Film review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 promises a spectacular Part 2

(Picture: Lionsgate)

(Picture: Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 feels very much like the first half of something bigger, but if this is the set up then the pay off is going to be stunning.

Part 1 sees a haunted Katniss Everdeen come to terms with being the face of a revolution, and what that role costs. Meanwhile President Snow tries to crush the movement at every turn as Peeta languishes in the Capitol. Things are getting dark and I don’t just mean the grey jumpsuits everyone is stuck in.

Mockingjay Part 1 swaps the grandeur of the Games for a more intimate, character-driven story arc. We see the Games’ mentally tortuous affect on Katniss, who until this point has been relatively icy about witnessing children killing and being killed by other children. Finnick Odair (a nuanced Sam Claflin) is a broken man worlds away from the preening, sea-shell wearing champion we met in Catching Fire. A franchise this huge needs to take time to remind us of the human story at its core to avoid everything being at surface-level, and thankfully it succeeds.

The upside to scaling back on blockbuster set-pieces is that action sequences, when they happen, have maximum effect. An aerial attack on District 13 is played out entirely through the panicked expressions of those hunkered down underground; a violent, shocking twist at the end hits harder. Yes, it means less bang for your buck and at times I did miss the spectacle of Catching Fire. Part 1 is muted and unrelentingly grim. Even the humour, whether it’s a witty shoot for an advert or a throwaway line to the family cat, is gloomy; jaded.

(Picture: Lionsgate)

(Picture: Lionsgate)

The introduction to District 13 moves the story along nicely, but nearly all of the film takes place there so you never quite get out of the starting block. It doesn’t seem to get going at all until the rescue mission in the final third. However I reckon this is necessary to properly introduce us to President Coin and her world, who I get the impression will be playing a big part in the next chapter. It also gives Gale a chance to be more than the brooding, jilted man in pain, pining over Katniss from a distance. I feel Gale would have been involved in the Panem uprising whether Katniss had volunteered in place of Prim or not.

Speaking of Gale, we’re still no closer to finding out who Katniss wants to be with. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it should be Gale all day, and that’s down to Liam Hemsworth and his brilliantly understated performance. I’d say he was on a level with Jennifer Lawrence for the first time. J-Law, as ever, is utterly watchable and charming – no matter what she does in future Katniss will probably remain one of her greatest ever roles.

I hear that among fans of Suzanne Collins’ books Mockingjay is considered the weakest (I haven’t read them so do let me know if that’s not true), but by no means is Part 1 the weakest film, even if it was created just to get more of our money. As far as I’m concerned Lionsgate can take it.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE

Side note: I ship Haymitch/Effie now.

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Guardians of the Galaxy review: Marvel’s latest chapter is not quite out of this world

Guardians of the Galaxy sees pilot/dudebro Peter Quill become the object of a manhunt when he steals an orb belonging to the feared Ronan the Accuser. When he finds out the orb has the potential to destroy millions of innocent lives, he teams up with a gang of outcasts to bring Ronan down.

After the deserved success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was expecting big things from this, and it delivered on some fronts but not on others.

Quill and the gang are not well known, so there’s a strong sense of freedom to Gunn’s directing. He has been allowed to tell the kind of story he wants to tell without having to worry too much about pandying to the stalwart fans of the comics. He gets rid of the angst that we’ve come to expect from superhero movies lately, and the result is a fun and frothy space opera packed with wit (a throwaway semen joke is especially lol-worthy), but unfortunately that means moments we’re supposed to take seriously, like Drax’s pretty heartbreaking back story, tend to lose their edge.

Visually, it’s a treat.  Director James Gunn immerses you in his incredibly beautiful, bright and bonkers universe which you sort of wish actually existed. Like all good sci-fi movies, this has a water-tight, well established world with it’s own rules, peoples…and alcohol, realised in great detail. Plus, the CGI is seamless and it’s never not cool to see hundreds of one-person spaceships get fried.

Quill’s a player, but Chris Pratt is loveable enough to stop him from being a complete douchecanoe. Gamora is a brilliant female character, which we know Zoe Saldana excels at; but Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) steal the show as the trigger-happy, oddball double act. Most-surprising performance goes to former wrestler Dave Batista. WWE stars can be cringe on the big screen, but if The Animal is serious about a film career, it could take off.

Marvel need to put in work on their villains, though.  WHERE IS THE THREAT? Lee Pace and Karen Gillan are solid actors who were wasted in this movie. Nebula is badass, but only briefly; and while Pace gets a delightfully grim murder scene early on, his potentially defining moment gets invalidated in seconds, albeit in a funny way.

Guardians of the Galaxy is n bombastic popcorn movie with an 80s vibe that people old enough to remember Spaceballs first coming out will appreciate. Those who don’t might feel like they’ve missed something – and I include myself in that. I grew up with Discmans and The Backstreet Boys. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Or maybe my post-Cap 2 expectations were too high…

THREE OUT OF FIVE*

*Yeah, that score is kinda subject to change. At the screening we were denied the after-credits sequence, so I’m planning on watching GotG again so I can see it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Andy Serkis + sweet CGI – James Franco = very, very good

 

Years have passed after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and an outbreak of simian flu has smoked a large percentage of the human race. The apes exist in peace in their own realm, but trouble starts when a group of human survivors venture into their territory in search of electricity.

DOTPOTA runs a lot deeper than just a simple humans vs apes story. Apes are not the enemy, but neither are humans. Gary Oldman’s character is hell bent on wiping the animals out, while on the apes’ side Caesar (an astonishing performance from Andy Serkis yet again) has to contend with the hateful and violent Koba (Toby Kebbell, also astonishing). It’s these nuances that keep the story grounded among the monkeys-on-horseback setpieces.

Much like he did with Cloverfield, director Matt Reeves succeeds at creating a decaying, imposing and desolate world that is also plausible. He’s also great with large-scale destruction of civilisations without overdoing the explosions, which makes the chaos in the third act much more effective.

The clip that aired during the World Cup semi final, of Koba shooting a man in the face, drew complaints from parents for a reason. The tone veers sharply and seamlessly from sci-fi/action to chilling horror. That is in no way a criticism.

There has been talk of how hardly any female characters feature in the film (some interesting points are made in both of these articles – thanks, Sophia!) and to be honest, while watching I got swept away by the brilliance of the film and I didn’t notice. Looking back on it however, it should have been glaringly obvious. In terms of women we have Keri Russell’s Ellie, and Caesar’s other half Cornelia who, as Vulture rightfully points out, you don’t even know is called Cornelia unless you IMDB that shizz later.

The most disheartening thing about it is that the lack of female characters was not intentional – it just sorta happened. Reeves himself has admitted he doesn’t know why DOTPOTA contains hardly any women and that’s sad. Female characters wasn’t even something that came up in discussion, and that’s a problem most films still have. Dudes are the default. This isn’t to take anything away from this movie – I loved it – but there’s room for improvement should a sequel go into production (which it hopefully will).

I’ll finish on a positive note. This is going to sound flowery, but there’s a great message here about judging people on their good and bad qualities as individuals instead of lumping everyone together with sweeping generalisations. Also there’s a baby ape in it and it’s soooooooooooo cute.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE

Transformers: Age of Extinction? Transformers: Age of ExSTINKtion more like. Ha.

(Picture: Paramount Pictures)

Everything is awful

When Tesco Tony Stark Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers an abandoned truck that turns out to be a Transformer, he and his daughter become wanted by a crooked government official and the evil Decepticons, who are both trying to wipe Autobots off the face of the earth.

Quick disclaimer first – I haven’t seen Transformers 1 through 3, so I can’t say whether they were better or worse than Age of Extinction, but I’m going to go with better.

Man of Steel (which I enjoyed) raised a few eyebrows with the amount of destruction depicted on screen, but Age of Extinction manages to top it. Stuff blows up. A lot. Cars crash into other cars that then crash into buildings, and as a result the already trying 165-minute running time seems much, much longer. The plot is weak, the dialogue is atrocious and the third act features a dull, lengthy scrap in the streets of Hong Kong that only serves as a way to push more brand names in our faces. Oh yeah, and there are dinosaur Transformers now too, and the sight of Prime riding one like a horse is the least ridiculous part of this film.

That honour probably goes to Cade’s daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who fell victim to the “woman in a Michael Bay movie” trope. Despite the fact she’s meant to be 17, there’s a lot of focus on how hot she is (including a weird comment from her dad’s friend about her shorts) and she spends 85% of the film screaming for someone to save her.

Actually, all the human characters are paper thin. Wahlberg’s performance is particularly unremarkable, which is a shame because he’s usually engaging and likeable on screen. Jack Reynor’s Shane on the other hand is neither, and should have been killed off in the first act along with Cade’s pervy mate. As for Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer – why did they agree to something so beneath them? WHAT DOES BAY HAVE ON THEM???

There are plus points: the heavy Imagine Dragons track for one; and the visuals are impressive. The fluid look and feel of the Transformium-made bots works well, and seeing Optimus Prime and co. switch from Transformer to vehicle is still pretty cool to watch. Bay has spent so much time making sure the non-human characters look good that he’s forgotten to, you know, actually make a decent movie.

60 minutes too long, incredibly boring and some mild racism thrown in for good measure (Ken Watanabe’s samurai Autobot), even 15-year-old boys will be insulted by this crap. And if they aren’t then they should be. No bueno.

ONE OUT OF FIVE

Saturday Special: Pieminister’s chicken, leek and cider pie

The pastry chicken on top is compulsory (it's not compulsory)

The pastry chicken on top is compulsory (it’s not compulsory)

This recipe comes from Pieminister: A Pie For All Seasons, which is the poshest recipe book I’ve ever owned.

The chicken, leek and cider pie (from the Spring section of the book – fancy!) is one of the best pies I’ve ever tasted; and if you don’t fancy pastry, the filling makes a pretty amazing broth/soup type thing.

Pieminister recommends using Orchard Pig cider, but that’s probably because they know the bloke that makes it. Any medium or dry cider works just as well.

Here we go!

Ingredients:

1 free range chicken (I used thighs because they’re the shiznit)

1 carrot, peeled and cut into quarters

2 celery sticks, cut into quarters

2 onions, cut in half

1 whole bulb of garlic, top sliced off

6 sprigs of tarragon

a large knob of butter

3 chunky leeks, cut in half lengthwise then sliced

200ml dry or medium cider

2 tbsp plain flour

150ml single or whipping cream

grated zest of half a lemon

3 tbsp chopped chives

about 660g of shortcrust pastry

1 free range egg, lightly beaten

375g puff pastry

salt and pepper

Method

  • Put the chicken in a large pot with the carrot, celery, half an onion, the garlic bulb, 2 tarragon sprigs and a little salt.
  • Add enough water to almost cover the chicken. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer and cook gently for 45 mins until the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot.
  • Strain the chicken stock into a pan, discard all the vegetables but keep the garlic
  • Boil stock until reduced by half. Take the skin off the chicken and wolf those muthas down between two slices of bread discard
  • Tear the meat to shreds
  • Chop the rest of the onions, melt the butter in a pan and add the onions. Then add the leeks and cook until softened. Pour in the cider then simmer until reduced by half.
  • Stir in the flour, cook for a few seconds, then add 400ml of the chicken stock, then the cream and lemon zest.
  • Bring to a simmer, adding more stock if needed. Chop the remaining tarragon and add to the sauce then remove from the heat.
  • Squeeze in the garlic bulb flesh, stir in the chives and that sweet, sweet chicken. Season and leave to cool.

    All that chicken-y goodness works well as a broth if you're not in the mood for a pie. But you should always be in the mood for a pie.

    This works well as a broth if you’re not in the mood for a pie. But you should always be in the mood for a pie.

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry and use it to line a large ovenproof dish. Fill the pastry with the chicken mixture and brush the edges with beaten egg.
  • Roll out the puff pastry and use this to cover the pie, trim off any excess pastry and press the edges of the pastry together to seal.
  • Make a couple of small holes in the top to let out steam.
  • Leave to stand for 10 minutes then bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
  • Take it out of the oven and take a moment to quietly reflect and shed a tear because the world will never realise your genius.
  • Eat that sucka with roast potatoes.

 

@thatmissdeen x

Endeavour series 2: 6 reasons why you should definitely be watching it

This post first appeared on Metro Online.

Shaun Evans returns as Endeavour Morse (Picture: ITV)

(Picture: ITV)

Endeavour returns for its second full series on ITV tonight, which is great news for Sunday night telly.

The period drama, following the early years of Inspector Morse, is a piece of telly gold which ITV has wisely decided to hold on to.

Series two, set in 1966, will consist of four two-hour films, and star Shaun Evans (who is amazing in this – more on him later) as the titular character.

Writer Russell Lewis, who was a contributor to Inspector Morse, said of the new series: ‘Though offset by the possibility of love unlooked for, against a backdrop of a growing change in Britain and the wider world, Endeavour must face a challenge that threatens to take from him all he holds dear.’

If that’s not enough to tickle your fancy, here’s 5 reasons why you should tune in to Endeavour.

1. It isn’t your average Sunday night telly fare

Think of Sunday night telly and the likes of Where The Heart Is, Heartbeat and The Royal probably come to mind. While they were a decent way to wind down before work on Monday, they weren’t exactly high-octane and thrilling. The most dangerous thing to happen on any of those programmes was someone dropping half a Custard Cream into their cuppa. Endeavour is the opposite – laced with high-tension, suspense and even a bit of action.

2. The cases

Endeavour’s cases are intriguing and unique. In series one he had to track a killer who bumped off his victims in a similar fashion to the endings of famous operas. It sounds complicated, but even the less musically knowledgeable viewers could follow it. Series two looks set to have another brace of head-scratchers for us, including one involving a beauty pageant, and another which star Evans has described to Digital Spy as a ‘spooky, sort of horror story’. Intriguing…

3. Endeavour’s love life

Morse romances a nurse  called Monica in this series (Picture: ITV)

Morse romances a nurse called Monica in this series (Picture: ITV)

The young policeman’s constant search for a soul mate is one of this series’ most intriguing ongoing plot points. He came close a couple of times with series one, but with the detective set to strike up a romance with a nurse this series is the second time the charm?

4. The 60s, baby!

Endeavour is a period drama and accordingly, there will be plenty of nostalgia for those over a certain age. As writer Lewis said, there was a growing change in Britain at the time, and Endeavour – like similarly wonderful 60s-set detective drama George Gently – will have heaps of nods to the state of Britain at the time. Notably, ’66 was the year of England’s world cup win, so expect some football madness thrown in.

5. Endeavour’s relationship with Thursday

Roger Allam plays DI Fred Thursday (Picture: ITV)

Roger Allam plays DI Fred Thursday (Picture: ITV)

Endeavour and Thursday have represented two sides of the same coin when it comes to policing, with Endeavour being the new and Thursday firmly stuck in his old ways. Evans and Roger Allam are the perfect pairing, so it’ll be interesting to see their working relationship develop as times change.

6. Shaun Evans

Shaun Evans gives a fantastic performance in the titular role (Picture: ITV)

Shaun Evans gives a fantastic performance in the titular role (Picture: ITV)

There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe Evans’ performance in this role, but here’s a few: beautifully understated, nuanced and enchanting. The Liverpudlian actor steals the show in every scene he’s in and says so much without saying much at all. Like another popular TV detective I could mention, Endeavour is dedicated to his work and fiercely intelligent, but Evans also manages to make him grounded and completely likable. Did I mention he’s quite easy on the eyes and ears? Because he is.

@thatmissdeen

Saw This And Thought It Was Cool: Avengers lights

I know. I know. My first post since the age of the First Men. BUT AREN’T THESE PRETTY?

avengers light

(Picture from here.)

If anyone knows where I can buy them – or knows where I can look at them and cry because I can’t afford them – do let me know. Somebody needs to take my money.

@thatmissdeen x