The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The first installment of The Hunger Games set the bar pretty high as a teen action-adventure movie, mostly due to excellent performances, but also due to its ability to weave political ideas into its fabric with commitment rather than condescension. The ideas might not be deeply sophisticated, but compared to the philosophical aspirations of many recent sci-fi efforts, The Hunger Games is way ahead of the pack. Catching Fire takes the political allegory of the story a step further than the original, focusing more on the intrigue behind the scenes, giving bigger roles to the likes of Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. Even though there is the occasional dull moment of exposition, the excellent cast, with the ever feisty Jennifer Lawrence in the lead, delivers a film that provides a solid adrenaline action rush fortified with deeper emotional and social currents. But for those looking for an action movie sequel that will outstrip the original, Catching Fire may disappoint.
A lovely little movie from Downunder by director Wayne Blair might be a bit sloppy and sentimental, but it is so full of heart and soul that its faults don’t matter; not much, anyway. Based on a true story about four Australian Aboriginal women who build their hopes of a better life in forming a singing group and going to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. They find themselves a manager in the form of Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), a drunken musical promoter touring the backwoods of Australia. He reluctantly helps them achieve their dream, and saves his own soul in the process. There are some inspired takes on racism, racial identity and popular music, but the ugly racial politics of 1960s Australia (notable for the Lost Generation of Aboriginal children taken from their parents by the government), may not be handled with the subtly or sophistication that such a politically charged topic may demand. But music, dreams and committed performances by all concerned are likely to win the heart of all but the most curmudgeonly ideologue.
The Best Offer
A film built around yet another fine performance by Australian actor Geoffrey Rush in a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (who brought us the ageless classic Cinema Paradiso). Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a solitary, cultured man whose reluctance to engage with others, especially women, is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession as a high-end antiques auctioneer and valuer. He becomes involved with Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), an heiress with a vast collection of art to sell. Oldman does not get to see Claire, and this sparks an obsession to know more about her that takes him to the edge of madness. The central story is supported by fine performances by Donald Sutherland and Jim Sturgess, and there is plenty of talk about what is fake and what is real, in art and in love. At 131 minutes, the film often feels overlong, but Tornatore will not be rushed and effectively builds up the tension to a startling denouement that is well worth the wait.
Debut feature by Hong Kong writer-director Flora Lau (劉韻文) is a typically atmospheric film fest product that has some interesting ideas, lovely images and a profound lack of drama. The story focuses on Hui, a chauffeur who lives in China’s Shenzhen and who commutes daily to Hong Kong to work for Anna. Hui, played by Chinese matinee idol Chen Kun (陳坤) wants to smuggle his pregnant wife over the Hong Kong to give birth to their second child, and Anna, played by Hong Kong veteran Carina Lau (劉嘉玲), tries to keep up the pretense of a lavish lifestyle after her rich husband suddenly goes AWOL amid financial difficulties. Chen is not noted for his powerful acting style and is too bland for this role, leaving Bends without an anchor. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle gives the film a very attractive look, but the screenplay fails to generate any sparks in a film which is centered on a dialogue across social and economic levels.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
Gonzo schlock fest from the prolific Japanese director Sion Sono might be all a bit too Tarantino for some viewers, and certainly there are plenty of not particularly edifying cinematic references in what seems like a bit of pure indulgence by the director, who only last year released a surprisingly sober-minded drama addressing the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? embarks on a drunken revel into ultra-violence in a story about a film director who decides to put himself in the middle of a gangland turf war so that he can make the ultimate movie masterpiece. Hiroki Hasegawa plays a director obsessed with moviemaking, and the film has the same cine-literate aspirations of the Tarantino oeuvre, but at the same time tends to neglect more creative developments in the interests of creating the most onscreen mayhem possible. There is much that is funny and absurd, but as a whole Why Don’t You Play in Hell? manages to be oddly formulaic and soulless.