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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Sorry for the delay but here are a few of my own thoughts on the somewhat underrated latest Hunger Games movie.

Once again, a quick reminder and disclaimer that I haven't read a word of the novels and all my usually effusive views on the series are based almost entirely on the films themselves. I have no idea how close this is to the novel, in other words, and I don't particularly care - but I fully understand that if you're one of those fans who have devoured the books multiple times, your views may well be very different to mine.


Continuing in the recent tradition of splitting adaptations of popular kid- or YA novels into two or more films, the latest Hunger Games movie captures only the first part of the final book in Suzanne Collins' massively popular series. It's unquestionably true that this is a decision based almost entirely on monetary concerns, what with the Mockingjay novel not being significantly longer than its predecessors and everything, but the resulting film is actually far less of a disaster than you might expect going in. Indeed, though I can't bring myself to give more than a seven out of ten to a movie that resolutely cannot stand on its own at all, Mockingjay - Part 1 isn't that much of a drop off from the series' excellent second installment and makes the very best of its cynical commercial mandate.

Unlike the head-pulverizingly dull Hobbit trilogy where the extended running time is devoted primarily to completely uninteresting filler and grotesquely over-inflated set pieces, director Frances Lawrence and script writers and franchise newcomers, Peter Craig and Danny Strong, use their luxury of more time to delve deeper into these characters and their world, while launching into a particularly gripping look at the political complexity of this dystopia and the way that so much of the war is fought through the media, rather than through conventional warfare.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar

It's Christopher Nolan's most ambitious film yet, of course I was going to talk about it...

Also, this is probably going to be a bit of a long one so I have included heading breaks for ease of reading. 

Finally, I will do my utmost to reveal as little about the plot as is humanly possible because, despite some fairly predictable story beats, it's probably best to go in knowing as little about the film as possible. Consider this review free of spoilers but if you haven't seen the film yet, you may want to avoid the section marked "plot and themes".


Drawing heavily from all sorts of existent science fiction (novels like Childhood's End, TV shows like Babylon 5 and, of course, films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Silent Running), Christopher Nolan's latest is both his most ambitious film ever and his most intimate, spiritual and sentimental. It's also highly divisive, unquestionably flawed - though what the actual flaws are, is perhaps less obvious - and is utterly fearless in both its willingness to explore theoretical science; hippy dippy, New-Age spirituality and the very things that make us human.

What it gets wrong

In terms of its flaws, Interstellar shares a number of the same missteps as most of his other films, as well as one or two that are entirely unique to it.  Like most Nolan films, it does occasionally suffer from over-exposition and a sense that his tremendous imagination always feel like it's being held back by his preference for the literal over the metaphorical; the explicit over the implicit. This was an obvious problem with the otherwise excellent Interception, whose banal dreamscapes and almost total lack of dream logic within, robbed the dream-within-a-dream narrative of much of its visceral impact. Similarly, though I love all three of his Batman movies, his refusal to embrace the more fantastical and more ludicrous aspects of the Batman mythos was a real weakness in the first two movies but was almost a fatal failing when it came to the far more cartoony Dark Knight Rises.

By the same token, Interstellar's insistence on spelling everything out, rather than relying on metaphor or subtext, means that it does feel quite clunky at times - especially in terms of its often exposition-heavy dialogue. It would probably have also helped in terms of overall enjoyment and effectiveness had Nolan given audiences more to chew on by leaving just a bit more open to interpretation.

As for its other flaws, though, these will probably oscillate wildly between viewers.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What If

Quite a nice week at the cinema this week and I especially hope to have a fairly in-depth look at Interstellar up soon but, for now, here's my take on what must surely be the best romantic comedy of the year - if not last couple of years.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still struggling to get over a particularly painful breakup that left him depressed, anti-social and professionally adrift, but when he meets and quickly forms a connection with Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party he is begrudgingly forced to attend by his roommate, he believes that he has finally found a way out of the darkness and towards the potential of his first real romance in years. Unfortunately, Zoe is in a happy, committed relationship with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall). Trying instead to be “just friends” with her, Wallace, is forced to come to terms with whether he can ever really be friends with someone with whom he is hopelessly in love.

What we thought

Forced to abandon its original title, The F Word, the unimaginatively retitled What If may as well be called When Wallace Met Chantry - so similar is it to a certain classic '80s romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Like When Harry Met Sally, What If is an otherwise fairly conventional romantic comedy about two very likeable people trying to navigate the murky waters between romance and friendship. It's obviously not as good as When Harry Met Sally because, when it comes to fairly mainstream romcoms, what is, but that doesn't stop it from being the best romantic comedy to come along in a very, very long time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Bits and Bobs

There are a bunch of films I haven't seen thanks to a mixture of Jewish holidays and a lack of screenings but here are my thoughts on a few films released over the past couple of weeks that I haven't managed to touch on. What, you didn't really think I'd pass up my turn to pass judgement on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, didja?


As a child of the '80s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obviously have a particularly special place in my heart so you would perhaps understand my trepidation when I heard that Michael Bay and one of his hellish acolytes would be foisting upon the world their own interpretation of this apparently unkillable franchise. The acolyte in question, incidentally, is none other than Jonathan Liebesman, whose Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans are so bad they manage to give Bay's own Transformers travesties a run for their money in the blockbusters-from-hell stakes. Things did not look promising.

And, would you know it, the latest representation of the Ninja Turtles is easily one of the worst to date. The Turtle redesigns are hideous, the story is nonsensical and the action scenes entirely uninspired and overly busy. It's a humourless, boring and instantly forgettable reboot that doesn't even come close to replicating the cheesy charm of the original couple of films and the 80's cartoon, let alone the satirical edge of the original comics.

Still, for a Michael-Bay-produced trainwreck, this certainly isn't in the same horrible league as Transformers, both because it's mercifully short and because it's dull rather than objectionable. Plus, William Fichtner is fun as always as the (secondary) bad guy and at least they basically got the Turtles' personalities right: they aren't (as was once rumoured) aliens or anything! They don't really look like the Turtles we all know and love but at least they pretty much sound like them.

Never mind that, though: if you want to see a good, modern Ninja Turtles film, check out the direct-to-video animated film, Turtles Forever, which, as a celebration of all things Turtles, is a genuinely funny, fresh and enjoyable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Hell, it's probably the best TMNT film to date. Would that I could say the same about Liebesman's current effort. (3/10)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fed Up.

Probably the most scary film released this Halloween...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

A documentary about how people eat too much sugar and how the food industry contributes to this unhealthy habit.

What we thought

Fed Up is a movie that has something very important to say about our diets, our understanding on health and weight-loss and about how the international food industry is not necessarily working in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately, it's also a movie that uses shock sensationalism to make its point and the picture it paints is so dire that rather than having the intended effect of having its audience want to change their dietary habits, it's bound to leave them dejected and demoralized with an overall sense of powerlessness to make any real change in their lives.

On the positive side, what we have here is a film that deals quite extensively with what is clearly a very real problem that affects the daily lives of billions of people. Whether it exaggerates its point or not, it is clearly a very well researched and well reasoned examination of how human beings are currently consuming far more sugar than their bodies know what to do with.

Scientists, health care professionals and former presidents are extensively interviewed on their views of the so-called “sugar pandemic” and Fed Up takes a look at everything from school lunches to processed food to try and understand what it is we're dealing with here. Perhaps most importantly, it also takes a long, hard look at how the seemingly endless political and economic power of the food industry basically allows it to do whatever they want – and what they want, far more than anything else, certainly far more than insuring the health of their customers, is to make as much money as is humanly possible.