New In Theaters: Mockingjay Part 2, Spotlight, The Night Before & More
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
What began as entertaining “young adult” fare has evolved into a franchise that’s unafraid to take on some very mature themes.
Director Francis Lawrence, who has helmed the films since Catching Fire (still the standout in the series), is back, and we pick up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, excellent as ever) still recovering from her attack by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
From the start, F. Lawrence establishes Mockingjay 2 as a film that embraces the bleak. The mood is boldly dark, and Lawrence makes sure it has time to sink in before unleashing the fireworks. But once the film heads underground, well, hang on to your butts.
It’s entertaining, tense, even downright scary, but it also wants to matter. This is a war film, and it doesn’t back down from the moral ambiguities and social atrocities that come with the territory. As the aftermath of recent events in Paris continues to play out, there is a conscience here that will feel especially timely.
And, sadly, the end of The Hunger Games also marks Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final film appearance. Though the scenes most affected by his untimely death are fairly evident, his exit, like that of this franchise, is handled with the grace and poignancy of a truly fond farewell.
There is something miraculous about Room.
The film drops you into a world you would be hard-pressed to even imagine and finds a story that is both bright and beautiful despite itself. It’s the story of a young woman, held captive inside a shed, and her 5-year-old son, who’s never been outside of “room.”
Never lurid for even a moment, both restrained and urgently raw, the film benefits most from the potentially catastrophic choice to tell the story from the child’s perspective. And here is the miracle of Room: without ever becoming precious or maudlin or syrupy, with nary a single false note or hint of contrivance, the boy’s point of view fills the story with love and wonder. It gives the proceedings a resilience, and lacking that, a film on this subject this authentically told could become almost too much to bear.
The undeniably talented Brie Larson gives a career-defining performance as Ma. On her face she wears the weariness, desperation, and surprising flashes of joy that believably create a character few of us could even imagine.
Still, it is young Jacob Tremblay who ensures that the film won’t soon be forgotten. An awful lot rests on those wee shoulders, and it’s the sincerity in this performance that keeps you utterly, breathlessly riveted every minute, and also bathes an otherwise grim tale in beauty and hope.
There is no other film quite like Room.
The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal – phenomenon, really – is a difficult cinematic subject to handle with integrity. It is so overwhelming in scope, in horror, in tragedy, in sociological impact and culpability that a clear eye and an even hand in storytelling can be almost impossible. Luckily, filmmaker Tom McCarthy chose to tackle the topic with his magnificent film, Spotlight.
His inroad is the 2002 Boston Globe story that exposed systemic, generations-long abuses in Boston and the surrounding areas. With understated grace and attention to the minutia of journalism, Spotlight sidesteps melodrama at every turn, never glorifying its reporters or wallowing in the lurid.
A superb ensemble – Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci – draw you into a film with more insight than could reasonably be expected from its two hour running time.
McCarthy, writing with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate), offers thoughtful consideration to the suffering, the cover-up, and the general societal culpability. This is as observant a film as you will find, delicately crafted and brimming with sincere, multi-dimensional performances.
The Night Before
It was fun spending the apocalypse with Seth Rogen and his friends, so why not Christmas?
The Night Before gives you that chance. Isaac (Rogen) and BFF Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent Christmas Eve with Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) every year since his parents died. They have the same routine, hit the same spots, seek the same elusive party. But the tradition’s getting a little pathetic as the trio heads into their mid-thirties, so this is their last holiday hurrah.
JGL is reliably likeable, Rogen is – well, you know what you get with him. Mackie is no comic genius and his performance feels a bit too broad. But the secret here is in the supporting players, Michael Shannon, in particular- his deadpan performance is easily the highlight of the film.
It’s hard to tell whether the film is too silly or not silly enough. It has its laughs, raunchy though they are, but the adventure feels simultaneously slapped together and formulaic. The zany misadventures aren’t enough to carry the film, and lacking depth of character creates a “holiday spirit” climax that is tough to care about.
Also opening this week in Columbus:
BY THE SEA (R)
THE HALLOW (NR)
THE MAN IN 3B (R)
A NAZI LEGACY: WHAT OUR FATHERS DID (NR)
OUR TIMES (NR)
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (PG-13)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.
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