The Hunger Games (2012) Review

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks,
Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Gary Ross
Rated: PG-13 

Like it or not, The Hunger Games is succeeding the popular and finishing franchises of Harry Potter and Twilight. Both franchises made oodles of bank in America and overseas and fooled a lot of teenagers. Now something has to take their place and what better than the best-selling young adult book “The Hunger Games.” It’s got a lot to please everyone, a futuristic setting, violence, a love story, and politics. Something for everyone in the family.

In the future, after a great war, the world is separated into 12 districts that look more or less like World War II concentration camps, if they had bakeries. Every year to keep the peace, the Capitol selects two “tributes,” a boy and a girl from each district by lottery to compete in the Hunger Games where 24 kids from 11-18 fight to the death. Everyone watches it and it’s treated like the Olympic games. This year, young Katniss Everdeen from District 12 has a particularly bad day when her younger sister randomly gets picked to compete and she volunteers to fight in her place. Also chosen is a baker’s son named Peeta who has long had a crush on Katniss, even though Katniss has the hots for a boy named Gale whom she hunts with. Confusing? I read the first book in the series and it still doesn’t make complete sense to me.

I enjoyed the first book in the Hunger Games series but did not love it even though the ending cliffhanger did make me want to read the second. I knew a big-budget movie was inevitable and my interest was peaked at the casting. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect girl to pull off Katniss, tough but grounded, clever but moral. As long as a new franchise is being created at least the lead is an empowering character. She provides for her family, selfless, a bad-ass, and a far cry from Twilight’s Bella.  The whole cast is pretty exceptional actually. Liam Cunningham and Josh Hutcherson are good male leads. Hutcherson starts off as a pretty uninteresting character and gets a chance to develop. While Cunningham has a good chemistry with Lawrence that never goes anywhere and hopefully will in the sequel. Woody Harrelson is a standout as Haymitch, their mentor, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Wes Bentley are all serviceable in their roles that require nothing more to wear a silly wig, except Bentley who has facial hair that looks like Tony Stark’s pubes. I’d say he’s having a stellar year after doing nothing but being thrown out of a window in Underworld: Awakening earlier this year. Elizabeth Banks is also underutilized as Effie Trinket who looks more like a ghost-faced 40’s debutante. Actually while all of the districts wear leftover jumpsuits from Logan’s Run, the Capitol all dress like Drag Queens on Moulin Rogue night. Apparently after a major war we all dress like we are on Rupaul’s Drag Race. Although you will probably see the movie’s costume designer walk away with an Oscar.

The film moves at a pretty trim pace and keeps for the most part on par with the book besides omitting a few R-Rated changes. People unfamiliar with the book should have an easy time catching up with the story as it plays out. When it comes time to the actual Hunger Games, boy was I underwhelmed. In the book, the Hunger Games are dragged out for weeks and disease, cold, and hunger kill off many, while in the film  it seems more or less like a few days and isn’t nearly as morbid or gruesome as the book or one might imagine. Blood is shown is quick jump cuts, hunger is never really a problem, and disease/injuries are magically fixed. While the book had a social commentary on our bleak future, I felt like the movie tried to be more appealing and safe for a mass audience than a shocking, depressing morality tale. Director Gary Ross does good with the material but I can’t forgive for the shoddy camerawork. I felt queasy with a lot of the shaky cam which seemed to appear even when people are having a regular conversation. The shaky cam, out of focus shots, and some terrible green-screening (the shot of Katniss and Peeta on the chariot comes to mind) is hard to swallow in a big budget action film. It felt cheaper than it should have been. The intimate feel it was trying to capture even came off as cold.

Overall, I’d like to see how the franchise continues. Jennifer Lawrence is a great on-screen presence that I can watch in anything, the supporting cast is well-cast, the story is for the most part faithful, and some action sequences are well-shot but overall I was left (pardon the pun) hungry for more. Nah, actually I just think I was hungry.

RATING: 6/10

“This is gonna be one awkward three-way.”

The Mechanic (2011) Review

Jason Statham stars in another Transporter sequel. Oh wait, it’s actually a Charles Bronson remake from the 70’s, You’d probably never know it though. Statham maintains his dry, cool personality mixed with a brand of tough guy charisma and real martial-art skill, while he fights, shoots, and kills a bunch of nameless henchman with ridiculous motivations all in the name of the audience getting the most out of their $10 bucks worth at the cinema with some old school action entertainment.It might sound like I’m picking on ol’ J. Statham but it’s quite the opposite. Jason Statham is the closest we have to a modern day Stallone or Schwarzenegger. He gives cheap thrills masked by his chiseled abs and solid screen presence. Plus, Statham sticks to what he knows best, killing and karate chopping, maintaining minimal character development, and splashing us with mucho sex appeal. It’s a formula that is working and he sticks to it, and he’s all the better for it. You won’t see Statham babysitting kids in a family comedy anytime soon.

 

The movie stars Statham as a hitman aka “mechanic” who kills people in a way that it looks like an accident. After killing his mentor for some reason, by people I never cared to learned the names of, he meets his mentor’s estranged son, who he begins to train in the art of mechanic-ing. Now the concept of a hitman who kills his victims to make it look like accidents is a nice concept for a b-grade action flick. It has alot of potential. The screenplay takes some advantage of it, but ends up resorting to shootouts and fistacuffs. For such a perfect hitman, he ends up in alot of broad daylight action, never hiding his face or fingerprints, and hanging out with a loose cannon, trigger-happy trainee, whom causes Statham’s character boatloads of messy situations that don’t seem to affect him at all, even though he is completely disregarding everything he is teaching. Speaking of which, Ben Foster plays his young trainee and like usual, he definitely brings on the crazy. Foster is an odd actor,  he always plays the psychotic supporting characters in films, but the thing about his psychosis is that he still has a likeable persona regardless of his crazy eyes and expressions. Foster drinks, shoots, and smokes his way through the movie and is actually a good foil for Statham’s quiet and cold hitman character. The two make an intriguing duo and are fun to watch onscreen.

However, I did think it was amazing that spending a few weeks with Statham, Foster’s character had the stealth and precision of a NAVY SEAL. The only other character worth mentioning is Donald Sutherland in a throwaway role as Foster’s Dad and Statham’s mentor, who does something, I’m not quite sure what, but it makes the villians angry and also sits in a wheelchair. The Only reason I can think of having that character trait is when he signed on to the movie, he stipulated that he would act as long as he didn’t have to stand up at all. For all its negatives though, the movie is a nice little 90 minute action flick. The setup and climax are all by-the-numbers if you are familiar with the action genre. The main reason to see the film is that it does succeed in giving satisfying action sequences. One shootout in a hotel room is particulary exhilarating, and it’s fast paced gunplay and stunts are memorable. Another memorable scene is a bare-fisted fight between Foster’s character and a hulk assassin, that is particularly brutal and enjoyable. It’s also nice to see a movie that doesn’t copout with it’s rating. The Mechanic knows it’s an R-Rated flick and doesn’t hold back from showing headshots or tits. Statham has another fun action film to add to his resume, and while the film doesn’t display Guy Ritchie acting depth, it doesn’t have The Transporter zaniness either. The Mechanic finds a comfortable middle-ground.

Rating: 6/10