The Hunger Games end right, Brooklyn is sweet, Seth Rogen’s Christmas movie is a hoot
Jennifer Lawrence rules. So does Saoirse Ronan , but not Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt. That’s the overview. A seismic shift in star power? We’ll see.
Here’s the list:
The Hunger Games Mockingjay Pt.2: 3 ½ stars
Brooklyn: 4 ½
The Night Before: 3
Fractured Land: 4
Haida Gwaii: 4
Secret In Their Eyes: 2 ½
By The Sea: 2
THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY – Part 2: Here’s a fitting end to the saga that’s outgrown itself, not only in three books into four movies but also in the meaning some people extract. It’s never been high art or deep politics. It’s a popcorn thriller and stays that way to the end even though it nibbles on a few extra themes as it goes out. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (solid again in the role) learns that the rebels can be as bad as the powers they’re trying overthrow. They use her for propaganda purposes when all she wants to do is break away to assassinate Pres. Snow (Donald Sutherland). All the while she decries how useless all the killing is. Welcome to the world of conflicting thoughts.
Her main contribution to pop culture has been to put a strong and credible female hero up front and she’s in top form again. Her on-going love triangle (Peetah or Gale?) is a secondary story line this time. It does get resolved but not quickly because her choices are confused. Peetah (Josh Hutcherson) is still suffering the effects of brainwashing and rants that she’s a monster and must be killed while Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is right there beside her in a sort of commando unit.
She’s too busy anyway with the action that fills most of this film: the rebels attacking The Capitol, Pres. Snow laying a trap, the small unit dodging a succession of booby traps including a huge gush of oil in a closed-off city square, refugees streaming, air attacks, escape through sewer tunnels where some creepy albino creatures come out of the dark. Exciting stuff and well-directed by Francis Lawrence who has helmed three of the films. This one drags a few times and then, with two or three scenes tacked on, doesn’t seem to want to end. Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson have much smaller roles this time, which means there’s less humor. Julianne Moore brings out her character’s hypocrisy and Philip Seymour Hoffman is steady although it looks like he got a bit of digital and re-writing help. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres everywhere) 3 ½ out of 5
BROOKLYN: The people’s favorite (by audience balloting) at the Vancouver Film Festival is back with its sweet and heartfelt story about living with major changes and the decisions they force on you. Saoirse Ronan shines as a young woman who leaves the cozy life of her small Irish village for the bustle of New York. She moves into a Brooklyn boarding house where the landlady (Julie Walters) presides over dinner with strict rules against giddiness and disrespecting the Lord. At work, in a department store, a woman boss orders less timidity and shyness and friendlier customer relations.
Her struggles to adjust perfectly convey the immigrant experience. She gets advice from a priest (Jim Broadbent) and starts a tentative relationship with a young man who introduces her to another culture altogether through his Italian family. She still feels homesick though and when she’s called back to Ireland, gets re-acquainted with her old life and a village lad (Domhnall Gleeson) courts her, she has to choose.
She has to fend off guilt and find the courage to control her own life. That growth is superbly and subtly conveyed in the script by Nick Hornby, John Crowley’s direction and Ronan’s enchanting performance. There’s nothing edgy or ironic here. The film feels so much like a classic from old Hollywood you might think you’ve tuned in something from the 1940s or early 50s. This is a good one. (The Park Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5
THE NIGHT BEFORE: I’m so glad that Seth Rogen and his pals didn’t trash the idea of Christmas here. But they do have lots of fun around it and the film is a real hoot. Two provisos, though: the broad stoner comedy that takes up most of it doesn’t have much room for the emotional payoff about friendship the story seeks and Rogen’s very-stoned visit to a midnight mass isn’t going to sit well with some people. It’s borderline but also quite innocent and only a small part of a memorable night out in New York on Christmas eve. Dancing the Saks 5th Avenue piano like Tom Hanks did is just one of many allusions to holiday classics.