The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, being both a welcome surprise and a disappointment. A surprise because, ultimately, it is good, and in some ways more than good, and a disappointment because the ways in which it is good are essentially carbon-copies of its predecessor. Still, they are improved carbon-copies, and if we are in the business of deciding whether Catching Fire is better than The Hunger Games, it would be a great quest to find a way in which it is not.
Certainly, director Francis Lawrence is a notable improvement over Gary Ross, and although he doesn’t create the best version of this tale, he understands how to treat a scorched-earth with a tempo that seems poetic and evocative rather than simply solemn and stoic. It is no Malick film, although the filmmakers would probably want you to think otherwise, but there is a definite sense that Lawrence understands how to link shots together with an eye for the distressing dejection of a corrupt world without ever sinking into outright miserablism. It also helps that he is a distinctly superior action director to Gary Ross, but we will get to that when the film does, namely, near the end. Continue reading →
The Hunger Games is not a bad film, although it must be said that it is a decidedly superficial one. Which isn’t a bad thing, per-se. When Phillip Messina’s production design does wonders to sell the contrast between the dusted-earth Appalachia of District 12 and the pop-fiction of the Capitol district (locations which you can probably derive a function for without specific information from me), the film is a veritable hoot anyway. When the superficial is this good – take Judianna Makovsky’s loopy but dementedly blissful David-Bowie-at-the-circus costume design, for one – it can be easy to overlook how insubstantial all of it is.
Not to mention, this adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young adult fiction book boasts a startlingly cinematic realization of its main heroine in the form of Jennifer Lawrence, now a household name but just three short years ago merely the girl from Winter’s Bone. A film of note, as Lawrence was clearly cast on the back of that eye-opening slice of Southern Gothic, being that she here plays a largely identical wise-beyond-her-years teenager transposed to the fictional but not too fictional world of Panem. After displaying her chops wandering with an unnatural forcefulness and determination through the perilous limbo of the Southern mountaintops of Winter’s Bone, she wears the monumentally Appalachian name of Katniss Everdeen here with all the nervous anxiety and dogged persistence it calls for. Continue reading →
It’s a known quantity to criticize our corporate masters for breaking apart book adaptations for the sake of profit, and this is an avenue of criticism I tend to shy away from. If the individual films, broken apart, are compelling, I don’t much care for the “completeness” of having a “full” adaptation of a source in one film. And complaining about cliffhanger endings have always seemed a red herring to distract from actually discussing the film. But good god is Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay hurt significantly by being cut in half. Or, at least, this first part is. While The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire weren’t perfect films, they were never unwieldy. Snug filmmaking was the order of the day, except when they sought to make good on their pop-Terrence Malick aspirations and linger on the poetic depression of the earth, which was itself lightly satisfying in its own way. Continue reading →
William Friedkin’s deliciously fleshy, brazen black comedy Killer Joe is a whole lot more meaningful than its word-on-the-street cred as another film in a long list of newfound career-redefining roles for Matthew McConaughey might suggest, but his performance speaks more than anything to the tone and effect of the movie. He re-reads the laid-back seductive charm he built his career on to play a crawling-king-snake of a Southern devil here, a police detective moonlighting as an assassin as convincingly nasty as he is ruthlessly in-human and clever. He’s the backbone of not only a number of fine performances dancing around his pointedly superficially cool-as-can-be anti-hero (the veterans Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon in particular giving us two commandingly lived-in performances as a husband and wife struggling to get-by), but a damn fine film. Continue reading →
Martin Scorsese’s 2013 quasi-biopic of American greed and self-destruction in the ’90s has a number of very notable factors acting in its favor. Primarily, it has Martin Scorsese really just tearing up the cinematic joint. Here, he’s a cavalier madman again, a persona he hasn’t adopted in a long while. The Wolf of Wall Street is less interested in telling a narrative than in expounding upon destructive impulses and raw propulsion, and the fact that the film adopts the disorderly persona of its main characters is almost categorically a civic good.
Secondly, Leonardo DiCaprio throws himself into the role of Jordan Belfort, the early ’90s capitalist fat-cat du jour, like a deranged madman – as a performance the closet thing it approximates is loose-limbed, improvisational jazz, and it’s a stunning display of pure physicality and cognitively-dissonant charisma. This too is of no small import, as he’s the center of the film. The Wolf of Wall Street is touted by many as a “film about us”, and that’s true in the sense of its emphasis on American debauchery and inequality more prevalent today than in the ’90s the film depicts. But it is also a film uniquely about Jordan Belfort, a singular man who could convince just about anyone to follow him, and who is depicted less as a villain or a conflicted person than a living “performance” of a human being, having no inside core other than to perform his wealth. The film’s attitude toward him is mocking, yes, but it also undeniably sees his charisma for the undeniable appeal it breeds. Continue reading →
Update 2018: I was skeptical of this film when it was released, but after having read the phenomenally astute political Molotov of a comic book of the same name, with its observations on state privatization and racial incarceration all folded into a 1981 critique of neo-conservatism and neoliberalism as fascism, the movie’s neutralized, domesticated politics and thoroughly un-transgressive social observations feel all the more banal and negligent.
Final paragraph edited for clarity’s sake
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an ambitious project, attempting to bridge two timelines, a boatload of characters and numerous political positions and wrap them all up in a cohesive, action-packed whole. Furthermore, the film seems to realize how ambitious it is. It’s all fairly confusing, but it at least rightfully understands it really doesn’t need to, and in fact shouldn’t, get involved with logical loopholes. Explaining things, as Professor X does in an early scene, often makes things worse, dragging down and only opening up more questions the film inevitably won’t have time to answer. It’s better to keep things simple and streamlined in films like this, lest everything get too self-important. Continue reading →