THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

November 24, 2013

hunger1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s quite clear I am not the target audience for Suzanne Collins’ literary trilogy or the corresponding movies that are packing in the teenagers and young adults. Still, I’ll admit to enjoying the first movie … and am even a bit more impressed by this second entry. Having a female heroine that is young, strong, smart, loyal, and emotionally grounded is not just unusual, but also quite a welcome change of pace.

Any uproar over missing/adapted elements from the source books can be chalked up to the young readers who haven’t yet come to understand that a 2 hour movie cannot possibly relay all the details and imagination held within the written page. In fact, co-hunger3screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael deBrauyn (aka Michael Arndt of Toy Story 3 fame) do an excellent job of balancing the numerous elements contained within the story: a fascist government, the off-kilter romances, family bonds, and the early stages of a revolution/uprising. This sequel features a new and much better suited director in Francis Lawrence, known for I Am Legend.

What really makes this material click on screen is the performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Her Mockingjay becomes the symbol of hope for the many districts intimidated by the iron fist rule of the President, played by the menacing Donald Sutherland. Ms. Lawrence is an absurdly talented actress and is one of the rare few who can convey a multitude of hunger2emotions through facial expressions alone. Despite Katniss’ sometimes prickly personality, the audience connects with her in a most positive manner.

In addition to Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Sutherland, returning to the fold are Josh Hutcherson as Peeta (still lacking even an ounce of screen presence), Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (giving a bit more effort this time around), Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ mother (seen recently as Abby in “Ray Donovan“), Willow Shields as Prim, Liam Hemsworth as Gale (his most exciting scene is washing his hands), and of course the instant electricity and energy provided by Elizabeth Banks as Effie and Stanley Tucci as Caesar – two of the most colorful characters this side of 1970’s era Elton John.

hunger4 New to this chapter are two of the finest actors working today: Philip Seymour Hoffman as game designer Plutarch Heavensbee, and Jeffrey Wright as “Volts” from the “nuts and volts” duo with Amanda Plummer. Jena Malone tries, but is miscast as Johanna, and Sam Claflin has a couple of worthy moments as Finnick. Two of the best additions are the frightening killer baboons and the Black Swan-style wedding dress. Both make eye-opening entries.

There is much to like about this series thus far, but of course, one must accept it for the genre it represents. And fair warning – see the two Hunger Games movies in order … or don’t bother. Regardless of your take on this franchise – may the odds be ever in your favor.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you have seen and enjoyed the first one OR you want to see some angry baboons take on a group who just escaped a fog bank that would make John Carpenter jealous.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you skipped The Hunger Games.

watch the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAzGXqJSDJ8

 

 


WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

April 23, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Everyone loves the circus (except those who are scared of clowns). Everyone loves trains (except those who are scared of wrecks). Everyone loves performing animals (as long as they are a safe distance). Combine those elements with a best-selling novel, three popular actors and a twist on Titanic and you end up with a very watchable, though slightly mundane dramatic love story.

You are probably wondering where I came up with the Titanic reference. Allow me to explain. The story begins with an old man caught in a rain storm. We quickly find out Hal Holbrook is playing the Robert Pattinson character as an old man. Mr. Holbrook’s character corresponds to Gloria Stuart‘s character in Titanic. Both provide flashback detail to a love story engulfed in tragedy. On top of that, both have twinkly blue eyes! Paul Schneider is in the Bill Paxton role … trying his best to get the secrets of what really happened so many years ago.

 The story is based on Sara Gruen‘s best selling novel and is set in depression-soaked 1931. Jacob (Pattinson) is sitting for his Cornell veterinarian finals when he is notified of a family tragedy. He promptly sets out on the road and jumps a train. Not just any train … the Benzini Brothers Circus train! He is taken under the wing of Camel, the old timer played well by silky-voiced Jim Norton. Soon enough he is summoned to meet the circus owner. A brief meeting leads first to the order to toss Jacob off the train, but he is saved by his knowledge of animal medicine – a valuable commodity in the circus world.

Now is as good of time as any to let you know that the great Christoph Waltz plays August, the circus owner. As in his Oscar winning role for Inglourious Basterds, Waltz’ August is alternatingly charming and chilling. He is a ruthless circus owner who values no man or animal. He values only making money and his star attraction and wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Oh, and just because he values her, doesn’t mean he treats her well. He is near-psychotic when he goes off on her or anyone or anything else. Pause … then a few minutes later, he is back to his charming self. Very frightening stuff.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Jacob is enchanted with Marlena (a bareback rider) or that she returns the affection. What is surprising is that they continue to push the boundaries of good sense while within the confines of the circus group – and August. You can imagine the confrontations and situations that arise, but Marlena’s insistence that no life exists for her outside the circus is a head-scratcher.

 The story really picks up when the struggling circus purchases a performing elephant named Rosie. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Rosie may be the smartest character in the film. She is certainly the most crucial for Marlena and Jacob.

The screenplay is from Richard Gravenese who has a track record with this type of story. He was also responsible for The Horse Whisperer and Bridges of Madison County. What’s surprising is the director is Francis Lawrence, previously known for I Am Legend and Constantine. This movie has (thankfully)no resemblance to those films and his cast and crew obviously help him adjust to a more melodramatic storyline.

What I like about the film are the realistic characters and the setting. The trains, big top, circus performers and workers all seem real, as do the few circus scenes presented. Without the Christoph Waltz character and performance, this film would be truly just a run-of-the-mill dramatic love story. His element and the realistic circus life make this one worthwhile.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you are fan of the circus or the book or the three lead actors OR you thought Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes was the creepiest Ringleader ever

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you can’t handle a bit of melodrama with your trip to the circus OR a performing elephant who understands Polish is just a bit too far outside the comfort zone