The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review

The Plot

With Panem at the tipping point of a revolution, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her army make their final push into the Capitol to deal with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all.

The Good

Picking up from right where Part 1 left off, with Katniss sporting a badly bruised neck thanks to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and his drastically changed views of the girl on fire, Mockingjay Part 2 switches the dialogue heavy scenes from its predecessor and replaces it with action heavy set sequences. As Katniss and co make their way into the Capitol to take down President Snow, director Francis Lawrence takes us through a battle torn landscape overground and underground.

It’s the underground sequence that works best however, as the characters manoeuvre through a labyrinth-like sewer system while being stalked and attacked by creatures not too dissimilar to zombies. The entire sequence plays out with a suspense filled with deafening silences before breaking out into frenzied crescendos.

However, the action sequences are not the only thing Mockingjay Part 2 has going for it. Being the much anticipated conclusion to the series, the political and social subtext that held the series together comes much more into the forefront thanks to incredible performances by not only Sutherland who returns with the enticingly quiet demeanour of the ruthless President Snow, but also Julianne Moore who plays the yin to Snow’s yang in President Coin. Though Moore is no match for Sutherland having only had one prior film to establish her character as apposed to the three that Sutherland got, her development towards the third act of this final instalment has just as much effect.

The Bad

Though the action sequences are big and boisterous, most feel empty, while the set pieces look like they’ve been taken from maps in Call of Duty. An emptiness is also felt in the lack of emotion to certain characters fates in the story and Lawrences reaction to them.

Yet again Liam Hemsworth is left with little to do when the story focuses on the love triangle between himself, Lawrence and Hutcherson but, this late into the franchise it doesn’t feel like too much of a loss.

The Ugly Truth

Ending with a whimper after a couple of hours of bangs is perhaps not the best way to finish off this hit series for fans, however Mockingjay Part 2 stays relatively true to its source and brings some noteworthy performances particularly from Moore and Sutherland while failing to bring as much emotion as it had succeeded in previously.

Review by Johnny Ellis

Spectre Review

The Plot

A cryptic message from Bond’s Past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M (Ralph Fiennes) battles political porches to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE

The Good

Director Sam Mendes returns to the Bond franchise after the dazzling success of 2013’s Skyfall in spectacularly lavish fashion. In an opening sequence that begins with an expertly executed tracking shot following Bond through the streets and rooftops of New Mexico as he dips in and out of a Day of the Dead parade, it’s clear that Mendes is not dropping the winning formula of action mixed with beautiful cinematography that won fans over last time round.

Craig’s Bond as always, is a treat to watch from beginning to end as he brings his usual quiet charm to the role. With Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw and Rory Kinnear returning as bonds faithful allies, the cast list is already something to behold. Add in Christoph Waltz as the villain however, and the formula becomes explosive. Waltz, like Craig is cool calm and collected, without the humour of Skyfall’s Silva (Javier Bardem), a characteristic which could have held too many similarities with his career making role in Inglourious Basterds. He’s dropped into the story earlier than Silva was in Skyfall and remains a strong presence throughout.

And of course, a Bond film is incomplete without its female sidekick of which Spectre gives us three. There’s the aforementioned Harris who returns as Moneypenny, as well as Monica Bellucci who appears briefly. But it’s Lea Seydoux who is arguably the most important character of the three. Seydoux brings about her an air of equality when it comes to matching Bond’s skill in the arts of self defence in a thankfully pivotal role as Madeleine Swan.

The Bad

All this talent put together and yet the storyline for Spectre disappointingly comes up short. Having only recently reclaimed the rights to the titular terrorist organisation whose rich history in the Bond franchise is known to any self respecting fan, their return feels much less triumphant than it should be. While the script does ambitiously try to link everything from Craig’s tenure together, connecting the events of the past three films with just a few lines of exposition seems heavy handed and even a little necessary. Perhaps an all out origin story would have better served the  return of Bond’s most iconic adversaries. Though the film’s closing stages do set the stage for future adventures and the reintroduction of even more familiar characters, their new backstories feel hastily concocted and clumsy.

While Waltz’s performance is as always a treat, his mysterious Franz Oberhauser feels criminally underused. Though his presence is consistent, his onscreen presence leaves much to be desired. Considering the lengthy 2 and a half hour runtime, its disappointing to see Oberhauser spend so much time hiding in the shadows. Also, while the length is indeed long, Spectre feels like it could have easily stripped away a good twenty minutes or so and left rather unscathed.

The Ugly Truth

Spectre is a worthy enough follow up to Skyfall if not quite up to its standards. An incredible cast and beautiful cinematography certainly keep things interesting, but for the return of the titular criminal organisation, it feels a little unfulfilled. Especially with such a seasoned villainous actor ending up a tad unused in order to create a sense of growing threat.

Review by Johnny Ellis

Pan Review

The Plot

One night a 12-year-old orphan Peter is spirited away from blitz ravaged 1940s London to the magical world of Neverland. While searching for his lost mother he befriends a young James T. Hook and faces off against the dread Pirate Blackbeard. Finding fun and dangers, he ultimately discovers his destiny to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan.

The Good

As a prequel to the overly familiar J.M. Barrie tales of Neverland Pan at least has the distinction of exploring some fresh ground. Despite numerous screen versions and reimagining’s of Peter Pan this film promises to be an original adventure, reintroducing a whole host of beloved timeless characters.

Director Joe Wright has an accomplished CV full of costume rich period dramas, so it was always a safe bet that the world of Neverland would be intricately well dressed. Combined with a generous special effects budget, Neverland is full of flying pirate ships and beautiful fantasy locations. It’s as colourful, camp and grandiose a vision of J.M. Barrie’s creations as has ever been realised on screen before.

Landing Hugh Jackman as the villainous Captain Blackbeard is a major coup for the film. Jackman is likeable menacing and delightfully dastardly as the shamelessly showboating pirate villain determined to live forever at any price. He’s a neatly ready-made substitute for the not yet nasty Hook.

The Bad

While Pan has a flamboyant colourful style that will distract and mostly entertain young audiences, older audiences may find some of the creative choices a little more puzzling or troubling. Having the pirates of Neverland happily singing Nirvana grunge anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit is the most obvious example. It’s a jarring and inexplicable mix of pop cultures that is certain to strongly divide opinions. It’s either wonderfully whimsical or laughably silly.

The film had already attracted vocal criticism for casting Rooney Mara as Neverland’s native princess Tiger Lilly. Though Mara’s pale face may be in sharp contrast to the typically Native American depiction of the character, she remains an excellent actress and does well in the role in spite of this issue. Director Joe Wright has been quick to defend the decision anyway by insisting his Neverland and its inhabitants are more globalised and fantastical than heavy handed tribal stereotypes.

Playing Barrie’s most iconic creations Levi Miller as the young Peter and Garrett Hedlund as James T. Hook meet with mixed success at best.

British audiences will find newcomer Miller’s overly cockney orphan particularly cringe worthy in places. Likewise Garrett Hedlund deliver his own confounding choice of accent for Hook, sounding something like a cross between a 1940s used car salesman and Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s such a distracting vocal performance that it manages to largely negate the charm of Garrett’s handsome good looks and a script generously trying to making him an action hero.

The film optimistically saves the origin story of ’Captain Hook’ for potential sequels, unfortunately leaving audiences feeling short changed by a prequel that still feels only half told. Though the creative team behind Pan have ambitious plans to stretch things out into a lucrative trilogy, it feels unnecessary and perhaps ill advised. It may prove a mistake to save the most interesting parts of this newly invented backstory for a second or third film that may never even become a reality.

The Ugly Truth

Pan is a colourful fantasy adventure that will likely keep its target audience of younger children mostly entertained. Grownups by turn will at least be able to enjoy watching Hugh Jackman shamelessly ham things up. If the film does prove to be a box office success, in truth the potential sequels may finally offer audiences a more interesting chapter in the back story of Hook and Pan.

Review by Russell Nelson

Suffragette Review

The Plot

Carey Mulligan leads an incredible cast in this look into the Suffragette movement for women’s rights in early 20th century London.

The Good

It’s both incredible and yet still unsurprising to think that Suffragette is really the first film which covers such an important topic. With such an impressive cast behind it, the story is undoubtedly in safe hands.

Carey Mulligan makes for an engrossing central character as Maude Williams, a working wife who is thrust into the middle of a political and social protest that soon begins to hurt not only her life, but that of her family’s. The secret to Mulligan’s success is largely part to her own feeling of unimportance which writer Abi Morgan’s script pushes into the subconscious with great effect.

Though the film centres on Mulligan’s performance, in a big way she could just have easily been a sidelined character to let the film focus more on Meryl Streep’s Emmeline Pankhurst. Instead Streep is rather smartly underused, appearing in only one scene like some sort of suffragette rockstar. The remainder of the supporting cast members are fortunately given more to do, with Natalie Press’ Emily Davison being a particular highlight. That said however, director Sarah Gavron manages to use her cast to their full potential without making anyone seem more or less important than the other.

Though it doesn’t exactly cover the entire timeline of its subject matter (difficult considering equality is still problematic to this day) Morgan’s script tackles it with great respect as she picks out moments both small and large to highlight the struggles of the era. And the story certainly isn’t afraid to tackle the grittiest details of the suffering its protagonists went through, with one scene involving a prison force feeding which is particularly hard to watch yet still is important to see that these horrific ways in which suffragettes were treated should not and will not be forgotten.

The Bad

Though the underuse of Meryl Streep is a smart move, her appearance still slightly jars. Considering the amount of coverage she’s been getting in the advertising for the film, it’s still somewhat disappointing to have her appear in one brief, albeit important, scene.

Also, though there are no problems thematically, Suffragette eventually ends up feeling like a by the books historical drama. Perhaps due to its lateness, a film about the Suffragette movement was always going to become much bigger in the audiences imagination than in the finished product. Or perhaps it’s due to the level of importance that this film holds.

The Ugly Truth

Suffragette is a well written historical drama about a subject that is still a problem to this day. Mulligan’s performance is certainly an interesting way in which to present the story, however something still feels amiss…

Miss You Already Review

The Plot

Life-long friends Jess and Milly find their relationship pushed to the limits as one battles cancer and the other struggles to start a family of her own.

The Good

Director Catherine Hardwicke and writer Morwenna Banks deliver a poignant and bittersweet exploration of friendship, love and loss. Largely avoiding saccharine clichés the film in particular deserves considerable credit for offering audiences an utterly sincere depiction of the unimaginable reality of facing up to a life threatening illness.

Toni Collette delivers arguably the performance of her career as Milly, a free spirited and high flying over achiever suddenly faced with a devastating diagnosis. Having a gorgeous husband, wonderful children, beautiful home and a successful job only gives her more to loose and little comfort. What’s most commendable is that neither Collette nor the script ever resorts to making Milly just a tragic and flawless victim. She faces her illness with fear and selfishness just as much as bravery and courage.

Collette subtly depicts the full gambit of emotional highs and lows as Milly’s disease dramatically transforms her appearance, friendships and marriage. Milly’s existing charms and less likeable flaws are both amplified by these changes. It’s a realistic exploration of how illness truly affects a complete person and the lives of those around them.

Speaking of which, while Collette deserves extensive praise for her portrayal, Drew Barrymore deserves equal commendation for her role Milly’s life-long partner in crime Jess. While Milly battles through treatment, Jess struggles to balance the exhausting impact of supporting someone at the expense of her own responsibilities and desires.

The consistently underrated Barrymore uses her innate charms and knack for stoic vulnerability to make Jess’s journey just as compelling and significant as Milly’s.

Though the film has a solid supporting cast and owes much to a solidly written script, without the chemistry and skill of its two leads it’s unlikely the film would have been anywhere near as effective and moving.

The Bad

Though Miss You Already is sincerely emotional it may prove difficult viewing for some because of this. In particular the film may be especially difficult for anyone who has had their own lives or those closest to them touched by terminal illness. Though the film does have moments of comedy and joy, they remain largely bittersweet. This won’t be for everyone’s taste and those looking for the easy laughs and uplifting effect of a standard comedy drama may be best placed to look elsewhere for their feel-good fix.

It’s also worth noting that the film feels a little long, mostly as it goes 15-20 minutes beyond a seemingly natural and satisfying end point to deliver a more drawn out and complete conclusion.

The Ugly Truth

Miss You Already is a moving story that tackles potentially somber subject matter in a delicate and poignant fashion. Propelled by brilliant performances by its two leads it grabs audience’s attention and heartstrings from start to finish.

Review by Russell Nelson