Review: Joy

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DIR/WRI: David O. Russell • PRO: John Davis, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok, David O. Russell • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Tom Cross, Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Yohei Taneda • MUS: David Campbell, West Dylan Thordson • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro

When an award-winning writer/director and an A-List cast work together on a good old rags-to-riches tale inspired by self-made millionaire Joy Mangano’s life, what could possibly go wrong? What indeed?

Alas, there was no joy in David O. Russell’s Joy for me.

The movie centres around Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), a washed-out separated Mom struggling to keep on top of her job and take care of three generations of her family in a very unattractive home.

So downstairs we have Tony (Édgar Ramírez) the Venezuelan crooner of an ex-husband below in the basement who, within minutes, is engaged in an acrimonious turf war with his ex-father-in-law Rudy (Robert de Niro) also in the basement having being returned as ‘damaged goods’ by his third wife.

On the ground floor, we have Joy’s dysfunctional mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), whose lifelong addiction to a particular daytime soap along with a bad case of agoraphobia prevents her from getting off the bed or engaging in conversations outside the comings and goings of the show.

Upstairs, we have her two children and Grandma Mimi (Dianne Ladd), the only person that both supports and believes in her potential having noticed what a dab hand Joy was at Origami as a child. Next door we have the nasty half sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) and soon enough we meet Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) – Rudy’s latest squeeze who is instantly absorbed into this Italian American family.

For fear the audience don’t do nuance, we’re presented with way too many examples of just how harried poor Joy’s life is, which include flashbacks to her glory days of childhood origami, a very nasty divorce (during which some Origami gets damaged) and some dream sequences involving both her family and the cast on the set of mother’s favourite daytime show.

And that’s all before Joy starts her own business with and taking some particularly poor business advice from the very same circle of people that have been running her ragged for seventeen years. The blow-by-blow product design, inner mechanics and 300 feet of continuous loop cotton of her miracle mop were lost on me but was soon awoken by the hard knocks of zero sales. Enter snake oil salesman and QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), who promises to raise her back to life but not before a few more knocks and a second mortgage on the house.

I must have been taking off my coat at the beginning of the movie and missed the timeline but it was only in this first scene at the QVC shopping channel set was I given an indication of the era. Neil the futurologist made some predictions about the future of retail and home computing whilst giving Joy a tour of their very shabby premises.

You have to be tough for business is a key theme of the movie but you too join the club with a bad hairdo, a raised voice and some finger pointing.

So, anyway, Joy does make it, there’s no spoiler as it’s a biopic of a self-made millionaire but not before encountering more stress and disappointment.

So what’s not to like?  I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Any-rags-to-riches journey to the top is always a good yarn, the acting solid, the characters and their side stories quirky and fun yet together it hung uncomfortably accentuated by the inane voiceover from Grandma Mimi with platitudes like ‘that day Joy was not to know that in ten years …’

The closing scene sort of sealed the deal for me with the present day successful Joy now ‘arrived’ in her mock tudor mansion replete with very bad hairdo, dressed and behaving like Princess Diana offering alms to peasant inventors that had been waiting their turn for an audience with Joy. The happy ending was the silent reappearance of her son who must have been abducted as a toddler only to be returned as a teenager in the final scene, having been cut out and upstaged by his big sister throughout the movie.

Watching interviews with the real Joy Mangano about the movie, she hopes it will be an inspiration to other women and people out there with ideas to just do it. As a Joy myself and self employed, I couldn’t agree more and first on my not to-do list is to spend 124 minutes watching inferior quality movies. From the crew and cast behind classics such as The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, we’d expect a little more joy,

Joy Redmond

18
167 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Joy is released 1st January 2016

Joy – Official Website

 

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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DIR: Francis Lawrence • WRI Peter Craig, Danny Strong Pro: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

There’s something almost redundant about writing a review for a movie like this – a blockbuster ending to a beloved series with marketing on hyperdrive doesn’t need much else to sell tickets. These types of instalments can sometimes feel critic-proof, which is what leads so many of them to be sloppy and… well… just not quite good enough.

Splitting the final book into two movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, was certainly the right idea – and not just in terms of moneymaking. Mockingjay carries the most action of the series, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comes face to face with her inescapable destiny; an all-out war with the Capitol of Panem. However, the book also carries the emotional weight of the story as Katniss struggles with her intertwining destinies, discovering that there is no ‘right’ decision in war, and that suffering for both you and your loved ones is unavoidable. This salient point, probably the most devastating in this series of young adult novels, is lost in a movie that glories in tactical victories and focuses too heavily on Katniss’s love-triangle with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Despite its long running time (137 minutes), the movie can’t seem to decide which story it wants to tell more – Katniss Everdeen: war hero, or Katniss Everdeen: lovesick teenager.

That’s not to say the movie is a total wash, as many of the scenes are handled extremely well, and the characterisations are generally spot on. Taken as a standalone, minus the weight of its source material, Mockingjay Part 2 draws all of the threads of story together to a satisfying conclusion. It brings us clearly from Katniss’ beginnings as a volunteer tribute in the first games to her final stand against a tyrannical system of government. Peeta’ rescue from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the last movie, resulting in his brainwashing and attempted murder of Katniss, adds a seamless flow between both parts, and the film hits the ground running. The trouble might be that there is just too much story to tell, and characters like Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) fall by the wayside in an attempt to make sense of Katniss’ journey. Still, we spend enough time with Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta, Peeta and Gale, and Katniss by herself to gain insight into how the events of the previous three movies have set the scene for the concluding chapter.

The sad loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, during the shoot forced his character to take a back seat, but Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch Abernathy) and Julianne Moore (as President Alma Coin) ably fill the crucial moments with appropriate gravitas. Fans of the books will no doubt delight in pivotal scenes – the storming of ‘The Nut’ in District Two; the sewers of the Capitol; the Star Squad’s propos – while mourning the loss of others. Those who have followed the movies will get closure on their character’s stories, with enough surprises and shocking twists to keep interest high throughout the running time.

Exciting by times and definitely entertaining, the film has done enough to finish the series with a bang, but hasn’t quite lived up to its own hype. With so much talent at their disposal, a cast of fantastic actors, the budget to recreate terrifying mutts and epic battle sequences, a rock-solid narrative to work from, and an army of fans ready to be enraptured, Mockingjay Part 2 disappointingly falls short of its own potential.

Sarah Griffin

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is released 20th November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Official Website

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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DIR: Francis Lawrence  WRI: Peter Craig, Danny Strong  PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems  ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa •  MUS: James Newton Howard  CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 follows on from the previous two offerings and follows the now standard tease of splitting the final instalment of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels into two separate movies. In Catching Fire, we witnessed Katniss’ disruption of the Quarter Qwell games and subsequent ‘rescue’. The film opens with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) still in recovery after her ordeal, struggling to come to terms with those who were left behind.  We learn about the destruction The Capitol has waged on all of the Districts – most notably Katniss’ own District 12.

 

This instalment is essentially a set-up for the final film. Whilst there are some intense action sequences, this film is more concerned with character development as we see Katniss slowly come to terms with her new status as a figurehead for the rebellion. Meanwhile, Liam Hemsworth’s Gale has wasted no time in becoming an action hero which leaves him just enough spare time to still wonder if his unfortunate love triangle will ever be disbanded.

 

Readers of the trilogy will wonder why it was necessary to split the final book into two movies, and cinemagoers will undoubtedly feel the same. This movie is, in-essence, a 123-minute trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two as it spends a great deal of time getting us up to speed with our protagonists and accustomed to new characters whilst building toward the film’s only true reveal which is certain to have fans lining up to see the final instalment.

 

Katniss’ trademark fierceness is somewhat lost here – she becomes a Shadow-Katniss as she struggles with having left Peeta behind. I can’t really judge her considering a recent quiz assured me that I would last no more than a day in the Hunger Games, but it is disappointing to not see the full force of such a well-loved character.

 

Jennifer Lawrence might be the world’s sweetheart at the moment, but it is Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta, who has been captured and taken to the Capitol, which takes precedence here. Despite only appearing briefly he is utterly changed and his character takes on a multitude of nuances, which will endear him to audiences. There is an over-reliance on bonding moments between characters that have already had two movies to become close.  Welcome changes from the books were the additional scenes featuring Effie Trinket who is so effortlessly portrayed by Elizabeth Banks.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is certainly not the strongest of the franchise but sets up the finale perfectly and ends at a point which will have both fans and newcomers to the series crying out for more.

 Ciara O’Brien

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

122 minutes

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is released 21st November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Official Website

 

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Serena

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DIR: Susanne Bier • WRI: Christopher Kyle • PRO: Ben Cosgrave, Mark Cuban, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz, Todd Wagner, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Morten Søborg • ED: Pernille Bech Christensen, Matthew Newman, Simon Webb • DES: Richard Bridgland •  MUS: Johan Soderovist  • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Tobey Jones, Rhys Ifans, David Dencik, Ana Ularu

 

Adapted from a 2008 novel by Ron Rash, Serena is essentially another rewrite of Macbeth, this time relocated to the harsh but picturesque Smokey Mountains of North Carolina in 1929.  The story revolves around timber magnate George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and his formidable but unhinged wife Serena (Jennifer Lawrence).  As Pemberton’s empire begins to unravel, Serena goads him into violent action, drawing the attention of the rumpled local sheriff (Toby Jones).  Meanwhile, Serena allies herself with a sinister employee (Rhys Ifans) as her jealousy of her husband’s illegitimate child leads to further tragedy.

 

This brew is heated to nowhere near boiling point by the prolific Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (best known for the Oscar-winning In a Better World).  Tellingly, despite Bier’s pedigree and the box-office appeal of her two leads, Serena has spent over two years in search of a distributor since shooting wrapped in 2012.  This kind of long wait is often a sign that something’s amiss, and Serena bears tell-tale marks of a troubled production.  No less than three editors are credited, and yet the pacing is still choppy.  In the opening stages particularly, the film seems both rushed and repetitive, as George and Serena’s courtship is dispensed with in a montage that makes perplexingly disorganised use of fades to and from black.  Several crucial players, including Ana Ularu, as the mother of George’s baby, languish on the edge of the action until they are pressed into service by the plot, while a key development involves the murder of a character so peripheral she never actually appears on screen.  Rhys Ifans’ role as Serena’s henchman is particularly perplexing, especially when his apparently quasi-supernatural character is foregrounded towards the end.

 

Jut-jawed and cobalt-stared, Cooper never gets to grips with the inner weakness of his deeply unsympathetic character, and the narrative’s late attempt to give Pemberton the dimensions of a tragic hero – complete with a little half-baked animal symbolism – falls entirely flat.  The eponymous Serena might have been a fine addition to a banner year for sympathetic villainesses – from Angelina Jolie in Maleficent to Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl – but Jennifer Lawrence feels miscast, not least because she seems rather young for a part originally intended for Jolie.  The strikingly naturalistic star of Winter’s Bone has never felt further away than she does here, as we’re treated to a succession of vampy poses and regal glares that might have picked up a cult following were the surroundings not so staid.  Fans of Lawrence’s over-ripe turn in American Hustle (2013) will be pleased to know that she remains among contemporary cinema’s least subtle performers of drunkenness, even resorting to a comical hiccup this time out.  More pressingly, neither she nor Cooper seems particularly at home in the period setting, and their wandering accents – like those of Jones and Ifans – do little to dispel the piecemeal feel of the enterprise.

 

Production designer Richard Bridgland and cinematographer Morten Søborg do sterling work, conjuring an authentic Smokey Mountains feel on sets and locations in Denmark and the Czech Republic.  The landscape shots that bookend the film are particularly striking, evoking an elemental, folkloric quality that the rest of Serena gestures toward, but never effectively captures.

 

David Turpin

15A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

Serena is released 24th October 2014

Serena – Official Website

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Cinema Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

2014, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

DIR: Bryan Singer • WRISimon Kinberg PRO: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: John Ottman • MUS: John Ottman • DES: John Myhre • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender

The aesthetic that was begun with the decision to opt for black leather as opposed to the colourful skin-tights of comic-book illustration in Bryan Singer’s low-key (at least by today’s standards) X-Men (2000) saw triumph in the likes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But, ultimately, it stumbled and failed to a global audience in the clunky third acts of The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. The Nolan-verse, though well thought out, gritty and relatable, left too much of a chasm between the onscreen worlds depicted and the fantasy settings that drew in the materials’ initial fan-base. Indeed, if the gargantuan success of the Marvel movies, whose Avengers Assemble climaxed a clean 200 million North of Nolan’s last outing in Gotham, spelt out nothing else to audiences and studio heads alike it became clear that any amount of salt could be pinched in watching, provided the audience was having fun.

Essentially, the aesthetic of the criminally underrated Blade, triumphant with Spiderman 2 and del Toro’s Hellboy films – fumbled with the likes of Daredevil and The Fantastic Four – has been perfected by them boys at Marvel to at last allow filmmakers read from the playbook of superhero storytelling that allowed for their massive popularity in the first instance and use the sources themselves as story-boards wherever possible in order to best emulate/adapt the look, mood and story-structures to a cinematic context –  a feat already gleefully achieved this year by Marc Webb on The Amazing Spiderman 2.

Our first glimpse of Stan Lee’s mutant “evolutionaries” in this colour-palate came with the messy but fun X-Men: First Class and since the announcement that Singer would return to the series with an adaptation that would unite both casts, old and new, anticipation has been building to see whether Marvel’s greatest property might step forth from the darkness successfully and enjoy the sun as it shines forth from Avengers‘ producer Kevin Feige’s arse. Well let’s have a look then…

The film opens in a future not ten clicks from the “real” world of The Matrix franchise. Evidently gigantic robots (coincidentally also called sentinels) have ravaged the world for want of ridding it of mutants for good. A last band, including everyone you want, plus a couple of bonus mutants, gather at the great wall of China and opt to fling Wolverine’s conscience back to his pre-adamantium days in the 1970s that he might get the boys (young Xavier and Magneto and friends) together again in order to thwart the efforts of Jennifer Lawrence’s shape-shifting Mystique to assassinate one Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) – an event which set off the chain-reaction leading to the dystopia of the film’s opening. This sets us up to globe-trot the world of 1970s Marvel-lore with none other than Hugh Jackman’s cool-as-hell Logan. Make no mistake; this is Fox’s answer to Marvel.

The film’s set-pieces are truly the meat here, and at a count of seven and a half in a matter of 131 minutes they would truly want to be, with the highlight undoubtedly the breakout of Magneto (at this point an X-troupe) from his plastic prison beneath The Pentagon, featuring series newbie Quiksilver, as played with anarchic frenzy by Evan Peters. Singer shoots action well enough as is, but here his wide array of characters allows him girth to upscale each kerfuffle to its almost maximum potential. Almost every action sequence allots him a new notch for his CV’s bedpost: Blink’s utilisation of portals (like the video-game, yes) during fights is complex yet impressively compact in shots; a fight in a fountain in Paris cut between Super-8 crowd-footage and Hi-def is a delight; Hugh Jackman looks cooler than Michael Fassbender (neckerchief, really?). How then will this measure up to the excellent Avengers Assemble, a comparison I feel will prove appropriate and inevitable in discussion of this film.

This verdict harkens back to this review’s lengthy introductory paragraph and asks the viewer what they want from a comic-book film. On all counts Avengers is a superior film. Every character has a seeming drive and a fair amount of screen-time. In Days of Future Past the only arc is James McAvoy’s Xavier and it is a flimsy one at that. The bold move this film makes (that some will call lazy) is the love for its characters on behalf of cinema-goers that it takes for granted.

Essentially, this is a comic-book story as told on paper, in that every second of plot is incidental as the end of every thread must return us to the status quo before the credits roll. There is fine acting on show here (a special shout-out here to McAvoy and Fassbender who share a sizzling chemistry when onscreen together) but it is only as 3-dimensional as it needs to be, as are the characters. Any scorn heaped upon this film on account of plot-holes (of which there are a handful) and character development (almost none) are justified but if you enter this film with the same entertainment bar set as when you flick open a Marvel comic you will genuinely not leave disappointed. I had an absolute blast.

Donnchadh Tiernan

12A (See IFCO for details)
130 mins

X-Men: Days of Future Past is released on 22nd May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Official Website

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Cinema Review: American Hustle

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Dir: David O’Russell Wri: Eric Singer, David O. Russell Pro: Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon,Charles Roven, Richard Suckle  DOP: Linus Sandgren  ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers DES: Judy Becker • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper

American Hustle, David O Russell’s most entertaining film to date, joins cinema’s complement of classic con movies. It’s a tour de force that delivers on all levels.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play two con artists who become embroiled in the attempts of FBI agent Bradley Cooper, in late 1970s post-Watergate America, to catch  bigger fish. A rollicking tale unfolds as Cooper sets his sights ever higher.

The pleasures are principally in the playing. Since Flirting with Disaster (1996), Russell has proved himself a master of ensemble movies. Here he brings together some of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) won an Oscar in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, and here, playing Bale’s wife, she somehow manages to steal the film from its glittering cast. She sizzles with sexiness and garners some of the film’s biggest laughs, while conveying a vulnerability and desperation that make her Rosalyn a most memorable character.

Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) takes on a less complex role than he had opposite Lawrence in Silver Linings, but is no less impressive for it. His fast-talking fed becomes increasingly obsessed with his elaborate project, and Cooper convinces.

Christian Bale lost much weight in his Oscar-winning turn in Russell’s The Fighter.  In American Hustle, his balding grifter sports a beer belly and ’70s beard and moustache. His comb-over provides the film’s opening gags, while his fastidious grooming prefigures his character’s attention to detail in the art of the con, in making people believe what they want to believe.

Amy Adams, also Oscar-nominated for The Fighter, holds her own against Bale and Cooper, as her character’s affections appear to move from one to the other. Her character’s journey proves the most emotionally complex as she constantly hides her true feelings. It’s the kind of role that Adams excels in.

David O Russell may rank as one of the leading talents working in contemporary American cinema. American Hustle boasts an attractive cast and, as a caper, it should draw bigger audiences than his more serious recent efforts, tackling mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook and drug addiction in The Fighter. His approach resembles that of Alexander Payne, more literate than cinematic, relying on excellent writing and brilliant performances.

American Hustle features cracking dialogue, an enjoyable plot and great acting, but Russell’s handling is highly derivative. The film’s structure, with its use of voiceover narration and flashbacks, resembles that of GoodFellas, and Russell’s camerawork and jump cutting are also Scorsesian. Robert DeNiro has an effective cameo as Victor Tellegio, a mafioso, and even Jeremy Renner channels Joe Pesci’s hairstyle from GoodFellas. Francis Ford Coppola said his father used to have a good slogan, “Steal from the best,” and Russell appears to be following such advice in adopting a style that’s not his own.

Still, American Hustle ranks as one of the great con movies. The introduction – “some of this actually happened” – recalls the opening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):  “Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.” Its director, George Roy Hill, later made The Sting (1973), which had a roguish charm that cheerily conned its audiences.  Martin Scorsese co-produced The Grifters (1990), with Anjelica Huston and John Cusack, in which Huston played an older female con artist who rethinks her life when her son suffers an injury in a small-scale scam. American Hustle successfully blends the darker elements of the later film with the eagerness to please and entertain that made the earlier film an Oscar success and a box office-smash, descriptions that Russell’s film may also steal.

American Hustle is a first class caper, but don’t let it con you into thinking that Russell has discovered his own original style.

John Moran

15A (See IFCO for details)

137  mins

American Hustle is released on 3rd January 2014

American Hustle – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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DIR: Francis Lawrence  • WRI: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell •  DES: Philip Messina •  MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

The first instalment of The Hunger Games was an entertaining adaptation of the first novel in the series of three. The unique concept of the novel and its futuristic setting was enough to keep the story moving. However, it was the undeniably charismatic charm of its lead Jennifer Lawrence that brought heart to the story. Lawrence (along with her Oscar) and her fellow cast mates return with Catching Fire to see if they can replicate their success, this time with director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend).

Catching Fire is actually an improvement on its predecessor, the story is darker with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) beginning to look outside of her immediate situation to see the harsh reality of the people of Panem’s lives. Rebellion is on the horizon and the bleakness of their world is apparent. While the danger for Katniss and her partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in the first film is confined to the arena where the Hunger Games are conducted, in Catching Fire the danger is omnipresent and cannot be escaped.

We join Katniss and Peeta when they have survived the Hunger Games of the first film and are now being paraded in front of the districts to calm the mounting disquiet of the inhabitants. The creepy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has plans for their demise and the threat of a real war is increasing. The inevitable love triangle is not as important a storyline as in other teenage blockbusters, with it being almost an inconvenience to the strong female lead of Katniss. In a post-Twilight world it has been a delight for audiences and critics alike to have a female lead like Katniss, whose concerns stretch a lot further than which boy to pick, and she is the polar opposite to the weak Bella Swan.

The only failing with the film is its length, at nearly two and a half hours it does drag in the middle, with the period in the arena the tightest and most exciting. The time in the arena brings home the themes of dystopia and is truly scary at times with all contestants out of their depth and fighting for their lives. Catching Fire is what a blockbuster should be like, and the male heroes of Superman, Batman and countless Marvel films could learn a thing or two from the ever-natural appeal of Lawrence. I, for one, hope Lawrence can keep this success rolling into its final two films.

Ailbhe O’ Reilly

12A  (See IFCO for details)

146  mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released on 22nd November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Hunger Games

Franchise Alert!

DIR: Gary Ross • WRI: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling • DES: Philip Messina • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks

Fans of Suzanne Collins’ hugely successfully series of books have been on the defensive since this adaptation is being referred to as ‘Twilight meets The Running Man‘, whereas those previously unaware of the tween-lit hits are seeing this movie as little more than “Battle Royale with all the violence taken out, and replaced with a love story.” As it turns out, both descriptions are vaguely accurate, but in no way is that necessarily a bad thing.

Katniss Everdeen (a perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence) is living in the coal-mining town of District 12, one of the poorer districts of a Panem, a futuristic, post-war America. In order to keep the population in line, every year the President (Donald Sutherland) organises The Hunger Games, where a boy and girl aged between 12 and 18 are picked at random from each district, and all 24 teens are placed into a huge arena to hunt and kill each other on live television. When her frail younger sister is picked, Katniss volunteers to take her place, and heads off to the Capital with fellow District 12-er Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

From here Katniss and Peeta are primped and prepped for The Hunger Games by a host of well-known actors (Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and a scene-stealing Elizabeth Banks), all of whom help bring weight or levity when and where required. Then it’s off to the arena, and all hell breaks loose…

The worrying 12A rating had some folk concerned that the pretty-darn-violent novel would be toned down some, and while it never goes for OTT gore, there are more than enough stabbings, bludgeonings, poisonings, impalings and neck-snappings to put those worries to rest. Intensity is the name of the game here, with director Gary Ross going all Paul Greengrass with shaky, handheld camera-work getting up close and personal with every fight scene. And when the film slows down to take an emotional beat, those are perfectly handled too, with one scene in particular that should have the entire audience wiping away a tear.

As an adaptation, the movie is a massive success, thanks its fantastic cast and amazing production design, as well as Oscar®-worthy make-up and costume designs, and while there are some omissions and alterations from the novel, it’s nothing that will ruin the experience. But as a stand-alone movie, it does have some minor problems. While it doesn’t feel as long as its epic 142-minute running time, it is a movie that has A LOT of story to tell, which can sometimes bog the tempo down a little bit. Also, side-lining someone as talented as Toby Jones and someone as handsome as Liam Hemsworth into virtually non-existing roles seems like something of a waste. But these are minor niggles when compared to the triumph of setting up such a complicated universe so well, and leaving the audience wanting more, which they’ll get when sequel Catching Fire hits cinemas in November 2013.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Hunger Games is released on 23rd March 2012

 

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Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone

DIR: Debra Granik • WRI: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini• PRO: Alix Madigan, Anne Rosellini • DOP: Michael McDonough • ED: Affonso Gonçalves • DES: Mark White • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt

Winter’s Bone is based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, directed by Debra Granik, and stars Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly. Ree Dolly’s father has been summoned to court on charges of cooking Methamphetamine. He put their house up for his bail bond and then disappeared. His court date is approaching and he’s nowhere to be found.

Seventeen-year-old Ree sets out to track down her father because if she doesn’t find him her family will lose their home to the bail bondsman. Her community comprises of extended family and distant relatives, all of whom are criminals. They have a code of silence and she knows well that she is risking her life by being so inquisitive. She isn’t afraid. She can’t afford to be because too many people are relying on her.

Sounds exciting, a bit intense, thrilling right? Well it wasn’t. I was so disappointed. I can see how it would be a great novel or short but this film was frustrating to watch as it went at a painfully slow pace and they told you what was happening rather than showing you. Every twist and turn was revealed in dialogue. The first hour consisted of Ree asking everyone if they knew where her father was and them telling her that they didn’t know anything and to shut up asking questions for her own safety. I felt like it was the same scene repeated a half dozen times. Jeez, I get it already. Given that you never get to actually meet Ree’s father before he goes missing, it’s difficult to care about whether he turns up dead or alive.

The ending was grim and really unsatisfying. Upon reflection, I think that perhaps the film excelled at encouraging the audience to feel what Ree was feeling rather than feel for her. Ree’s character is incredible. A true feminist and heroine in a world of domineering men and submissive women. She doesn’t invite pity even though she has the weight of the world on her young shoulders. I can imagine how frustrated she was during her quest and how unsatisfying the ending was for her. However, I didn’t quite get there, instead of feeling frustrated for her, I felt it at the film.

The script captured, what I imagine is, the feeling and mentality of the people of Orkansa.The acting was amazing. It gave us a glimpse into a world most of us don’t live in and will never know. The settings made it a believable insight.

Winter’s Bone has all these amazing elements and would be a real winner if they removed the random experimental black and white dream sequence and if the story was quicker, stronger and had more depth to it too.

If you go to see this, expect to keep checking your watch and shifting around in your seat.

Leah Yeung

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Winter’s Bone
is released on 17th September 2010

Winter’s Bone Official Website

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