Let’s just dive straight in:
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1
My worry for the Hunger Games series has been how it goes bigger, how it goes from a franchise about very orderly deathmatches to a franchise about chaotic, messy war. The series’ strength has never been its action. Its strength has been psychology. From the first moment of the first film, Hunger Games invoked the Depression-era photography of Dorothea Lange. The games were secondary, a function of presenting fashion and celebrity. They could just as easily have been a football game, or a celebrity feud on reality TV distracting us from our everyday struggle. That’s the whole point – deathmatches are just more cinematically compelling.
I remember walking out of the second Hunger Games and thinking, This is the franchise we need. This is my generation’s most complete, mass-market call for resistance. Not the kind of guns-out resistance in the movie, but a social and cultural resistance. Films like Hunger Games and this year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier make the reality of how our nation’s evolved toward oligarchy a little easier to comprehend for many. The broadest tools for social change can’t be the sharpest – they have to be accessible in order to reach a wide audience. These are the movies that most finely balance being a blockbuster with translating social commentary.
So I worry for Mockingjay Part 1 not because I have reason to, but because maintaining that complete social comment across multiple films is a truly staggering task. In going bigger, in becoming messier, will it lose that psychological edge, that critique that makes it compelling not just on a cinematic level, but on a social and political level? It has created an opportunity event franchises just aren’t allowed. I have no doubt this film will be good, maybe even great, but it can’t just be that. It needs to be socially crucial. It needs to build exponentially on the ideas of its predecessors, like the second entry did.
The subtitle on this blog is “Movies and how they change you.” There’s a real chance The Hunger Games can not just embody that, but that it can continue to redefine the scope and scale on which event films are able to take social stands.
Mockingjay isn’t the only Jennifer Lawrence movie to trailer this week. Serena has been held back as Lawrence’s star continues to rise (and as the studio figures out how to sell it). It would seem to re-unite her with Bradley Cooper, but this was actually shot before American Hustle.
Serena follows timber barons George and Serena Pemberton during the Great Depression as they scheme their way to power. There will be tragedy, neat costumes, and acting your face off aplenty. The trailer’s ill-defined, but Lawrence and Cooper – aside from sounding like a law firm – are enough to make it must-watch. Danish director Susanne Bier is a staple in the Oscars’ Foreign Language category, and her In a Better World won the award in 2011.
I named this one of my top 10 most anticipated films at the beginning of the year, but I’d begun to think it had been pushed once more. The release date is still in question, but it looks like October 24. Frankly, whether the film is good, bad, or indifferent, Magnolia Pictures is doing an atrocious job of advertising what should be easy money. People will go watch Jennifer Lawrence read a phone book for two hours at this point, and she’d still do it well enough to win an Oscar for Best Documentary. Put some money into advertising and get it out there.
Originally, the title this week was going to be “British Painter Season,” but then Mockingjay hit and, well, that was that.
In truth, I held Mr. Turner off from last week so it wouldn’t get quite as buried. The visuals of Mr. Turner look particularly striking, and I enjoy that the film appears to be as focused on his watercolour landscapes and their impact as it does on J.M.W. Turner’s personality.
Effie Gray excites me a little less, if only because the trailer makes it unclear quite what’s happening. Is Dakota Fanning secretly the painter in question, or is she the wife of the painter, or some combination thereof? The film looks like it has potential, however, and at this point, you don’t overlook a film with Fanning’s involvement (and Emma Thompson’s, for that matter).
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE
Revenge comedies are few and far between. In fact, when the Coen Brothers and Guy Ritchie aren’t applying their talents to one, all we’ve got left is Scandinavia.
Thank the gods for Stellan Skarsgard. Whether delivering the best one liners and running naked through Thor or charming and terrifying his way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he’s too overlooked for his dynamic and disarming performances.
In Order of Disappearance looks like a superb vehicle to showcase his talents, and I can’t wait to see it.
You can take Keanu Reeves’ dignity. You can take Keanu Reeves’ car. But you better not lay a finger on Keanu Reeves’ dog.
That’s a message I can get on board with, and that’s the theme to this wackadoodle-meets-Euroslick trailer for John Wick. Put Nic Cage in this, and it makes Worst Trailer of the Week. Put Keanu Reeves in it, and suddenly it’s stylish as hell. Such is the power of Keanu.
A host of unexpected actors and the sheer grace Keanu possesses in the choreography they drop at the end suddenly takes this from iffy into got-to-see-it territory.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
I’m not much for slasher movies, unless you’re talking Italian giallo films from the 70s. The problem is that American slashers dropped all the psychology, opera, and art history from the genre and replaced it with torture, cheesy masks, and fear-mongering misogyny. That said, The Town That Dreaded Sundown looks like it has potential, with a small-town mystery at its center and some brilliant shots and color composition in the trailer. Then they drop in the guy with the cheesy mask and I lose all hope. Still, it’s one to keep an eye on just in case it delivers on those wonderful visuals.
Worst Trailer of the Week: MAPS TO THE STARS
This is one of my more anticipated movies this Autumn, but boy oh boy, is this an awful trailer. You’ve got to be careful cutting a David Cronenberg film for ads. His movies are composed of long stretches of quiet, of set-up, of reinforcing the mood, and sudden explosions of outright violence. That’s hard to define in a two-minute stretch, but my god, do they do a terrible job of it here. There’s a complete lack of dramatic timing in how it’s edited together.