Monday Movies: Hunger Games and Dallas Buyers Club

Lawrence holds strong in otherwise flimsy Catching Fire: McConaughey and Dallas Buyers Club delivers

Girl on fire

I was unclear why the original Hunger Games, with its grim centerpiece of 24 teen gladiators fighting to the death in a high-tech thunderdome – was heralded as a great piece of pop culture moviemaking. Now, after seeing the sequel, Catching Fire, I am even less convinced. This tale of faux Roman Empire decadence plopped on top of the most familiar tropes of a dystopic future-world dictatorship simply isn’t worthy of serious discussion. What it does have, in spades, is yet another dazzling performance by darkly charismatic Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), who anchors this otherwise flimsy movie with her multi-layered depiction of bow-slinging heroine Katniss Everdeen.

In this middle part of the trilogy, Katniss returns home after winning the 74th annual Hunger Games. But she has angered the President (Donald Sutherland) by inspiring both hope and a spirit of rebellion amongst many of the serfs whose unremitting toil supports the decadent few lucky enough to live in the Capitol. The President decrees that the next Hunger Games will be a “special” one where past winners – who supposedly never have to fight again – are once more forced into combat. The plan is to first disgrace Katniss and then kill her off, thus returning Panem to its grim status quo of brutal hopelessness.

A new director and a bigger budget bring more polish to this sequel, but it’s still a surprisingly dull affair. There’s a long and unrewarding buildup to the big fight-to-the-death, which itself has surprisingly little to offer in terms of thrills or suspense. Most of the combatants have little personality, and much of the threat comes from external forces such as a deadly chemical fog and a tribe of killer baboons. A startling climax sets the stage for what could be a more interesting third movie, but this Fire burns fitfully.

Rating: ★★1/2

 

Redneck with a heart of gold

It used to be that when Matthew McConaughey doffed his shirt in a movie it was merely to show off his buff body (and well-muscled ego). But after losing 40 pounds to play ‘80s-era AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, McConaughey is showing something else besides skin and bone: a fierce commitment to serious acting, one that began a couple of years ago and has resulted in several compelling performances. And none is edgier than this one in Dallas Buyers Club, where he persuades us that a homophobic redneck Texas cowboy can evolve into a compassionate and open-minded human being – and a damn good shit disturber, too.

At the beginning of Club, the hard-partying Woodroof discovers he has full-blown AIDS and maybe a month to live (he likely got the disease from a drug-addicted prostitute). Initially in denial, Woodroof goes in search of black-market AZT, the experimental anti-AIDS drug that is only available in clinical trials. Before long, Woodroof becomes an expert in many vitamins, minerals, and experimental drugs – all of which are banned in the U.S. Showing an unexpected entrepreneurial side, he starts smuggling these life-giving meds into the States under the auspices of his “Dallas Buyers Club” ($400 in monthly dues gives members access to “free” drugs, meaning that he isn’t technically selling the drugs and breaking the law). Woodroof becomes an unlikely hero to a mostly gay clientele … and a villain to the FDA, who is eager to shut him down, largely because he’s an annoyance to the large pharmaceutical companies lining up to profit from the burgeoning AIDS epidemic.

What could have been a preachy film is instead engrossing and touching. Club also benefits from a dark wit and an absence of sentimentality. It’s McConaughey’s show all the way, supported by excellent performances by Jared Leto as the flamboyant homosexual who befriends Woodroof, and Dennis O’Hare as the vile doctor more interested in protecting his AZT research funding than helping his dying patients. Oscar will like this one.

Rating: ★★★1/2

(Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues at the Odeon, SilverCity, Landmark Cinema 4 and Westshore; Dallas Buyers Club continues at the Odeon)

 

PERFECTLY POTABLE:

Spain is one of the world’s great wine producers, and one of its finest cheap wines is the Garnacha (everyone else calls it Grenache) made by Castillo de Monseran. This has been one of my favourite “house pours” for years, and the 2012 vintage is particularly good. Deeply coloured and rich with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, this is about as good as it gets for $10. Enjoy!

MOVIE LISTINGS

Film OPENING

BOOK THIEF -(Odeon/Landmark Cinema 4) A young orphan endures the torments of Germany in the Second World War, and helps her adoptive parents hide a Jewish refugee in their home. Featuring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.

OLDBOY -(Odeon) Spike Lee directs this remake of a hyper-violent cult film by Korean director Chan-wook Park. The story features a man seeking vengeance after he was mysteriously kidnapped and kept locked up for 20 years. With Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson.

FROZEN -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Cinema 4/Westshore) As a prelude to winter comes this appealing Disney animated tale about a brave woman who sets out to rescue a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Some of the other characters include a goofy snowman and his reindeer buddy. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

HOMEFRONT -(SilverCity/Westshore) A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet little town, only to find himself in conflict with a local meth drug lord. Starring James Franco, Jason Statham, and Winona Ryder.

PHILOMENA -(Odeon/Landmark Cinema 4) Oscar-nomination speculation is already swirling around Judi Dench for her performance as a woman who was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child 40 years ago and is now determined to track him down. Co-starring Steve Coogan and directed by the great Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen).

CONTINUING

★★½ ABOUT TIME -(Caprice) Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) delivers a rather flabby romantic comedy about a young man who knows how to time travel. When he decides to use this power to do something about his nonexistent love life, things become more complicated than he imagined. With the great Bill Nighy, and Rachel McAdams as the heart throb.

★★★★ CAPTAIN PHILLIPS -(SilverCity) Talented director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) tells the true tale of a ship captain (Tom Hanks) whose boat is captured by Somali pirates. Tense but also thoughtful, this is a thriller with a brain.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 -(Caprice) The wacky animated comedy about an infamous machine that churns out scary food-animal hybrids was popular enough to merit a sequel. Consider yourself warned! With the vocal talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Will Forte.

★★★½ DALLAS BUYERS CLUB -(Odeon) Matthew McConaughey has latterly gone from laughing stock to leading actor, and is likely in line for an Oscar nomination for his role in this true-life 1980s-era story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck, homophobic rodeo rider from Texas who finds out he has contracted AIDS from wild living. Given only weeks to live, Woodroof finds out about the experimental drug AZT and comes alive as a drug-smuggling AIDS activist, helping not just himself but many other sufferers. See review.

DELIVERY MAN -(SilverCity/Westshore) Gifted funnyman Vince Vaughn plays an amiable slacker who finds his life changing when, due to a mixup at a fertility clinic where he was a sperm donor 20 years ago, he’s  now the proud father of 533 kids. Yikes!

★★½ DESPICABLE ME 2 -(Caprice) The 2010 original, about a loathsome criminal mastermind who was reformed by the love of three young orphan girls, was a goofy delight. The sequel, although still clever, is much more scattershot, with an unimaginative plot and unwelcome dashes of mean spiritedness. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Russell Brand supply the voices.

★★½ ENDER’S GAME -(SilverCity/Caprice) Yet another book series for teens comes to the big screen, this time featuring a young boy with exceptional powers who is cultivated as a military leader destined to save the Earth from a deadly alien attack. With Harrison Ford.

FREE BIRDS -(SilverCity/Caprice) Animation goes to the birds in this comedy about a mismatched pair of turkeys who travel back in time to change the course of history … by getting a certain very tasty fowl off the holiday menu. With the vocal talents of Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson.

★★★½ GRAVITY -(SilverCity/Caprice) Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a harrowing, brilliantly-executed thriller about two astronauts aboard a space station who survive an accident only to find themselves drifting helplessly through space, with little hope of rescue or survival.

★★½ THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Cinema 4/Westshore) In the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular! See review.

★★ LAST VEGAS -(Caprice) Four sixty-something pals head to Las Vegas for a last, very predictable, hurrah. The geriatric laughs are generated by Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.

★★½ LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER -(Caprice) Forest Whitaker heads up an amazing cast in a true story about a black butler at the White House whose long tenure there overlapped with the long struggle of the American civil rights movement. Costarring Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Lenny Kravitz, and Oprah Winfrey. Although a bit ponderous and unimaginative, this is still a fine history lesson.

★★½ THOR: THE DARK WORLD -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) That hunky son of Odin grabs his hammer and does some hurting’ as both the Earth and Asgard are confronted with a terrifying and seemingly unstoppable enemy. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Idris Elba.

IMAX

FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES -(7 pm, Fri.-Wed.)

★★★ HIDDEN UNIVERSE -(10 am, 2 pm, 5 pm) Travel to the farthest reaches of the visible universe courtesy of the world’s most amazing telescopes.

KENYA: ANIMAL KINGDOM -(1 pm)

★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(Thurs., 7 pm) Although far from a train wreck, this photo-realist animation extravaganza about a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus is uneven. Starring various versions of Tom Hanks.

★★★★ ROLLING STONES: AT THE MAX -(Fri.-Sat. 8 pm) The bad boys of rock, literally much larger than life (and only semi-old!).

★★★ SPACE JUNK -(11 am, 3 pm, 6 pm) Hundreds of tons of junk are orbiting above the planet, and this fascinating doc tells you why you need to know about it.

TITANS OF THE ICE AGE -(noon, 4 pm, Fri.-Sat. & Thurs. / noon, 4 pm, 8 pm, Sun.-Wed.)

SCREENINGS

MOVIE MONDAY – screens Stories We Tell. Canada’s revered writer/director/actor Sarah Polley explores the meaning of truth and the keeping of secrets as she explores her own family history and unearths some startling revelations. 6:30 pm Monday in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.

INSIGHTS -shows Stuart Saves His Family, the quirkily funny film by SNL star-turned-U.S.-Senator Al Franken, which takes a light-hearted look at the serious subjects of mental health and addiction. This is part of the Silver Screen Insights into Mental Health series that is run by the fine folk at Movie Monday. Thursday, 7 pm, at the Royal Jubilee Hospital’s Patient Care Lecture Theatre – S169.

CINECENTA

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.

★★★★ RUSH -(Fri.-Sat., Nov. 29-30: 3:20, 7:00, 9:25) Gifted mainstream director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) delivers high-octane thrills and lots of human drama as he tackles this biopic about the legendary 1970s rivalry between Formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

★★★ LITTLE WOMEN -(Sat.-Sun., Nov. 30-Dec. 1: 1 matinee) Partially filmed in Victoria, this 1994 version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age drama stars Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, and Gabriel Byrne.

WADJA -(Sun., Dec. 1: :30, 7, 9 & Mon.-Wed., Dec. 2-4: 7, 9) Filmed entirely inside repressive and female-unfriendly Saudi Arabia, this award-winner by first-time female filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour has as its central character a rebellious 12-year-old girl who never met a rule she couldn’t break.

★★★★ 20 FEET FROM STARDOM -(Thurs., Dec 5: 7:10, 9) The lives of talented but nearly anonymous back-up singers in some of the biggest bands in the world are explored in a marvellous documentary that includes archival footage and interviews. Featuring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton … and slightly more famous performers like David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, and Ray Charles. Anyone who enjoys Motown and R&B will love this ravishing showcase of full-throttle singing.

THE VIC THEATRE

The Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW -(Fri.-Sat., Nov. 29-30: 7) Filmed “guerrilla-style” at an unsuspecting Disney World and Disneyland, this outrageous satire uses elements of fantasy and horror to tell its story of a just-fired father who starts to lose his sanity when he takes his wife and kids to “the happiest place on earth.”

OUR NIXON -(Sun.-Tues., Dec. 1-3: 7) Richard Nixon-ophiles will cherish this amazing behind-the-scenes documentary, culled from Super 8 home movie footage shot in the White House and featuring Watergate warriors such as Dwight Chapin, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Henry Kissinger in unguarded moments.

THE DEEP -(Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 4-5: 7) Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns, Contraband) recreates an amazing, true-life tale of survival when a fisherman is tossed into deadly freezing waters after his boat capsizes.

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