I’m just going to come out and say it – I really despised the firstHunger Games movie. It was possibly the most excruciating two hours I have ever spent in a cinema, although there are mitigating circumstances – the film coincided with the worst (and only) migraine I have ever had. As a result, the constant use of shaky-cam, aggressive surround-sound and generally epilepsy-inducing sequences of light and noise made for an experience that I imagine was pretty close to unanaesthetised cranial surgery.
However, my own ill health should not be enough to condemn a series, so I went into The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with a relatively open mind, and for the most part, was pleasantly surprised. The action is less reliant on shaky-cam now, and there is generally less time devoted to the actual “hunger games” section of the film this time around. The strong point of both films is the attention to detail in the creation of a society and culture, so it was nice to see more screen time devoted to it.
The action sequences are, of course, unavoidable. Being targeted squarely at a mid-teen audience, a 12A rating was absolutely necessary for the film to be a financial success. It is a credit to the film’s creators that it includes scenes of suffocation, drowning, throat-ripping, skin-blistering, public execution, public whipping, more public execution, child-murder and nudity while still obtaining the 12A rating. Unfortunately, the necessary reliance on quick-cutaway shots from the deaths meant that some scenes lacked the emotional punch that would have been possible with a higher age rating.
The film’s world-building is fantastic, and its action scenes are generally acceptable. The acting is much more of a mixed bag. Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen) is a relatively competent
actor, although her role consists pretty much entirely of pouting grumpily and being indecisive. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is a character that has such a perfect union of clichéd lines and awful acting that he becomes almost charming in his incompetency.
The adult actors, on the other hand, are almost flawless. Donald Sutherland pulls off a dictator who manages to be simultaneously friendly, merciless, fatherly and sadistic. Philip Seymour Hoffman pulls off yet another fantastically naturalistic performance. Lenny Kravitz is, once again, surprisingly good, and Woody Harrelson manages to walk the line between tragic and comic character with surprising ease.
Overall, this is a worthwhile film. Some awkward acting, clichéd dialogue and the odd bit of creaky CGI does little to detract from the fantastic effort that has been put into the creation of an entire society, structure and culture.
One final piece of advice: try and choose a showing during a school day, to avoid the experience I had. Three rows of unaccompanied children between the ages of 10 and 14, clapping, screaming, giggling, chatting, throwing popcorn and running in and out of the cinema every five minutes for a break. During the last half of the film I became increasingly convinced that I had been granted a glance at what eternal damnation must feel like.
A Lovely Treat
Mitch Yapko (Long Legs Productions) USA, 2012
The basic problem with this film is that it only has one joke, and that joke isn’t even particularly funny. All comedy in the film evolves from the fact that the male character is a little bit short. I could forgive this film for not being funny, if there was anything else of merit. But there’s not – featuring a standard female rom-com voiceover, uninteresting dialogue and poorly handled transitions between scenes, there’s really nothing to recommend this film.
The Painter and the Thief
Jack Lawrence (University of York) UK, 2013
While slightly awkward acting and some sound recording issues marred my enjoyment of this piece, The Painter and the Thief is a competently produced fusion of the caper and romance genres, with a good helping of comedy thrown in there. While its cuteness becomes predictable at times, the dialogue was well written enough to maintain my investment in the characters throughout.
Oscar Nobi (Independent) UK, 2012
Out of all the films screened at “Comedy – 4” this one got the most laughs. A succinct, witty script, some genuinely thought provoking observations about everyday life, and even one moment of creative camera work, this was a six minute wonder compared to the rather mediocre offerings that came before it.
La Page Blanche
Yohann Sfez (7e ACT) France, 2012
While the acting, filming and general production values of La Page Blanche were a cut above the rest, its gimmicky plot was rather disappointing. Moments of humour were regular and welcome, but unfortunately this film aimed for a clever plot with dashes of comedy, and missed the mark with the plot.
Thomas Guerrier (Indeptendent) UK, 2012
At only two minutes long, there is not really much more to this film than the single joke. That said, the joke is presented well enough that it was a two minutes that I would happily give up again.
Our Name is Michael Morgan
Maurice Caldera (Quiddity Films) UK, 2012
Raising far more questions than it answers, the initial response to this film was a universally baffled one. However, it is funny, poignant, excellently filmed and makes some subtle points about the commodification of 21st Century lifestyles that stuck with me long after the film had finished. An excellent piece.
Gabriel Garcia (Hype.cg) Brazil, 2013
With a combination of photorealistic animation and cartoony CGI rabbits, Ed spends much of its time firmly lodged in the uncanny valley. The film feels more like an exercise in animation than a feature in and of itself. While it must be commended for its execution, Ed fails to hit particularly hard, most obviously in the film’s final twist, which gives the unnerving impression that the film makers thought it was considerably cleverer than it actually is.
Benjael Halfmaderholz (Hylas Film) Germany, 2013
A brief clip of animation which could serve very well as part of a larger story, the four minute run time does at least showcase the creator’s talent for excellent aesthetic design and un-scripted storytelling. Short, sweet, and something I would like to see more of.
Tempest in a Bedroom
Laurence Arcadias / Juliette Marchand (Amorce Films / JPL Films) France, 2011
An oft-overlooked quality of animation is its ability to portray scenes that censorship boards will not permit, or that actors might be uncomfortable performing in. Never is this clearer than in Temest in a Bedroom, which contained one of the most extended sex scenes I’ve ever seen. With some deeply uncanny animation (animated faces, live action lips) and bizarrely surreal comedy, Tempest in a Bedroom is entertaining for its weirdness alone. Factor in some interesting exploration of sexual repression and you have a winning combination
Matt Waruszynski (Sizzle Studios) UK, 2012
Clocking in at a minimal 1m 46s, there’s little more to this than the very basic jokey premise. However, the joke is not a bad one, and the animation is nicely stylized, making this an enjoyable, albeit inconsequential minute and a half.
The Nether Regions
Maria Lee (WONKY films) UK, 2012
While Brian Blessed is fantastic as Satan, and his dialogue is perfectly crafted for both the character and actor, it feels suspiciously like this was written as a radio script and then adapted verbatim for animation – the visual aspect of it adds barely anything. However, it only runs on for about three minutes so it feels unfair to be too critical.
Clara Kraft Isono (London Film School) UK, 2012
A harrowingly sad tale of the separation of two sisters, Achele is a tragically pessimistic study of childish impotence in the face of society. The filming is gorgeous, although one feels that it must be hard to make an ugly film when the shooting location is amid the Himalayan villages. Shot in semi documentary format, much of the beauty of this film lies in its adherence to reality.
Artem Volchkov (VGIK) Russia, 2013
A finely crafted tragic drama, most masterful in its creation of a persistent sense of impending doom. Revolving around a struggling father/son relationship, the dialogue never strays into cliché, which is especially admirable given the ease with which this kind of relationship drama attracts it. Depressing yet simultaneously uplifting, if you’re craving an emotional punch in the gut, this is the film for you.