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!

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

f140aad0-e041-11e3-bbab-c14b02f09f69_transformers-age-of-extinctionRoze-Rating: 2.5 / 5

Following the attack on Chicago, there is a sense of bitterness towards the transformers. Unknown to the public, Decepticons and Autobots are being hunted down and killed for their scraps, sanctioned by corrupt CIA operatives. Of all places, Cade Yeager finds a torn up truck in an abandoned cinema hoping to sell the parts for enough cash to put his daughter through college. When he discovers that it isn’t your average truck, his life takes a turn for the worst.

Now I’ve never been a hater of the Transformer franchise or ever boarded the “down with Michael Bay” bandwagon, because I actually find his films fun and thoroughly entertaining, but this time around I’m finding it hard to defend the CGI addicted director. I’ll give him Transformers one as it was actually a pretty good action flick, and what made it so good was that element of mystery, for people who weren’t familiar with transformers or ever had a history with them, the first installment was perfect. We’re learning about who the transformers are and how significant their rivalry with the Decepticons is, and the bond they form with the humans adds an extra layer to the transformers that makes them admirable characters. But as the sequels increase the more shallow the franchise has become, and when we take a step back and think about the films together as a series, it’s evident that there’s no progression and it never intends to, instead there’s more of a desire to include as much CGI as possible, dress the girls down as eye candy and make a simple story over complicated. And that’s a shame as the characters are pretty badass. That being said I’m one of those people that totally fell for the plethora of explosions and destruction that was Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Yes a lot of it was ridiculous, and there are moments that annoy me, but you can’t fault the entertainment value it offers and some of those action sequences are jaw dropping. Looking back you can tell that Bay took on the criticism from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and improved the franchise immensely, because that film achieved the complete opposite of what it intended to do. The story was bloated and the pacing was completely off, making for an overlong film that was ultimately boring despite the non stop action. Unfortunately Transformers: Age of Extinction does not move forward as Dark of the Moon did, but instead takes a huge step backwards.

Unsurprisingly this film is visually brilliant, there’s one thing Bay can do and that is make a great looking action film. The CGI is incredible and has come a long way since the first film of the series, you would honestly think that these robots were real if you were a kid watching for the first time. Of course if you’re looking for explosions, explosions and more explosions then this film will hit the spot perfectly; it would be hard to find a film that can top the amount of destruction that you’ll get in this. But If you’re looking for an action film with a coherent story and uncliched characters then this may be 2 hours and 37 minutes you’d rather save for another trip to the cinema.

There’s a reason I could tolerate Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and that was because I cared about the characters having spent two films getting to know them with the exception of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Just like Dark of the Moon missed Mikaela (Megan Fox), Age of Extinction missed Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), just because followers of the franchise have already developed a relationship with the character and in addition that relationship between Witwicky and the Autobots. Mark Wahlberg is great in this film but in all honesty I didn’t care much for his character or the others, and that’s down to how cliched and cheesy they are. For the first time in a film, I actually disapproved of seeing a beautiful girl in short shorts, just because we’ve seen it so many times before in a Transformers film, why must it be a perquisite to have a gorgeous girl cast in these films. The good thing about Megan Fox and her character was that there was more too her than met the eye, she was a badass and had a legitimate reason to be involved with the transformers. Ultimately the characters are just bad, I mean the only reason I remember Shane (Jack Reynor) is because of his Irish accent.

Now the storytelling is pretty terrible, there are countless moments which could have easily been condensed and reduced the run time significantly, making for a less exhausting watch. The story alone is generic, haven’t we already had a government conspiracy plot line before. The most interesting thing about the film is the Transformers and their conflict between helping the humans or accepting they don’t want them there, and that’s where the tireless critique returns, make the transformers purely the heart of the films!

Despite the action being pretty well choreographed and executed, there’s so much of it that it really does suffocate you. The amount of shaky cam and low angle shots used within the long action sequences makes it so hard to concentrate on the screen. I had to look away and blink a few times just to make sure my eyes weren’t trying to wriggle their way out of their sockets. Admittedly I did enjoy the final action segment, just because it’s pretty hilarious and the urban warfare approach is totally my thing. I just wish they kept that same lighthearted tone from start to finish, because the worst parts of the film are when it tries too hard to be serious, and therefore sucking all the fun out of it.

Ultimately there’s no surprise towards how the film has turned out, we all know what to expect with Michael Bay films and especially when coming from the Transformers franchise. It may be time for a fresh face to take over and inject the imagination and inspired ideas that this film really missed. That being said if you’re in the mood for hardcore action to fry your brain then this will do the trick.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

katniss-peeta-the-hunger-games-catching-fire-wallpaperRoze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

Seems like ages ago since I saw The Hunger Games in the cinema, because of that I can’t say that the film stuck with me. It was definitely an entertaining watch because of an awesome protagonist with lethal bow and arrow skills, but it lacked some grit. I’m not saying that it never had any but the fact that we never really get to see blade and flesh make contact diminished the affect of the Hunger Games concept implemented by the Capitol. Maybe that’s just me having watched too many Nicolas Winding Refn films. As for the sequel, it has to be one of the biggest surprises of 2013 for me. I did not expect much with this sequel having not read the books, I thought it would be the same formula (which it kinda was) but did not expect such an explosive ending and cliffhanger. Because of that, it was one of my favourite films of 2013.

This film is everything I wanted the last film to be. It had mind games, thrilling obstacles, conspiracy, likable characters and most importantly an arrow to the knee. What I liked about the beginning of this film is that we’re instantly thinking about the last film. How it ended and why Katniss is suddenly kissing some other dude who we haven’t actually seen much of. Once we learn that her berry antics were all for survival, we subconsciously think more about the decisions these characters make.

The tone remains consistent with the first film except it’s more intense and gritty aided by the story’s progression as we learn more about Snow and the Capitol. Katniss is obviously affected from her experiences in the Hunger Games which makes her a lot more stubborn than I remember. She can’t really trust anyone nor can she trust her decisions. Jennifer Lawrence make’s this role her’s, in a franchise I really didn’t expect to take off as well as it has, luckily it feels like it’s going to get even better.

If you thought the first film looked great then get ready for another film with innovative costumes, diverse set designs and beautiful cinematography. This film truly looks great with it’s crisp visuals especially when we get to the exotic Hunger Games dome and the CGI kicks in.

It may annoy some people but the cliff hanger we’re left with felt weirdly satisfying for me. I’ve never felt so intrigued and surprised and annoyed at the same time. But what tied these feelings off perfectly was that last close up on Lawrence’s face. For this franchise that moment will be the most iconic, when Katniss turns into more than a Hunger Games contestant but a symbol for all existing districts to look to for hope. As a result of that I never would have thought I’d be so desperate to see a Hunger Games sequel.