Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Year: 2015
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone

Plot: Katniss Everdeen's final confrontation with President Snow is preceded by battles, traps, more deaths and the demise of a love triangle.

Review: After 3 years we are finally given the opportunity to say goodbye to The Hunger Games, which had its moments, but felt like it was drawn out too long to make its point, and even then, it ends weakly.

So the final film's plot goes as follows: Katniss is more determined than ever to end President Snow's control over Panem, but doesn't care much about District 13 President Alma Coin's initiative to rally all the districts together to take the Capitol. So she attempts to make it to the Capitol on her own, and soon gets a small team of escorts made up of familiar faces, and Peeta Mellark, who almost crushed her larynx the last time we saw him. But the many traps set in place by Snow will test this small group of rebels greatly, and there are deaths to be had.

For the first two thirds of this final instalment, I was sort of digging what director Francis Lawrence was going for. There's some solid buildup and an intense second act where Katniss and company take on the many obstacles in their path, the best of which is a sewer fight against creatures that seem inspired by the vampires in Paul Bettany's Priest. At the same time the group has to be wary of Peeta, who is still psychologically damaged from Snow's brainwashing, and could turn against them at any second.

And then the film takes a twist in the third act, and I must say, if this is what happened in the books, it must have worked better on paper. This turn of events pretty much killed whatever momentum that came before it, not just this film but the other instalments as well. Just think about it; the story was always about Katniss building up towards facing the one enemy that tormented her all this time, and not only did they take the wind out of that face-off, they killed a key supporting character to do it. To make matters worse, they used it to end the much ballyhooed love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Overly convenient for my liking.

The best thing about Mockingjay Part 2 though, is Jennifer Lawrence, who is in almost every scene. She pretty much carries the entire film on her shoulders, even at its worst moments. Josh Hutcherson comes a close second as Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is still terribly bland as Gale. The other supporting characters don't get much time to shine, except Donald Sutherland as Snow, still stealing every scene he's in. Sam Claflin does alright as Finnick, but I saw his fate coming a mile away. Jena Malone returns as Johanna for a couple of scenes with Lawrence, but doesn't get much else to do otherwise, which is a damn shame. And how much did they pay Gwendoline Christie and Robert Knepper for their five minutes of screen time? A terrible waste of two talents here.

As the film sputters towards a pretty weak ending, I had to ask: are there only three people left from District 12? It just seems so strange that there are a handful of questions still left unanswered, and how certain characters' fates and reactions seem muted.

After all this I can finally be happy to close the book on The Hunger Games, and turn my attention to other potentially better YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner for instance. Watch this just for closure, and nothing else. (6/10)     

Monday, November 09, 2015


Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Monica Bellucci

Plot: James Bond follows up on the previous M's final order to pursue a secret organisation and subsequently discovers that its leader has ties to his own past.

Review: Skyfall, the previous Bond movie was pretty damn good, so much so that it has set the bar rather high for future instalments to reach. While Spectre no doubt tries hard, it doesn't quite match its predecessor's quality, though not for lack of trying.

Spectre begins in Mexico, where 007 kills a man and takes his ring. We discover later that this was the previous M's final order before her death. The ring leads Bond to a sinister organisation known as Spectre, which has connections to people he had killed before. Along the way, he has to protect Madeleine Swann, the daughter of Mr White, who used to work for Spectre. In the meantime, a merger between MI5 and MI6 allows the head of the Centre of National Security to take control and terminate the 00 program, much to M's chagrin.

Director Sam Mendes tries his best to outdo himself here, but with mixed results. A few action sequences, such as the opening chase in Mexico leading to a helicopter stunt, and a scrap between Bond and Dave Bautista's Mr Hinx, look pretty good. Even the snow covered chase between Bond and Madeleine's kidnappers involving jeeps and a plane, while looking simple, was shot quite well. But knowing what he had done in Skyfall, it's hard not to make comparisons and see Mendes come up short. And while the script attempts to make this story as personal as possible by having Spectre's leader be connected to Bond's past in a big way, its execution isn't as convincing as it could have been. The impending shutdown of the 00 program is also somewhat familiar to the plot of this year's Mission Impossible instalment, but to be honest, I don't mind it.

Daniel Craig is on point again as 007, no surprise there. Christoph Waltz is almost playing Hans Landa again here as the leader of Spectre. He's good but much too familiar. Lea Seydoux acquits herself well as Madeleine Swann, getting to save Bond at one point despite being mostly a damsel here. Monica Bellucci has little more than a glorified cameo here while Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris return as the new M and Moneypenny respectively. Ben Whishaw also returns as Q, and provides some much needed laughter.

If there's one thing here that I like better than Skyfall is Sam Smith's theme song, though I'm aware I'm in the minority. It doesn't quite have the energy of my all time favorite theme done by Duran Duran, but it fits the film well.

Bottom line is, comparisons aside, Spectre is a solid Bond entry. Maybe with tighter editing (148 minutes is hefty) and a bit more creativity, it would have been awesome. But go see it anyway. You've come this far. (7/10)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Bridge Of Spies

Year: 2015
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Scott Shepherd

Plot: Based on the true story of Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer who helped negotiate the successful exchange of two American prisoners and a convicted Russian spy during the Cold War.

Review: It's been a long three years since Steven Spielberg directed a film, the last being Lincoln. Bridge Of Spies is another entry into his long list of true story adaptations.

In his latest, set during the Cold War in 1957, Tom Hanks portrays Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer hired by the US government to represent Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy arrested by the FBI. From the outset, it's pretty clear everyone wants to sentence Abel to death, except for Donovan, who believes in giving the man a fair defense in court. Doing so comes at a high price towards him and his family, and getting no cooperation from anyone including his firm and even the judge makes it even harder, but he tries his best anyway, and subsequently loses. Then, an American pilot gets shot down in Russia while carrying out spying activities and Donovan is asked to negotiate an exchange between the US and USSR: Abel for Powers, the pilot. Things become more complicated when an American student named Pryor is arrested in East Berlin by the Stasi, and Donovan wants him released as well.

As usual, in terms of authenticity, Spielberg scores a lot of points. The setting looks good, the costumes fit the era and the things we see on the street, television and cinemas of the era are all spot on. Even schoolchildren are seen being educated about nuclear destruction, as the fear of nuclear war was on the rise at the time. Credit also goes into the amount of details the film shows as regards to story and facts. Spielberg, working on a script by the Coen brothers, puts all the facts in place and for the most part, paces the film well, though it does get a tad tiresome towards the end.

Hanks is as always on point, never making a bad film as I recall. As Donovan, he balances the line between a good family man and a skilful lawyer very well. There is a great scene between Hanks and Scott Shepherd as a CIA agent, arguing about his role in Abel's case, and Hanks shows what Donovan is truly made of. Mark Rylance delivers a solid performance too as Abel, presenting him as an unassuming man who doesn't look like a spy at all, just an old man who served his country and accepts whatever judgment passed on him. The rest of the cast are alright, but they don't have enough screen time to make a mark.

The film is overall solid, as most Spielberg films are, but the man kept the audience at arm's length here. The emotional connection between us and the story isn't really felt, despite the great performances at hand. It serves better as a historical account than an engaging story, though it does have its moments. The editing can also be tightened a little to shorten the 141 minute runtime.

Overall, Bridge Of Spies is a watchable film thanks to Tom Hanks, though it's clearly not Steven Spielberg's best work. (7/10)


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