TV Party is a new Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Okay, so this is cheating just a bit, since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire isn’t actually on Netflix Instant until Wednesday. But all the same, it’s available in plenty of other places already, and odds are you know at least one person who owns it, so why wait?
The transition from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence as the directorial figurehead of the Hunger Games film adaptations seemed at first like a hasty exit from the frying pan into a wall of fire and brimstone. While Ross’ first film was a muddled mess of poorly executed shaky-cam and Suzanne Collins’ rich universe building being hastily reduced to a series of expository cutscenes, Lawrence’s work on films like I Am Legend and Water for Elephants hardly suggested him as the man for the job. But as it turns out, he was exactly the man for the job.
Catching Fire does a far better job of fleshing out the particulars of Panem than its predecessor and lets Jennifer Lawrence bring more to Katniss than a glower and a series of confused questions. Because the film is centered more on a world boiling with the spirit of revolution than one beaten into submission, Catching Fire feels vastly more alive than the first film and is a damned fine piece of action filmmaking in its own right. It’s a blockbuster with a conscience and one that offers some difficult ideas about the unsung costs of rebellion. Not bad for a franchise that could’ve easily rested on its laurels and printed its own money regardless.
Killing Them Softly
Here’s a weird little movie for you this weekend.
Killing Them Softly is a movie about the recession, only it doesn’t focus on everyday Joes losing their jobs or families struggling to get by in trying times. Instead, it chooses to follow hitmen, small-time crooks, and the mafia as they try to get by. One of these hitmen (Fury’s Brad Pitt) is hired to locate and eliminate a couple of losers who get in way over their heads by robbing a mob-organized poker game. Issues of payment, discussions of a failing economy, and the ever-present TV in the background with images of the Bush administration (G.W.’s) dominate the movie, though there are beautifully orchestrated action sequences to break up the lengthy passages of dialogue.
Pitt’s hitman and a fellow hitman played by James Gandolfini (imagine if Tony Soprano never rose in the ranks) provide stellar performances, but it’s the foolish twosome of Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn who steal the show. Both are continuing their rise on the small and big screen, with McNairy just appearing in Gone Girl (Mendelsohn has a small role in December’s Exodus: Gods and Kings).
The film is also notable for re-teaming director Andrew Dominik with his star (Pitt) from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and while Killing has its problems (apparently 50 minutes were excised from the original cut), it’s certainly worth a look for its unique portrayal of modern problems amidst all the gunfire.