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A third Hunger Games, a second feature by Tommy Lee Jones and two special series

Jennifer Lawrence is poised to own the box office with her latest Hunger Games installment

There’s one film this week. Few others dare to go up against the latest Hunger Games. Tommy Lee Jones isn’t scared to with The Homesman and there’s much more with both the Cinemathque and the VanCity Theatre running special series.

Here’s the list:

The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1: 3 stars

The Homesman:  3

Crime Fest: various

European Film Fest: various

 

THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY – Part 1: There aren’t any games in this one. Of course not.  Katniss Everdeen stopped them dead when she fired that arrow and collapsed the force field at the end of the last film. So we’re challenged to find our fun elsewhere and, frankly, it’s a bit hard to do. This is a solid enough entry in the series but it’s dour and dark with few memorable highlights. There’s more politics to savor but much of the sparkle and imagination of the earlier films is missing and we’ve got a standard rebellion film like we’ve seen before.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is being groomed as the face of the revolution which she has sparked. Liam Hemsworth is often at her side now while Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is a prisoner in The Capitol from where he broadcasts appeals to the rebels to lay down their arms. Julianne Moore, as the rebellion leader, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as her advisor, a defector from the Capitol, (both excellent) agree to send a rescue mission. That’s staged exactly like the Navy Seals operation to get Bin Laden. In fact what action there in this film pretty well all looks like familiar war movies. There are bombers attacking, walks among vistas of rubble and a lot of cowering in bunkers as sly and evil president Snow (Donald Sutherland) amps up his response.  

 

Lawrence does a lot of moping in the early going, before she wakes up the Joan of Arc or maybe amazon inside her. One sequence shows it, and her talent, best. She’s told to act defiant for a video in the propaganda war but she comes off flat. It takes a great actor to do bad acting believably. A second try, after a visit to a hospital and a bomber attack, brings out the anger and the passion in her. I wish there was more. That’s still a year away, in Part 2. (Dunbar, 5th Avenue, Scotiabank and everywhere) 3 out of 5   

THE HOMESMAN: Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t call this a western. It looks like one to me but is singularly focused on the harshest parts of life back in pioneer days. Jones had a similar grim tone in his first directing job for the big screen, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, about 10 years ago. This new one reminded me in part of an episode of Gunsmoke I saw years ago about insanity on the prairies. It touches on so many themes and goes through so many changes there’s no chance you’ll get bored. Baffled maybe a few times, but not bored.

 

Jones plays a claim jumper, “refiler” he calls it, who is cut down from a hanging rope by a farm woman, spinster actually, (Hilary Swank) and coaxed to help on a mission. She’s taking three women from Nebraska, still a territory around 1850, to Iowa, already a state. From the wilds to civilization, you might say, although they find little of that. The women have been driven crazy by the loneliness and severe difficulties of homesteading. They become a sort of Greek chorus on the trek, always watching and often wailing as Jones and Swank argue and out of necessity come together.  She’s firmly independent but to him she’s “bossy.”  Indians, drifters and callous businessmen pop in and out of the story and a chilly ending awaits. But it’s the many changes in mood that get you there and the strong acting performances that make the film interesting and unusual. Meryl  Streep has a small role near the end. Makes sense; her daughter Grace Gummer plays one of the crazy women.  (International Village) 3 out of 5

CRIME FEST: Over at the VanCity Theatre it’s a weeklong obsession with crime. It’s a nifty series. All but two of these 16 films are new to Vancouver. The other two are classics always welcome to come back. Here are notes about only a few. For more got to VIFF and checks the titles under Now Playing.

BAD TURN WORSE: I was engrossed all the way with this newest example of sleek and tough filmmaking from Texas. Brothers Simon & Zeke Hawkins have made their first full-length feature (after many shorts and jobs on film crews) and they’ve captured the film noir possibilities of modern small-town Texas.

 

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