The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)


The young adult movie phenomenon is now at its end, the closing chapters of Katniss and her (not so) merry followers hits the big screen and after a year wait is it worth it? My rapid answer is to say no. After what I now deem a well paced and interesting political agenda theme from Part 1, this promise of excitement and action never flies straight or aims true.

We pick up from 2014 with just strangled Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) coming to terms with the fact that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) may never be the same thanks to President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which leads to her want of killing the Capitol head and bringing Panem to unity. Now with President Coin (Julianne Moore) in the mix, Katniss must work out who there is to trust as she makes her way through the districts to end this war.

With three of the four Hunger Games movies under his belt, Francis Lawrence should know what he’s doing right? Wrong, it seems to all come to a dreary finale as this last film does nearly everything to make you wonder why you liked the franchise in the first place. I mean, granted I haven’t read the books yet but with this direction, there’s no intrigue or suspense and Lawrence brings the movie no pacing quality, it’s almost as if he just sat back and let the dialogue be shot not even thinking of how slow and laborious it makes the film feel.

Danny Strong and Peter Craig double up to take on Suzanne Collins’ well received novels, but whatever may happen on the page doesn’t all need to be seen on screen. The most tedious element is this almost Deal or no Deal game of real or no real between Katniss and Peeta that bores to the core. I won’t even go into the closing moments of the movie that had me cringing and laughing in equal measure of horror. It loses the political, conspiracy edge and is quickly replaced by predictable teen romance that taints what could have been a cool run of films that thrust society and its problems in the spotlight.

I always feel a film is best when it leaves the audience asking questions and making it their own by having their own interpretations of what could happen down the timeline but this Part 2 is nonsense and closes everything, spoon-feeding the audience so they have nothing to ponder about. It’s a real shame because after the grit of the first and the set up of the third, this just goes and makes me hate the whole HG story.

Not even the rare moments of darkness or grim action can save this film but I will go into the points that I enjoyed. ‘The Descent’-esque sequence of mutts in the underground escape is shot fast and cut like a madman editing for the first time but in this crazed scene of hell breaking loose it works well. The oil slick beginning was interesting before becoming stupid and Jennifer Lawrence gives Katniss that strong yet emotional female lead the power it deserves as everything possible gets in her way.

A lot of things ultimately feel lost in this movie, the editing truly doesn’t help us immerse into the story, it cuts so damn often that we never see who’s died and we don’t know much about them in the first place which severely lessens the impact of their deaths. The idea of uprising is so pushed yet lost to the wayside for effects and ‘Peeniss’ love struggles that when it does come back to the fore it’s presented so clearly that we can tell what’s going to happen a mile off, once again I haven’t read the books but I guessed most of what was going to happen throughout this film which lands like a massive weakness in my eyes.

Jennifer Lawrence leads us through this savage landscape with clear motivation yet troubled emotion as she flickers between determined symbol of hope to saddened lover and sister. She has become the perfect actress for Katniss and especially as she acts opposite, hopefully Best Supporting cat she demonstrates the raw talent she has in her arsenal. Josh Hutcherson does good with the evil brainwashed moments but then is nothing more than a loyal and romantic character for Katniss, so too with Liam Hemsworth’s Gale that is still one of the most dull characters. Woody Harrelson brings much needed laughter in the little things he does or says, Elizabeth Banks is apparently not in the last book and nor was she really needed in this movie, only giving the costuming department more work to do. Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore battle it out as opposing leaders and do in fact give interesting moments about right and wrong in their equal flawed beliefs but for me the bittersweet aspect was seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last ever film still showing that with even a small role he possessed the acting magic many can but dream of.

I can’t say I hated this film but I most defintley didn’t like it either. It suffers under a heavy amount of dragging, laughable writing and how it’s shown and as everything watched over three years boils down to this, we lift the lid to a Capitol whimper.


Brooklyn (2015)


Now usually period dramas are not my go to film, not even remotely, but this looked like a film with a tenderness and character based interest. Perhaps coming back from New York itself helped that interest factor along slightly but upon viewing this film I can say I liked it, it’s rich and acted really well throughout.

Irish shop worker Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is funded a move to New York from the church. She says goodbye to her sister and their ill mother and finds herself getting accustomed to Brooklyn life, weather and boys as she falls in love with Italian charmer Tony (Emory Cohen). After a tragedy strikes back in Ireland, Eilis comes back and then has to face the tough choice of a new romance at home or shipping back to America for the life she’s come to know.

The look of this historical drama set in the 1950’s is quality. The costuming is marvellous with each character fitting into the time and truly selling the period of this piece. I know all period films do this but something about the change from the Emerald Isle to our cousins across the Pond felt amazingly authentic. As we wash over to the shores of the US, Brooklyn’s setting feels magical in a way; the lush greens and busier atmosphere making the 50’s feel like their livelier selves and giving us reason to why at first Eilis is overwhelmed, but then agreeable to this change of pace and lifestyle.

Nick Hornby’s screenplay is layered with emotion. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel the family angle is soaring from the lead’s predicament alone, then there’s the family-esque set up in the boarding house to Tony’s Italian American family home. That strong sense of togetherness and theme of home where the heart is stays ever present becoming the shaky decision for Eilis to land on. Of course, there’s romance here and normally that’s what makes me stray away from these movies but it’s well done here, enough to make look past some of the soppier obvious writing moments. Tony is a likable and smooth character with a fun and engaging family. Jim from Ireland may have little screen time to win the central character over, but he too is nice and genuine which gives us reason to why she finds it hard making that ol’ love triangle routine less cliched.

The main feeling I got was of a bittersweet one, which mixed with memories and new chapters gives this film a satisfying tinge. It honestly is a film that feels like life, as we make decisions, something else could happen that may have been affected by that. It also pulls deep at the heart, maybe more people will weep at more points but even I had to suffer a choking throat and wet eyes as Eilis hears of the tragic news thousands of miles away. The only problem the film had was becoming duller as it got nearer the end, a blackmailing revelation is squashed before getting in any way dramatic and the romantic choice is obvious from the halfway point, meaning the closing minutes of the movie were expected and less impacting, sort of tainting the beautiful moments that had been seen up until that point.

Saoirse Ronan is absolutely splendid, delightful and subtle in this dramatic narrative. She must be in regards for the awards season coming sooner than we always expect. I don’t know if it’s golden statue material but her understated emotion from top to bottom is utterly convincing and she’s a pure pleasure to watch. Julie Walters is merely a name and cameo but acts her socks off as the light material to balance the more heart tearing moments. Emory Cohen gets a bigger break than in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ and proves to be an assured leading man as he cozies up to Ronan and bewitches us with the gentleman routine. Domhnall Gleeson doesn’t have much to do but it shows what a capable actor he is that with such little run time he can show just why his character is so big of a obstacle option for Eilis to come to terms with. It’s a fantastically performed treat from everyone, that Irish and American mash of cultures giving it enhanced delight.

The weaker end aside, this film triumphs for the acting and beauty of life story. It’s something that comes across like a deeply resonating movie for so many people, that inescapable pull of home and family being something personal and different to us all. It’s dealt with by director John Crowley and Nick Hornby in such nostalgic vision.


Spectre (2015)


Bond is back and with bells on as this latest installment in the long running franchise clearly shows off. Blown up buildings, car chases and seducing women all get ticked off as the blonde Bond deals with his own personal mission to connect the dots of his last three outings.

Whilst on a mission in Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers some talk of a planned explosion, the Pale King and knows some darker thread is being woven. He journeys from between London, Rome, Austria and Morocco to come face to face with the man behind the deaths and the mystery, one figure of his past named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who threatens Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and the entire MI6 00 program.

In directing terms, this new adventure for James Bond is a treat, the scenes are dealt with well on the most part. There’s a fluidity in the scenes with conversation and the more upbeat sequences are hand-held and shaky to fit with that expected Bourne trend of late. The more artistic and somewhat beautiful side of Sam Mendes and his directorial stance comes back as it did with ‘Skyfall’, though thankfully this time it seems less pretentious and ‘Dark Knight Rises’. The shadowing helps the spookiness of this spy action flick and the broad scope of each location is perfect patterning for the Bond collective.

It’s like a film of two halves, with the first half setting up a good mood and including brilliantly orchestrated set pieces, yet these well stitched tapestries become frayed as we drift into silly moments for the latter part of this movie. A lot of this comes down to the writing but the negatives also come booming to the screen because of this attempt at darkness being subverted by the quite campy feel of older 007 features. Wit and one liners feel right in the Connery/Moore era but after a while that loses fun when delivered by the clearly grittier take from Craig’s version.

Without spoilers for the people that have been even later than me to see this, the direction of the villain is clear from the title alone and for a nemesis so big and synonymous with the Bond world, it could have been taken on a darker path but the connections created feel so dumb and half arsed that this creation of the man with the plan (and the white cat) loses serious impact. It starts feeling like a scheme of the 60’s/70’s as he attempts to take down the entire organisation and hide out in large bases.

I mean, it took four people to muster up the screenplay, that conflict of ideas/personalities may very well be why the story feels a tad messy at times. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan and Jez Butterworth give the movie some great moments, for example the back and forth dialogue between 007 and Q is sublime and well executed, the stuffy yet driven M is necessary and Oberhauser’s set up and initial revelation is interestingly carved out but descends into panto villain land before too long which is a true shame.

Hoyte van Hoytema must be commended for his stunning cinematography work. Each and every location convey the perfect atmosphere, even dreary London has that grand impression of authority which works for the unsettling crumbling of it by the final act. Also, one of the biggest pre title sequences for the Bond collection is brilliant, the look of the Day of the Dead parade and the ensuing carnage that follows is epic and engaging. The car chase through Rome is perhaps uninspiring but still pumped full of adrenaline and these are captured with stunning eyes for action thrills for the paying audience, Bond fans or otherwise.

One of the major travesties of this film is the writing of character, Bond becomes less of a hero than a war machine than normal, but heck that’s expected for this rebel secret agent, the true outrage is Madeleine Swann who quickly becomes one of the worst written characters in my memory. I feel bad for the hugely talented Lea Seydoux of whom I adore. Swann at first is frosty, capable and assured but then turns into a wreck, a desperate damsel in distress that seems to forget all her strength, determination and experience gifted by her father and her years. The train scene as she asks what they do next, cutting to the following antics are just unbelievably painful and that’s where the film starts getting bad in my opinion.

There’s some good ideas throughout, Mr. Hinx as the updated Oddjob is unbreakable and has squeamish plans for his metal tipped thumbs, the many limbed structure of Spectre is believable enough to tie the other villains together and the beginning of the Austrian chase works really well. The whole reasoning behind who Oberhauser is to Bond is awful, the drilling torture scene has no impact really and overall the movie is too long.

Daniel Craig delivers charm and macho confidence as he has done in every other Bond outing, so though it’s not the acting role that dreams are made of, he’s still convincing as the lead spy and the man to go to or fall in love with. Lea Seydoux as mentioned becomes a usual one dimensional Bond girl but demonstrates her emotion and talent before that comes to pass. She at least has more to do than cameo role of Monica Bellucci who could have been played by anyone. Ralph Fiennes steps in as the new M and does what Fiennes does best, as in being in charge but not really and giving that likable grimace to the boss. Christoph Waltz is underused but I’m sure he will be used again and I liked him in this role, it suits him and gave enough chills to the part. Ben Whishaw is fast becoming the best aspect of these latest films and I’m happy with that fact.

24 movies down and Bond is still happily chalking off victims and ladies as if he’s never away. This is a much more entertaining movie than ‘Skyfall’, some may say it’s not better but weirdly I disagree, I still am in the, probably empty camp of not liking that movie much. ‘Spectre’ has awesome visuals, striking vision from Mendes and all out Spectre-cle.


Love and Mercy (2015)


It truly is mesmerizing, the music, the story and the acting completes such a whirlwind and engaging film that you want to know more and go out to buy the Beach Boys music. It’s such a deep and personal plot that even someone without much knowledge of the man in question can find this film greatly satisfying.

Cutting between 1960’s songwriter of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) and 80’s Wilson (John Cusack) we follow this music man as he tries creating a masterpiece of an album and later as he copes with his increased condition and the weight of an oppressive therapist on his every day life.

Bill Pohlad directs this changing time period of a movie with finesse that it never jumbles or loses the audience, at least I don’t believe it ever does. This is only his second directorial gig, after a 24 year gap which is astonishing because this film feels like it’s in the possession of a creator with perfect vision and understanding. All of his producing credits have clearly helped his way as this movie flows effortlessly between the 60’s and 80’s, each setting giving us different yet worrying versions of Wilson as he grows aware of his mental condition.

The music scenes themselves are fantastic, not just because of the songs but in how they’re shown. I’ll give an example, as Brian is trying to put together a piece in the studio it feels like we’re there, witnessing this mastery take shape. The film has such a grand feeling of musical construction as he attempts to break the rock/pop mould. Notes and instruments take front and centre at different points as songs are dissected and painstakingly gone over to fulfill Wilson’s ideas. This is evident as he focuses on the strings in the well known ‘Good Vibrations’ track.

The screenplay is by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner and is great in the terms of putting a lot in, of course it can’t paint in every fact and figure but there’s surely enough for Wilson fans and people who aren’t so clued up. Even in a little bit of looking about the man just today I see there’s so much about Brian Wilson so it’d be hard to expect the screenwriters to put in all of it. Perhaps more could of been done with Marilyn and the influence of the quite evil Landy but for what’s included, I truly invested in the story and found the life of this icon fascinating.

It goes without saying to mention that the music triumphs in this movie, even Atticus Ross’ score elevates the moments without lyrics. I feel ashamed to say I don’t own ‘Pet Sounds’ but after viewing this I want to badly. The sounds are so innovative and still sound fresh and a world better than the majority of music these days. The scene as we see Paul Dano’s younger Wilson tinkle on the ivories and sing ‘God Only Knows’ is hauntingly beautiful and stood out for me, it’s such a perfect lonely yet uplifting song for this feature’s theme.

Paul Dano crackles with amazing energy as the youthful Brian Wilson, making his more fractured scenes more heartbreaking as he starts hearing voices, getting testy and distancing himself. John Cusack is just brilliant as the middle aged man, trying to break free but quivering in his state. There’s a broken soul to his portrayal as the clearly more beaten down figure. Elizabeth Banks shines a light as the radiant love interest with a burning worry for the man she’s fallen for, she flicks between these emotions with ease showing she’s not just the typical go to comic actress. Paul Giamatti comes in and out as Landy, the assigned therapist and boy is he overbearing, twisted and yet sensationally interesting as this force of further badness pushing into Brian Wilson’s life.

‘Love and Mercy’ has this almost spiritual quality about it. It’s a film that gives great bittersweet truth to the biopic genre and tells a frankly creative and enthralling story about a real life music genius.


Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)


Overflowing with emotion and drama, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ stands the test of time in regards to most elements. The only dated thing is the look of New York in the 1970’s and divorce being so shocking, everything else holds true, that strong sense of broken families, relationships and love are done so damn well in this film.

Ad executive Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) comes home one night to get told by his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) that she’s moving out and divorcing him. He’s therefore left to juggle work and raise their son Billy (Justin Henry) by himself as time ticks away to the court date for the boy.

I’ll begin with the storytelling of this drama. Based on a story by Avery Corman, this screenplay by Robert Benton ticks all the boxes for a heavyweight subject such as this. The idea of divorce could have been so wishy-washy or done like a melodrama but within this film it punches hard and you end up seeing how it affects all parties, which is needed I believe. You could come away seeing Streep as the villainess but even she gets a moment where you feel for her broken housewife routine and you understand why she felt she had to get out. Benton’s writing is delicately balanced with humour also, assisting the more serious moments, such as Billy’s playground tumble or the Kramer’s restaurant meeting.

Now I’ve mentioned it, I must say that scene is glorious. The two Kramer’s meeting up begins in a nice setting, has a gentle start and then wham, it turns as Joanna reveals her intentions and Ted responds to that news. The aggression yet passion of him is felt yet it doesn’t totally overshadow Joanna’s calmer front as she sticks to her guns. Also that glass smash was such a great moment, unexpected for us and as it turns out Meryl Streep too. Dustin Hoffman apparently only told the camera crew so they could capture it…now that’s how to make a scene feel real!

The lovely book-ended suggestion of this film gives it another bonus. We see Joanna getting in the lift as she’s just told she’s leaving her husband and then at the end we see her doing the same thing as she goes to see her son. It’s a somewhat powerful mirroring of action that helps the overall narrative of this movie. Also with the breakfast routine which at first sight is a bundle of chaos and broken eggs, but by the ending moments Ted and Billy have this morning sequence down to a silent art. These are two moments that stood out, not for being massively key in the story but adding the right tone to it.

Robert Benton writes and also directs this late 70’s film and he does so with another understanding touch. It’s thoughtfully crafted, each scene progresses with Ted’s growing as a father and a person generally. Soon he puts behind work in his need to look after Billy, he realises the sacrifices made by Joanna. Benton puts these series of moments together as if we are watching a true family problem unfold and he directs the third act court scenes fantastically. It becomes more touching in this stage as we hear both sides of the argument, literally as they take their places in the witness stand.

Dustin Hoffman gives Ted some depth as he goes on his journey and you do root for him as a character. The scenes where he spends more time with Billy are really great, for example that near uncut tracking run as he carries Billy to the emergency unit. Hoffman gifts Ted charisma, emotion and a hint of arrogance too. Meryl Streep in one of her earlier roles shows the world the powers she will be in this movie. At first she plays Joanna as weak and uninteresting but her story also changes as we come to see more of her, the stony face as she watches on from a distance of the passionate weeping as she spills her backstory in the courthouse. Justin Henry is a force to be reckoned with, honestly there’s not one moment where he’s the annoying kid actor, he plays his scenes opposite Hoffman with such ease that you love watching what he’ll do next, for example the ice-cream scene is done so well. Henry deserved the Oscar nomination and perhaps more in my books.

Kramer vs. Kramer is rich in story and powerful in its performances. Also may I add that the ending is just brilliant, a perfect way to close the plot and leave us thinking about such an honest and dramatic movie about personal conflict.


Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)


Fast, fun and foolish, this zom-com is entertaining for what it is but doesn’t really dazzle as it could. I was truly hoping for something a little more special considering the madcap title of the movie but it’s just another expected zombie run with laughs thrown in.

Three long time friends who are also scouts are witness the more eager member gain his Condor Patch but it happens to be on the night of a big party which they attempt to sneak off to. Not only is betrayal on the cards but a big fat dose of a zombie outbreak to really test the friends connection. The scouting trio must unite with each other and a cocktail waitress to kill the zombies.

Tackled by four writers, this film is a crazy bunch of ideas hurled together in one almost tiring feature. It comes across that perhaps too many cooks spoil the broth as you could imagine the four writers all coming up with their own ideas, yet at least the vision stays intact. A town on the edge of doom with zany killings stays consistent from start to finish. Carrie Evans, Christopher B Langdon, Emi Mochizuki and Lona Williams are the brains behind the outfit and zombies to like brains but these ones aren’t as smart as they’d had the chance to be.

The set up is good, great even, with a doofy dance to Iggy and Rita Ora setting the tone of the film. The whole zombie idea isn’t really explained of how it came to be but heck you buy into it because that’s this sort of film that needs no backstory. The only thing is how quickly the town succumbs to the zombie virus, literally in the time it takes two of the scouts to leave the woods, they find their home town deserted. Once the set up is done anything is fair game and though I know it’s meant to be silly, this film comes to a point where it grows an effort to watch it continue.

This movie follows an expected trail that not just these scouts can track. Every character is cliched and does what you’d expect, the ending is so bad in just being predictable and unrealistic, the only saving grace comes in the full strobe lit whack of the final showdown in the party warehouse. There’s moments that feel forced or go on to long making it seem that a literal tumbleweed could bounce through at any second. The quest for sex and this coming of age tale work as all these teen films manage to do but sadly it’s not a thorough or unique guide to flick through.

Tye Sheridan is actually a believable and charming lead, firmly pushed into the nervous yet full of potential character model he takes us through the film with ease and gives me hope in his future portrayal of a young Cyclops. Logan Miller gets quickly, very quickly may I add to the junction of annoyance and doesn’t really come back. He’d suit the younger audiences and in fact the screening I was in, he proved that with teens guffawing at every stoner-esque line he quipped. Sarah Dumont is an interesting character with not much chance to show off that interest. The actress is clearly hot, kick-ass and likable but she just comes in for fights and uninspired advice for Sheridan’s Ben to take on. David Koechner has a couple of funny moments in his dweeby nature of being the scout master but then keeps coming back for no reason apart from who the actor is and trying to give him more scenes.

I feel this film could have given a whole lot more, not just crazy cats, zombies on trampolines and boobs, but an interesting new spin on a zom-com. It ends up being too teen and annoying. The film doesn’t get close to earning a badge for comedy but it certainly does for immaturity.


Room (2015)


Stunningly both raw yet dreamlike, this drama is astounding and my stand out of 2015. It’s lifted ever further by such fascinating performances, an engaging story of layers and focused beautiful dialogue.

Joy (Brie Larson) has been held captive in ‘room’ for seven years, with her is five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who only knows of this space. Joy is desperate to get out and one day comes up with a way to hopefully and finally escape the room’s confinement.

It feels in some way like a movie of two halves, both brilliant may I point out. The first half resembles a crime thriller mixed with the fantastical way in which Jacob sees his world. Then the second half wonderfully shifts into a heart-wrenching drama of family and trauma. Of course both these feelings drift into each half and bring this film alive. I honestly love this film, it’s an engaging tale of love and tragedy sparked by such a simple yet amazingly created premise.

Lenny Abrahamson directs this almost two hour feature with a graceful touch that really does well in following how little Jack views both ‘room’ and then the outside world. Abrahamson sure demonstrates how he can add tension to the story too, the moments when the captor comes in are dark and as Jack tries to escape, your gut is churning, internally shouting for Jack to succeed. The outside world is shot with realism and less close ups than in the room, as if we’re pulling back to see how everyone else has been affected by Joy’s kidnapping.

Adapted from her own novel, Emma Donoghue writes this movie with an obvious handle on how to develop the pure emotional strings of Joy and Jack. The opening and then continuous voice overs just show us how well Donoghue can write, Jack’s narrative of how he talks about the room and then our world is bliss to listen to, like a magical language almost. I can only say that a couple of moments with the kidnapper are odd in terms of him not being more careful, also I’d have liked to seen more story with the darker elements bleeding into the second half and more of her ordeal. Though on the whole, this is a gritty yet gorgeous idea that sits with both trauma and discovery in great measure.

Stephen Rennicks is the music man and his score is so delicately mastered that it adds fantastic emotional weight to the story being told. The rise in orchestra as they hatch their escape plan is perfect, the swells to pull on our hearts are pitched just right that did its job in making me cry more than throughout this movie. Yes, for a rare time, a non animation got me to shed tears!

It’s just a stunning life-affirming story that needs to be seen, I’d seen the trailer only twice and knew I’d be in for some emotional whirlwind but I wasn’t expecting such a fresh, inspiring and genuine tale. The mother/son relationship is so believable and fraught at times, yet their love is undeniable. There’s laughs scattered at times just to lighten the load and add to the naive nature of Jack’s view on space, heaven and television. Powerful seems like such a weak word to describe this film.

Brie Larson is sublime in this, a stirring pillar of heartfelt emotion, trying to juggle both her and her son’s feelings. I hope to all that’s holy that she’s rewarded with a nom for an Academy award. Jacob Tremblay worried me at first, he spooked me into thinking he’d be grating but he quickly proved what an incredible birth of talent he has. The two of them together is unforgettable and effortless that you get wrapped up without even knowing so.

‘Room’ has such a gripping honesty and ticking sense of tension and drama. It’s shattering subject matter is captivating and from start to end this film is profound and most assuredly one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.