Tag Archives: Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

mockingjay

I didn’t have high hopes for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Apart from having heard mixed things about it, Mockingjay is my least favourite book of the trilogy, plus I felt Part 1 was a relative disappointment given the bar set by the first two entries. Bearing that in mind, the final film instalment turned out better than expected, superior to Part 1 but still a few grades behind The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

The biggest problem I had with it still stems from the fact that the final book was split into two films. It’s no secret I hate such greedy decisions, especially when the third book is, in my mind, the weakest and least action-packed of the lot. And yet, they somehow managed to base two movies on it, resulting in a whopping 260 minutes of screen time — 123 minutes (Part 1) + 137 minutes (Part 2).

I still believe they could have easily adapted Mockingjay into a 150-minute movie, or even a 165-minute movie, and the result would have been spectacular. It’s not hard to see where they could have trimmed the fat. The vast majority of Part 1 was pretty much all fat. I can’t even recall three significant plot points from that entire movie.

Similarly, the first part of Part 2 was a little slow for my liking, even though it picks up right at the cliffhanger Part 1 left off (the two films were actually shot simultaneously). For those who don’t remember, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has gone nuts, and Katniss the Mockingjay (Jennifer Lawrence) is still obsessing about killing the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), while Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continues to be the equivalent of Taylor Lautner from Twilight, and Woody Harrelson continues to look drunk. In the meantime, Julianne Moore’s President Coin continues to rally the rebels as they prepare for a final assault on the Capitol. Oh, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to look very much alive as head gamesmaker Plutarch thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

The star-studded cast of Oscar winners has always been one of the biggest strengths of the Hunger Games franchise, and in this final film they certainly don’t disappoint. As trite as some of the verbal confrontations are, these great actors manage to make them as dramatic and believable as they could have been.

Watching this film, however, I got the sense that it was made with more the hardcore fans in mind, as real time and effort was put into building the dynamics between the characters for maximum emotional impact. There is no shortage of long, lingering takes for those who want to savour every last second these characters appear on the big screen. That’s great for fanatics who are genuinely and emotionally invested in the story, but for casual viewers like me, who may have read the books but can’t remember much about them, all that shit is kinda boring.

The pace and excitement do pick up considerably as Katniss and her propaganda film making crew led wonderfully by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer make their final journey toward the centre of the Capitol, but there are a lot of things about this part of the movie that don’t make much sense if you think about it. The execution might be strong, but there’s no denying that the plotline is somewhat contrived and filled with a sense of inevitability. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials got ridiculed for following the typical “point A to Point B” template, so I don’t see why the Hunger Games should get a free pass.

Anyway, while the production itself is top notch as always, I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities. Some of the “big” moments could have been handled better — at times it was rushed, others were telegraphed miles in advance. Further, we also don’t get to see all the action because the entire film is based around Katniss’s point of view. So much of the climatic large-scale action I would have loved to have seen was only told to us after the fact or implied. I understand that’s how it was with the book too, but that’s an instance where I wouldn’t have minded had they deviated from the source material.

That said, the smaller-scale action scenes we ended up getting featured some excellent set pieces that were more thrilling and frightening than I had anticipated. It fits in well with the dark tones and melancholy draped over the entire movie. I actually quite liked how a major young adult franchise went for a realistic and bittersweet note in its finale rather than the typical sentimental and uplifting one, and I even found myself a little moved by the end of it all.

Ultimately, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a mixed bag. I had no problem with all the “character  development” sequences that ate up much of the screen time, though I couldn’t help feel that there were too many superfluous scenes and moments that just dragged on a few seconds too long. It may be a speckle of shit here and speckle of shit there, but eventually the shit adds up. I will admit that I liked the film a lot more by the end of it than at about the halfway mark. If I had cared more about the story and characters I might have not minded the “shitty” bits as much, but either way I still think Mockingjay – Part 2 could have been a lot better.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

HG

If I’m going to be honest then I might as well say it: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is a well-executed disappointment.

I had expected this to be the case when I heard that they were, like every other successful major book franchise these days, splitting the final book of the series into two films. This lit up alarm bells in my mind straight away, because having read the books, I already knew that  Mockingjay had the least amount of action and “wow factor” of the trilogy. It may have barely worked for Harry Potter and Twilight, but the final books of those series are nearly double the length of Mockingjay. 

The story picks up when Catching Fire left off: after destroying the Quarter Quell Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is rescued by the mysterious District 13 while her games partner, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), remains a captive of the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With no more excuses to toss her back into the arena, this time the film is all about surviving on the outside and being groomed by District 13 president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) into the “Mockingjay”, the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol.

Consequently, Mockingjay  is a very different film compared to the other two. It’s darker and arguably even more intense because there’s a lot more death and destruction and the stakes are no longer just confined to the artificial world of the Hunger Games. The fate of Katniss, all the people she cares about, and even the entire world, lies in her unwilling teenage hands. Rather then making observations about the world of reality television, Mockingjay  explores political propaganda and the sacrifices of rebellion and consequences of war. It’s heavy stuff, but for the most part these themes are handled effectively and delicately.

The decision to split the final book meant that director Francis Lawrence (who did Catching Fire) was forced to stretch about 390 pages of material over what I presume will be about 240-250 minutes. By comparison, the adaptation of Catching Fire was 391 pages into 146 minutes, while for The Hunger Games it was 374 pages into 142 minutes. The first two adaptations were taut and action-packed affairs that largely kept close to the book editions. On the other hand, even if you litter Mockingjay with some additions not from the book, it’s just technically impossible for the film to keep pace with its predecessors.

This is not to say the film is bad — far from it. The overall standard of the production is still very good, on par with its predecessors. Lawrence makes the most of what little action he has to play with, creating some marvellous set pieces filled with high intensity that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The additional running time also afforded more opportunities for contemplation and character development, taking the accumulated emotions from the two earlier films and building them up to the next level.

The performances are still top notch. Jennifer Lawrence may have had a tumultuous time recently, but in the Hunger Games world she’s as solid as ever. This was arguably the most difficult performance for her thus far because in this film she has to be a “bad actress” at times and a genuinely inspiring icon at others, and sometimes somewhere along that spectrum — and yet she manages to knock it out of the park. Josh Hutcherson doesn’t get to do nearly as much in this one, but the scenes he’s in are dynamite. Liam Hemsworth, on the other hand, is relatively wooden by comparison. Gale is one of those key characters who has a bit of a raw deal in this story because he’s never really central to the narrative, and Hemsworth doesn’t do much to elevate the character above that.

New additions like the ever-reliable Julianne Moore and Game of Thrones‘s Natalie Dormer are positives to the ensemble while also boosting star power, though for me the standout supporting performance still has to be the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose presence as former head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee makes you realise just how much of a loss his death is to the acting community. It was initially a little jarring to see him on screen, but he’s so good that after a while you just see him as the character rather than the deceased actor.

My difficulties with the film ultimately lie in what comes between all of its well-executed moments. Every now and then a scene feels a tad longer than it needed to be. Some reactions and conversations are drawn out when they probably didn’t have to be. It may be imperceptible at first, but they adds up over the course of the film and stick out like obvious time-fillers by the end. You could even argue that, with the exception of a couple of key occurrences, the entire film was one long, unnecessary filler.

It’s a shame, because I think Mockingjay had the potential to be one heck of a 140-150 minute movie that could have been on the same level as the first two films in terms of overall quality. Instead, they had to be greedy and split the book into two films, meaning that each one would be that much slower and that much less eventful. When you break it down, not a whole lot happens in this film. The impact of this decision becomes pronounced when the film ends on what’s supposed to be a semi-cliffhanger but feels more like an anti-climatic “is that it?”

If you’re a fan of the franchise then you’ll have no choice but to watch Mockingjay, Part 1 and then Part II when it comes out next year. And it annoys me that I’ll have to spend double the money for the series finale when a book perfect for a single film adaptation is being stretched unnaturally into two. I’m not saying Part I isn’t still a relatively entertaining and enjoyable experience; I’m just saying it isn’t as good as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and more importantly, not as good as it could have and should have been.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Ides of March (2011)

I really need to get a move on.  It’s almost the end of 2011 and there are too many potentially good movies to be watched before 2012.  And so I began my (hopeful) end-of-year movie blitz with a 2012 Oscar frontrunner, The Ides of March, directed by, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

I’m a sucker for political dramas (I thought the 1998 John Travolta film Primary Colors was fantastic), and so I had high hopes for this film, which also stars some of my favourite actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei.  However, The Ides of March really belongs to Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress with a controlled, Oscar-worthy performance as Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s (potential) Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris.

Without giving away too much, the film follows the young, bright and extremely capable Meyers as he tries to assist Pennsylvania Governor Morris in securing the state of Ohio in the Democrat’s presidential candidate race against an Arkansas Senator.  Securing Ohio effectively clinches the nomination (and essentially the White House), so it’s a big deal, but both Meyers and Morris are idealists who want to run the race with integrity and without compromising their values.  However, as they both find out throughout the course of the film, politics is a dirty game where the lines and boundaries and continually being pushed and blurred.  To what extremes will they go in order to get what they want?

I won’t divulge more than that except to say that The Ides of March is, at its core, a somewhat cynical political tale about the loss of innocence.  It begins slowly and is what some would call a slow burner, so it won’t be for everyone.  But I enjoyed every minute of it.  Apart from giving viewers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the shady deals, compromises and grey areas in these political processes — daily battles with competitors, internal power struggles, schmoozing journalists and smoothing out scandals — the stylish intensity that underlies the film from start to finish really elevates this otherwise unremarkable story (if you think about it)  to one of the best dramas of the year.

The perfect performances from the awesome cast must receive a significant chunk of the credit.  Gosling has already been nominated once (for Half Nelson in 2006), and this could be the year he takes out Best Actor at the Oscars.  Clooney (Syriana), Hoffman (Capote) and Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) are all Oscar winners and Giamatti is a multiple nominee, and each brings a touch of class to their character — all of whom possess a different side to what is originally presented.  And Evan Rachel Wood, who has a key role as a Morris campaign intern, is surprisingly good and steals a lot of scenes (no mean feat considering the company).

The Ides of March is a clever, well-executed drama with impeccable performances.  It’s probably not for the casual filmgoer looking for light, fast-paced thrills, but I think lovers of (American) politics and serious dramas will thoroughly enjoy it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Capote (2005) vs Infamous (2006)

Toby Jones (left) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (right) as Truman Capote. Source: Guardian.co.uk

A recent revisiting of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood sparked some interest in the two films about him that were released in quick succession in 2005 and 2006 — Bennett Miller’s Capote and Douglas McGrath’s Infamous.

Being the first released, Capote stole most of the limelight, especially as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Capote won him an Oscar for Best Actor (not to mention the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAGs).  The film itself was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (for Catherine Keener as Harper Lee), and was at the top of most critics’ lists for the year.

On the other hand, Toby Jones, who played Capote in Infamous, won high praise for his performance too, and physically he was closer to the real life counterpart.  Sandra Bullock’s portrayal as Harper Lee was also praised, but did not receive the same recognition as Keener.  Infamous also had an arguably better cast, featuring stars such as Jeff Daniels, Daniel Craig, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and a cameo from Gwyneth Paltrow.  But despite all of this, and the fact that most critics thought the film was pretty good too, Infamous could not avoid being compared to the earlier film, which they almost unanimously agreed was superior.

The real Truman Capote

Having read the book and watched both films in quick succession, I thought I would throw in my two cents on the two film versions.

Capote was based on the biography by Gerald Clarke, whereas Infamous was based on the book by George Plimpton.  Nevertheless, the story is essentially the same — Truman Capote is fascinated by a 300-word article about a family that was brutally gunned down in the small town of Holcomb, and decides to travel there to write an article.  He brings his good friend Harper Lee with him, and after a lengthy investigation, decides to turn that article into the “first” non-fiction novel (ie a non-fiction book written with fictional techniques).  In order to write the book, Capote gains access to the two killers in prison, Dick and Perry, who are facing the death penalty.  Capote befriends both men, and is particularly drawn to the sensitive and artistic Perry.  Despite becoming extremely close with the men over several years, Capote knows that the book’s ending can only be effective if they are ultimately executed for their crime.

Both films were good, but in different ways.  Capote is a classy production with a classy performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who really brings out the genius and the narcissism in the titular character.  It’s a slow burning film full of pain and contemplation, where the pauses are long but meaningful.

Comparatively, Infamous is lighter and flashier.  Toby Jones is a more flamboyant, less subtle Capote who is portrayed as a shameless gossip with the high society women in New York.  Jones also makes Capote seem like a prick, though Hoffman’s Capote is colder, more reserved but definitely more manipulative.  As good as Jones was, the edge goes to Hoffman in my opinion.

Catherine Keener and Sandra Bullock both make fairly good Harper Lees — but again, Keener is more subtle whereas Bullock is more in-your-face.  Not to say that makes her a weaker Harper, just a different one, though this was probably attributable more to the script than the actresses.  I’d say they were equally good.

I found it interesting that both films focused almost entirely on Capote’s relationship with Perry, even though Dick also played a very large role in the book.  Nevertheless, I thought Capote handled this crucial part of the story better than Infamous did.  In Capote, you really get a sense of the struggle Capote is facing — he clearly feels something for Perry (though exactly what that feeling is is left rather ambiguous) but he also knows he must finish his masterpiece — and that obsession, vanity and selfishness eventually gets the better of him.

As for Infamous, I thought getting Daniel Craig to play Perry was a bizarre choice.  He’s a very good actor, but having read the book, he does not exactly fit the bill (Perry’s supposed to be very short and half American-Indian).  I didn’t fully buy into the relationship, which lacked the emotional power of the earlier film, even though it actually depicted a physical relationship between the two men.

Ultimately, Capote is more serious and reserved, much like the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Infamous, like Toby Jones’s performance, is more “out there” and talkative, especially as we get to see more of Capote living his high society life in New York, and there are occasional mock interviews with his friends that remove a layer of realism.

So yeah, same story but different approaches and different results.

Capote: 4.25 stars

Infamous: 3.5 stars

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

 

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

 

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

 

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

 

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!