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

 

 

Advertisements

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)

March 25, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of those times where I am going to be somewhat critical of a movie that is based on a book I haven’t read. That doesn’t change my belief that this movie is stuck in the gray area between romantic drama and comedy, and because of it, comes across as just a lightweight film with no real message or emotion. For this, the director Lasse Hallstrom gets the accusatory glance. His history with Chocolat and Dear John are examples of how his fondness for all things mushy gets in the way of real story-telling.

The best parts of this movie are the comedic elements. Stuffy British fish expert Ewan McGregor has some really funny deadpan moments and his inner office battles with his boss wreak of truism. Same with Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary as if she were told this was a screwball comedy. She is funny and over the top, and was probably horrified when she saw the final version of the movie.

 The story is quite creative and interesting – a Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked, Syriana) has a vision of creating a vast green-land around a man-made freshwater river where Salmon spawn and feed the community. Unfortunately, the story leaks to the locals that this Sheikh with too much money is playing God just to satisfy his fishing hobby. Local rebels get involved in trying to stop the Sheikh and the project. Meanwhile, this Sheikh spouts off wisdom and advice as if he just finished reading the greatest hits of Confucious.

To bring this fishy project to fruition, the Sheikh enlists the British government’s help and that’s how Ms. Thomas, Mr. McGregor and a wonderful Emily Blunt get involved. We see early on that McGregor is stuck in a loveless marriage to a witch (figuratively speaking) played by Rachael Stirling (who may have the deepest voice of any actress since Lauren Bacall). Blunt’s character is a bit desperate for love and falls quickly for a soldier (Tom Mison) who is shipped off to war. So when Blunt and McGregor first meet … it seems destiny that these two opposites will attract.

 The scenery here is pretty impressive – especially the Scottish castle that houses the team for a brief period. I was just continually frustrated that more insight wasn’t provided into what makes this Sheikh tick. Is he truly the visionary he claims? If so, why? What did the locals really think of the project and was any effort made to deliver the long term vision? If not, why? Why did Blunt fall so quickly for this soldier? Just because they had fun in bed? Seems a bit shallow for someone who can peer into the soul of a nerd like McGregor. And why did McGregor ever fall for this ice-queen he married? Makes no apparent sense.

Simon Beaufoy‘s screenplay of Paul Torday‘s novel delivers a few good chuckles, but mostly leaves us wanting a real direction for the story and bit more depth of character. It’s always frustrating when a promising premise leaves us fighting so hard to swim upstream … just like the salmon and characters of the film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: if your favorite movie genre is non-descript love stories OR you have been anxiously awaiting a film with a lead character who is a fish expert

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for an expert comedy or an expert love story

watch the trailer:


127 HOURS (2010)

November 24, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Spoilers are strictly avoided in my comments. I completely understand that not everyone rushes out to see new releases the way that I do. For this movie, there can be no spoilers. We are all painfully aware of the real life ordeal suffered by Aron Ralston in 2003. This taut film succeeds at bringing to life the visuals our minds can only imagine.

Danny Boyle is a terrific director who has three (now four) outstanding and diverse movies to his name (Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, Trainspotting). Here he re-teams with Slumdog writer Simon Beaufoy to bring us the screen version of Aron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and Hard Place”. It’s the story of an adventurous young man who is forced to take drastic measures when his arm is pinned after a fall while rock climbing.

What the film really explores is Ralston’s personality and an individual’s will to live. Aron is a cocky, adventurous, fun-loving guy whose “oops” moment consisted of not telling anyone where he was headed. A cardinal sin of solo hiking. Five days later he stumbles back to life, minus one arm. Ralston faces one of those moments when he must decide just how important life is. His choice leads to life … through excruciating pain.

Boyle does an amazing job in capturing the moment and the inevitibility of the setting. In what could be a hopeless situation, Ralston clings to life. James Franco delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Ralston. His range here is remarkable. Watching his hallucinations, flashbacks and persistence makes this an extremely watchable and human film despite the topic.  An interesting note is that Ralston did have a video camera with him and had previously only shown the clips to his family and a few close friends.  He did allow Boyle and Franco to see the actual video, so what you see onscreen came directly from Ralston’s real emotions.

Support work is minimal but decent from Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Burton and Clemence Poesy. Franco and Boyle are the real stars as they capture Ralston’s spirit. As a viewer, this taps into our inner most fear. What if this were us? What if we were him? Could we do it? Would we do it?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can’t believe I mention James Franco and “Oscar” in the same sentence OR you get a charge out of watching the strong will to survive take over.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you get queasy when you break a fingernail