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We're back to full strength this episode as we bring you our opinions of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, From Up on Poppy Hill, Don Jon, Gravity, Bad Grandpa, Philomena and Thor: The Dark World.
The second installment of the adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling novels, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire sees Katniss and Peeta, the victors of the games in the first film, forced into competing in a second tournament as President Snow attempts to quell civil unrest in the wake of Katniss's defiant actions in the arena. While it suffers somewhat from feeling in parts like a retread of the first film, and, like the previous film, from interest dropping when the actual Hunger Games begin, this is nonetheless a very enjoyable film, if a little long. If there's a negative it's that, while it further explores the political unrest thread, Catching Fire serves as a bridge from the first film to the two-part conclusion of the series, and is less successful as a standalone work, especially given that it ends just as it's getting really interesting. Very much worth checking out, though, if you enjoyed the first installment.
Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao and heir apparent to the Studio Ghibli throne, takes on his second directorial role for the legendary animation house with From Up on Poppy Hill, a charming coming of age tale set in Yokohama in 1963. Her father dead and mother abroad, teenager Umi struggles to balance school work, domestic duties, local activism and a budding romance. Relatively weak in story terms, From Up on Poppy Hill still hits some deep emotional beats, and provides some delightful observations of domestic life. It's as pretty a thing to look at as you'll see this year, and while it's not the finest Ghibli work it's very much worth catching up with.
Having established himself over the last decade as a fine actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds another couple of strings to his bow by both writing and directing, as well as starring in, Don Jon, a romantic comedy that attempts to send up the unrealistic expectations set by romantic comedies (and certain other types of visual entertainment). The titular Jon is a pickup artist extraordinaire, able to hit it off with almost any woman he chooses, but these conquests leave him unsatisfied, and he always returns to his great love - internet pornography. This has adverse effects on his relationships, and it takes an unexpected friendship with a fellow night-school student to get his head right. While this is reasonably entertaining (largely due to a likeable cast) and has a few laughs, it fails in making any sort of point and suffers from not having enough focus on character. As a first attempt at writing/directing it's not bad, and bodes well for the future, but we'd only recommend Don Jon for big Gordon-Levitt fans, and more specifically that subset of the same able to tolerate the aural assaults that are the accents here.
Gravity comes with heavy expectations (did you see what I did there? No, I'm not even sorry), being one of the most hyped and talked about films of the year. On a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, two astronauts are stranded in space after the debris from a stricken satellite destroys their space shuttle. They must try to salvage what they can from orbitting stations so that they can return home to Earth, all the while fighting the disorientation of space, limited oxygen and fear. Gravity succeeds in creating a feeling of isolation and danger, helped by excellent effects work and sound design, but is at its weakest when it tries to bulk out its simple premise with extraneous back story. This is one of the finest examples of the disaster movie genre, and is very entertaining, but clunky dialogue and a repeated refusal to end take the shine off. Definitely one to catch, but it's not nearly as special as many would have you believe.
If you've seen Jackass on TV or any of the Jackass films then you're going to have a reasonable idea what to expect from Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. As well as the usual mainstays of stunts, pranks played on unsuspecting strangers and scatological humour, this time we also have a plot. More or less. Johnny Knoxville's randy old coot Irving Zisman finds himself lumbered with his grandson, whom he must drive across the South to deliver to his father. This sets things up for a road trip, with most of the laughs coming from innocent reaction to Knoxville's (often, unashamedly, puerile) stunts. But all you need to know, really, is if it's funny. And, yes, it's damn funny.
Based on Martin Sixsmith's novel The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, Philomena recounts the true tale of an Irish woman who got pregnant as a teenager, was disowned by her family and was forced to work in a Magdelene laundry. Her child was subsequently taken away from her and given to strangers, and the film follows her journey with unlikely ally Sixsmith as she attempts to ascertain what happened to her son. While righteous anger on the part of the film-makers manifests on occasion as preachiness, this is otherwise a satisfying drama, leavened by humour throughout (though this is by no means a comedy, as some sites bizarrely suggest) and with a superb central pairing of Steve Coogan, compelling in this straight role, and the ever-excellent Judi Dench.
The Marvel production machine shows no signs of letting up, with sequels galore either recently released or in the works. It's Asgardian super-man Thor's second solo turn this time around. The first movie was a disappointment, suffering as it did from boring locations, leaden script, a terrible villain, a morally unsound central character and generally just being a dull CGI thumpfest. But with the Thor the character having redeemed himself in Avengers there was hope for Thor: The Dark World, even if Tom Hiddleston's woeful Loki was still along for the ride. This time around some Dark Elves are looking for a mysterious, universe-ending McGuffin and it's up to Thor to stop them, in the way of such things. While Thor: The Dark World still suffers to a degree from being a CGI thumpfest, a more interesting story, a good dose of humour and, shockingly, a tolerable turn from Hiddleston mean that this is a substantial step up from Thor and is well worth a look, assuming you're not yet sick of superhero movies.And relax. That's us for now, we hope to be back with you soon. In the meantime, if you've any comments you'd like to make, please email us. You can also find us on Twitter, @theoneliner. We look forward to hearing from you.
Well, uh, hope you folks enjoyed yourselves. Catch ya further on down the trail.