Hungry for more? You will be

Cert 12a | By Simon Thomson
Three Stars

THE HUNGER Games: Catching Fire is a story of survival and defiance in a dystopian future, where children are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of a ruling class, which uses the spectacle to hold the masses in fearful submission.

It is less a sequel to last year’s The Hunger Games than a substantially improved remake. The story is essentially the same, with heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), summoned again to the Capitol, to fight in a bigger, flashier, former-winners-only, 75th anniversary fight to the death.

This time however, more effort is made to establish the wider world in which the action takes place, more attention is given to Katniss’ gladiatorial opponents, and more time is taken with Katniss herself, hinting at her interior life in a way that the first film entirely failed to address.

The unbelievable decadence of life in the Capitol has been dialled down somewhat, making the film as a whole seem more credible, although the usually reliable Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci remain excruciatingly foppish, and the garishness of the costumes worn by much of the elite could still cause a migraine in your eye.

This is not Jennifer Lawrence’s best work, though she is engaging enough. The supporting cast is generally very good, with a puffed up Donald Sutherland clearly enjoying his expanded role as the villainous President Snow, fine work from Woody Harrelson as Katniss’ washed-up mentor, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the morally ambiguous gamemaster, and Jena Malone as a spitfire of a former victor, none too happy to be forced back into the arena. Josh Hutcherson, however, has zero chemistry with Lawrence, and his flat performance makes his servile, damsel-in-distress act all the less tolerable. There is clearly more in this film for fans, jokes that are there just for them, but unlike the first movie, this is a film that can be appreciated on its own merits, and it sets up what promises to be an interesting third installment.

Cert 18 | By Simon Thomson
Four Stars

IN BLUE is the Warmest Colour a 15-year-old girl embarks on an intense relationship with an older art student. It’s a typically French love story, with much cheek-kissing, street-protesting, wine-guzzling, literature-overanalyzing, and flashy but shallow philosophising. The only difference is that the art student is also a woman.

Well, that’s not the only difference. The naturalism of the performances mark it out as something exceptional. Adèle Exarchopoulos, who was only 18 at the time of filming, is raw and entirely convincing, while Léa Seydoux is almost as compelling as her androgynous lover. But this isn’t a film about being gay, or struggling for social acceptance. It is about the confusion of life and the attempt to live with others, and on that level it is something that everyone should find relatable and revealing.

Blue is the Warmest Colour won the Palm d’Or at Cannes. Uniquely, it was awarded to both the director (Abdellatif Kechiche) and the two lead actresses; an appropriate recognition of the centrality of their performances to the film’s success.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is remarkable as much for the controversy that surrounds it as for the quality of its performances. Whether it be unions complaining about appalling working conditions on set; Exarchopolous and Seydoux say the director was a torturer and they would never work with him again; the explicitness of the sex scenes (which have prompted some viewers to walk out); feminist criticisms of its exploitative male gaze; or, most recently, an outcry from some lesbians about the unrealistic representation of lesbian sex.

However, the movie is slow and deliberate and the camera lingers on everything, holding shots far longer than a viewer requires to absorb them; on sex, yes, but also on eating, crying, sleeping, or any number of other activities. In that context, and in such a lengthy piece, the sex scenes are arguably less excessive or intrusive than they would have been in a more conventional film. It seems likely they could have achieved the same emotional impact without being so graphic, but that wouldn’t have generated nearly as much media attention.

The real problem is that it’s far too long; it covers a period of at least six years, and sometimes feels like it is doing so in real time. Had things been pared down, a more coherent and unified story might have emerged. But perhaps it is the extraneous details and loose ends that make it seem so much like real life.

Victoria Miro Gallery | By Joseph Funnell
Four Stars

THERE is a growing trend among commercial galleries to stage academic, “museum-style” exhibitions. While these may appeal to art historians and inevitably add extra value to artworks, it is refreshing to see the Victoria Miro gallery go back to basics. Presenting a new body of work and the first UK solo show by Parisian-born Brooklyn-based artist Jules de Balincourt, they have favoured beauty over brains. It may not be very clever but it’s honest (and honestly, quite good).

As a short and sweet show over two spaces, Itinerant Ones throws us into a dreamy world with a flavour of 1960s free-love utopianism. Warm pastels collide with bright day-glows in scenes that depict happy hippy communes, campfires and a touch of naked yoga. These vividly colourful views of summertime and alfresco living are the perfect antidote to a grey city winter.

De Balincourt constructs these curious scenes through layers of stencilling and watercolour washes. The result is a dazzlingly decorative surface that lies somewhere between Matisse and Warhol. One playful piece, BBQ Sur l’Herbe, references Manet’s controversial 19th century masterpiece. But de Balincourt happily drains political content as quickly as he increases colour saturation. He is aligning himself with the great painters of history but with an emphasis on fun; these social observations are a bit like LS Lowry on acid.

The show’s title refers to an ambitious piece where a varied crowd of enigmatic bohemian figures clamber over a giant tree. Built through layers of Union Flag-like criss-crosses, this web of life shows the artist’s global gaze on humanity; a shared structure beneath the social fabric. The overall narrative is a little disconnected, but this journey is one of beauty and power.

Nestled between Angel and Old Street the show has a suitably trendy aesthetic that just escapes full-blown pretentiousness. Sure we could imagine the smaller works in a try-hard Hoxton bar, but Balincourt’s paintings are ones you might want to buy. Even if you can’t splash the cash, just seek solace from the cold and gratify your senses with these pseudo-psychedelic visions.