Their Finest (B+). It doesn’t have the grabbiest title, but this picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) is my favorite of the year so far. The year is 1940, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) has moved from Wales to London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But his dour art isn’t selling, so Catrin gets a job as a screenwriter on a propaganda film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. She clashes with the obnoxious head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), learns to massage the bruised ego of past-his-prime movie star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, I Capture the Castle), and generally gets a crash course in the trials and tribulations of moviemaking. Jeremy Irons (Appaloosa) pops up unexpectedly as a pompous war minister. The sexism of the era is conveyed effectively without being overdone. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the movie.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (B-). I still haven’t read the books, so I went to this sequel simply as a moviegoer who likes sci-fi and who enjoyed the first installment. (See my review here. And other reviews of the first one here and here.) On the plus side, the movie moves along nicely and held my attention throughout its almost 2 1/2 hour running time. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) is good like she always is, and I thought a couple of the new arena fighters, Finnick (Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman) and Johanna (Jena Malone, Pride & Prejudice), were pretty cool. But I just didn’t enjoy this film as much as the last one. The idea that an oppressive regime would use these complicated and drawn-out gladiator contests to keep the restive provinces subdued just seems too far-fetched for me. The bland guy who’s in love with Katniss (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) is just as much a helpless Harry in this one as he was in the first one. And the arena part of the movie ultimately felt more dutiful than exciting this time around. Oh well, two down, two to go….