Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
After watching Darren Aronofsky’s mother! you are left with a question: ‘Was that a good film?’ But answering that question requires you to first consider a bigger question: ‘What makes a good film?’ Ever the provocateur, Aronofsky has crafted a film that will frustrate and disgust you, making you equal parts uncomfortable and angry. But if, in order to make their point, it was the filmmaker’s intention to draw these negative reactions from the audience, does successfully doing so make it a good film? mother! is the very epitome of ‘not for everyone,’ and the way you answer that last question goes a long way to determining whether this polarising film is for you or not.
An unnamed married couple live alone in a large house in the middle of a circular meadow in the woods. He (Javier Bardem) is a highly regarded poet who has been struggling to write anything for some time. She (Jennifer Lawrence) has been working to painstakingly restore the grand old house, his old family home which had been destroyed in a fire. Continue reading
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Jon Spaiht’s screenplay Passengers, a science fiction romance about two people alone on a long space journey, had been around the traps for a decade having appeared on the Black List (an industry survey of the top unproduced screenplays) way back in 2007. But once they added two of the hottest stars on the planet in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and an Oscar nominated director in Morten Tyldum, coming off his success with The Imitation Game, it wasn’t going to stay unproduced for much longer.
The Starship Avalon is 30 years into its 120 year journey transporting 5,000 hibernating migrants to the colony world of Homestead II when a technical glitch causes passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake way too early. With all the other passengers and crew asleep, and no way of putting himself back into hibernation, Jim is faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on this intergalactic cruise ship with only Arthur the android bartender (Michael Sheen) as company. Continue reading
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper
As stated in its opening titles, Joy, is “based on true stories of daring women.” It explores the way a tenacious woman manages to survive and eventually thrive in a world determined to put her in her place. This semi-fictionalised account of the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop makes a point of never actually using the phrase “Miracle Mop,” or even the stating the surname Mangano. Rather than presenting a traditional biopic, director David O. Russell has opted for a comically exaggerated fable celebrating the American Dream and tenacious, can-do spirit.
Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) was a creative young girl from whom a lot was expected but for whom things haven’t quite panned out. Seventeen years after being named high school valedictorian she is stuck in a hole, providing for her chaotic family Continue reading
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Mahershala Ali, Willow Shields
An important chapter in the career of one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars comes to a close as Jennifer Lawrence picks up the bow and arrows for the last time in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the final adaptation from Suzanne Collins wildly popular young adult series.
With Panem’s districts united in revolution under President Coin (Julianne Moore’s), the fight to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland) moves to the Capitol. Snow has put the game makers to work setting booby traps throughout the streets with the aim of making sport of the rebels deaths to galvanise the citizens of the Capitol. Feeling that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has largely served her purpose as mascot of the revolution, Coin encourages her to take a back seat. But Katniss is determined to join the fight, motivated by revenge for the torture and brainwashing of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She, along with some other former games victors and recognisable faces – Finnick (Sam Claflin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) – is put into an all-star non-combat unit whose job is to hang a couple of miles behind the frontline, exploring abandoned streets of the Capitol in (relative) safety and shooting propaganda videos. Continue reading
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Stanley Tucci
After two films which have netted a combined $1.56 billion at the international box office, Lionsgate’s Hunger Games franchise has followed the lead of the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hobbit franchises, in becoming the latest to break a single book into multiple movies for seemingly no other reason than to inflate profits. And so we have The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I, aka ‘The Hunger Games Part 3A.’
Mockingjay – Part I picks up where Catching Fire left off, with Katniss having been rescued from the arena by a band of rebels who have been hiding away in District 13. Katniss’ act of defiance which ended the Quarter Quell has inspired the people of Panem’s districts, and the rebels are now attempting to harness this groundswell of action and unify the districts against the Capitol. To help them achieve this, they need Katniss to serve as their standard bearer, their Mockingjay, but Katniss is more concerned with the fate of those victors who were not rescued and now find themselves prisoners of the Capitol; Johanna, Annie, and most importantly, Peeta, who the Capitol are using as their PR weapon. After failed attempts to film staged propaganda ads, the rebel leaders realise that it is Katniss’ authenticity which people most respond to, and as such she needs to get out in the field and experience firsthand the destruction the Capitol has wreaked.
Mockingjay – Part I is a very different film to the first two in the series; The Hunger Games and its superior sequel Catching Fire. For starters, this time around there is no games to serve as the centrepiece for the film, and this really changes the dynamic of the movie. Mockingjay – Part I is a darker film, both thematically and visually. Director Francis Lawrence chooses to tell the story almost entirely from the point of view of the rebels. We are rarely privy to what is going on in the Capitol. That means that we as an audience are working off the same assumptions the rebel characters are. But as it was the scenes in the Capitol and arena which gave the first two films much of their visual flair, it means that Mockingjay – Part I lacks the colour and vibrancy of its prequels. Instead, we spend the majority of the film in the subterranean bunker of the rebellion, making for a less expansive, more claustrophobic film.
Mockingjay – Part I is a war movie but not a combat film. Instead, its focus is on the behind the scenes mechanisms that are at play in war. The film explores the significant role of propaganda and messages, of symbols and songs, in unifying people in times of conflict. This is quite a topical area of exploration. As we watch the rebels and the Capitol engage in a back-and-forth through public addresses and viral video releases one can’t help but think about the parallels to the media wars between the West and Al-Qaida and now ISIS.
As their Mockingjay, their unifying symbol and standard bearer, Katniss is the revolution’s primary weapon. Peeta is the Capitol’s. His gaunt appearance leads us to assume that Peeta is being coerced and used by the Capitol to speak out against the rebellion. But is Katniss being just as used? From the start of the film we can see that she is tapped out, an emotional wreck after two rounds in the arena. But the rebellion needs her. How much, though, is this rebellion an extension of what Katniss represents and how much are the rebels simply co-opting her image and the people’s goodwill towards her to benefit their cause. The rebel leader President Coin is a cold and determined woman and we are only slightly more trusting of her than we are of President Snow. Our uncertainty of her is reinforced by her proclamations to the rebels, which are greeted with aggressive war chants in scenes that feel eerily reminiscent of Nazi rallies.
It is the performances from the deep, high quality cast that elevates the film, as it has done for the entire series. This starts with Jennifer Lawrence, who again does most of the heavy lifting. By then end of this series Lawrence’s Katniss will undoubtedly stand alongside Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as one of the cinema’s greatest action heroines. While Mockingjay – Part I is less physically demanding of Lawrence– she only fires one arrow in the whole film – it is still her character’s emotional journey we are on. The Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle is again prominent; a love triangle that is saved from cliché by the fact that it is entirely unromantic. Katniss’ interest in both guys is much more about emotional support than it is romance or passion. Most of the previous characters return for this instalment – some with bigger roles, others with smaller roles – and it is the presence in these supporting roles of veteran, high quality actors like Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci and Philip Seymour Hoffman (to whom the film is dedicated) that fleshes out this world and gives it weight.
The themes of rebellion against the machine that are central to Mockingjay – Part I feel slightly insincere when presented in such a formulaic major Hollywood blockbuster. The film lacks the rebellious spirit of its narrative. There is nothing the slightest bit subversive about the film, as evidenced by the cynical, money-grabbing decision to split Collins’ final novel into two instalments. Mockingjay – Part I suffers from all of the problems that are to be expected of a ‘Part I’ movie, a film which only tells the first half of a story. The film is light on narrative events and action. The games are gone and have not been replaced with an equivalently satisfying action source. The film is much more about character development than narrative action, and while it does succeed in building up some tension it obviously lacks any sort of resolution. You leave this film feeling like you’ve only watched the first half of a movie, though you’ve paid for a whole one.
Katniss continues to be a strong heroine, Collins narrative is as engaging as it has always been, and Mockingjay – Part I performs its function within the overall Hunger Games franchise by setting up the final film quite well. However, what seems to often get lost in Hollywood studio thinking when dealing with their money-spinning franchises is that each piece should, first and foremost, function effectively as a film in its own right. Mockingjay – Part I feels like the first half of a pretty good film. Ultimately, it will fall to Mockingjay – Part II to show that there was creative and not just economic justification for the decision to break the final instalment into two films rather than a single two-and-a-half to three hour movie.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
Five years ago, the X-Men franchise was looking like it might have run its course. X-Men: Last Stand had disappointed and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was widely panned. But Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class breathed new life into the series in 2011, and now Bryan Singer, the director who helped launch the franchise, is back at the helm for the much anticipated, and confusingly titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
We begin at the end. It is the year 2023 and we are in the final stages of a war between the mutants and giant robots known as Sentinels. But it is not so much a war as an extermination. Knowing they have nowhere left to hide, a small band of mutants – including among others, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto, by this point an ally – devise a last ditch plan. Kitty Pryde uses her telepathic powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time. Awaking in his 1973 body, Wolverine must seek out the young Professor X and Magneto, at this point sworn enemies, and with their help change the past in order to prevent this war from ever beginning.
X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the continuation of a story. It feels like we are picking up where a previous film left off, but we are not. As a result the first half of the movie is chock full of exposition because there is a whole story that we have not seen which needs to be explained to us in order to understand what we are now seeing. We learn how in 1973 Mystique murders scientist Boliver Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, and that act cements the general public’s fear of the mutants and leads to the green-lighting of the Sentinel project. We learn how after being captured, Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA is incorporated into the design of the Sentinels making them highly adaptable and near impossible to defeat. We learn how the machines started out targeting mutants, but soon moved on to targeting mutant-sympathising humans and eventually all humans. We start the film at the culmination of this narrative and then return to the very beginning to try and stop it ever happening, but the result is the feeling that we’ve actually missed out on quite a good story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the strongly allegorical nature of the series, exploring themes of intolerance, prejudice and the fear of the other. In Professor X and Magneto we are shown two different forms of leadership and two different approaches to combatting prejudice. Professor X is the Martin Luther King figure, preaching cooperation, unity and understanding, while Magneto is more Malcolm X, calling for a more militant, fight-the-power response. These important themes are explored effectively, but still in an entertaining package. There are some impressive action sequences and visual effects, and this film contains more fun and humour than we have seen in some of the previous installments in the series. That we experience the 1970s through the eyes of a character from the future means that the sights and sounds of that era – clothes, music, hair styles, lava lamps and waterbeds – can all be played up for comic effect.
X-Men: Days of Future Past does suffer a bit from character overload, with many being very thinly sketched. The X-Men universe contains so many characters and the temptation is always there to introduce new ones each film. In this film, the dual time period means that we have two casts of characters. There are just too many characters here for them all to be meaningfully represented. Of the new characters introduced, the teenage Quicksilver is a highlight. He is responsible for probably the film’s best scene, helping spring Magneto from a maximum security prison, but despite proving himself incredibly useful he is then inexplicably left behind.
The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past provided an excellent opportunity to wrap up the series, but, unsurprisingly, that option was not taken and the film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (talk is that X-Men: Apocalypse will be hitting screens in 2016). With this film’s rewriting of the past essentially throwing away the events and chronology of the previous four films in the franchise, it will be interesting to see what they choose to move forward with in the sequel.
There is plenty in X-Men: Days of Future Past to please returning fans of the series, but newcomers will find this a very difficult film to get up to speed with. While it has some quite strong moments, it is very messy in terms of its screenplay and narrative and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that preceded it.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen X-Men: Days of Future Past? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
We have arrived at the most wonderful time of the year to be a movie buff (unless you are a more high falutin cinephile who likes to think of lists and awards as being trivial and beneath them). December brings with it a flurry of top ten lists and the first round of nominations for the award season. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced its nominees for the 2014 Golden Globe awards. As always the Golden Globes only give a slight indication of how things will pan out come Oscar time, particularly as the Globes divide categories between Drama and Musical or Comedy. However, we can none the less start in earnest to speculate as to who will be in the mix when Oscar nominations are announced on 16th January 2014.
Best Motion Picture – Drama
- 12 Years a Slave
- Captain Phillips
If this award were to go to anything other than 12 Years a Slave or Gravity it can be considered quite an upset. It will be interesting to see which way this goes. There was no other film that got quite the overwhelming response that Gravity did, but 12 Years a Slave is also a brilliant and important film which is a much more traditional ‘Best Picture’ type.
My tip: 12 Years a Slave
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
- American Hustle
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Inside Llewyn Davis
Again, this would appear to be a two horse race between American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis, with these two films plus the two favourites from the other best picture category likely to be the four main contenders for the Oscar. The fact that Joel Coen didn’t get a directing nomination might swing things in the favour of David O. Russell’s film.
My tip: American Hustle
- Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
- Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
- David O. Russell (American Hustle)
- Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
- Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Where this category is usually dominated by the directors from the best drama field there is a bit more of a mix this year with David O. Russell and Alexander Payne representing the musical or comedy category. While it is yet to be seen if voters consider Gravity to be Best Picture material, there is no doubt that it is a directorial achievement and it is not without precedent to see directors rewarded for amazing technical achievements (see Ang Lee’s Oscar win last year). In all, this is probably the strongest contested field at this year’s Golden Globes.
My tip: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Best Actor – Drama
- Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
- Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
- Robert Redford (All is Lost)
- Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
An interesting field featuring veterans (Hanks and Redford), breakout performances (Ejiofor and Elba) and someone who is slowly but surely becoming quite an impressive actor (McConaughey). For mine, Redford’s work in All is Lost is the most impressive acting I’ve seen this year, but it also feels like the kind of film that will get overlooked. Don’t be surprised if momentum builds behind Tom Hanks and he’s an unbackable favourite by the time the Oscars come around.
My tip: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Best Actor – Musical or Comedy
- Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
- Christian Bale (American Hustle)
- Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
It’s great to see an old dog in Bruce Dern back in the mix and Christian Bale’s amazing fluctuating weight gets him in the frame again, but Joaquin Phoenix was so impressive in Her, performing the majority of the film only with a disembodied voice to play off, so I’d be inclined to go that way.
My tip: Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
Best Actress – Drama
- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
- Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
- Judi Dench (Philomena)
- Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
There is a bit of a usual suspects feel to this category with every nominee being a previous Golden Globe and Oscar winner. Cate Blanchett would seem hard to beat in this category unless the voters go left field for something out of left field and opt for Dench.
My tip: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
- Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said)
- Amy Adams (American Hustle)
- Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
- Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
The amazing Meryl Streep gets her obligatory nomination here, but this one will likely come down to Amy Adams and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
My tip: Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Best Supporting Actor
- Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
- Daniel Brühl (Rush)
- Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Michael Fassbender has done the best work of his career when under the direction of Steve McQueen and his performance as the violent Epps in 12 Years a Slave will likely see him edge out Brühl and Abdi for the honours.
My tip: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Best Supporting Actress
- Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
- Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
- Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
- June Squibb (Nebraska)
- Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Lupita Nyong’o was very impressive in 12 Years a Slave, her first feature film role, and Sally Hawkins earned praise for her work opposite Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but 2013 has been Jennifer Lawrence’s year and her combination with David O. Russell should see her strike gold again.
My tip: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
- John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
- Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
- Eric Warren and David O. Russell (American Hustle)
- Jeff Pope (Philomena)
- Spike Jonze (Her)
There are five very good screenplays nominated in this category but none is as bold as Spike Jonze’s for Her. His screenplay takes a scenario which could easily have been silly and makes it incredibly sincere and heartfelt and, as such, despite being an outsider I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he won.
My tip: Spike Jonze (Her)
Best Animated Feature
- The Croods
- Dispicable Me 2
This has to be the least inspiring collection of animated films in recent memory. It doesn’t help that there is no contribution from Pixar or Studio Ghibli, the two most consistently excellent producers of animation in recent years. As such, Disney’s Frozen, an old-fashioned feeling Disney movie, is probably favourite be default.
My tip: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- The Past
- The Hunt
- The Wind Rises
- The Great Beauty
This category lacks the out and out favourite it had last year in Amour, but there are a number of strong contenders. Blue is the Warmest Color, The Hunt and The Great Beauty have all made a bit of noise, winning numerous awards. It could go to any of those three, though Blue is the Warmest Color is probably the favourite at this stage.
My tip: The Hunt
The Golden Globes will be held on 12th January 2014