Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse

“From the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one.”

It’s been sixteen years since Bryan Singer brought the world the X-Men. It was a silly bit of fun that was pretty enjoyable. It gave us a perfect personification of fan favourite Wolverine and introduced a generation to the awesome abilities of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (if you were two years old when it came out, you’re old enough now to go watch Green Room – get to it).

Somehow, miraculously, even after a bloody awful second sequel, this franchise is the only one left from the super-cheesy noughties comic book films that plagued filmgoers for years. Now we find ourselves, if you count the Wolverine solo outings, with the ninth film in the series and some of us wondering what they can possibly do next.

Buried underneath the ruins of a destroyed pyramid, En Sabar Nuh – the world’s first mutant – has been imprisoned under the ancient rubble for thousands of years. Resurrected by a cult believing him to be an all-powerful God, the man we will come to know as Apocalypse (played by the suddenly everywhere Oscar Isaac) sets about recruiting his own personal Four Horsemen and putting plans in place to kick-start the end of the world.

Sinking his teeth into the strongest, most disillusioned mutants he can find, Apocalypse soon has an entourage that includes a young, impressionable Storm (Straight Outta Compton‘s Alexandra Shipp) ; the beaten down Angel (former Eastenders regular Ben Hardy); the power hungry, vicious Psylocke (Olivia Munn); and the world-weary, disenchanted Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Tapping into the anger and negativity in their lives, convincing these powerful mutants to work for him makes the wannabe-god a force to be reckoned with and together they waste no time in bringing about, well, the apocalypse.

Meanwhile, James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier is dealing with his own band of misfits in his now world famous school. But, when Apocalypse kidnaps the X-Men’s leader for his own ends, it’s down to Mystique (the returning Jennifer Lawrence) to rally the troops and fight the impending doom. Returning good guys Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Holt), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Alex “Havok” Summers are joined by a cavalcade of newcomers. Fresh to the First Class arc, if not necessary the franchise, the younger incarnations of Scott Summers, Nightcrawler and Jean Grey all join the fray and team up to take on the biggest, most powerful mutant that the world has ever seen.

Director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have returned to the X-Men franchise to round off this particular story arc and, believe it or not, they’ve done an okay job of it. Now, I know this is going against the grain a little for this film, so maybe I should clarify that a little.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of First Class or Days of Future Past. I don’t think they’re bad films, not at all, but I honestly believe that X-Men, as a franchise, has been treading water since the year 2000. Singer and 20th Century Fox found a winning formula when the first film was a hit all those years ago and as Fox have tried and failed over and over again to bring a decent comic book film to profit, they have refused to take any risks and change up the recipe with these films.

The biggest issue there is that when you’re averaging a film every two years and you’re not changing things up, the audience, no matter how die hard they are, will eventually stop going to see your films as a way to tell you that they’ve had enough of your shit. What made this trilogy – yes, I’m calling it a trilogy – worth a second look was the genius casting of Michael Fassbender in the recently vacated Ian McKellan role of Magneto. I’m still convinced that First Class is actually the quietly disappeared Origins: Magneto movie we were supposed to get; and as such, the story of Erik Lehnsherr and his change to the maniacal Magneto across the first two films is nothing short of riveting.

But after the reboot/timeline shift/whatever you want to call it, I was ready to write this film off as the worn out end of another trilogy, soon for the glue factory. But once again, while Apocalypse may not be the best film you watch this year, and it’s got some pretty glaring problems, but it’s a film I wouldn’t tell you to avoid. It’s almost worth the *phew* two and a half hours you’ll spend watching it.

As far as flaws, I’ve got to start with the most obvious one. Apocalypse himself. For what is supposed to be a terrifying, world ending bad guy, I genuinely couldn’t care less about him or his motives. The problem with these super-strong bad guys, the ones that are supposed to be unbeatable, is that by the time you get to the end of the movie you know full well that he’s gonna get his arse handed to him. Usually through the power of teamwork, or love, or a mutual fondness for hardcore pornography, or something. Either way, and this is another problem with this refusal to change the formula, you know you’re in for a happy ending when the forces of good triumph! And to be honest, Apocalypse is just a bit crap.

And man, this film is so very long. I mean it’s nearly two and a half hours. It’s an X-Men movie for shit’s sake, there’s just no need for it. So much is put on that screen with so little actually happening that I really, truly wondered on more than one occasion if I’d missed something, a plot point or bit of story somewhere. I wondered if maybe I’d slipped into a mini coma at one point and missed a chunk of exposition at around the half way mark. And if someone could explain Olivia Munn’s terrible, terrible costume, I’d really appreciate it. She looks awesome and bad ass when you first meet her, and she transforms into some weird vinyl clad monstrosity that isn’t half as titillating as the 12 year old boys in the costume department thinks it is.

But things aren’t all bad. In fact, the film has a few positives that elevate its standings quite a bit for me. Newcomer to the series and Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner has a decent turn as the young Jean Grey. Much like Jennifer Lawrence before her, I was a fan of the actress originally in the role and Turner has managed to convince me that, yet again, I was wrong to doubt the younger replacement. Although, she has taken on the annoying trait McAvoy had in previous films of touching her face to indicate she’s doing a psychic thing; but it doesn’t detract from her performance and she’s rather good. It’s always good to see homegrown talent on the big screen, especially when she’s from your surrogate home of Northampton.  Quicksilver’s return isn’t half bad either; he’s not overplayed and his super-speed shtick isn’t overused, but when it is used, it’s a wonderful, fun little bit of film.

As with the previous films though, the big hitter here is Michael Fassbender. I’ve really enjoyed watching Eric’s gradual change to Magneto over the years. Fassbender has always been convincing as the guy who’s trying, sincerely, to do good and is screwed with at every turn. Back at the turn of the century, McKellan’s role as the already jaded and evil Magneto was stupendous, but Fassbender makes you genuinely feel some sympathy for the mutant who is proven to over and over again that he won’t be accepted, even when he’s being the good guy. Long after these films are gone, the German-Irish actor’s role in them will be remembered as the defining part of this trilogy.

I went in to X-Men: Apocalypse with pretty low – okay, very low – expectations; but overall, I have to admit that it wasn’t as rubbish as I anticipated it to be. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t quite hit the awful levels of X-Men: The Last Stand where it throws all the shit at the wall hoping something will stick. A rubbish bad guy and a severely bloated run time hinder a film that was actually pretty enjoyable. If I had to score it, I’d give it a solid 6/10.

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Joy

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“The only thing that you’re ever gonna have is what you make.”

Another year, another collection of films chasing statues that they quite possibly don’t deserve. Another day, another film inspired by a true story. Another David O. Russell film, another wasted Jennifer Lawrence performance. Ladies and gentlemen, Joy.

Joy is the “true story” of Joy Mangano, the struggling mother-of-two who invented the Miracle Mop and is the latest film from David O. Russell; director of the excellent Three Kings and The Fighter but doesn’t seem to have produced much of note since. His third film in a row to star Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper seems to be following quite a steep downward trajectory in terms of writing, direction and just generally having the ability to be interesting in almost any way.

Jennifer Lawrence is the titular Joy, a young woman with aspirations to be an inventor but is stuck. She’s stuck in a dead end job; stuck living in a house with her ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) living in the basement; stuck with her mother (Virginia Madsen) who lives and dies by the soap operas she has developed an unhealthy addiction to and now, stuck with her father (Robert De Niro) who has been dumped on her doorstep by the latest woman in his life. Working herself silly trying to make ends meet, Joy has become a dab hand at almost everything and can do a bit of anything; from your standard household chores to a quick repair of the house plumbing.

After cutting her hand cleaning up a broken glass on the boat of Trudy (Isabella Rossilini), her father’s latest squeeze, Joy goes home with an idea for a new type of mop, one that wrings itself to prevent accidents like the one she suffered on that day. As the ideas keep coming, Joy convinces Trudy to invest in her and her product. Struggling at first to get her idea off the ground, between shady companies she’s forced to work with for manufacturing and interference of almost every member of her family; Joy gets a break when she’s introduced to Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), an expert salesmen who is a fundamental part of the newly formed QVC shopping channel and Joy seems destined to make her fortune.

Bad business and worse advice means that life isn’t all plain sailing for Joy, but we get to see this young woman’s resolve as she refuses to give up on her family, her invention or her dreams.

Joy clocks in at two hours and change. And in that two hours, the only thing that David O. Russell manages to convince me of is that maybe he needs to rethink his strategy when he’s writing and directing movies. I mean, I’ve seen films that on paper should be boring but are in fact, excellent – I’m looking at you, Whiplash – but this is a mess of a film that would be simply bad if it wasn’t trying so hard to put me to sleep. I’m assuming that the point of Joy’s family was to make me so angry that I considered getting up and walking out of the cinema uttering coarse abuse at the douche canoe of imbeciles on the screen. Between De Niro’s skulking, manipulating dad; Madsen’s moronic mum and her attention seeking arsehole of a sister (Elisabeth Röhm), Joy is surrounded with idiots that do nothing but hold her back.

But that was pretty much my only strong reaction that I think was intended by the guys behind the camera. All my others circled somewhere between boredom and annoyance at almost all times. I’m sorry, but you can’t take the story of the woman who invented the Wonder Mop and make her story one anybody wants to see. I need a reason to care about the people on screen and whether or not someone can get their product into the Betterware catalogue just ain’t going to do it. The cast try their hardest, but there’s nothing there for them to get me invested. De Niro is doing his best to prove that he’s going senile in his old age and has forgotten how to pick a great role (see the incoming Dirty Grandpa) while Madsen just seems desperate to be on the big screen and willing to do anything; including play a soap addicted imbecile who’s behaviour is borderline retarded the whole way through.

My love of Jennifer Lawrence in roles that aren’t The Hunger Games took a severe knock here too. I don’t hate her, I just don’t think she’s right for the part. We all know she can carry a big film – and even a big franchise – but that doesn’t mean she should be doing everything that comes across her desk. One of my favourite young actresses is wasted here, looking far too young to be playing the part and given a par-boiled script that fell flat the entire time. I’ll admit to enjoying Cooper’s part. The super smart sales guy role suits him and he played it very well. If the acting jobs ever dry up, he’ll make a great addition to your local Ford dealership.

One last thing, I don’t think I can mention this enough. This is the film about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop! I mean, how much scraping of the true story barrel has been done to mean that we’re left with this? I really think there must be something better around that’s worth looking at first. The coffee mug with a biscuit holder? The Wonderbra? The stink bomb? Anything! No, ladies and gentlemen, we get the self squeezing mop. And don’t let that trailer fool you. You know the one I mean don’t you? It’s nothing like what’s advertised. Don’t waste your energy, fall asleep in your living room chair in front of a good film instead.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two

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“I’ve been watching you, you’ve been watching me. And I’m afraid we’ve both been played for fools.”

Teen fiction trilogies; final films split into two parts; a star’s wasted talent; The Hunger Games ticks so many of my pet hate boxes that even if I was its target audience I would have absolutely no business sitting for 137 minutes to see the fourth part of this dystopian trilogy for kids. But there I was, having only recently watched Mockingjay Part One, surrounded by far too many people that are my age, all of us various degrees of curious as to how Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen was going to end her story.

Fresh off of an attempt on her life by fellow Games survivor Peeta, Everdeen’s love interest who’s been brainwashed by The Capitol and the people that rule the country from there, Katniss is still the poster girl for the country’s rebellion and has become the most important of commodities in the fight against corrupt President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Having cleared the way for an assault late in the last film, rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore), guided in part by former games maker Plutarch (the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman), has put in motion a plan to take the Capitol and the ruling presidency and bring a new time of peace to the country of Panem. Standing in her army’s way, however, is a city filled with lethal boobytraps and sadistic games that Snow has put in place to thin the ranks of the rebellion before they reach him.

Essentially on propaganda duty, Katniss is left at the back of the assault to be filmed across the battlegrounds in which the rebels are victorious, with her job being to inspire hope and a want to fight in the citizens of Panem while simultaneously instilling fear and doubt in their enemy through a steady stream of courageous looking vignettes to go with the wander through the maze of a city. Deciding to take it upon herself to be the tool of Snow’s destruction, Katniss fights through every inch of the ruling city to claim her target and finish the Hunger Games for good.

Including part one, Mockingjay is more than four hours long and for the most part, it is very well paced and almost perfectly formed. Part Two starts out relatively quickly after the slow-ish burn of Part One, not much time is wasted in getting to the action. As quickly as Katniss’ old squad leader Boggs is assigned as her lead guy again, her and her band of merry men are in the war ravaged city heading to Snow’s hideout and jumping into the maze of traps that await them. Each scene is filled with tension and shot in such a way as you feel you are in that ruined world with them; every moment you spend with Katniss has you wanting to take the next steps with her and push her to her goal. You are definitely rooting for this girl to get her job done and get back home.

But it feels too long. At two and a quarter hours, Mockingjay Part Two feels like a bit of a slog at times. It could have easily been shortened by half an hour and it falls victim to that most common of problems with films trying to do and say too much, it ends several times before it actually ends. Everything is tied up with a nice neat ribbon, but it could have been completely pulled from the film and it would have been much better. That’s my only real gripe though. The film, and the series, turned out to be pretty decent, not totally unwatchable fluff that, maybe, will pave the way for the teens it’s aimed at to look into other dystopian films and perhaps trip across greats like Battle Royale. That isn’t to say I’m going to run out and sit through the mountains of teen fiction guff that has been turned into into films for the undeveloped fools to digest, but I won’t run screaming from them just yet either.

Like Kristen Stewart before her, I still much prefer Jennifer Lawrence outside of the franchise that made her a household name, but i can’t fault her performance across the entire Hunger Games series and to see her develop from the girl who volunteered for the Games to the woman that spearheaded revolution is a pretty impressive thing to watch. But she’s only as good as the cast surrounding her and it’s a more than impressive roll call on that count. The previously mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland are joined by the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, a pair that kept me interested through the first instalment and are still excellent in the fourth with a few extras in the form of Daredevil’s Elden Henson and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer to name just a couple that all make stand out performances.

Bottom line, I’m not the audience that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two is chasing after, but it doesn’t stop the film from being just a little enjoyable. It’s a fitting conclusion to a series that has been consistently improving but at the same time, somehow, consistently average. Slightly overlong and a little predictable, but overall, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go so far to say as I walked out of the theatre mildly impressed with what I’d just seen and happy I’d stuck with the series to its final, cliched shot.

Failed Critics Podcast: Hunger Games Special

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May the odds be ever in your favour as Steve Norman, Owen Hughes, Callum Petch and Chris Haigh volunteer themselves as tributes for this Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 themed episode of the Failed Critics Podcast.

We’ve got a young-adult adaptation inspired quiz to kick things off before covering news on: the latest sci-fi fantasy remake to get its own Hunger Games style franchise; Wonder Woman finally having an announced cast; and ask if it’s right that cinema chains should ban the showing of an advert created by the Church of England.

All of this, plus a review of the final movie in the Hunger Games series and a special triple bill, where the Failed Critics are assigned an individual actor from the movies and each pick their three favourite movies of that particular actor.

Join us again next week as Steve, Owen and Callum return for reviews of Bridge of Spies, The Good Dinosaur and Black Mass.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 has only one major flaw, and it’s right there in the title.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mocking jay 3Do you think that The Wachowskis and Quentin Tarantino ever regret splitting up The Matrix 2 and Kill Bill respectively?  I mean, considering what it hath wrought on today’s blockbuster landscape where nothing ends anymore and everything is always building towards a thing that’s being held off until the next film.  Were their various artistic decisions, driven by their split films being stylistically and distinctly different from one another – Kill Bill Vol. 1 being an action packed Asian-influenced martial arts flick and Vol. 2 being a slow-moving character-driven Spaghetti Western, whilst The Matrix Reloaded was the openly philosophical and purposefully cock-teasing one and The Matrix Revolutions was the sh*t one – now solely reduced to green money-shaped lights in hungry movie executives’ eyes?

In this recent wave of films that abuse an audience’s patience in order to swindle them out of more of their hard-earned cash, only Harry Potter has truly gotten it right.  The Deathly Hallows films, overlong as they may be (which is a criticism you can apply to pretty much any Harry Potter film really), had two distinct parts.  Part 1 was the slow-moving character piece, where the growing distance between the core trio was finally addressed head-on and done in such a way that it essentially completed the majority of their character arcs in time for the final film; ending on a solemn, downbeat note that re-enforces stakes and provides a vital character beat to send viewers home with.  Part 2 is the glorious, excessive blow-out party celebrating the franchise’s existence that, quite honestly, it deserved and would have felt weird if it went out any other way.  There’s a clear distinction.

Most films nowadays that do The Split, however, don’t craft two distinct parts.  They don’t use this creative opportunity to tell a story that was simply too in-depth for a standard 2 hour 30 minute runtime, or to create two parts that stylistically and creatively do different things from one another.  They just occur to make some cold hard cash, and the films suffer majorly from the bloat and lack of any real satisfying closure at the end of Part 1.  Twilight did it.  The Hobbit did it.  Divergent is doing it – which amazes me as there was barely enough material in the first frickin’ film.  The Maze Runner is going to do it and you are deluding yourself if you believe otherwise.  And, now, The Hunger Games has done it.

Quite honestly, the Part 1 segment of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 title is the best and worst thing about the film.  See, I have been of the opinion that prior Hunger Games movies are always two-thirds of an outstanding movie, and one-third of a really good but relatively uninteresting movie.  That one-third, surprisingly, has always been the Games part.  They’re not bad, they’re just incredibly perfunctory and uninteresting compared to the non-Games stuff: the propaganda, the class warfare, the media satirising, the emotional state of Katniss who is one of the most dynamic and interesting lead characters I have seen in a franchise in a long while, oppressive governments… all that stuff, and The Games just got in the way of that.

Mockingjay, Part 1 dispenses with them entirely.  Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) breaking of the 75th Hunger Games ended up being the spark that lit the powder-keg and now a full-on revolution has broken out in Panem.  The despotic head of The Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), has razed her home, District 12, to the ground, its streets lined with the rotting skeletons of those caught in its bomb blasts, whilst Katniss herself has been “rescued” by District 13, long thought to have disappeared.  Its leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore) with the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), wants to mould Katniss into a symbol of hope for the revelation, to rally all of the Districts around for a full-scale invasion of The Capital, but Katniss wants absolutely nothing to do with it – only wishing to be reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been captured by The Capital to act as the figurehead for their side of the war.

And that is pretty much Mockingjay, Part 1; two hours of moving characters into place for Part 2 where everything will likely pay off with lots of explosions.  That sounds bad on paper, but in actuality this breathing room allows the film to really dig deep into the stuff I mentioned that I loved earlier.  The main thrust of the film comes from Katniss slowly but surely, and even a tinge regretfully, coming into and accepting the role of the symbol of the revolution, but it’s not something she immediately hops on board with – she spends a good stretch of the film just begging to be let out and for them to rescue Peeta so that she and him can just sequester themselves away from the mess she inadvertently caused.

It’s a completely understandable viewpoint, too.  Katniss is basically broken by this point – having been thrown into the Games twice, shoved into the public spotlight and being constantly reminded of the horrors she has unwittingly caused at every turn.  It makes sense that she latches onto Peeta and a desire to run away and just be happy; the poor girl deserves it.  But she can’t, she could never, and the film goes to great lengths to show that her eventual embracing of her position is just as much, if not more so, down to her strength of character when the chips are down as it is the propaganda folk carefully manoeuvring her into position behind-the-scenes.  This means that she flip-flops constantly, but it comes across in a believable way instead of mere padding.

Credit can go to Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s screenplay for this, but the plaudits should mostly be thrown the way of Jennifer Lawrence.  The series is pretty much The Jennifer Lawrence Show anyway, due to the narrative’s hyper-specific focus on Katniss, but such an observation is more of a compliment when you consider just how good she is.  Much of Katniss’ PTSD and completely frazzled emotional state is left as subtext – or possibly been cut for time, I haven’t read the books so I don’t know – but Lawrence hones in on it and just runs with it.  She keeps finding new spins on Katniss’ icy demeanour, her emotional distress, the heartbreak that Katniss suffers whenever The Capital drags up Peeta to, essentially, taunt her that the film never feels like it’s going round in circles.  And when she gets big showy material – like a rousing speech for District 8 that reads as utterly ridiculous on paper – she knocks it out of the park and elevates it significantly.

Mind you, the film is almost stolen out from under her by, who else, Philip Seymour Hoffman who essentially gets to defiantly answer those of us who went “Well, why would you cast the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman in a role that looks that minor and inconsequential?” in Catching Fire with a firm and defiant “THAT’S why!”  As is the usual case for a lot of his best roles, Hoffman plays Heavensbee very understatedly, as the guy who prefers to blend into the background and say the right things at the right time, rather than openly standing forward and controlling the scene – which is what ends up happening to Hoffman, too.  He commands one’s attention purely by saying the right things at the right time and knowing when to cede the spotlight back to everyone else.  As final performances go, it’s obviously not up there with his turn in A Most Wanted Man from earlier this year – because it’s not trying to be – but it’s the kind of performance that reminds me of just how much talent this guy had and how much of a shame it is that we lost him so soon.

It probably also helps that the propaganda stuff that Plutarch is helping mastermind is the best part of the film by a good country mile.  Action is minimised significantly in Mockingjay, Part 1 which ends up emphasising how important aesthetics and propaganda are to a successful military effort, and the battle of the propaganda between District 13 and The Capital, each represented by one half of the series’ end-game couple for extra dramatic weight, ends up as the thematic thrust of the film.  The scenes of Haymitch, Effie, Plutarch, and Coin brainstorming ways in which to present Katniss as a fitting hero for the revolution – noting her hard-to-like uncut self as deadly in the game of propaganda – carries a lot of parallels towards the modern celebrity PR machine that are especially fitting considering the actress playing Katniss.  Whilst Peeta’s scenes at The Capital, primarily being interviewed in a very leading fashion by Caesar Flickerman, recall similar style interviews on talk shows and such.

It’s that depth – seriously, the film really goes hard for this concept, I’m not doing it justice – thematically that has always made The Hunger Games stand out from the pack and a full film based on that really is as good as it sounds.  Yes, I wish that I got to see more of the actual revolution ongoing in order to better contextualise District 13’s struggle, but that only reinforces how little the actual fighting matters in the game of war and would also take away from Katniss’ story.  Yes, I wish that characters like Effie got a more expanded screen-time to better integrate themselves into the story, but that’s the sort of thing that Part 2 could pay off.  I even found the film to be incredibly well-paced, the two hours just breezing by!

Then, at two hours, Mockingjay, Part 1 stops.mocking jay 5

It just stops.  It smash cuts to credits, shouts “Right, that’s your lot!  Get out!” and then forcibly removes you from the theatre.  There is a cliffhanger, but it’s not a great one.  To put it another way: Catching Fire’s cliffhanger felt like an exclamation point.  The adventures of Katniss Everdeen clearly weren’t done, but the story there clearly was – coming to a halt by following through on President Snow’s promise to destroy her life if she continued to rebel.  It makes sense as a stopping point.  Mockingjay, Part 1’s cliffhanger is like if the author telling you the story had been shot halfway through and you had to wait a year for them to come out of their coma.  Oh, and you need to pay another £10 for the privilege of hearing them finish the story because they conveniently forgot that you already paid them once before.

There’s no closure, no sense that this is where we get off, no satisfaction.  Just blue balls and a whole lot of withholding.  I don’t feel like I’ve seen a full movie, I feel like I’ve seen two-thirds of a movie and somebody’s misplaced the final reel.  It’s especially troubling and irritating because the film that Part 1 is setting Part 2 up to be – a big action blow-out where stuff goes bang – is not the film that I want to see.  It’s the film that I could not be less interested in seeing.  This, quite simply, should have been one three-hour movie.  Cut a few scenes from Part 1, scale down what would be Part 2 into that third hour, and you would have a film that more than likely would have been excellent and a fantastic send-off for the franchise.

Instead, Lionsgate have near-fatally kneecapped The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 to be able to double their goes at the money pump.  I love the film that I have – I really, really do; I think it’s outstanding – but I haven’t got a full film.  I’ve gotten two-thirds of a full film, and that fact is why my dissatisfaction and personal lack of closure is only festering and growing with time.  If Mockingjay, Part 2 does, in fact, have so much quality material and stuff to fill both of the hours that it is going to take up, and pays off everything in this film spectacularly and moves me to tears, then I will take back all of these negative thoughts and worship at the series’ altar.  However, I have the feeling that even a transcendental Part 2 will not make up for a film that’s not finished and a conclusion that

Callum Petch is not in the swing of things yet.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

US Box Office Report: 21/11/14 – 23/11/14

Mockingjay fails to catch Fire – a headline that literally every other writer has already used in a week where literally nothing else happened, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Well…  Er…  Hi.  … … …how are you all doing?  I am tired, I will tell you that much.  I’m currently running on less than six hours sleep, and that is currently the lowest reason on my list as to why I could faceplant this keyboard at any second today.  My life has just been non-stop these past few weeks, just one thing after another like “boom, boom, boom” without stopping.  So many commitments, films to see, articles to write, essays to prep and pen, lectures to attend, radio stuff to thing-that-you-do-to-stuff… is this what being a responsible adult is like?  I both hate and love it, I’ll tell you that much.  Anyways, I still have a written review to crank out and a radio show to do before I can collapse onto my bed, so let’s just get this blasted article done and over with, eh?

The good news for my slowly vacating sanity, and my long vacated energy, is that there was literally only one release this past weekend.  Seriously; just the one.  No other saturation releases, no wide, no limited, nothing.  Everything else vacated November the 21st of 2014 in order to avoid The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1.  For comparison’s sake, there will be two big saturation releases going up against The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies this December.  That should demonstrate just how commanding an amount of power that The Hunger Games currently has, as every other release possible went “f*ck that noise!” and upped sticks.  Mockingjay, Part 1, then, would prove just how much those fears were worth by underwhelming majorly opening weekend.

Now, of course, I need to specify that a $123 million opening weekend – the biggest that we have seen, and will see, all year – is not in itself underwhelming.  I mean, $123 million is a lot to the likes of you and I.  Unfortunately, though, we have to look at that opening through Hollywood Accounting in order to understand why people aren’t exactly rushing to break out the party poppers.  For one, there’s the fact that many people had predicted Mockingjay, Part 1 to open in the $150 million range, so seeing it come up short, and so thoroughly at that, is gonna sting.  For two, the previous Hunger Games both opened in the $150 mil range, and third instalments in popular franchises are supposed to not retreat so much opening weekend.  For three, it didn’t magically cure Hollywood’s haemorrhaging money problem that’s been plaguing it all year, so f*ck the film.

So, yes, unfortunately The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is a major financial failure.  That $123 million domestic and $152 million overseas – which combine to already make both this and Part 2 break even financially – means absolutely nothing.  Jennifer Lawrence’s box office clout has been majorly hit, Lionsgate stock is plummeting to an all-time low, Elizabeth Banks will never be involved in another movie ever again because this is all her fault somehow, and it seems that the search for the next true successor to the box office invincibility that Harry Potter held for a full decade goes on!

I mean, that’s what I’m supposed to write, yeah?  Because we can’t just congratulate the thing and realise that this dip only exists because it’s “Part 1 of 2”, can we?  We have to get out the Doom Parade and have a whinge and a moan, don’t we?  I mean, Christ, lighten up, would ya?  Sure, it’s been a bad year at the box office.  Let’s maybe temper the gloom with some positivity about the few films that are actually making money, eh?  Instead of crying about successful movies that make executives rich arseholes not being mega-successful movies that make executives even richer arseholes.


mocking jay 1

This Full List is locking up everyone that ever laid a finger on it.

Box Office Results: Friday 21st November 2014 – Sunday 23rd November 2014

1] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

$123,000,000 / NEW

Saw this Thursday, review will be up tomorrow at some point.  Short version: loved what I got, but its one flaw is major, near-fatal, and right there in the title.

2] Big Hero 6

$20,086,000 / $135,708,000

If you live in America and have seen this, know that I hate you.  Nothing personal, and I love the fact that you’re making Disney films mega-smashes again, but I am stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic being punished for something severe that I must’ve done in a past life, and so can’t see this until January as I will keep complaining about until somebody at Disney FIXES THE GODDAMN ISSUE!!

Also, turns out that The Wild, which wasn’t even made by them, is in the Disney Animated Classics canon in the UK.  I’ll have to tell you about that sometime.

3] Interstellar

$15,100,000 / $120,692,000

I wrote a piece last Thursday where I lamented the lack of notable scores from 2014, and somebody wrote back listing a good 4 more than the ones I put in my article.  Whilst I appreciate his disagreement and concede that none of the scores he listed jumped out at me during the viewing of those films in question, I think he may have missed the point.  It’s not that 2014 hasn’t had any good scores, it’s that the majority of cinema for a good while now hasn’t bothered to try to create scores with any distinct personality.  There are exceptions to the rule, but that’s what they are: exceptions, and I want those exceptions to become more frequent than they currently are.

That, or my article was terribly written and I was talking out of my arse.  …  …it’s probably the second one.

4] Dumb And Dumber To

$13,820,000 / $57,473,000

Mega-steep 62% drop between weekends signalling that everybody has wizened up to the fact that The Farrelly Brothers have been incapable of creating anything good for, ooh, 13 or 14 years now.  You know, in case the fact that Peter Farrelly was the diabolical monster responsible for helping Movie 43 come together hadn’t already given that away.

5] Gone Girl

$2,185,000 / $156,823,000

You know what’s amazing?  This is Gone Girl’s eighth straight week in the Top Five.  You know what’s pretty much unbelievable?  I think I’ve found a film from this year that I love more than it.  Stay tuned to the site this week, you’ll know when the relevant review goes up.

6] Beyond The Lights

$2,630,000 / $10,124,000

I got nuthin’.  Moving on…

7] St. Vincent

$2,354,000 / $36,613,000

I have no idea how this has managed to hang around in the Top 10 for so long.  I really, really don’t.  Hey!  Maybe it’ll stick around for another two weeks, when it actually comes out in the UK and I can therefore actually talk about it, instead of just spouting nonsense!  Wouldn’t that be something?

8] Fury

$1,900,000 / $79,150,000

In the most tenuous link possible – Fury, The Furious Five – allow me to use this space to ask you to check out this week’s entry into the DreamWorks Animation Retrospective, Kung Fu Panda!  In fact, if you have a spare afternoon or, more accurately, a spare day, why not get caught up on the series so far?  Seriously, I put a hell of a lot of effort into those and am really proud of how most of them have turned out – and I am never proud of anything I ever do, so this means a lot – so if you could take time out to give them a read and fling feedback or insults my way, it would be highly appreciated!

9] Birdman

$1,855,000 / $14,407,000

So, I guess this isn’t going to break out of the art scene, after all.  Figured as much.  More pertinent question, is Birdman in any way related to Dayman?  These are the questions that need answering, folks!

10] The Theory Of Everything

$1,500,000 / $2,796,000

This film is sh*t until it can prove itself otherwise.  Unfortunately for it, the UK release date is New Year’s Day, so I have plenty more time to rag on just how absolutely putrid this film looks until then!

Dropped Out: Nightcrawler, Ouija

Callum Petch is just a child whenever you show up.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: X-Critics: Hours of Future Mutterings

XMenDOFPWelcome to this week’s bumper Failed Critics Podcast, ans the usual suspects and special guest Carole Petts get in touch with their younger selves and combine their efforts in attempt to stop catastrophe: Steve winning the quiz and picking a film worse than Cutthroat Island…

They also find time to review new releases X-Men: Days of Future Past and Maleficent, as well as a clutch of teen-focused dramas in What We’ve Been Watching, including Short Term 12, The Selfish Giant, and The Kids Are Alright. Not only that, but we even find time to discuss the departure of Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, and the recruitment of Gareth Edwards for a Star Wars spin-off.

Join us next week for reviews of Edge of Tomorrow and A Million Ways to Die in the West.

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Around the World in 80 Films: The journey begins

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in streetAnother year, another set of good intentions. It’s the same every January, as well as my vague declarations to “start jogging again” and “cut out crap food”, I always head into movie awards season with a new set of film resolutions. Even the creation of this website was the result of a festive spirit fuelled desire to better myself through the education of film.

Although I mentioned on the Failed Critic Podcast Review of 2013 that my resolution was to watch more silent films (and that is something I need to do), it was while browsing my Letterboxd review of the year I realised how  little ‘world cinema’ I had seen in those 12 months. Although two of my top five of the year were foreign language films (including my film of the year The Act of Killing), only 30 out of the 231 films I watched weren’t in English.

So this year’s challenge is to emulate my great childhood hero Willy Fog (I’ve seen the cartoon series, but never read Jules Verne’s novel) and travel around the world in eighty films. My only rule is that I can’t include films I’ve already seen, and although the first twenty or so look easy enough, I’m definitely going to need some help and recommendations from people reading the site and listening to the podcast.

So starting as I hope to go on, here’s a double bill.

No.1 American Hustle (USA)

I know this looks like I’m cheating, but the United States of America is a country after all, and I’m not inclined to make things more difficult than they already are. Plus, how could I not start this challenge with a film that perfectly encapsulates its country of origin; it even says the name in the title!

American Hustle is a film based on the true story of an FBI investigation into corruption that snared some senior US politicians at the tail end of the 1970s. What makes the story worthy of cinematic adaptation is that the FBI recruited a small-time couple of con artists to orchestrate the deceit. It’s a film about the American Dream, post-Nixon politics, and the glitz and glamour of a decade that has been dusted off and put on a pedestal by a number of film-makers recently, most notably Ben Affleck’s Argo, and Ron Howard’s Rush.

The talent on show is the current cream of the American acting community, including Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., and a small cameo from Robert De Niro. Token Brit Christian Bale might as well be American by now, having portrayed one of America’s most popular cultural icons (Batman) and one of its most iconoclastic literary creations (American Psycho). In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I heard him with a British accent.

Director David O. Russell is one of the most feted of recent US directors, and with good reason. His latest film features his trademark focus on characters over plot, and he is obviously someone who gets the best out of his performers. What’s different from previous films is that he is wearing his influences on his sleeve, specifically Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas.

While some have complained that the story is slightly too long, or predictable, I have now seen this film twice and can’t agree with either criticism. For a film that was improvised at some key points, the main narrative holds together pretty well under close scrutiny. What makes this a great film for me is the performances, especially in the funnier scenes featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While it may not be quite the timeless classic that it is pilfering from, it is still one of the best films I’m likely to see in 2014.

No.2 Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Finland)

The second film in my odyssey has been sat on my shelf as part of a box set for over two years. One of the earlier films from Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki, it tells the story of the fictional (but subsequently very real) Siberian punk band Leningrad Cowbows and their attempts to crack America after a local mogul tells them that Americans will “buy anything”. The resulting film is a road movie following the band (all kitted out with two foot long winklepinkers and quiffs of a similar length) as they make their way across America in an old Cadillac (sold to them by Jim Jarmusch in a fun cameo).

It’s an odd film, but very funny. The band’s manager Vlad is a wonderfully deadpan presence, and the band grow increasingly tired of his orders and the fact that he has a constant supply of cold beers that he has stashed in the cabinet holding their frozen bass player. As I said, it’s very odd.

The only Kaurismäki film I’d seen before this was 2012’s Le Havre, which has a similar feel to its central performances that, while not entirely cold, are far from the realist cinema we’re used to in mainstream Western Cinema. I could draw a definite line between the films of Stanley Kubrick, with their emotional coldness and static camera shots, and the films of Wes Anderson, particularly the quirky characters and bizarre onscreen behaviour that we see in this film. I’m now very much looking forward to the sequel Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, and the concert film Total Balalaika Show.

Right, on with the journey. Why couldn’t Jules Verne have gone with 50 days?

Failed Critics Podcast: American Hustle…David O. Russell. You gotta have a system.

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in streetHappy New Year to you all, and in an effort to stick to some hastily made resolutions about getting rid of the fat, the first Failed Critics podcast of the year is lean, mean, and looking forward to McQueen (next week’s big review is 12 Years a Slave).

This week’s chat sees the gents discuss the finer elements of the Oscar Foreign Language shortlist, as well as review new releases American Hustle and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. James also gets around to reviewing Anchorman 2, Owen takes us on a journey through South Korean cinema, and Steve is aiming to beat the bookies with his Oscar race tips/blind guesses (delete as appropriate).

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Failed Critics Podcast: Catching Fire, Saving Mr Banks, and watching Walter Mitty

Catching FireWelcome to our 90th (NINETIETH!) podcast, and this one is rammed full of new release reviews, disagreements, and top, top film bantz*

*contains no actual bantz

James was the lone surviving pod critic from the first Hunger Games film, and this week returns to the arena to tackle The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as well as reviewing Saving Mr Banks, a new Disney film about the making of Mary Poppins. We’ve also go a review the new Ben Stiller film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and we discuss the twists, turns, and timey-wimeyness of the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special, The Day of the Doctor.

Join us next week for reviews of Carrie and Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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