Suzanne Collins' saga comes to a suitably epic conclusion in a climactic series of battles that are packed with emotional kicks to the gut. Director Francis Lawrence continues to show remarkable reverence for the source novels while relying on his A-list cast to bring layers of nuance to even the smallest roles. The result is a massively textured war movie that's packed with darkly personal moments and glimpses of wit and spark. It's also a satisfying conclusion to the franchise that avoids the usual Hollywood bombast.
As the rebels prepare to attack Panem's Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the rebellion's figurehead Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) decides to take matters into her own hands. Rebel leaders Coin and Plutarch (Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman) try to stay one step ahead of Katniss, using her as the Mockingjay to rally the troops. With Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a not-quite-unbrainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a small group of cohorts, Katniss works her way across the bombed-out city to Snow's mansion, intending to put an arrow through his heart. But the battle takes a shocking twist, and Katniss has to make a difficult decision about doing the right thing no matter what it costs her.
Right from the start, the filmmakers continue to echo Katniss' earliest act of heroism when she volunteered for the Hunger Games to protect her sister Prim (Willow Shields) and then vowed to keep Peeta safe in the violent arena. These are the things that drive her right to the very end of this saga, holding the audience in an emotional grip. This means that the political nastiness, violent warfare and publicity posturing all have a much deeper resonance for the audience, while for Katniss they are virtually irrelevant. Her mission remains untainted: she just wants to protect her loved ones and make the future safe. Which is why her speeches carry such rousing power.
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review
Director Bennett Miller continues to skilfully probe around the edges of true stories with this follow-up to Capote and Moneyball, although this is a much, much darker tale. Actually, it's such an unnerving series of events that it's not easy to watch, and its characters aren't easy to like. But it's so expertly shot and edited, with startlingly full-on performances from the entire cast, that it can't help but get under the skin and chill us to the bone.
It opens after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and and his big brother David (Mark Ruffalo) both won gold medals for wrestling. But they need help with funding to train for Seoul 1988, and Mark gets a remarkable offer from billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) to start a wrestling team at his vast Foxcatcher estate in New England, which is known for the thoroughbred horses managed by John's imperious mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave). Aside from wanting to stay home with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, David doesn't trust John, so Mark heads to Foxcatcher on his own. But John's obsession knows no bounds, and soon he lures David and family to join them.
Initially, John's interest in wrestling feels like a mere eccentricity, a way of creating a team of "thoroughbreds" to rival his mother's prize-winning horses. But Carell cleverly plays the role with an insinuating glint that makes us wonder what he's up to, and his wrestlers see it too, going along with his nutty plans simply because the money is so good. Then the squirm-inducing twists and turns start, as John introduces Mark to cocaine and everything starts to spiral out of control. Nearly unrecognisable with a prosthetic hook nose, Carell is genuinely terrifying because his performance burns so slowly.
Continue reading: Foxcatcher Review
This four-part franchise, based on the Suzanne Collins novels, turns very dark with this strikingly bold third film, which once again makes the most of perspective to recount a parable about normal people rising up against oppression. This may be a sci-fi apocalypse, but the story is packed with present-day resonance and messy characters who are sometimes unnervingly easy to identify with. So while things get very grim in this chapter, it's still a hugely engaging film, packed with real-life humour and emotion. And it makes Mockingjay Part 2 unmissable.
The story picks up not long after the chaos of the Quarter Quell, when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) realised that she had been a pawn for a planned revolution that cast her as the iconic Mockingjay. Now in hiding, the rebels need her to assume the role publicly, but she has other concerns. So she makes a deal with rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her sidekick Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that she'll help them if they guarantee safety for the captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has apparently been brainwashed so he can be used for propaganda purposes by the Capitol's President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Working with her old hunting buddy Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss takes on the Mockingjay role, locking horns with Snow as the rebellion grows in strength.
Once again, director Francis Lawrence vividly tells the story from Katniss' imperfect point of view. This is a teen consumed with anger and confusion, and she can't figure out why she's so inspiring to everyone who looks at her. But she's beginning to understand her impact and how she can use it to help the people she loves. This makes her heroism remarkably human, rather than the usual noble movie self-sacrifice. And Jennifer Lawrence brings so much depth to Katniss that the character transcends even the most jarring plot points. Her internal journey also makes this much more than yet another dystopian teen adventure.
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review
After 2012's The Hunger Games caught us off-guard with its subtle themes, this sequel more than lives up to the hype, dramatically expanding the scale of the action while letting the actors deepen their characters. It's a full-on action epic that cleverly retains author Suzanne Collins' narrative trick of telling the story through a flawed perspective. And it provides the needed push to give the whole saga real momentum.
We join our heroes not long after the last film ended: Katniss and Peeta (Lawrence and Hutcherson) are in trouble for challenging the authority of President Snow (Sutherland) and sowing the seeds of rebellion in the districts. Now they have to travel around the nation with their team - drunken mentor Haymitch (Harrelson), preening manager Effie (Banks), quietly subversive designer Cinna (Kravitz) - soothing ruffled feathers. But of course they only make things worse. So new Gamesmaker Plutarch (Hoffman) plots a way to force them back into the games with all of the past victors, so they can be wiped out for good. And Katniss is so busy worrying about protecting Peeta that she fails to remember who the true enemy is.
Screenwriters Beaufoy and deBruyn (aka Oscar-winner Michael Arndt) inventively maintain Katniss' narrow, inaccurate point-of-view right through the film, which keeps the audience wrong-footed all the way to the end. It's an exhilarating trick that makes the tour of the districts painfully dull and the return to the games utterly horrifying. It also gives Lawrence the chance to flex her own Oscar-winning chops, further tormenting us with her inability to choose between two good men: Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth), her pal back home. She certainly doesn't trust newcomers like the mouthy Johanna (Malone) or the too-hunky Finnick (Claflin).
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
In what was once North America, the ruling class demands an annual sacrifice of the 12 districts that once rebelled: each must select two teens, a boy and a girl, to battle in a wooded arena to the death, with the last one standing crowned victor. In the poor mining District 12, the tributes are ace archer Katniss (Lawrence) and muscly baker Peeta (Hutcherson), who forge an awkward friendship as they're thrust into the televised competition. Trained by Haymitch (Harrelson), promoted by Effie (Banks), groomed by Cinna (Kravitz), interviewed by Caesar (Tucci) - it's simply overwhelming.
Continue reading: The Hunger Games Review
In fact, Oliver Stone's overblown biopic detailing the global conquests of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) would make a nice bookend to Wolfgang Petersen's lopsided sword-and-sandal epic. One day you'll be able to tap Netflix for the two titles and combine them for a battle-worthy double feature. You'll only need an entire weekend to wrap it up.
Continue reading: Alexander Review
In Babel, directed and co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), a clutch of characters from a range of cultures and walks of life attempt to build a towering film of meaning from coincidence and portent; unfortunately, in the end it is the viewer who is punished for the filmmaker's hubris.
Continue reading: Babel Review
What began as white actors in blackface evolved with the 1950s Amos and Andy Show on television, featuring black actors in blackface. The content remained the same, with Amos and Andy portrayed as lazy, ignorant, chicken eatin', banjo playin', shifty clowns. Once the show lost favor with an outraged public, the television studios put a halt on developing new shows about the black experience -- degrading or otherwise -- for several decades.
Continue reading: Bamboozled Review
The film focuses on two Sioux brothers living on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation - one of the largest pieces of land granted by the government for "re-settlement" of Native American tribes. Rudy (Eric Schweig) is the local arm of the reservation's law enforcement and spends the better part of his night shifts rounding up drunken Indians and breaking up domestic disputes on the reservation. His brother Mogie (Graham Greene, looking like a beached whale) is one of the reservation's infamous drunks, due in part to a stint in Vietnam and the typical, abusive father.
Continue reading: Skins Review
Neither tearjerker nor suspenseful crime drama, 25th Hour is extraordinary in that it avoids all the clichés that such a premise so often invites. It is instead a carefully focused character study about a charismatic but condemned man who must come to grips with his sentence before morning. Edward Norton plays Montgomery Brogan, the felon in question. He spends his last free hours visiting his father (Brian Cox) and attending a going away party in his honor at a New York nightclub. In tow are his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and his two childhood pals, Frank (Barry Pepper) and Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) -- the latter of which is so perfectly cast that you can't help but chuckle the first time you see Hoffman give his usual dyspeptic sneer, signaling that he is disgusted not only with his high school English students but essentially the entire outcome of his life.
Continue reading: 25th Hour Review
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