This month was much more back to normal for me…8 movies! Yay for Thanksgiving weekend!
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: 9/10
Adapting a beloved book series to film can be a challenge…sometimes it’s done very well (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and sometimes not (The Hobbit, The Golden Compass). The Hunger Games, thus far, falls into the former rather than the latter camp. A lot of that can be attributed to great casting, lead by Jennifer Lawrence, but the rest of the actors are just as well-suited for their roles. For me, this series and this installment in particular succeeds because it shows rather than tells…we don’t need it beaten into our heads that Katniss is falling in love with Peeta, we can see it in the way she goes to pieces when something happens to him. Not having the script constantly tell you what it’s doing, especially in a film marketed to the masses, is a breath of fresh air.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?: 4/10
This rating is maybe a little unfair because it’s not a bad movie in terms of film quality, but I didn’t like it, so there we are. It’s incredibly, relentlessly depressing. Set in the 1930s, it follows several desperate people who sign up for a dance marathon in the hopes of winning the $1500 prize. Of course, though, the contest is rigged: the MC (Gig Young in a deservedly Oscar-winning turn) actively interferes with the contestants, there are humiliating derbies when the action falls, and the winner doesn’t even get to take home almost any of the pot (“expenses” are deducted…for the winner only, of course). The movie focuses on Gloria, yet another “hard” role for Jane Fonda, but a well-played one. The more I see of her in her prime, the more I enjoy her screen presence while realizing she doesn’t have much range.
A Single Man: 8/10
As one might expect from a movie directed by Tom Ford, this movie is stunning to look at. The art direction is incredible. But what makes it a good movie, more than just a lovely one, are the performances. Colin Firth as George, still reeling months after the unexpected death of his partner of 16 years (Matthew Goode, who creates in just a few flashback scenes with Firth the sense of a warm, loving, lived-in relationship), puts on a masterclass of how to perform big emotions (grief, despair, etc) in a very small but still enormously impactful way. A lot of actors chew the scenery to show off their “craft”, want you to watching them ACTING!, but Colin Firth knows better. Julianne Moore makes the most of her small role George’s divorced best friend, and Nicholas Hoult is luminous as the college student who becomes the beacon of light and hope for George in some of his lowest moments. With lesser actors, this would have been gratingly stylized, but the emotional truth that the cast brings elevates it.
I don’t enjoy “caper” movies, generally speaking. I didn’t hate the first movie in the Ocean’s Eleven remake series, but I have no desire to see the rest of them. It’s just never been a genre that speaks to me…I find that they either take themselves far too seriously or not seriously enough. This one falls into the latter camp, lots of broad comedy. There are some genuinely tense sequences…I’m thinking especially of the robbery itself, which must have inspired Mission Impossible. But the rest of it is whatever. Peter Ustinov’s Oscar-winning performance in the comic relief role is just okay, honestly. It’s nice when a comedy role gets the shiny award, because a lot of them go unrecognized, but this was not one of the better ones I’ve seen.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: 7/10
Until she passed away earlier this year, I only ever knew of Joan Rivers as the plastic surgery nightmare who accosted celebrities on red carpets. When obits started coming out, I learned more about her background in stand-up, but still had no real sense of it or her. This documentary makes me wish I would have gotten the chance to see her live before she died. What a sharp, bawdy lady! Seeing the person behind the plastic surgery mask also made it obvious why the plastic surgery mask exists: as a woman in an industry so focused on youth and beauty, you have to do it to stay relevant. A nip here, a tuck there, a snip in some other place all adds up over time until you’re 75 and don’t even look quite real anymore. I also found her refreshingly pragmatic. She enjoys luxury and understands how hard she has to work to make the money to live the way she wants to and doesn’t complain about it. She hustles hard to make sure she can keep working. If nothing else, you have to respect her nonstop drive.
The Great Muppet Caper: 6/10
There is no such thing as a bad Muppet movie, okay? Just good ones and less good ones. This one falls into the latter camp, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not funny and charming and enjoyable to watch, just that it doesn’t have a very cohesive plot. It’s a Muppet movie. You should know by now if this is your deal (if it’s not, that’s cool, you do you, but I don’t think we’d be friends in real life. If you’ve somehow never seen one, watch the original, then the new one…not the newest new one, but the first new one), then any of the other ones. They’re all fun.
Finding out that the team behind this movie was also the team behind Rudy was not a surprise. Both are the kind of heartwarming, underdog sports stories that you start watching knowing exactly where they’re going to end, and just going along for the ride. Gene Hackman, who has never been an especial favorite of mine (he’s a good actor, but he always gives off a jackassy vibe that I don’t like), is actually very well cast: that jackassy vibe fits with the character of the volatile basketball coach. Dennis Hopper, another actor I don’t really like, plays against type as a sad, drunken washed-up former player who becomes an assistant coach. The games are staged excitingly enough, lots of montages set to holy 80s syth music Batman. The “love story” feels completely tacked on and should have been dropped.
Infernal Affairs: 8/10
Did you like The Departed? This is pretty much the same movie, but the original version from Hong Kong. While I really like The Departed, it’s so very similar that I can’t really understand why an American remake was made, except to save American audiences the trouble of having to read subtitles for the Cantonese. The movies are even flawed in the same way: the romantic relationships, which seem like they are meant to be an important part of the movie, feel perfunctory, secondary to the relationships of the male leads with other men. Also, a failure to really sell the moral conflict of the undercover-gangster-turned-cop in a way that makes them at all sympathetic. That being said, both movies are awesome: tense, exciting, densely plotted. Infernal Affairs has a more Michael Mann feel to its artistic direction: a cool color palette, lots of cityscapes. It’s always worth seeing the original.