Tag Archives: Mockingjay

Most Anticipated Movies of 2015: Bollywood Boxing, Argentine Vampires, Go Team Spader — #30-21

Mary Kom starring Priyanka Chopra

by Gabriel Valdez

Yesterday, we tackled 10 films and talked about everything from diversity in action movies to a burgeoning influx of Tom Hardy roles. Today, Thor’s on a boat, I wonder why the “best actors of their generations” are always considered men, and I have a theory about Ridley Scott.

30. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

It’s hard to watch a non-Marvel Chris Hemsworth film and not think, “Why’s Thor fighting North Koreans?” or “What’s Thor doing in that race car?” or “How did Thor get on that 1820s sailing vessel?” He always delivers solid performances, they’re just all a little similar. I like him, but the jury’s still out on his acting. Maybe this is the project to break that mold – In the Heart of the Sea is based on the true story of the Essex, the first whaling ship sunk by a whale. Director Ron Howard is usually at his best when telling offbeat adventure tales, and you’ve got something that’s built for Hemsworth to be physically engaged throughout. Trailers clearly show the loudest, most awe-inspiring moments, but it’ll be the quiet ones in between that make or break a film like this.

While the wreck of the Essex served as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, we tend to treat the idea of whales attacking sailing vessels as science-fictional. To the contrary, whales attacked whaling ships every few years. To think such a social and intelligent species didn’t put two and two together, and consciously seek to combat their hunters, is to ignore a glaringly obvious piece of recorded history. I’m particularly curious how they speak about that reality in the lead-up to the film. December 11.

Carol Blanchett

29. CAROL

I remember when the very forgettable The Score came out, everyone kept talking about Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton joining forces as “the best actors of three generations.” All I could think was, “Wait, Meryl Streep’s in it?”

We tend to think of the best actors of their generations as men, so if I call Carol the meeting of the best actors of two generations, please don’t be surprised when I tell you I’m talking about Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. See, it’s 1950s New York. Mara plays a clerk at a department store. She dreams of bettering her situation, and falls for a married woman played by Cate Blanchett.

That’s intriguing enough, but the director of all this is Todd Haynes. Safe. Velvet Goldmine. Far From Heaven. I’m Not There.

It’s also adapted by Phyllis Nagy from a Patricia Highsmith novel, whose work has been adapted before into Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, among other films. That gives her work an incredibly good cinematic track record. It’s attracted a diverse array of directors over the years, but Todd Haynes might be the most unpredictable of them all. It remains to be seen what Carol looks like in the end. All that behind it, and how can you not be excited? No date set.

28. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

This has been making the festival rounds, and Desiree Akhavan’s feature debut feels like one of the few comedies I’m truly excited for this year. The story of a Persian bisexual caught between what her culture tells her to be and what our culture tells her to be…it speaks in certain ways to cultural issues I’ve struggled with. Sometimes you can be good at inhabiting the identities you’re told to without feeling like any of them are are perfect fits for you. That can be cultural, sexual, social, even academic – it can take shape any number of ways.

That’s been the social struggle of my generation. The Americana answer of the 80s and 90s told us the solution was partying: women, cars, and money as rites of passage. Everybody find their place in that hierarchy or it’s just you who’s to blame. That’s only ever been salve for a symptom, ignoring and exacerbating the underlying problem. There’s a reason identity comedies have become the comedic voice of this particular generation, much as they were in the 60s. Identity isn’t something to be cured and normalized, like a cancer that needs to be cut out. It’s less broadly cultural now, more individualized. These comedies aren’t trying to give advice to the masses the ways 80s and 90s comedies (many of which I love) did. They’re simply transmitting personal stories in the hope of finding common ground. January 16/Out now/You’ll probably have to wait to DVD to have a realistic chance of seeing it.

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence

27. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART TWO

And I thought Untitled Cameron Crowe Defense Industry Romance was an unwieldy title. Look, it’s the end of a franchise that’s had a lot to say along the way. I haven’t read the books, so I have no idea what’s coming. Some people didn’t enjoy the third film. It wasn’t what I expected, but it settled into the world, its characters, and its internal politics in a way the other films hadn’t. That I enjoyed. Even though it was a little less exciting, it was also a little less broadly goofy. It felt important, but it also felt like it was building toward something far more relevant.

I’m not as concerned with how Peeta’s brain gets saved as I am with what happens to Panem and what Katniss, President Snow, and President Coin all have to say to each other at the end. November 20.

26. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

That’s right. It’s in the #26 spot. (And Ant-Man isn’t even on this list, because that trailer looked awful.) It’s behind a historical drama about a painting, starring Helen Mirren. Look, this isn’t a knock on Avengers. It beat out 150+ other films that didn’t make it to #26. My biggest worry is that, after the realizations that were two Marvel films that were really about something – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy – we’re in for another beat-em-up. I like my beat-em-ups, especially when Joss Whedon is helming them, and Avengers 2 could have a very important message. It just hasn’t hinted what that message might be yet, so it’s sitting in the middle of the top 40. Nothing wrong with that. I also thought Guardians was going to be a disaster, not a lovely piece of emotive space opera. I’m just careful about overrating Marvel movies before I see them, particularly when Robert Downey Jr. (much as I like him) threatens to take over any individual film he stars in.

That and I’ll probably be rooting for James Spader as the villain. Why? He’s James Spader. It’s a life decision. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed that the rest of you will probably be rooting against him. I really expected more from you guys. Sorry, Avengers. Go Team Spader! May 1.

25. WOMAN IN GOLD

One of the most forgotten movies of the year – well, by critics, since audiences made it a success – was The Monuments Men. It was loosely based around a real-world team of art historians who tracked down French and Jewish art stolen by the Nazis. The German army had orders to destroy the art as they were pushed back in the closing days of World War 2. It was the job of these art historians to discover where the art was being kept and get to it before the Germans could do this. That film is half the story.

The other half is the art that never was found, that made it into private German and Austrian collections, never to be seen by its rightful owners again. Woman in Gold tells this side of the story. Helen Mirren plays a Jewish refugee who tracks down a Gustav Klimt painting that once belonged to her family. In a very un-Ryan Reynolds-like role, Ryan Reynolds plays the lawyer who decides to take on her case and fight the Austrian government for the painting. It will be interesting to see how they handle the complicated history of the painting and what was done with it after the whole affair was settled. April 3.

24. DARKNESS BY DAY

An Argentinian vampire film about a shy, young woman who becomes more confident, outgoing, and bloodthirsty once she…well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it is a vampire film. It’s been getting raves for its atmosphere and beautiful cinematography on the horror festival circuit, and Argentinian horror is an industry still finding its footing and community. No date set.

Child 44 Tom Hardy Noomi Rapace

23. CHILD 44

What’d I tell you yesterday? 2015 is the year of the Cold War thriller. This one stars Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, and…. No. No, it can’t be. I thought we were done with him.

It’s…it’s Tom Hardy, you guys. He’s back. And this time, he’s Russian!

Child 44 takes place in Stalin’s Soviet Russia, and follows a disgraced investigator (Hardy) who must navigate corrupt orphanages, decrepit mental hospitals, and the secret police in order to track down a mass murderer.

It’s based on the novel by Tom Rob Smith, which is apparently the author’s real name and totally not a super-generic deep cover. April 17.

Ridley Scott on Prometheus set

22. THE MARTIAN

Movies that include stranded astronauts facing dire circumstances have gotten a huge boost from Gravity and Interstellar. Unfortunately, movies that take place in deserts and directed by Ridley Scott took a hit with Exodus: Gods and Kings. Throwing the two together makes…I’m not sure what exactly. Me nervous, mostly.

Based on the novel, the concept of an astronaut (played by Matt Damon, no less) having to jury-rig his own survival on Mars – that should shoot to the top of this list. But Scott, legend that he is, has been anything but consistent lately. He still puts forward beautiful movies, but he doesn’t make them matter as much as the audience would like to care for them. It leaves a strange empathy gap between a willing audience and movies that put the effort into everything but connecting.

Scott’s always let actors do what they want, preferring to focus on the design and technical portions of a film. This has given us flat performances by stellar actors ranging from Julianne Moore (Hannibal) to Christian Bale (Exodus). It’s also given us career-best performances from Nicolas Cage (Matchstick Men) and Noomi Rapace (Prometheus). Hell, Russell Crowe owes part of his career to the five films he’s made with Ridley Scott. What a Scott films turns into depends entirely on its actors’ abilities to work in beautifully realized spaces with some of the least direction for acting they’ll ever get in their lives. The more green-screen used, the faster the story is told, and the faster scenes whip by one to the next, the less opportunity those actors have to stretch their arms out into a space and exist in it as their characters. So I’m very nervous for The Martian, which could rely on green-screen, or take place entirely in fabricated sets, depending on how you decide to film it. November 25.

21. MARY KOM

India has a rape epidemic. That isn’t to say other countries – including the United States – don’t have their own, as well. One of the most important aspects of addressing issues of inequality and marginalization is to tell the kinds of stories that aren’t being told, that champion the subjugated and offer them examples of strength. Mary Kom has hardly solved such a large issue on its own, but as part of a greater movement that crosses art, politics, and a melting pot of cultures, it is a piece of the puzzle. As more movies like this are made, they begin to define a battle that takes place between a country’s civil rights and its status quo.

So to you and me, Mary Kom may play into Bollywood narrative tropes that seem melodramatic or overwrought, but Mary Kom isn’t made for you and me. That’s what makes it more interesting – films like this aren’t just about the narrative on-screen, they’re also about the narrative off-screen. They’re a chance to witness and have just a glimpse of greater understanding into how and why another culture is telling certain stories today. That’s an incredibly special opportunity, and it makes Mary Kom – based on the true story of a female Indian boxer who won multiple world championships, but was barely known in her own country – a very important movie.

It’s a film that has – since its Indian release – effected rulings of discrimination by Bombay’s governmental authority on sports, and that has inspired a dance style that helps teach women how to defend themselves. Pirated copies have flooded Kom’s home region of Manipur, which bans Hindi films from the theaters and has a long history of suppressing women’s equality. In these ways, it may be one of the most important films in terms of women’s rights of the past year.

So I don’t care if the boxing looks a little stiff or the plot looks a little trite. I care that I can watch something that is rare and special in the effect it can have in the world. Some of the best, most classic films can’t say they do that. And there is a certain feeling of awe when watching films that demonstrate the ability to effect change in the real world that all the best cinematography and Oscar-winning acting can’t match. Out now/Available on DVD.

Keep an eye out as we count down the top 20.

If you want to see yesterday’s choices, here they are.

Great Drama, No Action — “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence 2

by Gabriel Valdez

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is a solid entry in a quickly maturing series. Its only problem, if you choose to view it as one, is that it’s less exciting than its predecessors.

Chosen for a futuristic brand of gladiatorial combat in the first Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) was finally rescued from an oppressive military dictatorship at the end of Catching Fire. She now begins to take on the mantle of a revolutionary figurehead for the people of Panem in Mockingjay.

Viewers wanting more action may find Mockingjay too slow. There’s no arena sequence, which has made the last halves of its two predecessors straight-ahead action movies. While these were fun, they always felt just a little forced, as if they weren’t the part the directors and actors were most looking forward to filming.

In the first film, director Gary Ross was most interested in the “have-nots,” painting a poor and wretched society that evoked the Dust Bowl era photography of Dorothea Lange – grimy, desperate, yet determined.

For the second movie, replacement director Francis Lawrence examined the “haves,” expanding on the decadent culture of the capital. Katniss became an icon for resistance. Her fight against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) utilized tools of fashion, celebrity, and media manipulation. It was far more intriguing than any beatdown that happened in the arena.

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence

Francis Lawrence returns for Mockingjay, which continues the theme of high-stakes propaganda. For every move – Katniss visits a field hospital, full of wounded rebels – there is a counter. Instead of targeting Katniss, Snow blows up the hospital. He communicates to Katniss that anything she touches is forfeit.

Katniss’ media campaign is focused on making the atrocities of the capital known, evoking fiery emotions that drive recruitment for the rebellion. Snow’s campaign is one of undermining Katniss and tearing at her psyche. For all the bombs, soldiers, and planes each side has, Snow understands the war not as one of weaponry but of public perception.

Some viewers will leave Mockingjay disappointed that not much happens. Others will leave Mockingjay excited at just how much takes place. Because the film is tighter and more character-focused, the plot isn’t driven by events. It’s driven by the breaking down and building up of different characters’ resolves. The tension lies in how much more each one can take. These aren’t characters reaching their breaking point; they’ve already set up residence there and peer over the edge from time to time.

That’s where Mockingjay is most compelling – Katniss is finally making decisions amongst equals like revolutionary President Coin (Julianne Moore) and propaganda expert Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Is it too much of a thinkpiece? Jennifer Lawrence, Moore, and Hoffman hold the film down so well that it’s a moot point. Here are three actors at the top of their game, playing characters who clash and use each other while coping with their own clear damages.

Mockingjay Julianne Moore

In some ways, I applaud the bravery behind Mockingjay. Studio Lionsgate wanted to split the last book of the trilogy into two movies – double the ticket money. The writers and director could have made up crowd-pleasing battles and its audience would’ve accepted it. Instead, they decided to create a more challenging movie that explores the nuance behind propaganda, the manipulation inherent to filmmaking, and the conflicting ideals behind revolutions.

If this franchise is basically Spartacus in slow-mo, we’re at the part where Spartacus is freed, taking a breather and taking stock of his situation. It’s after most of the action but before the big climax, where characters’ learn new roles in a rebellion, question what they’ve got left in the tank, and reassess their relationships. It’s not the Hunger Games entry that I think many expected, but it finds a lot to say on its own without feeling too much like set-up for the finale. Given the opportunity to tread water or take a risk, the creative talents behind Mockingjay took a risk. Is it completely successful? Viewers will be disagreeing until next year’s entry.

For someone who finds the political games in this post-apocalyptic world more fascinating than the action scenes, Mockingjay is a success. It isn’t big or flashy the way its predecessors are, but as a companion piece it makes complete sense. I suspect it will fit very well into the rhythm of the series once it’s completed. It just won’t live up to anyone’s expectations as an action movie. In everything else, it excels.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence. Her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) features more prominently than in the past. It’s nice to finally see more of their relationship. Rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is a practical, no-nonsense leader.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) returns, continuing to support Katniss, although she has less screen-time here than in the past. Cressida (Natalie Dormer), a television director, is also introduced. Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and fellow warrior Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) also feature.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes, but even when they do talk about a man – in a nice twist on the classical princess formula – it’s to discuss his rescue. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being used by President Snow as the capital’s figurehead, and Katniss is determined to save him. That said, these are leaders in a war, and they act like it.

Mockingjay is a phenomenal movie in terms of powerful female characters. Katniss herself is the kind of part historically relegated to men – women have rarely had this much on-screen agency as warriors and leaders. The real ground being broken here, however, continues to be a woman playing a soldier with PTSD. I can’t recall another in a big-budget film, can you?

It says a lot to watch a woman this strong and capable in battle. She takes and doles out physical damage. Yet it says even more to show a woman who possesses the strength to constantly sacrifice herself for others while knowing full well the toll it takes on her psyche. We’ve had women warriors before and we still need more of them, but we haven’t had women veterans featured on this scale. That’s an incredible step and there’s no better actress to take it than Jennifer Lawrence.

Alma Coin is a fantastic character. Moore plays her with a practical, scarred edge. Again, we’re presented with a female leader who isn’t just strong and decisive, but who still takes on the burden of leadership despite the heavy psychological toll war and loss has taken. Moore plays her close to the vest, polite but concise. You can’t tell if she’s a leader who doesn’t give away more than she has to, or if she herself has ulterior motives. Part of that is the franchise’s history of betrayal, part of that is an understated performance by Moore.

Mockingjay Natalie Dormer 2

One of my favorite new characters of the year is Cressida, the director assigned to produce the recruitment ads starring Katniss. See, I’m a sucker for directors on film. If you’ve ever made film, you know there’s a certain feeling of invulnerability when you’re holding the camera. The shot takes precedence over everything else, including comfort and safety. Dormer communicates this attitude and much more in limited screen-time.

Cressida prioritizes getting a reaction on camera over her own safety or, say, Katniss’ psychological well-being. This is done subtly, and her crew – including a mute man who invokes one of the most powerful scenes on film this year – shows her great loyalty. Amid all these warriors, there’s one leader who throws herself into danger without a weapon. Her victory lies not in killing others but in capturing emotion, though that doesn’t mean she’s any less tactical in achieving it.

There are other important women, like Prim and Effie, but I focus on these three because Katniss, Coin, and Cressida present three very different forms of leadership. Women rarely get to portray these kinds of characters on film, let alone in the same film. The Hunger Games has always done well in this regard. Now, however, it’s lapping the field.

Trailers of the Week — Jennifer Lawrence Season

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.

SERENA

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.

MR. TURNER

EFFIE GRAY

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.

JOHN WICK

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.