DVD/Stream of the Week: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another gripping episode from the popular and acclaimed young adult fiction trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Just like The Hunger Games, it’s a well-paced, well-acted and intelligent sci-fi adventure fable. And it’s yet another showcase role for Jennifer Lawrence.

To review, the story is set in the future, where several generations after a rebellion, an authoritarian government plucks teenagers from the formerly rebellious provinces to fight to the death in a forest. It’s all broadcast on reality TV for the entertainment of the masses. Children killing children – it doesn’t get much harsher than that.

This time, the malevolent tyrant picks his gladiators from the winners (i.e., survivors) of the past Games. Because they have survived by killing off the other children, they could constitute their own PTSD support group; they range from emotionally fragile to raging bonkers. This adds a particularly flavorful set of roles, acted especially deliciously by Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and Jena Malone.

The main purpose of a second act is to tee up the third, and Catching Fire is very successful, with the help of a new character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who, sadly, will not complete the sequels). Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) does a fine job directing his first Hunger Games movie – and he’s set to direct the final chapter in the trilogy (which will actually be two movies – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and – Part 2).

[Gary Ross, the director of the original The Hunger Games, is in pre-production on two new Jennifer Lawrence movies – Burial Rites from the Hannah Kent novel and Steinbeck’s East of Eden (where Lawrence’s role is the one played by Julie Harris in the 1955 Elia Kazan/James Dean version).]

But, at the end of the day, it’s all about Jennifer Lawrence, who must carry the movie as she plays the determined and resourceful Appalachian heroine. She’s an amazing screen presence, capable of believably portraying both panic attacks and action hero sequences. She’s worth the price of admission all by herself.

The source material may be aimed at tweens, but I haven’t met an adult yet who hasn’t enjoyed and been impressed with The Hunger Games or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. HG: Catching Fire is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

Movies to See Right Now

AMERICAN HUSTLE
AMERICAN HUSTLE

The Palestinian Omar is a heartbreaking romance inside a tense thriller; Omar is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Chilean drama Gloria is about an especially resilient 58-year-old woman. Harder to find, Stranger by the Lake is an effective French thriller with LOTS of explicit gay sex.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the flawless true story thriller Captain Phillips, my choice as the best Hollywood movie of the year. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

In theaters, you can still find Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her, which all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena. Dallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch. The Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts is also a good bet.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

We’re still enjoying Turner Classic Movies magical month of Oscar-nominated films – 31 Days of Oscar. This week I recommend the brilliant 1971 drama The Last Picture Show and the classic Bogart/Bacall thriller Key Largo.

Movies to See Right Now

SHORT TERM 12
SHORT TERM 12

This week, I’m featuring three movies that are flying under the radar. The Chilean drama Gloria is about an especially resilient 58-year-old woman.  Harder to find, Stranger by the Lake is an effective French thriller with LOTS of explicit gay sex.

And my DVD/Stream of the Week is the compelling and affecting foster care drama Short Term 12. This movie made both my Best Movies of 2013 and my Most Overlooked Movies of 2013, with its star making performance by Brie Larson.   Short Term 12 is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

In theaters, you can still find Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her, which all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and PhilomenaDallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I saw this year’s Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts and was disappointed.  There was nothing to match recent gems like The God of Love or Curfew.  I liked the British short about a particularly bored and malevolent God masquerading as a convict, but that 13 minutes didn’t justify the two hours that I had invested.  A 30-minute Spanish film about child soldiers in Africa was to excruciatingly brutal to justify the trite attempt at a redemptive payoff.  (I haven’t seen the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts, but I have heard good things about that program.)

Turner Classic Movies has launched its wonderful annual 31 Days of Oscar – filling the entire month with Oscar-nominated movies. This week I recommend the romantic French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) which is notable for three things: 1) the actors sing all of the dialogue; 2) the breakout performance by then 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve; and 3) an epilogue scene at a gas station – one of the great weepers in cinema history.  I also recommend two great performances by Peter O’Toole screening on February 20, as a lethally driven movie director in The Stunt Man (1980) and as a gloriously dipsomaniacal screen icon in the comedy My Favorite Year (1982).

Movies to See Right Now

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and PhilomenaDallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past. And I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I haven’t yet seen the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts, but I’m gonna because they’re always good.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week features Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Hulu.

Turner Classic Movies has launched its wonderful annual 31 Days of Oscar – filling the entire month with Oscar-nominated movies. This week I recommend two wickedly funny Preston Sturges films – The Great McGinty (inside workings of a corrupt political machine) on February 10 and The Lady Eve (con artist Barbara Stanwyck tries to land the clueless but wealthy Henry Fonda) on February 11. TCM is also cablecasting the Howard Hawkes screwball comedy Ball of Fire, with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, on February 11.

Movies to See Right Now

Jonah Hill in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Jonah Hill in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

I’m planning to see the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts, which opens today – it’s always worthwhile ( plus it helps me win the Oscar pool). You can also find the Oscar Nominated Short Animated a Films and Short Documentaries. The great thing about sampling the shorts is that, even if one short film isn’t your cup of tea, another one is coming along in 15 minutes and  you might like it a lot more.  I’ve never forgotten the touching and funny God of Love, which earned the 2011 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.  God of Love won that year’s Oscar over Na Wewe, one of the best films about violence in Africa that I’ve seen.  Similar discoveries could be waiting for you this week.

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena. And Gravity has been re-released in 3D.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.  And I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

The great Noir City film festival is still running for the next three days, this year with an international flavor. Check it out.

My DVD/Stream of the week is Prisoners. Prisoners is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox video.

Movies to See Right Now

her1
Joaquin Phoenix in HER

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week is number 5 on my Best Movies of 2013The Spectacular Now is a spectacularly authentic and insightful character-driven story of teen self-discovery. It’s the best teen coming of age story since…I can’t remember.  The Spectacular Now is now available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

Movies to See Right Now – with some Oscar nominees

Bruce Dern and Will Forte in NEBRASKA
Bruce Dern and Will Forte in NEBRASKA

The Oscar nominations are out, and Best Picture nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks  (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis  (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Sundance Now and Xbox Video.

Movies To See This Week (and a milestone for The Movie Gourmet)

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

There is NO BETTER TIME to go to the movies than THIS WEEKEND.  Of the films opening widely today, I recommend the gloriously entertaining American Hustle, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. at their best. I haven’t yet seen the other promising movies opening today: the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis,  Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks and Go for Sisters (by my favorite indie writer-director John Sayles). And you can still several of the best movies of the year:

  • The French drama Blue Is the Warmest Color, with its stunning performance by 19-year-old actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, currently tops my list of Best Movies of 2013 – So Far.
  • The city of Rome dazzles in The Great Beauty, already another contender for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
  • I really liked and admired the funny, poignant and thought-provoking family portrait Nebraska from Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants).
  • Philomena, with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan is an emotionally satisfying gem.
  • This weekend, I will write about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

You can still find some of the earlier top 2013 movies in theaters: the flawless true story thriller Captain Phillips; the space thriller Gravity – an amazing achievement by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón with what may be Sandra Bullock’s finest performance; and 12 Years a Slave, an unsparingly realistic depiction of the horrors of American slavery.

Make this a 2-3 movie weekend!

[Note: Sunday’s We Remember Billy Jack was The Movie Gourmet’s 1000th post.  Thanks to all of you for your support.]

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – smart, fast-paced and Jennifer Lawrence

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another gripping episode from the popular and acclaimed young adult fiction trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Just like The Hunger Games, it’s a well-paced, well-acted and intelligent sci-fi adventure fable.  And it’s yet another showcase role for Jennifer Lawrence.

To review, the story is set in the future, where several generations after a rebellion, an authoritarian government plucks teenagers from the formerly rebellious provinces to fight to the death in a forest. It’s all broadcast on reality TV for the entertainment of the masses. Children killing children – it doesn’t get much harsher than that.

This time, the malevolent tyrant picks his gladiators from the winners (i.e., survivors) of the past Games.  Because they have survived by killing off the other children, they could constitute their own PTSD support group; they range from emotionally fragile to raging bonkers.  This adds a particularly flavorful set of roles, acted especially deliciously by Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and Jena Malone.

The main purpose of a second act is to tee up the third, and Catching Fire is very successful, with the help of a new character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) does a fine job directing his first Hunger Games movie – and he’s set to direct the final chapter in the trilogy (which will actually be two movies –  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and – Part 2).

[Gary Ross, the director of the original The Hunger Games, is in pre-production on two new Jennifer Lawrence movies – Burial Rites from the Hannah Kent novel and Steinbeck’s East of Eden (where Lawrence’s role is the one played by Julie Harris in the 1955 Elia Kazan/James Dean version).]

But, at the end of the day, it’s all about Jennifer Lawrence, who must carry the movie as the plays the determined and resourceful Appalachian heroine.  She’s an amazing screen presence, capable of believably portraying both panic attacks and action hero sequences.  She’s worth the price of admission all by herself.

The source material may be aimed at tweens, but I haven’t met an adult yet who hasn’t enjoyed and been impressed with The Hunger Games or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  I’ll probably go see Catching Fire again (this time with The Wife), and I’m looking forward to Mockingjay.