Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe

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Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


2/5

Best part: The old cast.

Worst part: The new cast.

Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!

The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity  has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).

Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.

This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.

Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

The Dressmaker Audio Review: Tattered, Torn & Trite


Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Writers: Jocelyn Moorhouse, P. J. Hogan

Stars: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving

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Release date: October 29th, 2015

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: Australia 

Running time: 118 minutes


 

1½5

Review:

The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 Review – Broken Arrow


Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson

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Release date: November 20th, 2014

Distributor: Loinsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The grimy visuals.

Worst part: The love triangle.

Let me stress this to film-goers and Hunger Games aficionados everywhere: this latest instalment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is a mixed bag. Following in the Harry Potter, Hobbit, and Twilight‘s footsteps, this first-half feature is purposefully messy. Ok, that’s unconfirmed. However, it sure seems tangible. The movie’s central action sequence solidifies this theory.Teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), eyes down an enemy bomber, takes a deep breath, and fires her bow. Despite the awesomeness, it’s the one time she uses her signature weapon here.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

Setting everything up for Part 2 (coming mid to late 2015), Mockingjay – Part 1 constructs an obstacle course for itself. Spinning several plates at once, the story wobbles violently before its rescue. Part of another undeserving and needless trend, this instalment should have only been one 150-minute feature. However, to make an extra billion in box-office revenue, Lionsgate screwed the pooch. The story, such as it is, hurls us back into the desolate landscapes of Panem. Thankfully, this entry takes a wholly refreshing departure from the Games. Katniss, having survived the world-shattering events of Catching Fire, is on rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee(Philip Seymour Hoffman)’s watch. Applauded by Districts 1 through 12, she’s become the symbol of rebellion and hope. Previously unaware of District 13’s existence, she learns of several mind-numbing truths. Pulled into the resistance/Capitol war, her efforts spark significant unrest. Worried about friend/admirer Peeta(Josh Hutcherson)’s safety, she focuses on protecting her loved ones. Despite volunteer soldier Gale(Liam Hemsworth)’s long-lasting affections, Katniss’ resolve reaches breaking point. Armed by previous Games winner Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Katniss and Gale become the children of the revolution.

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Julianne Moore.

Similarly to Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay already suffers from studio interference. Almost always, splitting one narrative into two causes major structural flaws. In no other instance would this tactic be acceptable. So, why does this multi-billion dollar industry do it? Beyond the monetary gain, mass fandom influences these decisions. The fans, infatuated with Suzanne Collins’ original material and/or these adaptations, form a tight-knit community. Predictably, despite the cast and crew’s efforts, this installment doesn’t work by itself. It’s wafer thin narrative yields overwhelming major and minor flaws. The first half, specifically the painfully dour first act, explores our distraught lead’s psyche. Aided by former Hunger Games victor Finnick O’Dair (Sam Claflin), she flips between rousing anger and teary-eyed remorse. The movie unevenly plonks certain sequences next to one another. Though emphasising the consequences and stakes, it’s repetitiveness and bloated narrative are repulsive. The story leaves little but charred corpses, random set-pieces, and heavy-handed rants to connect with. The Capitol, however, still comes off like the Empire. The tension builds whenever moustache-twirler President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) appear. Sadly, this instalment takes the arrow away from the bow. Katniss, by focusing entirely on Peeta and Gale instead of the world around her, becomes yet another love-struck Young Adult heroine. Slipping from Catching Fire‘s grit to Divergent‘s distasteful pandering, this instalment never establishes its love triangle. Katniss, the only well-developed and charismatic character of the three, almost becomes Bella Swan here (but could still kick her ass!).

“You will rescue Peeta at the earliest opportunity, or you will find another Mockingjay.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).

Natalie Dormer.

Despite the complaints, Mockingjay – Part 1 is still a worthwhile installment. Here, Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water For Elephants) becomes this series’ David Yates. Displaying a bright infatuation for the franchise, his earthy direction – previously bolstering  Catching Fire – grounds this expansive universe. Ditching the original’s shaky-cam/washed-out aesthetic, Lawrence’s cinematic flourishes boost this otherwise haphazard entry. Luckily, the movie’s last third builds significant tension and thrills. In addition, the political subtext overshadows its threadbare story. This installment examines the resistance’s larger-than-life propaganda machine. A camera crew, led by punky director/Capitol escapee Cressida (Natalie Dormer), follows Katniss and co. around whilst surveying the despair and destruction. This time around, popular characters Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) butt heads with revolution big-wigs over Katniss’ fate. Forget 3D and IMAX – this instalment launches its convoluted agenda from all angles. Katniss, forced into advertisements and viral marketing schemes, goes through several peculiar situations. Judging by just a few expressions, she’s more comfortable murdering small children than reciting lines and trying on fashionable military attire. Lawrence, switching between indie-drama experiments and major franchises, connects with the crowd-pleasing material. Amplifying the character’s physical and emotional transformations, the 23-year-old mega-star – displaying exceptional singing skills in one vital scene –  displays more class than her more-experienced co-stars. New additions Moore, Dormer, and Mahershala Ali add gravitas as vital resistance players.

The major problems with Mockingjay – Part 1 have little to do with its actors, screenwriters, or director. Similarly to the Capitol, Lionsgate’s overbearing gaze affects everything involved. The infamous split-in-two decision sucks this instalment dry. Katniss doesn’t help either: becoming a shrill, unfavourable, and indignant YA trope. Fighting only for herself, her barely defined family members, and two bland super-zeroes, the Girl on Fire is now extinguishing her own flames. Sadly, the Mockingjay is struggling to take flight. Let’s hope Part 2 drops the attitude and picks up the bow.

Verdict: Half a Hunger Games flick (for better or worse).

The Hunger Games Review – On Fire!


Director: Gary Ross

Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novels)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson


Release date: March 23rd, 2012

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The frustrating shaky-cam.

The first of this enormously successful trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, has finally been translated to the big screen. With the notoriety this book has received and the difficulty of projecting this harsh story to large audiences, you have to wonder how they could possibly do a competent job. Thankfully they have; creating a beautiful yet sombre perspective of a reality show contestant in the most dangerous competition ever imagined.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

The Hunger Games starts out in the realm of District 12, one of 12 districts working their fingers to the bone to satisfy the needs of the futuristic landscape known as ‘The Capitol’. With the 12 districts given the appearance of coal mining towns in the 1800s, its inhabitants work hard and follow the oppressive rules to survive. Teenage wanderer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) envisions a life away from restraints. Her protective nature over her sister Primrose is brought to light when Prim is chosen to be in the capitol’s favourite annual event, the Hunger Games, in which 24 citizens, two from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to forcefully participate in a bloodbath. 24 go in, one comes out. After volunteering for the event to save her sister, Katniss is accompanied by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). They must both physically and mentally challenge themselves in and out of the arena as their moral judgements, both for humanity and social indifference, will be greatly tested.

Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson & Woody Harrelson.

Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson & Woody Harrelson.

Someone who hasn’t read the books (myself Included) may see this for what it is; a bloodthirsty battle for survival featuring the teenage fantasy of good looking characters and romance in the face of danger, with an aim of pleasing the entire family. The translation of this book, while a hard one to pull off, brings elements from different genres and visual styles together in a charming fashion. The witty dialogue and chemistry between the characters is a unique and enlightening trait, sadly missing from similar adaptations such as Percy Jackson or The Golden Compass. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) creates a rightfully sombre depiction of events while being able to inject an appropriate amount of charisma. His direction in the slow, dialogue based parts is powerful. Poignant yet romantic technicolour dreams of The Capitol and moral ambiguity in the face of death is the perfect balance found right off the bat. The visual style delicately reflects Katniss’s strong emotional shifts. District 12 is reflected as a decrepit and colourless land surrounded by green forests, simulating her desperate desire to leave the borders of this lower class society. While The Capitol is certainly a sight to behold. A powerful and fixating mixture of Tokyo anime and New York fashion week depicts the technicolour plethora of futuristic yet concrete grey city settings and elaborate characters decked out in outrageous costumes and hairstyles. The performances also add to the charm needed for this depressing story.

“May the odds be ever in your favour.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games).

Donald Sutherland & Wes Bentley.

Donald Sutherland & Wes Bentley.

An impressive supporting cast including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland deliver fun yet nuanced performances. While singer Lenny Kravitz is a revelation as Cinna, a stylist making the best of a bad situation for the participants. This is not a perfect film however as some of the more confronting themes and directions the book is known for are sadly lost in the translation. The film’s overall problem matches a similar problem with the Harry Potter films, in that it feels like there are so many elements brought in from the novel that the film loses focus and leaves behind any sense of emotional impact or connection. Jennifer Lawrence, Hutcherson and Hemsworth deliver dynamic performances, but the love triangle between them, when eventually touched on, feels forced. While the supporting characters fail to deliver a dramatic affect on any level and are strangely left out of most of the second half. Another major flaw is the game itself. The direction is uninspiring as Ross fails to deliver the technical ingenuity needed to tell this interpretation of kids being tested in brutal combat. Despite its shocking violence at certain times; quick cuts, uncomfortably close shot framing and an irritating shaky camera style unfortunately turn what should be affecting scenes of death into completely incomprehensible fist fights and blood splatters.

The Hunger Games, if anything, points directly at our love of big-budget entertainment. Revelling the hypocrisy, the movie utilises its impressive cast, solid writing team, and efficient director to bolster the YA genre. This adaptation is certainly worth fighting for!

Verdict: A flawed yet engaging action-drama.