The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part one) (2014)

As well as clocking in as one of the longest film titles this year, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1) also, unfortunately, happens to be one of the more underwhelming films too.

Once again, Jennifer Lawrence dons wig and quiver as Katniss, victor of the 74th Hunger Games and now working begrudgingly for District 13 led by the steely-eyed, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Under the tutelage of ex-Gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), Katniss is prodded and poked into becoming the face of the District’s rebellion. Like a member of the royal family, she is carted around from place to place with a camera crew/marine guard filming her every moment. Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) appears to be now working for the Capital who are ramping up their propaganda to sedate to the great unwashed.

You know how in the run up to an election, you become awash with leaflet campaigns and door knocking from every party. You start becoming deaf to their accusations that the other party is the worst. Mockingjay (Part 1) is similar in that despite its big name stars and large budget, we’re basically following some people on a campaign trail.

Those who have read the source material will know the action doesn’t really ramp up until the second half, which makes it all the more obvious that this is simply a cash-in. There is nothing here that wouldn’t be missed if someone was to take a scalpel to the film and cut it down to 45 minutes tops. This is not a slur on anyone involved in the film itself. Everyone is fantastic and on the ball through out, with the exception of Liam Hemsworth who hasn’t convinced in any of these films. It’s just it’s hard to defend Mockingjay (Part 1) against accusations of lining the pockets of those above. No movie needs this much setup. Like The Deathly Hallows Part 1, people are being duped into thinking this is a complete film. It’s not. It’s flashy exposition. It’s the prawn cocktail before we get to the roast dinner.

When the second part is released next year, there’ll be a better idea of how well this film fits in with the narrative. However, for now, this is an incomplete movie. After the success and, quite frankly, joy of Catching Fire, it’s a shame the suits had to be involved so much.

The Editor (2014)

Once upon a time Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks) was the greatest editor the world had ever seen. He had the skills. He had the women. He had everything. But now, after nearly losing his mind and actually losing some of his fingers, he’s reduced to working on schlocky exploitation thrillers, and being ridiculed by the cast and crew. Life takes a further turn for the worse when he becomes the prime suspect to a series of gruesome murders. As he fights to prove his innocence, he’ll encounter tenacious detectives, nudity, alternate dimensions, nudity, black gloved killers, and more nudity. Welcome to the world of Astron 6’s The Editor.

Those familiar with Astron 6’s previous work, such as Father’s Day and Manborg will already know what they’re in for with this bloody slab of Giallo inspired lunacy. Directed by Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy – who also wrote it along with star Conor Sweeney – The Editor ticks off all the tropes we’ve come to expect from 70s European horror. Bad hair, sexy women, rocking soundtracks, overdubbing and sometimes woeful translations. This is a slick looking film that reminded us of Berberian Sound Studio as much as it did The Bird with The Crystal Plumage.

However, as we’ve mentioned before, you can’t just ape a genre, dust your hands off and say you’re done – Death Proof we’re looking at you – there’s got to be some sort of heart behind. And thankfully, with The Editor it’s the little things that make it fun, such as the running joke that this all-American tale is actually nearer to Italy and the overblown red herrings that point the finger at everyone. Like a blood splattered Naked Gun, you don’t have to have an encyclopedia sixed knowledge of the genre to get the joke.

With each new film, the boys at Astron 6 prove their love for filmmaking and storytelling. Here, The Editor shows what they can do with a big(ish) budget. It’s bold, it’s confident and we can’t wait to see what else they come up with.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

When it was announced that Michael Bay was involved in the latest big screen adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the wailing and gnashing of teeth of a fanbase comprised of thirty year olds, who should know better, could be heard from space. But was they’re primordial rage before they picked the kids up from school justified?

Well, not really.

Let’s us be honest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far from perfect, but it is an extremely entertaining – whisper it – kids film. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo don’t have the gritty realism some would expect or even demand from a reboot. After all, we’re in the age of grit aren’t we? A time where even Superman is not allowed to smile. However, whilst the heroes in a half-shell certainly kick arse, they are also a bit silly; getting into childish fights with each other and being scalded by Splinter. Even when the film threatens to veer off into dark territory, it pulls a joke from its sleeve that leaves a large grin on your face and reminds you of the days when blockbusters weren’t always just about appealing to the fanboys. It’s everything you remember from Saturday mornings.

To expect a film like this to be anything more is to fall into the trap of believing that the things we loved as children should grow up with us. And whilst a number of references are made during the course of the narrative that acknowledge the original cartoon, this is not a film that’s worried about the grown-ups in the room. It’s talking to the kids and successful at doing so. Yes, the plot is simplistic and at times the dialogue merely serves to signpost who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were more concerned about Will Arnett leering over Megan Fox, which thankfully didn’t happen too often. But really shouldn’t be seen outside of Bay’s Transformers series.

Jonathan Liebesman has directed a great piece of bubblegum cinema that is a hell of a lot of fun. It crucifixion in the press seems misjudged and hopefully, when the boy’s make it onto DVD and bluray, it’ll get the proper recognition it deserves.

Go ninja, go ninja, go.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let’s pretend we’re in the Marvel universe. New York has been attacked by aliens, London has been a substitute wrestling ring for Gods, a World War Two veteran is looking pretty good for his age and out there in deep space, a group of ne’er do wells have bandied together to chase a McGuffin to make a hell of a lot money and potentially save their galaxy. Whichever comes first. Though hopefully the former.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not just a great Marvel film. It’s a great film period. A bulging sack of fine storytelling and rich imagination. And talking raccoons, never forget the talking raccoons. Directed by James Gunn (Super and Tromeo and Juliet) with a script co-written by Nicole Perlman and himself, Guardians has so much going for it, it’s amazing to think the less than mainstream comic hadn’t been picked up before.

What makes the film so enjoyable – aside from the soundtrack, the acting, the characters, the set pieces, the humour, the pace, the smile the whole thing staple guns to your face – is how well it stands up on its own. As great as the last few Marvel films have been, they’re in danger of alienating the casual viewer with their throwbacks and references (Did anyone really watch Agents of SHIELD?). Guardians feels liberated and fresh. Hell, the film isn’t even bogged down by pop culture references since Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the human of our band of miscreants, left earth as a child in the 80s. A nod to the Ninja Turtles is about all you’re going to get.

The eclectic cast is superb, with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot clearly, and probably deliberately, stealing the show. Though special attention must be given to emerald-tinged assassin Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, who manages to have a life of her own not dependent on Quill. In fact, another of the film’s strengths is how tangible everybody is without having to go down the usual route of comic book movies of 45 minutes of exposition before the cape or mask is donned.

If it isn’t coming across clearly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is ball-bouncingly brilliant. It’s a triumphant return to the days of the 80s blockbuster before everything became homogenized. Again, something even the latest Marvel movies veer towards. Hopefully, Guardians will spark a renaissance not just at its parent company but across the board. Let’s pretend we’re in a universe where summer blockbusters start taking more risks. Let’s pretend.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Warning: The following contains spoilers.

Once again, the BBC have graced us with the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen. Last time, it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and now it’s regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in this, the series 8 opening.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appears to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that was last year’s Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffat has wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala.’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that still manages to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era. Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties in this season opener, which certainly gave the whole bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It’s great to see Doctor Who experimenting with people at the helm, and it’ll be fascinating to see what Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) does with her pieces later this year.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman has had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during the Twin Dilemma.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi looks set to be one of the more iconic interpretations. He was rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples (or did he?). In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (ie us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Deep Breath was bursting with fun. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up. Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.

Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado has to be one of the most cynical films we’ve ever witnessed. In summary, global warming leads to a huge storm which leads to flooding and, oh yeah, sharks being hurled into the streets of LA. Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders from 90210, fights his way through the city to save his children as well as his ex-wife played by Tara Reid.

There is no way to slice this film and make it actually worth seeing. We tried to enjoy it on several levels, including one where we pretended we were being paid to watch it. Nothing helped. From beginning to end, this is a godawful film.

The main issue we take is how it rides the coattails of genre. That somehow because it knows it’s stupid, we’ll all jump on board and give it an embracing hug. Hey, it’s a film about flying sharks, it doesn’t need to adhere to same quality checks as ‘regular’ movies, right? Wrong. That’s how we end up with films like Piranha 3D and its lamentable sequel. People who love monster movies, horror and genre flicks deserve better than this undercooked turd.

Sharknado doesn’t feel like we’re all in on the joke. Sharknado feels like the joke is on us.

The Lego Movie (2014)

Let’s not pretend with each other. When it was first announced that there was going to be a movie based on those multicolored building blocks, we all thought it was going to turn out to turn out to be a 90 minute advert for their back catalogue. Whilst there’s no denying that The Lego Movie is sure to shift a unit or two at Toys R Us, parents can rest easy knowing that there’s more to it than that.

Emmett Brickowzki (Chris Pratt) is the happiest man in the happiest city ever. Diligently following the instructions given out by the President of the world, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), he’s a nondescript yellow face amongst a sea of yellow faces. When happenstance leads to Emmett meeting the sage like, Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and rebellious WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), he discovers that he may be the savior of all the known Lego universes.

Along his journey, Emmett interacts with various ‘master builders’, who – and again parents, you really shouldn’t let this worry you – all happen to be popular spinoffs of the Lego brand. Anyone who has played the Lego computer games – Star Wars, Batman, etc – will know the slight irreverence they have towards their licenses. And those ideals bleed into the movie itself, with Batman (Will Arnett) writing epic goth poetry about being Batman.

Wildly funny and imaginative, the biggest surprise of The Lego Movie is how layered it is. Starting with the checklist that is the Hero’s Journey, the film goes on to take on big business and during the third act manages to upturn the whole thing; turning the conclusion into an emotional finale that makes you reevaluate everything you’ve been watching.

The Lego Movie; A film so brilliant, so – ahem – awesome, we don’t actually want a sequel for fear it will dilute the overall effect. It’s that good.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The franchise that people love to compare to Battle Royale is back (and yes we do as well so sssh). Now with added Oscar Winning Actresstm.

Following on from the last’s bleak happy ending, the 74th Hunger Games victors, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are continuing their sham relationship under the scrutiny of the public gaze, whilst barely talking to each other behind closed doors.

Fearing an eventual overthrow of government, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his new Games Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) put steps into motion to further water down the impact of Katniss’ actions in the first film; Having unwittingly whipped the great unwashed into a revolutionary frenzy. Katniss must now tow the company line in return for the lives of her family; swapping piss and vinegar for doe eyes and Vaseline-on-the-teeth smiles. When that fails to work, a new Hunger Games is announced with the contestants all being previous winners. Can Katniss and Peeta survive another round up against seasoned pros?

The interesting thing about this chapter in the franchise is how little interest the games present when measured up against what’s going on behind the scenes. And we mean that in the nicest way. Through Peeta and Katniss’ victory tour of the Districts, we’re further exposed to a rich world of the haves and the have-nots. If the first film was about the idea of hope, then Catching Fire – as the title suggests – is about that idea becoming something tangible. Something the downtrodden can aspire to that doesn’t involve millionaire playboys running around dressed up as bats. Something as simple as a three fingered salute in front of your oppressors. There’s a lot to chew on and mull over, which gets lost when the new games eventually start.

When the klaxon screams the start of the slaughter, the film drops the symbolism like a bad habit and we find ourselves yearning to be back at the capital. Yes, there is kind of a key theme regarding people hiding behind a façade, which comes to some sort of payoff in the end, but honestly we like a bit more meat with our gravy.

Thank heavens then for Sutherland and Hoffman. In a stark improvement upon the first film’s glimpses of behind the scenes politics with Game Master Seneca Crane, Catching Fire lets us see the corrupt Sutherland and Hoffman as they buffet on the scenery and put their machinations in order. If this film were set in the 1800s, these co-conspirators would quaff brandy, smoke cigars and stroke their chins decrying the name of Katniss Everdeen.

Speaking of the Girl on Fire, Lawrence brings it all to the table; adding gravitas to a role that others would not. In the wrong hands, a character like Katniss could painted as an all-conquering hero, invincible to all. However, Lawrence brings subtlety that grounds the outlandish scenario unfolding. In her final scene, she manages to tell a whole emotional story without uttering a word. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said of her onscreen boyfriend played by Liam Hemsworth, who struggles to add any life to his performance. Does he love Katniss or is it just gas? It’s the kind of performance we expect from other franchises, not this one. And not wanting to get too political, it’s always, ALWAYS good to see a strong female lead whose sole preoccupation isn’t who does she love more.

Overall, Catching Fire is solid fantasy which almost suffers the indignity of being the bridge from the first film’s set up and the payoff of the final two. The fact it still succeeds, shows great promise for the next films in the franchise.

Now You See Me (2013)

Imagine Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Harry Potter, bake for over two hours and then sprinkle with a Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Ladies and gentlemen, you have got the recipe for a film Now You See Me wishes it were.

Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and David Franco are four magicians/mentalists who perform sell-out shows under the banner, The Four Horseman. When they manage to rob a bank in Paris, whilst they’re performing in Vegas, Mark Ruffalo’s crumpled shirt of a detective and Melanie Laurent’s Interpol agent – whose backstory seems to be simply that she’s French and wants to sleep with Ruffalo – try to build up enough evidence to put them away. Helping them out is Morgan Freeman’s ex-magician who makes a living exposing other’s tricks.

The character’s probably have names, but what does matter? Now You See Me is a film that makes no sense. First and foremost, it can’t decide whether it’s grounded in reality or, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, its in-universe took a little step to the left to ours. Whilst Morgan Freeman diligently takes apart The Four Horseman’s tricks and lays them out for the benefit of Ruffalo and Laurent, the movie throws up images of Isla Fisher floating in a bubble across a theatre or magicking a flock of CGI sheets to dance around a stage. Eisenberg, in probably his most irritating role to date, regularly informs us, the viewer, that magic is all about deception. There’s not enough deception in the word to make us believe that Fisher can turn a rabbit into a hat without the aid of something more substantial than Paul Daniel’s magic set. So, are we to assume that this all some sort of allegory? Whilst the cynics chop down the forest of belief, there’s still a few acorns filled with real mysticism? If that’s true, how did the Four Horseman get their powers? Maybe it’s from their mysterious benefactor? Maybe. We’re never told. Upon the reveal of Mr Moneybags, the film may as well have let Harrelson turn to the camera and said, ‘Because. That’s why. Fuck you.’ Admittedly, a sequel has been greenlit, but we demand an explanation within the context of THIS film. Not a middle finger.

It’s revealed quite early on that the Four Horseman rob from the rich to give to the poor, but it never explains why they have to be so smug about it? If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then magic powers wins over absolute power every time. We shouldn’t be cheering on the police to capture them mid-performance. We really shouldn’t.

Now You See Me has a delightful cast, but characterisation is sketchy at best. A faux-love triangle between Harrelson, Fisher and Eisenberg is dead in the water, whilst Franco is the scotch mist of acting. Meanwhile, Freeman appear to be the bad guy because the script tells us he is. Okay, that’s slightly unfair, but when you measure up what happens to him against what he’s actually done to deserve it… It just seems a little bit, well, out of order. Michael Caine probably comes out on top seeing as his part is so small.

A misfire in all directions – the film’s score left us with a headache – Now You See Me fails to convince as family entertainment, a caper, a fantasy film or even a blue print of a good idea.

John Dies At The End (2012)

Some films are born cult, some films achieve cult and some have cult thrust upon them. Some, like John Dies at the End, party crash the cult party screaming: ‘Look! Look at me! Seriously… Ooo! I’m so blinking culty!’

Based on the underground novel of the same name, John Dies at the End is the tale of two twenty-somethings, John (Rob Mayles) and David (Chase Williamson), who routinely battle the occult and paranormal. John seems to embrace their Carnacki-esque lifestyle, whilst David would rather be given the opportunity to get a full night’s sleep once in a while.

We first meet Dave in a Chinese restaurant coming down from a heavy dose of a drug simply known as Soy Sauce. There he meets Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a journalist he hopes will be able to help him spread the story of his life and the secrets of known and unknown universes. Secrets involving dogs, white boy rappers, bugs, zombies, demonic cold cuts and time travel.

It’s a lot to take on board for Arnie, and the same could be said of the viewer.

John Dies at The End is, at best, a series of amusing anecdotes you told your friend whilst high, than it is an actual movie. Its deliberate zaniness runs heavy and deep through its short running time. So proud is the film of its genital doorknobs and nude occultists (long story), it forgets to look at things like coherence and filling in plot holes. It just seems content to bounce around like a rabbit on a trampoline looking for attention.

When the A-plot ends and the B-plot starts floundering like a fish plucked straight out of the ocean, there’s an empty feeling of being cheated. Like the previous 90 minutes could have been wrapped up into a 20 minute flashback before unleashing a stonking great story on us. Instead, it just sort of stops and the credits roll. Admittedly, the sting in the credits is worth sticking around for, but it just reinforces the fact that it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it just feels like the pilot. This could easily have been a series of 20 minute adventures, or even 10 minute clips on Crackle or Netflix. Which would dilute the wackiness and – whisper it – smugness of the whole affair.

Unfortunately, for us, it’s just too patchy and in love with itself to justify a return visit.