by Steve Habrat
If you are someone who refuses to get swept up in The Hunger Games fever and dismisses the film as just a Twilight wannabe, you need to get to a theater immediately and check the film out for yourself. The Hunger Games is the first must-see movie of 2012 and it certainly lives up to the hype surrounding it. I went into the film with a neutral attitude, never having read one of the books and not overly excited to see the movie. About halfway through, I was fully immersed in the film because of the way director Gary Ross sold me Katniss Everdeen’s story and how he shaped the world of Panem. When it comes to other teen franchises, mostly Harry Potter and Twilight, I have to say that The Hunger Games is the most impressive debut film, one that establishes characters that I want more from, action that was both uncomfortable and yet exhilarating, and a cliffhanger of an ending that makes a sequel necessary. But The Hunger Games refuses to go flat stylistically much like Harry Potter and Twilight did on their first run, and I have to say that I ate up the Battle Royale meets District 9 meets A Clockwork Orange meets THX 1138 meets 1984 appearance of The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games drops us off in the totalitarian nation of Panem, a post-apocalyptic world that is made up of the futuristic Capital and the twelve poorer districts that surround it. We arrive in the mining town of District 12 where we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Played by Jennifer Lawrence) who shacks up with her younger sister Prim (Played by Willow Shields) and her mother. Every year, the nation of Panem huddles around their televisions to watch the Hunger Games, where twenty-four children are selected by the government and then forced to fight each other until only one survivor remains. During “the reaping”, an event in which the gaudily dressed Effie (Played by Elizabeth Banks) selects one boy and one girl from the Districts, Prim ends up being one of the names that gets called. Katniss volunteers to go in her sister’s place, an offer that is accepted by Effie. The boy who is selected is Peeta Mellark (Played by Josh Hutcherson), who hides feelings for the prickly Katniss. They soon make the trip to the Capital where they meet their mentor Haymitch (Played by Woddy Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Played by Lenny Kravitz), grandiose announcer and host Caesar Flickerman (Played by Stanley Tucci), and the leader of Panem President Snow (Played by Donald Sutherland). As the kids begin training and battling for sponsorships, Katniss emerges as the most deadly in the Hunger Games, but soon Katniss and Peeta learn that there is more to the games than just simply fighting for your life.
The style that Ross applies to The Hunger Games is reminiscent of past works but all it’s own too. The dystopian decay and totalitarian rule brought District 9, THX 1138, and 1984 to my mind while the games themselves acted as a smoothed over Battle Royale. The futuristic style seemed like they were ripped right out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the scenes where a group of kids laugh at their own violence brought images of Alex DeLarge and his “droogs”. Yet The Hunger Games feels vaguely fresh and is a beast all its own. It reflects on our willingness to hang on reality television and violence. There are several kids competing in the games who are all too eager to kill off fellow competitors. You can’t help but reflect on the violence that is sold to children both in video games and cinema itself. Yet The Hunger Games doesn’t exploit the carnage, much of it remaining of screen and to our own imagination. The opening moments of the games are extremely brutal as kids with swords, hatchets, knives, and more hack other kids up, some doing it with a faint smile forming on their faces. The Hunger Games suggests desensitized times but throws in a sensitive heroine who only kills if she has to, and she certainly doesn’t do it happily, making Katniss the last good kid alive. The film will no doubt spark discussion about violence and it is justified. Still, I think it is something that children can handle. The violence is never injudicious or excessive and when it does erupt, Ross smartly makes it tough to swallow.
Unlike Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen is a female hero that girls should rally behind. She is a bit unsure of herself when she is in the spotlight, but she remains strong willed, crafty, and resourceful, a “girl on fire” as the film suggests. She isn’t a shallow, scowling teen who broods over two guys fighting over her, whining about how horrible it all is. Early on, she is juxtaposed with Effie, who bathes in glamour, beauty, and excesses, hanging on the glittery material items surrounding her while caring less about the real matter at hand. Ross and screenwriters Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray illustrate Katniss as a more thoughtful character, someone who looks out for the ones she loves rather than strictly herself in these selfish times. While Katniss does brood, it helps that Ross, Collins, and Ray give Katniss a reason to mope. Her life is on the line.
The rest of the characters are just as captivating as Katniss, leaving the viewer actually wanting more of them too. I loved Tucci’s theatrical blue-haired talk show host and I hope to see more of him in future. Another big surprise is Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna, a character of quiet warmth for our dear Katniss. A scene right before the beginning on the game between Cinna and Katniss is truly a standout. I also really liked Harrelson’s Haymitch, a reluctant and drunken mentor who finally comes around when our heroes need him most. And I can’t leave out Elizabeth Banks as Effie, a colorful character who is eccentric but I wish they had pushed her character a bit further. She is deliciously sinister when she is drawing the names for the games, resembling a manic jester relishing in misery. The Hunger Games does work in a slight love story, hinting at a blossoming love triangle between Katniss, the sensitive Peeta, and Gale (Played by Liam Hemsworth), a character who is more seen by the audience not really heard from. I wish the film would have developed his character a bit more, but I feel he will have a strong presence in the future. I just hope and pray the series doesn’t morph into a repetitive soap opera like Twilight did.
Of all the young adult books that have been developed into movies, I firmly believe that The Hunger Games is the best and most important of all of them. The Harry Potter series fell victim to too many artistic approaches and clunky tones, as there was not one consistent director at the helm. The end result is a series that is an absolutely mess with little to no flow between the movies. Twilight was more concerned with selling itself on sex appeal rather than developing a proper story that we can invest in, resulting in a petty franchise with little regard for the fan’s intelligence. I just wish they would wake up and see it. Now we have The Hunger Games, which I hope doesn’t fall victim to what destroyed the Harry Potter franchise. On this first run, it seems that it avoided what has plagued the Twilight saga. I sincerely hope they keep Ross behind the camera, the entire cast committed, and the ideas pulsing. We’re off to a good start with The Hunger Games, and may the odds continue to be in this franchise’s favor.
by Charles Beall
Throughout the next month, I will be contributing articles about the Oscar race this year. To start things off, let’s talk about the big race, Best Picture.
9 Best Picture nominees
When the Academy announced that there would be a new voting system to select a Best Picture nominee (a film has to have 5% of first place votes to gain a nomination), I aired on the side of skepticism. At first, when the Academy announced that there would be 10 nominees two years ago, I cried foul. This is the Academy Awards! Why would we sully it by letting in five other films? However, take a look at these ten films (the first five released in 2009 and the last five in 2010, respectively): District 9, The Blind Side, An Education, A Serious Man, Up, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, and Winter’s Bone. Aside from The Blind Side (total turd), these ten films are exceptional “unconventional” films that never would’ve been nominated if there were only five nominees. Sure they can’t win, but they definitely were deserving of a nomination for Best Picture. I decided that I liked this 10 Best Picture nominee system.
However, per the new Academy rules, there could be anywhere between five and ten nominees for the films of 2011. The movies that were to be nominated had to, as I stated, receive 5% of number one votes. So, with this complicated system, I assumed there would be between five and seven nominees. Yet, there were nine.
Here are the tiers these films fall into:
(Note: films with an * are films I have not seen yet. I can only give the impression I get from them, whereas the films I have seen, I can attempt to attest to why they were nominated.)
The Five- these would’ve been the five nominated films if there were only five nominees:
This is a film that has Oscar written all over it. A nostalgic look at Hollywood, a silent film in black and white, and a feel-good, original idea, this movie is the kind of warm hug Academy members like.
The Descendants is the tailor-made, quirky Fox Searchlight Oscar bait we’ve all come to expect, yet don’t let that detract from how great of a film it is. Alexander Payne is a wonderful filmmaker and this film, his first since the incredible Sideways, goes along with his theme of middle aged men “coming of age.” Anchored by a wonderful performance by George Clooney (I think he deserves the Oscar), The Descendants is worthy of the respect heaped upon it, and even though it oozes of “Oscar prestige,” it truly is a great American film
The Help is the type of crowd-pleasing hit that the Academy loves to recognize to show that it isn’t a bunch of out-of-touch, pretentious white people. I enjoyed The Help, yet I have some reservations about it. First, it is entertaining without being overly confident in itself; it doesn’t wear its message on its sleeve. We know that segregation in the South is a disgusting stain on our nation’s history, yet The Help doesn’t delve into how blatantly horrible it was to make the actions of the white people in the movie seem more noble than that of the Help. With that said, it almost does go off the deep end. Yes, it portrays the bravery of certain white women and certain African American women, but it comes off that without the white women, the Help would’ve never had their story told. The film teeters on that cliff, but the filmmakers realize that that is too easy of a plot device, so I commend them for not taking the easy route.
While I would’ve liked a more “intense” portrayal of racism in the South, The Help suffices for reaching such a wide audience. The film is honest and takes its time to develop its great characters. In a year with only five nominees, I wouldn’t have selected The Help; however, when there are ten spots, I think it is deserving as one of the ten nominees.
Hugo is a marvel and the best film I’ve seen this year. This love letter to film, imagination, and life is completely engulfing. As Scorsese’s first 3D film, he utilizes the technology to add, well, another dimension to the story. There are no gimmicks and you are literally immersed into a world that could only come out of careful planning and love of source material. I cannot praise this film enough, and in any year, this would be in the top five, if not number one spot. Hugo deserves all of its 11 Academy Award nominations.
Midnight in Paris
The Academy loves Woody Allen, which is ironic because Woody never shows up to the ceremony. However, if there is any comeback film for Allen after some flubs in years past, it is Midnight in Paris. This is such a cute, original movie that offers an escape for not only the main character, but for the entire audience. This is one of the best movies of the year and worthy of its four nominations.
The “honor-to-be-nominated” Crew- if there were five nominees, these wouldn’t have been nominated, but with the current voting system (and the former 10 nominee system), they are:
The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film is a simply beautiful, undeniably maddening meditation on life. If there were only five nominees for Best Picture, this wouldn’t have been nominated (even though, I believe, he would’ve been nominated for Best Director-the Academy would oftentimes nominate a director whose film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture) but with the new system, it got in there. There is an almost cult-like following for this film and I was honestly surprised that it was nominated. It is a unique film, and this definitely “diversifies” the Academy’s canon of nominated films. It won’t take home the big prize, but it definitely has been honored with its 3 nominations.
A movie about math and baseball, written by Aaron Sorkin, and starring Brad Pitt. I haven’t seen it, but heard it is great. This is the Academy trying to be cool, I suppose.
Steven Spielberg. World War I. Epic. Is the Academy still sorry for snubbing Saving Private Ryan?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close*
This smells Weinsteinesque (more on that later).
Harry Potter WAS NOT snubbed
Fans are crying foul on the “snub” of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in the Best Picture race. Folks, there was no snub. This film did not deserve a nomination for Best Picture; it was the worst film in the franchise. Now, before you call me a death eater or a Slytherin, I urge you to do some soul searching and ask yourself if this really was the movie you thought it was.
Now, in defense of the Academy, they have opened their minds somewhat when it comes to films of different caliber. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, was nominated for 30 Academy Awards, winning 17 (including a clean sweep for The Return of the King). Yes, the Academy has been stingy on which films they nominate (fantasy/science fiction-wise), but The Lord of the Rings films were exceptional, bridging fanboy/girl devotion with a mass audience appeal. That isn’t to say the Harry Potter franchise didn’t do such a thing; it did, but not to the extent of respecting the source material in such a way that the LOTR filmmakers did.
Now, as I stated earlier, ask yourself if the final film really was that incredible. Take a look at both the entire final book and the penultimate film in the series. Both of these took their time developing both the story and the characters; the final film did not. There was a checklist of obligatory plot points to be filmed and they were done in such a rapid succession that one did not have time to emotionally process what was happening to the characters we have grown to love. The final LOTR film was 200 minutes. The final Harry Potter film was barely over two hours. With so much story left in the second half of the book, the filmmakers didn’t develop it into drama; they shot it and sent it off to 3D rendering.
Is the Harry Potter film series terrible? Absolutely not. I believe that for such a massive, original world that J.K. Rowling created, the filmmakers did a reasonably excellent job in adapting it for the big screen. However, after seven well-made films, the eighth just floundered, portraying itself as something that it was not and seducing loyal fans into thinking it was the best in the series.
Don’t hate on the Academy for this “snub.” There have been sequels that were nominated for Best Picture (and some that won) that were far more deserving than Part 2. True, The Return of the King won Best Picture for two reasons: it was a great film, but also the conclusion to a flawless motion picture trilogy. That is what gets rewarded by the Academy, not an “easy” sequel to an otherwise great film series.
“But The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture,” one might say. I know…I never said the Academy was perfect. However, there is a huge difference in an unworthy film getting nominated for Best Picture and an unworthy film not getting nominated for Best Picture. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 falls into the latter category.
In conclusion, it must be said that the Harry Potter film series, as a whole, stands as a landmark in motion picture history, and for that, both as a lover of the series and as a cinephile, I sing its praise.
What should’ve been the “ninth” and tenth films?
I put “ninth” in quotes because, while the 8 films that were expected or had a reasonable chance of being nominated for Best Picture were, the ninth film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was a shocker. There is a hardcore group of fans of this film, and while I have not yet seen it, I can tell you that it is one of the worst reviewed films of the past ten years (according to Rotten Tomatoes) to be nominated for Best Picture. So what happened?
As I stated earlier, the way the Academy has changed their voting rules over the last three award cycles allows films like Loud (and The Blind Side) to sneak in and nab a spot. What happened with Loud is that there were 5% of people who loved this movie so much that they put it as the number one spot on their ballot among the list of 300 plus eligible films from 2011. There is a great article from Entertainment Weekly that explains this whole system, and the link to that is right here: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/01/24/oscars-best-picture-why-nine-nominees/
So, now that you have your head wrapped around that, let us look at which films were “bumped off.” I believe that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Bridesmaids were bumped off by Loud. Some may argue that The Tree of Life also was a surprise, but with its devoted fanbase, I think it was always a shoo-in for a nod. As explained in that Entertainment Weekly Article, Tattoo and Bridesmaids were probably voters third or fourth pick for their favorites of the year, which would’ve helped in other years, but not this one. So, Academy members, if you find yourself passionate about a particular movie next year, make sure it gets your number one spot. If The Dark Knight Rises is as incredible as its predecessor, you know what to do.
So, that concludes my analysis of the Best Picture race for 2011. There will be more to come before and after the Academy Awards, so keep checking Anti-Film School for more updates.
by Steve Habrat
I think it is safe to assume that the true day that cinema died is March 11th, 2011. Sure, every year sees it’s fair share of rubbish movies discarded into your local megaplex to fill space, but none have been more absurd, shrill, dumb, meaningless, and excruciating than Battle: Los Angeles. The film is the textbook example of how not to make a movie, especially pure escapist entertainment at that. The film, which has no trace of a plot, looked promising. Did you happen to see the theatrical trailer? It was spellbinding and intriguing. The final product isn’t anywhere near what the trailer promised. Seriously, Hollywood, did anyone actually read the script to this thing? And who actually gave the filmmakers the go ahead? And who convinced a talented actor like Aaron Eckhart to actually star in the damn thing? Nothing about this film is remotely close to engaging and every time it hints at a clever set up, it pulverizes it with a barrage of gunfire, screaming, and camera work so shaky, it practically makes you want to vomit. I’ve been told I am lax when it comes to blockbusters of this breed, but Battle: Los Angeles has tried my patience and left me shell-shocked that Hollywood actually tried to pass it off as entertainment. They must take us for fools!!
Okay, so I’m sure by now you’re curious what the film is about? Well, the answer to that question is basically nothing. Aliens attack earth for our resources (Apparently, they want our water) and a bunch of meathead clichés fight back. They are lead by the retired Ssgt. Michael Nantz (Played by the determined-not-to-let the-film-crumble-into-smoldering-ruin Aaron Eckhart). Unfortunately, he can’t salvage the film’s set up by his acting alone. The rest of the characters don’t matter, as they are there to just be “Hoorah!” shouting targets for the aliens. Their mission is to hold LA at any cost. Why? Good question. They never tell us and we are supposed to just accept it. The film refuses to offer anything in the way of substance and opts for countless gunfights instead. It never attempts to offer up a developed hero we can stand behind and the rest of the marines that populate the squad are there to be shot up by the aliens. The film is the simple equation of explosion, run, scream, shoot, plot how to destroy the alien killing machines, repeat.
Usually, when I go to this type of film, I lower my expectations. I give myself over to it and roll with the punches. Sure, when the lights come up again in the theater, I will admit that what I just saw was pure crap. But, if it’s crap done right and with some obvious care of the material, then I will give the film some critical leeway. I will not tear the film to pieces if it at least made me care about a character, invoked something in the way of an emotion, thrilled me, entertained me, or transported me to a world I never knew I wanted to visit. This is precisely why we go to these types of movies. We go to explore a world we have never seen before with a larger-than-life hero and escape from our daily problems, if only for a little bit. And I will admit that my expectations were lowered when I started to see the irate reviews for this film. It broke my heart because the trailer had been so effective and for a while, the film was actually tolerable. I was curious to see what route the film was going to take. But after about twenty minutes, the project dive-bombed and it never regained itself. The major problem with all of it is the fact that it attempts to blind us to the fact that there is nothing underneath all of the rumble and special effects. There is no humanity to it. It’s all, sadly, for nothing.
Furthermore, the film is not only a chore to endure, but it features dialogue so painful, it’s offensive. It seems like the film was penned by a fifteen year old action junkie who watched District 9 way too many times and plays Call of Duty: Modern Warfare too often. The film is like an unholy mutation of two forms of unrelated entertainment that are both actually quite respectable. Any film that contains the line, which is someone offering up their help in dissecting one of the barely seen extraterrestrials: “Maybe I can help! I’m a vet!”, should have gone back to the drawing board. The film is loaded with these so-bad-they-actually-make-you-groan lines and it shamelessly delivers them with a straight face. Instead of thoughtful banter between the marines, it consists of them yelling: “Let’s show them who they fucked with!” and my personal favorite “We already had breakfast!” (This line, if you have seen the movie, has got to be the cheesiest lines in the history of cinema.).
Since this is a special effects spectacle (Well, it’s convinced that it is.), you are probably wondering how the effects are. This is the films strongest department, as the alien ships are actually quite creative. They resemble the silver disc-like flying saucers that we have seen in countless stock photos. The aliens, however, are not nearly as inspired, as they are a strange machine and flesh fusion that we never get a good look at. They march around in the distance making growling and clicking noises that would make the Prawns in District 9 roll their eyes. They have guns attached to their arms, which is another neat concept, but ultimately is obscured underneath more gunfights and explosions. And don’t even get me started about the final battle between the marines and a ship that rises up out of the ground. At one point, the aliens use a strange, spider-like death machine that fires off several rockets at once. You would think that the aliens would use more of these, as it is clearly a devastating weapon that proves to be quite a challenge to bring down. Unfortunately, it is loudly destroyed and that’s the last we see of this.
Battle: Los Angeles has succeeded in putting the final bullet in the head of blockbusters. Every single aspect of the film is so awful; I started to wonder if this was all just a sick joke on the audience. The film relentlessly bashes us over the head and practically causes a seizure from the shaky, strobe like editing. It raises more questions than it answers (How the hell are the televisions and internet still working even though LA has been bombed into oblivion?). I have never, in the twenty-one years I have been attending movies, wanted a film to end so badly as I did this one. It was excruciating. I will admit that even trying to form a proper way of describing how awful this film was to anyone is difficult, as it is dreadful on so many levels. It was appalling. Please, folks, for the love of God, do not see this movie. Do not show support for this kind of shit. That’s exactly what the film is. Shit. A stinking, steaming, ugly, disgusting, mean, lump of shit. The acting is shit, the script is shit, the cinematography is shit and the plot is shit. Battle: Los Angeles is without question, the worst film in recent memory. Somewhere, Battlefield Earth is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Battle: Los Angeles is now ruining movies on Blu-ray and DVD.