The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

If nothing else, The Hunger Games franchise has been responsible for elevating Jennifer Lawrence into a bona fide Hollywood movie star. Of course, whether that is a good thing or not is debatable, but Lawrence is certainly an omnipresent entity whose profile and influence has grown exponentially since she first served notice of her considerable talents with an Academy Award-nominated performance in the independent drama Winter’s Bone (having subsequently won an Oscar for a less accomplished performance in Silver Linings Playbook). In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss Everdeen, the great white hope for change in the dystopic dictatorship of Panem. In this final film based on the series of Young Adult novels by Suzanne Collins (who also serves as Executive Producer), Katniss is fixated on revenge and the film is, by and large, a road movie that tracks her journey to the Capitol to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Mockingjay poster

Picking up where the previous instalment left off, the film opens with Katniss undergoing vocal therapy as a result of the damage to her throat by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).  Needless to say, her recovery is almost instantaneous so that the action can get underway quick smart. With a group of rebel soldiers at her side (she technically isn’t the leader of the group, but she has little interest in chains of command or following orders because she is the Mockingjay after all), Katniss sets off for the Capitol with Snow in her sights. Encountering various forms of resistance, from a series of elaborate booby traps to government troops to ‘mutts’ – grotesque creatures that resemble those that inhabited the caves of Neil Marshall’s The Descent – the group reach their destination and the inevitable showdown between Katniss and Snow looms. Through it all, Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) continue their efforts to manipulate Katniss into executing a course of action that would hand supreme power to Coin.

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There isn’t much point elaborating too much here because those who haven’t seen the previous films are not likely to start now and devout Hunger Games fans will be lapping it up regardless of what I, or anybody else thinks. The quality cast, which includes Natalie Dormer, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin and Jeffery Wright, bring a high degree of earnestness to their roles, despite the overarching silliness of some of the characters. Malone’s Johanna Mason is perhaps the most interesting of the minor players and it certainly would have been good to see more of her. There are lulls in the action, perhaps more than some would like, as Katniss introspects everything and everyone in search of answers to the some key questions: What is the truth? What is real? Who can I trust?

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Certainly, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 delivers some social commentary about the power of propaganda and manufactured consent, while the use of the term ‘peace keeper’ to describe the Government troops charged with quelling citizen  unrest seems like a not-so-subtle swipe at the various peace keeping forces operating in various parts of the world. The images of crumbling buildings and debris-filled streets are quite evocative and the various actions sequences are shot from myriad angles, enhancing the level of chaos. There is no doubt this series has been carefully constructed to appeal to both genders with the high octane moments interspersed with the ongoing love triangle narrative as Katniss is forced to choose between the loyal Gale and the unstable Peeta. It is in the final moments of the film that her decision is revealed (although there was never really much doubt even for those who have not read the books) in a sickly sentimental sequence that only serves to leave a lasting stain on what is otherwise one of the better YA franchises to make the transition from page to screen.

Love the Coopers

The basic narrative premise of Love the Coopers has been presented many times on film before.  The family reunion has long been comedy fodder and this offering from director Jessie Nelson (I am Sam) joins an extensive list of films that have explored dysfunctional family dynamics through the premise of a family gathering at which secrets and resentments are invariably revealed. Whether the reason for the get-together is Thanksgiving (Home for the Holidays), a funeral (This is Where I Leave You) or Christmas (The Family Stone), such films generally follow a very similar trajectory. It is easy see the appeal of these types of productions for filmmakers (and those who bankroll them) because they afford an opportunity to gather a collection of high profile performers that span generations and thereby potentially appealing to a broad audience and they are also relatively inexpensive given that they are generally confined to a single location, although Love the Coopers does, to its credit,  extend to settings beyond the obligatory dining room table.

Love the Coopers poster

Given the timing of its release, it is no surprise that Christmas serves as the justification for the Cooper family to convene in the home of parents Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), whose marriage of 40 years has reached a point of stasis. The first half (or more) of the film is spent introducing the various family members as they make their way to the Cooper home in snow-drenched suburban Pittsburgh; the quintessential white Christmas. There is grandad Bucky (Alan Arkin), son Hank (Ed Helms) and daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), along with Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), the mandatory crazy aunt (June Squib),  a suitably eclectic triumvirate of grandchildren and a couple of ring-ins in the form of Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) and Joe (Jake Lacy). As is so often the case in such a scenario, everybody has something to hide (well the adults at least) even if their motivations for concealment might differ considerably.

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Of these characters, it is Emma, Ruby and Eleanor who offer the most potential for the film to become something much more profound and powerful than a light-hearted comedy. Both Emma and Eleanor see themselves as disappointments in the eyes of the others, yet Nelson and writer Steven Rogers never really offer any insight into why this is the case, other than the fact that they are both still single. So desperate is Eleanor to avoid being pilloried, she convinces Joe, a young soldier she meets at an airport bar, to accompany her and pose as her boyfriend. Meanwhile, Ruby’s friendship with Bucky is ripe with a potential that is sadly never realised. We know that Ruby is possessed by a profound sadness (cue shot of wrist scars) from which her daily interactions with Bucky in the coffee shop in which she works seem to offer some relief, but we never find out anything more about her, which is very frustrating. It would have been great to see this cross-generational friendship explored in more depth, but the film barely skims the surface.

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It is hard to care much about Hank’s plight as Helms (has he ever been good in anything?) gives an altogether bland performance as a somewhat pathetic character whose wife has, not surprisingly, forsaken the marriage no doubt in the hope of finding somebody more interesting, which shouldn’t be difficult. Helms aside, the cast, which also includes Anthony Mackie, are as good as can be expected with the material they have to work with and there are some effective, and affecting, moments along the way. If you can overlook the grammatically ambiguous title, the fact that every characterisation is superficial – in design rather than delivery – and a narration by the family dog Rags (voiced by Steve Martin) that is both unnecessary and intrusive, then you may well find a few chuckles in Love the Coopers. Certainly, the preview audience I saw it with laughed plenty and the interplay between Eleanor and Jake is a lot of fun, but ultimately this serves as another example of unrealised potential in which a lack of focus and originality prevent this from being anything more than merely mediocre.

Fun Finish for Bulimba Festival

The revamped 2015 Bulimba Festival wrapped up on the weekend, culminating with the Lunch on the Lawn live music program, markets, art, carnival rides and food galore. The Memorial Park location and surrounding streets is the ideal setting for such an event and moving the bulk of the market stalls away from Oxford Street seemed to work really well.

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Blessed by great weather, the Lunch on the Lawn music program drew people of all ages to see an eclectic live music line-up. Local legends The Grates headlined the party and were in a particularly playful mood, with crazy costumes and a level of crowd interaction that had lead vocalist Patience Hodgson in amongst the audience on more than one occasion. Now a five-piece unit, musically the band were  terrific, with Hodgson’s unbridled enthusiasm compensating for a vocal that was occasionally lost in the mix. Kicking off their set with 19 20 20, the energy level never dissipated throughout the 60-minute set, which included material from all four studio albums.

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Other highlights included a strong opening set by Greg Chiapello (accompanied by Robyn from Mosman Alder on violin and backing vocals) and an energetic turn from Cheap Fakes. Eden Mulholland, Avabaree and Halfway, who seemed much more engaged than they did at their recent QMA Showcase performance and produced a much more lively set as a result, completed a great Sunday afternoon bill.

A full gallery of images from Lunch on the Lawn is available here.

Knight of Cups

Almost every filmmaker of note has reached a nadir in their career where they churn out something so bad that we begin to reassess all of the films they made beforehand with a newly formed sense of suspicion. Think Roman Polanski and The Ninth Gate or Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal or Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (or G.I. Jane or A Good Year for that matter) and you can understand the utter awfulness to which I am referring.  Well, Terrence Malik has joined this elite group with his latest effort Knight of Cups, a turgid, listless, laughable and ultimately pointless exercise packaged as an enlightened, philosophical musing on life, relationships and god-knows-what. For a while now, Malik has been churning out these ambling, atmospheric, earnest dramas that are very much style over substance and with Knight of Cups he has taken it to the next level. You keep watching in anticipation that something – anything – is going to happen, but that something never comes and ultimately you are left feeling frustrated (if not downright angry) at having given this two hours of your time.

Knight of Cups poster

It is almost unimaginable that the man responsible for this is the very same Terrence Malik who gave us Badlands and The Thin Red Line. Furthermore, it defies any kind of logic that the likes of Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderos and Cate Blanchett would lend their considerable talents to something so completely soporific. The story, for want of a better word, is broken into a series of ‘chapters’, all of which revolve around Rick (Bale) a writer who says virtually nothing. Each episode focuses on his relationship with various people, mostly women, but his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother (Wes Bentley) are in the mix as well. There is very little dialogue – other than via voiceover – and most scenes end up as nothing more than a series of undeniably beautiful, but utterly vapid moments that, more often than not, involve people splashing about at the beach or in the pool, usually fully clothed. Blanchett, Portman, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Theresa Palmer and fellow Aussie Isabel Lucas take on the various women who flitter in and out of Rick’s orbit. Just by her presence alone, Portman makes her scenes bearable, but it is actually Palmer who shines brightest with the limited material with which she has to work.

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If this were some kind of parody of the pretentious films that Malick now seems committed to making, it might actually work because it is so pompous that it is laughable. Bale has publicly stated that he had no idea what was going on with his character during filming and I doubt that watching the movie would make things any clearer for him. There is no reason whatsoever to invest any time in Rick, who has the personality of a cardboard box, lives in an apartment that is equally bland and spends his days doing absolutely nothing. It is hard to remember hating a character this much before. Self-absorbed, narcissistic characters can make for very interesting material – Bret Easton Ellis does it particularly well – but in this instance there is simply nothing to sustain audience interest in anything that is going on. It seems as though Malick is deliberately trying to alienate, maybe trying to see just how far he can go before he loses the support of the sycophants who fawn over his every move. Needless to say, there will still be those clueless few who will wax lyrical over this and deride anybody who dares to criticise, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Knight of Cups has any intellectual substance at all.

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The biggest frustration here is that there are some characters and narrative threads that have the potential to deliver something interesting. But, not even the myriad blink-and-you-miss-them appearances from the likes of Jason Clarke, Joe Manganiello, Nick Offerman and Clifton Collins Jnr can provide sufficient interest to save Knight of Cups from the mire of mediocrity in which it is very firmly entrenched. Perhaps the only person to come away without damage to their reputation is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Birdman, Gravity) because the film does look ravishing at times. The images of the empty studio back lots are particularly evocative and Lubezki does a great job capturing Los Angeles in all its glitzy, vacuous glory. Malick has made some truly great films, but this is nothing more than an ill-conceived, poorly executed, indulgent, meandering mess.

BAPFF is Back

The Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival kicks off later this month featuring more than 100 features, documentaries and shorts from 42 countries from throughout the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Now in its second year, the BAPFF will run from Thursday, November 19 to Sunday, November 29 with screenings at various venues around the city, including Brisbane Cinemateque, Palace Cinemas, Griffith Film School and New Farm Cinemas, with special events at Museum of Brisbane, Southbank Piazza, the State Library and Queensland University of Technology.

BAPFF

The BAPFF is held in conjunction with the Asia Pacific Screen Awards – which will be presented at Brisbane City Hall on November 26 – with 34 of the nominated films featuring at the festival, including the five films in contention for Best Feature Film. The diverse program of events includes premiere screenings, panel presentations, retrospective screenings and seminars.

One of the most anticipated films featuring at the festival is Jafar Panahi’s Tehran Taxi. Having been banned from making films for 20 years buy the Iranian government, Panahi has been forced to work in secret and this is the third clandestine production that he has made since the ban was imposed.

Murundak

Australian films screening at the festival include The Daughter, Downriver, Sherpa, Early Winter and Murundak: Songs of Freedom as well as a special screening of Rolf de Heer’s polarising 1993 work Bad Boy Bubby.

For more information about the 2015 Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, including the full schedule of events, head to the festival website.

The Lobster

This first English language film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is like nothing else you will see this year. It is based on a premise so kooky and utterly surreal that many might find it a somewhat alienating experience, but there is much to like. The Lobster is a commentary on the expectations around love and relationships and, in particular, the way in which the singletons of the world are seen as somehow strange and, in this case, utterly unacceptable. With little information about when or where the story takes place (although it seems to be somewhere in Britain in the very near future) and with only one of the numerous characters identified by name, this is certainly not the type of film that joins all the dots for you. The reality is that you may never really get your head around this world and the people in it. Yes, this is a comedy, but there may be many – particularly those used to being spoon fed their laughs in multiplex fare – for whom the deadpan delivery and the earnestness of the characters might be hard to cop. However, those who embrace The Lobster will be rewarded with something that is utterly unique.

The Lobster poster

In this dystopian construct, the loveless are consigned to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner from amongst the other guests or they are turned into an animal of their choosing.  The latest arrival is Dave (a paunchy Colin Farrell), a recently divorced middle-aged man with a dog in tow; a dog that also happens to be his brother, a constant reminder of the fate that awaits him. The matchmaking here has nothing to do with love or romance; it is about ‘compatibility’. You need to find somebody like you, rather than somebody who likes you, which is why Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) constantly smashes his face into hard surfaces in an effort to make himself a suitable match for Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). If the relationship starts to sour, the hotel will even allocate a child to a couple because, apparently, a child ‘solves all the problems in a relationship’. Hotel guests are forced to undertake sessions that demonstrate the dangers of being single and are also expected to partake in a daily hunt for those who have escaped the hotel, with each ‘loner’ you capture prolonging your stay and your beastly conversion.

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Upon the realisation that he is unlikely to find a compatible partner, Dave flees the hotel to join The Loners in the nearby woods, where any kind of emotional connection with another person is strictly forbidden. It is therefore ironic perhaps that it is in the woods where the story teeters towards romance. Lanthimos has assembled a stellar cast with Leah Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) calculating and callous as the leader of The Loners. Rachel Weisz is also amongst this group who find themselves constantly under threat from the hotel guests desperate for a catch, including John C Reilly’s volatile and simple-minded Lisping Man. Meanwhile, Olivia Coleman is the efficient, aloof hotel manager who is utterly steadfast in her convictions about the merits of the program.

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Whilst set in the future, there is no doubt that The Lobster is very much about the present. Lanthimos is scathing in his critique of the pressures within contemporary culture to find a spouse and follow a typical life trajectory, while at the same time being subjected to all manner of expectations and restrictions around who is, in fact, a suitable partner. Of course, he is also challenging the concept of marriage as a union based on love in a world where such couplings seem to emerge for reasons that seem far removed from emotional fulfilment. Furthermore, The Lobster, quite rightly I think, posits the notion that single people are being increasingly isolated and marginalised as if to suggest they are somehow broken. This is a cynical, satirical, intelligent, allegorical piece of cinema that ranks with the best films of the year. Much like Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, this is a work that defies convention, leaves many questions unanswered and caters to an audience desperate for something different.

New Look for Bulimba Festival

When the RSL announced that they would not be continuing in their role as the organisation responsible for staging the Bulimba Festival in 2016, I think most people assumed that would be the end of the festival altogether given the logistics of coordinating such a large scale event. However, the festival has not been lost and will be staged this year as a week-long celebration that gets underway next week on Monday, November 9.

Bulimba Festival

The new-look festival has been designed to showcase and celebrate Bulimba and the people who make up the community. Whether it be art, music, food or fashion, there will be something for everybody at the festival, which culminates with Lunch on the Lawn on Sunday, November 15 from 10.00am. Lunch on the Lawn will incorporate the most popular aspects of the annual festival, namely the myriad market stalls and the live music program in Memorial Park. This year will see the street markets located along Stuart and Godwin Streets, along with licensed food and wine outlets in the park. There will also be a range of children’s activities throughout the day.

The live music program will feature some of Queensland’s best musical talent and will be headlined by The Grates, one of the most popular bands to come out of Brisbane in the last few years. Also on the bill are Greg Chiapello, Eden Mulholland, Avabaree, Halfway and Cheap Fakes. Entry to Lunch on the Lawn is free, although attendees nned to register at Eventbrite to help organisers manage crowd numbers and a gold coin donation would be appreciated.

Lunch on the Lawn

For more information about the 2016 Bulimba Festival, including the full schedule of events, head to the festival website or follow them on Facebook.

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