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Hunger Games thrills again, Short Term 12 astounds, The Book Thief adequate

Jennifer Lawrence shines once more in the second Hunger Games movie

There’s one giant film this week, Hunger Games 2, a couple of adequate smaller ones, a batch of new ones from Europe and an outright gem, Short Term 12 about troubled teens and their counselors.

Here’s the list:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire  3 ½ stars

Short Term 12:  4 ½

Bastards:  2 ½

Deivery Man:  3

The Book Thief:  3

European Film Festival: various

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE:  The middle book produces a middle episode, not as fresh as the first, somewhat shaky in putting its story across, acting like a build-up to the next film but also adding some new elements that keep us satisfied. In total: an intelligent progression in this post-apocalyptic tale. 

 

Jennifer Lawrence shines again as Katniss Everdeen, who with her partner (Josh Hutcherson) won the games in the first film and thereby inspired isolated rebels and infuriated the dictator-president (Donald Sutherland). His new games master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has an answer: send the winners on a victory tour and let them be seen living the high life and the people will turn against them. At the same time get even tougher in repressing the people in the 12 districts. The story deftly shows how regimes use celebrities to further their ends and inflict brutality when they have to and then kicks in the bread and circuses again. With Stanley Tucci as the unctuous host, new games start. This time all the contestants are previous winners, told to fight again until just one is alive. It takes well over an hour before it starts up, so long is the plotting and prelude, and there’s not much actual battling. Alliances are formed, other players are hardly ever seen and Hoffman throws in wild baboons, poisonous fog and a water avalanche to undo Katniss and her friends. The game and the film end abruptly but with a surprise revelation which nicely fits the treatise on power the story has turned into. It’s a popcorn movie with smarts as well as excitement.  (5th Avenue, The Dolphin, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3½ out of 5         

SHORT TERM 12: Don’t think that just because this film is set in a home for troubled youth it must be oppressively grey or, worse, do-gooding inspirational. No, this is vibrant with real life and people played so naturalistically that they feel absolutely authentic. Emotional scenes are balanced with humor and humanity. Uplifting scenes exist beside mistakes and screw-ups. Just like I imagine things there might be.

 

Brie Larson plays the lead counsellor at the home. She’s immensely likeable as she has to talk down hysterics, discipline the non-coperative and catch a boy who likes to run away. Another does have to leave, he’s turning 18, and he’s distraught. A new girl is sullen, angry and given to obscene outbursts. Brie has to help them all and, as she later reveals, has problems in her own history and is facing a big new issue in her life. All this is crisply laid out in an elegant script and performed perfectly by her and all the actors. John Gallagher Jr. is especially effective, playing her live-in boyfriend and co-worker who delights in storytelling. The writer-director Destin Cretton worked in just such a place for two years. He’s made a moving film out of what he saw. (VanCity) 4 ½  out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

BASTARDS:  The French director Claire Denis expands her targets in this unsettling film. She’s known for attacking colonialism; now she takes on more local ills: patriarchy and money. And she spreads the blast around to include not just men (the bastards of the title) but women who submit to them. It takes a while for all this to come into focus because she’s not one to just tell us what she’s up to. She makes us work to understand it and only near the end delivers a shattering climax to explain.

 

On the way there she draws us into a dark, film-noirish mystery. An ambulance emergency turns out to be a suicide and a young woman walks a street naked and bloody. After that abrupt start, facts are slow coming. A ship captain (Vincent Lindon) rushes home because it’s his brother-in-law who’s dead; his niece (Lola Créton) is the distressed woman and his sister (Julie Bataille) reveals the family business is dying and a shady businessman may be involved. The captain starts an affair with the man’s mistress as part of his investigation. What he finds is sordid and perverse. The film is cryptic, even ambiguous, at times, well-acted and tersely written, but as art, not much above lurid. (VanCity) 2 ½  out of 5

DELIVERY MAN: The joys of parenthood –and fears of the downside—confront Vince Vaughn in this film which is not only unlike just about any Vince Vaughn film you can remember but actually shows him as caring and kind, not as the usual ironic wise-acre. Credit that to the fact it wasn’t written for him; it started as a Quebec film called Starbuck which played here two years ago. It’s an almost exact re-make now in English and set in New York. Ken Scott wrote and directed both.

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