Far From The Madding Crowd

 

Carey Mulligan wears her impish grin and her impressive wardrobe to great advantage in Far From The Madding Crowd. As Bathsheba Everdene, she has spunk. She’s an independent woman who claims she doesn’t need a man—while three suitors want her.

Set in the late 1800’s in rural England, FFTMC (based on the Thomas Hardy novel) teems with sexual tension. When this beautiful woman on horseback meets her handsome neighbor, sheepherder Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts), the attraction leads to his quick proposal of marriage (and gift of a baby lamb). She says no.

Bathsheba inherits a successful farm from an uncle and hires Oaks (who has lost his farm after all his sheep die) to work for her. Meanwhile, middle-aged neighbor, bachelor farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), offers his hand (and the prospect of a farming merger). Again, she says no.

Enter handsome soldier Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge). Yep, women love a man in uniform! He impresses her with his swordsmanship. (Is the sword a sexual metaphor? I think yes.) He introduces her to the pleasures of the flesh and marries her. But a quick case of buyer’s remorse sets in, leading to the story’s final chapters.

Not unlike a similarly named fictional character, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games (novelist Suzanne Collins took the Everdeen name from FFTMC), Bathsheba operates proactively. She is not the demure flower of a woman we often see in Victorian era stories. She gets things done even if it causes her to get her hands dirty. When she jumps into the water to help with sheep washing, her farmhands (and Oaks and Boldwood) are impressed.

Director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls keep the story moving at a quick pace. (The 1967 version of FFTMC starring Julie Christie ran nearly an hour longer than the new film.) A nice slowdown is the after dinner song Bathsheba sings with Boldwood.

Carey Mulligan has turned in several impressive performances in recent years but has not dominated a film quite like she does in Far From The Madding Crowd. This is her showcase and she shines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire everything is amped up. Everything is more, compared to 2012’s The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is more skillful, more passionate, more political, more focused. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is more mature, more confident, more clever. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is more calculating and more concerned about the power and influence Katniss and Peeta are able to command.

After emerging as co-victors of the Hunger Games, the pair are presented to the nation of Panem as a romantic couple. They are heroes. Snow wants them to use their personal appearance tour to trump up support for his political system. When that backfires, he and advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) hatch a plan to kill them off: a new Hunger Games featuring previous winners.

As for the actual kill-or-be-killed game, the competition again closely resembles TV’s Survivor. The game is closely monitored and every element is subject to being reset and reordered. The events of THG:CF deliver a satisfying outcome but leave much unresolved. This film, of course, is designed to set up the next two films.

Two over-the-top characters are even more outrageous in THG:CF. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) wears more eye makeup and her costumes are more ridiculous. Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as host of the Hunger Games TV show is smarmier this time around. He almost seems in his announcing style to be channeling Michael “Let’s get ready to rumble!” Buffer.

Director Francis Lawrence, whose credits include Constantine, I Am Legend and Water For Elephants, brings amazing visuals and near perfect pacing. Happily, he did not feel compelled to resort to 3D.

It was wonderful at last year’s MTV Movie Awards to hear The Hunger Games actors thank novelist Susan Collins for providing the story that has fascinated millions of readers and moviegoers. Her narrative, her characters and her vision of Panem society are entertaining and thoughtful. I can’t wait for installments 3 and 4.