THIS WEEK IN MOVIES…
- The world’s biggest star and a bunch of her lucky, less famous friends run through a demonic version of The Crystal Maze…
And that’s pretty much it – no studio in their right minds was going to put anything substantial against the might of the Hunger Games franchise, which this week concluded a film too late. Due to the sheer bulk and length of Suzanne Collins’ epic conclusion to the original book trilogy, Lionsgate Films felt the need to split the book, which is interestingly only 16 pages longer than the first book in the series was (which only merited one film), into two separate movies.
Now I’ll be honest – ‘I wasn’t a fan of Mockingjay Part 1‘ is the statement I say to soften the emotional blow that strikes a die-hard Hunger Games fan when our opinions clash. Mockingjay Part 1 acts essentially as the best representation of awkward foreplay since the erotic thriller trend of the 1990s, but without having the decency that those films did to at least give you some form of cheap payoff. The film was like a two-hour second act: you know, the part of the film where a bunch of stuff happens, but nothing actually happens – all the dialogue, every single plot device, was an illusion that the narrative was driving forward where nigh on nothing had actually changed in over 2 hours of sitting in a movie theatre in full knowledge that, if this movie had been done as one film – which it should have been – your day and your wallet would be better off.
But, okay, all the build-up is done now I guess. And what the marketing for the final Hunger Games film is promising is all-out war (praise be unto third act payoff)- and, of course, the last chance for audiences to see Katniss Everdeen and company take the fight to their oppressive, well-bearded dictator. And I think I’m going to miss it – certainly, in the realm of YA where it has bred so many blatant imitations and copies (*cough, DIVERGENT, cough*), there is no other series that has handled itself as well or maturely, and its influence over the industry during its run may only be bettered by the dominance of the MCU.
So prepare your bow and arrow and do that three-finger-salute-whistle-thing. The review of Mockingjay Part 2 is coming up, but if Lionsgate’s cash-grabbing made the wait for the franchise’s end extend by an entire YEAR then I reckon we can look some of the news from THIS WEEK IN MOVIES…
- FAST & FURIOUS SPIN-OFFS PLANNED: And from one franchise ending to one franchise that just keeps on getting bigger. In an interview with Variety this week, tank-top wearing, part time alien tree Vin Diesel announced that he and the team working on the Fast & Furious franchise is tentatively planning spin-off movies based on various characters that have popped up over the seven movies that have already been made – because green-lighting F&F8 (for which Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray has been hired), 9 and 10 apparently wasn’t enough for a franchise based on driving cars and looking at arse. Rumours currently suggest a solo movie based around Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the high-ranking security service agent who holds his job despite frequently helping car thieves/bank robbers/Ludacris. With The Rock’s star continuing to shoot higher, that movie seems like a logical beginning (…of my mind turning to dust) for the ‘F&FCU’.
- MCCONAUGHEY TO PLAY ‘DARK TOWER’ HERO…OR VILLAIN: For quite a while now, Sony has been attempting to get an adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower‘ series off the ground, envisioning an absolutely mahoosive franchise for it – and they’re looking to the height of laid back, Texan prestige to give their series some Academy-certified gloss. Matthew McConaughey is linked to play either the hero, gunslinger Roland Deschain, or (depending on where you hear it) villain Walter Padick in the fantasy film, to be released in early 2017. McConaughey, who has been linked with a role in fellow King adaptation The Stand, recently rejected the role of the main antagonist in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, can next be seen leading Civil War drama The Free State of Jones next year, directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games).
- MEMENTO IN LINE FOR REMAKE: No, you didn’t read that wrong. Christopher Nolan’s (and I cannot stress this next word enough) masterpiece Memento, a structurally-innovative and extraordinarily intelligent piece of film-making that launched the 21st Century’s Spielberg into the world could be getting remade. Production start-up AMBI Pictures has acquired the rights to the film and justify their plan as follows: ‘People who’ve seen Memento 10 times still feel they need to see it one more time’. Now, what I think the guys at AMBI have overlooked is that, you know, logical human beings just repeat the film and watch it again, rather than ask for someone to try their hand at butchering it – just ask Gus Van Sant, who attempted to remake Psycho back in 1998 with Vince Vaughn. Getting a feeling of schadenfreude over the prospect of watching it? Let me save you the hassle. It’s shit, but it’s literally like a shit. It just plops in the water, gets flushed out swiftly, and you move on with your day.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 (LIONSGATE)
Dir. Francis Lawrence, Script. Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland
Plot: As the rebellion stands on the brink of taking the Capitol, President Snow (Sutherland) lays one final challenge for Katniss (Lawrence) to conquer.
IT ONLY TOOK about three and a half hours of near-constant build-up, but the conclusion of the Hunger Games series delivers a pay-off that is downright brilliant. It feels like the entire film, the entire series, is perfectly primed towards its conclusion, that hits just the right note between brilliant action, crowd-pleasing thrills, surprisingly effective suspense and an important message.
However, to get to that nirvana of a half-hour you do have to trudge through an inconsistent film that, despite a couple of competent action sequences, is weighed down by the overbearing melodrama that plagued the first part. The film’s foreshadowing hits you like a frying pan, and the dialogue left the word ‘subtlety’ in a parallel universe. Nearly every sentence these characters say is the most obvious interpretation of their inner emotion – Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) says she wants to kill evil tyrant President Snow (Donald Sutherland) more often than she breathes, and psychologically damaged Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)’s every word pleads for his own death, and his every action leads to someone else’s.
One bit of advice: this film is bleak. This film is unrelentingly bleak, and for a four-quadrant, 12A-certificate blockbuster, it’s got the balls to go to some very dark places narrative-wise. Francis Lawrence, now directing the series for the third time, gives the film a frosty, monochrome look that sets the heavy tone from the get-go. However, his action sequences can be hurt by slightly excessive shaky-cam and jumpy editing (on a side note: does every blockbuster have to do this now so that they can say that they’re ‘gritty and realistic’? It just makes your film look unprofessional).
Lawrence’s emphasis on the psychological darkness of the plot means that he often loses sight of characters like Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket (Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks) who provided some light relief from the constant dystopia of Panem in earlier installments. This time however, they’re nowhere to be seen, and this proves detrimental as the film saunters along in its first two acts with sagged shoulders and a contagious frown. Instead we’re left with charisma-vacuum Liam Hemsworth, who has never felt more like a discount Channing Tatum than he does here. It’s fortunate then that Jennifer Lawrence is assured and confident as Katniss once more, and Josh Hutcherson delivers his best performance of the series – he makes Peeta relatable despite his character being the most alien throughout.
But after that average, possibly tedious hour-and-a-half goes by, its conclusion more than makes up for it. The effect of it is heightened by Strong’s script structure, which although overbearing, is well paced and places its emotional beats at the perfect moments. Lawrence chooses his moment to strike with surgical precision, and his method of choice is a jaw-dropping sequence from out of nothing that will truly shock you. I felt compelled to bow to Mockingjay Part 2‘s bravery, its maturity and its superb balance during its conclusion, and although it allows itself to surrender to cliché slightly, you can almost forgive this franchise for having its moment in the sun. After all, its not a franchise that’s often spent its time dealing with the light.
THE BOX OFFICE (13-19 November)
Unsurprisingly, SPECTRE continued to be the main attraction for UK moviegoers last weekend as the 24th installment in the James Bond franchise grossed £7.9m over its third weekend. It was a weekend of yet more records for the Sony blockbuster, becoming the fourth highest grossing movie in UK history (with Titanic soon to be surpassed), and outstripping Avatar to become the highest grossing IMAX release in UK history. Sony films continued to impress further down the chart as The Lady In The Van opened second with a stunning £2.3m, outstripping director Nicholas Hytner’s previous top opener, The History Boys, nearly three times over. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs had a modest opening in UK cinemas with just under £900k – a mirror of its performance in America, where it has also failed to catch fire. Will its lack of box office success hurt its Oscar chances?
Meanwhile, the US had a quiet weekend after the double whammy of SPECTRE and The Peanuts Movie, and with Mockingjay Part 2 fast approaching. The biggest new release was Christmas With The Coopers, opening in the US before its UK opening on 1/12 – it earned $8.3m to place third in the chart behind last weekend’s two major releases. SPECTRE topped for the second week running with $33.6m, a 52% drop from its opening weekend (relatively average for a major blockbuster), while The Peanuts Movie took a strong second with $24m. In the indie scene, Oscar-contender Spotlight impressed as it began its measured expansion into American cinemas, earning $22,191 for every theatre in which it screened, the highest average of the weekend. Spotlight opens on 26/1/16 in the UK.
NEXT WEEK IN MOVIES
If this week respected the divine right of mini-major Lionsgate to give the Hunger Games series its deserved conclusion, the big guns are back next week with a vengeance. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp both go for Oscar recognition in new movies, and that’s before we even mention PIXAR are back in town with The Good Dinosaur. Next week’s TWIM is kind of like an end-of-season finale, with THREE MOVIES (possibly even four if I can find a screening of Cate Blanchett’s latest movie, Carol) reviewed, and they all have huge calling cards – Steven Spielberg directs Bridge of Spies, Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch and others appear in crime epic Black Mass, and as previously mentioned, Pixar release their second original film of the year (for the first time ever) with The Good Dinosaur.
With those tantalising prospects making me salivate just a little bit more than is acceptable for a human being to do, I thank you for reading. While you all have a wonderful week, I’ll be quietly screaming in anticipation for the next one, knowing that if Pixar’s next picture is even half the movie Inside Out was, then I’m going to cry in a kids movie again – goddamn it.