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Review: The Hunger Games

HungerGamesPoster

What would happen if you mixed George Orwell, Battle Royale, and the fashion sense of a tailor for a royal family whilst having an acid trip? You’d get The Hunger Games.

Now before I get into my review it seems appropriate that I add this disclaimer at the front, considering the hype for this adaptation has been massive: I DID NOT READ THE BOOK BEFORE VIEWING THE FILM, SO MY CRITICISM IS GOING OFF THE FILM AND THAT ALONE. I WENT IN SIMPLY AS AN AVID FILMGOER, NOT AS A FAN OF THE NOVELS, AND I VIEWED IT AS SUCH, SO I APOLOGIZE IF MY VIEWS OF THE STORY AREN’T AS COMPLETE AS YOURS–THE FANS’–ARE. Okay, so that’s out of the way.

The film opens in the world of Panem, a totalitarian society comprised of the ruling Capitol and its subordinate twelve districts. The Capitol is comprised of affluent, wealthy, and flamboyantly-dressed people who keep the working-class citizens in the districts under control after they organized an unsuccessful rebellion that led to the destruction of a thirteenth district over 70 years prior. To show the extent of their authority, the Capitol subjects two children, a boy and a girl, from each district to a battle-to-the-death-style competition each year (which is broadcast in real time to all the districts, with play-by-play commentary) called the Hunger Games.

In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence) has her life thrown out of balance when she volunteers to replace her sister as the chosen female “tribute” for her district in the upcoming Hunger Games. She and her district’s male tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are taken to the Capitol and submitted to a life of luxury and intense training before they are placed within the arena with twenty-two other contestants in the deadliest and morally-complex battle of their lives. Blood is shed and truces are tested.

Many critics have noted the film’s similarities to the 1999 Japanese book and subsequent 2000 film Battle Royale, and having seen said film I was surprised as to just how similar they were in terms of certain plot elements. However, thematically and visually they are at quite a contrast, so I am willing to put my pseudo-hipster grievances of originality to the side.

Speaking of themes, for a film aimed primarily at young adults it’s surprisingly deep and morally complex. It poses the question of: “Would you be able to kill another human being”–(The Most Dangerous Game, much?)–“and a child, at that?” It serves as a great critique on the state of entertainment in our Western world, on how we are tolerable of the levels of violence portrayed in our media and our obsession with these grotesque shows we like to call “reality” television. Secondly, the film is an interesting observation on social class division, showing how the higher classes can so easily ignore the inequality and struggles that the lower classes face. (Okay, I’ll stop with the sociopolitical angle now.)

The pacing of the film is great–it never drags but it doesn’t feel too short. The plot always denies your expectations–that is, there are a lot of twists thrown in; they’re not always satisfying, but they do keep you actively guessing. There is a lot that’s left unanswered, though, including the history of Panem and the rise of this totalitarian state, which I hope is explained in the later entries in the trilogy.

The acting was surprisingly decent, as well, with all of the leads and even the supporting actors showing a great amount of emotion and/or eccentricity, the latter of which was thankfully never overdone (Stanley Tucci probably stole the film for his enthusiastic role as Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman).

Technically speaking, the CG effects were average, but the costume design, make-up, and overall production design was fantastic and successfully added to the film’s themes and the characters’ personalities. I’ll be surprised if the film doesn’t get at least a couple nods at the next Oscars in these fields.

But where it won’t be getting a nod is in the cinematography field. Maybe it was because I was sitting in the front row of the theater (it filled up FAST), but it was irritating to watch at times because of the constant motion of the camera–sometimes you really couldn’t tell what was going on (I was actually glad when a stationary shot came up!). I mean, there are times when the Shaky Cam method is effective and involving (see: Children of Men), but this is not one of them. This level of intensity does not make the viewer feel involved or intrigued, but instead jolted and disoriented (which doesn’t really fit within the context of the story). I mean–goddamn!

However, looking at the business behind the film, I think it’s safe to assume that the Shaky Cam method was used so drastically because it had to do with securing the film’s PG-13 rating. Being based off a novel aimed at young adults, a large percentage of the fanbase would not have been able to see the film if the violent deaths during the game segment were clearly shown. With the camera shaking back and forth, the image is blurred and thus the violence is slightly less noticeable, and voilà!–a PG-13 rating can be secured. (If I may be honest, I was actually looking forward to a little more violence and was a little let down when most of it was “shaken” out…but maybe that’s just my sadistic side showing.)

It’s not the defining film in its genre, and I doubt that it will be the best film of the year, but it is a thought-provoking piece of young adult cinema that is stylistically impressive and emotionally deep. And considering what teen drama has devolved to, I’d say that this is the best you’re gonna get.

7/10


Movies That Make Me Laugh

Hello, fellow readers. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, so I thought I’d start up again with an easy piece.

People who are well-acquainted with me know that I have a very particular taste when it comes to comedy. Even I can’t always describe it that well, much less at least assume which films will make me laugh. This leaves me with very few comedies that I actually find funny, and even fewer that I continue to laugh at after multiple viewings. Those few that do make me laugh time and time again, though, are cherished additions to my film collection, and thus worthy of sharing. The following have been attempted to be placed in an ascending order of favoritism.

10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Pure, quality, and hysterical British comedy at its finest. When I first saw it in eighth grade or so, I didn’t know what to expect. I left amazed at how crazy it was. It was a different form of comedy than what I was used to seeing at the time, one that seems to dabble in parody without becoming bogged down with the cheapness of it. This was also my introduction to British humor, and it didn’t make a bad impression at all.

9. Burn After Reading (2008)

The first time I saw this I was at a party with a bunch of friends. I was laughing my ass off at the movie. My friends weren’t. They complained that they didn’t understand what was going on or what the main idea behind the film was. It’s simple, really: all of the major characters are selfish and a bit stupid and through their greed/stupidity their lives become a bit worse off than they were at the beginning. Plus, there’s a good chemistry between all of the leads that when placed in the story’s whacky situations and with the Coen Brothers’ excellent dialogue, it’s a joy to watch it play out. I don’t see how one couldn’t like it.

8. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

This is more or less on here because this was probably the first Will Ferrell movie I saw and it made an impression on me before I could find out that he plays the same character in every other one of his movies. The comedic timing and delivery in this film was spot-on, which is what keeps me laughing every time I view it.

7. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

The only Apatow-directed movie I’ve seen, and that may or may not be a good thing. With Apatow’s movies (and I’m counting the ones he produced with this description), it’s very hit or miss. His style of humor seems to take the traditional vulgar comedy routines and put a certain sort of charm, if you will, on them–sort of like a refresh. Sometimes this works, sometimes it’s just mediocre. This one works, particularly because of Steve Carell’s terrific performance as the friendly-yet-socially-awkward Andy Stitzer and the great dialogue that he’s given. That, and the decent supporting cast of Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Romany Malco basically set this film up for non-stop laughs. Apatow had a good directorial debut with this–and can’t much speak for the two films he succeeded this with.

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6. The Simpsons Movie (2007)

As Homer points out at the beginning of the film, who would want to see a movie in the theater that everybody could see on television for free? Apparently many people did. The Simpsons have always been a source for sharp, witty satire, but their style is to blend that with parody and that combination is usually successful only in half-hour fragments. Even though this film seems like the combination of three or four individual episodes with a basic plot to hold them together, it never starts to become trivial. The jokes retain their quality and stay pretty fresh. Predictable? Sometimes,but boring? Never.

5. Kick-Ass (2010)

Ultra-violence, comic book references, and geek humor? Sign me up! It’s not really a comedy, but Dave Lizewski’s (played by Aaron Johnson) dialogue and narration both as himself and his superhero alter-ego Kick-Ass is at times awkward to the point of being comic gold. Add his friends and the mysterious and violent superheroes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage channeling Adam West) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and you’ve got a perfect laugh-cringe flick.

4. The Big Lebowski (1998)

I thought this would be higher (even though this is a stoner film, no pun intended), but there were too many other ones to still fit in the list. However, this cult classic has it all: witty dialogue, terrific characterization, and wacky situations that are handled once again with perfect comedic timing by the Coen brothers. Plus, bowling never seemed so trippy before. This film, Dude, definitely abides with me.

The Dude and his companions.

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

What do you get when you have three dumb but good-intentioned escaped convicts trudging their way through the 1930s South and involving themselves with all sorts of tom foolery? A great comedy. It basically has everything that the previous Coen brothers films have that make it so great, but this was the first of their films that I ever saw, so it left a special imprint on my film tastes.

2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Not only is this one of my favorite comedies but it’s also one of my all-time favorite films. It’s a perfect blend of laughs and mystery, a comedy with a neo-noir twist. Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer have great chemistry as a East Coaster out of his comfort zone and a hard-as-nails and gay private detective, respectively, as they try to solve a case of murder and deceit in Tinseltown. Not only that, but this benefits from Shane Black’s sharp writing and terrific direction when handling this cross-genre flick. He knows how to get you to laugh even in the darkest and worst situations. And for that I applaud him.

1. Pineapple Express (2008)

I know, you’re probably thinking: “Seriously? This guy chose this film to top his list, and nothing that would be considered more or less a classic?” And my answer to that is a solid YES. You don’t have to be high to appreciate this great comedy. This Apatow-produced film centers on bromances, and though there are only two main ones–Seth Rogen and James Franco (and later Danny McBride), and Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan–they are terrifically acted out that it makes it not only convincing that these guys are best buds but that they are also true and sometimes dumb stoners. The action is choreographed and the dialogue is written so perfectly and hysterically that you cannot not watch this film and have a smile creep across your face. This film picks me up and makes me laugh no matter what mood I’m in. This film is the bee’s knees, man, and that’s why I place it as my favorite comedy of all time.


In Defense of the Archetype

In the last post I argued against archetypal stories and in support of “exciting” ones. I stated that a person who enjoys one of these stories that follows a conventional plot line and includes many common storytelling elements may easily enjoy another of similar construct based on familiarity, and because of this they may be timid to investigate stories that go beyond these boundaries. However, this is not always the case.

For example, some stories that could be classified under our established meaning of “exciting” focus on the plot more than archetypal stories and try to change things up–sometimes quite drastically. The example that I immediately think of is Christopher Nolan’s Memento. The film is about a man with short-term memory loss who doesn’t remember anything after his wife was murdered, and he embarks on a revenge-fueled quest to find her killer and pay him some retribution. Known for its elaborate storytelling, the plot of the film is actually displayed in reverse, as if we are going in reverse through the protagonist’s short little clips of memory. To add to that, the exposition of the film is also shown through short clips that act as flashbacks throughout the entire film. While this film is an incredible feat of storytelling with a gritty noir-like style, it lacks where most stories of the same ilk do in character development. The main character doesn’t go through that much change (or he does, but he then forgets about it), as do the supporting characters who keep reappearing throughout. In stories like these, the plot is the main character and everyone else is just a device used to help keep it in motion. Stories of any kind provide a form of escapism to the reader/viewer, a chance to experience the life of somebody unique yet relatable (chances are a person has experienced a basic plot structure sometime in their life where they face a major problem and change afterwards–for better or worse). And if the characters in the story aren’t well-developed or fail to go through any sort of change one fails to connect with them.

Other pros of the archetypal story structure is the ability to allow more focus on the style of the piece. The “exciting” stories tend to be plot-driven, resulting in the necessity of many (if not all) things brought up or even vaguely referenced in the story to have some sort of subtle meaning or importance to the plot. Other stories that stick to the basic format can deviate from this necessary importance and add elements that help better support the setting of the piece or add to the genre, allowing one to produce a strong mental image while reading or view a vibrant and rich set of a movie. When focusing on the plot, these can’t be so much enjoyed as they must more or less be scrutinized or tossed to the side. An example I can think of is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Besides the many details she throws in there that are important for the understanding of the plot as the series develops, Rowling is able to eloquently elaborate on the magical world that she created by sticking to a conventional story structure. She describes the characters and the setting in so much detail that one almost feels immersed into her wizarding world.

Finally, the archetypal stories tend to have messages and morals that are more straightforward compared to the “exciting” stories. Usually, one need not dig as deep into standard fare as one would into unconventional fare to understand what the author is trying to convey. A person may enjoy this, as they can clearly understand the author’s moral lessons and don’t have to sift through piles of analysis just to understand a specific action of a character. These stories are effective in leaving the reader/viewer with a strong understanding rather than a confused assumption.

The archetypal story structure isn’t a bad thing at all. It allows aspects that can’t be easily attended to in the “exciting” stories to rise to prominence, while allowing creativity to flourish. And if one wants to read or view a story like this, then who am I to criticize?


Sir, You Forgot Your Side of Familiarity!

In the last post I covered why many people say they enjoy “exciting” stories when in reality they just divulge themselves in rather trite, stockish fare. However, I forgot to touch on why these people like the archetypal stories in the first place.

It’s simple, really: because they’re simple. That may sound a bit weird, so allow me to elaborate. Simple stories with basic plot lines and common literary elements are easily recognizable by the public, and thus more readily embraced. Familiarity is preferred over the unexplored vastness, especially when it comes to something that demands a considerable amount of one’s time and attention. People would rather sit through a movie or read an entire book if they had a pretty good feeling that the protagonist would triumph, and that the sequence of events occurred in a timely manner and remained unchanged (Exposition, lots of rising action, climax, a bit of falling action, and a denouement to top it all off–ooh, and throw in a romance! Everybody loves a romance.). And if they like one story that follows these standard guidelines, odds are they’ll like others that are similar. These people will have a more difficult time enjoying stories that are unconventional and break the rules because they’re afraid to journey into the unknown and try something new, to risk a bit of effort to discover what breaks the standards.

Please don’t misinterpret me–I am not saying this archetypal story structure is the Great Plague of Literature or anything like that. In fact, I enjoy this structure in both book and film form from time to time as a bit of relaxation from the heavier pieces. However those heavier pieces allow me to be more intellectually involved, to dig deeper into them and analyze their messages more thoroughly, and to experience tales that don’t fit into the standard mold. But, sadly, relaxation turns into escapism for most and once getting lost in that they rarely ever venture back out. I guess they could use a better map.


Would You Like Your Story Exciting or Clichéd?

I was posed with a question the other day: a friend of mine asked why people love “exciting” stories, yet the most popular ones are what he called “archetypal”–stories that follow a basic structure in terms of plot, character development, and so on. We’ll assume that in this situation “exciting” means to differentiate from this storytelling norm.

The reason people may say they enjoy these exciting stories when they’d rather indulge in simpler fare can be related back to what Robert Hanson was saying: many people are more boring than they actually think. People may say that they enjoy books or films with unconventional plot devices and non-traditional storylines so that they may appear to others as being unique and different. Perhaps they perceive that this individuality indicates being finely cultured (a.k.a. a way of promoting one’s own ego), and that they won’t look like some uncultured hermit that’s been living under a rock for the past few years.

It’s all about making others believe you know what you’re talking about and making yourself appear more interesting than others. Seriously, if the public was more enthralled by stories that broke away from conventional story blueprints and overused literary devices we wouldn’t see teen (paranormal) love stories dominating the New York Times Bestsellers List or action-thriller movies topping the box office.


Attitude

If I may be frank, I’ll say what most of you are thinking: my blogging skills leave something to be desired.  Not only are my updates very sporadic–both in posting dates and content–and rather dull.  I have written proof of this, in the form of a sincere message from a good friend.  He recently took a glance at my blog, and noted that while it is interesting that I have started writing a blog he is bored by my writing.  Though there are many tips that he offered me in order to perfect my skills within the blogosphere, the main one that he stressed was that I develop an attitude.  “Blogs are better oriented around the personality of the blogger than anything else,” he tells me.

He linked me this brief article by economist Robin Hanson, in which he observes the results of a survey question among a pool of people.  Over half of the correspondents had changed their answers over the time period between two surveys of the same question, leading him to believe that attitudes “may not ‘exist’ in a coherent form” and “you have fewer real opinions than you think”.

At first I was rather baffled by this article, especially in the context of which it was sent: Why should I read an article and then respond to it–with an attitude–if this article says that we as opinionated humans have less attitude than we like to believe?  I got to thinking that perhaps humans feel that it is a necessity to be opinionated because we need to feel like we are making a difference with our speech.  Whether it’s on a blog, on a soapbox, or in response to a survey, we like to feel as if we stand somewhere on some issue–it gives us the feeling that we are knowledgeable about our world and not stuck in the unknown (this lack of knowledge we undoubtedly equate with low intelligence).  So I guess attitudes and opinions make us interesting and keep us from being ignored–even if we have none.

I will try my best to develop an intriguing attitude.  Don’t like it?  Read something else.


Mind the Gap

Please excuse this brief hiatus from my blogging. It wasn’t intended, but was necessary as a result of my hectic schedule involving high school graduation-related events, college orientation, and my ever-growing sense of lethargy as summer kicks in to full swing. Oh, and my recent cave-in to Netflix hasn’t helped my productivity for the better, either. So I thought I’d give a quick heads-up: Expect some movie reviews out as early as tomorrow, with a couple other non-film-related articles out over the next couple of weeks. If I have time I also hope to get started on a brief test animation, now that I have a tablet to aide with my computer-generated projects, so look forward to progress regarding that.

Thanks for tuning in!