A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
Richard and CP24 anchor Nathan Downer have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
Jennifer Lawrence says she’s taking the next year off from acting.
Instead of prancing in front of a camera she’ll join forces with Represent.Us to help get “young people engaged politically on a local level.” This weekend, before she leaves Hollywood in the rearview mirror, she gifts us with a movie Variety critic Owen Gleiberman says “shows you what true screen stardom is all about.”
In the spy thriller Red Sparrow she delivers one last blast of unadulterated star power in the form of former Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova. Based on a novel by former Central Intelligence Agency operative Jason Matthews, it tells Egorova’s story after an injury forces her to leave the stage.
Sent to the Sparrow School, a facility where intelligence agents are trained to seduce and manipulate, she becomes the institute’s best and deadliest student ever. “Your body belongs to the state,” says Charlotte Rampling as the school’s sadistic headmistress.
The new film is garnering raves for the star, but she’s used to that. Critics have lobbed praise at her since her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, a bleak 2010 Ozark Mountains drama about a young woman who tries to keep her family from falling apart. Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, enthused, “Her performance is more than acting, it’s a gathering storm.”
Winter’s Bone made her a critical darling but it was the Hunger Games movies that made her a superstar.
Based on the bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins, the Hunger Games films could have been run-of-the-mill young adult movies a la Divergent or The Maze Runner. The thing that elevates them is Lawrence’s character work.
Set in Panem, a dystopian world ruled by a fascistic leader played by Donald Sutherland, the movies chronicle a state-sanctioned battle to the death between 24 players, two from each of the country’s districts.
These televised games are equal parts Miss Universe, American Idol and Death Race. The story also follows two “tributes” from District 12: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), two reluctant warriors whose survival is at stake.
Jennifer Lawrence imbues Katniss Everdeen with a rich inner life in The Hunger Games films, writes Richard Crouse.
As fans of the books know, the focus of the story is the characters. They may be thrown into a wild situation. But knowing and caring about Katniss and Peeta is as important to this story’s success as the action scenes or dystopian premise.
Lawrence imbues Katniss with a rich inner life. You can see the machinations of this character churning behind her eyes. That depth played a big part in the series’ success. She took a role that could have been buried under layers of teen ennui or simple steely-eyed determination and gave Katniss real depth.
She starred as Katniss in four blockbuster Hunger Games outings, but took time to make smaller, riskier films that paid off with critical raves and an Oscar for best performance by an actress in a leading role for Silver Linings Playbook.
Now she’s taking a break from the big screen and from her now-legendary talk show appearances. Time calls her a “late night MVP” for her outspoken and often outrageous spots with the Jimmys — Kimmel, Fallon — but perhaps there was more than a kernel of truth in her recent sit-down with Stephen Colbert. Asked why she was taking a year off she replied, “Because I’m miserable.” She laughed off the remark but given the level of intensity of her performances perhaps it’s time for her to sit back and recharge her batteries. Her fans will be there in a year when she’s ready to come back.
The trailers for “Red Sparrow,” a new thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, promise an action packed movie experience that could rest comfortably alongside the action-packed “Atomic Blonde.” But like its main character, all is not what it seems. This isn’t “Atomic Blonde: Electric Boogaloo,” it’s an austere, cold film, and not just in its bleak Russian backdrop.
Based on a novel by former Central Intelligence Agency operative Jason Matthews, it tells the story of Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) after a career ending injury forces her into early retirement. With a sick mother at home and an apartment paid for by the Bolshoi Ballet, her now former employer, she is in desperate need of money. “I can make sure your mother is looked after,” says her uncle Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), who also happens to be the deputy director of the Service of the Russian Federation. “That you can stay in your apartment but only if you can be of use to the state. Do it for your mother.”
When she survives her first “job”—seducing a wealthy Russian tycoon—Uncle sends her to the Sparrow School, a facility where, “selected for their beauty, strength and ability,” candidates are trained to be, “weapons in a global struggle for power.” The syllabus includes courses on seduction and manipulation, exploiting weakness, how to love on command and trigger sexual desires. Most importantly, they are taught to harden themselves against the sentimental.
It’s a tough learning curve and the stakes are high. “If you cannot be of use to the State I will put a bullet through your head,” says the school’s sadistic headmistress (Charlotte Rampling). After a rough start Dominika dodges the bullet to become one of the Krushtov era program’s best students.
Her first assignment sees her sent to Budapest to seduce American operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and uncover the name of his Russian double agent working for the CIA.
“Red Sparrow” plays like a typical spy movie with less action and more kink. There’s barely a car chase, very few bullets are loosed and most of the violence happens off screen. Instead, director Francis Lawrence calibrates the violence for maximum shock effect. Ugly, skin-crawling torture scenes are hard to watch and the camera lingers on a particularly nasty throat cutting situation that manages to say more about the hardening of Dominika’s spirit than any lines of dialogue could.
Lawrence is in virtually every frame of the film, creating a portrait of a woman willing to do whatever it takes to survive. She wisely avoids doing a Boris and Natasha accent, favouring a convincing but mild Russian cadence that sounds more authentic than her more seasoned co-stars. I’m looking at you Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds. As Dominika she is indomitable, keeping us guessing where her allegiances lie until the very end.
By the end credits “Red Sparrow” feels overlong as the twists and turns pile up like empty vodka bottles outside the Kremlin bar. It is unsentimental; a hard-as-stone—although occasionally ludicrous—neo-Cold War thriller that goes heavy on the espionage before succumbing to the obvious, wrapping up the story with a neat bow. For a film that lives in the darkened corners of life outside the law it goes too far out of its way to illuminate the story’s inner workings, taking on the feel of a John le Carré reject.
The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden passing was met with a heartfelt outpouring of grief from fans and those who worked with him.
“Philip Seymour Hoffman was a singular talent and one of the most gifted actors of our generation,” Lionsgate, the studio behind the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and 2, said in a written statement. “We’re very fortunate that he graced our Hunger Games family. Losing him in his prime is a tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Philip’s family.”
Hoffman played head -games-maker-turned-rebel leader Plutarch Heavensbee in the successful series. It is a pivotal role.
In the wake of the actor’s death, questions arose as to whether the uncompleted blockbusters-in-waiting would be completed in time for their scheduled November 21, 2014 for Part 1 and November 20, 2015 for Part 2 release dates.
Hollywood studios have handled the sudden death of cast members in many different ways. In some cases, films are even abandoned.
Production on Something’s Got to Give was shut down permanently after Marilyn Monroe’s August 1962 barbiturate overdose.
Dark Blood, River Phoenix’s final film, was put into cold storage when the young actor died before filming several crucial scenes. But both movies were eventually resurrected. The documentary Marilyn: The Final Days used footage from Monroe’s aborted film while Dark Blood sat for 19 years before being finished and shown at film festivals.
Father and son Bruce and Brandon Lee both died early, leaving behind unfinished films. The elder martial arts legend had completed 100 minutes of The Game of Death when a cerebral edema took his life.
Even more tragically, Brandon was killed on the set of The Crow in an accident involving a prop handgun.
Both films were salvaged with the use of stand-ins.
When Oliver Reed collapsed of a heart attack at a Malta pub after out-drinking a group of Royal Navy sailors, the editing crew of Gladiator replaced him digitally in the remaining scenes of the film.
More recently, Heath Ledger unexpectedly died during the production of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. He was replaced in the surreal story by three actors.
“I just started calling friends of Heath,” director Terry Gilliam said. “It’s as simple as that.”
“Johnny (Depp), Colin (Farrell) and Jude (Law) turned up. It was important that they were friends, because I wanted to keep it in the family. I wanted people who were close to him because, as Colin said when he was doing his part, he was channelling Heath part of the time, so Heath was very much still alive in some sense.
“Contractually, it was supposed to be a Terry Gilliam Film,” said Gilliam. “That’s what the lawyers said, but I said, ‘No way it’s going to be that. It’s going to be a film from Heath Ledger and friends.’ The cast sat around one night and that idea came up and I said, ‘This is it. Perfect. That’s how we do it.’”
As for the upcoming Hunger Games films, reports now confirm that Hoffman completed work on Part 1 and had just seven days left of shooting on Part 2.
His absence will not require any recasting, just a rewrite of one scene. And so Mockingjay Part 2 becomes the final film in Hoffman’s remarkable career.
“Words cannot convey the devastating loss we are all feeling right now. Philip was a wonderful person and an exceptional talent, and our hearts are breaking,” reads a statement released by The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins, the films’ director Francis Lawrence, producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik and star Jennifer Lawrence.
I’m glad I saw the first “Hunger Games” movie because I’m not sure if I would have a clue as to what was going on if I didn’t have that background. I may have been taken in by the beautiful art direction, or Jennifer Lawrence’s intense performance, but I don’t think I would have been able to connect all the dots. Plot points become more obvious in the second hour, but for non-Hungerites it might be confusing.
If you haven’t seen the first movie, or read one of the 26 million copies of the book that are currently in print, here’s a glossary of terms to get you up to speed.
Katniss Everdeen: Sixteen year-old protagonist and citizen of District 12, a poor mining area in the dystopian nation of Panem.
Peeta Mellark: A baker’s son, who, according to Wikipedia has “extensive strength and cake decorating skills that contributed to the art of camouflage.”
Both are “tributes” chosen from the young people of District 12 and forced to participate in an annual Hunger Games, The Hunger Games, an annual televised event in which one teenaged boy and girl from each districts surrounding the Capitol are chosen by lottery to fight to the death until only one remains.
There’s more, but you’ll figure it out.
In the new film combatants and sweethearts Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned from the 74th Annual Hunger Games victorious to become the toast of the nation. While on a Victory Tour to Panem’s various downtrodden districts, revolution is in the air. They see Katniss as a symbol of freedom, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the country’s autocratic leader. To quell the revolution he and his head gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) devise the trickiest Hunger Games yet, the Quarter Quell that will pit former winners against one another in the battle to the death. If Snow gets his way Katniss will be killed and the revolution squashed.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a better movie than the first installment.
Set decorated and costumed (as played by Elizabeth Banks, District 12 minder Effie Trinket has the most elaborate futurist art deco costumes since “Metropolis”) to within an inch of its life, but has nonetheless has a gritty edge. It doesn’t feel like a budget big franchise movie and that’s a good thing,
Visually as well as thematically it has more edge than any of the recent Marvel movies. And it skirts around the thing that upset many people about the first movie—the idea of kids killing kids—by setting the action between former victors ranging in age from 20s to 70s.
It creates a world with it’s own rules, style and customs and does so convincingly. In part it’s comprised of things we’ve seen before in everything from the human sacrifices of Greek Mythology to reality television to stories of government corruption on the news, but author Suzanne Collins and director Francis “I Am legend” Lawrence tie it together to create something new.
In many ways it breaks the mold of what we expect from a young adult a blockbuster. The focus is on the characters and the underpinning of romance that snakes throughout the story. The action sequences are few and far between and it takes almost an hour before any of Katniss’s trademark bow-and-arrow dexterity comes into play. (Silly complaint: the number of arrows in her quiver changes from shot to shot! Just when you think she’s out, arrows magically appear.)
Sure there’s poison fog, angry animals and vicious victors but it’s about survival and relationships not the wholesale slaughter of the characters. It’s grim, shot in hues of grey with a perpetually overcast sky, which lends it a classic feel, more like 1970s sci fi than the brightly couloured eye catchers Hollywood makes these days.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a who’s who of a cast—Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Brit heartthrob Sam Claflin and Amanda Plummer—who all perform well, lending some gravitas to the story, but it is carried by Lawrence whose vision for Katniss is as straight as an arrow.