Liam Hemsworth

Independence Day: Resurgence

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26/06/16

Welcome back to the world of Roland Emmerich. Hard to believe that its been 20 years since Independence Day elevated him to the position of head go-to guy for apocalyptic devastation. Since then, he’s presided over a slate of similarly themed destructathons – The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, 2012, with a couple of disasters of a different persuasion thrown in for good measure – The Patriot, which played fast and loose with American history  and Anonymous, a film which seriously posited the notion that William Shakespeare was an illiterate actor who got somebody else to write all his plays for him. Now, Emmerich finally revisits his biggest hit with mixed results. Could it have been a coincidence that it was released on the day the UK decided to vote for Brexit? I doubt it. Disasters have a tendency to cling together.

It’s been twenty years since those pesky aliens took on Planet Earth and there has been unprecedented peace and prosperity for the world ever since. (And if you’ll swallow that, you’ll swallow anything.) But of course, it was only a matter of time before the space lizards came back for another go, an event presaged by former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman) experiencing some strange visions. All the stars of the original resurface here, with the notable exception of Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) who we are informed has ‘perished on a test flight.’ Luckily, his son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), a chip off the old block if ever there was one, is on hand to carry on his late father’s work, despite having rivalry issues with reckless young pilot, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Meanwhile, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is in Africa, where he hooks up with Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is trying to decipher some strange alien writing that seems to hint at unfinished business…

To be honest, it’s pretty pointless to say any more about the plot which is frankly, bonkers. (It’s saying something when the alien invasion elements are the most credible part of the story). Of course, what Emmerich has always excelled at are the wide screen scenes of carnage, which at times resemble the visionary paintings of John Martin. A set-piece where one major city is unceremoniously dumped on top of another is, it has to be said, pretty spectacular. Goldblum also earns his money as comic relief, wandering around in the background making flip remarks as yet another landmark is blown to smithereens.

And yet, it’s really not enough to salvage this from it’s failings – lamentable dialogue, plot holes you could fly a jumbo-sized spacecraft through and some cheesy statements about mankind’s ability to survive against all the odds. What’s more, the premise of a giant Queen alien presiding over a ‘hive’ of extra terrestrials is too close to James Cameron’s Aliens for comfort. A final chase across the salt flats in pursuit of a busload of kids (and a cute dog) is the point where everything falls to pieces. At this point, even Goldblum looks embarrassed.

So, worth seeing? Yes, provided you can overlook the ridiculous plot and the truly awful dialogue. And a worthy successor to the original film? Nah, not really. It’s as if Emmerich has decided to crank everything up to maximum – as though his motto is ‘bigger is better.’ Why have a dozen spaceships when you can have three hundred of them?  Why blow up one monument when you can destroy a dozen? Ironically, I still remember the impact of watching the White House blown to smithereens in the first film, but for all the bombast on display here, I doubt that I’ll remember this for more than a day or so.

The film ends with a clumsy attempt to set up a Part Three, which I have to say, I won’t be holding my breath for. Enough, already. Try something new.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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21/11/15

Another day, another dystopia.

So, one of the biggest movie franchises of recent years grinds inexorably to its conclusion and the overriding question is this: is there another blockbusting series in the cinematic universe that is so monumentally dull? Seriously, I know this series isn’t really aimed at somebody like me, but my goodness, it moves so slowly and when you find yourself sitting there thinking about what you might have for breakfast tomorrow, that’s surely not a good sign.

At the film’s start, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) is nursing a bruised throat, delivered courtesy of her old squeeze Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) now a brainwashed wreck thanks to the fiendish ministrations of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Enlisted to lead a mission into the heart of the capital, Katniss enlists alongside her other squeeze, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). And guess what? Peeta goes along too, despite the fact that he keeps trying to kill members of his own squad. Go figure.

What follows is a long series of misadventures as the team are systematically despatched by bombs, bullets and er… oil. In between, we are treated to Katniss trying to choose between her two suitors. Will it be hunky Gale or unreliable Peeta (and if you have to think about that, for very long, then you haven’t really absorbed the message thus far)?

To be fair, there’s a decent sewer-set action sequence towards the final third (though the attacking creatures look like they’ve been drafted in from a far better film, Neil Marshall’s The Descent) and then there’s some more explosions before we’re treated to a ‘surprise’ twist which only the visually impaired won’t have seen coming. And of course, this being the final episode, there’s a syrupy coda, which seems intent on undermining the kickass female role that Lawrence has worked so hard to develop.

Of course, one cannot deny the financial success of this series – people are suggesting that together with the Bond and Star Wars franchise, it will single-handedly restore the fortunes of the cinema industry. But the supposed wisdom of the ‘political messages’ incorporated here are little more than fridge magnet sentiments – and it’s particularly galling to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen moments wasted on this bombastic sludge.

At least the series is finished – that is, until author Suzanne Collins decides to rewrite the first book from the point of view of President Snow. Don’t laugh, it seems to be the prevailing trend.

1.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Dressmaker

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21/11/15

Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage is back in Dungatar, Australia. It’s a dreary, small-minded nothing of a place,  but there are demons to confront and scores to settle, and Tilly won’t rest until she’s righted those old wrongs. There’s magic (and marijuana) in her fancy-fabric bag, and – armed with her trusty Singer – she stitches up the spiteful mob.

The Dressmaker starts off wonderfully, with languid, hazy landscapes stretching out across the screen. Tilly (the ever-fabulous Kate Winslet), is as incongruous as they come, bringing glamour and a swagger to a tired, washed-out town. It’s a cartoonish, fairy-tale-ish film, with the characters writ large – and, at least to begin with – this is part of its charm. There are echoes of Edward Scissorhands here, both in the storytelling style, and in the bold, broad-strokes design. Tilly ‘rescues’ the town’s women with preposterous costumes; before long, they’re all tiptoeing along the dusty streets in high heels and cocktail frocks, corseted and primped for the daily drudge. They feel sexy and powerful, but they’re just pawns in Tilly’s game; it’s no coincidence that her own wardrobe becomes more muted as she reels them in.

The cinematography is beautiful; the acting sublime (with excellent support from Judy Davis, Kerry Fox and Hugo Weaving, all on finest form). The first two-thirds of this film are a delight. How disappointing then, to find the story arc fatally disrupted, and a final third that feels ridiculous, hysterical and hideously prolonged. There is a clear ending to this tale, and it occurs at about the eighty-minute mark; thereafter it’s an incoherent mess – and it can’t recover from this flaw.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield