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Review: The Hunger Games, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Hunter, 21 Jump Street, The Raid and In Search of Haydn

By May 3, 2012No Comments

Hunger Games posterOf all the massively suc­cess­ful fran­chise con­ver­sions from best-selling-books-that-I-haven’t‑read, I’m pleased to say that I like this Hunger Games film the best. I’ve been jus­ti­fi­ably scorn­ful of the Harry Potter films in these pages and down­right dis­dain­ful of Twilight but – while still not reach­ing out much to me per­son­ally – I can say that Hunger Games actu­ally suc­ceeds much more on its own cine­mat­ic terms.

Jennifer Lawrence basic­ally repeats her Academy Award-nominated turn from Winter’s Bone as a plucky Appalachian teen forced to risk everything to pro­tect her young sis­ter while her trau­mat­ised moth­er remains basic­ally use­less. In this film, though, the enemy isn’t tooth­less meth deal­ers but the full force of a fas­cist state where the 99% is enslaved in vari­ous “dis­tricts” and forced to pro­duce whatever the dec­ad­ent 1% back in Capitol City require in order to keep them in their Klaus Nomi-inspired makeup and hair.

To make mat­ters worse the Capitol also uses the plebs for enter­tain­ment, select­ing teens from each dis­trict for a tele­vised battle-to-the-death. Lawrence’s char­ac­ter – I keep want­ing to call her Catnip Everclear but I’m not sure that’s right – volun­teers for the tour­na­ment when her young­er sister’s name is drawn from tombola. Trained by Woody Harrelson and styled by Lenny Kravitz she becomes – des­pite her down-home coun­try roots – a crowd favour­ite which only means the odds get stacked against her.

I like the fact that there isn’t a super­nat­ur­al aspect to this block­buster – Lawrence uses genu­ine hunt­ing skills to sur­vive and the sense of jeop­ardy through­out is palp­able. While I wish dir­ect­or Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) wouldn’t wobble the cam­era about quite so much, I’m still keen to see where the next two epis­odes of this story go.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel posterIn The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a license to print money in the New Zealand mar­ket if there ever was one – a group of eld­erly Brits choose a Jaipuri retire­ment home they found on the inter­net rather than with­er­ing away in Blighty. Each of them has their own story, of course, and each arc plays itself out in sat­is­fy­ing fash­ion. The top-notch cast – includ­ing Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and a sur­pris­ingly easy-going Tom Wilkinson – make it all look easy. All of the char­ac­ters – British and Indian – tip­toe into ste­reo­type ter­rit­ory without becom­ing down­right offens­ive and the vari­ous con­clu­sions are quite affect­ing. The most help­ful thing I can say about it is, if you think you are likely to enjoy it you cer­tainly will.

The Hunter posterIn The Hunter, Willem Defoe plays a mys­ter­i­ous dude com­mis­sioned by a mul­tina­tion­al drug com­pany to find the last Tasmanian Tiger. His secret mis­sion takes him into the wil­der­ness, above the battle between con­ser­va­tion­ists and log­gers over nat­ive forest, but he’s not the only one after the sup­posedly extinct – and frankly bizarre – anim­al. Extremely well made, tense as all get out, only let down by an end­ing that tries to tie up every single loose end when it doesn’t have to, The Hunter is easy to miss but worth seek­ing out.

21 Jump Street poster21 Jump Street is a jolly but for­get­table romp using the old TV series as jump­ing off point for a by-the-numbers R‑rated com­edy that actu­ally has a few jokes in it. The oth­er not­able aspect of the pic­ture is that I’m start­ing to see the poten­tial in Channing Tatum. As his part­ner, Jonah Hill’s range is not so extended.

The Raid posterStorming out of – not quite – nowhere, Gareth Evans’ The Raid is a stun­ning example of pure cinema – action, edit­ing, sound design and cho­reo­graphy all har­nessed to a beau­ti­fully simple story that once kicked-off, doesn’t let go. An Indonesian SWAT team are sent to cap­ture a big time – but untouch­able – drug deal­er from his lair at the top of a run-down apart­ment build­ing defen­ded by hordes of expend­able hench­men. Yes, it’s viol­ent but there’s a pur­ity about its expres­sion that makes it quite beau­ti­ful. If you replaced the impact sound effects with music, The Raid becomes intense and power­ful con­tem­por­ary dance.

In Search of Haydn posterAt the begin­ning of In Search of Haydn, nar­rat­or Juliet Stevenson makes the bold asser­tion that the great com­poser was at least the equal of con­tem­por­ar­ies Mozart and Beethoven. Phil Grabsky’s film – the third in a series of “In Search of” films – then pro­ceeds at some length to fail to make that case. It fea­tures lots of damning with faint praise from the assembled music­al experts – sop­rano Sophie Bevan talks about how easy Haydn arias are to sing but how dif­fi­cult they are to make beau­ti­ful, for example – and the exten­ded examples from the rep­er­toire don’t quite set the heart a‑flutter. The oth­er prob­lem Grabsky fails to wrestle with is the fun­da­ment­ally undra­mat­ic life old Haydn lived – long, pro­duct­ive, suc­cess­ful and happy. Who wants to see that?

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 March, 2012.