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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

WINTER FILMS: PRISONERS, BLUE JASMINE, HUNGER GAMES, DRINKING BUDDIES.

PRISONERS  is not for the faint hearted. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) plays a man whose eight year old daughter, along with her friend, is kidnapped. The chief suspect, a man whose has a mental age of 10, is arrested and then released. Jackman's character goes to extreme lengths to track the guy down and attempt to find his kid.


The film maintains the tension expertly, inching the story along, teasing the viewer with clues and hints and suggestions, though the ultimate solution to the mystery is more or less signposted fairly early, and is not in fact such a massive twist.

There are some interesting moral questions, about what is a valid course of action to protect your family, how far is too far, etc. The film is effective in exploring these ideas.

It is, though, unremittingly hard and brutal. There is some heavy violence, and a lot of pain and dread, and - naturally, considering we are talking about child abduction - there are no lighter moments to relieve the gloom. It's a film that has to be endured, and admired, rather than enjoyed.

BLUE JASMINE is a Woody Allen film, though it is unlike the vast majority of his work. It is a tragedy, not a comedy. Though it retains a lot of the director's light touch, there is little to laugh at here.

The central character is Jasmine, played by Kate Blanchett. Her marriage to millionaire Alec Baldwin collapses when he is indicted on fraud charges and sent to prison for setting up a Ponzi scheme. She has a breakdown and goes to live with her foster sister, who she has only ever barely tolerated before her change in fortunes. Now she finds herself dependent on her.

The key problem with the film is that it is almost impossible to feel any sympathy for the central character. She is snobby, presumptuous, contemptuous of the people - working class San Franciscans - that her sister introduces her to.

In flashbacks we see that Jasmine is in fact partly to blame for her husband's downfall, and turned a blind eye to the strokes and dodgy dealings that she knew he was involved in. Jasmine does attempt to put her life together a little, before falling back into old patterns of lying and self-deception.

But it is hard to care about her, hard to root for her, hard to be moved by her successes and failures. And that is the failure of the film itself, it fails to create a complex enough protagonist that is anything more than the haughty cold-fish that she appears to be in the beginning.

Best film of the winter so far has to be THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, the second in the series. The books that the films are based on are aimed at the teenage/young adult market, but the reason that the films work so well is the their themes and atmosphere are profoundly grown up.

The dystopia that acts as setting for The Hunger Games movies is a future United States that is divided into Sections and ruled by a dictatorship, Donald Sutherland again playing the dictator. The ruling classes use various forms of oppression to maintain order, including the annual Hunger Games, where teens from each of the Sections compete in a winner-takes-all battle to the death.

The games are entertainment for the masses, intended to distract them from the multitudes of limitations in their everyday lives. The losers are killed, the winners feted and gifted with unimaginable wealth and prestige.


Katniss Everdeen is the central character, another in a line of female protagonists in the sci-fi, fantasy genre, and is in truth probably the best and most complex of them all. She is brave, tough, principled, talented, contemptuous of the brutal status quo, willing to sacrifice herself for others.

In the second film, the past winners, including Katniss herself, are forced into competing in a grand Hunger Games, to discover the overall champion of the last twenty five years. It is the administration's attempt to quell a growing rebellion and threat to its rule.

These games, though, are different from the ones in the first film, partially because they now have Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character, Plutarch Heavensbee, running them. They are more brutal, and complex and dangerous than previous versions.

And there is more, too, a twist near the end that opens up the claustrophobia of the games and gives a new perspective on all of the action up until that moment. Throughout, the film is brooding, dark, threatening, though Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Bishop, who play Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket, do provide some light relief.

Yet it is this taut, suspenseful ambience that gives the movie its impact, and the performance of Jennifer Lawrence - who deservedly won an Oscar last year for Silver Linings - as Katniss, that holds the whole enterprise together.

Lawrence is mesmeric in the role, tortured and struggling and constantly attempting to control her disdain for the regime, and her fear for the ones she loves. Katniss is a reluctant heroine, but a heroine nonetheless, and Jennifer Lawrence communicates all of her character's conflicts perfectly. She is also stunningly beautiful in this movie, impossible to look away from whenever she is on screen.

The Hunger Games works mainly as it contains themes and ideas that are much more grown up than you would expect from a film aimed at the adolescent masses.

DRINKING BUDDIES is a frustrating film. It is frustrating, primarily because almost no character at any time actually says what they really mean.

It is not that they lie, it is just that every truth about them is left unsaid, they talk and act in a certain way, and never face up to what is really going on.


The film focuses on a number of employees of a small brewing company. Kate (Olivia Wilde, from House, among other things) is seeing Dave, but obviously has a thing for co-worker, Luke (Jake Johnson, playing practically the same role as his character, Nick, in New Girl). Luke, in turn, clearly likes Kate back, but is in a relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick).


Things develop, but only a little, and not as much as they should. The film spends a lot of time promising action and events that it never delivers on. It has potential, and a certain subtle charm, but never becomes what it should.

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