by Phil Mann
Ever since I saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, the indie sleeper that nailed her an Oscar nomination in 2010, I knew she was destined for greatness. But her career-defining role in THE HUNGER GAMES is more than I ever imagined. In case you don’t know the story of this best-selling novel trilogy, it’s about children killing children. Say what?
Okay, I state it bluntly, but the plot set in a dystopian future merges elements of Ben Hur and Harry Potter, with more than a touch of Survivor. A ruling central government requires that each of its vassal states send selected children to the capital each year to engage in a gladiatorial hunt to the death. The survivor brings salvation to his homeland, and respite from a virtual starvation diet, hence the title.
Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is an expert teen-aged archer, who boldly volunteers to answer the call in place of her younger sister. In our current era of artificially-enhanced superheroes, it’s refreshing to meet a purely human one. But make no mistake, Katniss is capable of super things. “Katniss is gritty, she's flinty, she's intimidating -- and she doesn't have to compromise one iota of her femininity for it. And [the]' movie tells her story wonderfully.” (Mike Scott, New Orleans Times Picayune) Don’t miss seeing it.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS might have been an alternative title for Katniss’s adventure in a gentler universe. But it’s rather the story of a trio of undergrad girls at an Ivy-like college led by Greta Gerwig (Arthur, No Strings Attached) who are trying to save some souls on campus through dance. Say what?
Making Damsels his “Pick of the Week” Andrew O’Hehir in Salon.com described it as an “odd combination of chatty, overeducated dialogue, pointed social and sexual satire, and unadulterated absurdity.” It helps to know something of the previous work of director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco). He’s the quintessential chronicler of the young upper-class, in the way that Woody Allen is for the neurotic, angst-ridden intellectual class. His dialogue is sharp, smart, literate, and funny if you get the jokes, but bewildering if you don’t. And his characters, well what are we to make of a college student who doesn’t know the names of colors? He’s not color-blind or mentally deficient; he’s just clueless, which is not a unique trait in this movie.
“Even were it not so delightful, Damsels in Distress, set at a fictional upper-crust college, would deserve a watch for its dialogue alone.” (Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR)
THE PERFECT FAMILY isn’t. That’s the theme of this movie giving Kathleen Turner her first starring role since she was John Water’s serial killer in Serial Mom. She was a mom there, with a very fatal flaw, and now she’s a mom again. But this time it’s her family that has the “flaws.” Like one is a lesbian about to get married, one is an adulterer, and one is a recovering alcoholic. No problem you might say, but Eileen Cleary (Turner) is in the running for Catholic Woman of the Year.
There’s a line from the movie quoted by every reviewer: “I don’t have to think…. I’m a Catholic,” says Eileen when challenged by her daughter to justify her negative view of gay marriage. This pretty much sums up Eileen’s character, and her dilemma, as she tries to stage a family dinner to impress the Archbishop while concealing her family’s peccadillos. There’s drama here, of course, but the movie plays it more for laughs than sobs.
“Watching Kathleen Turner genuflect her way through a pack of lies while she deals with the obstacles her “perfect family” throws in her path, like road kill in the headlights of a speeding train, is one of the year’s funniest pleasures.” (Rex Reed, New York Observer)
CHIMPANZEE and THE SALT OF LIFE are held over.