Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2

Cert: 12A

Dir: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson

mockingjay-part-2-poster-picThe fact that The Hunger Games has managed to become a franchise heavyweight that can stand proud aside YA juggernaut Harry Potter is quite exceptional. Whilst audiences grew up with the boy wizard, with the series spanning ten years and eight films, The Hunger Games arrived on our screens a mere three years ago. Based on the first in Suzanne Collins’ popular dystopian triology, The Hunger Games (2012) is a far cry from what the franchise has ended up as with Mockingjay: Part 2.

The first film, directed by Gary Ross, wasn’t your conventional YA franchise movie, and whilst Mockingjay: Part 2 is certainly much more of a franchise product, that’s not to say that it is overtly bad. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has proved to be one of the most important franchise leads to come in a very long time. The rise of the character can be seen to run parallel to that of the actress who plays her, with Jennifer Lawrence now finding herself to be one of the biggest stars in the world, and a role model to many. The same can be said for Everdeen – the franchise, and this final installment in particular, has been hugely successful in avoiding the pitfalls of stereotypes – and the Mockingjay is a fully-fledged, three dimensional character who is both strong and vulnerable.

fullscreen-capture-7232015-111139-amThe positive portrayals don’t stop there, and Mockingjay: Part 2 is all about the girl power, from the excellent Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone), there are no end of kick-ass female characters throughout, and it is this that makes the franchise revolutionary in a sense. There is no want of veteran talent on display, with Donald Sutherland providing another terrific turn as President Snow, as does Julianne Moore as Alma Coin.

However, as tends to be the case with a major franchise, with so many memorable characters and plot threads coming into play the film can at times feel like a greatest hits, with characters appearing briefly to tie up a plot point. Obviously there are more tragic circumstances behind the lack of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and it is bittersweet to see him shine in his reworked but extremely plot-important role. The only real character we get to see develop is Katniss and perhaps Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), whilst Liam Hemsworth is generally sidelined as Gale – an Twilight-esque scene which sees Gale and Peeta discuss Katniss is one of the few missteps in the film.

hunger-games-mockingjayIt did not come a surprise when Lionsgate announced plans to split the final book in two, but Part 2 has managed to avoid the entire film being a cumulative battle (a la Harry Potter). The film picks up where the previous installment left off, with revolutionary war is in full swing across Panem. The series has always skirted around the very outside of its 12A rating, and this is no different – some of the more jumpy moments would not be out of place in a horror movie. The no-holds-bar approach has always been important, with the films providing commentary on the nature of war and violence. The message here is particularly poignant, and the traditional YA structure is again deviated from – in the world of Panem there is no such thing as straight up good or evil.

The ending is ultimately a crowd-pleasing one, but it also feels like the natural one considering the developments of the characters over the course of the narrative, so it’s hard to make any real complaints. As a big-budget franchise finale, it ticks all the boxes, as well as providing food for thought that is not always present in YA adaptions (looking at you Twilight). Not for those looking for the arthouse experience, but Mockingjay: Part 2 is a worthy end to a progressive franchise.

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Film, List, Music

5 BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS:

The Lord of the Rings score was recently crowned the greatest movie soundtrack of all time for the sixth year in a row. The Classic FM poll listed a whole host of classic in it’s list, including Schindler’s list, Gladiator, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soundtrack is one of the make or break elements of a film – would Halloween be anywhere near as terrifying without John Carpenter’s endlessly creepy two note score? Would Titanic pull on your heart strings half as much without Celine Dion giving it all she’s got in My Heart Will Go On? The soundtrack is the often unsung hero of so many beloved films, and whilst I would probably have to agree with the ruling of Lord of the Rings as the greatest ever (probably on Concerning Hobbits alone), I have compiled a list of my personal favourites, a few of which depart from the traditional scoring and focus on pop culture instead.

5- ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

me-earl-dying-girlDirector: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler

Soundtrack Highlight: The Big Ship – Brian Eno

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Me Earl and Dying Girl has proved to be one of the surprise hits of the year. Pretty much the anti-Fault in Our Stars, the film is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the YA genre. It is especially bolstered by its soundtrack, which largely comes from the fantastic Brian Eno. As well as Eno, there is a real eclectic mix to enjoy, from Roy Orbison to Cat Stevens. It perfectly walks the line of between hipster and accessible and plays a huge role in the films quirky genius, building up to an incredible finale with Eno’s The Big Ship, which was composed especially for the film. I really can’t stress how great The Big Ship is (listen below for yourself) as both a piece of music in its own right an as a perfect accompaniment to the film. It catches the offbeat, touching atmosphere of the film to a tee – without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, from one of the best films for that matter.

4 – WALK THE LINE (2005)

Walk-the-Line-movie-stills-walk-the-line-13722960-874-904Director: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Soundtrack Highlight: It Aint Me Babe – Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon

This soundtrack is so good that it won a Grammy, and there is no question why. The 2005 biopic of the late, great Johnny Cash and the love of his life, June Carter is one of my favourite films of all time. This one deserves a place on the list based on the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon alone – they performed all of the songs themselves, lending the film a sense of authenticity it could never have achieved otherwise. Replicating Cash’s legendary bass-baritone voice is no mean feat, but Phoenix totally inhabits the role and the songs, almost making it look easy. He pays the perfect homage to the man in black with classics such as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Get Rhythm, capturing whatever it is that makes a Cash track so special in the first place. Witherspoon also shines, capturing the charm of June Carter, particularly in her rendition of Wildwood Flower, which is so good it threatens to overtake Carter’s version. There are also some other gems from other artists which perfectly encapsulate the genre and period. The real magic happens when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet on Jackson and It Aint Me Babe, perfectly capturing the chemistry and genuine love that existed between the real life Cash and Carter. Walk the Line is everything you want in a music biopic, and the tunes are everything you want from a soundtrack.

3 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

imagesDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Llyod

Soundtrack Highlight: Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News

Anyone who knows me will know my undying love (obsession?) with this film, and the soundtrack is a huge part of what makes it so great. This one is a great mix of songs and score, mixing a suitably cinematic sound with some classic and nostalgic tunes and coming up with something pretty close to perfection (I did warn you of my undying affection for this film). The Outatime Orchestra (named after the number plate of the iconic DeLorean) perform the score, which was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – a frequent collaborator of Zmeckis – has a very Speilbergian feel to it (he produced the film), which is always a surefire ticket for success. The film also manages to provide a fantastic time-bending blend of the 1950’s and 80’s, with the Power of Love proving to be the signature song an obvious highlight (fun fact – Huey Lewis plays the judge who tells Marty his band is just “too darn loud” when they play a hard rock version of the song near the films beginning).  And who can forget Michael J Fox rocking out to Johnny B Goode? There is just so much to love.

2 – TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

trainspotting_2505786bDirector: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald

Soundtrack Highlight: Born Slippy .NUXX

Another hugely popular soundtrack, this one sold so well that it spawned another album the following year, consisting of songs that inspired the film. Whilst it is also excellent, it will never reach the dizzy heights of the songs featured in Danny Boyle’s cult classic. From Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, the mix screams 90’s and has been most teenagers claim to cool ever since the film came out. Danny  Boyle has always been fantastic at selecting soundtracks – 2013’s Trance is another highlight – and this is quite possibly the pinnacle of his success. Riding the wave of britpop, the soundtrack is an effective blend of the bands of the decade and their predecessors, the soundtrack (and the film) is a product of its time and a gift that keeps on giving. One of the most effective closing songs of all time is Born Slippy .NUXX, the perfect blend of uplifting and trippy, and the beginning of a lasting collaboration between Boyle and Underworld.

1 – PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

perks-042_df-07440c (1)Director: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Soundtrack Highlight: Heroes – David Bowie

Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel of the same name, brought his work to life in 2012 with the film adaption of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like Trainspotting, the film is a perfect example of one that captures the era it is depicting. Again it is the early 90’s, but the focus is American high schoolers as opposed to Edinburgh junkies. This is one of my favourite soundtracks ever because it so brilliantly captures the essence of the film – even though there is only one composed piece in the film (Charlie’s Last Letter – Michael Brook) you would easily believe more of the tracks had been specifically written for the film. It is the sort of music the characters listen to, and it allows us to achieve a better understanding of these characters with its mix of soft alt. rock, new wave and dream pop from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bowie’s Heroes is the perfect song to summarise the main themes of the film, and the tunnel scene where it is played remains electrifying and triumphant on multiple viewings.

Here is a playlist of the 5 best songs from this list, enjoy!

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Film, Opinion

THE BOND RELIC – 007’S TREATMENT OF WOMEN:

Shirly Eaton (Jill Masterson) - Goldfinger

Shirly Eaton (Jill Masterson) – Goldfinger

Last week I enjoyed a night out at the IMAX with friends to see the latest Bond flick, Spectre. I can’t say I had overly high expectations – I was more interested in the IMAX aspect – as I never watched Bond films as a child and thus do not hold the nostalgic view of the franchise many do. It is perhaps this that fuels my opinion of the franchise as increasingly outdated.

This is ironic given that a prominent theme in Spectre is how the 007 programme fits into modern society. Whilst the film may be content to show us via massive explosions that Bond still matters, I didn’t find myself convinced.

Ultimately, Bond is a relic of the Cold War. The source material – beloved as it may be – is a reflection of its time, when paranoia and tensions were at an all time high. That era is no more, and whilst it can be fun to toy with nostalgia – Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E earlier this year for instance – I would argue the past is best left in the past.

That said, 2012’s Skyfall felt like a ray of hope for the franchise, providing an example of how classic Bond favourites such as Q and Moneypenny could be brought into the 21st century. Yet fast-forward to Spectre and it feels like a case of one step forward, three back.

The main issue however is the franchises continued portrayal of women as disposable sex objects. The ‘Bond girl’ is an iconic element of the franchise which appears to resist any real form of progress. Whilst previous Daniel Craig incarnations, notable Skyfall and 2006’s Casino Royale, have at least attempted to deviate from the status quo, I can’t shake the feeling that the writers feel that since they have empowered Moneypenny as capable and not romantically interested in Bond they are free to carry on the tired trope elsewhere.

Spectre is particularly guilty in this respect. The amount of discussion over the casting of 50 year old Monica Bellucci as the ‘oldest ever’ Bond girl highlights the issue straight away. Bellucci is only three years older than Craig, whilst the main female role is held by Lea Seydoux who, at 30, is 17 years Craig’s junior. It was only Bellucci’s casting that was considered surprising, and this is purely based on age. Bond girls have very rarely been age counterparts to Bond, usually averaging out at at least a decade younger.

The part Bellucci plays in Spectre is even more concerning. Clocking in at barely more than a cameo, we essentially see Bond save her, undress her, get the information he requires to drive the plot along before leaving her in danger with a throwaway line about how an Embassy official will save her. They don’t even bother to tie up the loose thread because, post-rendezvous, she’s irrelevant.

Spectre's Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Lea Seydoux (Madeline Swann) and Naome Harris (Eve Moneypenny)

Spectre’s Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Lea Seydoux (Madeline Swann) and Naome Harris (Eve Moneypenny)

This all occurs before we are introduced to Seydoux’s Madeline Swann. Beginning with such promise, we first meet Swann as an intelligent, self assured doctor who spurns 007’s advances before he has the chance to make any. Swann does not need Bond to look after her – she knows her way around a gun – and it seems we have progress. Five minutes later (a few days at most in relation to the timeline) and the seemingly rational Swann declares her love for him. Already ridiculous, this is made worse by the utter lack of any build up or chemistry between the pair. It’s all downhill from there and before long Swann has been reduced to little more than a typical damsel in distress.

Granted, the representation and in particular the sexualisation of women in film is a problem that is not confined to the 007 franchise, but it seems sometimes as though Bond skims over criticism by using its claims to nostalgia and the source material. If the franchise could have the excellent Judi Dench as top dog M for so many years, they could surely work harder to counteract this treatment of women in other areas of the films. There is nothing wrong with Bond being a womaniser, but don’t have these female characters being defined only by his character trait.

On that note, here is an amusing video of a feminist Bond girl, enjoy!:

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