Before I feed you my review of THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (12: Lionsgate), here’s a word of warning.
For those unfamiliar with the first instalment, make sure you do a bit of prep to aid your enjoyment.
The follow-up has an elongated running time of 140 minutes, but the film is expertly executed without a dull stretch. Based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling dystopian fantasy trilogy, it’s a top-flight escapist adventure.
After her victory in a televised death match, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now a beacon of hope for rebellion against the rich of the Capitol. So President Donald Sutherland forces her back to the arena to fight other, more experienced winners, expecting her to be crushed along with any simmering revolution.
Everything is bolder, bigger and better. The spectacle channels Ben-Hur, the tropical combat zone is a thrilling tangle of exciting traps and plot twists and the designer fashion is higher than before, with a terrific Lawrence as its catwalk Cleopatra.
Additional heavyweight support comes from Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, with director Francis Lawrence blending all the necessary ingredients, such as clever CGI and raw emotion, into a beguiling whole that deftly anticipates the next episode.
> Action veterans Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger join forces in ESCAPE PLAN (15: E1 Entertainment), a prison-set thriller with a technological twist.
Stallone plays a security expert who tests the integrity of penitentiaries from the inside, by getting himself incarcerated and then escaping.
When his latest assignment goes awry, Stallone finds himself isolated in a hi-tech fortress under the watchful eye of sadistic warden Jim Caviezel, so teams up with fellow inmate Schwarzenegger to stage the daddy of all break-outs.
What follows sticks closely to a standard jailbreak-movie template, although director Mikael Hafstrom relishes throwing newfangled gadgetry and sci-fi scares into the mix.
Sly and Arnie are not called upon to do anything they haven’t done dozens of times before.
Their stony-faced verbal sparring and carefully choreographed fisticuffs are just what their legions of fans will want to see, while overlooking the baffling holes in the plot.
> THE COUNSELLOR (18: Twentieth Century Fox) is a curious thriller from Ridley Scott and stars Michael Fassbender as a lawyer who gets his hands dirty in a drug trafficking deal with shady underworld figures Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt.
When a rival organisation hijacks a huge shipment on the US-Mexican border, both Fassbender and his glamorous fiancée Penélope Cruz find their lives in danger as unseen paymasters seek revenge for the loss of their merchandise.
Scott then focuses on a morality tale of love and greed populated by outlandish characters – none more so than Bardem’s predatory cheetah-owning girlfriend Cameron Diaz – which leaves viewers to fill in the blanks.
The original screenplay is awash with philosophical speeches from every main character, which tend to frustrate and baffle rather than move the story along, while the stylish performances and violent set-pieces gloss over a stuttering narrative that only partially delivers.