FILM REVIEWS >> The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and Thanksgiving

GRAHAM YOUNG gives his verdicts on The Hunger Games prequel and Thanksgiving horror, (with the latter giving Ozzy Osbourne a silver screen spotlight again).

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES (12A, 156 mins). Given that the three sequels to the original The Hunger Games (2012) movie seemed to get progressively worse, there was surely little call for a prequel – especially one with 15-certificate worthy violence running to more than two-and-a-half hours.

But the success of Suzanne Collins’ novels and a near $3 billion global box office speaks its own franchise language and this latest story about televised death matches between battling youngsters is better than its over-egged ‘Who is a songbird, who is a snake?’ title would suggest.

The plot. A young Coriolanus Snow is charged with mentoring District 12’s defiant tribute Lucy Gray Baird (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler) and the orphaned future tyrannical president of Panem (Donald Sutherland in previous films) inevitably develops feelings for her.

The white-haired Snow is played with different haircuts by Tom Blyth. Born in Birmingham, raised in the East Midlands, he’s a former Television Workshop trainee, like Oscar nominees Samantha Morton (Nottingham) and Felicity Jones (Birmingham). Who knows, one day he might be James Bond!

The verdict *** Despite probably making little sense to series newbies, and with chapter headings reducing the plot’s thrust, this Hunger Games frequently looks much more ‘real’ than the average superhero adventure – it was shot mostly on location, in Poland and Berlin – and Viola Davis is sheer class as Dr. Volumnia Gaul.

THANKSGIVING (18, 106 mins). Eli Roth’s riotous feast of horror set in the Pilgrim land of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The plot. Black Friday explodes with mayhem at a Rightmart supermarket. The manager’s wife is among the dead. One year later there’s a serial killer on the loose in the home of the Thanksgiving holiday – and the revengeful person behind the mask of (1620 Mayflower Pilgrim) John Carver has plenty of covers at his big table.

The protagonist with pitchforked tongue gleefully promises: ‘There will be no leftovers’. But who will it turn out to be?

The verdict *** Inspired by his fake trailer in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse (2007), director and slasher movie fan Eli Roth leaves the unpalatable brutality of Hostel (2005) behind to inject some holiday humour.

As per last year’s Ralph Fiennes film The Menu (2022), this chef’s nefarious plans are equally inventive with Thanksgiving utensils aplenty and raw ingredients relying on old-school cooking methods instead of the usual microwaved superhero effects.

Thanksgiving’s half-baked characters remain mostly anonymous, the pacing is a bit iffy and it never stirs your neck hairs. But the foul-mouthed, strikingly relevant opening sequence makes no bones about the future direction of social media re overhyped events like Black Friday… ‘which now begins on Thursday’. And you’ll never see Face ID on your phone in the same light again.

With Roth’s bubbling broth including creative decapitations, human giblets and spicy hints of John Carpenter’s The Fog and Stephen King’s The Mist, this is set to be an atmospherically tasty box office hit.

Top tip. Ozzy Osbourne is on the crest of a wave in cinemas. No sooner has the world’s most famous Brummie singing War Pigs helped to send the second trailer for Ridley Scott’s Napoleon viral, but The Prince of Darkness now gets a fully-deserved credit in Thanksgiving.

The Black Sabbath Bench on Broad Street might be some 3,180 miles away, but Ozzy’s global fame also heralds a mention for the godfathers of heavy metal in connection with the band’s pint-sized, post-Ozzy, 1979 saviour vocalist Ronnie James Dio. He was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire but who would one day rehearse at Selly Oak’s Rich Bitch Studios.

● Both films are showing at Odeon Broadway Plaza and Cineworld Broad Street which each have 12 screens.

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