The Hunger Games: Catching fire

The Hunger Games: Catching fire
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth - Dir: Francis Lawrence

I was a bit down on the first Hunger Games flick, but this round is a big improvement, ditching some of the more straight-ahead teen tropes and combining a cynical – if fairly shallow – view of politics and society with a bang-up action bash.

The first and most canny change is the move away from the angst of a teen love story. What looked like the inevitable love triangle is quickly ditched as Jennifer Lawrence’s character (yes, the one with the stupid name) basically walks away from both love interests because she has more important things to do. And quite rightly so. It’s a refreshingly sensible bit of behaviour.

She’s sent on a publicity tour to quell potential trouble in the poorer provinces but, what with the ruling dictatorship doing all sorts of nasty things, is unable to keep up the façade. So, in steps the President and changes the game rules yet again, this time so that all previous winners must duke it out (a popular tactic on Survivor, so I guess it makes sense) in a meticulously-prepared jungle environment. Complete with poison gas, threatening creatures, and all sorts of other deadly stuff.

Once again Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful, a young female Brando with both the physicality and smarts, and she’s surrounded by a classy crew, from a brilliant Stanley Tucci to Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Popcorn movies should all be this much fun.

Machete Kills is Robert Rodriguez latest venture into extreme silliness, a sequel to a film based on a spoof trailer that accompanied his Grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino on Deathproof and Planet Terror. It’s basically a vehicle for Danny Trejo to kick an outrageous amount of ass and improves upon the original by plunging even more relentlessly over the top. Along for the ride are Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr, Charlie Sheen and even Lady Gaga, for a romp that skewers every B-movie genre going, finally ending in daft sixties sci-fi spy territory.

The Colony postulates a post-apocalyptic future where the few survivors from frozen starvation live in bunkers under the snow. They’re not a happy bunch. A deadly flu-like illness infects the colonists (who include Bill Paxton and Lawrence Fishburne) and they’ve just lost touch with the closest remaining colony. Larry goes to investigate – trudging through the snow was rarely so dull – and finds... well that would fall into spoilers territory. Let’s just say Bad Things. Problem is, it takes an awfully long time before said Bad Things kick in, and the build-up is a bit on the boring side.

We Steal Secrets is the story of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, Mea Maxima Culpa, Enron, etc), as fine a documentarian as is working today. It’s fascinating stuff, offering many good reasons for the existence of Wikileaks and shining light on many very dubious US government practices. Then, three quarters of the way in, things change and it explicitly separates Wikileaks from Julian Assange, asking some very tricky questions about the actions of the site’s founder. Nothing is black and white and this terrific film walks the fine line with great intelligence.

But sadly, compared to the excellence of the documentary, Bill Condon’s fiction film on the same subject, The Fifth Estate, is something of an anticlimax. Despite a riveting and surprisingly accurate turn from “thinking women’s sex symbol du jour” Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, the film never quite decides what it is and consequently fails to gain any dramatic momentum. The ill-judged graphics illustrate the action poorly while the buddy-story-gone-wrong, with Daniel Bruhl sympathetic as the Wikileaks number two whose friendship with Assange is at the heart of events, lacks the insight of a Peter Morgan script. 


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