Tag Archives: Stanley Tucci

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

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Hungry For More

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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Puppet Power

Jim Henson’s creations still serving up ‘entertainment for everybody’

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Muppets Most Wanted

Ricky Gervais, Tiny Fey & Ty Burrell

Directed by James Bobin

PG, 107 min.

 

The Muppets have been around since 1955, and their creator and longtime driving force, Jim Henson, the puppeteer who brought them from TV’s Sesame Street to Hollywood and beyond, died in 1990. But Henson’s original idea that his Muppets offer “entertainment for everybody” is still very much alive and well.

The troupe’s eighth movie is yet another family-friendly, something-for-everyone affair, a rollicking roundup of trademark put-on-a-show shtick, gonzo sketch comedy, toe-tapping musical numbers and a zany bombardment of guests. As always, the felt-and-foam antics of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other familiar Muppet cast are bolstered by a parade of Hollywood pop-ins, which helps freshen up some of the vaudeville-style gags.

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Tina Fey plays a Siberian prison warden with a penchant for song-and-dance.

The cameos come fast, and often last only for an instant—step out to the lobby even for a moment and you could easily miss Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Saorise Ronan, Salma Hayak, Ray Liotta, Stanley Tucci, Chloë Grace Morentz, Josh Grobin, Celine Dion or a number of others who all seem eager for even a small part of the fun and a moment in the Muppet sunshine. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell have more substantial roles in the story, which concerns a nefarious Kermit look-alike who infiltrates the ensemble, beginning a trans-European crime spree and sending everyone’s favorite show-biz amphibian away into shivery Siberian exile.

Of course it sounds preposterous. But you do understand we’re talking about a bunch of talking, singing, dancing puppet animals…right?

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Who’s Hungry?

‘Catching Fire’ sequel quenches ‘Hunger Games’ appetites

Hunger Games_Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.95 (Lionsgate Home Video)

Things are pretty bleak for young folks who have to fight to the death in The Hunger Games. But on the bright side: The sci-fi trilogy’s second blockbuster movie, the No.1 box-office hit of 2013, is well on its way to cracking the billion-dollar mark in sales. So don’t feel too bad for Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, or Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland, all of whom reprise their original parts (plus an appearance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what would become one of his final roles). Bonus features include a nine-part behind-the-scenes documentary, commentary from director Francis Lawrence, and deleted scenes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Information Breakdown

WikiLeaks drama pounds its story, but becomes too much of a cold slog

Daniel Br?hlThe Fifth Estate

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Daniel Brühl

Directed by Bill Condon

R, 128 min.

Earlier this year, I went to a team trivia event where one of the questions was “What is the ‘fourth estate?’

Having a bit of newsprint in my blood, I knew that it was an old British term for “the press.” Our team got the point—hooray for us, right? But what struck me that evening was how many teams were completely stumped for an answer.

Was the term really that arcane, that unfamiliar, that antiquated?

If so, are the people on those teams going to have any idea what The Fifth Estate is, either? And an even bigger question: How interested will they be in seeing this movie, no matter what it’s called?

The Fifth Estate dramatizes the beginnings of WikiLeaks, the cyber-organization that shook up world governments and conventional media by posting highly confidential news from anonymous sources, who “leaked” it from places where it was supposed to be contained, sealed away, secreted. Among other stories, the site released sensitive files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about civilians killed by military airstrikes, and about what went on at the notorious prisoner detention center Guantanamo Bay.

The term “fifth estate,” the movie tells us, refers to the way news reporting was shaped by the speed, force—and recklessness—of information zipping around the planet in the new millennium’s digital, instant Internet age. If the old-fashioned printing press was the pillar of the fourth estate, new e-media, spurred by WikiLeaks, became the fifth.

The movie centers on WikiLeak’s Australian founder, Julian Assange, and his contentious, co-dependent relationship with Daniel Berg, the site’s German representative (on whose book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website With Julian Assange, the screenplay is partly based).

FE2Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as Assange, a blonde-haired cyber warrior crusading to expose fraud, corruption, injustice, war crimes and other sins in high places. Daniel Brühl, who also co-stars in the new movie Rush, is Berg, a young computer hacker whose prankish, anti-establishment sparks are fanned into flames of international activism by Assange’s zeal and heated rhetoric.

Director Bill Condon—whose diverse credentials include the musical Dreamgirls, the Gothic drama Gods and Monsters and two Twilight teen-angst vampire sagas—pumps the story hard, backfilling details of Assange’s damaged childhood; weaving in a difficult romantic relationship for Berg; and inserting a pair of Washington D.C. insiders (Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney) who have to deal with the serious fallout WikiLeaks creates as it puts foreign diplomats, military personnel and their families in danger by revealing their identities.

FE3Was Assange a hero or a traitor? That’s the question the movie wants us to ponder. It also paints him as a cyber rock star, with throngs of fans, followers and groupies. (He’s currently living in London, where he’s been granted diplomatic asylum after a 2010 sexual assault investigation.)

But the movie’s all too much of a slog, I’m afraid, through a story that a lot of viewers will find too heavy on current events and history and too light on entertainment. Like the cold, bleak backdrops of Belgium and Germany, where the filming took place, there’s far too little warmth, wit or movie sunshine to penetrate its overarching sense of its own seriousness.

The movie ends with a faux-documentary segment in which Cumberbatch, as Assange, addresses the audience, as if he’s being interviewed about the movie they’ve just seen. He somewhat dismissively brushes the question away, then looks directly into the camera and tells viewers to become inspired to seek their own truths, to ferret out their own information, to become their own crusading whistle-blowing leak-finders and “look beyond this story.”

That’s assuming, of course, that they see it begin with—which might require a leap of an estate or two beyond a lot of people’s usual areas of interest.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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