Archive for the ‘Francis Lawrence’ Category

Flipping the Coin

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Paula Malcolmson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Sarita Choudhury, Patina Miller, Mahershala Ali, Willow Shields, Michelle Forbes

Consistency of vision is always imperative when converting a trilogy of bestselling novels into films and certainly The Hunger Games trilogy based upon the allegorical novels by Suzanne Collins have maintained that consistency in terms of casting, production design and overall cinematic appeal.

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Whether parent company Lionsgate’s decision to split the final installment of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay was a wise one remains debatable. Nevertheless director Francis Lawrence returns with the second part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay picking up exactly where the first part finished.

Peeta Mellark has been returned to the rebels from the capitol, although slightly deranged and brainwashed. Our sturdy heroine Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) is unsure of Peeta’s complete rehabilitation and loyalty.

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In a brutal war, which takes Katniss and her team first to District 2 and then onto a treacherous mission of penetrating the devastated capitol, where images of the aging President Snow, still wonderfully played by Donald Sutherland, are flashed across random TV screens at interim moments during a savage battle between the rebels and peacekeepers. Urged on by the charismatic District 13 President Coin, played by Oscar winner (Still Alice) Julianne Moore, Katniss and her unit are implored to take the capitol and assassinate President Snow.

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As the love triangle which was initiated in The Hunger Games, between Katniss, Peeta and the hunky Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth is teased out to its logical conclusion, Katniss has to stay true to her own convictions, despite the brutal toll it takes on herself and her family. Katniss realizes in Mockingjay Part 2 that she is a symbolic pawn between Presidents Snow and Coin, while always struggling to retain her own autonomy and individuality.

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Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks reprise their roles as Haymitch and Effie Trinket respectively, although audiences should be warned that Mockingjay Part 2 is considerably darker in tone and texture than the lurid The Hunger Games or the visually gripping Catching Fire.

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A dark mood of warfare and finality hangs over the film, even with the cast giving a sense that this violent action trilogy has exhausted all options. Considering the recently high level of violence in the contemporary world, especially as shown on international news broadcast, suffice is to say that American author Suzanne Collins has made her point about millennials becoming immune to violence both on screen and in real life.

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Despite an all-star cast including the last screen appearance of Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as Plutarch Heavensbee, Mockingjay Part 2, belongs to Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as their characters come to terms with their dramatic destiny in the face of a manipulative conflict between the Rebels and the Capitol.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is recommended viewing for fans of the entire trilogy although the 3-D technology was not used effectively, making the second part of Mockingjay too long and aimless. Inevitably, Katniss Everdeen triumphs but at great personal cost to herself.

 

 

 

War is a Constructed Image

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Dormer, Donald Sutherland, Robert Knepper, Paula Malcolmson, Sam Claflin

The final book of the Hunger Games Trilogy, Mockingjay comes to the big screen in two parts, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a monochromatic diatribe about notions of war as a constructed image, and intelligently explores the concept of rebellion.

Katniss Everdeen, superbly played by Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) has survived the Quarter Quell and plunged Panem into civil war between the Capital and the Districts, with her own District 12 being obliterated by the ruthless Capitol bombers.

Director Francis Lawrence creates a superb dichotomy between a more vicious Capital and the newly discovered District 13, a haven for the rebels built entirely below ground so as to escape the Capital’s firepower. Utilitarian District 13 ruler Madame President Coin, wonderfully played by Oscar Nominee Julianne Moore has plans of using Katniss as the much beloved symbol of resistance, the Mockingjay.

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However in the Capital, President Snow, played by veteran star Donald Sutherland has captured Peeta Mellark, the tribute who didn’t escape the Quarter Quell and like Coin is using Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in a vicious game of propaganda and deceit to lure Katniss and her supporters into attacking the Capital.

In this manipulated game of propaganda, both Katniss and Mellark are used as constructs by a ruthless war machine intent on destroying humanity in this allegorical society. With Katniss being filmed against the ruins of one of the Districts after a hospital is destroyed, the viewer would think they are watching scenes of the recent conflict in the Syrian Civil War or the Crisis in the Ukraine.

Director Lawrence obviously working with a far bigger budget, has a clearer vision of this dystopian world post Hunger Games, after the lavish excess of the Capitol and the vicious expandability of the children fighting each other in a death match which made the first two films The Hunger Games and Catching Fire that much more riveting.

Whilst in the first two, the children or tributes as they were known in Suzanne Collins novels were the centre of attention, in Mockingjay it is clearly an adult world, with war a primary signifier in moving the brutal narrative along, ably assisted by a brilliant supporting cast.

This cast includes Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who incidentally died of a drug overdose during the filming of Mockingjay) in one of his last screen performances as Plutarch Heavensbee, Elizabeth Banks in a wonderful cameo as the downtrodden Prisoner of War yet still irrepressible Effie Trinket, along with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee who all bring a gravity to Katniss’s predicament as her decision to become the symbol of the rebellion is thwarted by President Snow’s twisted methods especially using Mellark as a pawn.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire was clearly aimed at the mature teenage market, but Mockingjay Part One is definitely aimed at a more mature audience whose has become used to seeing violent images of global conflicts flash across their TV screens. Even though it’s an allegorical tale Mockingjay Part 1 undoubtedly reflects a contemporary 21st century immunity to violent onscreen images of war, highlighting that along with all the propaganda and the rhetoric, the constant bloodshed seen has become engrained in a future society which appears to be emotionally resistant to such global strife, despite its constant coverage on all the international news broadcasts.

Mockingjay Part 1, although the storyline purposefully is left hanging at the end, still remains an impressively dark cinematic vision, gripping and unrelenting. Audience naturally hope that Part 2 will be equally brilliant and impressive. This is recommended viewing for those that have read the books and have followed the massive success of this ferocious and fascinating film franchise.

Dark and Lurid Victory Tour

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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 Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcolmson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

The Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the largely allegorical tale of an alternative version of contemporary American society by flicking through channels on TV with alternating images of award shows, reality Series and brutal wars occurring in distant countries over the last decade from Afghanistan to Syria.

The sequel to the hugely successful Hunger Games film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Austrian Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) follows the Victory Tour of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, victors of the Hunger Games which for those that don’t know is a brutal invented arena in which teenagers fight to the death to claim spoils for their respective district, each of which owes enforced allegiance to The Capitol, for which the Hunger Games becomes a televised Bloodsport.

Each Tribute, teenage sacrifices as they are known are paraded in a lurid fashion at the outrageously lavish Art Deco inspired Capitol while the brutal games are televised live. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes this vicious propaganda spectacle of the victory tour a step further in the gladiator like parade of the Quarter Quell a quarterly sequel to the annual Hunger Games, a fantastic and dazzling scene out of a contemporary Ben Hur.

The victorious tributes and the heroes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are Alright) hold their own along with Katniss’s other love interest the hunky Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemworth.

The ever versatile Lawrence really makes The Hunger Games and Catching Fire her own as her feisty and resilient Katniss is the central force in a bizarre world of brutality, repression and becoming the symbol of hope and defiance against a vicious ruler, the sinister President Snow, wonderfully played by screen veteran Donald Sutherland, who views the Hunger Games as a way of keeping the twelve districts of Panem entrapped in a terrifyingly civil obedience to the decadent Capital with its outrageous fashions, increasingly lavish spectacles and bizarre cosmetic trends.

Remember this is allegory and in this form of narrative, the story line can be as outlandish and brutal as possible, as removed from reality, but mirroring a recognizable world that is to close for comfort. Think of modern day America with reality TV series including the rise of the Kardashians, The Amazing Race and Survivor along with a plethora of increasingly lavish Hollywood Award Shows with the infamous red carpet. So perhaps The Hunger Games trilogy although allegorical is more close in commenting the dichotomies of an increasingly digital 21st century American culture where alternating images of brutality and glamour are available at the flick of a switch.

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

For The Hunger Games viewers and its more stylized and lurid sequel Catching Fire, its best to read the novels first otherwise the unfamiliar world of Panem would seem too bizarre to comprehend and the fortunes of its heroes Katniss and Peeta would not be plausible, whether it’s their fight for survival or their covert acts of defiance.

Watch out for a particularly menacing performance by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as the mysterious game maker Plutarch Heavensbee  along with another over the top performance by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows humanity’s depth for cruelty and spectacle much like the gladiator games were meant to placate the salivating audiences of ancient Rome, except this film takes the images much further, to a darker more lurid and unexpected act of defiance.

The cast also includes  Woody Harrelson as the heavy drinking Haymitch Abernathy, Lenny Kravitz as the flamboyant fashion designer Cinna along with Jeffrey Wright as tech savy victor Beetee and Amanda Plummer as Wireless.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an innovative piece of cinema, recommended for the dazzling sets, the lurid costumes and crisp sound editing and the captivating if not truly bizarre storyline, see it at a cinema soon and be transported into Panem, a world unlike anything imaginable…

 

Circus of Cruelty

Water for Elephants

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Water for Elephants is a flamboyant if not old fashioned tale of a man who literally runs away to join the circus. Directed by Francis Lawrence known for his more commercial ventures in Constantine and the Will Smith sci-thriller, I am Legend, Water for Elephants is set during the Great depression in the early 1930s when America was at the height of Prohibition. The films centres on Jacob a young and promising veterinary doctor, and would be graduate of Cornell, whose studies are disrupted by the tragic death of his Polish immigrant parents.

Leaving his childhood home behind Jacob follows the railway line and like many itinerant young men of that decade hops on the nearest train as a free ride towards a brighter future. Except the train is a circus train complete with wild animals, acrobats, a grumpy midget and the translucent star of the circus Marlena, played beautifully by Reese Witherspoon. Jacob shows his useful veterinary skills to Marlena and then to her husband, August a cruel circus master, played with an evil unpredictability by Christoph Waltz.

Robert Pattinson, in between his Twilight saga, left his teeth behind as he plays a simmering Jacob, yet without the full conviction of an actor embracing this characters full complexity and sadness. In the love triangle that ensues between Jacob, Marlena and August, it is Christoph Waltz who really shows his true acting ability as a slightly bi-polar, entirely vicious egocentric circus master who has a penchant for throwing vagrant men off moving trains.

Then again, Waltz did win an Oscar for his brilliant and sinister portrayal of the multilingual ruthless Nazi in Inglourious Basterds; however his danger of becoming the perennial villain is more evident. Both in the disastrous Green Lantern and Water for Elephants, Waltz is cast as the slightly off kilter, sociopathic villain. Reese Witherspoon portrayal of Marlena is fragile and elusive, made infinitely more evocative by the beautiful1930’s costumes and daring scenes with horses and Rosie the elephants, which is film’s main attraction.

Water for Elephants is more about the underlying cruelty to the circus animals that went on unnoticed as the glitzy big top was mesmerizing local towns at the time with acrobatic acts, clowns and lavish spectacle. This cruelty naturally boils over towards the climactic scene of the film, as the circus animals take revenge on their ring leader. Water for Elephants is beautiful to watch, reasonably well acted and entertaining to a point, just short of being an epic.

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In the hands of a more inventive director, this film about the circus would have dazzled in the same way that Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge was superbly over the top and outrageously brilliant, but Lawrence’s take on the circus is shot through with a soft focus nostalgic feel – beautiful, but lacking in resonance. As for Rosie the Elephant she steals the show and not the likes of her handler, Jacob, a slightly dull performance by Pattinson, who has a way to go in achieving  credibility and maturity as a successful leading man.

 

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