Sunday, 22 November 2015

Mockingjay: Part Two Review

Seven years after the original publication of 'The Hunger Games', the franchise reaches a bombastic and satisfying, if sometimes a little shaky, conclusion in the form of 'Mockingjay: Part 2'. Themes of political corruption and moral ambiguity are fully fleshed out by director Francis Lawrence and linger long in the mind long after the final credits roll, though it encounters the all too familiar problems of its source material.

With no flashback or referral back to the previous film, 'Mockingjay' opens with a shot of Katniss (the formidable Jennifer Lawrence) recovering in a hospital wing after being attacked by a hypnotised Peeta (a surprising performance from Josh Hutcherson). The rest of the 137 minute film then follows Katniss and her comrades as she sets out to destroy the Capitol and assassinate President Snow once and for all, whilst having to deal with pressurizing sides such as the suspicious President Coin (Julianne Moore in her finest role this year) enforcing the Mockingjay symbol upon her as a burden for war. The problem however, is the frustrating pace Lawrence takes to get to the Capitol, which is understandable when you split a fairly average-sized book into two films. The action sequences make up for this however, the striking cinematography captures the very essence of a materialistic, artificial world shattered by the effects of war. Long shots emphasize the sheer scale of the city, creating intense feelings of isolation and claustrophobia. Towers topple, streets stretch out for miles and the uneasy silences fantastically recreates the very feeling of the first film when Katniss was thrown into the arena. Where the film exceeds, is the ability to fully flesh out the themes the book only briefly touched upon, such as propaganda, media culture, political corruption and moral ambiguity. Chilling sequences emphasize the very idea of war being a spectacle for the camera, as the body count rises, especially in one harrowing moment where a mother is killed by a blast from an incoming bomb, with her toddler screaming over her body. Lawrence handles this all in an amicable mature manner, but mere days after the terrible attacks in Paris and Syria, this truly becomes a case of art imitating life; this could be potentially be the point Lawrence is trying to make.

As most of the film requires a lot of filler in order to fit the two and a half hour bill, there are lagging moments which could easily have been scrapped. It cuts the pace down and holds it back, such as the repeated sequence of Katniss awaking in hospital after some form of injury. It's been done in the franchise so many times, the audience does not need to see it again. Though Lawrence always fights back from these moments with unexpected moments of bombastic violence or even unexpected horror, the sequence in the sewer with the attack of the mutts brilliantly mirrors the bloody and gruesome terror seen in AMC's 'The Walking Dead' and cranks up the suspense high. Interwoven with these moments is the truly horrifying realisation Katniss has to make on distinguishing good from bad. The film makes it clear no such thing is concrete or absolute, it is far more complex than that and poses a lot of interesting questions by the final act.

Without spoiling anything, certain deaths and shocking moments are notably glossed over and never explained fully. This was an issue present in the books which I was hoping Lawrence would address and reformulate, but instead he chooses to stick close to the source material. I respect this decision but I feel like such a loss deserved a lot more screen time, even to mourn and grief, as the film foreshadows the loss a substantial amount (especially in circling shots?!). Having said that, I still found the film to be enjoyable and reach a satisfying ending. Familiar characters make their return but are limited in screen time, such as Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman reduced to a single news broadcast and Elizabeth Banks' Effie only in the final half hour. The true star of the film truly is Julianne Moore's President Alma Coin, a pure pleasure to watch as she fluctuates between alliance and enemy in attempting to control Katniss and control The Capitol, she unsettles yet she captivates.

No doubt fans will be pleased with Lawrence's faithful adaptation of Suzanne Collins' final book in the series, though it could have easily been shortened down to one feature length film as opposed to two with plenty of filler sequences in the middle. Still, the film captivates and handles its difficult themes wonderfully, that will certainly stick with me for a very long time. So long Katniss, it's been one hell of a ride.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Spectre Review

As someone who doesn't really care that much for Bond films, I have to say 'Spectre' caught my intrigue very early on through various trailers, posters and the undoubtedly high expectation it had on its shoulders thanks to the success of 2012's 'Skyfall'. Unfortunately, this level of expectation seems to be the films saboteur, trying to recapture the same brooding, dark emotional intensity of 'Skyfall', only to fall short thanks to a thinly stretched, formulaic plot, and a total lack of originality.

The film opens with a stunning chase sequence, shot in Mexico City amongst the backdrop of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) with Bond acquiring a ring that sports a very familiar symbol. This kick-starts a chain of events that has Bond flying to obscure locations around the world for a brief amount of time before heading to the next country to seduce another woman, shoot another mute henchman and acquire one more piece of information that leads him to the organisation known as SPECTRE. Ultimately this all leads to a showdown with the enemy that lurks in the shadows. Sound familiar?

The opening is by far the best to stand out amongst the other Bond films, purely for the striking visuals and bombastic effects. The first shot seemed to be an endless long take that weaved through the monochromatic crowd of the dead; the camera never left Bond's side, and there were moments when you feared for his life, though the film would never allow such a travesty by killing off the lead character in the first fifteen minutes.  Such visual scope is accompanied by Thomas Newman's powerful score, conjuring elements of danger, romance and downright swagger at times. However, once the sequence blends into the opening credits, everything falls into an incredible lull. Bond is just seen fleeing from one location to the next, never clearly explaining where he is going or why. The film relies on audience presumption, and knowledge of every Bond film in the Craig era, otherwise many references or quips fly straight over the head.

Craig portrays Bond well, very well in fact, fluctuating between suave and charming, to often downright dangerous. It's just a shame that his character is utterly unlikeable. Acting like a spolit brat, he paves his way by manipulating others in order for a new gadget or a car that he ends up cruising into a river anyway.He's always been a misogynist but to still manipulate a widow into sex for information feels a little...uncomfortable. Speaking of which, Monica Bellucci's role is wasted into what feels like a cameo rather than a fleshed out character, considering her age was the source of much speculation when she was cast. As someone who is more suited to Bond's age, I felt it fitting. The lead Bond girl raises eyebrows for actually defying Bond, choosing her independence and strength rather than fall into the arms of a man that kills. However this is not expanded upon as soon after, Lea Seydoux's Madeline Swan is seen crying into the lap of Bond and declaring her undying love for him. Noticeably eye-rolling rather than a message of feminist empowerment. Moreover the casting of Christoph Waltz turned heads purely for what an outstanding actor he is. Again, it is a shame his character is not fleshed out more or given more screen time. He is utterly captivating as Franz Oberhauser, displaying the appropriate amount of charm blended with an ounce for psychotic thirst, he is both likeable and incredibly dangerous, but given cheap tasteless monologues that bore rather than unnerve, and reuses an old torture scene that can be predicted from a mile off.

There is also a subplot involving the collapse of the 007 programme, thanks to the obnoxiously cocky Max Denbigh (or C) as portrayed by the ever wonderful Adam Scott, though at times it was hard to distinguish Denbigh from the dastardly Moriarty he is best known for.   The premise of the sub-plot suggests an ending for Craig's time as Bond, the theme of death and demise being recurrent throughout, and the film's emblem being that of a skull. While a nice idea, it feels a tad predictable and lacks originality whilst being all too familiar with elements of 'Skyfall'. All round nice performances from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris however, rounding up the supporting cast.

Predictable, problematic and often at times a little dull, 'Spectre's breathtaking opening and striking cinematography cannot save the film from falling into the looming shadow that 'Skyfall' hangs over it, whilst lazily attempting to interconnect all of Craig's past three films. Maybe it's time for Bond to hang up his jacket and attempt a life near the coast?