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The Hunger Games, One Life, Payback and more film reviews

Jennifer Lawrence elevates The Hunger Games into a 4-star movie

The Hunger Games is the top movie this week. It’s turned into a phenomenon and good luck getting in these first few days if you don’t have ticket already.

As an alternative, there’s a great wildlife film just arrived plus a poignant struggle by a teen lesbian to be herself and a montage of sibling rivalry and bonding.

Here’s the list:

The Hunger Games:  4 stars

One Life:  4

Sisters & Brothers:  2 ½

Pariah:  3 ½

Payback: --

 THE HUNGER GAMES: You’ve felt the hype and watched the anticipation grow into a palpable mania. Now, should you see the film? Yes, as long as you accept that, like the novel it came from, it is a fantasy for young adults. You’ll find though that it’s also sophisticated because it deals with ideas—government control, media manipulation, entertainment to distract the masses, the wealth-hogging haves vs the many have-nots. All these are swirled up into an allegory about our times in one of the better book-to-movie transitions.   

The story is set sometime in the future. The United States has shattered into 12 districts with one suppressing all the others by keeping the people there poor and hungry. Part of that control is an annual tournament to the death fought by teens, a boy and girl from each district, and televised as a super reality show. That’s been done before in the movies, usually though for the more blood thirsty crowd and dystopian novels for teens are something of a sub-genre these days. This film latches on to that through a magnetic performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who, like in her Oscar nominated role in Winter's Bone, plays a teen from one of the poorest regions who’s both tough and vulnerable. Imagine Diana the Huntress of Roman myth transplanted to Appalachia.

Josh Hutcherson is her co-player from her district; Alexander Ludwig (ex-Vancouverite) is her main opponent and Woody Harrelson is her mentor. The art directors are also stars. They’ve fashioned a great-looking movie around her.

The film speeds along with a tremendous narrative drive and doesn’t feel 2 ½ hours long. The violence is not graphic, thankfully, and often suggests more than it shows.  Less welcome is the way the film downplays class differences. A few scenes of poverty contrasted with many of luxury don’t fully get across the grinding oppression at the heart of the novel. The players don’t even look gaunt and starving. The book’s darker elements have been made easier to take.

(The Park, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres. At three of them you can sit in those new D-Box seats which shake and sway along with the action on screen. They cost $8 more but I found them distracting). 4 out of 5

ONE LIFE: I don’t watch enough wildlife shows on television to say how unique this documentary is. But I suspect that even with the best high definition you’re not going to get such sharp, clear and beautiful pictures on TV. Or such brilliant colors.

This film, narrated by Daniel Craig, is from the Natural History unit at the BBC and hops around the world to find choice examples of animals doing their thing to survive, hunt and ultimately reproduce. The early scenes are of raising and feeding their young. A Weddel seal gives birth in a windstorm. A baby elephant has to walk with the herd or die. A section on innovation shows birds cracking open bones by dropping them from up high. A monkey has learned to crack open palm nuts by using a rock as a tool. Then there’s the hunt for food and, conversely, keeping safe from predators. Three cheetahs, who usually hunt solo, work together to trap and bring down an ostrich. A kimodo dra

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