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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

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mockingjay pt2Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Liam Hemsworth, Mahershala Ali

Release date: Thursday 19th November

After the events of last year’s blockbuster Part 1, a lot is riding on the expectations of the Hunger Games saga-ending Mockingjay Part 2, finally concluding the epic story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her quest to take down evil Panem overlord, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Promising a much darker and war-torn edition of the YA world built so exceptionally by Suzanne Collins, all eyes are on the Capitol as the final push for supremacy unfolds in an epic blockbuster encounter.

Katniss’ final battle with Snow is upon us, and there are plenty of additional factors in her life that make this the ultimate struggle for the woman dubbed the ‘Mockingjay’. After an encounter with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) that saw her shocked and injured, Katniss is still attempting to come to terms with the drastic change in his frame of mind at the hands of her enemy. Anger-driven and completely out of character, Peeta is as much a threat as those followers of Snow, while Gale remains faithful to his lifelong friend, clearly longing for the love she clearly holds for his rival.

Nevertheless, the revolution continues under the guidance of Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and head gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a final surge towards Snow’s palace is planned. The only problem is that the Capitol is riddled with traps set to destroy anyone who dares attempt to oppose the current lawmaker. While the annual Hunger Games may appear a thing of the past, Katniss and her crew, including Finnick (Sam Claflin), Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer), must navigate a whole new arena filled with pods primed for killing. Can they make it to take down President Snow or will this be one war they simply cannot win?

Francis Lawrence has certainly become accomplished when it boils down to bringing the pages of Suzanne Collins’ series to the big screen, and his final foray into the war-torn realms of Panem certainly shifts things tonally in the way in which we all expect. Forgotten are the colourful garments of Hunger Games gone past, the celebratory parades and the quirky interviews; this is war at its bleakest and most affecting.

In shifting its tone, Mockingjay also endeavours to bring about a whole new level of drama and emotion, with some key interactions between the core trio of the story sharing some of the more pivotal moments in the film. This, in turn, brings yet more impressive performance from Lawrence and Hutcherson especially as their relations are strained and tested to the brink of shattering.

Lawrence and Hutcherson perfectly toy with the bond between their characters, but an extra weight of brilliance is added by the authoritarians in Julianne Moore and the sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. Mockingjay is certainly an emotional encounter, only heightened by the appearance of the late Hoffmann and a subtle goodbye to him within the narrative.

While drama and emotion certainly dominate, it must be said that Lawrence’s movie also looks to push the certification boundaries with some incredibly executed tension and action set pieces. With the Districts of Panem rigged with dangers, there are plentiful scenes of peril and enthralling action, and this helps to break up proceedings tenfold. One particular underground scene stands out as the pinnacle moment of the film, where we find ourselves victims of the claustrophobic tunnels, inducing pounding hearts and he biting of nails. It plays out like a scene from Aliens and cranks up the tension by the second – truly remarkable and dark as the 12a certificate could be stretched.

For all its characteristics that make it a cut above its predecessor, it certainly pays to know that Part 2 is, at times, a bit of a slog. Hitting over the two-hour mark, there are moments in the film where you may question the usage of time; one notable decision is the minimal use of the brilliant Jena Malone as Johanna. She steals the few scenes in which she is present and it is a real shame we don’t get more of her striking presence along the way.

That said, Mockingjay Part 2 is a fitting end to a global phenomenon that has been embraced by millions. Admittedly it doesn’t quite manage to surpass the earlier series entries, but weighted with a whole new level of emotion and dramatic connectivity it poses a whole new beast for its conclusion. Superb set pieces, striking tension and great characters mean that this is a solid departure for Katniss and her fight for survival.

Emma Stone obsessive and Denzel Washington advocate, James is a lover of all things cinema. Donnie Darko is his favourite film and he firmly believes DC will rule supreme over Marvel.

Movie Reviews

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: David Yates

Starring: Jude Law, Johnny Depp. Also Eddie Redmayne.

Reviewed By: Van Connor

The magic’s well and truly faded with this second instalment of the erstwhile Harry Potter prequel series, as The Crimes of Grindelwald shifts the action to Paris, but its own sensibilities entirely too far into the franchise world-building spectrum that could threaten to unravel it. It never does quite unfurl from the exhaustion of it, that would, after all, suggest there were anything of note at its core. There isn’t. The Crimes of Grindelwald is precisely the patronising box-office-centric cash-grab any decent cynic’s always accused the Harry Potter series of being under the surface; all that’s changed is that, this time, they really can’t be bothered to attempt to mask it beneath any kind of fun.

One of those sequels you can rather obviously tell was never meant to exist, this very-much-a-part-two kicks off unceremoniously (it has no other setting, as you’ll discover over the course of a mind-numbing two and a quarter hours) by setting about undoing literally every closing plot mechanic of what’s come before. Did a character end up in Point A last time? Well, this time they’re going to be reintroduced via what’s either an interesting and poorly lit set-piece or clunky exposition in order to set themselves up at Point B instead, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for them to do so. Only then may the plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald begin. And plot it has. Lots of plot. Tons and tons of plot. In fact, it has very little else but plot. So, it’s somewhat mystifying that David Yates’ sixth venture into what’s evidently now branded as the Wizarding World should ultimately amount to so little.

From what little you’re able to glean of the plot, proceedings involve the immediate escape of evil wizard Gerrett Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from the prison to where he was sent last time. On the loose once more, Grindelwald sets about exacting his master plan to ensure magical dominance over the human race, a plan that involves the formation of a dark wizarding army and the utilisation of one Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller), with the latter’s death evidently no obstacle for the likes of his contract’s sequel options. The only wizard capable of stopping Grindelwald, we’re told, is that rebellious master wizard Albus Dumbledore (now played in a younger form by Jude Law), but Dumbledore can’t, you see, because… reasons, and despatches a reluctant Newt Scamander to do so in his stead. Because, again, reasons.

Now, you can be forgiven for taking that plot in and wondering just how in the hell Eddie Redmayne’s Newt need in any way be present for any of this, and, frankly, you’d be right to do so. Certainly, Eddie Redmayne appears to be wondering the same – his contingent of the cast (essentially the main four from the last movie) each make what can charitably be described as diminishing returns, offering more outright effort in their performances to a film that really can’t be bothered to do much with them. They’re not important, you see, Dumbledore is. Grindelwald is. And creator/screenwriter/living cash hoover J.K. Rowling genuinely cannot be bothered to pretend otherwise. That movie snotty naysayers claim they always somehow see whenever there’s a new superhero movie out? The one that’s nothing but nonsense, world-building and a half-hourly set-piece? That movie actually does exist. And its title is The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Losing the magic of even its own musical arrangement, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an outright disaster not just of a seasonal tentpole release, but of a franchise picture full stop. Its script works exhaustingly to tie itself in knots to go essentially nowhere, its culmination consisting of literally nothing more than two pieces of unceremonious lore being shouted about in canon, each essentially lionised by Rowling so that at least one of them can no longer be called out as the laziest, most cynical, and ethically bankrupt product of the entire franchise. She fails in this endeavour, as, indeed, does Yates in delivering a dreary and uninvolving film to which his cast aspire to inject life, only to reanimate the narratively dead instead.

Legions of Potterites will doubtless flock to the nearest multiplex the moment the doors open, and, to be fair, that is absolutely the power the brand has and ours is not to question. If the priority of this series, though, genuinely is the continued pumping of revenue into the Rowling estate landscaping fund, would it really be too much to ask to even attempt to make it a good time? Can we not at least get some enjoyment out of this? A big ask, I know. But it’d behove Rowling, Yates, and everybody involved in this shill of a series to at least consider we might want some excitement next time around. Maybe when the second act stops dead for ten minutes to give us a canon origin story for the damned sorting hat.

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Featured Review

Hell Fest ★★★

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: Gregory Plotkin

Starring: Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards

Reviewed By: Van Connor

In the pantheon of cinema, the slasher movie sits alongside only really Die Hard and the western as being unfathomably easy to retrofit for any occasion with “…but with this unique location instead!” Hell Fest is a textbook case of this. It has no ambition beyond merely being a slasher movie set within a specific gimmick-driven environment, no desire to offer up anything more than stock Hollywood teens being violently murdered one at a time, and is under no illusion about whether or not you’ve ever seen this movie before or even care. What it is concerned with, though, is fun. And it has that in spades.

It’s literally nothing more than “the slasher movie at an adult horror theme park”. A concept, it turns out, that you can make a fair amount of mischief with, as our group of six abhorrently gorgeous twenty-eight year-old teenagers find themselves fixated upon by a sinister figure in a wooden mask and brandishing a kitchen knife. This being the eponymous theme park, naturally there are a multitude of places for our teens to hide, but, as is par for the course in Hell Fest, where you hide could just as easily be the very means by which our masked murderer will gut you. Fun!

Though none of the cast leap out as being particularly noteworthy (Arrow’s Bex Taylor-Klaus and MacGyver’s Reign Edwards are arguably the biggest geek pulls here), each serviceably handles their limited place within the story. Amy Forsyth’s a perfectly fine Final Girl, not memorable, but likeable enough, and the rest of the cast conduct themselves to more or less the same standard. Blumhouse alum Gregory Plotkin shifts to the big chair for this one, proving he’s got pretty lively chops for a good ol’ down n’ dirty slasher flick, and Seth Sherwood and Blair Butler’s script knows just how to play with the mechanics of the formula that everyone involved can unashamedly enjoy themselves without the overwhelming need to reinvent the genre wheel.

By virtue of being set within a merchandised horror world, Hell Fest has great fun in exploiting that set up for some wonderfully cheap scares, making for an enjoyable and OTT bloody night at the pictures that will never challenge, but certainly entertain. There’s no mythology to this, no franchise being built before us, and there’s even a genre icon making an almost obligatory appearance to sanctify it all. Sure, you won’t lose your head with Hell Fest, but you will whoop and cheer. It’s just a shame it had to arrive three weeks after Halloween.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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