New Releases for the Week of February 26, 2016


Eddie the EagleEDDIE THE EAGLE

(20th Century Fox) Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Ania Sowinski, Rune Temte, Anastasia Harrold. Directed by Dexter Fletcher

=Michael “Eddie” Edwards is a bit of a folk hero in England. From a young age he dreamed of being an Olympic champion. He never let the fact that he was a crappy athlete get in his way. Inspired to become a ski jumper (since there were essentially no ski jumpers in England), he has to claw and fight and scratch his way to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics where he will jump into the ages.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking)

Gods of Egypt

(Summit) Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Elodie Yung. When the gods make war amongst themselves, their human followers suffer. The great god Set has taken over Egypt, running it with an iron hand. Only the courageous hero Bek can save the day with the aid of the god Horus, but the two will have to overcome mighty odds.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, some language and smoking)

Neerja

(Fox Star) Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Ali Baldiwala, Alex Kozyrev. The 1986 hijacking of Pan-Am flight 73 in India by terrorists is one of those unforgettable stories that could have been a lot worse. The courage of flight attendant Neerja Bhanot is credited with saving lives aboard that flight; she is a national hero in India and her story is told for the first time on the big screen here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Son of Saul

(Sony Classics) Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont. Near the end of the Second World War, an Auschwitz inmate charged with burying the bodies of the dead discovers a corpse that he takes to be his son. Not wanting his son’s body to be burned with the others, he must find a rabbi willing to deliver the funeral rites and help him give the body a proper burial. This is the odds-on favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at Sunday’s award ceremony.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R  (for disturbing violent content, and some graphic nudity)

Triple 9

(Open Road) Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson. A group of dirty cops are blackmailed into pulling off a nearly impossible heist. The only way they can make it work is to call in a code 999, officer down – which would involve killing a fellow police officer. But will they be able to pull it off – and what happens if they can’t?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and some nudity)

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2


Katniss Everdeen has a thing about Snow.

Katniss Everdeen has a thing about Snow.

(2015) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcomson, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Eugenia Bondurant. Directed by Francis Lawrence

When a franchise comes to an end, the hope is that it goes out with a bang. Everyone wants a Return of the Jedi but there’s always a danger of a The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part II. On which side will this girl power young adult franchise lean?

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is distressed that her erstwhile boyfriend Peta (Hutcherson) has been brainwashed by the evil minions of President Snow (Sutherland) to hate her to the point that he goes berserk at the sight of her. Although the rebel medical team is trying to break his conditioning, he remains a danger to Katniss and even a visit by baby sister Primrose (Shields) leads to another foaming at the mouth segment.

The timing of that is not so good, as the rebels are preparing to make their final assault on the Capital. Rebel President Coin (Moore) and her adviser Plutarch (Hoffman) are wary of allowing Katniss, who was brutally injured at the hands of Peta in Part 1 of the concluding volume of the franchise and then again during a raid on the District 2 armory, anywhere near the front although she continues to be valuable as a propaganda tool.

Nonetheless, Katniss heads to the Capital against direct orders and accompanied by her Hunger Game friend Finn (Claflin), her former boyfriend Gale (Hemsworth) and Boggs (Ali), a veteran warrior. She is ordered to steer well clear of the battlefront and to stay far behind the lines and make propaganda videos. President Snow has peppered the Capital with lethal traps designed by the Hunger Games designers. Some turn out to be more lethal than others.

As Katniss gets closer and closer to the Presidential palace and the confrontation between the two looks to be inevitable, she will discover the price for revenge may end up being incredibly high and that there are people close to her who have motives of their own that may well not include Katniss’ survival as part of the plan.

The production design for the movie is superb – it looks sleek and wow-inducing. The special effects are solid and the action sequences are thrilling. For many viewers, that’s all the movie really needs. For me, though, while there are a few scenes that contain emotional payoffs (none of which I’ll use here to illustrate as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, although fans of the book will know what they are), the movie didn’t have an emotional resonance with me that the conclusion of an epic series should.

I could say part of the problem is that there are too many characters, many of whom I couldn’t keep straight, but that was true of the Harry Potter series as well and I had no trouble figuring out who was who. I could also say that the movie relied overly much on action rather than character, but that was true of the first Star Wars trilogy and that movie resonated with emotion at the end.

I think the problem is a blend of both issues; too many characters, many of whom had little development. To author Suzanne Collins’ credit, she didn’t rely on the love triangle that many young adult franchises with female heroines tend to utilize. However, there are too many extraneous pieces in the puzzle and the movie would have been better off leaving them out entirely, which might have been bad news for fans of Claflin and Hemsworth but good news for Lawrence’s fans, because I think the primary problem here is that Lawrence really gets short shrift here.

I sometimes wonder if Katniss Everdeen is really a good role model for young women; there’s a fine line between being headstrong and being mulish. There is also a fine line between being spontaneous and being foolish, as she takes a lot of chances that put lots of other people at risk, some of whom pay the ultimate price for it. Yes, that weighs heavily on Katniss’ soul but I guess our heroes these days have to be a little self-centered to be relatable.

The worst part is that there seemed to be no momentum, no fire. Certain cast members, particularly the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone and Donald Sutherland, did their level best but for the most part this felt very emotionally flat to me. Judging from the box office for the movie which has been okay but not what was expected, some of their fans haven’t had that connection either. I’ll admit that maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed the day I saw this, but for whatever reason the movie didn’t connect with me and I really wanted it to – I’ve generally liked the series but it felt like it ran out of steam here rather than finishing with a flourish.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of eye candy. Some emotional payoffs.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too long. No momentum.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence as well as some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene near the end when Haymitch reads a letter from Plutarch to Katniss was supposed to be dialogue from Plutarch, but actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who played the role, passed away before the scene could be filmed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Peanuts Movie

New Releases for the Week of November 20, 2015


The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2

(Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Francis Lawrence

This is it, folks, the final showdown between President Snow and his goon squad of Capitol elitists and Katness Everdeen and her rebellion of the people. Panem is in full-blown civil war and President Snow is obsessed with destroying Katness. She sets out to assassinate him but will encounter a fiendish labyrinth of traps, moral dilemmas and physical punishment that rivals any she faced in her two Hunger Games. This one is for all the marbles.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material)

By the Sea

(Universal) Brat Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup. An American writer and his wife come to a tranquil French seaside resort in the 1970s and are joined there by a young newlywed couple as well as a pair of locals. The troubled marriage of the Americans soon begins to rear its ugly head and while they try to resolve their differences, their problems soon reveal issues with the others as well.

See the trailer, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong sexuality, nudity and language)

Man Up

(Saban) Simon Pegg, Olivia Williams, Lake Bell, Rory Kinnear. An American woman at Waterloo Station in London is mistaken for a British man’s blind date. Rather than explain that she is not, she impulsively decides to go for it. What begins as a lark turns into the most uncommon first date ever.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language and sexual references)

The Night Before

(Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzie Caplan. Every Christmas Eve, three boyhood friends get together to celebrate with one of their number, whose parents died on that day years and years ago. Now however, one of their number has become too famous to be involved while another is getting ready to have kids of his own. So the three decide that this will be their last night of Christmas Eve debauchery, and they will celebrate it by going out in style – at the most debauched, depraved and notorious Christmas Eve party in New York. Assuming they can find it of course.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity)

Secret In Their Eyes

(STX Entertainment) Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina. A tight knit investigative team are rocked to the core when the daughter of one of their number is discovered brutally and inexplicably murdered. More than a decade later, after painstakingly searching for the killer, finally one of them gets the break he needs to resolve the case and bring the killer to justice. But even he is not prepared for the secret that one of them carries, and brings him to a crossroad where he must choose between justice and vengeance which in this case may not necessarily be the same thing.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)

Spotlight

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. In the mid-90s the investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe came across a story about a pedophile priest who had been shuttled from one parish to another by the Catholic Church without any warning to those in the new parish of the priest’s tendencies to abuse altar boys. As they dig deeper, they discover the scandal goes a lot deeper, covers many, many more diocese and goes to the very top of the Catholic Church. This scandal nearly took down the Roman Catholic church and would pave the way for the reformative-minded Pope Francis to take over the Vatican.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language including sexual references)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1


Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence get serious.

Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence get serious.

(2014) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Willow Shields, Mahershala Ali, Paula Malcomson, Natalie Dormer, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury. Directed by Francis Lawrence

It has become something of a habit now for Hollywood to take the final book in a young adult franchise based on a book and split it in two; this has been done for the Harry Potter series, Twilight and now The Hunger Games with the same fate planned for the Divergent series. This is a blatant cash grab that cynical studios use to squeeze every last penny that they can out of a successful franchise. As for the Potter series, the first part was the weakest movie of the eight-film franchise (although the second part turned out to be one of the strongest). In the Twilight series Lionsgate both movies were poor and the final entry the worst of the entire series.

In this penultimate film, the events of Catching Fire have led to the complete carpet bombing and destruction of District 12, home of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) who has been taken to the previously-thought abandoned District 13. However her love Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) had been left behind and was captured by the men of President Snow (Sutherland) and brought back to the Capital. There he is used as a pawn, with interviews conducted by the smarmy Caesar Flickerman (Tucci) which essentially are propaganda pieces.

District 13 president Alma Coin (Moore) is wary of using Katniss for the same purpose; clearly Katniss is shell-shocked and not in an emotional state where she is able to be a spokesman for the revolution that is sweeping Panem. However uber-patient ex-boyfriend Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) is on hand to help Katniss make it through; old friends Haymitch (Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Banks) and Finnick (Claflin) are there to support Katniss. Rescued from the rubble of District 12 are Kat’s sister Primrose (Shields) and mom (Malcomson).

Pulling the strings in District 13 is Plutarch (Hoffman) a cynical but brilliant marketing man who is selling the revolution to the people of Panem whereas President Snow is selling safety and security while providing neither. A villain of the first order, he callously orders the bombing of a hospital in order to set an example of what happens to people when they allow a visit from the Girl on Fire who is now referred to as the Mockingjay. This pisses Katniss off enough to pull out of her funk temporarily – until the callow Peeta makes another plea for peace. Who knew the face of revolution would be so emotional?

And so after that atrocity the rebels are finally moved to push into an offensive against the Capital, giving them the opportunity to rescue Peeta and the other Victors held captive by the President, including Finnick’s girlfriend Anna (Dawson). However, they don’t begin to see the depth of the game being played by President Snow – and how far he is willing to go to win it.

As any fan of the series will tell you, it’s all about Katniss and thus it’s all about Jennifer Lawrence. Normally I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet; after all, she has become one of the hottest actresses in the world, with Oscar wins as well as starring in one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood today. However, I can’t say as I like what is happening to her character here.

Now I’ll admit that it should be taken into account that I’m not a teenage girl nor have I ever been one – nor am I likely to ever be one. I may be getting this all wrong but I feel cheated a little bit by what Katniss has become in this movie. I had always viewed her as a good role model for young girls; strong, independent, able to defend herself and those around her and with a strong moral compass. I’m not sure what the author’s intentions were  but I saw the same thing happen to Bella Swan in Twilight as well. Both series were written by women but I’m not sure if they were saying it’s okay to be ruled by your emotions to the point where you become virtually immobilized by them, or if they’re saying that’s part of being female.

I don’t know about that part. How is it role model material for your strong, independent heroine to be literally whining “It’s not fair!” while pining away for her boyfriend to the point that she’s willing to let all sorts of people – including her sister and mom – be killed because she’s too emotional to act to prevent it. That kind of self-centeredness may be part of modern culture but it seems out of place for a movie heroine. Of course, my perceptions of what a role model should be may be hopelessly outdated but I do like to think that there are some things that are fairly basic and timeless.

Lawrence is a terrific actress but she seems curiously lifeless here. Even so, she still manages to dominate the screen and while this isn’t her best work, it certainly is enough to carry the movie. She gets some able support, particularly from the late Hoffman whom the film is dedicated to. Mostly though this is a lot of people going through the motions for a paycheck and Moore, also a fine actress, looks distinctly uncomfortable in an unfortunate wig.

There’s just not a lot of energy and life to this movie even though the visuals are well shot and there are some pleasant moments in idyllic forests. Most of the movie takes place in District 13’s underground bunker and is perpetually underlit. Even without 3D this movie is dark and dingy-looking most of the time. You have to admit though it does set a certain kind of bleak mood.

There is subtext here about image-making and its use in manipulating opinion, and while that is a fascinating subject, the filmmakers tend to thunk us over the head with a shillelagh rather than skewer us with a rapier which would be much more preferable. There isn’t a lot of subtlety here but then again, I get the sense that the filmmakers don’t respect their target audience a whole lot. Certainly the kind of girls that identify with Katniss are capable of understanding subtlety.

This is a big disappointment for me. Thus far I’ve actually enjoyed the series and was looking forward to seeing this one. Although it is reasonably entertaining to earn a feeble recommendation, I was hoping for so much more. With any luck,  the finale next Thanksgiving will pull out all the stops and let the series end on a high note rather than a whimper or a whine which is where it seems to be going. Prove me wrong. Please.

REASONS TO GO: Some pleasing eye-candy. Lawrence is terrific even when she’s subpar.
REASONS TO STAY: Turgid and boring. Lacks any kind of spark. Katniss, a strong and courageous soul, is reduced to a weepy teen pining for her boyfriend and feeling sorry for herself.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some intense violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hoffman passed away a week before filming concluded; rather than recasting the part, the filmmakers did some rewrites so that the portions Hoffman didn’t film could be incorporated in different ways.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Divergent
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Daybreakers

New Releases for the Week of November 21, 2014


The Hunger Games  Mockingjay - Part ITHE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I

(Summit) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore. Directed by Francis Lawrence

Katness Everdeen has become a force to be reckoned with and Panem is in full revolt. Treacherous President Snow isn’t going to stand by and lose his control and he fights back, hard and soon the rebellion is in full flight. Katness is needed to be a symbol of courage and hope, but she herself is not sure she can do it. With Peta under control of the President and her friends and family in danger, she must find a way to summon up that strength or risk seeing everyone and everything she loves perish..

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material)

Food Chains

(Screen Media) Eva Longoria, Forest Whitaker, Eve Ensler, Barry Estabrook. The plight of courageous tomato pickers in Florida and elsewhere is examined here. The workers are asking for a penny per pound increase in their payment. Courageously standing up for themselves against corporate growers, the mainly Latino workforce started the Fair Food Program and themselves approached such buyers as Wal*Mart and McDonald’s. The bigger picture becomes the living conditions of the workers vs. the profits of corporate growers.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

The Theory of Everything

(Focus) Eddie Redmayne, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Felicity Jones. Stephen Hawking is a promising student at Cambridge when he is stricken with a devastating disease. Given two years to live, he defies the odds and continues his education, marries the love of his life and makes discoveries that have changed the way we look at the universe.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, B-roll video and a greeting from the film’s stars here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and suggestive material)

Out of the Furnace


Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

Woody Harrelson is perfectly willing to take off his shirt for Christian Bale.

(2013) Drama (Relativity) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower, Bobby Wolfe, Dendrie Taylor, Carl Ciarfalio, Nancy Fosser, Bingo O’Malley, Jack Erdie, Gordon Michaels, Angela Kauffman, Charles David Richards, Tommy Lafitte, Tiffany Sander McKenzie. Directed by Scott Cooper

Times are tough. You don’t need to go to a movie to tell you that. In the Rust Belt, the manufacturing  jobs that were once the bread and butter in the region have been shrinking away, slowly disappearing from view. That leaves the residents there scrambling to find other ways to make money.

Russell Baze (Bale) is one of the lucky few who still has employment at a steel mill. He lives with a young woman named Lena (Saldana) who adores him and the two are talking about starting a family. His brother Rodney (Affleck) is back home from a tour of Iraq in the army. Sure their dad (O’Malley) is dying of cancer but they have his  brother and their Uncle Red (Shepard) to help them out. Things could certainly get a whole lot worse.

And then they do. Russell is involved in an incident not his fault that results in him getting sent to jail for a few years. Things begin to fall apart. Rodney goes back to Iraq. Their father dies. Even Lena leaves him, taking up with the chief of police Wesley (Whitaker) of their small town outside of Pittsburgh. All of a sudden things don’t make sense quite as much.

When Rodney returns and Russell finishes his time in jail, they both need to pick up the pieces. For Russell, that means obsessively stalking Lena and getting his job back at the mill while fixing up his dad’s old place. For Rodney, that means bare knuckle fights to pick up cash for a debt he owes to local bar owner and dealer of all things shady John Petty (Dafoe).

Rodney needs more money to fix up his debt however and he cajoles Petty into getting him a fight in rural New Jersey where a meth kingpin named Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson) runs things. Like any decent mountain community, they don’t cotton to no city folk telling them how to run things. When things go bad, Russell is left to pick up the pieces and do the right thing for his brother.

First of all, this is a movie that isn’t well-served by its trailer. It gives away an important plot twist and intimates that this is a different kind of movie than it is. The trailer implies that this is a thriller and quite frankly, that element of the movie only takes place over the last 20 minutes or so. The rest of the movie is more of a drama which is how I’m characterizing it now.

Cooper, whose first feature was Crazy Heart takes a completely different turn here on this his second. The milieu is much bleaker which is saying something considering that his last movie was about an alcoholic country singer whose career is fading into the twilight. Cooper has a knack at capturing working class life and working class people. As an actor himself he also manages to wring some excellent performances out of his actors.

Bale delivers just such a performance. He’s low-key and soft-spoken throughout most of the film but rage boils in him and sometimes boils over. He’s a decent man at heart but life has thrown just about everything at him he can tolerate and then some. There’s a scene with Saldana on a wooden bridge in which he tries to rekindle things after he gets out of prison that is so heartbreaking that you won’t be able to get it out of your head. In fact, it’s not just Saldana and Bale that do good work here – nearly every member of the principal leads is mesmerizing.

Harrelson is also noteworthy as the villain. When DeGroat meets Russell for the first time in Petty’s office and the two have words, Russell asks him “You got a problem with me?” and DeGroat responds “I got a problem with everybody” and that encapsulates the character. He’s as mean as a rattlesnake and prone to outbursts of violence as evidenced by the very first scene in which DeGroat beats a man half to death for intervening when DeGroat assaults his date at a drive-in. Harrelson captures that meanness and rage. There’s nothing redeeming about DeGroat, no qualities at all that make things around him better. He’s a cancer in his community that everyone is afraid to operate on.

There are a lot of good things about this movie but for some reason I couldn’t connect with it. Maybe I wasn’t ready for a movie quite as bleak as this. Perhaps it’s because it’s a little bit too long. Maybe the ending scene which didn’t ring true and was followed by an extraneous coda did me in. Or maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with. Da Queen was very taken by the movie and would have given it a significantly higher score than I did – she was frankly surprised that I didn’t enjoy it as much as she did because normally I go for these sorts of films.

For whatever reason I didn’t here and that can be taken for whatever grain of salt you wish to give it. The elements are all here for a good movie and in fact you may well find it to be more rewarding than I did. For me there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it – unrelenting violence and despair with nothing at the end that made me think it was all worth it. Perhaps that was the point. In any case, I found this a movie in which the ingredients were superior but it didn’t add up to a gourmet dish.

REASONS TO GO: Solid performances throughout by an excellent cast.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly long. The ending was quite the letdown.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence, some pretty strong language and some drug content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie playing at the drive-in during the opening scene is Midnight Meat Train.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Winter’s Bone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Holly and the Quill Christmas movie festival begins!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

Stanley Tucci is surprised by the sudden proposal of Jennifer Lawrence.

(2013) Science Fiction (Lionsgate) Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, Toby Jones, Lynn Cohen, Patrick St. Esprit, Meta Golding, Megan Hayes. Directed by Francis Lawrence

With the Twilight series completed (at least for now), the studios scrambled to find a new franchise that would appeal to a similar demographic. They’ve found it with The Hunger Games based on the best-selling Young Adult book series by Suzanne Collins.

Following the events of the first film (there are spoilers for that film if you haven’t seen it yet), Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) are preparing to go on their Victor’s Tour of the 12 Districts of Panem, a traditional responsibility of the winners. Their love story has captivated all of Panem which has the tyrannical President Snow (Sutherland) a bit worried. You see, he has seen through the pair’s ruse. Katniss still has it bad for the strapping miner Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth) and her sham relationship with Peeta was something done so that they could both survive. Snow warns Katniss that she not only has to convince Panem that her feelings for Peeta are genuine – she has to convince the President first of all.

This isn’t the same Panem that Katniss left however. The repressive policies that have created such a wide gulf between the haves of Capital and the Have-Nots of the Districts has begun to spark some thoughts of uprising with Katniss herself a symbol that is giving the people the courage to stand up for themselves. The new master of the games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) agrees with the President that Katniss needs to go – but not as a martyr. She must be associated with the government of Panem and become a symbol of its corruption and repression – then they can kill her.

And he has just the means to do it. The 75th Edition of the Hunger Games is coming up, the so-called Quarter Quell and rather than getting all-new tributes, Heavensbee proposes that the tributes be reaped from the existing pool of victors. Katniss, as the only female winner from District 12 is automatically chosen to go and this time she’ll be up against trained killers who have a win in the Games to their credit. This will be a Hunger Games like none seen before.

While director Gary Ross has exited and Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) has stepped in, there are plenty of familiar faces including Haymitch (Harrelson), the alcoholic former winner who has become mentor to Peeta and Katniss; Effie (Banks), Caesar (Tucci) the smarmy host of the Games whose capped teeth can be seen from space and Cinna (Kravitz), the brilliant clothing designer who is largely responsible for Katniss’ popularity and image.

There are also new faces mostly the tributes for the Quarter Quell including the hunky Finnick (Claflin), his mentor Mags (Cohen), the brainy engineer Beetee (Wright) and the savant Wiress (Plummer), as well as the buttkicking Johanna (Malone) whose motivations remain unclear. The overall performance level has been raised significantly from the first film.

So too have the special effects. There is a sequence in which a kind of mandrill-like monkey clan attacks and it is done so smoothly and seamlessly that it doesn’t seem like CGI at all. The look of the film is pretty satisfying in every sense.

More importantly, there’s so much going on here than just a mere action tale or a romance. There are all sorts of underlying subtexts from the class warfare to the vapid fashion-obsessed culture to the role of mass media in shaping opinion. That’s the kind of thing that makes a critic’s heart beat faster – assuming they have the gumption to look more closely at the movie or its source material.

Lawrence has won an Oscar since the last time she played Katniss and her self-confidence from that clearly shows in Kat’s own growth. While Hemsworth is a fine actor, it’s Hutcherson who captured my attention and seemed to make a better foil for Ms. Everdeen. However, be warned that some of the romantic elements don’t have the same amount of complexity that the rest of the story has and so it seems aimed more squarely at juvenile hearts. Also it should be said that at times Katniss is of a participant in her own story and more of a reactant. For someone who is as supposedly kickass a warrior and strong in spirit she can come off as a self-pitying wimp in places. I don’t think it’s Ms. Lawrence’s fault so much as it is male writers who have problems writing strong female characters. I’d love to see a female screenwriter take a crack at the next one although I understand that’s fairly unlikely an occurrence.

Still, this is solid entertainment that is going to capture the imaginations of its young female core audience. Katniss is truly a heroine to be admired, much more so than Bella Swan. In every respect this is a superior franchise to that other one with a lead character who is much worthier of being a role model despite the occasional hiccups. I wasn’t sure if I cared about seeing a sequel after the first Hunger Games; after the second, I can’t wait for the third.

REASONS TO GO: Some fine performances and action sequences along with a solid storyline.

REASONS TO STAY: Stumbles over itself with occasional overkill and main character sometimes doesn’t seem true to her own traits.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action and violence, with a few frightening images, some suggestive situations, a couple of instances of bad language and overall thematic elements not for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the Capitol scenes were filmed at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel which also happens to be where Dragoncon, one of the Southeast’s premiere conventions, takes place.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Running Man

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Muscle Shoals