Archive for Donald Sutherland

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The finale to the Hunger Games trilogy is, as has become the norm for huge franchises, the fourth film in this particular series of movies based on books. It picks up right after the end of Mockingjay Part 1, which lends the last two films to being watched back-to-back. This leads some to wonder, why not just release one film? It’ll work, there’ll be less bagginess. But money wins every time in Hollywood.

The film itself is serviceable, it does exactly what you expect it to, but it is based on the most difficult to visualise book in the series. It has been an interesting series; the first film is comparable to Battle Royale, the second and third are a bit more like Running Man or Rollerball. This fourth film is more like a Vietnam movie.

We’re back in the world of the downtrodden districts and the opulent Capitol that rules them. Only this time the districts are rallying together because of the actions of the Mockingjay, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, whose actions have proven that people power can overcome tyranny

This is the big showdown that Katniss has wanted with Donald Sutherland’s President Snow since the opening of the first movie. But she doesn’t get it all her own way, the president of the district housing her and the rebels, Coin (Julianne Moore) doesn’t want Katniss to be on the front lines as she doesn’t play by the rules. But Katniss stows away  to the Capitol anyway because she wants the pleasure of killing Snow herself.

What follows involves some urban warfare action scenes mixed with the terrifying traps of the Hunger Games, including flamethrowers, machine guns and a tidal wave of an oil-like water that kills anything it touches. There is one great scene in the sewers where a hoard of mutant lizard-people are hunting the rebels which is as tense as it could possibly get for a 12A certified film. In fact, it was a bit of a rip off of Alien, in that there are a team of people with flame-throwing weapons being hunted by a monster through claustrophobic corridors.

The big emotional surprise in the book is almost glossed over, but then, maybe that’s because I knew it was coming. It just didn’t have the impact it did on the page.

The end of the film suffered from Lord of the Rings syndrome in that it had about three endings, luckily it didn’t drag on for half an hour but the final scene was syrupy sweet and felt at odds with the tone of the entire series, especially as I’m pretty sure the book didn’t end that way. It left a slightly bitter taste at the end of this set of films that has, until the last couple of minutes been so strong.

The film itself, as stated at the beginning of this review, is fine. It does what it needed to do in a way that made sense of the strangest book of the series. The feeling of mistrust of everyone was realised effectively, everyone did a fine job of acting and there were some really effective scenes. It just sagged in a few places, where it could have done with steam-rolling on. And there wasn’t enough Stanley Tucci.

The tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was noticeable from the last part of the film, especially as he is replaced by a letter in what would have been his last scene, though it was poignant. Perhaps so much so that it pulls you out of what’s happening on-screen… just as it did to see him in his first scene right at the beginning of the movie.

Had it ended five minutes before it did, it would have been fine. As it is, being shorter – possibly even parts 1 and 2 could have been one film – and more consistent would have made it better, but it feels like it would still have been an anti-climax.

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Hunger games fever hit the nation again as the latest instalment of the juggernaut franchise hit cinemas for the third time. Mockingjay – Part 1 is, obviously, the first part of the final book, which is roundly regarded as the weakest of the trilogy. However, the book warrants being split into two parts as it feels like two different novels smashed together.

Part 1 revolves around the build up of the revolution. As such, it is a very different film from either of the first two films. For a start, there is no Hunger Games, as it carries on directly from the end of the second film and the fallout from the actions of the contestants and the revelation that district 13 is alive and well and ready to launch a war against the Capitol.

The first Hunger Games film was a reflection on reality TV and how far it could go, much in the same way Battle Royale did in the 1990s, the second film expanded on this theme while also fleshing out the world in which the film was set. Mockingjay – Part 1 doesn’t really have to deal with too much of that, apart from giving you an insight into how the citizens of District 13 have survived and are thriving underground after being – seemingly – obliterated by the Captiol years ago.

The look of the subterranean bunker they live and work in is very utilitarian, grey and concrete and this is also extended to the uniforms everyone wears. Something Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket (Katniss’ stylist who was ‘liberated’ from the Capitol), is  utterly bereft about, though she makes do with changing the style of her head scarf  which gets increasingly bizarre in every scene.

The tone of the movie is equally grey. It is a slow burner with a few scenes of action, rather than an out-and-out actioner like the previous films. Mockingjay – Part 1 focusses on the art of producing propaganda and how both the rebels and the Capitol use their films to attempt to win the hearts and moods of the citizens of the other districts. The rebels are, obviously, using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as their figurehead and it’s a struggle trying to get her to act or follow a script… or to even be likable. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), of the Capitol, uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to appeal to Katniss to stand down. Really, this film is a satire on how news media presents its bias to the public in an effort to sway their decisions – both for good and bad.

As stated, it is a slow burner with some big set pieces, but I wonder if its slower pace may turn off those who haven’t read the books and who are used to the fast-paced tension of the previous instalments. This is the muted calm before the storm that Mockingjay – Part 2 will inevitably be and, if you’ve not read the books, there are some real shocks coming up in the second part.

Mockingjay – Part 1 does what it needs to to get us through to the finale and has a brilliant central performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Liam Hemsworth has slightly more to do this time round and more is seen of the late and dearly missed Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Julianne Moore is introduced as President Coin, but doesn’t give a notable performance and there’s not a lot for Donald Sutherland to do, though it’s clear he’s relishing playing the pantomime villain. Equally, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are marginalised and there’s no showing for Toby Jones this time, which is a shame. But the film is called Mockingjay, so it really is Jennifer Lawrence’s film.

The film could have ended a few minutes earlier and the impact of the cliff-hanger ending would have been greater. However, those who have not read the book probably needed the explanation for the actions of the character involved.

This is a serviceable film and it’s hard to know what could have been added to make it more engaging, but it does feel as though it’s lacking something. However, Part 1 will make a great contrast to Part 2 – not to mention a breather between the second and fourth films when watched in sequence. It makes you wonder if they could have cut some out of both parts to make one film that has everything. Time will tell.

This is a lukewarm review because this film genuinely feels like nothing but an intro, which it is. It’s likely this will be better when you can watch both parts one after the other.

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The second of, what will be, four films in the Hunger Games trilogy (quadrilogy?) came out this week amid frenzied anticipation. The first film set up the history behind The Hunger Games and the utter devastation it causes among the population of Panem, especially the outlying, poorer Districts like District 12, where our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Laurence), is from.

The story in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up under a year since Katniss and Peeta Mellark managed to cheat the odds and both win the Games. Since then they have been living in the Victor’s Village, in mansions – separate ones – on the outskirts of… wherever it is in District 12 they came from – this is the first time I’ve thought about the fact that each District only seems to have one small settlement! The problem is that the relationship they displayed on camera and which won the hearts of the Capitol’s population was just that; a display. The reality is that Katniss’ affections lie with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss just before she and Peeta are to go on a victory tour of the Districts, he demonstrates his knowledge of her deceit and her true feelings for Gale. With all the understated malevolence and actor like Sutherland can muster he tells Katniss she must convince the country that her relationship with Peeta is true. He then lets her in on the fact that she has become a symbol of a resistance that has started to rise in the Districts after her trick with the poison berries, effectively showing the president’s regime as weak.

Things on the tour don’t go completely as planned and a new Gamesmaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) colludes with President Snow to devise a new Games that would surely put an end to Katniss and quash the fledgling rebellion. His plan is to put one male and female victor from each of the Districts into the games to fight to the death and, as Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she would have to be entered.

As you can tell from this huge set up, there is a lot of hunger before you get to the games. This is a long film, clocking in at just under two and a half hours, and the majority of the plot takes place before the games. This is much like the book and actually give you a wider understanding of the political and social make up of the country you only saw brief glimpses of in the first film.

This also gives the supporting cast a chance to shine. We all know Jennifer Lawrence can act, but Donald Sutherland gets to be overbearing and scary, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to be slimy, Woody Harrelson gets to be hilarious as the permanently plastered mentor to Katniss and Peeta,  Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket gets to evolve from the distant social-climbing Capitalist into a person realising the horror the Capital puts the Districts through in order to control them.

The minor characters are also back; Lenny Kravitz as the costume designer, Cinna, provides Katniss with a grounded character from the Capitol she can trust, Stanley Tucci’s maniacal game show host, Caesar Flickerman, is even more of a caricature of modern-day TV presenters, even Toby Jones returns as Flickerman’s co-host, even if he is reduced to a single-lined blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance. There are also the past victors, the most prominent of these being Finick, Mags, Johanna Beetee and Wiress, played with various levels of sympathy and mistrust.

There’s a great set-up to the games arena this time round, which I won’t spoil. I had a fear that a specific aspect to it wouldn’t work, but was put at ease by the handling of it. In fact, the whole story stays very close to the source material, which is a nice surprise. However, I do feel that parts could have been cut out to save on time.

This is not the action packed thrill ride the first film was. Even the fact the contestants in the games this time round are older, in some cases middle-aged, the shock value of the violence isn’t as bad. But this is made up for by the widening of the world and the progression of the characters in it. I would also argue that the theme is just as dark, if not more so, thanks to the tone coming from the events set in motion by president Snow right from the beginning of the film onwards. A nice twist at the end of the film sets up the next movie perfectly, just as the book did, and as with all book-to-film adaptations of late, the final (most tricky) book will be split across two films. *Sigh*

With acting as brilliant as that on display here the slower pace of the plot is easily forgiven and further cements Lawrence’s credentials as a grade-A leading lady who can do everything from violent action to tender understatement. This is a perfect central film that gives a lull in a series that is about to go all-out, off the chain crazy! Roll on The Mockingjay.