Winter’s Bone: an old-before-her-time teenager must hunt down her estranged father in order to keep her house, and troubled family together. The general structure of almost any film is: set up, complication(s), and resolution. In Winter’s Bone all three sections consist of Jennifer Lawrence running around in the wilderness looking for her dad, which is so flat and one-dimensional that it tires very quickly. Almost every scene plays out like this – “Is my dad here?” “Can’t tell you child”, “tell me”, “no” – repeat x40. It’s also tear-inducingly bleak in it’s visuals and style – everything greyed out and void of any interest. It’s all a bit Cormac McCarthy-esque, not unlike The Road. Lawrence is decent – in a Hungry–Games style role – but the standout for me is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who is absolutely spellbinding. What with all of the plaudits this comes with, you can’t help but feel a bit cheated by it. A very, very solemn version of “Dude, where’s my Dad?”
Silver Linings Playbook: after a mental breakdown and bi-polar diagnosis, Pat Solitano strikes up a relationship with an equally challenged family friend. STOP PRESS! HOLD THE PHONE! Someone somewhere managed to find a very good performance in Robert De Niro, how the hell did they do it? Both leads are also way above what’s required and expected from ‘rom-com’ standards, and both deliver solid, believable, performances as afflicted people. The story’s engaging and interesting, right up until the final act where it runs through the entire checklist for clichéd movie endings. In saying that, you don’t really grudge the ending as the laugh-count in the first two-thirds of the film was ridiculously high (again) compared to what you usually get in a rom-com. The only thing that kept pinching me was that both leads are ridiculously good-looking Hollywood A-listers, centered around an interesting, unconventional relationship – those two roles could have been brilliant breakthrough fodder for unknowns, but in a way, they still are eye-opening performances, and you wouldn’t want to change the casting of Cooper or Lawrence. Silver Linings Playbook is a surprisingly funny and enjoyable quirky rom-com.
The Hunger Games: set in a dystopian future, teens from 12 impoverished districts must fight to the death in a custom-built arena, where only one can survive, and it’s broadcast live. The biggest problem is the overlong setup – even if it is kicking off a franchise, a totalitarian, elite ruling class keeping the rest of society in the pits doesn’t need to be explained or dwelled on for over an hour (it also makes the ending feel majorly rushed). The Capitol – imaginative name for a city – itself is pretty stupid; granted it’s unique, but the clothes / hair / beard and furniture designs were all beyond silly and ridiculous. The acting roster is great, there’s a few shaky characters (sister / mum / BF) but once it leaves district 12 it’s mostly decent from both young and old. Woody and Hutcherson in particular are magnetic presences – Katinis is also decent, but you learn far more about her in the games than the actual character building nonsense. Other than the pacing issues, CGI dogs, and a few poorly edited, bloodless, fight-scenes the film’s petty solid, and looks great. The difference-maker between The Hunger Games being received as good or great will depend on age; anyone old enough to have seen the dozens of movies with sci-fi city-scapes, morally bankrupt quest for ratings, or organised deathmatches, will no doubt feel that this is retreading old ground. But if I was 12 and seeing all of that for the first time, I’d probably shit my pants with excitement.