The Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 2

Director: Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence takes arms against the world for the fourth time as in this concluding chapter of the dystopian sci-fi series.

As freedom loving fighter Katniss Everdeen, Hollywood’s highest paid actress offers a typically excellent performance of weary intensity.

She is given far less opportunity to display her fighting skills in this sombre episode.

It’s handsome, well acted and thoughtful, yet the dialogue is often uninspiring and it’s a long march to the action.

By adding scenes with human shields and a trail of refugees the script plunders contemporary concerns but doesn’t offer comment.

Initially we’re forced to put in a few hard yards ourselves as we’re re-introduced to the motivations of the characters and it’s almost a relief when war starts whittling away their numbers.

As her comrades die in the cause of freedom, Katniss longs to fight.

But Julianne Moore’s scheming rebel commander Coin considers Katniss a useful propaganda tool and refuses to let her.

When the unified rebel army marches on the Capitol, Katniss is embedded in a media platoon which contains both points of her love triangle.

But there isn’t much tension between hunky warrior Liam Hemsworth Gale and Josh Hutcherson‘s brainwashed former turncoat Peeta.

Both are fairly dull characters but with Sam Claflin’s maverick warrior Finnick married off, she hasn’t much to choose from.

When her squad commander is killed, Katniss takes charge and leads her team on a suicide mission.

Her target is to assassinate Donald Sutherland’s evil despot President Snow who is holed up in an opulent and heavily guarded mansion.

As Katniss navigates the rubble strewn streets, she’s lumbered with a device which suspiciously resembles a game console.

It’s designed to detect Snow’s extraordinarily elaborate booby-traps.

The troops combat floods, flame, friendly fire and ferocious underground ghouls.

Friends and family are killed or captured as they trek through the terrain of the fallen city and Katniss has a suicide pill should her plan fail.

Though the foreboding tone is sensibly free of laughs, the regular supporting cast bring smiles of recognition.

Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci don their fabulous costumes one last time and a shambling Woody Harrelson adds some welcome warmth.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman has a surprisingly large amount of screen time in a final hurrah for his great talent.

Four years ago Lawrence was a little known actress.

Now due in no small part to The Hunger Games’ billion dollar success, she’s firmly and deservedly part of the A list.

By tackling the themes of war, freedom, suffering and sacrifice in a measured and occasionally spectacular fashion, this franchise has raised the bar for the Young Adult genre.

But as solid and satisfying as the Hunger Games are, I’ve had my fill and I couldn’t stomach another one.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence (2013)

Jennifer Lawrence once again suffers the slings, swords and arrows of outrageous fortune in this excellent sequel to 2011’s sci-fi blockbuster.

This is a handsome, exciting and intelligent adventure that throws in plenty of humour among the thrilling combat scenes.

Lawrence is as brilliant as ever as the heroine Katniss Everdeen and carries this huge movie on her slender frame. She’s skilled, brave and loyal yet also unsure and vulnerable. It’s another terrific performance from an actress who’s yet to deliver a poor one.

Having survived gladitorial combat in the first movie, expert archer Katniss (Lawrence) is back living in borderline poverty with her sister Prim (Willow Shields).

She’s enjoying the company of the handsome Gale (Liam Hemsworth) while lovestruck fellow survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) sulks.

As masked soldiers are cracking down on the skulls of the starving population, ruthless  President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are having great fun plotting the demise of a growing rebellion.

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket dress with camp flamboyance as vain and vacuous media darlings who provide much needed background info and no little levity.

Even though Katniss and Peeta are forced into a media friendly sham marriage to protect their families, they still find themselves back in the combat arena.

The set design is epic, the soundtrack is haunting and the story rattles along like the express train that shuttles Katniss to the Capitol to do battle.

This time they’re fighting former champions – each one a fully trained killer – and doing it  on a tropical island filled with angry baboons, poison fog and rains of blood.

Although it ends strongly it is also anti-climactic being the middle film of a trilogy, sorry, tetralogy.

Plus it takes its time getting to the Games themselves and Peeta is such a dull person you wonder why such efforts are made to protect him. But what he lacks in charisma, Lawrence is always there to more than compensate.

The Lego Movie

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (2014)

Despite the astonishing Oscar snub, this is a brilliant, witty, inventive animation which kids will enjoy almost as much as their parents will.

As the opening song says, ‘Everything is Awesome!!!’. And it is. It’s stupid in a clever way, clever in a funny way and is continually exciting, hilarious and even subversive.

Assembled with huge energy and a wicked sense of fun, every brick of the plot is correctly placed to support the dizzying flights of imagination and yet more jokes.

During the ferocious chase scenes random street parts are rapidly fashioned into vehicles, destroyed and rebuilt into  succession of err, other vehicles.

Among the mayhem it even manages to visually referencing sci-fi classics such as Tron and The Matrix.

Brickburg is a modern plastic city with busy roads, extortionately priced of coffee and constant CCTC surveillance. Everyone and everything fits together and works correctly.

When construction worker Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) has an accident, he loses his vital rule book but discovers the Piece of Resistance.

Arrested by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) he is freed by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who believes him to be the prophesied ‘special’.

Only the Piece of Resistance can prevent the tyrannical President Business (Will Ferrell) from using his super-weapon called the Kragle to destroy the Lego universe.

Emmet and Wyldstyle set out to to prevent the President’s evil plan and are helped by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and other Master Builders.

They include famous lego–made characters who help make this the second best Batman movie and the fourth best Star Wars film.

Naturally enough the film emphasises the importance of invention and bonding but to say more will spoil the fantastic and emotional twist towards the end.

In a word, awesome.

 ★★