Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (PG-13)

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence
November 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

The Hunger Games-Mockingjay, Part I
And Josh Hutcherson. And Liam Hemsworth. And Woody Harrelson. And, posthumously, Philip Seymour Hoffman…the two Mockingjay films will be the last entries in his filmography.

The face of the revolution is an angry one.
And with all that’s happened to her in the first two films, why wouldn’t she be mad?

Katniss visits 12. The ashes of her action.
Yeah, stepping on skulls…not so pleasant. Unless you’re a Terminator.

“Never let them see you bleed.” Snow’s video address promises death for the disorderly.
A spin on the phrase, “Never let them see you sweat.” Snow’s homespun phrase better suits his martial worldview. Blood, after all, is something he’s reminded of every time he swallows.

“What costs more than your life?”
A good question…any answer seems somewhat philosophical, though.

Peeta calls for a cease fire. 13 erupts.
The somber mess hall quickly transforms into something akin to Hogwarts at meal time.

Coin capitulates to Katniss’ conditions.
Coin is played by Julianne Moore, who brings a great deal of nuance to the role. She’s definitely not a villain, but she’s isn’t altogether good either. Her ending speech is so convincing that we can’t help but cheer on a worldview not all that dissimilar from Snow’s. If the story has any meat, this is it.

“The best dressed rebel in history.” Not even close. Leah in Jabba’s Palace.

“Let’s not fire the red ones in here.” Ha!
C’mon, Beetee! You’re no fun.

Katniss visits the wounded in 8. They salute her.
This is a moving scene and is the heart of the film, literally and figuratively.

Snow proves himself a terrorist by bombing a hospital.
Joker did the same thing in The Dark Knight (2008). Also, this is a war crime tactic frequently committed by Hamas…in the real world.

“If we burn, you burn with us!” A great scene that makes an effective propaganda video.
However, by engaging in a political media blitz of their own, aren’t the rebels just as bad as the Capitol? And, by threatening to fight fire with fire, aren’t their tactics similar to Snow’s? It might not be much more than what you’d get on a hot wing, but like I said before, there is some meat on the bone here.

Gale regales the story of 12s demise. Sobering.
However, the account looses a little punch since we’ve already seen the devastation that’s been done to the decimated district.

“Dead by morning.” Code red time.
A threat and a warning all wrapped up into one startling statement.

Prim goes back for the cat. So did Ripley in
Alien and that almost got her killed.
This scene in Alien (1979) always rankled me since it’s just a contrivance for extending the movie an extra fifteen minutes. In this movie it’s just a young girl rescuing her cat, so her actions are more understandable and forgivable…especially since there isn’t a pernicious alien on the loose.

Snow leaves his calling card after the bombing. The message is loud and clear.

Final analysis: a somber opening to the final chapter of this dystopian saga.

A mild disappointment, although the source material itself was weaker than its predecessors.
Without a Games, the structure is looser and the objectives aren’t nearly as well defined as in the first two books/movies.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4. A dark, bleak chapter. Will it be redeemed by a satisfying ending?

I suppose we have the Harry Potter film series to blame for this mediocre movie. In a shamelessly lucrative move, Warner Bros. decided to make two movies out of J.K. Rowling’s final Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Twilight movies soon followed suit by bifurcating Breaking Dawn, the last book of Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster fantasy trilogy. Now, The Hunger Games series has officially established this pattern as a trend by bisecting Suzanne Collins’ final novel, Mockingjay, into two films. The end result for each franchise has been an unsatisfactory setup film followed by a triumphant end to the saga. Mockingjay - Part 1 is a dark, drab affair with too many talking scenes and not nearly enough action. That’s my nutshell evaluation of the film. I temper that rather harsh assessment with the admission that the film does get a few things right. Kudos must be given to director Francis Lawrence for embellishing on the source material and actually detailing the rescue sequence, which the book merely mentions and then forces the characters back in 13 to sit on their hands until the team returns. However, even though the extraction sequence adds some much needed action to the back quarter of the film, the methodical manner in which the scenes are shot isn’t any more cinematic than what you’d find on a well produced spy/political thriller on TV. Though the performances are strong across the board, the characters, save for Katniss, really aren’t given much to do, except for stand around and talk…or posture…or fret…or tell Katniss to say her lines once more with feeling. Case in point: Jeffrey Wright is a fine actor, but he’s relegated to spitting out an incessant string of technobabble in the movie. Beetee is very similar to the eccentric, tech savvy character Wright played in Source Code (2011) with a dash of Q from the Bond films. If there’s one saving grace here it’s the movie’s unflinching insistence on making subtle political commentary, particularly regarding the nature of terrorism, which seems to be prescient since the books were written between 2008 and 2010—several years before the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East perpetrated by Hamas and the Islamic State. Besides incidental topicality and typical teen angst, there really isn’t much more to comment on here. Even though the purpose of this film was simply to set the table for the grand finale, it would’ve been nice if the movie had employed a more engaging script; this uninspired and perfunctory effort is like excess filler used to stretch out a story until the really important events transpire. The movie contains none of the pulse-pounding excitement of its predecessors, which is a profound disappointment. I wish I could say that this sequel left me—as the earlier movies did—hungry for more, but I just can’t. In the final analysis, The Hunger Games without the actual Games is like a hamburger without the meat. Sure, you can eat the bun all by itself, but it won’t be all that appetizing and won’t sustain you for very long. Where’s the beef?

Big Hero 6 (PG)

Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Starring: Ryan Potter
November 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Big Hero 6

#Feast is a truly moving animated short.
Just the latest evidence that Disney is rapidly approaching Pixar’s level of quality. Of course, executive producer John Lasseter, who oversees projects for both animation houses, has much to do with this parity.

David vs. Goliath style RC bot battle. Don’t judge a bot by its appearance, though.
Yeah, I wouldn’t dare pick a fight with R2.

“Welcome to the Nerd Lab.”
One suspects that this vibe is similar to the one you’d get in an animation studio, so these scenes are a bit self-reflexive.

Micro-bot exhibition is quite impressive. So long Lego bricks.
It’s amazing how innocent a new technology starts out…and just how quickly its altruistic vision can be perverted.

“Diagnosis: puberty.” Someone should pitch that to #abcfamily.

Fist bump scene is humorous.
This gag pays off dividends throughout the movie.

“There are no red lights in a car chase.” Ha!
This is a thinly veiled reference to Tom Hanks’ oft-quoted remark (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) in A League of Their Own (1992).

The inclusion of #StanLee in the family portrait is clever.
The first successful Marvel integration into a Disney movie. This Easter egg isn’t here by accident…but you’ll have to stick around through the end credits to learn its significance.

The flight scene is exhilarating but recalls similar ones in the #HowToTrainYourDragon movies.

Project Silent Sparrow looks an awful lot like #StargateSG1.
Besides the extra gate, the master shot looks like it was lifted right out of an episode of this long running sci-fi series.

Cool watercolor universe.
Or is it tie-dye? Or is it lava lamp? No I’m not tripping, but the animators sure were.

Nice title reveal in the last scene of the movie.

Final analysis: a high spirited, heartwarming tale of a cuddly robot, a young inventor and a group of nerds.
These nerds fulfill a vital role in the film as comic relief, especially Fred (T.J. Miller), and solid support for the hero.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. A sequel seems all but assured. Be sure to stay through the end credits.

Based on the comic book series (from Marvel, of course) of the same name created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, BH6 tells a very human tale in the midst of a protracted struggle to control a powerful new technology. The movie sets up in a similar manner to Meet the Robinsons (2007), also a Disney animated effort, in the way a science fair/expo experiment is stolen and used to devastating effect by a misguided villain. The exploited technology in this case is millions of tiny microbots, which, when controlled by a person’s thoughts via a headband (similar to the Bowler Hat Guy’s high-tech headgear in Robinsons), can construct a myriad objects, shapes, weapons, etc. Though quite a bit larger, these microbots remind me of the insidiously relentless nanites in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The way the villain uses the microbots as a mobile dais is the kind of spine-tingling image you’d expect to see in a live action superhero film intended for a much older audience. Even though the movie’s main character is young tech geek Hiro (Ryan Potter), the focal point of the film is undeniably the rotund robot, Baymax (voiced with absolutely perfect inflections by 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit). The love child of the Michelin Man and EVE from WALL-E (2008), Baymax (this is one silly name…it sounds like Betamax, a technology that didn’t fare too well) is a lovable sidekick with a central processor of gold and a unique skill set…he provides portable medical services. Upon hearing that universal sound of distress, “Ouch!,” Baymax inflates, initiates its programming and launches into triage mode (this brand of activation reminds me of the way the holographic doctor appeared when summoned in Star Trek: Voyager, “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”). Though Baymax’ skills and enhancements are impressive, as well as a whole lot of fun to watch in action, it’s his compassion and empathy that make his character so appealing. Hiro’s journey is an emotional one and Baymax’ ministrations (mostly psychological) are a salve for the young boy’s tragic loss early in the film. The loss of loved ones lies at the heart of the film and, ironically, provides motivation for the protagonist and antagonist. Even though the film deals with some fairly heavy issues, it is, after all, a Disney movie, and that means the story must have a happy ending. To whit, the hero comes to terms with his loss and the villain is redeemed, to an extent, and they all live... In the end, the story is moving and exhilarating, and you can bet that a sequel will soon be in the works. This is definitely a movie where you feel better walking out than when you walked into the theater. So now the only question that remains is, “Are you satisfied with your care?”

Interstellar (PG-13)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey
November 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Interesting documentary style opening.
The series of retrospective interviews in these opening scenes play out like the real ones frequently seen on the History Channel.

Last okra crop...ever. No big loss for me.
I know I’m probably causing a Southern uprising (doesn’t take much) by making such a statement, but I never developed a taste for this slimy veggie…pod…thing.

Chasing a drone through a cornfield.
More precise verbiage is needed here. The drone is in the air. McConaughey takes his truck trough a cornfield, Twister-style, on a reckless pursuit of the drone.

Updated textbooks...a frightening possibility and one that could be right around the corner.
Book burning was so last century. Now it’s all about revisionist history; the political party that’s in charge gets to determine the proper recitation and redaction of history. Remember, history is written by the winners…and the egomaniacal socialists who ascend to power by deceiving the masses. A tad too on the nose?

The bookcase is trying to communicate with them.
Co-writer, Jonathan Nolan, also uses the Dewey Decimal System on book spines as a means of dispensing the “number” to Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson on Person of Interest, a TV series he created. Clearly he has a yen for dispatching clues to his characters through books…a decidedly low-tech method of conveyance.

Ballgame is postponed by a doozy of a dust storm.

The crew prepares for their “long nap.”
I can use one of those every so often. Like right nowwwwww…….

I learned that paper trick in science class in high school. Also a useful way of explaining warp speed.

Seven years per hour. Not my kind of planet. Although, it does have the best surfing in the universe.
However, if you don’t make it through the barrel, you’re dead.

Letters from home are tearjerkers.
Make sure you have a tissue handy. On second thought, make it a whole box.

Frozen cloud...trippy.
This is the kind of scientifically plausible, world-building detail that really fires my imagination. Even though I wish there would’ve been more of them in the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed the unique and unusual planet concepts featured here.

A race to the ship. I stopped breathing about ten minutes ago.
This entire sequence is one of the finest ever filmed. That’s quite a boast, but this taut series of events is as genuinely nail-biting as they come.

Newton’s third law. Hilarious!
So much for “No one left behind.”

A 3D construct within a 5D reality. My mind has been sufficiently blown.
Leave it to the Nolan brothers to come up with something this mind-bending. The interspatial architecture takes its cues from Inception (2010) and is somewhat Escher-esque in the way it depicts multiple impossible angles/vantages.

Final analysis: a deeply moving story centered on the survival of the human race.
Which just happens to be a sci-fi film.

4 out of 4 stars. A modern 2001 that just might be the first legitimate sci-fi Best Picture hopeful.

Okay, so before anyone points out the fact that space-tacular Gravity was up for Best Picture last year, two things: 1. Was it a “legitimate” contender for Oscar’s top prize (I argue no)?, and 2. Can the film even be classified as science fiction since its technology is comparable to contemporary standards and because the story never leaves the solar system, much less the space surrounding the Earth? That said, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus, Interstellar, takes us far afield to worlds of wonder; one of which, hopefully, will harbor the holdouts of humanity since we’ve pretty much destroyed our home world by the time the movie takes place (which doesn’t appear to be all that far into the future…frightening!). There are plenty of things to nitpick here—like the fact that Michael Caine’s character ages little over a twenty-three year time span (guess that proves just how timeless he is), that people don’t seem all that distraught over the prospect of eating nothing but corn for the rest of their lives, that a dying planet’s economy could even fund deep space exploration on this scale and that Hathaway, a scientist, is tasked with landing the ship that houses the future of our race—a repository of embryos. Granted, the plot isn’t as airtight as any of the spaceships seen in the film, but it coheres to the extent that it needs to in order to convey its artfully told cautionary tale: consider the movie the unlikely marriage of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006). The filmic mash-up doesn’t end there: There’s a heavy quotation of Apollo 13 (1995) during the suspenseful scenes in space, especially when the ship is violently jostled about and when presumably unnecessary parts are seen falling away from the ship. Nolan also upholds one of Star Trek’s finest traditions in the way his characters systematically explore “strange new worlds.” Although the action frequently crosscuts between characters in different places/times, the film can be subdivided (roughly) into thirds. The first third focuses on the plight of the characters on a desiccated Earth, the second section deals with space travel and planetary surveys and the third segment features the story’s ethereal, unconventional climax. While on the tack of appraising the film, we can cut it right down the middle and call one half character/story driven and the other half action/adventure driven…in short; this is a very well-balanced film and a rarity for the sci-fi genre, which typically places emphasis on the latter over the former. The movie’s themes are legion and invite various readings, which should keep both water cooler enthusiasts and film school students chewing on this cosmic cud for years to come. There are plenty of story elements to evaluate here, such as: science vs. faith, ecosystem entropy, rogue drones, book censorship, time-challenged family dynamics, the finest/worst aspects of humanity in survival situations and the idealistic notion that love conquers all. An analysis of the “they” can also make for a bracing discussion, especially when time is thrown into the equation. For instance, do the Plan B colonists become the 5th dimensional saviors of Earth’s Plan A remnant? Be sure to pace yourself, though; if you’re not careful, such cogitations can cook your noodle. Another plus here is that the movie is fairly feasible and factual where its science is concerned, which should delight lovers of hard science sci-fi (as opposed to soft science sci-fi, a la Guardians of the Galaxy) to no end. And let’s not forget the stellar FX and cinematography that creates the film’s unique look and feel. To whit, Nolan uses absolute silence during the exterior space shots to great effect: remember, in space no one can hear you scream. Hans Zimmer’s atmospheric, organ saturated score produces a distinctly unsettling accompaniment that recalls the otherworldly “classical” soundtrack for 2001. I’ve yammered on for so long now that the blight just spread to the planet’s last ear of corn. Sorry about that. Ironically, I’ve only scratched the surface of the myriad meanings contained within this multivalent yarn. Those who are successful at suspending their disbelief—by buying into the notion that humans have the wherewithal to actually venture out into the distant reaches of space—will affirm the movie as a journey well worth taking. Bottom line: Interstellar is a visual marvel and a masterwork of science fiction that will, if you’ll forgive the temporal pun, stand the test of time. Getting lost in space has never been more thrilling or terrifying.

Fury (R)

Directed by: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt
October 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Pitt rides into tank hell.
This opening sequence reminds me of Sybok cantering through the desert straight toward the camera at the outset of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Obviously the setting (and planet) is completely different here, but the shots themselves are close cousins.

Fury rolls into camp.
They’re greeted with vacant stares. Not much of a hero’s welcome.

A trope of war movies is the new his name in Norman.
The presence of Michael Pena is another war movie convention; the inclusion of at least one minority on the team.

Don’t touch Shia’s ‘stache.
I don’t begrudge him his defensiveness. After all, it probably took him a year to grow.

Why do fired bullets look like laser beams here?
Not much to add to this, but at times I thought I was watching a Star Wars movie.

Norman is faced with a “simple math” equation. Not so easy to carry out.

Norman is multi-talented: he plays piano, reads palms and is quite the ladies man.
That last one is a bit of a euphemism.

How to ruin a perfectly good egg breakfast.
Yeah, unless I was starving, I wouldn’t eat licked eggs.

Tank dogfight is intense.
Dogfight is typically used for one-on-one plane battles, though. Guess the word I should’ve used is…bullfight?

Pitt’s dogged directive: “Hold this crossroads!”
Two tweets in a row with the word “dog” in them. Woof!

Shia quotes scripture: “Here am I, send me.”
However, he also takes the Lord’s name in vain. Wonder if he knows the one about the impossibility of fresh and salt water flowing from the same fountain (James 3:11)? (Not to mention the third commandment as set forth in Exodus 20:7).

One tank versus an army. Never tell me the odds.
This battle certainly illustrates how a tank can function as a mini-fortress.

The final, high angle shot of the corpse riddled crossroads is horrific.
Although, I actually would’ve expanded the shot out even further, but the point was made, I suppose.

Final analysis: a standard issue war story that evokes a strong sense of time and place.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars. A decent war tale, but even Pitt can’t lift the standard story out of the mud.

This certainly isn’t the first tank-centric WWII movie ever made—Sahara (1943), The Desert Fox (1951) and Lebanon (2009) to name three right off the top of my head), nor is it the most original. What is new here are the modern battle sequences which feature rockets and bullets whizzing by like laser beams in a sci-fi shootout. I have no way of knowing if these seemingly anachronistic visuals are accurate or not (I wasn’t there), but I’ve never seen this kind of special effect in any other war movie. As incredulous as it sounds, tanks firing laser beams is the least of this movie’s problems. Relying heavily upon war movie conventions and offering little that hasn’t been seen and done a hundred times before in WWII bloodbaths severely hobbles this film…like a tank that’s thrown a tread. Aside from a few reasonably suspenseful battle scenes and the climactic standoff, there’s really little to recommend the movie, other than the notable cast and high end production values. There’s a standout scene right in the middle of the movie when the tank officers invade the home of two German women. The reprehensible behaviors exhibited by the soldiers (Shia LaBeouf, The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and Gracepoint’s Michael Pena) during this scene makes us loose all respect for them; so much so that when the final conflict arrives, we really don’t care if they live or die…it’s extremely difficult to emotionally invest in unsympathetic characters. In the end, Pitt, the new guy (Logan Lerman) and the tank itself are about the only things we have any kind of affinity for in the movie, and that really isn’t enough to justify shelling over a ten spot, two singles and a pair of quarters for (current ticket price in the OC). Is Fury a decent WWII flick? Sure. Is it worthy of inclusion into the War Movie Hall of Fame? Not even remotely. Let’s face it, without Pitt’s presence this movie would’ve tanked.

The Skeleton Twins (R)

Directed by: Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig
September 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

The Skeleton Twins

One suicide attempt averts another.
This is a fascinating sibling (psychic?) connection…that they would be suicidal at the same exact moment.

The #MarleyAndMe scene is humorous.

Wilson’s commentary on “land mines” is graphic but apropos.
I’m sure every married man can identify with Luke Wilson’s comment. If you can’t admit it, you’re even more emasculated than you realize.

The siblings share secrets...a revealing scene.

Superb acting on the lip sync scene. A lot of fun.
It’s actually a bit frightening how well Wiig and Hader mouth the words to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Lots of rehearsal time or are they just freaks of nature at lip syncing?

“It turns out that I’m the one who peaked in high school.” Moving scene.
This is a really poignant moment of self-reflection, and one that’s sure to resonate with anyone facing middle age with nothing to show for their life but wishful thinking and waylaid dreams.

Final analysis: some amusing moments, but a far heavier story than the trailer intimated.

2 1/2 out of 4. One of the finest brother/sister movies that’s come along in quite some time.

It really grieves me that I can’t give this movie a higher rating, particularly because of its exceptionally fine portrayals—Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Luke Wilson are all terrific in the movie. However, due to its unremarkable script, I just can’t justify a bump in my rating for this film. It’s not that the screenplay is awful, because that certainly isn’t the case. The story contains some decent dialog and several really good character moments, including the hilarious lip sync sequence and the humorous scenes in the dentist office. However, as a whole, the script, written by Mark Heyman and director Craig Johnson, is conventional and predictable…and only occasionally comical. An aggregate of well written and acted vignettes, the story never looses its entertainment value, and yet, as a whole, it fails to live up to the quirky, cutting-edge dramedy promised in the trailer. That unfulfilled promise to the audience could be a major impediment to the film’s success, especially since many viewers will expect to see similar antics to the ones Wiig and Hader regularly perpetrated on Saturday Night Live—although their chemistry from working with each other over the years is glaringly evident here. Another reason the movie might have a hard time winning over audiences is its identity crisis. The term dramedy was coined to define movies that contain a good mixture of dramatic and comedic elements. Although this film has several amusing scenes, the dramatic beats (consisting of suicide attempts, marital infidelity and a sex with minors back story) frequently overshadow the sporadic moments of levity, effectively throwing a pall over what otherwise could’ve been a feel-good flick. In fact, an honest appraisal of the film reveals an approximate ratio of 70% drama to 30% comedy, which is a radical reversal from the lighthearted romp depicted in the disingenuous trailer. Ultimately, the movie’s Achilles heel is its unsympathetic characters. We really want to root for these people, because they’re genuinely likable, but the story works overtime to make us loose our affinity and respect for them due to their irksome insistence on making poor choices. In the end, it’s just a shame that the cast didn’t get a more solid assist from the screenplay because the performances are truly remarkable, especially the ones turned in by screen siblings Wiig and Hader. Even though observing the interactions between these two stars is a treat all by itself, the movie would’ve been a veritable feast had it employed a story with more meat on the bone.