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.

Silver Linings Playbook – smart, edgy rom-com

Seems David O. Russell is on a bit of a roll. Following a six-year break after I ♥ Huckabees, the Writer/Director returned in 2010 with a film which bagged him an Oscar nomination for Best Director, critically-acclaimed boxing tale, The Fighter.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKHis latest effort, Silver Linings Playbook, is another triumph – dramatic, touching, funny and heart-warming. This is down to a smart script, assured direction and stand-out performances – particular from the two leads, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

What’s it all about?
Pat (Cooper) is a history teacher with bipolar disorder, recently released from mental hospital following a violent outburst upon catching his wife with another man.  Despite suffering mood swings and having to contend with a restraining order, he’s convinced he can win back his wife. Then Tiffany (Lawrence) enters his life, herself a recovering sex addict, a condition brought about following the death of her husband.

The two initially bond discussing the types of medication they’ve taken – then begin to form an unlikely friendship. Pat asks Tiffany to give his wife a letter, hoping something which explains he’s getting his life back on track will rekindle their marriage. Tiffany thinks he’s deluded but agrees to help, but only if Pat helps her practice for a dance competition. We all know where this is going right?

silver linings playbookA tale of two wounded souls
Whilst the story may be nothing new – with the exception of the bipolar aspect – this film lives or dies by its leads. Both Cooper and Lawrence deliver career-best performances. For Lawrence, that’s saying something. She’s already had an Oscar nomination for her performance as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone. Here, her latest offering looks likely to get another Best Actress nomination, possibly even a win.

Cooper was surprisingly impressive. All twitchy, unfocused energy with a blunt, direct nature and an imposing presence. You get the sense this is a guy capable of violent outbursts, but really trying his hardest to hold it all together. He also brings comic timing to the character, helping balance out the darker moments. Easily his best work to date. That said, his performance alone would not have lifted the film to the heights it achieved.

silver linings lawrenceLawrence the silver lining
The secret weapon of this film – or true silver lining if you like – was Tiffany. Once again, Lawrence showing the depth of her talent. She’s just astonishing. Obviously there’s a sizeable age gap (Lawrence was 21 during filming, Cooper 37), but she displays a maturity beyond her years – making the attraction between the two wounded souls of Tiffany and Pat wholly believable. She gives Tiffany a wildly unpredictable nature – often switching instantly between vulnerable, raw and conflicted, to steely, fiery and determined. This tends to break down Pat’s defences, leaving him utterly confused, poor chap.

Does this better her performance in Winter’s Bone? Perhaps not, but it more effectively displays her talents and range as an actress – marking her out as one to watch with great interest in the future.

Silver Linings Playbook De NiroDe Niro the dad
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning De Niro, playing Pat’s dad. Another flawed soul with a touch of OCD, cut from the same cloth as his son. It’s arguably his best performance in a long time.

In some of his more comedy-driven roles in the last few years he’s probably overplayed it, to a degree. Here he pitches it perfectly. David O. Russell really does seem to get the best out of the the actors at his disposal, even if he’s known for sometimes rubbing them up the wrong way.

To sum up, Silver Linings is a smart, quirky, dramatic rom-com that tackles some tough issues (marriage, mental health), however it’s buoyed up by a smart script and strong performances – with Lawrence showing that Winter’s Bone was just the start of her ascendancy.

Top 10 thinking man’s actresses

Hello my film-loving friends. Today I wish to share with you my list of a thinking man’s top actresses. Ladies that have a certain allure in terms of intelligence, physical beauty, acting prowess and – to avoid using an overused French phrase – an indefinable something.

With each actress I’ve also mentioned the films that first made me fall in love with them. Now you may disagree and say some of these ladies are just a pretty face and nothing else – that’s fine. Hopefully I can state my case and change your mind.

  1. Natalie Portman – Garden State, Closer, V for Vendetta
    It’s no secret I hold this actress in high regard and I’ve previously discussed her top performances in another posting. So I’ll just say she makes my top spot by being a perfect blend of intelligence, beauty and vulnerability – a winning combination.
  2. Eva Green – The Dreamers, Casino Royale, Dark Shadows
    Hypnotic, alluring, sensual – she got her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The DreamersThe Director described her as ‘So beautiful, it’s indecent‘. It’s not the world’s best film in terms of plot, but if you want to truly appreciate the appeal of this actress I highly recommend it.
  3. Anne HathawayLove and Other Drugs
    In this film I’ve mentioned she plays a character who has early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Some of her scenes – particularly in the third act – are heartbreaking and put her firmly in third place. Even without Catwoman in The Dark Knight she’d still be here, she’s that good in this film. If you’ve not seen it here’s a nice little clip.
  4. Amanda SeyfriedChloe, Alpha Dog, Dear John, Jennifer’s Body
    An actress with the biggest, most beautiful eyes in Hollywood. You have to love the internet, a quick search turned up a site dedicated to her eyes! That aside, she’s been in an interesting and varied bunch of films that slowly but surely convinced me of her inclusion. Out of them all I recommend you see Chloe.
  5. amber heardAmber Heard – The Rum Diary
    She’s the kind of actress that exudes an old-school Hollywood charm and mystique. But who am I to say these things you ask? Well if you don’t believe me listen to Johnny Depp – he compared her to Veronica Lake and other old Hollywood beauties, she clearly had quite an impact.
  6. Jennifer LawrenceWinter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook
    I heard a story once that Ms Lawrence was walking down the corridor in a Hollywood studio when a bearded guy in a cap stopped her saying ‘Are you the Jennifer Lawrence?’ Turns out this was Steven Spielberg. He’d seen Winter’s Bone and been captivated by her performance, as many of us were seeing her for the first time.
  7. beth albatrossJessica Brown Findlay – Albatross,
    Black Mirror, Misfits, Labyrinth

    If you only know Miss Findlay from Downton Abbey then you’ve missed a trick. I loved her in Albatross, where she plays a bit of a sexy troublemaker, seducing her best friend’s dad. She gives the character warmth, depth and vulnerability – with a sharp, sassy nature to boot.
  8. Marion CotillardPublic Enemies, Inception, Dark Knight Rises
    She won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf  in La Vie En Rose and I’m excited to see her forthcoming film Rust and Bone, where she plays a killer whale trainer. She was fantastic in Inception – intense, vulnerable and mesmerising. Watch the ‘waiting for a train’ scene.
  9. Mila KunisForgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits, Ted
    I struggle with Kunis. She’s still Meg from Family Guy – a problem when she’s clearly stunning and likes to play quite fiesty, yet down-to-earth characters. The perfect girl-next-door, if you happen to live in Hollywood. There’s a rumour she might play Anastasia Steele in the forthcoming Fifty Shades film, an enticing prospect.
  10. Felicity JonesCemetery Junction, Albatross, Like Crazy
    Ah Ms Jones, great up-and-coming actress. She comes across as really sweet and genuine. Like Crazy cleaned up at the Sundance film festival in 2011 with her performance getting compared to Carey Mulligan’s in An Education. Emotional and heartfelt, watch the trailer.

So there’s my list. As ever I was ruthless with the cut – there’s probably a lot more that could have made my top 10 but there you go. I hope you enjoy this selection, until next time.