Tag Archives: Julianne Moore

The Future is Finished

‘Hunger Games’ finally runs out of gas in ‘Mockingjay 2’

Final Poster crop

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutherson, Donald Sutherland and Liam Hemsworth

Directed by Francis Lawrence

PG-13

Opens Nov. 20, 2015

“Mandatory Viewing” is the directive that pops up on holographic screens across all of post-apocalyptic Panem when dictator Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) beams a transmission to the masses.

That message couldn’t be truer for Hunger Games fans, especially as it pertains to this movie, the final film of the four made from author Suzanne Collins trilogy of best-selling dystopian young-adult novels. This is the end, the big finish. The Games have come to a close—mandatory viewing for the masses, if ever there was.

The first Hunger Games, in 2012, made Jennifer Lawrence a household name as Katniss Everdeen, the galloping, galvanizing firebrand who became the leader of a revolution and an icon of female empowerment. As Katniss fought and forged her way to freedom in brutal, futuristic “games,” fans faithfully came back, movie after movie, to follow her—and to see just how faithfully Hollywood kept to the details of Collins’ books, which melded a young-love triangle with wicked satire on reality TV, media propaganda, social stratification and war.

Fans will be satisfied with Mockingjay—Part 2. It covers all the bases and ties up the loose ends, and everybody’s back on board: Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), President Coin (Julianne Moore), Primrose (Willow Shields), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Johanna (Jena Malone). Even Phillip Seymour Hoffman returns, and he died in early 2014. It could have used a bit more of the colorful Games escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and wackadoo master of ceremonies Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), but hey, you can’t cram everyone front and center, even in a movie that runs two hours and nearly 20 minutes.

And about that: Most of those minutes are filled with chatter. Characters talk a lot—about what they’ve done, they’re doing and going to do. Occasionally they get up and actually do something—like Katniss throwing a cup at a cat, or heading out on a covert, high-stakes mission, which sets up the two big action scenes. One (a subterranean attack by a horde of hissing, spastic lizard-people) looks like something out of a horror flick, with a nod to Alien; the other involves a massive, surging wave of sludge and oil, which everyone outruns like it’s only slightly more terrifying than an overflowing toilet—or the not-even-there computer effect that it really is.

Donald Sutherland

And it’s dark. Yes, people die. But it also looks dark, dim and dull—greys, browns, blanched-out, bleach-y, blahhhh tones that seem to blot out the sun. Sure, it’s a grim, wintry, wartime world. But why did director Francis Lawrence (who’s helmed every Games movie, except the first) make every scene look like it was lit with a 40-watt bulb? Did he blow his lighting budget on CGI sludge and lizard people?

And does everyone in the movie have that “over it” look because they’re tired of all that fighting for the revolution—or because they really are? As Mockingjay flutters and flaps to a close, this victory lap looks and feels like a slog.

The Hunger Games franchise made billions of box-office bucks and became a pop-cultural phenomenon. But finally the Games have run out of gas. Jennifer Lawrence, now 25, has become a global, Oscar-winning superstar, above and beyond the YA bow-and-arrow heroine, the “girl on fire” she started out playing four years ago.

“I am done,” Katniss says in one scene. Yes she is. Congratulations and good job, everyone. Now proceed toward the exits, and let’s all just keep moving.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hungry For More

‘Hunger Games’ semi-finale is light on action but heavy on build-up

SS_D8-3267.dng

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman & Liam Hemsworth

Directed by Francis Lawrence

PG-13

Fans of The Hunger Games will be thrilled because the latest installment—the next-to-last movie, the result of splitting the final book of author Suzanne Collins’ smash trilogy into two movie parts—has hit the screen. But that excitement might be tinged by some disappointment in watching the feisty, girl-power heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) sit out much of the drama on the sidelines.

Mockingjay—Part 1 begins where last year’s Catching Fire left off: Katniss, the victor of the first two movies’ kill-or-be-kill games, has become a refugee from the totalitarian regime’s brutal President Snow (Donald Sutherland), living underground with a group of rebel insurgents and their leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore).

SS_D13-5271.dng

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore

A revolution is brewing, and the rebels want Katniss to become its poster girl. “We have to have a lightning rod,” says Coin. So Katniss is recruited to make a series of propaganda videos—or “propos”—to spark a rebellion in the miserable masses of Snow’s repressed citizens.

“It’s the worst terror in the world, waiting for something,” Coin tells Katniss. A lot of Hunger Games fans might agree, given that so much of the movie feels like waiting around for the real excitement to start.

SS_D7-2805.dng

Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence

Katniss, the rousing action figure around which the entire franchise is based, appears in only one scene that would quality as an action scene, in which she gets to actually un-sheath an arrow from her quiver and fire it from her bow. But then it’s back to the bunker for more plotting, more prep, and hanging out while other people get down to the nitty-gritty. There’s other action—a big dam blows up, a bunch of forced-labor lumberjacks turn the tables on their “Peacekeeper” guards, and a daring nighttime rebel raid on President Snow’s compound looks like a mash-up of Mission Impossible and Zero Dark Thirty. But Katniss sits it all out.

Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), who also steered last year’s Catching Fire, keeps things looking drab and dreary, to match the mood of repression, doubt and dread. Obviously, he’s holding back, saving the story’s knockout punch for its final act, the big show. OK, I get that—but frequently this warm-up seems like it’s huffing and puffing without generating a lot of real heat.

SS_D103-309737.dng

Josh Hutcherson

The movies’ main cast returns: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and (the late) Philip Seymour Hoffman. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are back as Peeta and Gale, the two hunks competing for Katniss’s affections, although the storyline puts them in very different places and situations.

There’s a lot here for Hunger Games fans to digest—political undertones, the drumbeat of war, public executions. And it’s got another great performance by Lawrence, who makes almost everything she does (even playing a bad actress, who struggles to get her propos lines right) fun to watch. She even breaks out in song, a haunting, dirge-like ditty called “The Hanging Tree.” There’s some real dramatic tension, a good deal of emotion, and one heck of a setup for the next movie.

But as for a big, “fiery” showdown that fans have been waiting, and waiting for, well, they’re just going to have to stay hungry a bit longer—until next November.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Sky King

Liam Neeson takes charge on a ticking time bomb with wings

NonStop

Non-Stop

Blu-ray $34.98, DVD $29.98 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

If I’m trapped on a plane about to blow, Liam Neeson is someone I’d want nearby—especially after seeing how he handles that exact scenario in this action-packed thriller, playing a federal air marshal with more than his hands full trying to save his fellow passengers, find the hidden bomb, discover who on board who put it there, and why. Everyone’s a suspect (even Liam!), including Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey, and Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes look at shooting the stunts and staging the gripping drama inside a 20’ by 30’ set the shape of a tube.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , ,

Texts on a Plane

Liam Neeson kicks butt at 30,000 feet

Photography By Myles Aronowitz

Non-Stop

Starring Liam Neeson & Julianne Moore

Directed by Juane Collet-Serra

PG-13

His name may not have the same action-hero ring as “Willis,” “Norris” or “Stallone,” but 61-year-old Liam Neeson has carved a pretty successful niche for himself a one-man kick-butt machine.

Those other stars might have more brawn, but the “everyman” personas of Neeson’s characters, pushed to their limits physically and psychologically but always finding ways to overcome, connected with audiences in movies like the 2008 revenge thriller Taken, its sequel, and Unknown.

5688_FPT_00074R.JPG_cmykNow, working again with Unknown director Juane Collet-Serra, Neeson stars in Non-Stop as a stressed-out federal air marshal on a six-hour transatlantic flight, once more a rumpled, crumpled underdog, this time grappling with a plane-full of life-or-death stakes high above the clouds. Just after take-off, his character, Bill Marks, gets a cryptic cell-phone message: Unless he arranges for an immediate transfer of $150 million dollars, people on the plane will begin to die, one at a time.

And eventually, something even more catastrophic will happen—and it’s all been rigged to look like Marks did it.

Who sent the message, and others that follow, taunting Marks, spelling out the devious details? It’s obviously someone else on the flight, someone who knows him—and the heavy emotional baggage he’s carrying. Everyone becomes a suspect, and the guessing game is part of what keeps the movie—otherwise contained in the closed, confined space of the airliner—moving along at a brisk, breathless clip.

Non-Stop

Lupita N’yongo, who received a supporting actress Oscar for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” plays a flight attendant.

No one is above suspicion, including Marks’ overly (?) friendly seatmate (Julianne Moore); two flight attendants (Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley on  Downton Abbey, and Oscar-winning Lupita N’Yongo from 12 Years a Slave); a Middle Eastern-looking doctor who practically has “TERRORIST” stamped on his kafi; a mild-mannered school teacher (Scoot McNairy); and a computer programmer (Nate Parker).

There are twists, turns, some cheesy laughs, a serious tussle in the lavatory, a murder by improvised peashooter, and a rip-roarin’ finish that had one woman seated behind me whooping, gasping and hollering “Save the baby!!!”

The specter of 9/11 hangs over the plot in more ways than one, but this isn’t a movie with much of an agenda beyond being a high-flying, B-grade thrill ride that takes you up, shakes you up and sets you back down when it’s over.

So don’t’ buy a ticket to Non-Stop looking for award-winning performances or a profound message (although it clumsily, hurriedly tries to tag one on at the end). As the captain tells Marks at one point, just sit back, buckle up and “Enjoy your flight”!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,