The latest installment in "The Hunger Games" franchise, "Mockingjay -- Part 1," works hard to ramp up plot intensity, all the while building to a resolution that will come only a year from now in "Part 2." That it succeeds as well as it does comes largely from Jennifer Lawrence's charisma as Katniss Everdeen: strong, self-confident, and principled.
In present-day Hamburg, Russian-Chechen Issa Karpov seeks asylum as German and American anti-terrorist agents go on full alert, sometimes cooperating, sometimes at cross purposes. Heir to his father's fortune held in a Hamburg bank, the Muslim Issa may have philanthropic motives or may have jihadist intentions. Director Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man" will work to untangle the intrigue.
In a four film series, repeat a similar narrative without imaginative reinvention and invite disappointment. Unfortunately, "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" falls into that category as it repeats the first "Hunger Games'" formula and does it sluggishly. The story picks up after Katniss and Peeta's triumph in the most recent games now celebrated during a multi-district victory tour.
Nine years in the making, Shane Salerno's documentary "Salinger" tackles that resolutely reclusive, famous writer. Roughly chronological in its exploration of J.D.'s life, "Salinger" uses archival photographs, repeating a couple from WWII, plus the few photos captured by stalkers before Salinger's 2010 death. To this, it adds interviews with two significant women in his life, testimonials, and hokey reenactments.
As 2012 ends, the best films deserve acknowledgement, a tip of the hat. Here are the films I most admired in 2012, those that entertained as well as inspired, that offered insight as well as consummate cinematic experiences.
The title—The Ides of March—alludes to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and its nefarious literal and figurative back stabbing in that political world. George Clooney's film of that title portends equally grim, venomous double-dealing. The good news is that it delivers as a dramatic, gripping morality tale echoing contemporary scandals in this adaptation of Beau Willimon's play Farragut North.
Jack Goes Boating takes a snapshot of four fairly ordinary, New York working-class people, warts and all. Clyde and Lucy have some history buried in their relationship which enters a precarious phase. Jack and Connie have just begun their involvement, cautiously, even fearfully. As imagined by first-time feature-film director Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also stars as Jack, most of the tension bubbles to the surface slowly, building in the viewer an impending sense of dread. Minimalist in its presentation with very little non-source music and a measured pace peppered with Jack's imagining his successes, Hoffman offers a profound character study.