Sunday Short Reviews

Every Sunday, Gill delves into his archive of over 800 movie reviews and randomly selects three for your enjoyment! Here are this week’s…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I’ve never been what you might call a fan of The Hunger Games. I haven’t read the books, and I found the first film to be underwhelming. Still, I can see the appeal of the material, I understand why it’s popular, and I’m pleased to see a strong female protagonist in the form of Katniss Everdeen. But like many people, I find the whole thing to be a bit like a watered down version of Battle Royale, and thus I have never found myself blown away by anything Hunger Games-related. That being said, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves on the first Hunger Games movie in every way. Director Francis Lawrence is clearly better with the actors than his predecessor Gary Ross, as the performances have gotten much better across the board. Even though I still think Josh Hutcherson is a bit miscast here, I actually felt for his character in Catching Fire, which is more than I can say about the previous film. Another major improvement is the cinematography. Gone is the unnecessary shaky camera work from The Hunger Games, and the audience is finally given time to appreciate the production design at work here – by far one of the highlights. Catching Fire basically pulls the old sequel trick of just doing what the first movie did again, only better this time around. My main complaints with the film are less to do with the movie itself, and more to do with the worldbuilding of the franchise. The world of The Hunger Games feels extremely small and claustrophobic. All of the districts look the same, and if I had to create a map of the Hunger Games world, it would literally be a straight line from a single district to the capital city. There’s very little distinction beyond “Rich people live here, poor people live there,” and we are given zero insight into what the rest of the globe looks like in this dystopic future. As a sci-fi junkie, I find this to be a rather egregious storytelling crime, but I can overlook it so long as the Hunger Games movies keep looking like Catching Fire and less like the first film.
3.5 out of 5

How do you review what is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time? Vertigo is the cinematic masterpiece that everyone says it is, filled with intrigue, twists, turns, unpredictable plot developments, masterful cinematography, and gorgeous use of light and colour. Hitchcock was clearly at the top of his game in making this, and even now, almost 60 years since its making, Vertigo still holds up as a terrific mystery thriller. Many people have dubbed Vertigo as a movie that you only start to appreciate on the second viewing, and I think this is true to a degree. With each new viewing of Vertigo, I find more and more appreciation in Hitchcock’s explorations of obsession, and the little hints that set the stage for the larger climactic revelations later on. Early in the film, the character of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) asks John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) “do you believe that someone dead can take possession of a living being?” This, to me, is the thesis of the entire movie, as Ferguson and eventually Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) both find themselves obsessed – possessed, even – with shadows of people who no longer exist. Audiences like familiarity, and movie plots frequently fall back on formula as a result. Vertigo is neither familiar nor formulaic. If you haven’t seen it, take a chance on it. Then give it a week and watch it again.
5 out of 5

What appeared at first to be a pretty generic thriller actually turned out to be one of the best mystery/suspense films of the year. Prisoners presents us with a great hook: after his daughter is kidnapped, suburban dad Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) will stop at nothing to find her again, even going so far as to abduct a mentally challenged local boy (Paul Dano), whom Dover suspects is behind the disappearance, and begin torturing him for a confession. Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also on the case, and begins to uncover some of the other townsfolks’ dark secrets in the process. All of this leads up to a finale that is on par with The Vanishing in terms of thrills. The best reason to watch Prisoners has got to be Hugh Jackman’s performance, as he succeeds in the difficult feat of making us sympathize with Dover even when he is going to extremes. The plot is tight, and seems to be free of logic jumps and plot holes. My only complaint is that I don’t feel like the film would benefit greatly from a second viewing, as the big reveals, though smart and unpredictable, don’t feel as though they are given much foreshadowing. Overall, this is an enjoyable and above-average thriller, and I got a lot more out of Prisoners than I was expecting.
3.5 out of 5

See you next Sunday for three more thrilling short reviews!

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