Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Tucci’

Vanity and Virtue

Beauty and the Beast

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Hattie Morahan, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack

When Disney does a live action version of a classic animated film, audiences know they are going to do it brilliantly. Beauty and the Beast is absolutely superb and extremely enjoyable viewing.

If audiences are going to pay for one cinema ticket this year, buy a ticket for Beauty and the Beast.

Originally based on the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, Beauty and the Beast is an extraordinary visual feast.

The first aspect Disney got right was the crucial casting of Beauty and the Beast. With a mostly British cast, Belle is played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) and the Beast played by Dan Stevens who rose to fame in Julian Fellowes BBC hit series Downton Abbey. For the real villain of the piece, Welsh actor Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) is cast as the arrogant Gaston and Josh Gad stars as his sidekick Lefou.

Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish called Wanda) plays Belle’s hapless father Maurice who during a journey to the market is side tracked by vicious wolves and lands up as an unwitting guest of the Beast in his cavernous castle with only talking furniture for company.

The flamboyant candelabra Lumiere is played by Ewan McGregor (Our Kind of Traitor) and the mantel piece clock Cogsworth is wonderfully played by Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, Mr Holmes) while the teapot Mrs Potts is voiced by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howard’s End). Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Concussion) plays Plumette and Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) voices the maestro Cadenza.

What really makes Beauty and the Beast so lovely is the music, the music and the music. From the director of Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters Bill Condon delivers a fantastic film retaining the story’s authentic fairy tale which deftly combines romance with action and music. Beauty and the Beast has gorgeous costumes designed by Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) accompanying the film’s exceptional production design by Sarah Greenwood.

Both the headstrong Belle and the grumpy Beast form an unlikely romance overcoming vanity and retaining virtue while they have to compete against the duplicitous Gaston and break the immortal spell cast on the Beast and his lively accompaniments.

Highly recommended viewing for all age groups, Beauty and the Beast gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

Although running at over two hours this Disney fantasy musical is worth watching and audiences should stay seated to watch the spectacular end credits.

 

Breaking the Cardinal Rule

Spotlight

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Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Paul Guilfoyle, Jamey Sheridan

Spotlight refers to a team of investigative reporters stationed at the Boston Globe. Just months before 9/11 in mid-2001, The Boston Globe hires a news editor fresh from Miami, Marty Baron played by Liev Schreiber (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) who subsequently instructs the Spotlight team headed up by Robby Robinson played by Michael Keaton (Birdman) to investigate the systematic child abuse which is happening in the Catholic Church specifically in the Archdiocese of Boston, a strongly Irish Catholic community as highlighted by a recent case pending at the criminal court.

Director Tom McCarthy’s film Spotlight is compelling viewing, a riveting tale of tough investigative journalism by a team of men and woman who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. The Spotlight team also consists of journalists Sacha Pfieffer brilliantly played by Rachel McAdams  (A Most Wanted Man) who pursues testimony from the alleged victims of child abuse and Portuguese descendant Mike Rezendes superbly played by Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) who goes after the legal aspects of the case that lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, played by Stanley Tucci is making against a particular Catholic priest John Geoghan.

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As the investigation continues, the journalists realize that what they are uncovering is a much wider scandal of how the Catholic Church not only knew about errant priests committing sexual abuse preying upon vulnerable minors but also how this powerful institution discreetly got these priests transferred or they were given supposed sick leave to avoid exposure or damage to the Church’s reputation.

As they investigate all the priests in the Boston area, the Spotlight team uncovers a much wider pattern of abuse by several priests. However, before they can publish a damning expose they need to have irrefutable proof that this was occurring.

That proof comes in the form of victim testimonies that Garabedian attached as legal documents in a case that he is building against Geoghan and that the Church tried to cover up these legal documents, thus breaking Cardinal Law.

McAdams and Ruffalo are particularly brilliant in Spotlight as journalists who not only uncover a massive and systemic scandal but are forced to question their own religious and spiritual convictions.

What actor turned director McCarthy avoids doing is standing in judgement of the Catholic Church, but rather focuses on the relentless pursuit of facts and absolute proof that investigative journalism is based upon, both of which need to be authenticated before any expose is subsequently published. With a screenplay by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight is a superb indictment against one of the most powerful religious institutions in the world but also emphasizes the absolute necessity for responsible and comprehensively researched investigative journalism.

When the Spotlight story eventually does go to print, the expose points to a much wider problem in many archdioceses across America and other parts of the world, something which news editor Marty Baron alludes to in the beginning of the investigation.

The cast of Spotlight are phenomenal and deservedly won a 2016 Screen Actors Guild award for best cast and the intelligently crafted story is essential viewing. Spotlight is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed such films as All the Presidents Men and Frost/Nixon.

 

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.

 

 

 

The Gardens of Versailles

A Little Chaos

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Director: Alan Rickman

Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Helen McCrory, Steven Waddington, Rupert Penry-Jones

There is a growing trend for actors to get behind the camera and direct. Alan Rickman, the English actor who first appeared in Die Hard and then in The Harry Potter films, stars in and directs A Little Chaos, a charming and delightful tale about the ambitious construction of the Gardens of Versailles in the late 17th Century by King Louis XIV, wonderfully played by Rickman.

Oscar winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) stars a reluctant landscape gardener Sabine de Barra hired by the chief landscape architect Andre played by rising Belgian star Mathias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd) who needs a suitable distraction away from his scheming wife  Madame Le Notre wonderfully played by Helen McCrory (Skyfall). Stanley Tucci as the Duc of Orleans (The Devil Wears Prada) and Jennifer Ehle (Possession, Contagion) as Madame de Montespan make brief appearances as the French king’s brother and mistress respectively.

A Little Chaos is a wonderful, if at times slow moving tale of how one woman recovers from a horrible tragedy to reinvent herself as one of the chief designers of the intricate water features which comprise the huge and illustrious Gardens of Versailles, which ultimately elevated landscape gardens to unimaginable heights.

There is a superb scene between Winslet and Rickman in a Pear Orchard where she comes across the French king mistaking him for a fruit expert and they soon bare their souls to each other and give very resonant reasons for wanting to embark on building such an elaborate project.

King Louis XIV’s pivotal decision to move the French court outside of Paris to Versailles was more a way of deepening  the chasm which separated the nobility from the peasantry. As the Duc of Orleans so comically puts it, Court is like a whole bunch of mice trapped in a castle, for none of the eligible nobility could leave the Palace without the King’s gracious permission.

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Naturally this divide was to become France’s ultimate toppling of the royalty a hundred years later as beautifully told in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

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A Little Chaos is more about the machinations at court, the humble rise of a prominent and creative woman, who chose to take on a task in a man’s world, riddled with jealousy, doubt and deception. Kate Winslet adds a serenity to the role of de Barra  while Schoenaerts ‘s role as Andre le Notre is unfortunately underwritten to the film’s detriment, making their onscreen coupling less believable than it should be.

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As a film, A Little Chaos, could have had a firmer more visionary director, yet its very genteel subject matter that of gardening and love make up for the slightly inert narrative. As cinema goes, this film is no match for the brilliant Stephen Frears’s Oscar winning masterpiece Dangerous Liaisons but while it is less sophisticated and complex, A Little Chaos is pleasant and beautiful to watch.

Recommended viewing for those that love historical dramas without too much angst, yet appreciate the fascinating story behind the origins of the sumptuous Gardens of Versailles.

 

 

 

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.

Glossy Carnage

Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles, Titus Welliver, Kelsey Grammer

Director Michael Bay extends his cinematic repertoire with the fourth instalment of the Transformers franchise – Transformers, Age of Extinction and this time goes a different route by centering the action on a more mature hero inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg (2 Guns, The Fighter) who along with his daughter Tessa played by Nicola Peltz and her speed racer boyfriend played by Jack Reynor must battle out the brash and glossy war between the Deciptcons and Optimus Prime along with a band of Nefarious government agents represented by Kelsey Grammer and Titus Welliver.

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Interestingly enough with the exception of megastar Wahlberg, the rest of the cast are little known character actors, which works well for the general feel of Age of Extinction as the cast is secondary to the dazzling and superb special effects which make this sci-fi Hasbro fantasy watchable and in parts even enjoyable.

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Director Bay makes use of the fabulous and extensive locations in the film as the plot unfolds from the Arctic to Texas, from Chicago to Hong Kong. The Transformer action gets a bit much and whilst the narrative is deeply rooted in suspended disbelief, Age of Extinction is gorgeously shot with cinematic aerial shots of Chicago and Hong Kong, along with the plains of Texas and even Beijing, clearly showing a significant Chinese influence in mainstream Hollywood.

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The classic father and daughter narrative featuring Wahlberg and Peltz makes a fresh change from the Sam Wikity trilogy with various gorgeous supermodels such as Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely and Megan Fox as his impossibly beautiful but vacuous girlfriends. Besides Shia LaBeouf wants to be taken seriously as an actor now and has thus starred in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.

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Transformers, Age of Extinction is a pastiche of all former iconic Hollywood blockbuster movies from Jurassic Park, yes there is even a dinosaur sequence, to Aliens, to the more successful 007 films such as Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall, which is the film’s greatest asset but also detracts from a tighter more controlled narrative. With the duration at over two and a half hours at least 30 minutes of Transformers, Age of Extinction could have been swiftly edited although the Chicago and Hong Kong action sequences are impressive, outlandish and awe-inspiring.

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Clearly director Michael Bay revels in the Hasbro universe and was given a massive budget to play with, for he is in his element recreating the fourth instalment of Transformers in a much slicker and glossier version with less focus on the human element but more on lavish spectacle of these digital machines which transform from cars and helicopters to giant menacing robots battling each other in equally spectacular urban locations like Chicago and Hong Kong.

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Look out for great performances by Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) and with Sophia Myles (Tristan and Isolde) as the more sophisticated characters who work for a shady industrial organization based in Chicago which is out to hone the power of the Transformers and create untamed malleable matter. Transformers, Age of Extinction has superb location settings, gripping action sequences but if cinema goers hate sci-fi fantasy its best to avoid this clunky two and a half hour orgy of glossy carnage.

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Watch out for loads of neatly shot product placement in the film from Budweiser Light to Armani Exchange, Victoria Secret and Goodyear definitely proving that Transformers is aimed at the younger adult male target audience.

Whistle Blowers Anonymous

The Fifth Estate

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Director: Bill Condon

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Dan Stevens, Alicia Vikander, Carice van Houten, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis

Dreamgirls director Bill Condon takes on the murky and explosive world of Wikileaks in the riveting if not slightly convoluted film The Fifth Estate based on the book by Daniel Berg “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website”. Rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch plays the dislikable and dysfunctional Australian cult-born hacker Julian Assange founder of Wikileaks, currently residing in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London much like Edward Snowden was last seen at a Moscow airport.

Daniel Bruhl plays Daniel Berg a tech reporter at German Magazine Der Spiegel who joins forces with Assange in a revolutionary groundbreaking journey of leaking sensitive diplomatic documents online – the core of Wikileaks. Naturally all sources were initially protected but the information was released online on the most sensitive subjects from cellphone recordings of victims of 9/11 to the rogue clients of a influential Swiss bank Julius Baer Group http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Baer_Group .

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At the heart of The Fifth Estate, like in the brilliant Ron Howard film Rush, is a friendship between two men which eventually turns into a bitter rivalry with devastating consequences. Where Assange is reckless and pioneering, notoriously sociopathic, his partner superbly played by Bruhl is conservative, grounded and concerned about the actual consequences of leaking dangerous and sometimes sensitive government information online for the entire world with a laptop to read.

The action starts off with the massive hacking of the NSA (US National Security Agency) diplomatic cables which were leaked online first by deranged US soldier Bradley Manning  now known as Chelsea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_Manning   who leaked the information to Julian Assange and then in turn strikes a deal with three influential international newspapers  in New York, London and Berlin to release the sensitive and damaging diplomatic secrets of the world’s most powerful nation as it was involved in ongoing military action in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq back in 2011. All this sensitive information is suddenly available online much to the horror of US under-secretary for the Middle East Sarah Shaw a superb cameo performance by Laura Linney.

Whilst The Fifth Estate’s narrative is an overload of media information which at times detracts from the characters of the story and gives the film its most fundamental flaw. That whilst all this hacking is taking place at conferences in Scandinavia, Iceland and Germany, it detracts from any real character development. Cumberbatch’s Assange comes across as self-absorbed megalomaniac whilst Daniel Bruhl’s character is more rounded by the limited scenes with his long suffering girlfriend Anke Domscheit  played by Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina).

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The Fifth Estate, unlike the brilliant Aaron Sorkin scripted Oscar winning film The Social Network, suffers the fate of a flashy yet interesting film suffering from a poor script and lack of character development. That’s not to say the chain of events is engrossing, which with a figure as controversial as Assange still remains, The Fifth Estate lacks a decent and edited script treatment.

Character actors David Thewlis and Stanley Tucci make the most of their limited screentime as The Guardian editor Nick Davies and US agent James Boswell.  The Fifth Estate suffers too much from contrivance leaving the audience unable to really connect with Assange and Berg who were essentially anti-social hackers out to change the world, but ended up hurting themselves the most.

Ultimately The Fifth Estate is about the viewers own verdict of two whistle blower pioneers who exposed the world’s most intimate secrets using the most powerful and unedited tool of the 21st century: the internet. The film also stars Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones fame and Dan Rivers from Downton Abbey along with Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker).

See it and judge for yourself.

 

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…

 

2013 Toronto Film Festival

2013 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on among others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

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Opening Night Film: The Fifth Estate directed by Bill Condon starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Dan Stevens, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Carice van Houten

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People’s Choice Award: 12 Years a Slave directed by Steve McQueen starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Sarah Poulson

Best Canadian Feature Film: When Jews were Funny directed by Alan Zweig (documentary) starring Howie Mandel, Shelley Berman, Norm Crosby, Shecky Greene, Jack Carter, David Steinberg

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Toronto_Film_Festival

Slaying Giants

Jack the Giant Slayer

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Fantasy tales make a fabulous bedtime story. That quiet half an hour when a parent reads to their anxious child the bedtime story involving a beautiful princess, some fairies and the occasional Giant is hugely significant in the passing down of a culture’s myths and legends. A recent Hollywood trend starting with the visually arresting Snow White and the Huntsman has seen many fairytales and fantasy films like Oz the Great and Powerful being re-imagined. The tale of Jack and the Bean stalk is vividly recreated by X-Men director Bryan Singer in the Feudal Fantasy Jack the Giant Slayer, featuring Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man) as the hapless commoner Jack who goes to town to sell his stallion and soon receives some magical beans in payment for the horse from a shady monk.

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Whilst the exchange occurs Jack meets the gorgeous Princess Isabelle played by Eleanor Tomlinson who is eager to escape the confines of her father’s kingdom. At King Brahmwell’s insistence Isabelle is destined to marry the scheming Roderick played with evil panache by Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) and assisted by his sidekick Wicke played by Trainspotting star Ewen Bremner. The Kingdom’s protector  brave Elmont played by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Moulin Rouge) has a task on his hand trying to keep track of the illusive princess.

One stormy night upon her escape she comes across Jack in his humble abode and unbeknownst to them one of his magical beans has gotten wet and soon a gigantic beanstalk grows taking the princess up into the heavens and soon to become the mercy of a band of giants which inhabits the heavens and are merciless and forever hungry. Soon the adventure of Jack the Giant Slayer begins as Jack, Elmost and a band of the King’s men climb the treacherous bean stalk in a quest to save the proverbial princess. Bryan Singer brings all the visual dexterity that made the original X-Men trilogy and Valkyrie so dazzling to this cinematic recreation of Jack and the Beanstalk and firmly entrenches Jack the Giant Slayer in the long forgotten realm of British feudal patriarchal society whereby monarchy was supreme and power and royal continuity was enforced through myth and legend. Especially when the Kingdom of Cloisters is being threatened by a band of evil man-eating Giants.

“Be Quiet, I am talking to Giants”

Stanley Tucci is wonderful as slimy Roderick, the facilitator of evil and Giant dealer with his best line being “Be Quiet, I am talking to Giants”. Ewan McGregor is a great supporting actor to the little known Nicholas Hoult as the hero Jack who not only has to slay Giants but also prove his worth to the vain King Brahmwell in order to marry his illusive daughter, the ever resourceful princess. All narrative is tied up in fairytales of some sort and this plot is no different and while the script could have been expanded, Jack the Giant Slayer relies heavily on action and visual effects, which are spellbinding to say the least especially the final medieval battle between knights and Giants at the Cloisters Castle.

Like all battles fought, and all legends lived, many are entwined into narrative and myth to make a wonderful bedtime stories that can be passed down the generations, making it just as valuable as the gorgeous crown jewels which survive in the Tower of London. Jack the Giant Slayer, though thin on character development, relies heavily on the fabulous narrative of a simple farmer Jack slaying Giants to gain the hand of the princess and not much characterization is needed when such dazzling special effects are used to recreate another cinematic fairy tale. Recommended  for definitive and entertaining family viewing!

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  • Wong Kar-wai Honored in Lyon, Talks Early Influences, Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Handover and Bigger Canvas for ‘Grandmaster’
    LYON The Lumière Festival honored Wong Kar-wai with the Lumière Award on Friday following a wide-ranging discussion between the Chinese filmmaker and the festival director Thierry Frémaux about his life and career. Asked about his early influences during the master class, held in front of a packed house at the majestic Théâtre des Célestins ahead […]
    John Hopewell
  • Film Review: ‘Same Kind of Different as Me’
    In 1998, millionaire art dealer Ron Hall, a Fort Worth father of two and an adulterer, promised he’d do anything to win back his wife Debbie, a “girl with a heart so big that all of Texas couldn’t hold it.” Debbie gave him a challenge: help her feed the homeless at Fort Worth’s Union Gospel […]
    Peter Debruge
  • Busan: Korea’s ‘After My Death,’ Iran’s ‘Blockage’ Win Competition
    Films from South Korea and Iran were announced Saturday as joint winners of the Busan Film Festival’s main competition section. Kim Ui-seok’s “After My Death” and Mohsen Gharaei’s “Blockage” won the New Currents competition which focuses on first and second features by filmmakers from Asia. “My Death” is critique of the world where reason and […]
    Patrick Frater
  • Film Review: Pixar’s ‘Coco’
    Conceived as a vibrant celebration of Mexican culture, writer-director Lee Unkrich’s “Coco” is the 19th feature from Pixar Animation Studios and the first to seriously deal with the deficit of nonwhite characters in its films — so far limited to super-sidekick Frozone in “The Incredibles,” tagalong Russell in “Up” and Mindy Kaling’s green-skinned Disgust in “Inside […]
    Peter Debruge
  • Film News Roundup: Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions Backs Oliver Sacks Documentary
    In today’s film news roundup, Paul Allen comes on board an Oliver Sacks documentary, the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival unveils its lineup, and animation veteran Teresa Cheng gets a USC post. DOCUMENTARY BACKING Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions is backing the documentary “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” in partnership with Steeplechase Films, American […]
    Dave McNary