This weeks new films reviewed by Paul Byrne, including The Hunger Games, This Must Be The Place & more

THE HUNGER GAMES (USA/12A/142mins)
Directed by Gary Ross. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Willow Shields.
THE PLOT: Set in a loosely defined but clearly post-apocalyptic future, in Panem – the country formerly known as America – towering metropolis The Capitol holds tyrannical sway over the 12 largely lawless Districts. Each of the latter has to provide the former with one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 for an annual televised battle royale in which only one person can survive. Think It’s A Knockout on steroids.
Bringing home the freshly skewered wildlife for her mother and younger sister, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) volunteers to take her sister’s place in the eponymous Games when the latter is chosen by lottery. Accompanied by relative stranger Peeta (Hutcherson) and a motley-verging-on-dodgy supporting team (Harrelson, Banks, Kravitz), Katniss sets out to put her killing skills to the ultimate test.
THE VERDICT: It’s Battle Royale for tweenies. As with the 2000 Japanese cult classic about a fight to death amongst teens, naturally, there’s a high body count involved here – but, with the books’ original author Suzanne Collins co-writing the script, and nice guy Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) behind the camera, the rating for the film has been kept teen-friendly. The makers hardly want to alienate their highly lucrative target market. You. After all, adaptations of Catching Fire and Mockinjay already greenlit for 2013 and 2014 respectively, there’s a lot of money at stake here. Billions.
For Variety – the US film industry bible – The Hunger Games hits an outer circle of the target, whilst The Hollywood Reporter laments the fact that ‘in the face of near-certain commercial success, no one seems to have taken the artistic gambles that might have made this respectable adaptation a remarkable one’.
Still, everyone and her sister are going to be there this opening weekend. Hollywood’s expecting a debut in the region of $130m. And that’s just in the US. RATING: 3/5

 

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (Italy/France/Ireland/15A/118mins)
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Starring Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Eve Hewson, Olwen Fouere, David Byrne.
THE PLOT: With a title that comes from a 1983 Talking Heads song, we follow retired rocker Cheyenne (Penn), who has spent the last few years living in something approaching a purple haze, dividing his time between shuffling around Dublin with his shopping trolley, having coffee with teenage confidante Mary (Hewson; yep, Bono’s kid), and being mothered at the suburban mansion he shares with his jolly firefighter wife Jane (McDormand). Think Performance long after the ganja and the gangsters have gone.
This ain’t no rock’n’roll suicide though. It’s veggie pizza in the oven, unopened letters from MTV, and worries about his €30,000 of Tesco shares. And Sciatica. And being laughed at in the supermarket.
And then things start getting weird. Robert Smith: Nazi Hunter weird.
THE VERDICT: Not content with weaving in a father-son plotline to his rock star burn-out tale, Italian writer/director Sorrentino (Il Divo) decided to include the Holocaust too, Cheyenne heading to the US to be at the bedside of his estranged, dying father, after almost 30 years apart. When the old man passes, this rebel suddenly has a cause, setting out to track down the former Nazi officer who had made his father’s life hell all those years ago. And that’s when This Must Be The Place slowly morphs into Paris, Texas.
A blissed out rock’n’roll road trip, from sunny Dublin to Bad Axe, Michigan. Made even more surreal by the fact that Sean Penn looks disturbingly like Maire Brennan. RATING: 4/5

 

THE KID WITH A BIKE (Belgium/France/Italy/12A/87mins)
Directed by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Starring Thomas Doret, Cecile De France, Jeremie Renier,
THE PLOT: Keen to find his wayward father (Renier) after being left in a foster centre for what he was told would be a month, Cyril (Doret) finds out the hard way that he is not only a motherless child but pretty much a fatherless one too. Coming across as a small Leonard Smalls, diligently tracking down not only the bike his father sold for a little extra cash but the not-so-great man himself, Cyril soon realises that all his efforts have been in vain. His father wants to start a new life, without his son.
Luckily, kind hairdresser Samantha (De France) is there to fill the void, if only on weekends. But the troubled, angry Cyril is soon hanging out with the wrong kind of kid, as Samantha learns that he’s no angel, no sweet little orphan. In fact, he might just be, like his dad, a major asshole.
THE VERDICT: A film that creeps up on you before whacking you on the back of the heart, The Kid With A Bike is the anti-Disney children’s pic, capturing the true terror and wonder of being a kid. With a bike. And without a parent.
The Dardrenne brothers have been here before, offering up award-winning films that capture a child eye’s view of this tough old world, most notably with The Son (2002) and The Child (2005). It’s the unhurried documentary approach that delivers such naturalistic performances, resulting in films that subtly seduce the viewer. The worlds the Dardennes create are crushingly real, heartbreakingly tangible, and The Kid With A Bike is a perfect example of that.
Go see it. And then give your own loved ones a hug. Or, at the very least, a bike. RATING: 4/5