Katniss and a mockingjay: the revolution will be televised

Hunger-games-catching-fire-lawrence_katniss‘Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire.’ The same could be said of Jennifer Lawrence these days. Following her award winning performance last year, she’s got some exciting things lined up to hit the screen soon. American Hustle, reuniting her with Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell, is out in December which, from the trailer, looks to be a right sexy treat. It’s covered in my recent trailer blog, along with some other ones worth a look. She’s also part of the jaw-dropping cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past, comfortably slotting herself into another juggernaut of a franchise.

Then there’s The Hunger Games. One thing that struck me about the middle slot of this trilogy is just how bleak and desolate it feels. I suppose, given the three act structure of a film (setup, conflict, resolution) and extrapolating that over a three film arc (or four film arc, as the conclusion will be a two-parter), Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Catching Fire, a reviewthe second one will always be rife with conflict and see the antagonist flex his or her muscles to gain the upper hand. Think Empire Strikes Back and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

On that note, and given the fact most of the audience will have seen the first one, this feel films tougher and more emotionally affecting than the first. Indeed, many of the characters have matured and grown wise to what life is like under this oppressive regime; off and on love interest Peeta and Katniss’s sister Primrose are typical examples. The latter calmly taking a needle from her mother’s shaking hands to sedate someone after a savage beating.

And talking of beatings, this film has them aplenty (mostly administered by soldiers looking like a cross between storm troopers and extras from a Daft Punk video).Hunger Games Catching Fire5-20131105-172 Austrian director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I am Legend, Water for Elephants) doesn’t let up; there’s precious little in the way of light moments to lift the mood. At times I questioned the 12A certificate (there were a lot of kids in the audience at my screening). However there was minimal cause for concern, in the event of a violent act the director would invariably cut away at the last moment, something no doubt advised by the studio to make the broader kid-friendly certificate. A tactic to save kids’ sensibilities perhaps, but still psychologically affects us adults, as we can fill in the gaps.

This is only really an observation though. Lawrence has taken the reins of this franchise in able fashion, proving he can handle action, drama and quieter character moments equally well. He’s also avoided directorial flair for the most part, letting the cast grow in their roles. jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-Trailer-3As you’d expect, the focus is by and large firmly kept on Lawrence’s Katniss – we see everything from her point of view. And rightly so, she’s not only the catalyst and linchpin for the entire story, but also a tough female protagonist, something of which we’ve not seen on the big screen in a long time.

Hence perhaps why Jennifer Lawrence is fast becoming a favourite of tinseltown. In years past Hollywood has taken Oscar winners and tried to turn them into action/superheroes and failed (Hallie Berry, Catwoman; Charlize Theron, Aeon Flux; hell even Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider to an extent), perhaps lack of success was down to poor script, a weak director, sub-standard supporting cast… Who knows.

ID_D37_14785.dngNow, however, it feels right. Lawrence feels right. Maybe the industry has just finally got its act together. I’ve been a fan of hers since Winter’s Bone and, for me, she’s not put a foot wrong (please Jennifer, stay away from run-of-the-mill rom-coms!). And with Francis Lawrence directing the concluding two-parter of this tale, it looks to be in most competent hands. President Snow, watch your back… And your front. In fact, just watch out. Katniss is coming, she’s mad as hell and she just won’t take it anymore.

Rachel Weisz – her top 5 performances

A few years ago there was a survey of celebrity ladies in a men’s style magazine. To the question ‘Who would you most like to marry?’ men unanimously went for Weisz.

At the time she was single and responded saying ‘So I’m the most marriable but I’m not married?’ Perhaps because it took an alpha, Bond-esque male for her to say yes. Damn.

Anyway, my slightly convoluted point was to illustrate how the thinking man holds her in high regard. She’s one of those actresses that flies slightly under the radar at times. Whilst obviously stunningly beautiful she chooses her roles intelligently, mixing blockbusters with more considered, indie projects. Not every actress has the skill, star appeal and versatility to pick and choose roles in this manner.

I recently posted a list of a thinking man’s top actresses and shamefully didn’t include her. This post, I hope, will make amends. Below is my pick of her five best performances.

  1. The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
    You’ve got to hand it to Weisz, she’s maturing like a good single malt whisky (better than a fine wine in my opinion). Last year she gave us one of her finest performances to date as Hester, the lady at the centre of a love triangle, in an adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1955 play.
  2. The Constant Gardener (2005)
    After a string of average action blockbusters, she fought to get this role and it’s clear she had desire to play the part with conviction. Her performance as Amnesty activist Tessa was accessible and compelling and the results won her an Oscar.
  3. The Fountain (2006)
    Choosing to work with up-and-coming indie Director and partner at the time, Darren Aranofsky, her performance is raw, affecting and heartfelt. I wonder – in an alternate universe – what she’d have been like playing Nina instead of Natalie Portman in Aranofsky’s Black Swan. Would she have bagged an Oscar as Portman did?
  4. The Brothers Bloom (2008)
    After success of indie noir thriller Brick, Director Rian Johnson made this film, echoing Wes Anderson’s style. It didn’t make much on release but gained a cult following afterwards. Weisz is great in it – quirky, bubbly and loveable. Again, her desire to work with up-and-coming Directors must have been a factor – Johnson followed this with critically acclaimed sci-fi Looper.
  5. Confidence (2003)
    Playing a budding con artist, she had an interesting chemistry with Ed Burns. Seductive, sultry, hard-to-read – the perfect foil to Ed Burns and his smug approach to conning. This film really reminds me of her timeless beauty – the perfect femme fatale in any era.

Honourable mentions should go to The Mummy (1999), About a Boy (2002) and The Bourne Legacy (2012). All considerably lifted by her presence. The Mummy, in particular, launched the action side of her career, putting her on the map for many people. Plus she gets added kudos for making Brendan Fraser bearable.

So there’s my list. If you’ve not seen all the ones in my top 5, seek them out and watch them soon, particularly if you’re a Weisz fan. If you’re not, you’ll soon become one I promise you. I’ll leave you with the photo-shoot that accompanied the survey in the men’s style magazine I mentioned at the start of this post. Enjoy!