I rarely review sequels but this one is going to be big. And, surprisingly, it’s actually better than the first “Hunger Games”.
If you didn’t read the books or see the first one, I guess it’s a matter of why bother. The quick recap is we are once again in a post apocalyptic world called “Panem”. The 1% live in a place called “The Capitol”, the rest live in Districts 1 through 12 in poverty and grime.
To keep the riff raff in check, the “Hunger Games” are held and it’s a fight to the death. The ultimate game of “Survivor” – two members of each district go in, only one is alive at the end.
This was the set-up for the first movie and they replicated the book detail to great effect. Now what? Well, how about the “Quarter Quell”? The what? It’s held every twenty five years and is a super “hunger games”, with a draw of the past victors facing off. Yes, a best of the best.
Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen, played by the husky voiced and sexy Jennifer Lawrence. She lives in District 12 and her wits and bravery got her through the first games. That did not please Panem’s President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland. He’s concerned she may lead a rebellion which will topple the whole 1%.
Back for another round are the supporting players to Katniss – she’s torn between two lovers, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). She’s still mentored (sort of) by past District 12 games winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and for entertainment value, we have the “Hunger Games” show host, Cesar played by Stanley Tucci and the hostess, Effie, played by Elizabeth Banks. And the brief, but very effective appearance once again of Katniss’ dress designer, Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz.
New on the scene is the guy who now designs the “Hunger Games”, named Plutarch. He’s played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Yeah, there are a lot of people to account for, including new opponents in the quarter quell death match, but I’ll stop there.
What works again is the attention to detail and the fantastic ability to bring the book to life – much like what worked for the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” movies. The special effects are up to par – you have to love the outfits worn by Katniss “catching fire” (there’s the title part) and the domed arena where the fight to the death takes place is full of surprising doom.
Also well captured is that sense that Katniss is a very reluctant hero. That is a major character piece in the book and her acting and the screenwriting bring it all out. Plus, she’s kind of a reluctant lover to her two men, who are always confused by her. It all leads back to the sad truth about real heroes – they are lonely, complex figures, aren’t they? President Snow seems to think he’s figured out Katniss best – we’ll see.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will do more than catch on fire. It’s going to be a major inferno, and deservedly so – I give it a “9”.
Every time I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to making movies out of, say the Holocaust or American slavery, there is another one released and most of the time they’ve got a new angle on it.
This one, “based on a true story” is about a free black man living in 1841
Solomon Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor ) is an educated, fairly well to do man. He’s an accomplished fiddle player, supporting his wife, son and daughter. He accepts a gig which takes him to
This is a story that pulls no punches and spares little. First, Solomon loses his name (he is now known as “Pratt”), then later almost loses his mind. It doesn’t take him long to figure out he can’t talk his way out of this one, especially once he realizes he doesn’t have his “papers”. He ends up being transported to the deep South, where that may not matter anyway.
Shuttled between plantation owners, he sees it all. The first stop lands him with a man named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who actually appreciates his intellect and has a soft spot for him. But the day to day master is an emotionally unequipped insecure young guy played by Paul Dano. You know that will get ugly, and it’s hard to understate the impact of the long, but effective scene when Dano tries to carry out a lynching of Solomon. He’s stopped – sort of, but Solomon is left to dangle with his feet barely touching the ground for hours. It’s grim, it’s tough to look at, but I’m sure it happened.
The same goes for the many whippings carried out – if I saw one more torn up back I might have passed out.
Solomon’s next stop brings him to a cotton farm controlled by Edwin Epps, a clinically crazy guy played by Michael Fassbender. This is the longest stretch of the movie, and it’s full of unpredictable actions and story twists, simply because the man is nuts. He has an infatuation with a young female slave named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and he’s got a wife who is quite jealous. That is all a formula for some tough times. And, yes, once again you may want to look away a few times.
But for all of the horror and intensity, this one dragged for more several times. Shot in an artsy style, there are times when Solomon is shown just staring off, a man lost in maddening thought. Of course, who wouldn’t be? It’s just that I’m not sure what “the painting” scenes were supposed to foretell.
I will say this – this is not a movie of
“12 Years a Slave” is getting the award buzz – and probably rightly so. It is one you can’t forget. I give it an “8”.
To be fair I would be hard pressed to just forget the 1976 horror classic and consider this reboot as a new movie all on its own. And I couldn’t – that original is up there with “The Exorcist” as one of the best of that kind of the decade.
So what can you do but sit through this and realize it’s like watching someone do a karoke version of one of your favorite songs. You know the words, you know the arc of the song, so you just follow along and at the end kind of just say “next”.
The casting looked excellent – putting Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie, and Julianne Moore as the nutty mother looked like the right moves. In fact, Julianne Moore resembles Sissy Spacek, who course, played Carrie in the original. And she delivers adequately with all the necessary craziness. I decided later there probably wasn’t enough of her in the story.
As for Chloe, probably one of the best child stars around today, this was a miss. She’s too cute, maybe too young and almost too normal to play the role of the sad girl with the telekinetic powers. Spacek was too old to play a teen at the time she did this movie, but she had the creepy factor nailed.
They also rushed things along here – maybe it’s because I know the story well, but it seems like much was expended to get us to the climatic prom part of the movie, forgetting almost all else.
For example - how about more bullying? Since this is 2013, they did add the cyber touch, which as you can imagine makes it much worse for the bullied kid. Years ago, all you could do was retell some embarrassing story about a bullied kid, but now, you can take video and send it viral.
This is, of course, what happens with the famous scene when Carrie first makes the transition to womanhood by bleeding out in the gym shower. In this version, we get there real fast, sort of obliterating any build up about how nasty these girls have been to Carrie all through school. The only hint we get is when one of them calls her “freak”.
It gives the movie that speeded up sense which leaves no time to take in Carrie’s relationship with her Mom and any real animosity for her bullies. In addition, just about all the teens in this movie besides Chloe are just bad actors. It was a drag watching them try to emote to establish themselves. We get the real bad girl who comes up with the evil prom idea, and the girl who is now sorry for what torment Carrie endures, but it all carries no punch. There also was plenty of hand wringing by a few cast members, as if the writers didn’t want to go overboard with the bullying. That pretty much made Carrie’s revenge looked like extreme overkill.
What I did notice over and over again was the loud soundtrack and the overused sound effects, as if amping everything up could make up for a sad remake. Even the dramatic destruction at the prom seems to pale in comparison to the 70’s original. And by that I mean special effects too – I be hard pressed to see where they spent any money except on the two main stars.
I have no problem with a redo here – especially with all the online bullying stories that constantly run in the news. This one just has no build up, no tension, little horror and a pathetic payoff. I was so “not” into the ending, that I noticed the gas prices on a station sign and thought, “they were much higher not long ago”.
“Carrie” is a bust – I give it a “3”.
Thank God it’s October and the real adult movies are starting to roll out. I was excited to see this one – can there be anything more horrifying that being stranded in space? And, not in a spaceship, but during a spacewalk? You’re out there, floating weightless, maybe forever. Do you die and never decay? Are you just more space debris, wandering for eternity?
Well, needless to say, I was motivated by the grim prospects. Our stranded space travelers are played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. She’s a medical engineer, he an experienced astronaut. You can imagine they are both completely unhinged, but clearly she’s got the tougher challenge, this being her first time in space -and with only six months training.
They went big with Bullock and Clooney, but they almost didn’t have to – this one’s special effects almost stand on their own as a perfect film. Not that those two don’t add something – Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone and she’s out there in space at the beginning, a part of a shuttle crew working on the Hubble telescope. Clooney is cool, calm and witty, as usual, as Matt Kowalski, the vet. He even manages to be his sexy self even when bound up in a spacesuit.
She’s already nervous and who wouldn’t be their first time they are actually out there, but before long a nasty field of space debris changes everything from routine to disastrous. It was strange because up until then I was calmly enjoying the perspective. It was a bit like a science film.
Movies are supposed to take you somewhere you can’t go yourself and I’m not up for walking around in space anytime soon. This one may be the best I’ve seen this year at bringing you along for the thrill and the terror. Check out the shots of earth, the sunrises. Movie technology has come a long way in just a few years when it can so easily convince you that you are right there with Dr. Stone.
When she becomes untethered and starts floating away from the shuttle and the crew and Matt, I would have probably just died from the shock. Spinning weightless, totally helpless, this beats almost any horror movie I can think of.
From there, it’s all about survival and the story follows a pretty logical path to try and make that happen. In between, you get the nice human touch. Kowalski tries to calm Dr. Stone by asking who down on earth would she be thinking about, and it leads to personal issues for the good doctor which will matter if she is to make it back to safety.
I don’t need this as much, but it is handled almost flawlessly and provides a nice balance to the quiet doom of being stranded in space. And what do you know? This one clocks in at under 90 minutes, which means it never drags and satisfies with just the right length. It is, quite simply, the best I’ve seen so far this year. I give “Gravity” a “10”. That’s right - a “10”.