Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues after the events of the first film and has Katniss and Peeta trapped in a victory tour where they are coerced to continue the love facade that developed during their time in the hunger games. Throughout the tour unrest among the many districts is clearly shown to be growing which has been sparked by many viewing Katniss and Peetas willingness to sacrifice themselves in the hunger games not as an act of love but as an act of defiance. Meanwhile President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee the new game master prepare for the 75th Hunger Games which unlike previous games will pit previous victors of the Hunger Games from the twelve districts against one another.

Thematically Catching Fire is a more fleshed out and poignant exploration of the themes present in the first film which range from interdependence vs dependence, identity, love, sacrifice and more. Thankfully unlike so many films that are as thematically dense and ambitious as Catching Fire the films never gets weighed down by said ambition and doesn't force the themes to the forefront. Rather Catching Fire lets them present and grow in an organic manner steaming from the characters present and the situation they find themselves in. Likewise the film slowly introduces what is at stake in a manner that allows for the film to build itself to its conclusion in a very methodical and tense manner. That is until the finale which is overly abrupt and largely unsatisfying and clearly meant as bait for the next film in the series. Whilst I have no issue with this per se I found it rather ineffective in this case and certainly the weakest aspect of Catching Fire.

Unlike the first Hunger Games film which featured some delightful cinematography, Catching Fire features jaw drooping cinematography throughout. Furthermore Catching Fire doesn't feature the nauseating and overused shaky cam that was used in the first film that was more often then not to its detriment. The budget of Catching Fire has also been reported as being almost twice as large as the first film which no doubt has helped allow for the at times cheap looking effects from the first film to be absent. Simply put Catching Fire is a more polished film with less technical distractions present (such as the extremely fake and cheap looking fire effects which have not only been significantly improved in Catching Fire but actually now look good).

The single biggest stand out of Catching Fire would have to be quality of actors and actresses and the performances they provide. The performances are simply superb and Catching Fire easily features among the strongest casts I have seen in a film for quite some time. Most notably the weaker and underutilized roles from the first film such as President Snow, Haymitch, and Effie are given more substantial scenes which allows for the characters to be more rounded and fleshed out compared to their relatively limited characterization in the first film. The leads Katniss and Peeta are once again superb and along with the rest of cast elevate the film well above what most casts could hope to achieve. With that being said Catching Fire much like the first film does feature a love triangle Between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Sadly Gale once has such a limited screen time we have little reason to care for his character and thus the love triangle whilst not forced could have benefited from more scenes fleshing out Gale as an actual character to allow us to relate to what Katniss may or may not see in Gale. However as it is the relationship between Katniss and Gale does fall relatively flat compared with the rest of the film and whilst not forced it also doesn't fell necessary.

Catching Fire most notably features a major leap in quality when compared to the already strong first Hunger Games film and features more confident film making featuring superlative performances, gorgeous cinematography and a thematically interesting and gripping plot. Hence The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes highly recommended.

Note: A sizable portion of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has been shoot using imax cameras similar to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. So if you have a real imax nearby it may be worth considering viewing this film in such an environment which I find to immerse in a way that normal cinemas simply cannot hope to achieve. Sadly I was unaware of this until after I had viewed the film so cannot comment further.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Counselor Review

From director Ridley Scott and Pulitzer prize winner Cormac McCarthy comes The Counselor a film about greed and the consequences of ones actions. The Counselor starts as a character only known as The Counselor enters into a drug trafficking arrangement. Many may immediately take issue with The Counselor as it doesn't explain how The Counselor is involved and is shown to have little knowledge of the exact workings of the deal. But to do so would be to miss what The Counselor is striving for. The Counselor at its core is not a film about drug trafficking rather it is a film about how the decisions of today can effect tomorrows decisions and the horrific consequences that they can eventually lead to.

The Counselor is an unapologetically slow film that despite being classified as a thriller provides for little to no thrills. This in of itself isn't an issue and I quite enjoyed watching the consequences of the various characters actions slowly unfold on screen and how they react in a desperate attempt of self preservation. This is especially helped throughout by the performances which are mostly sublime throughout with Michael Fassbender as The Counselor Brad Pitt as Westray being particular highlights. Those however looking for the film to delve into the Drug Trafficking beyond a very cursory surface glance will likely be disappointed.

The most notable issue present with The Counselor is the quality of the writing which varies dramatically from scene to scene. Some dialogue is razor sharp and often impressively oblique, however other lines are borderline laughable. Thankfully the razor sharp lines overwhelm the relatively small portions of poor writing. None the less the borderline laughable dialogue is accentuated by the serious tone the film maintains throughout and whilst some of the actors and actresses are able to make some of the more egregious dialogue work, others simply come across with delivery that simply fells off. Characters motivations are also in most cases only surface deep which leads the film lacking the impact it so clearly is striving for. Thankfully The Counsleor himself has enough relatable albeit simple motivation behind his greed to keep the films slow but ever present forward momentum present.

The Counsellor is a film that with its at time ponderous pacing, lack of thrills and at times inconsistent writing has the signs of disaster written all over it. Despite this I found the majority of performances coupled with the at times oblique writing to provide for a fresh change of pace and compelling narrative. Hence whilst The Counselor doesn't come with the strongest of recommendations it still comes recommended for those who enjoy a slowly paced dialogue heavy film and are not looking for the edge of your seat thriller it was advertised as.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Byzantium Review

Byzantium has Neil Jordan the director of Interview with a Vampire tackle his second film featuring vampires and tells the tale of two female vampires who have been 'alive' for over two centuries. Byzantium follows these two vampires as they move to a coastal town and delves into the drawbacks and isolation that such a life could bring along with the obvious advantages such a life would also have.

The two leads are Elenaor whose actress Saoirse Ronan provides for a tremendous performance and Clara whose actress Gemma Arterton provides for a surprisingly strong performance. The characters themselves are notably different with Eleanor viewing her 'condition' more as a curse and longs to be able to connect with other individuals as apposed to the life of isolation she leads. Clara on the other hand reveals in the condition which of course causes conflict between the two individuals. Both characters have there own unique internal struggles which evolve throughout the film in what is an interesting coming of age story that is in many ways made unique by the age of the individuals involved.

With that being said whilst both characters have a rather different view on their condition they undeniably live a rather grim life, which is something I particularly prefer to the often overly glamorized life vampires are often shown to have. Byzantium does feature its fair share of blood however it is oddly more of a back drop for the characters and the situation they find themselves to be in, rather then the focus of the film. Put simply Byzantium is a film more interested in the character relationships present and the conflicts that arise as a result of such a life with little focus on the actual vampiric behavior.

Byzantium is not what many would consider a scary film, rather it is a film that provides for some hauntingly beautiful imagery and is paced deliberately slowly. Thus Byzantium is a film that I imagine will only appeal to a niche of viewers. I however found this take on vampires that focused on there internal struggles whilst completely forgoing any illusion of being a horror film a refreshing and dare I say adult take on what I would contend has essentially become its own genre.

Hence Byzantium comes with my highest recommendation.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

When Thor was released in 2011 I was left satisfied yet still somewhat disappointed with the final results. Sadly Thor: The Dark Wolrd follows the first film to a fault. It is similar in numerous ways with many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the first film. But The: The Dark World ultimately falls flat and is a step back for the series with the action being less imaginative and the humour not as entertaining.

One of the primary issues I imagined Marvel Studio films would have post Avengers is that everything would fell smaller and more confined then the individual stories otherwise would. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but when a story requires a larger scale and then fails to deliver, things can start feeling rather tepid. Thor: The Dark World falls into this trap and as big as the stakes are told to be, we never truly understand why or are giving any reason to care about what is occurring on screen. The fundamental issue seems to be the villain who's motivations are so simplistic and undeveloped we might as well have no idea why he is striving towards his final goal. The result is there is little weight behind what occurs and the film fells oddly small given the at times larger then life imagery. It doesn't help that the action itself whilst reasonably well staged is only momentarily exciting and lacks the punch that one would expect from an end of world story featuring Thor.

With that being said my primary issue with the first Thor film is once again the primary issue I have with Thor: The Dark World. That issue is love story between Thor and Jane which in Thor: The Dark World is once again forced and unnecessary. This is most impressive as they even turn Jane into the Macguffin of the story, apparently in a vain attempt to make the character relevant. A good idea in theory but one that ultimately fells contrived and a rather desperate attempt to keep a character present who should simply have been dropped from the series. Thankfully Chris Hemsworth is once again excellent as Thor despite the lack of forward direction for the character and Natalie Portman simply seems bored as Jane which result in even less chemistry between the two, something I wouldn't have believed possible prior to release.

Conversely two of the greatest strengths of the first Thor film was its humour and the character of Loki. Loki is once again a joy to watch and whilst his screen time isn't notably increased when compared to the first film he thankfully doesn't fell underutilised this time around. Unfortunately the humour which was notably catapulted forward in the first film by the fish out of the water aspects (by having a god essentially become human) and by juxtaposing the surreal with the mundane, is not as successful here as it was in the first film. The same style of humour is present, but more frequently fells forced and present only to try and bring life to an otherwise tired scenes. As a result Thor: The Dark world is rarely amusing and often fells more like a poor imitation that was simply ticking of a list of what to include in a sequel to the first Thor film.

One could easily describe Thor: The Dark World as more of the same, but mostly not as good as in the first Thor film. The action is less exciting, the humour less amusing though the unnecessary and forced love story remains as uninteresting, unnecessary and forced as it was in the first film. Thor: The Dark World is not a bad film, it however is a very average film and as a result does not come recommended as anything more then a potential rental.