Friday, 27 November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

We all know why this film exists. It's not for the fans, it's not because there was so much book to pack in it needed two films - it's to squeeze as much cash out of the cow as humanly possible.

We saw it happen with Harry Potter, with dire consequences - the first part of The Deathly Hallows effectively becoming Harry On Camping.

And we saw how, in doing this, Mockingjay Part One was made slow and leaden. And quite, quite dull.

But at least part two would be full of the bombastic action we so enjoyed in the first two films, right?

Well, erm...

They tried.

Bless 'em, they tried.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough action to spread out over two hours. So instead we get lots of attempts at drama and plot.

Attempts that feel like padding.

Across the two films, you get the action you're after, but in between you have to have all the star-crossed lovers guff which is better placed running alongside the action rather than being made the central theme.

At times you actually find your mind wandering as you wait for the next bit of fighting.

And that's not good.

Then there's slight problem of Part 2 picking up exactly where Part One left off with Peter back in the hands of the rebels and wanting to kill Katniss.

And if you can't remember Part One (and why would you?), you're playing catch-up from the get-go because it's just been blindly assumed that you know what's going on.

The plan here is a simple one. Storm the Capital, take out President Snow, save the day.

Snow, meanwhile, has turned the streets of the Capital into another Hunger Games arena, so there's lots of things to blow you up, shoot you or attack and try and eat you.

And those are the bits you're waiting for.

Sadly, the filming of the main battles are so poorly shot that you can't make head nor tail of what's going on until someone's name is yelled in pain-stricken grief.

But it's different to the first films, oh yes.

Because they're running about in the streets and sewers, not in the trees and lakes. So that's OK.

Only it leaves the main bulk of the film feeling like a computer game.

But let's be fair.

Maybe the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman caused them a bigger problem this time round. Maybe it's in replacing the bits he should have been in that we hit the problem.

Or maybe, just maybe, in trying to stretch an average-sized book across four hours of screen time there just isn't enough quality.

And you can't blame the cast.

Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (Gale) and Donald Sutherland (who steals every scene as President Snow) all put in fine performances, even if Liam and Josh look slightly puzzled and/or bored at times.

This was a much-loved franchise, and I'm sure there will be fans who think this a fitting end to the sage.

But it's not.

With so few highlights, a semi-sombre trudge to the end, wrapped up with more final scenes than Lord Of The Rings, was no way to finish what had been a great saga.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Spectre (12A)

It's been a funny old time for James Bond - he of the gadgets and the cars and the girls and the product placements.

First, he came back blond in Casino Royale, and the world went mad. Only the film was actually quite good.

Then he came back in Quantum Of Solace, and we all wished he hadn't.

Then he came back with Skyfall and the world was a happy place again as we got a heady mix of mad villains and emotional heft.

So what was to happen next?

Would it be Skyfall good or Quantum bad?

Well, as it turns out, it's kind of neither.

First off, the good stuff.

For the most part, this film is fun.

It has nods to the past (the opening sequence definitely harking back to the Bond heyday), it has the cars, it's upped the gadget count a smidge and there's a delightful amount of running about blowing stuff up.

And that, in essence, is what you want from a Bond film.

The action sequences are perfectly paced and shot, without going over-the-top (if you ignore the bad CGI of the building collapsing, and I am), and the car chase is just the right side of bonkers.

And the cars are bloody ace - especially James'.

And it has a fanboy moment that will make you squeal with delight.

Craig has pretty much nailed his Bond, and if you seen any of the others you know what you're getting - only this time there's the odd smile and show of emotion.

Sadly, though, there are a few moments that are something of a fly in the martini.

For a start, Christoph Waltz is only saved from being the worst modern Bond villain by Mathieu Amalric's pathetically weak accountant in Quantum.

I like Waltz, he's a bloody good actor, and he can do borderline nuts with the best of them - so why was he reigned in? Why wasn't he allowed to just act like a man trying to take over the planet?

Instead we get a sullen, downbeat performance that carries all the threat and menace of a guinea pig with a cold. He comes across like a man who's just found out someone broke his favourite Coldplay CD, and that's not what you want from a Bond villain.

And yes, there are a few moments that raise a question or two (how the hell DID he get to Italy so quickly? How did she manage to get undressed after passing out pissed?), but there's enough other fun stuff going on that you can forgive them.

Then there's the car bit, which makes you forgive everything.

But sadly, there's the ending.

Now, I know the rules - we all know the rules.

Bond saves the day but destroys everything in a 20-mile radius.

That's how this works.

Now, under our own rules I can't say any more - but if you don't walk out wanting to shoot the writers I'll be amazed.

To do that having already dragged it out for half an hour more than needed is unforgivable.

And it's because the rest of the film is such fun that it hurts even more.

For the most part, this is as close as Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes have dared to get to the Bond legacy while maintaining the modern vibe.

And for that, it's great.

Just pretend you didn't see the last twenty minutes.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Suffragette (12A)

Remember us? Yeah, we used to write film reviews. Then we decided moving would be a good idea and it all went to hell.

So, finally, we've found where the cinema is (The Electric Palace in Harwich on this occasion), we've unpacked some stuff and most of the furniture is no longer flat-packed.

It's been a stressful time, we can't deny, so what better way to unwind than hit the big screen and relax with a few chuckles and a laugh or five?

Well, that was the plan...

First, The Electric Palace.

Now, I have a soft-spot for this place. It's where my love of film was born. Yes, I may have seen Krull and Ewoks: Caravan Of Courage there, but that didn't put me off.

Having been refurbished and resurrected by a committee of local stalwarts, the Palace is now an important local landmark and it's getting some good films and cinematic events.

It's also got Clive Owen as patron, so that helps.

And OK, the seats aren't comfortable, and the screen is a tad small when you're used to the World Of Cine, but where else can you pop to get an ice cream or have a pee after the trailers and ads without missing any of the film?

And they put the house lights up so you can see where you're going.

It's a great place to fall in love with film again.

Or it would be if you hadn't decided to go and see Suffragette.

Now, yes, I know, it's an important subject and the story needs telling now more than ever as we try and get people to re-engage with the whole voting process - but it needed to be told well.

Instead, what you get are a series of loosely-linked vignettes which serve more as a highlights package than serving up a story of depth and substance.

For those of you still unsure what the film's about, it's not a documentary on the making of a fine Wings song (that would have been more fun), but a look at how women fought to get the right to vote.

Like I said, an important story.

And the performances are up to the task at hand.

Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Whishaw all turn in fine performances, capturing the drudgery and conflict of the day.

Which is no mean feat when the story is so thin and the characters lack any depth.

At no point do you feel you are getting to grips with the events. It's like you're being told by a disinterested observer rather than being compelled to engage with the narrative.

You should be coming out of the cinema infused with a desire to fight the system, bring about change, stand up for what they stood for...

Instead, you find yourself thinking 'well, that happened - ooh, look, there's still time to grab a pint across the road'.

And that shouldn't be happening.

I get that there is probably a lot to pack in, a lot happened in the build-up to the event that was to force through the changes albeit eventually, but rather than trying to tell the whole story maybe it would have been better to focus on just a few key events.

What also doesn't help is the part of Emmeline Pankhurst is played by Meryl Streep - both fleetingly and without any sense of drama or who she actually she is.

One could actually walk out of the cinema thinking Maggie Thatcher started the movement, which is wrong on many, many levels.

And then there's the whole shaky-cam thing.

Using a hand-held camera certainly puts you right in the action, but here it only serves to confuse and muddy the scenes it's used for. It certainly doesn't make the struggle any more real.

This should be a worthy film - and, as mentioned, many of the performances are great.

But somehow, a film about one of the seminal movements of the 20th Century fails to hammer home just how momentous the events were.

Instead, it's left to the closing pre-credit sequence to make the point about how much work still needs to be done in the name of equality.

Still, nice to be back at the Palace...