Christoph Waltz to Return as Blofeld in Bond 25

The as-yet-untitled Bond 25 will see a familiar face joining Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, and Naomie Harris. Actor Christopher Waltz, who played the villainous Blofeld in Spectre, will return to play him in the upcoming sequel, according to The Daily Mail.

Blofeld, previously portrayed by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray in the main franchise, is the ultimate baddy of the Bond franchise, having appeared in a large number of installments, pulling the strings in the background of the evil Spectre.

The film is being directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame and will feature many more returning faces, but I was shocked and pleased to learn that Waltz was one of them.

Spectre was not beloved by Bond fans in the same way Casino Royale and Skyfall were. I think the updates made to Blofeld in this new iteration of Bond didn’t really go over well, even though I’ve always found Waltz to be one of the most incredible performers working today, and I rather like his take on the villain. I like the idea of an antithesis to James Bond, and Blofeld is just that. Spectre did a lot of work tying the Daniel Craig saga together, and I think it would be odd to completely ignore it for the final installment of Craig’s run as the spy.

So what do you think? Should they ignore Blofeld or include him in Bond 25? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.

In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.

For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.

Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.

Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.

Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.

More Trouble for Bond 25 as Explosion Damages Set and Injures Crew Member

Bond 25 has been having a hell of a time. Last month, star Daniel Craig had to step away from filming to have surgery on his ankle due to an injury that took place while shooting the film in Jamaica. Production was able to continue without him after some creative reshuffling, but on Tuesday, the official James Bond Twitter account reported a “controlled explosion” on the set that injured a crew member and damaged part of the shooting set. The crew member’s injury was said to be “minor” in nature, but no other injuries were reported.

Bond 25 is still untitled, but will likely be Craig’s final outing as the secret agent, where he will be facing a new villain played by recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek under the direction of True Detective veteran Cary Joji Fukunaga. The upcoming installment will also feature regulars Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, and Jeffrey Wright.

I’m glad to hear there were no serious injuries in filming and hopefully the crew member who was injured has a speedy recovery.

Bond 25 hits theaters April 8, 2020.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon

120 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?

It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.

I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.

In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.

I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.

I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.

Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.

Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.

The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.

I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.

Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

 

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[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Screenplay: Martin McDonagh

115 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

 

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) definitely has a flavor to his work. His is a violent, darkly comedic world, one this writer wouldn’t want to live in. But I’ll definitely watch others live in it.

McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, introduces us to Mildred (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Hail, Caesar!), a grieving mother who decides to question local law enforcement’s handling of her daughter’s murder case when she rents and erects three billboards in a quiet part of town, asking if the cops have done enough in their search for the killer. This brings her to a head with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, Lost in London, TV’s True Detective) and hotheaded officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Poltergeist). As the public takes sides in the matter, arguments and violence ramp up and Mildred and Dixon are forced to confront their anger and their past in order to move forward.

Martin McDonagh is a very accomplished character storyteller. His characters live by the principle that a character doesn’t have to be likable as long as she is interesting. Mildred isn’t very likable. Willoughby isn’t very likable. Dixon definitely isn’t likable. Dammit, though, they are interesting, as are the supporting players, particularly Peter Dinklage (Rememory, TV’s Game of Thrones) as a man who takes a liking to Mildred but can’t quite match her level of motivation.

McDonagh uses his characters and his hyper-violence to tell a deeply personal story, more so than either of his previous features. Mildred has deep personal pain and her motives are admirable, There’s a lot that makes sense in the confines of the story, with the exception of one thing.

If there is an issue with the film, it’s the ending. McDonagh chooses an ambiguous ending to his story, one that leaves character plot threads unresolved. In some cases, this can work, but after spending two hours with these people, the question he is asking is a no-brainer. The film ends with two possible paths, but one path would completely betray the character arc, so it doesn’t make sense to leave it open.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is another fascinating character piece from writer/director Martin MacDonagh. This film should be praised for its performances, particularly McDormand and Rockwell, but it is the brilliantly written screenplay that gives them so much to work with. This is a story for anyone who has ever done something crazy out of grief, and its deeply moving and yet somehow completely unhinged, and I highly recommend it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri? What did you think? What’s your favorite performance from Frances McDormand? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, click here.

 

 

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The ’85 Bears (2016)

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Director: Jason Hehir

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Eric Dickerson, Mike Ditka

101 mins. Not Rated.

 

In The ’85 Bears, the newest documentary from the popular ESPN series 30 for 30, we get a glimpse at one of the best professional football teams in history, and how they rose up from obscurity, as well as their subsequent fall from grace, narrated by Vince Vaughn (TV’s True Detective, The Internship).

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Documentary filmmaker Jason Hehir explores the contributions made by head coach Mike Ditka, the infamous QB Jim McMahon, Walter Peyton, Mike Singletary, Buddy Ryan and The Refrigerator himself, William Perry. He goes into extensive detail on what each player brought to the table, and how their fame, their collective ego, and their successes, ultimately lead to their downfall.

Now, this was all very interesting to me, as I’d not known most of it, but this doc caters to its real fans in the sports community, indulging in information that would likely be of more interest to sports fans. It’s a fine approach, but it does lead to a meandering quality that has large sections easily able to be omitted.

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The ’85 Bears is a doc for Bears fans. It targets its core audience and gives a good show. It has pacing issues and a bit too much focus on topics that don’t carry through the entire film. I enjoyed it mildly, but there were definite issues in the film’s ability to tell a cohesive story.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Interstellar (2014)

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Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

169 mins. Rated PG-13 some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

 

Just give me one more minute so I can calm down, then we can discuss this movie.

Okay. Okay. I think I’m good now.

Interstellar. Wow. A film that needs to be seen once and then most likely again right after. This movie just took my breath away.

The world is dying. The last of the renewable food sources is almost depleted and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, TV’s True Detective, Dallas Buyers Club) is on his way through a black hole with a crew of scientists to find a new planet capable of sustaining human life. I don’t want to give away too much here, because this film requires you to be a participant in it.

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The plot here is one that pulls you in and keeps you there the entirety of the film. The screenplay from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) and his brother Jonathan is just incredible, presenting ideas that are grounded in real science and also contribute to a grander understanding of the universe.

McConaughey’s Cooper is an incredibly faceted character, one that could only be played by the Academy Award winner. He is a man who is forced to make decisions that cause him and his family pain in order to save the human race, and he is not without his pain. It is as though he is constantly suffering from survivor’s guilt in a way similar to Russell Crowe’s performance in 2014’s Noah.

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Rio 2) gives a tormented performance as Brand, a woman who is emotionally just as weak as Cooper but chooses not to see it as a connection between the two. These two are both willing to give up great happiness in the goal of the mission, and they both pay dearly for the sacrifices.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year) and Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, Draft Day) add to the strength of this cast, but the real surprise here is TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rachel Getting Married), an artificial intelligence assisting Cooper and Brand in their mission. TARS is a unique robot reminiscent of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, a lot of this film pays homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece. TARS provides comic relief while being a fascinating creature in this world created by Nolan.

The cinematography is spectacular here, and presents a quiet and lonely universe, one where the only friend you have is the mission. It is a quiet empty space with beautiful visuals that deeply sadden the viewers while maintaining a bit of wonder.

The score is equal parts quiet and enveloping. Completely engrossing and altogether despressing.

Just a note on visual effects. It’s winning the Oscar, just prepare for it.

Interstellar is one of the best films ever made. It is one of the best films out this year and I will be looking for it on the list of Best Picture nominees. Not only does it present a dismal future but also a hopeful future, and it comes down to a beautifully realized and wholly engaging story with incredible performances and some terrific surprise cameos too. Watch this movie.

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Now, I’m off to see it again.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Have you seen Interstellar? What did you think? Did you find a hit through the black hole or a extinction of film? Let me know!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

 

Of all the young adult post-apocalyptic stories currently drowning our theaters, The Hunger Games is definitely at the top of my list. The list is of good quality work, and the list is small. At just over two hours, the newest film in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, takes the series in a new direction while setting up the final climactic piece to this series, but does it work?

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Yes and no.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has escaped from the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games intact, and now she finds herself in the midst of a major rebellion against the Capitol and the insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, Horrible Bosses). Her on-again-off-again real-but-also-kind-of-fake boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, Epic) has been captured and might be dead. She is joined in her quest to take down Snow by friends Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2, Empire State) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, TV’s True Detective, No Country for Old Men) as well as the rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, Magnolia, Non-Stop) and her second-in-command Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, Doubt). Does Katniss have what it takes to be the face of a rebellion, and can she save the ones she loves from the dark and powerful Capitol?

First of all, I must say that I was in agreement about making Mockingjay into two films. Having read the book, I found that there was a lot of material to be mined from it and I couldn’t see a logical place to cut it without it feeling rushed. That being said, I felt that the area they could’ve beefed up and gone into more were not. We are thrown into the film without have a few minutes to start connecting the dots. I spoke to some views who hadn’t read the books to question their thoughts and they felt as though a little more prologue or something to bring the story into its frame of reference would’ve been appreciated. We also could have spent more time with some of our new characters and there are a lot of them, virtually all of them in this film. We could’ve developed Liam Hemsworth’s Gale as more than just a good-looking fella. There is some action for Hemsworth in this picture but it doesn’t feel as exciting because frankly we don’t know his character like we should.

Now, this movie isn’t bad, don’t think that’s where I’m going with this, but it could’ve had better pacing and more to it. We get some great work from J-Law here as Katniss, and some awesome work our second tier players Moore, Hoffman (in the last performance before he was taken from us), and Harrelson.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) handles the material well, but I don’t think he added as much from a stylistic perspective as he could have. Think about the latter Harry Potter films, the ones directed by David Yates. Each Yates film in the series, although directed by the same man, has a different feeling and a wholly unique style. I could see a moment from Yates’ film and know which film it is. I don’t feel like F-Law has learned anything from last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which he should have. Again, not really a flaw, just a notice.

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The problem with most of these films is that they are intended to be viewed as a whole, so when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is released next year, I will take a look back at this first installment (or third, technically) and see how it holds up as a complete saga. Mockingjay – Part 1 is a strong and powerful entry in The Hunger Games saga. There are some truly great moments in this film, and we get a wide array of awesome performances and a lot of tension building for next year’s finale. It is, however, a step down from Catching Fire.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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