The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence has had an incredible couple of years; after landing the lead role in The Hunger Games franchise as Catniss Everdeen, she led the film to serious box office success. She then went on to join the X-Men franchise as a young Mystique and starred in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie that would change her life and see her become one of the youngest actresses to win a Best Actress Oscar. J-Law as she’s now affectionately known is one of Hollywood’s hottest young stars (and a brilliant role-model) and she returns to the role of Catniss in this next instalment Catching Fire which sees Catniss having to deal with the choices she made in the previous Games.

The film opens with Catniss back in District 12, she and her family may have moved into a better life in the victory village, however life in 12 is still hard and wearisome, and she hasn’t forgotten her roots, hunting with love interest no.1 Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As her and love interest no.2 Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are due to go on a tour of the Districts, it’s apparent that the two of them are not on good terms, Peeta finding her deceit about her feelings toward him difficult to take. As the trip gets underway though, the two come to an understanding and start to re-bond over their shared experience. Lawrence has an easy chemistry with both men, but it’s her scenes with Hutcherson that I love the most; it’s easy to see that Katniss is trying to kid herself that she doesn’t have feelings for Peeta, but at the same time they both convey the care and love they feel for one another.

The stakes are much higher in this film, particularly politically for Katniss as she faces pressure from President Snow (played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland) to keep a rising rebellion forming in some of the districts. Katniss and Peeta are forced to put on a show during their trip, and continue to act out a lie. When they think it’s over Snow announces that the next Games will feature those that have already won past games, in an effort to try and eliminate the threat of Katniss. Katniss and Peeta must then forget everything they learnt in the last games as they must align themselves with other tributes in order to stay alive and survive the games.

Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie effortlessly, with beautiful poise and elegance at times but she’s also not afraid to show Katniss’ vulnerability. It does beg the question how would these movies have fared with another actress in the leading role but thankfully this never has to be questioned with Lawrence. The PTSD that Katniss is clearly suffering from after the games is highlighted by Lawrence in certain moments, particularly the way she reacts to finding out she will have to face the Games once more. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, the franchise has three young actors with a brilliant chemistry and unity, making it the success that it has become.

Of course the other supporting cast members also have a role to play and there’s certainly a few standout performances; Woody Harrelson returns once again as Hamich in a role I adore him in. He’s hardened by what he has seen and knows how to play the game, coming across as direct; he really does care about his two new charges, particularly Katniss. There’s almost a fatherly bond he develops with the two, but he never doubts them, simply telling them both to ‘stay alive’. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie with a lot more emotional charge during this film as the character too has bonded mores so with these two tributes; behind the affluent costumes, hair and make-up that Banks has to contend with, there is a heartbreaking performance. Donald Sutherland is also able to develop Snow much more so in this film as he’s further portrayed as the patriarch of all people, but underneath is a dark side, fuelled by his need for power and dominance. Of the new cast, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the new games maker Plutarch Heavensbee, who all along has a secret agenda to help Katniss become the leader of a rebellion that Snow has feared all along. Two of the new tributes also stand out in the forms of Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna, each aligning themselves with our lovers from District 12. Claflin brings a sense of distrust to his character, the audience never completely sure to believe that he wants to help but also bringing his sheer loyalty to the surface with his connection to a fellow tribute as he refuses to leave her. Malone takes whatever she is given and completely runs with it, with her character becoming an instant standout.

The franchise has perhaps performed so well in the box office and gained critical success not only because of the acting bones behind it but also due to its subject matter; the concept of a Battle Royale style future where children are forced to kill one another in a reality show concept is quite a grim subject matter. The filmmakers don’t water the concept down as well to reach younger audiences as several moments in the film are hard to watch. When a man is taken from the crowd and shot in front of hundreds of horrified faces; when Gale is whipped viciously in the centre of a square and when Stanley Tucci’s Caesar announces that after tonight all but one competitor will never be seen again (an albeit harsh fact), but then breaks into hysterical laughter, a grin and applause is a complete juxtaposition. It can perhaps all be summed up when Katniss glances at her younger sibling, taking charge of Gales wounds after he has been beaten by the Capitol’s version of the police – she realises she has had to grow up extremely quickly because of the life they live in.

As well as the overall theme of the movie, the action sequences of the games are just as intense as the last movie; it’s not so much about the hiding in these games but about the obstacles that are put in their way. Deathly fog, killer monkeys, blood rain are just the tip of these games and they offer an intense, adrenaline ride for the second half of the movie. New director Francis Lawrence picks up the reigns of the franchise and gives us a movie to remember which flows brilliantly thanks to its well-gauged pacing, which could have easily felt dragged thanks to its impressive running time. As the movie closes, the larger scale plan emerges with the simple phrase ‘Remember who the real enemy is’. That lasting image of Lawrence’s face morphing into a steely determination summons the final instalment Mockingjay which follows the pattern of many film franchises and is splitting the book into two films. What’s clear is that The Hunger Games train isn’t de-railing any time soon, and with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, it is in safe hands.

Hamich: This trip doesn’t end when you get back home, you never get off this train. (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

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Priscilla: Queen of the Desert UK Tour

The stage show UK tour of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert had a stop off at the theatre near me so I thought it rude to not go and see it. I’d never seen the stage version of the show or even seen the film, but the premise of three drag queens having a road trip across Australia on a bus they nickname Priscilla sounded brilliant.

The show itself was brilliant – full of life, energy a great vibe and at its core a great message about acceptance. The soundtrack was filled with well-known pop songs and the theatre was alive when the cast launched into number after number. The costumes were also a huge standout point for me – flamboyant, colourful and beautiful. The three main cast members as well looked great together, a nice chemistry and flow between the three and more importantly all three men looked comfortable in heels.

The cast was led by Jason Donovan who has been in and out of the West End version of this show; he was great with the acting side, hamming it up well, but also showing the emotional side of his character as he struggles with his fears of meeting his son. However, certainly during the first half he sometimes seemed a bit awkward with the dance moves whilst his fellow leads were putting a lot more effort into it. Whether this was done to a personal choice to portray the character like this, or because he’d had a few days off I’m not sure, but he seemed more comfortable in the second act.

Priscilla is still touring the UK and if it’s coming to a theatre near you, then I’d highly recommend this show – it’s a guaranteed feel-good night as I certainly left the show with a huge smile on my face.

Criminal Minds 9×14 ‘200’

Criminal Minds reached the brilliant milestone of its 200th episode earlier this month and this under-appreciated series showed exactly why it’s lasted 9 seasons. Focusing on the character of Jennifer ‘JJ’ Jareau (A.J. Cook), it reveals just what her character got up to during her year out of the BAU during season 6. Throughout the season, her secret has been teased and tantalised and after her kidnapping at the end of the previous episode, fans were promised an explosive 200th episode celebration, which also brought back an old fan favourite.

I can still remember watching the 100th episode of this series and weeping as I did; it was emotionally wrought, not least because of what happened to Hotch, but also it showed just how close the team of characters had become. It was a fantastic showing of the series and so I was hugely excited for what the 200th would bring.

It turns out JJ wasn’t technically at the state department; instead she was mostly in Afghanistan, helping out an information hunt for Osama Bin Laden. She went through a lot out there, foiled missions, interrogations, and an inside man feeding information to the bad guys. Whilst all this was going on we also learned that during this time, JJ found out she was pregnant; this was cruelly taken away from her after an attack on a convoy. It was heartbreaking to learn this, and A.J. Cook puts in an amazing performance, showcasing her talent and also the mechanics of how JJ returned stronger and more resilient than ever, allowing her to become the profiler she is today.

This episode also showed us how well the team interact, work and care for each other; as it becomes apparent that JJ is in even more danger, the battle stations are firmly in place as they work their way around the profile, digging up the clues of JJ’s past. We also see plenty of familiar faces such as Jayne Atkinson’s Chief Strauss which was great to see; Nicholas Brendon’s Kevin and JJ’s fabulous husband Will played by Josh Stewart. The best of all these cameos however was having Paget Brewster reprise her role as Emily Prentiss.  When Brewster joined the show in the middle of series 2 she became a firm fan favourite and her exit from the show at the end of season 7 was a sad loss for the show. Her reappearance for this episode though was very much welcomed and also organic and not forced. It was great seeing her back in the fold profiling and interacting with the characters again.

The episode had a happy ending with the team finding JJ, defeating the bad guy and saving the day and it was a lovely sight having the family all in the bar together celebrating. A perfect ending to a brilliant 200thepisode of Criminal Minds.

Morgan: They just locked us out. Are the state doing anything to find JJ and Cruz?

Hotch: No.

Morgan: So what are we going to do?

Hotch: We call in reinforcements.  (Criminal Minds, 9×14 ‘200’)

Coriolanus

Gone are the days where you could only watch West End theatre in person; now with the art of digital downloads theatre is so much more accessible. National Theatre live are taking the process of bringing people closer to theatre by bringing it into cinemas. Across the UK and worldwide, various operas and stage shows have been available in the cinemas and my first venture into this new genre of theatre in a cinema was to see the Donmar Warehouse production of the William Shakespeare play Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston in the title role with support from Mark Gatiss.

The production itself was absolutely fantastic – with such a small theatre space it was utilised to its full potential, keeping the set quite minimal and using only a small array of props (chairs were very well used, and I enjoyed the Brechtian style of having the company sit across the back wall for most of the play). The company itself were great, with several of them having dual roles; Hiddleston was the main reason I wanted to see this production and he didn’t disappoint. The Shakespearean language rolls of his tongue as if he were born to say it, bringing wit and comedy but also passion, anger and Coriolanus’ ignorance to the role.

There was some stand out moments in the production; it was quite physical at times, particularly an early fight scene between Coriolanus and Aufidius which was quite complex. The end scene between Coriolanus, his wife, his son and his mother was really beautiful to watch; you could feel the emotion pouring from all of the actors, with genuine tears from Tom Hiddleston. The end which sees Hiddleston stringed up with blood dripping from his throat is powerful and signals the end of a power driven play.

As well as the actual production being amazing, another element to consider in this review is the element of live theatre steamed into a cinema. It of course made it slightly less authentic, having carefully placed cameras surrounding the theatre space, but it also made the audience feel as if they were there. A movie experience but with live theatre – you wouldn’t have seen facial expressions that close up, everything’s a lot bigger, more focused. However that doesn’t mean to say at time there were some awkwardness; there was one moment which caused a small commotion in the cinema when the gay overtones in the play were explored in which Aufidius kisses Coriolanus. Of course this wouldn’t have been allowed in the theatre (or at least you would have got some dirty looks off fellow theatregoers). We also wouldn’t have had the annoying lady introducing the play and the constant promos for other plays but that’s just an outside aspect.

The thing that stuck out the most was the very end; the curtain call. Of course you want to show your appreciation, and there are only a few occasions I’ve wanted to clap or have at the end of a film in the cinema but this was live theatre – do you clap? They won’t be able to hear you so what’s the point? Nonetheless I clapped, and so did others, but it wasn’t sustained or particularly enthusiastic despite the brilliant performance. Perhaps this is where the notion of theatre in cinemas falls down – the live appreciation is lost.

A fabulous production, however and I left with an invigorated love for Tom Hiddleston (who has the most beautiful blue eyes)

Mojo

I love theatre. As a former drama student, I live for live theatre, be that plays or musicals. When you realise you haven’t seen any live theatre for 6 months, something must be done about it. When I heard that Rupert Grint (Ron from the Harry Potter series) was going to be making his west end theatre debut, and what’s more be appearing alongside 4 other brilliant British actors from stage TV and film, I knew I wanted to go see it. The play had just been extended and I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets.

Mojo is a play by Jez Butterworth and is set in the 50’s entirely in a sleazy club, around a 24 hour period. When club owner Ezra is murdered, his son Baby (Ben Whishaw) and club workers struggle to remain calm after drink and drug infused partying. The play really highlights the power plays between the group, as they panic between themselves.

As I said above, the cast really are absolutely fantastic in this, and the show is certainly one of the best ensemble cast performances I’ve seen for ages. As well as Grint who gives a brilliant performance as Sweets, a man that tends to follow the crowd and who gets freaked out easily. The comedy flair he showed in the Potter films flourishes in this role and he bounces off Daniel Mays who plays Potts brilliantly. Daniel Mays has a flair about his performance and gets some brilliant gags in the play. Colin Morgan (best known as the title role in Merlin) plays Skinny usually calm but constantly being abused by Baby. At one point Morgan is tied to a record player with his trousers down as Whishaw’s Baby brandishes a sword at him. For me, Whishaw gives a powerhouse performance and steals every scene he’s in. Baby is quite unhinged, and Whishaw is amazing in the role, and what’s more he sings and dances. Rounding off the cast is Brendon Coyle as Mickey, the calmest of the bunch, he self-appoints himself as the leader and remains quite menacing throughout.

The conclusion of the play is a shock but is performed wonderfully; Baby discovers that it was Mickey that helped kill his father and in an argument with Skinny he shoots him. Despite trying to help and calm him down, Skinny dies and the group disperse, Sweets and Potts running into the night; and Mickey breaking down in despair. The final member of the cast is relative newcomer Tom Rhys Harries as Silver Johnny – it’s a shame the character didn’t have a bigger role as even though he is mentioned throughout he’s only in two scenes. Helping to uncover the mystery of Ezra’s death, he and Baby disappear into the night.

The play was absolutely fantastic and a brilliant ensemble cast. The show ends its run this week, but I’m so glad I saw this play – a funny comedy but with a stellar cast that managed to make every moment count.