Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Film Review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (2014).

"I have a message for President Snow: If we burn, you burn with us!" This sums up part 1 of this season's anticipated installment in the The Hunger Games Series, Mockingjay - Part 1. Once again directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend and Catching Fire) with a screenplay, adapted from Suzanne Collins' novel Mockingjay, by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. It is the first of two films based on the novel. The story continues to follow Katniss Everdeen; After having twice survived the Hunger Games and when she destroys the games, she finds herself in District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin and under her leadership, Katniss is convinced to reluctantly become the symbol of a mass rebellion against the Capitol, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Natalie Dormer. The film contained superb but not the best performances in the series. As the film “talked the talk” but did not “walked the walk”. Lawrence’s performance in this film was solid but felt rather weak than the previous installments even though she is the central character that we’re supposed to follow all the way. Which made it very hard for me to follow. This was the same with some of her fellow cast members Hemsworth, Harrelson, Banks, Wright and Tucci. Like Lawrence, solid but weak performances. However there were some cast members who did shine and brought more to their roles than the previous chapters, Hutcherson, Hoffman and Sutherland. Hutcherson brought more edge to his performance as Peeta, which made his journey unshakable. Hoffman gave a brilliant performance in one of his last performances (whom the film is dedicated in loving memory) and Sutherland never felt more threatening than he did in this film. Especially when he delivered the line “Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.” And kudos to new cast members Moore as President Coin and Natalie Dormer as Cressida (who has now become my favorite character in the series).

It can't help but feel like the prelude it is, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I is an amazingly filmed, emotionally satisfying penultimate installment for the series. For the most part the action weakens along the way, spurred by somewhat chatty sequences. It's just slightly disappointing that, with the momentum having been established so effectively, we now have to wait until next year to enjoy the rest of the ride. It is alternatively funny and touching at some moments. The film sets up the franchise finale with a penultimate chapter loaded with solid performances and smart political subtext, though it comes up short on the action front. Even though it is beautifully shot, it is a soulless cash machine, and that it delivers no dramatic payoff, no resolution and not much fun. It may not be the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet. However, it will prepare you for it.

Simon says The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I receives:

Also, see my review for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Film Review: "Interstellar" (2014).

"We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we've just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we've barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us." This sums up the whole premise of this summer's gargantuan Science-Fiction Epic Interstellar (2014). The film is directed by the great Christopher Nolan. Based on a screenplay co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The film follows a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage in order to save mankind.

Though the film was one of the most original Science-Fiction films, as well as one of the most original films of the year. For its ode to the genre, the influences on Interstellar, said by Nolan, included the "key touchstones" of science fiction cinema; Metropolis (1927), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Blade Runner (1982). He also cited the space drama The Right Stuff (1983) as an example to follow, and screened it for the crew before production. For the visual and design aspect of the film, he said Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979) also influenced Interstellar immensely. With the emotional human drama, Nolan also compared Interstellar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), as a film about human nature. In addition, he also sought to emulate films like Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi and Ellen Burstyn. The cast gave their finest performances yet. But I felt the best performances in the film came from McConaughey, Chastain and Foy. McConaughey gave the pinnacle of his acting career in this film. McConaughey gives the film much well-needed heft. He is the center of gravity. Chastain and Foy both gave remarkable performances as both adult and young Murph. It was these performances and their relationship between father and child that was the emotional core of this film.

Interstellar is a great film and an unforgettable endeavor. It is an awesome realization of interstellar space-travel. The film is a dazzling 170-minute tour on the Nolan film ship through the universe out there beyond our earth. The film is perhaps the first multi-million-dollar super colossal movie since Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 Science Fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which can be regarded as the work of one man. It joins a short list of recent American movies that might be called experimental epics: movies that have an ambitious reach through time and subject matter, that spend freely for locations or special effects, but that consider each scene as intently as an art film. The film is as exciting as the discovery of the mysterious and beautiful black hole itself. The film succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale. The film is an epic film about mankind, brilliantly directed by Nolan. The special effects and the IMAX cinematography are mind-blowing.

Simon says Interstellar receives:

Also, see my review for The Dark Knight Rises.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Film Review: "Fury" (2014).

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." This line sums up this season's dark and gritty World War II Epic Fury. The film is written and directed by David Ayer (Street Kings (2008) and Sabotage (2014)). The story begins on April 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named ‘Wardaddy’ commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Wardaddy’ and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

The film stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and Jason Isaacs. Pitt gave a brilliant in his second time in a WWII film (after Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards) as US Army S/Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier. Even though at age 50, Pitt is much older than the average noncommissioned officer in WWII, who would likely be in his early to mid 20s. Considering his age, choice of sidearm, and long service record mentioned in the film, it's entirely possible that his character is also a WWI veteran. Labeouf gave a fine performance as T/5 Boyd "Bible" Swan. LaBeouf reportedly went to the extent on this film by pulling out his own tooth and did not shower during filming. Lerman also gave a fine performance as Pvt. Norman "Machine" Ellison. Bernthal gave a great performance as Pfc. Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis. Like Pitt, this is not the first time Jon Bernthal has played a character in a WWII setting. He portrayed Marine Sergeant Manny Rodriguez in the award-winning HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010). Peña gave a terrific performance as Cpl. Trini "Gordo" Garcia. Finally Isaacs gave a great performance, even though his role was rather minor in this film. The cast themselves, like their on-screen counterparts, were like a band or family. Writer and director David Ayer had the actors fight each other on set before shooting scenes to tighten their bond. As well as having the cast undergo a rigorous month long course of boot camp, in which the final test was manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Despite being considerably older than his cast mates, Brad Pitt made sure that he participated in all of the physical training alongside the other actors. 

Anchored by another masterful performance from Pitt, Ayer's unflinchingly realistic war film Fury (2014), while it may not reinvent the wheel, but it further solidifies the genre's existence in cinema today. As well as having fine performances from almost every actor. It is one of the best-looking war movies ever made. In conclusion, the film is a well-acted, suitably raw depiction of the horrors of war. But it doesn't quite live up to its ambitions and was not enough to compete with the awesome reality of Empire of the Sun (1987), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Thin Red Line (1998), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and even Inglorious Bastards (2009).

Simon says Fury Receives: