iconic in and of itself.

I’ll never forget Javier Bardem as Silva in Skyfall. He had this retainer-like thing that kept his face in place, and he had an off-the-wall personality that was unpredictable. Le Chiffre cried blood! I’ll never forget that.

With this one we got a regurgitated bad guy and a henchman that’s kind of like Oddjob regarding his strength. That’s not to say that Waltz didn’t bring more to the character, but we’ve seen him before.

One of the best things about Daniel Craig’s time as Bond is the connection between films. Quantum of Solace was a sequel to Casino Royale, and Skyfall was kind of a distant cousin of the first two. Spectre ties all these movies together. Remember that “organization” they talk about in Casino Royale and Quantum? That one is directly connected to Spectre.

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Overall Craig offered us a vulnerable Bond that felt more like a person. Craig’s 007 really falls in love twice over the course of four movies, and it seemed inevitable that he would ride off into the sunset with somebody he loved, because that was a part of his version of the character since the beginning. This vulnerability is what elevated Craig’s Bond beyond Connery’s.

If you can remember, Casino Royale was when he first kills people, earning his 00 status in the first five minutes of the film. In “Quantum” Bond is still struggling with his duty of killing others, you can see it in his face during certain scenes. And then in Skyfall M dies, and Bond is severely affected because of it.

“Does it bother you, killing all those people?”

This quote from Vesper Lynd changed everything for Bond in Casino Royale. It does bother him. He does have a heart. He does care about his country. He does want to do the right thing.

Daniel, if this is in fact your last Bond, then it’s high time for a huge thank-you. You resurrected this cartoon character that famously surfed a tidal wave in Die Another Day into somebody more human that audiences could relate to. You did this while also keeping Bond suave, tough, and smart.

Here’s to you: The best Bond of all time.

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