Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part II) (2015) (Review)


The Hunger Games has scorched a successful trail as a film franchise since first appearing on the big screen back in 2012, sparked by the prosperous trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins. Three films later, a loyal legion of fans (myself included) and critically celebrated performances, we have finally reached the ultimate conclusion, in the form of Mockingjay (Part II). Will Katniss’ dystopian swansong be a fitting finale or fall short in matching the glory of previous installments?

Picking up immediately after the events of Part I, Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) reunion with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) stunts her progression to bring down the dictatorship that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) presides over. Star Squad 451, including Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick Odair (Sam Clafflin), undertake their final attack on the Capitol with the intent of ripping the Capitol's foundations to the ground; but around every twist and turn of their journey lies sinister traps and deceptions that put Katniss’ revolution in peril. It’s more than her life at stake, as the future of Panem rests solely on her shoulders during the ultimate showdown. Director Francis Lawrence helms his third Hunger Games film, following Catching Fire and Mockingjay (Part I).

It's worth noting now that I'm reviewing this film as a fan because I'd struggle to be impartial for a franchise that I have been so engaged and enthralled with since the beginning. Mockingjay was my least favourite book from the trilogy and even I was skeptical at the decision to split the movies. Now, having seen both parts, I'm in conclusion that it was the right move to make - Katniss' final assault on the oppressed society that held their people captive for 75 years needed the room to grow and flourish; making two films allowed this exploration of the source material that would have otherwise felt suffocating to the scale of the novel.

Part 2 of Mockingjay sees the battlefields more treacherous than ever before, even in a film that steams from children killing children. The journey through the Capitol's Pod-filled streets is gripping and extremely intense; at no point do you ever feel like any of these characters are safe - a danger looms over them throughout that refuses to let up, as even in some of the more tender moments, danger is just around the corner... One heart wrenching scenes set in the sewers registers the devastation and desolation that has formed Katniss’ path, fortifying the scale of the revolution and just how much rests on her completion of the operation; love is broken through the demolition that government has over the lives of what are essentially innocent individuals; casualties and fatalities of the war. It’s a haunting representation and reflection of a dystopian reality that may be skewed as our own. However, the most disconcerting thing about this scene, is after the emotion poured into it, we are swiftly thrust back into the action; a reflection that even after heartbreak and loss, you must keep fighting. It's these type of analogies that I believe have made The Hunger Games the gargantuan success that it is.

Whilst the narrative is a successful mix of action, thriller, and more prominently in this instalment, horror, you can thank the success of this film (and indeed franchise) on one person alone. Jennifer Lawrence is the magnetic heart and soul, carrying the entire weight of the global franchise on her shoulders. Her captivating delivery of the damaged Katniss Everdeen and her trials and tribulations that are knowingly amplified in the final outing, as is her own performance, more enthralling than ever before. One scene of Katniss towards the very end of the film, alone, is gut-wrenching viewing where you finally see the Mockingjay, the girl on fire, the leader of a rebellion, the conquerer of oppression, broken to the point of no return, performed exquisitely by Lawrence.

 That's not to say the rest of the cast don't give it their all - Donald Sutherland is probably the strongest of the supporting crowd as the President Snow, loathsome and repellent, but incredibly compelling to watch. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth do well, as does relatively new addition Natalie Dormer. Julianne Moore's uneasy President Coin character and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Heavensbee work well together, offering a little dying and yang as the hierarchy of District 13. Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks all have moments of brilliance, but used far too sparingly, particularly Banks whose comedic brilliance is missed in the sombre landscape, although probably a predetermined decision to withhold the tone throughout. It is definitely one of the strongest YA casts, but Jennifer Lawrence is the real hero.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part II) bring most of the emotions under the sun for the ending to the gripping saga. Sometimes you don't have time to let some of it wash over you, ricocheting from scene to scene and place to place, but when they get it right, they get it really right. Whether it works as well for non-fans, I do question; it's very uneven and a little bit sporadic, but as a devoted film and book fan, it is very close to be the perfect ending to a rewarding, yet gloomy journey. The odds were most certainly in our favour for this sensational franchise.

Summary: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part II) is a triumphant finale to an almost-faultless series, delving into the darkest and bleakest corners of the narrative for Katniss final swansong, performed seamlessly by Jennifer Lawrence, sparking a more than satisfactory ending to the dystopian phenomenon.


Highlight: Jennifer Lawrence incredible performance as Katniss Everdeen combines an inner-strength and fragility that very few could pull off. No denying the story is a brilliant one and an outstanding film and franchise is the outcome, but Lawrence is absolutely the heart and soul of it.

(10/10)

I couldn't decide between 9.5/10 and 10/10, but my love for the franchise, and how well the epilogue was handled, pushed it up for me. 



Monday, 9 November 2015

Spectre (2015) (Review)



Skyfall cast a massive shadow over the box office back in 2012 as the twenty-third installment in the James Bond franchise, to coincide with its fiftieth anniversary and London's hosting of the Olympic Games. High on British culture, Skyfall became the franchises first to hit the elusive $1billion dollar mark worldwide, gaining acclaim in the process and a stronger appetite for 007. Following it up would be a tricky task – is Spectre, the latest blockbuster in a year literally bursting with them, able to do so? Or will it fall foul to its predecessor’s critical and commercial enormity?

Audience meet James Bond (Daniel Craig) during the Day of the Dead festival, on an unofficial mission to assassinate targets who threaten to blow up a stadium. Back in London, globe change is spearheaded by M (Ralph Fiennes) and Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who chose to monitor 007 and ground him to the UK. Of course, he doesn't though, seeking Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve Moneypenny's (Naoime Harris) assistant to carry out orders that Judi Dench's M left, as the enegmatic SPECTRE organisation watches over, planning and plotting. 

As James Bond films go, this is pretty standard viewing, striking a balance between heart-pumping, firing on all cylinders action, and the nostalgic and cheesy Bond that many have yearned for since Craig's reinvention of the franchise. Bond references galore, it's a formulaic structure and pretty unsurprising; but it really does seem that it was a conscious decision, as it is the way audiences like, supported by the fact they keep coming back for more. Stunts are as undaunted, brash and bold as ever, from corkscrewing helicopter tricks and an unprecedented level of exploding buildings. 

Daniel Craig manages to keep up with the madness, during his fourth tenure as the guntotting hero, despite initial fears that he may be unassertive, due to some certain comments he made about stepping down from the role that some fear would be reflected in a half-hearted performance.  Throwing himself into it as enthusiastically as before, he of course needed a 'Bond Girl'; LeĆ” Seydoux as Madeline Swann is complex and compelling, offering a more dynamic performance in the supporting role that many consider inferior and submissive to Bond. She instead portrays a mixture of vulnerability and strength, thanks to Seydoux's portrayal. It's great to see Fiennes, Harris and Whisaw with more substantial roles this time round, with Andrew Scott - who I believe to be one of the most promising and underrated actors at the minute - serving arrogance and shade in a role that keeps you guessing and questioning throughout. 

Despite great performances and impressive stunts, it's the narrative that causes the film to faulter, most noticeable in the middle of the film. It occasionally feels very padded, no thanks to its extensive runtime, yet appears to be going nowhere, with the 'villains' of the piece not quiet embossing the fear and discomfort that others have before. I put this down to the writing, opposed to Christopher Waltz's performance, who does his best at seeming sinister with substandard material. It's almost as if the success of its predecessor, Skyfall, is playing on the mind of the writers constantly, which unfortunately shows. What they do get right though, is Bond's one-liners, which offer a comedic stance on some more intense moments. 

Spectre is not at all a bad film - it's entertaining and intense as we expect, but lacks a clear direction and emotional punch that Skyfall delivered in abundance. 

Summary: Spectre is an engaging and thrilling 007 entry, but a victim to its own success, daunted by the Skyfall shadow that looms so large. 

Highlights: The stunt team have worked well on thrilling audiences, 24 Bond films in. The cast prove strong too, illustrating some of Britain's finest actors and actresses. 


(8/10)


Spy (2015) (Review)


Melissa McCarthy has always been the comedic heart and soul of the films she stars in; even when in a supporting role, she usually steals the show with her hilarious timings and brilliant delivery. 2014’s Tammy was the first time we’ve seen her falter, but has the chance to redeem herself with the action-comedy hybrid, Spy, with her frequent collaborator, Paul Feig, returning as director. After its successful cinema run back in May, Spy is finally released on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA agent, watches her work partner - and romantic love interest – Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) seemingly killed by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Bryne), the dangerous daughter who is the only one who knows where her father’s suitcase nuke is located. With Rayna knowing the identities of all the agents, Cooper volunteers to step out from behind the desk and dive, head first, into the field to track down and avenge Boyanov in the process. Friend Nancy (Miranda Hart) offers encouragement, while fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) undermines her abilities.

Of course, this is entirely Melissa McCarthy’s film, ascertaining her role, once again, as the comedic center, now more than ever. We are already acquainted with her capability to providing the laughs, but she really does shine in the combat scenes too, which serve closer to your Bond-esque action than you would initially suspect. Miranda Hart is a gem in her first major Hollywood appearance, complimenting McCarthy’s humour whilst bringing her own clumsiness.  Byrne plays the spoilt brat fascinatingly, while Statham flirts with the line between being arrogant and being unbearable that works (most of the time). Jude Law takes more of a background seat than promotion would have you believe, but that almost makes the twist and turns more surprising.

Ricocheting between America, Rome, Paris and Budapest, much like the globetrotting antics, the laughs and action rarely pause for thought, becoming a constant in the film; serving both, in abundance and in equal measures. With how jam-packed it is with action and humour, you would wind up questioning the narrative success; but it provides a tenacious and broad storyline that you can’t help but engage in– it truly is a breath of fresh air in a landscape of other films that never quite tick all the boxes.

Spy seamlessly merges the genre borders of action and comedy – a amalgam that is rarely seen, nevermind actually working – making the most of a talented cast who have comedic time down to a tee, bringing the belly laughs to the Melissa McCarthy fronted vehicle that remains fresh and progressive throughout.  She proves that last outing, Tammy, was nothing more than a bump in the road, proved with Spy, that is as smart as it is action-packed.

Summary: Uproariously funny and a brilliant showcase for Melissa McCarthy’s talent, Spy is one of her strongest offerings and most hilarious comedies of 2015, uniting two genres in a unified piece that works incredibly well.

Highlights: The helicopter finale is a hilarious ending to the film, but McCarthy’s character and talent in general is the real star of the film.
  
★★★★★★★★★✬ 
(9.5/10)

Friday, 6 November 2015

Little Mix - Get Weird (Album) (2015)


Little Mix have gone from strength to strength since becoming the first group to win The X Factor in the show’s extensive history, back in 2011. The record setting four-piece have since delivered hit after hit, going on to amass sales of 12 million worldwide, quickly becoming one of the most successful UK girlbands of all time. With the release of their third collection, Get Weird, acting as the follow-up to their Platinum-certified albums DNA and Salute, let’s look at whether they’ve managed to attain the same pop-loving standards with the latest offering…

We’ve already heard the insanely infectious singles - Black Magic and shal-la-la-la’ing Love Me Like You - and been treated to a diverse selection of promotional singles in the run up to the album release with Hair, Weird People, Lightning, Grown all emphasising the multi-layered talents and directions the quartet are heading with this album. Check out my ranking of the 16 deluxe album tracks below.

Weird People
Love Me Or Leave Me
Black Magic
Love Me Like You 
Secret Love Song
Secret Love Song (Pt. II)
Grown
The End
I Won't
OMG
Hair
A.D.I.D.A.S
Clued Up
I Love You
Lightning
The Beginning


This is a set of songs where even my least favourite, still manages to be something quite wonderful.  Lightning is an older DNA that showcases the girl's progression and development since their fist album, straying from the album's sound but excellently illustrating their versatility. The most fun is had on Weird People, Black Magic, Grown, OMG, I Won't, Hair and the cheeky A.D.I.D.A.S; which encompass perfectly how much fun Perrie, Jade, Jesy and Leigh-Anne are having on this record. The opposite side of the spectrum - tracks like Love me Or Leave Me, I Love You and Secret Love Song - portray their emotion, vocals and talent incredibly, leaving for some really touching moments.  The End and The Beginning are incredibly poignant, performed entirely acapella, although the latter is far too short.


Get Weird is their sleekest and most stylish set to date, although lacking the sophistication from the sophomore Salute, taking and running with the pop vibes, not batting an eyelid about it in the process, which I personally prefer (although this does not take away from how astounding Salute was). Vibrant and vivacious, the album is bursting with colour, rarely slipping up on the pop charm offensive that the girls embrace, now more than ever. An incredible third album.


To celebrate 1 Year of Get Weird, I've decided to revisit my ranking of the 16 tracks across the deluxe edition of the album. Has much changed? Check out below...

Grown
Hair
Secret Love Song
Secret Love Song (Pt. II)
Black Magic

Love Me Like You.
Love Me Or Leave Me
Weird People
I Won't
A.D.I.D.A.S
The End
Lightning
The Beginning
OMG
I Love You
Clued Up

And, after the incredible Get Weird Live Tour, I'm i love with the album even more. Little Mix release their next album, Glory Days, later this month - be sure to pop back to see how their fourth album compares to their third.