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Flick Clique: April 1-7

The Hunger Games (2012). This was our special movie-day movie from last Wednesday. We’ve never read the books, but the dystopian-future/kids-in-peril concept sounded intriguing enough so we decided to check it out. Although the film has a few flaws, we generally enjoyed it. In case you live under a rock, the story is set in a near-future time where society is split into wealthy cities surrounded by poor communities. The city has a yearly televised competition/reality show in which a boy and girl from each of the twelve local districts between the ages of 12 and 18 (Why? It’s not really explained.) are randomly picked and plopped into a wooded area to survive, fight, kill and rely on their wits until one victor is crowned. Jennifer Lawrence as protagonist Katniss was really good, striking a good balance between inner strength and girly vulnerability/youth (I thought she was even better here than in Winter’s Bone). The story kept my interest, even though it was filled with shallowly drawn characters like Katniss’ boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth) and the smarmy TV host (Stanley Tucci). Things I didn’t like so much were the costumes (everybody looks like Lady Gaga in this world?) and the shaky camera, which was probably used to soften up the violence so the film would get a P-13 rating and safely get all those tweens in the theaters. The game itself suffered from too much outside manipulation by the TV producers. This film also contains one of those terribly cliché scenes where the killer is this close to offing the main character, but then she has to offer up the reasons why the other person deserves to die – we all know how those scenes end up, right? Other than all that stuff, we really enjoyed The Hunger Games.
1911 (2011). Mammoth, hard-to-follow Chinese historical epic stars Jackie Chan as an officer in the Nationalist forces which overthrew the Qing Dynasty in the eventful year of 1911. It’s basically the same story that was partially told in The Last Emperor, only more heavily weighed towards the non-royalty side. The film supplements the narrative with subtitles introducing every character and copious liner notes, giving it a stuffy and impenetrable air. Although Chinese actor Winston Chao has a good gravitas as the Nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen, he struggles through several English language scenes with laughable dialogue that is phonetically (and weirdly) spoken by the actor. Chan is decent, although too old for his role – and he does an inappropriate scene where he rocks the kung-fu moves. Battle scenes, negotiations, history of suspicious accuracy… what a strange, overproduced film.
Underworld (1927). This early film from Marlene Dietrich svengali Josef Von Sternberg has more interest as a historic curio than anything else, being one of the first contemporary gangster films. Fiery George Bancroft plays a bruiser named Bull, who with his moll Feathers (Evelyn Brent) helps rehabilitate vagrant Rolls Royce (Clive Brook) to be part of his gang of racketeers – headquartered in a flower shop! Rolls Royce and Feathers end up falling for each other, which complicates matters when Bull is sent to the slammer and needs help breaking out. The story is pretty typical, but the film is fast-paced and beautifully photographed. I loved watching this one just for Evelyn Brent’s wild outfits, all of which involve feathers (of course). We have a framed photo of Miss Brent in our living room, by the way – which is perfect, since our home was built in the same year this compelling silent was originally released.

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