Tag Archives: the hunger games

Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Independence Day II: Resurgence (12a) [2016]

ID2 - header

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Roland Emmerich – Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Stargate

Cast:

  • Liam Hemsworth – The Last Song, The Expendables II, The Hunger Games I-III(ii), The Duel
  • Maika Monroe – The Guest, It Follows, The 5th Wave, The Scent of Rain & Lightning
  • Jessie T Usher – When The Game Stands Tall, Survivor’s Remorse, Almost Christmas
  • Bill Pullman – Independence Day, The Grudge, Torchwood, The Equaliser, Brother In Laws
  • Sela Ward – The Day After Tomorrow, The Stepfather, Gone Girl, Graves
  • William Fichtner – Armageddon, The Dark Knight, Entourage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, If
  • Deobia Oparei – Thunderbirds, Your Highness, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Game of Thrones
  • Angela Yeung Wing – Hitman: Agent 47, Ferryman
  • Jeff Goldblum – Independence Day, Jurassic Park I-III, Law & Order, Mortdecai, Thor III
  • Judd Hirsch – Independence Day, A Beautiful Mind, Sharknado II, The Muppets, Wild Oats
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America IIGhost In The ShellMusic Composer:
  • Harald Kloser – The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down, Discarnate
  • Thomas Wander – 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down

Twenty years ago, Director Roland Emmerich made the great disaster movie, Independence Day (ID1). Aliens came from space and blew up the White House. This was innovative and spectacular to watch as no-one had used CGI on such a scale before. Yet, that was in 1996. Could the same ideals that fuelled ID1 to success back then, have the same impact on viewers today?

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It's hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It’s hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

Independence Day II (ID2) is basically the same film as ID1. The key differences are that this one starts in outer space. While there, humans learn that the aliens have awoken after twenty years in hibernation (or whatever aliens do whilst in a state of torpor). Now, the aliens are returning to destroy the Earth again (for reasons that are never explained).

Only, this time, the aliens have even larger spaceships and more powerful weapons than first time around. All the nations of the world, across all the continents, must unite and work together if they are to stand a chance of defending the human race from extinction.

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven't we seen this sight before?)

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven’t we seen this sight before?)

Yes, ID2’s plot is as laughably corny as that. It is also entirely predictable. One can draw the arc of the film before going into this two hour-long action, Sci-fi, disaster fest. This is because: one, disaster movies tend to have (very) similar storylines; and, two, the plot for ID2 is an inconvenience to the special effects.

Ninety-plus percent of the film is special effects of one kind or another. Arguably, the most enjoyable part of ID2 is spotting from where Emmerich has gained his inspiration for the CGI. The aliens look remarkably similar to those from the Alien franchise and Prometheus; the space ship looks the same, just larger, than the one from ID1; and the destruction of the White House and London look like those same events in ID1, Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen, Thor II: The Dark World and London Has Fallen. Suffice to say the effects in ID2 do not look as innovative or inspire the same awe as they did in 1996. And that is despite the CGI being in a different league to what Emmerich had to work with twenty years ago.

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Nevertheless, while watching ID2, one spends less time wondering about the contrast in the quality of the CGI, compared to the giant hole in ID2 known as the lack of Will Smith. Smith was the hero of the last film and ID2 does not feel right without him. (The reason for his absence differs depending upon the source: Smith claims he could not work on ID2 as he was already committed to Suicide Squad, which filmed at the same time; while the studio claims Smith asked for too much money and told him to get lost.) In Smith’s absence, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T Usher and Maika Monroe decently fill the void without being anything remotely special. Yet, somehow, the three of them can’t quite capture Smith’s panache, and that is even with all the clichés that Emmerich has dumped into this unimaginative, by the numbers movie.

Over-all, ID2 is a standard, semi-enjoyable disaster movie. It tries to repeat what occurred in ID1, only on a gargantuan scale and with a plot that gets in the way of the CGI. All of this is done without Will Smith and the movie cannot get past it. Indeed, if anything, Smith’s absence emphasises how important he was to making ID1 so entertaining and successful in 1996. Without him, ID2 underlines how unoriginal and dull humans fighting (technologically superior, yet paradoxically primitive-minded) aliens has become.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Hunger Games (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Over the last decade, there have been a multitude of reality TV shows/series targeted for children and teenagers. Big Brother, The X Factor and The Apprentice are three such programmes that have gripped the nation, despite becoming sterile in recent years. Based on a similar, yet darker premise, The Hunger Games entertains its audience prior to running for too long.

Katniss (Jeniffer Lawrence) hunting in the woods to find food for her family, wherein she meets her childhood friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The Hunger Games is based on the book with the same title by Suzanne Collins. It’s based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once territory in North America. As punishment for a people’s rebellion, each one of the twelve now-impoverished districts has to put forward their boys and girls, between the ages of twelve to eighteen, to compete in a tournament called the Hunger Games. At random, one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the games, which are watched by thousands throughout the country. The tournament, controlled by a repressive leadership, is a fight to see who will survive. Only one, out of the twenty-four chosen, will return home.

After her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is picked to compete in the tournament, 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past) volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss has spent years illegally hunting with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth – Knowing, The Last Song, Independence Day II: Resurgence), for food in the woods outside of District 12. Now, taken to the affluent capital for pre-tournament training, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express, The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn), Katniss must use her skills and learn other arts from her mentors, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – No Country For Old Men, Friends With Benefits, Seven Psychopaths) and Cinna (Lenny KravitzThe Rugrats Movie, Precious, The Blind Bastard Club), to survive the games.

The plot for the film is quite accurate to the book, despite missing the Avox sub-plot and changing the skin-colour of some of the characters, such as Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg – Texas Killing Fields, Colombiana).

Katniss’s main opponent in the games, Cato (Alexander Ludwig). He is vicious and ruthless.

Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting movie, not least due to its brutal, Orwellian premise. (Note how down-trodden and miserable the common people are in comparison to the powerful elites.) Moreover, the film offers a refreshing change to the fantasy/science-fiction genre by having an outwardly tough, mentally-strong woman in a combatant role as the lead character (unlike the feeble Bella from the Twilight series).

However, at 142 minutes, The Hunger Games is far too long. A movie needs to be something special to hold its audience for that length of time, and The Hunger Games loses its viewers almost as soon as Katniss enters the tournament. One feels little suspense during the games, and one also feels that Katniss is never in real danger (unlike in Game of Thrones, where one never knows how long any of the characters will live).

Furthermore, the film lacks the violence it deserves. In 2000, a Japanese film with a comparable theme, called Battle Royale, was released. (Suzanne Collins denies being influenced by the movie.) That film acquired an 18-rating, due to the vicious content. But, just as The X-Factor has to adhere to rules so minors can watch it (even if Christina Aguilera and Rihanna stuck two fingers up to those in 2010), director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Free State of Jones) had to make the violent aspects of The Hunger Games implicit to the movie’s detriment. It makes the film less realistic; and, by merely shaking the camera, Ross makes the fight scenes hard to follow.

Fighting for one’s life in a forest is what the games are about. Yet, Katniss appears remarkably relaxed throughout. One only has to watch Vietnam War films, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, to realise soldiers’ edginess whilst in the jungle. Katniss, though, not only sleeps well, she’s even willing to help out others (seemingly unbothered that they could kill her when she’s not looking or asleep). It is astonishing that for someone so mentally hard, she’s unwilling to do what’s necessary to survive.

Despite Katniss’s inherent contradictions, Jennifer Lawrence gives a credible performance as the lead character (who always looks lovely and clean after rolling around in the dirt). Likewise, Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, The Eagle, Sofia), as the pitiless President Snow; and Woody Harrelson, as the alcoholic mentor, also perform decently. But the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, as the wimpy Peeta; Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Company You Keep), as Caesar Flickerman, the daft-smiling hand of the president; and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), as Cato, Katniss’s nasty and fierce opponent in the games, give pathetic, one-dimensional displays.

Katniss, looking much like Tulisa Contostavlos, in tightly-fitted leather, training before the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She and him are receiving advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to beat Cato and his gang.

It is a shame that most of the actors give poor performances. The movie has been put together nicely, James Howard (Love And Other Drugs, The Tourist, Snow White And The Huntsman) has composed a respectable score, and the special effects are brilliant. Panem’s capital has been wonderfully constructed and is a sight to behold.

All-in-all, The Hunger Games has a strong, but flawed, main character, with an intriguing, 1984-like basis to a reality TV show. But, ultimately, the movie has been hamstrung to cater to children and teenagers. Consequently, it is predictable and, like most reality TV shows/series, the film peters out before it ends.

PG’s Tips