Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy. If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. — (C) Lionsgate
Women in Black!
Originally published in 1982, Susan Hill’s ghost story has been adapted for radio and TV, and a stage version has been running for more than 20 years in London’s West End. Like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Hill’s story is part of a succession of supernatural yarns planned to be told around the fireside at Christmas, but the narrator considers it too terrifying for the festive season and writes it down to be kept for a more fitting occasion. Jane Goldman’s screen adaptation for the revived (or disinterred) Hammer studio has dispensed with this framing device. Instead, the young Edwardian hero, an inexperienced London solicitor, is dispatched right at the start to a flat, swampy coastal area of the Midlands to settle the affairs of a recently deceased widow, Mrs Drablow. For some reason he’s called Arthur Kipps after the draper’s assistant in HG Wells’s Edwardian novel Kipps, and he’s played in a sad, subdued manner by Daniel Radcliffe. He’s a blood brother to Jonathan Harker, protagonist of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and his reception is much like Harker’s when approaching the Count’s castle – superstitious, inhospitable peasants utter grim warnings, draw their offspring inside and refuse to talk to this dangerous stranger. It appears there’s been an epidemic of children dying painfully as a result of a late Victorian curse associated with the eponymous woman in black, a cloaked Scottish Widows type, but more emaciated.
Back on the big screen for the first time in some years, the Muppets are in cheerfully postmodern mode as they set about reminding the world who they are and what they stand for. Their greatest fan Walter (Peter Linz), himself a Muppet, is on a visit from Smalltown, USA, to Hollywood with his super-dim brother, Gary (Jason Segel) and his none-too-bright fiancee Mary (Amy Adams), when he learns that the Muppets’ old studio is about to be razed to the ground. The wicked Texas tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to drill for oil there. Only a successful telethon by the reunited Muppets can save this shrine, and a depressed Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) goes around America to recruit his comrades. He finds Fozzie Bear (Eric Jacobson) playing with a tribute group called the Moopets in Reno, Gonzo (Dave Goelz) running a firm selling toilet bowls and Miss Piggy (Jacobson again) editing Paris Vogue. Among the guest stars is Emily Blunt, amusingly reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada as Miss Piggy’s secretary. After these reunions, someone suggests cutting to a montage to save time. The film’s broad smiles and big-heartedness are bracingly disingenuous, the self-referential jokes well handled. Only the affection emanating from the audience is sincere
Back in October 1988, there was a heart warming human-interest story that briefly swept more serious events off the world’s TV screens. Three California grey whales were trapped under the ice in the Arctic circle near Barrow, Alaska, with only a small hole in the ice to use for a breather. Unless released within three days to head out for the southern breeding ground, they’d die. There followed a rescue mission that involved the media, the oil industry, the politicians, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Management Dept, the National Guard, the small-town inventors of a domestic thawing device and the USSR in its dying days. But the title of this film is ironic. It wasn’t a “big miracle” of international co-operation. Everyone exploited the crisis in the manner of the cynical journalist (Kirk Douglas) in Billy Wilder’s classic 1951 movie Ace in the Hole who talked up a potentially disastrous story of a man trapped underground in the New Mexican desert. They all had personal or professional agendas to pursue, ranging from an oil company boss (Ted Danson) eager to gain kudos and further drilling rights, to Ronald Reagan polishing his reputation in its final months and securing the election of his successor, George Bush. It is a fascinating story based on a prize-winning book called Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event, and right at the end Sarah Palin pops up on TV reporting on a local basketball match as Alaskan TV gets back to trivial normality. Recalling no doubt that Ace in the Holewas the biggest box-office disaster of Billy Wilder’s career, the makers attempt to coat their fascinatingly bitter pill with saccharine. They are, however, only partially successful.
Just when we thought found-footage movies were all played out, 26-year-old director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis (son of John) have come up with a crackingly good film that puts new and thrilling life into the traditional theme of the lonely guy getting superpowers. It moves with wonderful confidence through its low-key beginning, up to a delirious “flight” scene and a firecracker King Kong-cum-9/11-style finale. Dane DeHaan is Andrew, an unhappy boy abused by his dad; both father and son are stricken with unacknowledged guilt about Andrew’s sick mother. We see it all through the video Andrew is making about his life, taking in his relationship with cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and his unlikely friendship with high-school overachiever Steve (Michael B Jordan). When the three boys discover a strange glowing thing underground, their lives are changed. Andrew finds he can make the camera float around to film stuff; now, this sneakily solves the perennial first-person point-of-view problem in the found-footage genre, but it also creates some great out-of-body experiences. You’ll believe an emotionally damaged nerd can fly.