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.”

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Like Crazy (2011) Review

Like Crazy
Directed by: Drake Doremus
Starring: Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
Rated: PG-13 

There are certain type of romantic movies made. One is the fluffy, generic rom-com with fish out of water characters starring a popular actor or actress who finds their true love and lives happily ever after. These types of films are churned out on an assembly line every year and are easy bait for the type of people who like to see a film where “love conquers all.” These sometimes take a fresh approach to the formula, but the formula is generally copy and paste. Next, there is a hollywood type romance movie that takes the rom-com cliches and tries to inject a bit of truth and resonance trying to be a step above the normal rom-com but still upholding the “love conquers all” theme. A good recent example of this type of film would be this year’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” “Like Crazy” is much like last year’s fantastic “Blue Valentine” where the film is more of a drama that’s almost documentary-like. The look and relationship of the characters feels so real that we feel like voyeurs in these character’s world that feel all too close to some of our own real life relationships.

Jacob and Anna (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) are college students, he’s an american and she’s a brit, they begin to fall in love. However their passionate love hits a roadblock when she overstays her student visa and she’s not allowed to reenter the U.S.

As real and depressing as last year’s “Blue Valentine” was I couldn’t relate to the characters quite like how I could in “Like Crazy.” The feeling of meeting that person you have that first real true love with is as best represented here than any movie i’ve seen in awhile. Much like a relationship it’s the little things that matter most and scenes of the two leads goofing around, being romantic, having awkward moments all hit a little too close to home. The chemistry between the two leads is the perfect balance of passion and puppy-dog romance. Their feelings for each other cause ripples that effect each of their lives and never feel too forced, dishonest or uncompromising to the film.

Director Drake Doremus does great with a story that for the most part is largely improvised. The film shot on the Canon 7D also helps to give it that intimate, dream-like, documentary feel to the film. However this is Yelchin and Jones film to carry and they are irresistible on screen. Although their backgrounds or characteristics are pretty paper-thin (Yelchin virtually has no family to speak of) the film is more or less a scrapbook of the beginning, dissolve, and reconnection of a romance. Side characters include Charlie Bewley and Jennifer Lawrence as other love interests for the main characters who never feel planted or out of place in the story. Remarkably, Lawrence and Bewley have just as good of chemistry with the leads as they do with each other. What also could be throwaway parts are given dimension with great scenes that include a breakup and probably the most awkward marriage proposal ever. Lawrence has shown her range as a young dramatic actress but I hope doesn’t get typecast with tomboyish parts because this film shows how beautiful she can be.

Another element added to the story is the plot of the messy immigration laws that set the story in motion. Unfortunately with people trying to live in the U.S. they have to go threw an absurd amount of legal processes and red tape, which the more infuriating it becomes for the leads, the more frustrating it becomes for the viewer, both story wise and in reality. A great overlooked film called “The Visitor” starring Richard Jenkins also dealt with the unfair laws and processes facing immigrants trying to live in America. That film and “Like Crazy” each did a good job weaving a love story with an international issue.

The film is nowhere near as political as I make it sound, but is essentially all about how Love or True Love can be about perfect timing. Choices that the characters made throughout the film could have provided a different outcome or happy ending for their situation, but it doesn’t always work like that. Love has the power to wrap us up in a way that logic and inevitability don’t always come to mind, but we just want to stay cocooned in that perfect moment in time where everything seems to make sense. I remember speaking to an ex-girlfriend after a long time and wondered how things would have worked out if the timing in our lives was different. When I left the theater emotionally drained a friend of mine said to me “I didn’t like the ending, I wanted to see what happens next.” That’s the beauty and the scariest part of falling in love, we never know what’s next.

Rating: 9/10