The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

SS_D8-3371.dngRoze-Rating: 3 / 5

The penultimate chapter within The Hunger Games franchise brings us to District 13, home of the rebellion. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is not in the best of shapes following the chaos of her quarter-quell Hunger Games and still grieving the capture of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She is reluctantly roped into becoming the face of the rebel forces with the hopes of saving Peeta as motivation. In order to defeat the Capitol, Katniss must embody the Mockingjay and lead the revolution towards victory.

I absolutely loved Catching Fire, so much so that it ended up being in my top ten films of 2013. It was everything that I wanted the first Hunger Games to be. It was grittier, action packed and free from unnecessary shaky cam! Which is why I was totally excited to be watching Mockingjay – Part 1 especially knowing Francis Lawrence was returning to direct it. Having ended on such a massive and intense cliffhanger, I was ready to see Katniss kick some ass and give the Capitol a taste of their own medicine. Of course you can guess that I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this film. My initial reaction leaving the theater was of annoyance having spent money on a film that didn’t really deliver on what I wanted to see but having also endured the smell of sweaty prepubescent teenagers for nothing (I can’t talk). On a business stand point I totally understand why splitting the last book into two films is smart and inevitable in today’s film industry, but I really did not see the ‘need’ for it cinematically. I think if the film was marketed as what it really is which is more of a darker character drama rather than an action packed film about revolution, then I probably wouldn’t be too bummed out about it.That being said, having reflected on the film and let it sit with me for a day, I respect what the film does and maybe after seeing Mockingjay – Part 2, it could end up being the perfect sibling to the ultimate finale. It doesn’t help that we have to wait another year to see it, which is why ultimately it just feels like an extended cliffhanger of Catching Fire.

I really wanted to like this film, and I did up until about halfway through where things started to feel a bit dragged on, overdeveloped and quite frankly slow. Stuff happens but really in the full scope of the franchise, not much really does, which is why the ending didn’t have an impact on me at all. I wasn’t shocked. It ended and I hadn’t learnt or felt any differently towards President Snow or the Capitol; I still hated them the same as I did in the last two films. It was just underwhelming and I could feel it within the theater, the energy was relatively low and people left without a commotion. I remember seeing Catching Fire and after that ending I was just blown away with excitement. I wanted that reaction.

That being said I don’t think the film is completely unnecessary, it’s a part of the story that needed to be told and is actually quite interesting. For a teen franchise, some of the themes are mature and compelling. I really liked the way they represented the rebellion and fleshed out how impactful propaganda can be on a revolution to push an agenda. It was also interesting to see how Katniss coped with being the face of the revolution and dealing with the pressures of being looked up to for inspiration. At points during the story I felt like I should be resenting Julianne Moore’s character and the nature of the rebellion based on how they were treating Katniss. I feel like there was a missed opportunity to represent revolution as a negative force although essential for change. Although these were interesting themes, it eventually became a bit tiresome as the narrative was stretched as far as it could go. The story never develops and in all honesty nor does Katniss. I was waiting for her to truly ’embody’ the Mockingjay and relish the position, but she never really does. Another reason for why Mockingjay – Part 1 ultimately feels incomplete.

Despite the film being shot gorgeously and the dystopian set pieces being well realized, I felt some of the scenes were edited frustratingly. Two scenes stick out to me at the end. Both having to edit in and out of simultaneous events. (Spoiler) The rescue scene was incredibly frustrating to watch for me. Even though I liked the Zero Dark Thirty feel about it, they completely milked that scene for everything it was worth. It went on for what felt like 10 minutes while Katniss and Snow faced off in a less than thrilling battle of wits, and by the end of what was supposed to be a suspenseful moment just didn’t work for me. It was frustrating because I loved how it was shot, the tinges of red, the way the camera followed them and the stealth. And how many speeches did we get in that film? It felt like too many.

Despite all the disappointment I could not help but admire Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, who is only growing from strength to strength as her career goes on. Nevertheless I really started to miss the no nonsense Katniss we grew so fond of from the previous films as her infatuation with Peeta increased. I can’t tell if she’s truly in love with him or if she feels guilty for the situation he’s in. Either way it’s an interesting relationship and somewhat a larger focus of this film.

Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t necessarily a bad film, it has strong performances, interesting narrative elements and brilliant shots. Nevertheless I don’t think it merited its own film and could have easily been condensed into 45 minutes. I could understand fans loving this film as it more or less stays true to the book, but I’d much rather watch a 3 hour Hunger Games film that sticks with me forever than a 2 hour film that I’m most likely going to forget. But I doubt the studios care, because they know people like me will still buy a ticket for next years Mockingjay – Part 2!

Advertisements

Interstellar (2014)

interstellarRoze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

Christopher Nolan brings us not only his 9th directorial triumph but the most ambitious film of 2014. Starring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and a black hole or two; this film was always going to be one of the most anticipated films of the year. Interstellar, not only directed by Nolan but also co written with his brother, tells a story set in the distant future where earth is failing to provide humanity with enough food to survive. In anticipation of Earths demise, NASA prepares a mission which could not only save humanity but take them to places they have never been before.

All year round Interstellar has burdened us with its teaser trailers, teaser’s for the teaser trailers and just your average trailer keeping with Nolan’s trademark ambiguity. Well I guess it worked as they’re sitting on a healthy 330 million worldwide box office two weeks into their release. Further proving the pull power of the Nolan, McConaughey, Sci-fi combination. Although they were probably hoping for a bigger opening weekend, only to be foiled by Big Hero 6.

There have been big questions surrounding this film since its release, such as whether or not the hype took away from the films experience and without Nolan would Interstellar be getting a lot more criticism than it has been. In my opinion either way this film achieved what it was meant to do, which was give the audience an experience that would leave them pondering and debating. It’s been two weeks now and there are still discussions about the films theories, the science and the story. I can’t remember the last time I watched a film and was still thinking about it this far past my viewing. Except for Blonde and Blonder, I mean to this day I can’t think of a film that I’ve hated as much as that, despite it’s gorgeous leads. Interstellar on the other hand is memorable for the right reasons. Yes there are problems with the screenplay relating to character logic and plot holes involving who “they”are and probably some of the science, but in all honesty they weren’t as prominent until I sat down and fully digested the film. Upon viewing I was in awe of the visuals, the acting, the father-daughter relationship and even the science. Interstellar absorbs you into the film, making you think and emotionally invest into McConaughey’s character and his motivations. You can criticize the film as much as you like but there is no doubting that this is a must see film of 2014, not necessarily because it’s a great film but because it’s an ambitious film.

Interstellar is beautifully crafted which is a given for Nolan films nowadays as he reimagines space as a grand piece of spectacle while keeping its beauty and mystery intact. While we don’t get an intense sense of zero gravity and false orientation as Gravity of last year, we are still able to indulge in it’s bleak vastness and vacuum environment. The creation of the black hole alone is masterful which turns out to be scientifically accurate and may have even prompted a new discovery. There is no debate over how great this film looks, everything from the worm hole to the corn fields. Space isn’t the only bleak environment as earth is depicted as just as hopeless and on the brink of destruction. We have had some awesome illustrations of space lately and after ‘Gravity’, hopefully this becomes the standard for space films.

Going into this film I really didn’t know what to expect. The trailers advertised a lot of corn fields, a teary McConaughey and a few shots of the unknown, but I still made my way to the theater. Which only further proves that you can still make a badass trailer without giving away too much and still entice an audience. Granted I would never miss a Nolan film especially a Nolan film set in space. That being said, did the ambiguity help the film? for me it made it even more of an experience, which is exactly what watching a film should be. I’ve seen enough films after viewing a trailer and thinking “wow, it really didn’t hold back on giving away those plot points”, and ultimately your sitting waiting for those moments. So finding out that Interstellar is a lot more sentimental than I would have anticipated made for quite an emotional and unexpected experience.

Amongst the scientific mumbo jumbo at the heart of the film is a story about love and how love itself is a force to be reckoned with. It may seem a bit icky on paper and overly familiar but I totally bought into it because we’ve not seen love explored at this scale and optimism before. We’re told that love is “quantifiable” and how it might even “transcend space and time” during a love drunk speech by Anne Hathaway, a speech that initially felt off but with reflection made sense. But what really sells it are the performances by Matthew McConaughey and child star Mackenzie Foy. Their bond and their love are ultimately the stars of this film and without it, the film would have undoubtedly fell flat.

Initially this film starts off very negative, openly blaming humans for earths demise and current situation where farmers are more valuable than engineers. Only preventing the very nature of humans, which is to explore. What I liked is the progression from pessimism to optimism. McConaughey’s character has an epiphany of sorts, realizing no matter what happens humans will find a way, as we are also survivors by nature. Once the film goes in this direction, I couldn’t help but feel inspired and positive about the world we live in now.

Another element I enjoyed was the representation of time, and how time is different in certain parts of the universe. We learn that gravity has a lot to do with that. Knowing McConaughey is under some time pressure to see his children makes the film even more suspenseful and grueling. We understand that he has waited his whole life for this moment, to explore and discover new worlds, but ultimately he’s doing it to save his children. It kills him inside knowing that he’s going to lose time with them but the prospect of seeing them live in an even bleaker future is even worse. It’s a hard hitting reality about the preciousness of time and how much we depend on it.

Now in terms of the dialogue, it was very hit and miss. I understand that there are some complicated concepts and theories needing to be explained using scientific terminology and such. At times it was quite interesting and even enlightening but for the most part it just went over my head. Thanks to the fast pacing and heightened dramatic tension, it was easy to stay engaged in the dialogue, even though there were parts that I wish I could have rewinded and watched again. That being said if they would have toned down the science talk it might have made it a lot easier to fully connect with the film. Another problem was the expository nature of the dialogue. At times it was subtle and I didn’t mind that, but there were a few moments that stuck with me because it took me right out of the film. It’s never a good thing when one character is starting a conversation with “remember that time… blah blah”, unless its purely nostalgic. Nevertheless I can look past that for everything else this film is, which is pretty darn beautiful.

Interstellar may not be a perfect film, but for me, it’s not too hard to look past its flaws and see something pretty special. It has the spectacle, the aesthetics, the performances and the score to make this a fully captivating film. And if you aren’t happy with that, there’s even a talking robot that tells sarcastic jokes! We need more films like this.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

dofpRoze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

The original X-Men cast return to the big screen as they are under the attack of Bolivar Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) Sentinel program. Casualties are high and rising, as the mutants aren’t the only species being attacked but also the humans who dare to help them. This leaves earth under brutal control of the worst of society, with the mutant killing machines at their disposal. The only way to save the world is to turn back time and prevent the very event which caused the genocide. This requires Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to be sent back to the 70s to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Trask, an event which dictated the view of mutants around the globe.

I will say right off the bat that this is the best X-Men film to date. After multiple viewings my opinion does not change as it’s quite simply a great film. What it does is give us a true in depth exploration of these characters, not all of them, but a lot more than what previous X-Men films achieved to do. This meant Wolverine was able to take a seat back and give other characters a turn. I think Singer recognized that and for once the characters are given the respect they deserve. This film is filled with great character driven moments, and in my opinion they stand out much more than the action, which was also brilliant. This is completely down to Simon Kinberg’s screenplay, which gave us complex characters, encouraging us to think a little bit and allowing us to make our own opinions about these characters. A stand out moment would be a heated argument between Professor X and Magneto (young) as they are flying to find Mystique. It becomes clear that these are two people who have the mutants well being in mind, but their ideologies about how to go about protecting them are vastly different. For once Magneto isn’t portrayed as bad. We are able to understand his ideology and for a moment sympathize for him as he protests Professor X’s self-pity. These ideologies are further explored as Mystique is caught in between them, trying to pave her own path towards saving the mutants. Ultimately the writing really makes this a great film.

I was always a bit underwhelmed by how the characters powers were translated on screen, not all the time, but I felt this way more times than I should have. Days of Future past finally nails it as it feels more fluid and organic rather than confused and flat. I never liked Storm (Halle Berry) because I thought her powers were a bit lame, but after this film I finally understand her badassery. Right from the opening scene I knew that things were going to be different on the action side, and they were for the better. Like they say, one stick is easy to break, but a bunch of sticks are almost impossible to break. Much like their powers, they function better when they work as a team, and quite evidently it’s much more entertaining. It says a lot that Wolverine was probably one of the tamest characters throughout the whole film.

With the rise of this comic book movie phenomenon, it’s encouraging to see that the acting is not being compromised as this film has some of the best performances I’ve seen in a comic book film. If future films of this genre continue to go in this vein then I have a lot of money to save for the 20 odd comic book films which are going to be raiding our local cinemas in the coming years. Seeing this cast on screen is awe inducing right to the end. Making it even harder for me to hold in all my emotions as both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy share an intense moment of screen time, which did not disappoint.

There is no denying that this film will make it onto peoples top 10 lists for comic book films. If not your best comic book films list, then your best comic book film moments list. The moment I’m referring to is the Quicksilver scene, which is hands down the best scene I’ve seen in awhile. It’s inventive, funny, badass and totally appropriate for the representation of his power. One thing is for sure, Aaron Taylor Johnson is gonna have to do something special to have one over on Evan Peters.

For a superhero film it felt somewhat down to earth, as if we were watching real people with genetic differences to us. The way they integrated real life events like the JFK assassination and the Vietnam war made the X-Men universe feel real which only enhances the feeling that this is more than just a comic book film but a film about these characters who are complex and interesting. Bryan Singer has genuinely saved the X-Men franchise by erasing all the continuity problems of past x-men films and giving the new cast a chance at a perfect trilogy without the burden of knowing Wolverin: Origins and X-Men: The Last Stand exist, the ending is the ultimate cherry on top to that.