It’s too bad I already recommended The Running Man this month (for post-Ender’s Game viewing), because even more than the first Hunger Games movie it really fits well with the new second installment, Catching Fire. But that’s okay, you can still add that to this week’s bunch of movies to see. I just won’t include it below. The same goes for Battle Royale, the most obvious movie to highlight for being similar to this franchise, though that one does make more sense as something to recommend after the first movie. Should Battle Royale II: Requiem take its place now that we’re talking about The Hunger Games 2? I haven’t seen it and hear it’s really terrible and it doesn’t seem to coincide plot-wise, so no.
Instead I’ve got 12 other movies better worth your time as you wait for the first part of Mockingjay to hit theaters and continue the abruptly halted narrative of the Hunger Games story. As usual, the list will probably involve some spoilers if you haven’t seen Catching Fire.
Series 7: The Contenders
Occasionally referenced during coverage of the first Hunger Games, this indie reality show spoof should have been brought up more often alongside the comparisons to Battle Royale. I think it actually works better tied to Catching Fire, though, for a few reasons. One is that the protagonist is a reigning champion of this kill-or-be-killed game show (not only is Katniss a reigning champ, but the other contestants are former champions too), she’s tasked with having to murder her former sweetheart (parallel with Katniss having to technically go up against Peeta again) and she’s pregnant (Katniss isn’t, but the audience is led to believe she is). Also, there’s a wider age range for the contestants here than in The Hunger Games and Battle Royale.
Available on Netflix Instant
The Truman Show
Just as in the first Hunger Games, in Catching Fire the main event is set in a controlled environment. This time it reminded me more of The Truman Show, particularly when Katniss discovers they’re in a dome with an artificial sky ceiling, and then later parts of that ceiling break apart and fall to the ground. There’s also some Truman Show-ish elements outside of the games, as Katniss and Peeta’s lives are now to be forever in the public eye for entertainment and somewhat falsified for viewers’ enjoyment.
If you watched the scene where Katniss and Finnick are attacked by jabberjays and you didn’t have flashbacks to watching Alfred Hitchcock‘s horror classic, then you’ve never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic. Now’s the time to get on that.
Available on Amazon Streaming
The Ten Commandments
And how about that killer fog, did it make you have flashbacks to John Carpenter’s The Fog? That’s fine, but let’s go back further to an earlier movie with a killer fog. In Cecil B. DeMille‘s 1956 version of this Biblical epic starring Charlton Heston as Moses, there is a thick mist that’s part of the tenth plague of Egypt, and it only kills firstborns. In Catching Fire the on-the-hour threats are kind of like the plagues, and one of them is the fog, which also creates skin boils, which is another of the plagues. Another threat during the games is a rain of blood, which obviously relates to the first plague of water being turned to blood. Unfortunately they don’t stay long enough to see if there’s an onslaught of frogs.
Available to buy on Amazon Streaming
12 Years a Slave
And if you weren’t reminded of the whipping scene from this new movie when Liam Hemsworth is flogged in the town square of District 12 (which I would think was too big for one town square, but whatever), then you haven’t seen that yet either. I’m not saying that you should see the movie for the moment when Lupita Nyong’o is whipped, because it’s a horrifying thing to watch. But it is powerful, and the film is exceptional all around.
Now in theaters
Think The Hunger Games is all dystopic fantasy? It mostly is, but some of it isn’t that different from the real world, especially the stuff involving an evil president and the evolution of a revolution. Check out the new documentary The Square for a great look at what’s been going on in Egypt the last couple of years, including the ousting of both Hosni Mubarek and then his replacement, Mohamed Morsi. Through the cyclical nature of the film, we’re reminded of how difficult and inconclusive revolutions truly are, and how they’re made up of numerous heroes rather than a single hopeful figure or small rebel team.
Now in theaters
It was great to see Amanda Plummer appear in something notable again, wasn’t it? What, do the kids not know of her? Well, if there’s one movie I’d recommend to anyone unfamiliar with the actress, it’s The Fisher King, because that’s one of my top five favorites of all time. But I think it’s more appropriate in this instance to highlight something a little less familiar, more crazy and murderous. In this early Michael Winterbottom feature, she sports an accent as a killer lesbian presumably modeled after Aileen Wuornos. And not to spoil anything but she does meet a sort of similar fate here than she does in the Hunger Games sequel.
Available on Amazon Streaming
The Last Days of Leni Riefenstahl
Did you recognize Lynn Cohen, who plays the elderly mute woman, Mags? You’ve probably seen her as Golda Meir in Munich or as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s mom in Synecdoche, New York or as the murdered neighbor in Manhattan Murder Mystery. How about her portrayal of controversial German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl? This short, written and produced by Madeleine Olnek (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same), is an uncomfortably amusing take on the Triumph of the Will director’s having to constantly answer for her work for the Nazis. Most of the acting is pretty bad, but Cohen does a pretty good Riefenstahl. Just remember that this is meant as a satire. For the real deal watch the documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, but watch The Last Days of Leni Riefenstahl in full below.
Howl’s Moving Castle
What did Jenna Malone and Josh Hutcherson have in common before co-starring in Catching Fire? They both voice characters in the English-language dub of Hayao Miyazaki‘s 2004 animated masterpiece. She is Lettie, the younger sister of protagonist Sophie, and he is Markl, the little wizard apprentice. Okay, now that you know that, go watch the subtitled version of the film, because there really is no good reason to watch the dubbed. And if you really needed to watch something where you hear and see the real Malone and Hutcherson, go with Saved! and American Splendor (never mind that Hutcherson is only in the opening and has a mask on). Little Josh Hutcherson is awfully adorable in the recording session video below, however.
If you too found Sam Claflin surprisingly good as Finnick, you may have only seen him in Snow White and the Huntsmen or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tide. Now check out his more dramatic work in this British made-for-TV sports film that also stars former Doctor Who David Tennant. Claflin plays Duncan Edwards, one of the “Busby Babes” who played for Manchester United in the 1950s and then died in a plane crash along with seven teammates.
I probably wouldn’t have even bothered with Catching Fire if it weren’t for the casting of Plummer and Jeffrey Wright, one of my favorite actors, who is also one of the most criminally underused. He should be doing major leading work instead of playing small roles in blockbusters like this and Casino Royale. To go back and see what he’s most capable of, watch him in this biopic of painter Jean-Michel Basquiat by fellow artist turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel. That he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this, let alone for anything since, is a travesty.
The Empire Strikes Back
Hey, not all of these need to be obscure picks. The cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire couldn’t have been more like Episode V of Star Wars if it tried. Our hero (Katniss/Luke) is badly hurt and then rescued by the team of rebels, including the mentor (Haymitch/well, Obi Wan in spirit), the deceptive one (Plutarch/Lando) and the potential love interest who is more like a sibling (Gale/Leia). The other lead (Peeta/Han) has been captured and we have no idea what will happen to him. And then credits role, with audiences left with a long wait time for the next chapter. Hopefully Mockingjay, either or both parts, have furry teddy bear characters, too.