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 Jamie Matty
“The book was better,” is our most common response to page-to-screen adaptations, and yet, one that I couldn’t honestly say as I left the theater this Friday. It’s rare that a film surpasses the novel it was based upon; Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games does just that. For those of you who haven’t read the novels, here’s a quick synopsis: Sometime in a dystopian future, a country called Panem stands where the USA used to be. A lavishly totalitarian capitol city rules over and systematically abuses 12 districts that generate the resources it needs to sustain its hedonism. As a reminder that rebellion is futile, two children are annually selected from each district to compete in the Hunger Games, a nationally-televised tournament in which the contestants fight to the death until only one victor remains. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) sizzles as Katniss, the brave huntress from District 12 who volunteers to compete in the Games in her little sister’s stead.
In the mix we have a delightful ensemble cast: Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are Alright) and Liam Hemsworth (Some Terrible Nicholas Sparks Movie) star as Katniss’s potential love interests; Woody Harrelson (Cheers) and Lenny Kravitz (American Woman?) serve respectively as her lovably alcoholic trainer and sympathetic personal stylist. Finally, Elizabeth Banks is unforgettably frightening as a zombiefied Marie Antoinette (a.k.a. Effie Trinket, Katniss’ PR manager).
Though Lawrence seems to have more chemistry with Kravitz than her pre-pubescent male opposites (and who can blame her?), Hutcherson’s Peeta is charming and likable. The film’s main disappointments come from its costumes, which look cheap and gaudy (I had hoped for avant-garde and futuristic), and from Hemsworth’s stiff and unconvincing Gale. Additionally, while I had hoped for more raw violence, jerky cinematography keeps the fight sequences purposely blurred and within its PG-13 boundaries.
For viewers who loved the novel, this film won’t disappoint. Where Collins’ prose drags, the movie makes up for it in color, emotion, and crisp dialogue. Additionally, the “Marxism and postcolonialism for kids” messages come through neatly without having to deal with Katniss’ annoying interiority.
Exciting, intriguing, and 40 billion times better than the drippy abortions that the Twilight franchise keeps pumping out, Hunger Games is a solid winner for Spring’s Best Blockbuster.
Our Idiot Brother
This week, Anti-Film School encourages all of our readers to check out Our Idiot Brother, which comes out on Blu-ray and DVD today. This heartfelt comedy about a big hearted stoner down on his luck is filled with nonstop laughs, wit, and a left of center performance from Paul Rudd. In my eyes, it ranked as one of the best comedies of the summer, a film that was somewhat overlooked by audiences. I was pleasantly surprised with this film and I think many of you will enjoy it. If you want to check out my review of Our Idiot Brother, click here to see my letter grade and analysis. I guarantee that you will just dig this movie, man!
by Steve Habrat
I wish every film could have characters that are as entrancing and three dimensional as Our Idiot Brother, a late summer comedy that has been met with a relatively mixed reception from critics and audiences. But I found Our Idiot Brother to be charismatic, consistent, and a total delight to watch. Its dry, knee-slapping humor is fast and demanding of our undivided attention. The film is kept afloat by its buoyant adult tone that never slips into fantastical slapstick pratfalls or senseless gross out humor. It feels unfeigned and it leaves the viewer feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. The film is a game changer for Paul Rudd, who is usually cast as the prim and proper smart-aleck everyman. Here he channels Jeff Bridges’ The Dude (even down to the tribal print pants), with such likable results, you almost want to leap into the screen and give him a hug.
The film follows organic farmer Ned (Rudd), a gullible, peace-loving stoner who has never really grown up. He sells vegetables at a farmers market along with his dog Willie Nelson. One day, the altruistic Ned is suckered into selling a bag of pot to a uniformed policeman. He gets sent to jail for a couple of months and is let out early for good behavior. He returns to his farm to find that is dreadlocked girlfriend Janet (Played by Kathryn Hahn) has replaced him with another man, Billy (Played by comedian T.J. Miller), another stoner who avoids altercation. Ned moves on to restart his life and shacks up with his three sisters, happily married Liz (Played by Emily Mortimer), lesbian Natalie (Played by Zooey Deschanel), and career driven Miranda (Played by Elizabeth Banks). Ned soon finds himself caught in the middle of an affair, an unplanned pregnancy, and a life-changing job opportunity. He means well, but his sisters deem him the root of their problems and slowly begin to turn on him.
Our Idiot Brother is artfully composed and seems a step above the slew of sweet natured gross out comedies that have been all the rage. It’s Ned’s down-to-earth interaction and nonjudgmental character that makes him such a charmer. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You will smile at his one-on-ones with Natalie’s partner Cindy (Played by Rashida Jones), who agrees to help him get his dog back from Janet. The dog is Ned’s world, and while it seems at first like a flimsy side-story, it warmed my heart that Ned’s world revolved around his four-legged companion. You will also cherish a budding friendship with the aspiring sci-fi writer Jeremy (Played by Adam Scott), who seems to understand Ned’s frequency.
I loved this film’s solemn moments, the one’s with raw family interaction. One scene near the end reveals Ned as a wounded individual who just wants his family to get along. He simply wants to find the joys in life and avoid negativity, which he ironically brings with him everywhere he goes. He has the best intentions in mind. Ned’s sisters are also a pleasure to spend time with. I found Natalie’s aspiring stand-up comic flirt to be dreamy and supportive. She lacks a filter and can be a bit vulgar at times, but she’s just as down to earth as Ned. She does, however, keep her composure elegantly in tact. Miranda, who is tough to love, is a domineering control freak that has a soft spot underneath her concrete shell. She is surprisingly vulnerable. Liz has hippie undertones and is at times a bit jaded, but is also manages to be kind and placid.
Our Idiot Brother is touching and we root for Ned to get his life on track. This man is shit on by life every step of the way and we can’t help but admire his sunny disposition. No matter how bad, or weird for that matter, things get, he still has a smile for everyone. His sudden meltdown is a bit alarming, but we can see where he’s coming from in the wake of all that happens to him of the course of the flick. The film thankfully never falls victim to stoner comedy clichés and instead hurdles over them nicely. The comedy here is restrained and if you blink, you may miss some classic one liners. But the film grounds itself nicely and becomes a pleasant little surprise. If you go into this film expecting something along the lines of Role Models or I Love You, Man, you will be severely disappointed. Ned turns out to be a character that, when the going gets tough, we should aspire to be like. He acts as a lesson to us all if you’re willing to look close enough. If a simple story about a guy and his dog is you’re thing, look no further than the cheery Our Idiot Brother. Grade: A-