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Capsule Thoughts: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Captain Phillips, Blackfish, The Hunt, You're Next

Updated on December 29, 2013

I don't usually like writing capsule reviews, but I got pretty sick this past week, and I'm trying to catch up on my writing. Some of these reviews I wrote while sick, so I hope they come out alright. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the reviews.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jenna Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Lenny Kravitz

Now this is more like it! A substantial improvement over its depressingly mediocre predecessor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows survivors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson) as they're forced back into the arena after the vengeful President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his new games-keeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decide to make the upcoming games a Quarter Quell special, which means that former winners will be selected to fight in the upcoming games. Director Francis Lawrence seems to believe in this story in much the same way the fans of Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy believe. His work here is passionate and rousing, and he creates a number of visuals that are much more crisp and beautiful than they were in the previous movie (an added bonus: none of that shaky camera crap!). Even the games themselves are more exciting this time, with the highlight being a pretty intense sequence where our heroes have to outrun a green fog that's poisonous to the touch. Of course, the games don't happen until 70 minutes into the film, but that's not such a bad thing. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn not only works as an emotionally engaging character drama (the film's startling opening scene, which involves Katniss and her best bud Gale (Liam Hemsworth) hunting turkey's in the forest, shows how Katniss has been haunted by her experiences in the previous film), but also as a scathing critique on social media and how people can be easily manipulated by it (just look at the scene where each tribute, dressed in elaborate attire, is interviewed before the games). Once again, the acting is terrific across the board, with Lawrence turning in a spellbinding performance as Katniss, and Hutcherson, Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson (as Katniss and Peeta's trainer Haymitch Abernathy) offering stellar support. Special mention must also be made of Jenna Malone as the tart District 7 tribute Johanna Mason, as she turns in a very sharp and charming performance (the scene where she's interviewed before the games is a riot). Although the pace does drag just a little toward the end, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an exciting, emotional, and gorgeous looking adventure spectacle, and one of the biggest surprises of 2013. Bring on the next one!

Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Chris Mulkey, Max Martini

In this riveting and absorbing true-life thriller, Tom Hanks plays Rich Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, which was sabotaged by Samoli pirates back in 2009. The pirates, led by the skinny Muse (Barkhad Abdi), plan to ransom both the ship and its crew members for $1 million dollars. The screenplay by Billy Ray (based on a novel written by Philips) wisely limits the scope of the story, ignoring anything that doesn't happen at sea (ie scenes back home of how the families react to the event), and thus enhancing the intensity of the situation. The movie also refrains from turning Philips into an action movie cliché. He's depicted as an everyman in the opening moments, and has to rely on intelligence and cunning to stay ahead of his captors. With Christopher Rouse's razor sharp editing and director Paul Greengrass's skill at directing action scenes, Captain Phillips features a number of edge-of-your-seat thrilling set-pieces, especially during the earlier scenes where the Somalians are in pursuit of the Alabama. Barkhad Abdi and his co-stars have had no acting experience prior to this film, but they each turn in professional and high caliber performances as the very well-written pirates. The Alabama features more recognizable faces, with Tom Hanks taking command with his excellent turn as the title character (the last fifteen minutes features some of his best work as an actor). There have been news reports that most of Phillip's real life crew members have spoken out against the movie, saying that its depiction of the title character is anything but accurate (apparently, the real Phillips is arrogant, reckless, and almost impossible to work with). That may be true (I don't know, I wasn't there and I never met the guy), but taken on its terms, Captain Phillips is a terrific entertainment, and certainly one of this year's best.



Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)

Blackfish (2013)

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

One of the best documentaries of its kind since 2009's heroic The Cove, Blackfish tells the story of killer whale Tilikum, who has been responsible for the deaths of three trainers since being put in captivity, and who currently performs at Orlando's SeaWorld resort. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite seems to be crying out against SeaWorld and their kind, arguing that any sea dwelling mammels should not be kept in captivity for the sake of public amusement. To illistrate her point, she uses interviews with two women who witnessed Tilikum's first kill, previous SeaWorld trainers who are ashamed of what they've done, and disturbing video footage of trainers getting attacked or injured by the whales (one video shows a trainer getting crushed between two whales; that he survived that is nothing short of a miracle). Cowperthwaite seems very angry and passionate about the topic, and she makes a pretty persuasive argument. Perhaps the most enraging moment in the film involves the incident of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau horrible death (she was killed by Tilikum) and how the company had the audacity to say it was her fault because she had her hair in a ponytail (In every video of her that we see, she has a ponytail. If it was really such an issue, how come they didn't say anything about it before?). SeaWorld has already spoken out against Blackfish, calling the movie "inaccurate and misleading." We already have one version of things, and it's a pretty darn good one. Maybe SeaWorld should make a movie that offers a different version (I'd watch it.)

Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)

The Hunt (2013)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelson, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm

An incredibly difficult movie to sit through, The Hunt tells the story of good-natured kindegarten worker Lucas (Mads Mikkelson), whose life goes to hell in a hand basket when his best friend's 6-year old daughter falsely accuses him of sexual assault. It's a harrowing topic, and the first hour of the movie is so unsettling that it becomes almost painful to watch (the questions the investigator asks the little girl about the incident are so uncomfortable that it left me squirming in my seat). Even during its more difficult to endure stretches, the movie is beautifully carried by a performance from Mikkelson that is positively extraordinary. Low-key and incredibly focused, Mikkelson creates a fully realized character who remains a completely sympathetic figure, and when his character finally breaks down during a Christmas Eve mass, it's sure to break even the stoniest of hearts. While the screenplay by Tobias Lindholm and director Thomas Vinterberg suffers from some hackneyed (Lucas falls for a woman at the beginning of the film, a relationship that receives little development and ends on a predictable note) and predictable elements (any guess what's going to happen to Lucas' adorable dog?), Vinterberg does a pretty solid job establishing the residents who eventually harrass and ostracize Lucas as basically decent people who are driven to extremes when faced with an unthinkable situation. It's always a tragedy when an innocent child suffers from any sort of abuse, and The Hunt argues that it's just as tragic when an individual is falsely accused of the crime, because the individual's life is pretty much ruined even if the truth comes out.

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

You're Next (2013)

Director: Adam Winegard
Cast: Shanri Vinson, AJ Bower, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, Rob Moran, Amy Seimetz

Adam Winegard's You're Next generated a lot of hype prior to its release. It held a solid 91% on Rottentomatoes for a while (although it holds a 75% now), and the few horror movie buffs who had seen it had hailed it as a potential contender for the best horror movie of 2013. With all that, I was, in spite of the terrible trailers, excited about seeing the movie. Having finally done so, I can't help but ask: Huh? Apart from a couple of gruesomely inventive kills (death by blender, anyone?) and a horror heroine who gives her tormentors a run for their money (and is nicely played Australian actress Sharni Vinson), You're Next is nothing more than a depressingly formulaic hack-'n-slash, with performances that are almost painfully wooden, and plot twists that are more ugly than clever. The story is pretty straight forward: An incredibly dysfunctional family and their significant others gather together for an anniversary celebration at a remote country estate, only to have their evening ruined when they're attacked by a trio of psychopaths wearing animal masks. The entire movie is so run-of-the-mill that it becomes increasingly easy to predict. The movie opens up with two people having sex, so we know they're going to die (sex=death in movies like this). More often than not, characters split up or run out of the house on their own, making them easy targets for the killers. When the characters aren't behaving like idiots, they're screaming and cursing at each other, while Winegard has his camera shake to headache inducing levels. Many have praised the movie for its dark and deadpan humor, but there is seldom a moment in the film that elicits even a smirk (there's an apologetic monologue at the close of the picture that is downright painful to listen to). And while Vinson is certainly entertaining as the bad ass Erin, there's only so much an actress can do with a movie that is as inept as this one. Not scary, not funny, and concluding with a thunderously stupid final scene, You're Next is one of the worst movies of 2013.

Final Grade: * (out of ****)

Audience's Thoughts

Which of these movies did you like the best? :)

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    • profile image

      Danielle 3 years ago

      You're welcome! ;)

    • priley84 profile image
      Author

      priley84 3 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      lol, thanks Danielle! :D

    • profile image

      Danielle 3 years ago

      I LOVE PEETA!!!! Ok, now that I have that out of the way, lol...I so agree with you on this second Hunger Games film being so much more superior to the first film, it's like night and day! That is all, lol. :D

    • priley84 profile image
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      priley84 3 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      Thank you for your comment. I guess the reason I don't like writing them so much is because they're usually my least read hubs. :P

      After your encouraging words, I might consider writing some more.

      Thank you again for reading! :)

    • Anika Vaghela profile image

      Anika 3 years ago from London, UK

      You said you don't usually like writing capsules reviews, but you're so good at writing them! I think they're really insightful and we have pretty much the same opinion on the films so maybe that's why I enjoyed reading them more so. I personally think you should continue writing them :)