Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games ~ Review


More like 'Hunger Lame' - am I right bros' !

Just kidding.

It wasn't lame. It was good…simply good & bordering on okay.

This review contains two Elephants inside of a room…I will be hunting them and eventually pointing them out.

6 1/2 out of 10

Why is every futuristic society always horrible in the movies? Why isn't the futuristic society ever a bunch of guys hanging at Applebees and they just fly home on their jet-packs? - paraphrased from a Jimmy Kimmel joke.

*Not entirely accurate though 'Star Trek' isn't about a dystopia to name just one.

'Logan's Run' is about a futuristic society where hot young people have sex orgies whenever they want and eat the finest of food and play games all day…okay so there is a downside to the 'Logan's Run' society otherwise the film would be uninteresting. Which kind of speaks volumes about the human condition.

We enjoy our fiction when things go horrible to the non-existent characters…but we enjoy our real lives when things would go perfect with as little drama and conflict as possible. So we watch nubile children murder each other in armed combat. It's what we do.

Now whatever you do don't say 'oh, you haven't read the books, you probably won't get some of the stuff…' that's dumb. And I'll explain why…IT'S A FILM!!! It should stand on it's own merit. How many people read the short story 2001: A Space Odyssey was based on by Arthur C. Clark and that helped them understand the film better? The Godfather, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange (which I have read), What Dreams May Come, The Social Network, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? . . . . all based on novels and how many have you read that aided your enjoyment of the film?

And that brings me to Elizabeth Bank's adorableness.

(*possibly the best costume design in the movie*)

Ehem, jumping the shark a little here….

Okay I know that's not what the phrase means

Title cards - god-damn-piss-poor-directing-bullshit-science-fiction-cop-out-poor-writing-over-used-cliched title cards are what opens the film. Off to a bad start. I'd rather see something revealed over the course of the film (which the film does anyways) than have what the film is about explained to me right off the bat like I am an idiot. Besides even if they miss something some ambiguity is good for storytelling. It sharpens the imagination. A lack of ambiguity seems to dull it.

Katniss Everdean (a very stupid name indeed) (sorry I don't understand bizarre names for a futuristic society. I honestly don't find any of the names whimsical. I find them distracting but maybe that is because they're all constantly being spoken and it doesn't feel natural) Katnap Everdean is played by Jennifer 'soon to be superstar' Lawrence (*Oscar nominated for 'Winter's Bone' …but despite that tremendous achievement she'll probably be remembered more for this. I never saw a Winter's Bone cover on Cosmopolitan either but that's just me…I mean I don't read Cosmopolitan how silly) She's a headstrong woman who can duck under fences and hunts with a bow very well. She's got a boyfriend whose name I've forgotten and I'll just call him Handsome McDreamy, because that's what he's supposed to be. (He's also very buff which is total B.S. and I'll explain in a second) Handsome McDreamy and Katnip have good young relationship chemistry and talk about the upcoming games and how messed up there world is. It's not forced and feels natural. I like these characters. They have good chemistry. Katniss mentions 'what if everyone just stopped watching' and that makes me hope this film will be more of a satire than a cheap exploitation film cash-in.

Katniss finds a pin of a Mocking Jay bird and gives it to her little sister Primrose Everdean (who would almost certainly die a horribly violent death if she gets picked in 'The Hunger Games' seeing as she looks like she weighs 70lbs and is 12) (Yes in the outcome of the lottery if the chances were right because it's between the ages of 12-18 it could be an 18 year old boy facing a bunch of 12 year old kids which seems cruelly unfair) - I can't embed it, all the trailers are blocked :(

Anyways Katniss assures Primrose that she won't be picked at the upcoming 'Reaping' (lottery) because her name has only been in the bowl once.

And here I go with my call back…I gather (because it wasn't really explained and I haven't read the books) that Handsome McDreamy is so buff because he eats more food in this starving, yes, starving community, (the oppressive government rations food and forces the outer territories to sacrifice their children in a televised murder game to win food for their districts = PG-13) that Handsome McDreamy gets extra rations if he risks his name in the lottery bowl more times…hence his beefcakey appearance.

Oh District 12 where Katniss is from is a mining town. Not super important to note but I thought it was a nice little touch.

'Reaping Day', a day of mild foreshadowing…Primrose Everdean is picked after being very scared and assured she couldn't possibly be picked because the 'odds weren't in her favor'. So she packs up and heads to serve her country in the Vietnam conflict…wait sorry, never mind. Katniss then volunteers to pay as tribute for her sister and pulls off the scared sh*tless and brave look at the same time. She does pull it off. Because if I were forced to fight in an arena to the death I'd be scared too and not showing that would be crap. Apparently she's the first ever volunteer. Which causes my second favorite character in the whole movie (A character who comes to District 12 to pick out the 'tributes' and also serves as a liaison to the big city later on) (whose name I also don't care about) so I'll call her Princess Poodle hair, played delightfully by Elizabeth Banks, seems proud of Katniss's bravery…also Princess Poodle hair is completely over the top and it's fun. I find her extremely adorable…and probably a future popular Halloween costume among drag-queens and teenage girls.

Then a boy whose name is Peeta (that one I remembered) is picked as her partner. There is a strange connection between them. (Yes it's 1 boy and 1 girl in these 'Murder Games' chosen from a 'district')

Then they're whisked off on a train to the big city where they will be treated like royalty and lambs to the slaughter. But royalty first. Each team is assigned a 'Tribute' from their district who's won a previous contest (Like Ollie Reed's character in 'Gladiator' - sort of)…there's is a bitter drunk who I'll call Woody Harleson (cause If forgot his name) (and I'm not looking any of this stuff up online either meh) Who is probably the most interesting and fully fleshed out character of the film. Anyways he spends his time drinking and waking up and most of the advice he gives at first boarders on 'just give up, you'll never win' but Peeta is determined to have him come around and wins him over and he starts giving the good advice, while still drinking, increasing his likablility as a character.

So they approach the capital where they are instructed that they have to be presentable (So they're cleaned and dressed because they need 'sponsors' yes gladiator children are like any other athletes and they need sponsors) and they suffer an onslaught of humiliating pampering and annoyingly silly costuming. This society in the big city (yes the gladiator children, for the most part from from outer slum-like districts, I see a message about the 99% here, thank god it's subtle) is REALLY REALLY REALLY over-the-top with costumes and makeup. Some of it is fun, but 90% of it is cheesy, besides I see weirder outfits daily on Hollywood Blvd. Although the costumes would have had to been designed by Eiko (the woman who did Bram Stoker's 'Dracula') to live up to my ideals of decadence in film costuming. (Also Lenny Kravitz is their fashionista who actually does a really good job in this movie. His name is Ceena, I think, but I don't think I mention him later in this review so this is just a waste of a sentence that you read.)

Anyways . . .

Katniss and Peeta go through a series of events much satirizing talk-shows, beauty-contests, fashion-reality shows, and various other celebrity fluff outlets to try to win sponsors. (Which I must say if the film did more of this kind of stuff I would probably have loved it.) Peeta is better at winning over people's hearts than Katniss but eventually her honesty in 'just being herself' (a message of course) wins over the hearts of the sponsors (and possibly parents who take their kids to see this movie. Look honey a message in a movie about kids who murder kids.)


Eventually they do an interview on a talk show, Peeta says that he had a crush on a girl back home, talk show host says well if you win she'll be so proud of you, Peeta says…probably not she's in the contest with me. (A well done scene yet the moment the ball gets rolling you can see the conclusion a mile away)


Anyways this thing in the spoiler above causes them to get more sponsors.

Well the kids get pushed up like push-pops on a big machine into the televised arena. (Earlier it was mentioned not to step off the stool early or they'll blow you up…the director clearly missed his opportunity to blow up a child…okay maybe it wasn't in the books but it would have been really shocking to see.)

Anyways in the middle of the arena there are all sorts of weapons and goodies most of the kids run toward. Woody Harleson advised Katniss not to saying it's a bloodbath in the middle of all the goodies, cause honestly that's the first thing I'd do sprint to the first broad sword and then kill everyone near me and grab backpack and run into the woods. And thus brings me to our Arena-Villian (because the real villain is the oppressive government) His name is Kano (I think) (yes I love Mortal Kombat too, but he's not that Kano) and even if it's not I'll call him that. He's a punk.I'd of killed him and carried his head around that arena. In the earlier scenes it is explained that District 12 is the lowest and the higher ups are slightly more privileged in that they train to be in these games and some do volunteer. (Didn't I say earlier she was the 'first volunteer ever' well so did the movie, maybe this Faux Pas in the dialogue was explained better in the books) The actor doesn't even begin to know how to play sociopathic, maniacal, and scary and the director doesn't know what to do with him. He's clearly a handsome model type guy. Matter of fact outside of the adults I can picture all of the actors, with the acceptation of Jennifer, having been in some sort of modeling, all the kids are cute enough to be kid models and the older male kids look like the shirtless models I see in mall stores I usually avoid. Point is he's your main physical villain and he's NOT SCARY!!! That's a weakness.

Anyways there is an annoying out of focus with sly music and low volume (much like the POV's in Saving Private Ryan) sequence of kids being killed off one by one with minimal blood, mostly just falling, in that pit of goodies, with Kano doing most of the killing. Sort of affecting but sort of distracting. And not nearly shocking enough for the moment being built up so much. And yes it's PG-13 I don't mean shocking in the visceral sense but something other than 'exactly what I expected the director to do'.

Soon after most of the left over kids scatter and an 'alliance' is formed with some of the 'PURE EVIL' kids. (These characters have no depth or personality) ((And yes there is a twist about that alliance that I just don't want to spoil or explain my thoughts on)) but the point is it's an alliance, like 'Survivor' , which is cute, until I realized that eventually there can only be one winner so alliances in all forms are pure stupid…they aren't voted off they're murdered off. A real strategy would be to kill the toughest person first, then second toughest, and by the end you're left with like a 12 year old girl and don't have to waste a lot of energy. That of course is me thinking like a survivalist which is what this film and I'm sure the books were trying to tap into. Because I want nothing more than to sit in a theatre of a group of teenagers contemplating murder. (Okay that's a bit cynical I'll give the kids some credit.)

Regardless the 'Battle Royale' as it were commences.

A list of details:

1st thing - Contestants can have little balloons of supplies flown into them by their sponsors, that have things like medicine and maybe soup or something, I'd of asked for a machine gun but that's just me.

2nd thing - The control room for the game show can introduce new elements into the game, like a wall of fire. (I wished this element was used more)

3rd thing -The administrators change the rules of the game during the game - which is a cheap, cop-out, bad writing technique, and is too easy to write yourself out of a hole. Which they do.

4th thing - Okay, 1st Elephant In The Room Time!!! DEAD KIDS. There I said it. 12 year old kids dead by stabbing…ect…how do you deal with this in a a PG-13 setting. Cutting away to something else works, blurring the camera works, having a character mentioned without actually showing works, non visual death like poisoning works…but eventually it becomes disingenuous. The cliched shot of looking down and noticing that big stab wound in your chest happens in this film and I wanted to scream. It's disingenuous to show a kid die and not show the true emotional tragedy and physical affect a wound really has. (Sorry folks I've held bloody people before, it's not poetic, it's sad, and very visceral) So after about the 3rd dead kid sequence the film was clearly running out of ways to mask the Elephant in the Room.

5th thing - During the contest it cuts back to one of the districts rioting after their tribute dies…I cheered, I was happy, finally some goddammed well deserved passion. Somebody was passionate about something and not just dreary and miserable. What came later after this moment was a girl getting her head bashed in (under what context I won't share because that also came as a shock) that I also cheered at and awkwardly laughed, not because it was great or cathartic, but genuinely because it was surprising…it was deserved but awkward because of how easily the girl was killed and with no blood. Even a minor head injury bleeds like hell. Lets face it a lot of the acting is kind of cheesy in this film and to see even one tiny moment boarder on raw and powerful made me enjoy the film more.

- The Ending - SUCKS! Okay not that bad we'll calm down here.

Some characters that were cute and not very memorable die in clever ways…a love is formed between Peeta and Katniss (I'd of killed him if I were her but that's me) (and vice versa if I was him I'd probably try to sleep with her one time but that's just me, 'hey babe we might die tomorrow, want some forrest loving?') Anyways there is a showdown with Kano, Peeta, and Katniss…that ends in the game-masters trying to even up the playing field by introducing films strangest attack dogs (A cross between a Bull and a Bulldog - also these creatures suck from a design standpoint. They move around too much for me to get a good look at them and kind of look like the dogs from Ghostbusters) into the game in an attempt to move-the-game-along. And as you can imagine someone dies a horribly violent death off-screen screaming and begging for mercy (Much like Scar in 'The Lion King') (do they get mercy? I won't spoil) And that scene there is at least some blood. Cause eh hell it's the end of the movie by now no one really cares. But not a whole lot it's just smeared on the villain's face, rather crudely but somewhat affecting.

Peeta and Katniss are now in a position where they have to kill each other…then a really cop-out lame thing happens.

Katniss goes back home and Handsome McDreamy is proud of her but probably upset. And Woody informs her that the establishment is upset because she disrupted the games and caused riots and shit. Whoohoo. It ends with a really, really piss-poor sequel plug.

Things I forgot to mention:

1. Donald Sutherland is president of Penam (or Pan Am as I thought they were saying…a defunct airline company*)

2. And creepy kid from American Beauty is the Vice President I guess, but basically Director of the 'The Hunger Games' T.V. broadcast.

3. There are announcers much like sports commentators but unlike sports commentators, they're not fun, they just explain exposition poorly.

And that's all I can remember.

And now for a diatribe.

The love-triangle aspect of the film is hammy and terrible and one of the main reasons this film will be compared to 'Twilight'. I kind of buy it better than 'Twilight' I did see the first movie (which is horrible). The satire about how celebrities are treated like lambs to the slaughter and the way media is exploitative is wonderful but they don't go all the way with it (which could have been used more creatively to mask the violence even by cutting back to the announcers and instant replays and all the stuff associated with sports, but not really, they're just exposition) and dig as deep as possible into Penam's culture and compare our own to truly satirize it in a beautiful way. Instead they make it out to be like a sports film with a love story thrown in the mix when the film would best be played as a strait-up social satire. But ambiguity and satire are dirty words and also very hard to market. A love triangle and action drama is easier too. The idea that their are 'favorites' and 'villains' and other 1 dimensional cliche ways to get behind characters cheapens the idea that they're just plain old kids forced to die. We cheer for heros in our movies and we wish for the downfall of our villains..but in this senerio it shouldn't have been as black and white as it was. Also this is the only PG-13 movie I can think of that has a tripping-balls sequence in it.

Now for the 2nd Elephant in the Room.

The Running Man (Rated - R for violence)

Battle Royale (Rated - R for violence involving teens)

The Most Dangerous Game (I have no idea the rating - possibly *Unrated)

THIS CONCEPT IS NOT ORIGINAL - but then again neither was the concept to the movie 'Inception'. So stop crapping your pants. But my problem with it is this is an R-Rated concept. Throwing the film out of focus, cutting away, and using triply filters and just showing close-ups of blank eyes and no blood are all cute ways to avoid showing violence…but showing the consequences of violence is more important I think than trying to avoid showing it just to get a rating. It's as dumb as putting on deodorant and thinking it's the same thing as showering. It's masking a problem and doesn't work. And the moral is, take a shower folks, you'll smell better, I promise. No, the moral is you can't make a tween drama about heroin junkies. You can't make a tween drama about porno stars and you can't make a movie about kids who murder other kids in gladiatorial combat a good PG-13 movie. Because you have to sacrifice the drama, no not the blood and guts, but even the sensibilities it takes to tackle the subject. Raw emotional honesty. Lets face it when people are backed into a hellish corner they don't behave politely and it's not very honest to show them doing so. And this is probably the most polite gladiator movie I've seen. It's an adult subject that's being marketed now like a kids subject and hypocritically while the film satirized the idea of taking kids and turning them into celebrities and parading them around on talk shows and the like, this movie is doing it with it's own talent. Like they completely missed the point. This was a cash-in. Plain and simple. If this was an attempt to make a great movie that satirized media and made you think about how far we've come in comparison to that and to truly be shocking it would have to go all-the-way, satires generally go as far as possible, instead it just beat around the concept a little. But I guess were I of younger age, I'd rather see this than a Care Bears movie. Complexity isn't dangerous, moral ambiguity isn't dangerous, it's fiction.

The film doesn't seem to have a focused tone either. And that causes the film to suffer tremendously.

The sets aren't too great, I've seen similar in other sci-fi, same with the costumes, and gadgets. Some stand out and others don't. But nothing to write home about.

Yet there are 'Hunger Games' makeups now the girls can buy and this film is being whored out to every kind of merchandising so effectively this film is pushing our society more to the society it was attempting to satirize and make fun of in the film. This film seems to have that message yet the way it is being digested by the media the film itself may as well be called 'Tribute'.

There were big continuity flaws and I wish I was shown more about the cultural backstory of this society than what was in the title cards at the beginning. I'm assuming the director assumes that his audience were readers so didn't bother fleshing-out the cultures of the film…which really is a damn shame. It all comes across like a pastiche.

ALSO…I liked this film and am looking forward to seeing it again with fresher eyes. It does make you think about society. But not much different than other films that have tackled the subject. It's clearly now a part of a fad. And that's sad that it couldn't rise to the occasion to be better than that. To be transcendent. To be the classic that I thought the subject warranted. That said I do say it's worth seeing. It's not an EPIC FAIL. It's a GOOD TRY. Moderate applause.

I'd rather watch "Battle Royal" and then "The Truman Show" back to back. It'll give me the same over-all feeling this film should have had.

Also this isn't the first film even to have a character have a beard that's painted on…


Damn you Zardoz!!!

So remember 'May the odds be ever in your favor' & 'incase I don't see you…good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight'

Side Note - "Pillow Shots" ~ Roger Ebert in his review of 'The Grave of the Fireflies' talks about pillow shots. Shots of seemingly no importance - like cutting away to a the outside of a door while two characters are arguing then cutting back. Shots that add pacing and poetry to a film. Very few films know how to do this well. 'The Hunger Games' doesn't appear to have this at all (accept one moment involving a butterfly) it's just something I noticed a lack of which is typical for most films that have tone issues usually the reason is because they beat out the concept of this scene, then the next, then the next without any forethought into how the film flows as a whole.

'Come away Oh human child, to the waters and the wild, with a fairy hand in hand, this world is far more full of weeping than you can understand'

(Oh the music is great)

Monday, March 12, 2012

"The Deer Hunter" on blu-ray ~ This is this, it ain't something else, this is this

There are films like 'J. Edgar' and 'The American' which are tediously long. Then there are films like "The Deer Hunter" which are purposely paced slow. There is a big difference between a director that knows what to do with a 3 hour long film…and a director that is just wasting time because he didn't understand what to do with it.

I exchanged a defective "Rebecca" blu-ray for a "The Deer Hunter" (1978) blu-ray. I figured that was right.

I started the blu-ray I had bought of Michael Cimmino's "The Deer Hunter" and a chill went down my spine from the opening note of the overly simplistic film score and the huge title cards, almost designed for those with poor eyesight, as they slowly take their time to get to an opening shot of a working man's factory filled with fire, obviously a precursor to the horrors soon to come of the 'Vietnam War'.

There are 4 film requirements, if you're a man who loves film, "Citizen Kane", "Taxi Driver", "The Godfather", and "The Deer Hunter" and the 2nd greatest of these is . . . "The Deer Hunter" . . . strangely two out of the four have Robert De Niro in them.

It is slowly paced, designed to allow you to suck every nuance and moment from the film as purely and poetically as possible, like an opera about war and friendship. The film craft is impeccable. And the blu-ray is down right a perfect transfer event for 1978 film stock.

The sound in the first half of the film is loud and very realistic. Conversations blend into the background and everything is on a rather grand scale at least in terms of wide shots and sound composition.

Starting the film out much like the Godfather with a wedding solidifying the comrodery of the characters but unlike the Godfather, where each character is given a little moment to shine, the characters in "The Deer Hunter" are all in each moment together, as a unit of long-time friends, comfortable in their company, playing pranks and sharing blissfully ignorant smiles…as the film progresses through and then after the VIetnam War… they will split apart through the tragedy of war that will define them as real men as only a true tragedy can define a man.

This film won Christopher Walken a very deserving Oscar* and yes Mr. "He shoved this watch up his ass". . . Walken…deserved this Oscar ~ he plays no moment for laughs in this film but as a complete honest human-being whose sanity is stripped apart from him.

Robert Di Niro's cool calculated emotions and very human since of self, comrodery and humanity, not to mention his rather fun beard remind me of my Dad's demeanor. That and my Dad taught me how to hunt. This film is not about 'Deer Hunting' it's about surviving a major tragedy with your friends and seeing how far you can bend and how far you'll break underneath a true tragedy.

The film opens with a Wedding which the after-party of feels like a wedding in real-time, it's far too long, but the slow pace of it sets up every one of the characters. Although it's hard not to get swept up in the energy of the dancing and the way it is cut.

The Wedding-After-Party's monotonous dancing is soon broken up by a riveting scene where the boys try to talk to a Green Baret about his experiences 'over their' to which it's clear that the boys have no idea what is in store for them. To which the man takes shot after shot of whisky with his eyes glassed over and says 'fuck it' knowing . . . those kids have no idea what they're in for.

Afterwards the men go hunting with some of the most beautiful outdoor cinematography since "Deliverance" with fog just curling up around the mountains and that ever so graceful animal, a 'deer', being stalked by the camera til it's swiftly shot. This will also not prepare them for Vietnam.

And then Vietnam…to which I won't even stain this review to describing those scenes or basically the famous POW scene where they're forced at gunpoint to play Russian Roulette with each other. That one scene in a 3 hour long film has been talked about enough. And even spoofed in Peter Jackson's X-Rated puppet film "Meet the Feebles". There are other scenes surrounding that scene which are in my opinion equally powerful and worth note but I will spare you me describing them.

The post Vietnam scenes are the ones that truly rip me apart emotionally because I've never seen a film deal with post-traumatic stress in such an unflashy and unflatteringly unattractive way…as it happens in real life…a slow burn.

The post war scenes mimic the previous scenes in a uniquely chilling way which took the film from being obviously a Best Picture to a Timeless Epic that deserves to dwarf films like "Lawrence of Arabia" in the shelves of film history. Yes I legitimately think "The Deer Hunter" is probably one of the 5 best films ever made. It's length and seemingly free sprit in the way it's paced and edited with seemingly 'unimportant scenes' (which truly just give weight to the real set pieces of the film) allow it to linger in your mind longer than any other film I've known into a true emotional catharsis if you're the type of person that isn't disturbed by length or slower pacing.

If Vietnam was hell…coming home wasn't much of an improvement.

This film is a cathartic slowly-paced onslaught of filmic beauty that if I had the length of a novel to describe it couldn't possibly be done in words.

You just need to sit down and watch it and let it wash over you in one full sitting.

. . . .

If you've never seen this film, you have no right to call yourself a true understander and lover of film.

Also was this film sponsored by Rolling Rock? No seriously "Have a Rolling Rock, it is the best around" is a line in the the movie and there are full framed shots with Rolling Rock in them. *.*

""The Deer Hunter" . . . is this, it ain't something else, it's this."

Theme by John Williams

Special Makeup Effects by Dick Smith

Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond

Directed by Michael Cimino

3 Hours 4mins

. . .