The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Review

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An engrossing sequel that cleverly sews the difficult fabric between action and emotion with a strong psychological thread.


VERDICT: ★★★★

 

 

I'm just going to be honest and say that I am not the biggest fan of the Twilight series. I know that there are a lot of teen-oriented fantasy epic fans out there that would probably want to scalp me for saying that but it's just the truth. Why am I talking about Twilight? Well, I have to admit that the Hunger Games franchise owes somewhat to dear Bella and co for creating the right climate. A climate that has now thanks to 'Catching Fire' even got me wanting to spend more time in some Suzzanne Collin's sunshine.

However, sunshine is probably not the best use of a word because this film is impressively anything but. It's dark, oppressive, with a psycho-analytic element and a solid balance between action and drama. Whereas the first cinematic installment takes undeniably (though unacknowledged) heavy cues from Kinju Fukasaku's  japanese hit 'Battle Royale' based on Koushun Takami's novel, this second venture really sees Collin's world come into it's own and showcases a welcomed maturity over it's predecessor. 

Stuck between a rock and a hard place in the classico-futurist totalitarian state of Panem run by a most charismatic and equally fascist leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) just can't seem to catch a break. Having survived the horror of the the 74th Annual Hunger Games, a ration providing televised fight to the death a-la-Running Man between teenage tributes from each of the city's surrounding districts along side Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss learns that there is no such thing as freedom for citizens of the districts, even if you are an official winner of the games. 

Now a champion, mentor and stuck in a concocted crowd pleasing romance with her co-survivor, Katniss is unaware that the nature of her and Peeta's victory has sparked the flame of defiance within the districts against the state. Indeed, revolution is on the cusp with the tipping weight being Katniss herself. This is where the films main theme comes into play. As an icon that has grown beyond the boundaries of an event designed to display the futility of individual effort, Miss Everdeen poses a threat to the very fabric of Snow's society. The question that drives the film is 'How does one defeat an icon?'. To kill them would be the same as martyrdom. But if you could change their image and alter public perception...  

Cue the 75th Annual Hunger Games, designed by Snow with the help of the brilliant Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for the sole purpose of destroying Everdeen's influence. Worried that other winners might similarly ignite the passion of revolution, it is decided that the reaping for this 'Quarter Quell' (a special version of the games, which happens every 25 years) will consist of previous champions. Can Katniss and Peeta survive another round? 

The narrative has a strong momentum and characters are drafted very well, with most if not all having enough exposure to be sufficiently developed. Lawrence especially proves a force to be admired and every bit the leading lady. Newcomer Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a solid turn as sinister new games designer Plutarch Heavensbee, whose approach to the Katniss question provides the backbone to the films tone and more extreme elements. And then of course there is Stanley Tucci's 'Presenter' whose false teeth and camera-ready smile seem to haunt you far more than any of the bloodshed that takes place. A testament to the satirical brilliance of his performance.

The token love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale has a more prominent role in the film and teases much for the third installment. Although Katniss and Gale have faced life together, Katniss and Peeta have faced death together. Which will prove to forge the stronger bond? The actors succeed in portraying a real need that goes beyond physicality and touches the very realm of survival itself. Thankfully the triangle is not allowed to over-permeate the main themes of the film but is instead used as vehicle to perpetuate them.

James Newton Howard's score creates an apt sense of discord throughout, that supports the cascading nature of the film well, whilst Jo Willems' sophisticated cinematography further enhances its adult themes.  

Should you watch this film? Yes. Although it would serve you well to know the material or have watched the first film prior. Where will the Hunger Games go from here? Well a two-part finale as seems to be the custom with the genre is for certain. Another certainty is that if director Francis Lawrence continues on his trajectory, the odds will ever be in his favor. 

-N-

 


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Gravity (2013) Review

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Alfonso Cuarón’s unique and chillingly affirming space drama stands apart as a visually arresting, attention absorbing, lovingly focused piece of well-made cinema. 

 

VERDICT: ★★★★★

 

Written by Cuarón and his son Jonas, the film sees it’s main character, a first-time mission specialist named Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stranded in the void of space after a chain reaction caused by a Russian satellite, destroyed by its own government severs their connection to NASA and the hi-speed debris left in its wake collides with their space shuttle Explorer.

There are few films that this spectacular portrayal of the infinite silence pays tribute to, not least of which is Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Space Odyssey’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’.  Both being fantastic films and pioneers of the genre. However it is safe to say that had Kubrick been around to see Cuarón’s offering he would have been jealous. Gravity gives us one of the most realistic renditions of outer space committed to the big screen. Ironically enough gravity itself is almost entirely absent from the film. This is not a negative point however as the overall use of the phenomenon elicits the story and is highly symbolic.

Thankfully the film’s first allegiance is to the characters. Though decidedly different to begin with, the nature of their surroundings forces them to reveal deeper parts of their persona. As is expected, like space Stone is emotionally alone. Having suffered tragedy, she has become tethered to her past. But the only option for moving forward is learning to let go, which she is able to do with the help of Kowalski.

Character backstory is layered gradually as we progress through their dilemma and never over-saturates the narrative. Instead it is cleverly used as a vehicle to provide stimulus for the many decision-making moments dotted throughout the movie.

Both Bullock’s and Clooney’s performances have heart and a depth that transcends their aesthetically pleasing faces, affording the audience a real connection slightly more intimate than one would usually experience sitting on the other side of the silver screen. The roles were made for them and it is a delight to see their story unfold. Cuarón dabbles with the sentimental but never over saturates us with it as the sheer force of the films momentum never allows us to dwell in one moment for too long.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is excellent and is greatly enhanced by the stereoscopic conversion. Not noticeable at first, you realise that as the characters fall through the hollow of space the conversion gives the audience a real sense of their geographical predicament. In addition to this the threat of the space debris, which is in many ways the films silent antagonist is made that much more believable. It is a subtle application that really pays off.

Another aspect to make note of is the clever use of first person perspective, especially during the extremely tense survival sequences. There were moments where I almost found myself reaching out to grab a ledge in the distance for fear that my life depended on it.

Sound is where Gravity excels in being one of those rare cinematic events - A full sensory experience. Sound echoes from all four corners of the cinema and silence pierces with its rawness. The score by Steven Price is perfectly placed. I can still hear the main theme in my head as I type.

The film succeeds in sucking the audience into the vacuum of space. Leaving them feeling just as helpless and alone as its main protagonist. And though it is a proxy sensation it feels no less real and loses none of its immediacy or impact. It is a dark and giddy ride that will take your breath away in places and give you much to muse on after it’s all said and done. One thing of which will no doubt be the fact that two actors have held up an entire film.



-N-

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MCM London Comic Con October 2013 - Another Vox Pop Doc

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#AVPD #MCMExpo #London #ComicCon
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Find out more about MCM London Comic Con:http://www.mcmcomiccon.com

MCM Expo - London Comic con took place in October 2013. The second and final exhibition of the year. We decided to brave the English elements and once again find out why London Comic Con is so much fun, and just what makes cosplayers so uniquely awesome!

Huge thanks to everyone who let us film and interview them. You guys make these videos possible!

See you next time. C&N

Another Vox Pop Doc (AVPD) © Copyright Nathaniel Lendor 2013

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MCM London Comic Con Pics!

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Another great Comic Con convention in London. The dedication and talent of the Cosplayers putting together these costumes is unreal! Stay tuned for a video…

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