Sunday, December 08, 2013

Movie Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity, Frances Ha

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and the rest are back in the second installment of Suzanne Collins' fantastic book series. The first movie was great, and so is this one. Jennifer is a particularly sensitive and strong actress; everyone else also do fine. Cinematography, directing, etc are all fine.

I can forgive the movie for leaving out certain elements of the book, even though I don't know why they did. Some parts of the movie seem to be rushed, when they might had more effect with more screen time. I wouldn't have been unhappy with a longer movie.

The movie follows the book: Katniss and Peeta have to maintain the illusion of being a happy couple in order to convince the country that their last act in the previous games was done out of love and not out of defiance to the government. But it doesn't seem to matter, since uprisings are spreading, and everything they do seems to inflame them. The ending is a cliffhanger. Like the last movie, the politics only peek in here and there; the bulk of the movie, even more than in the books, is about the game. The real uprising is saved for the last book (which will be two movies).

Gravity: A tour-de-force 3D movie that I unfortunately saw only in 2D. It was still plenty gripping. It's basically a 90 minute disaster movie. Some astronauts are in space and experience severe catastrophe, including separation from their spacecraft, due to space debris. If you've seen the trailers, that happens at the start of the film (after a short calm setup scene).

I think ANYTHING said about the film is a spoiler, so here are some spoilers; I will try to make them as un-spoiling as possible. Several more incidents and settings take place over the remainder of the film. Even though things go wrong over and over again, these settings and possible salvations seem to be awfully conveniently located. There is speculation on the Interwebs to the effect that much of the movie starting from one of several possible points until the end might be a hallucination; this speculation is due to the unlikely conveniences mentioned above: if the movie were to have been set in the present, these settings are not now where they are depicted to be in the movie. As far as I'm concerned, since the movie takes place in the future, or some kind of alternate future, and since it's science fiction, we just have to go with it.

I've never been a big fan of Sandra Bullock, except for her outstanding performance in The Blind Side, but here she is even more outstanding. Every detail of her acting, from the tension in her neck to her breathing patterns is spot on perfect, which is no mean feat considering how much of the movie had to be constructed around the actors in a studio. Between Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and Sandra here, it should now be established that strong women actors can handle the lead role in action movies. Hopefully this will be a trend.

Frances Ha: I really wanted to love this quirky character movie with Greta Gerwig, but I only liked it. Greta plays Frances, the very definition of graceless. She's enthusiastic and happy-go-lucky, but has not a whit of social sensitivity and her dancing, while functionally able, looks more like lumbering. She starts out with some things: a boyfriend, a very close woman friend, a job and the possibility of more (and I'm not sure how she got all of those things, considering her lack of grace), but gradually loses them all (to more or less extent). Only, her complete self-deception causes her to not acknowledge that all these things have happened, until she must finally come to terms with it.

I really liked the friendships and relationships depicted in the movie. They were very natural and realistic, something you don't often see in movies that rely on Big Fights and Big Drama. Here, it's just a quiet drifting apart. The acting and directing are fine. What bothered me was that the coming to terms with it simply happens and then not much else does.

The movie seems like a slice from of a Whit Stillman movie, only Frances would be one out of six other characters all sharing the screen. Just Frances' story seems a little weak on its own. Still, I liked it well enough.
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