The Hunger Games
The Review: Young adult fiction is the hot ticket right now. It seems that if you can get to the heart of that market with your subject matter, then nothing is potentially off topic. Wizardry as a metaphor for adolescence? No problem. Star-crossed lovers who might have a problem with sunlight and being just a bit bitey? Ker-ching. Two dozen teens who must fight to the death because, in true Highlander style, there can be only one? Really? Writer of the original novels Suzanne Collins has claimed that the inspiration lies within Greek myth, specifically Theseus, although of course the Minotaur put paid to the Greek kiddies, rather than allowing them to take their issues out on each other. So what kind of role model is twenty four teens and tweens grabbing a weapon and taking pot shots?
The Hunger Games is actually an excellent role model if you consider where viewing habits will go when young adults become actual adults. There is an obvious level of satire on the current obsession with reality television that has obvious echoes of direct precedents such as Battle Royale, but also is only a couple of steps removed from Paul Verhoeven’s back catalogue. There’s also a dystopian future into which we are plunged which will hopefully inspire youngsters to seek out even darker material at some future date, but Hunger Games also works as a feminist ideal without ever really being overtly feminist, but shys away from casting the central teens as brutal killers, rather than desperate survivalists. From start to finish, there are seeds planted that are reminiscent of more adult films, and director Gary Ross does an effective job of weaving them together. Still, this is probably one you’ll not be wanting your own young’uns to emulate too closely on the playground.
This movie, as I alluded to earlier, is also being touted as the next Harry Potter or Twilight, and it’s certainly the equal of the former while probably besting the latter in terms of the cast that’s been assembled. Jennifer Lawrence is older in real life than her literary counterpart, but it’s worth the slight age gap for the quality of performance that she provides, not only showing steely determination and defiance but also allowing her guard to drop and showing real moments of vulnerability and fear. Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson have a long track record of top quality character roles, and if made a short list of potential menacing overlords, then Donald Sutherland would be on it. In an attempt to reflect futuristic fashions, the Capital’s garish colour schemes offset well against the drabness of the districts, but occasionally those artistic choices go a little over the top; Elizabeth Banks ends up wearing more than her fair share of them and it’s credit to her that her performance doesn’t get lost in them. The only slightly weak link is Josh Hutcherson’s slightly anaemic performance, but it doesn’t serve to unbalance the remainder.
Most people in the age range this is targeted won’t remember the delights of Saint and Greavsie, but as Jimmy was so fond of saying, “It’s a game of two halves, Saint.” Strictly speaking, the two halves are actually pre-game and game, and it’s the first half that’s the most effective, with the game itself struggling ever so slightly to throw off the shackles of the 12A rating, some shaky camerawork and some poor effects in the finale. There’s also the occasional pacing issue in this stretch, which is a shame as the first half has a steady build of tension marked out with some dark themes and leavened with the occasional dash of humour. The final score on The Hunger Games is that it’s respectable rather than compelling, but with enough to make it watching for adults of all ages.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s an ideal education for the young adult age range, who can expand into more grown-up themes easily from here, and apart from the occasional bit of dodgy CGI there’s plenty of meat here for the whole family, with both cityscapes and the countryside looking good on the wide screen.
The Score: 7/10
PARENTAL ADVISORY: The following blog is rated 18 for strong language, imagery, and a discussion that’s probably not going to interest anyone much under 17. Seriously, if you’re even the slightest bit squeamish and haven’t seen David Cronenberg’s The Fly, read on with care.
Forget your Harry Potters and your Twilights, they’re old news. The latest tweenage sensation, the young adult novel The Hunger Games, will be unleashed on us all in just a week. Well, strictly speaking, 99.92% of The Hunger Games will be released on the UK in just a week, for the distributor has taken the decision to take out seven seconds to receive a 12A rating instead of a 15. This isn’t the first time that this has happened this year, with The Woman In Black similarly cut for its release last month, this time losing six seconds of its run time. Should we care that we’re losing an amount of time that isn’t really practical enough to do anything with?
Well, Mr Oscar has put away his shiny bald head polish for another year, and we’re in the potential quality vacuum that is March. Coming after the vast majority of gongs have been given away and before we get into the avalanche of blockbusters and Hollywood hype that will start with The Avengers in late April, it’s a certain type of film that normally gets released in March. Behold the top 15 opening weekends at the US box office for March, courtesy of statistics trove Box Office Mojo:
Slightly depressing list, isn’t it? Yes, there are typically two types of film that make an appearance in March: big animations looking to get small bums on seats without the congestion of summer, and large scale films of moderate to low quality also looking to avoid other attention. Once upon a time, it was the month of the sleeper hit: Pretty Woman, Police Academy and Lethal Weapon all started out in March in the US, but now if you’re even a moderately sized film with good potential, you’ll be pitching in for a bigger month and more attention.
And, thanks to the often lengthy wait for animated films to cross the pond, the big new entry on that list, The Lorax, doesn’t reach UK audiences until the summer. So for scale this month we have John Carter (and I’m sorry, just because George Lucas ripped off Edgar Rice Burroughs, doesn’t mean you have to make your adaptation look creepily like Attack Of The Clones, crossed with new Conan The Barbarian) but there is one potential blockbuster and one UK animation lurking in this month’s list that could make March at least vaguely memorable this year.
Based on the look I got when seeing Shame at my local multiplex, where the ticket usher looked at me with such disgust it was as if I’d turned up in a full length brown mackintosh and started drooling and rubbing my thighs, I’m just glad that this look at the life of a paedophile and his young prisoner is playing to the art house crowd only, where they understand these things a little better and don’t judge. I am a huge fan of Michael Haneke, if you can be such a thing without contradiction given the deliberately off-putting nature of some of his works, so this piece in a similar vein from his former casting director was bound to interest me; so nice to see a trailer which isn’t just a montage of clips spoiling the plot as well.
To show how difficult it is for foreign films to get much love, this thriller with the star of The Secret In Their Eyes, Ricardo Darin, is currently playing in approximately three cinemas in London, so the likes of you and I probably won’t see it. Secrets itself was unjustly marginalised to the art houses despite picking up the big foreign Oscar and being just the kind of material that would appeal to big crowds if it didn’t have words along the bottom, and it didn’t generate enough cachet for its star to get any other films into cinemas. Sigh.
On that basis, no prizes for guessing where you’ll be watching one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. If you’re lucky. Repeated sigh.
The Hunger Games
But remember what March is about? Looking to get product out there in a crowded field? Have an adaptation of a young adult novel that could be the next Potter or Twilight, but don’t fancy your chances in the middle of a summer meltdown? Why then certainly, do release your film in March! Currently tracking at a level which suggests it might even have an outside chance of dethroning Alice In Wonderland from the top of that list earlier, the combination of well-loved material and an exciting cast that includes the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth Banks has even got me planning a trip for this one. (Still never watching Twilight, though.)
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
I’d also mentioned animation, and frankly who needs American CGI when you can have Aardman, working in good old fashioned Plasticine (or whatever it is that they actually use these days). If you’re not a fan of Wallace and Gromit, then you must have taken leave of your senses, and with a track record in the medium that also includes Chicken Run, this can’t be anything except great. Probably. It’s a shame that the leprosy controversy cost the film a joke and a bit of credibility, though; I thought it was fairly armless. (Disclaimer: The Movie Evangelist knows that leprosy isn’t about limbs falling off and is genuinely sympathetic towards the plight of sufferers, but I just can’t resist a bad pun.)
Into The Abyss
It’s Werner Herzog, with a documentary on prisoners and the death penalty. After 2011 featured a fascinating documentary about the world’s oldest cave and a memorable guest appearance in The Simpsons, it looks like 2012 is warming up to be another intriguing year for Werner Herzog. He’s the kind of person that deserves to only have interesting things written about him; I feel that this paragraph hasn’t done him justice. Sorry, Werner Herzog. (I do like saying Werner Herzog, though. Werner Herzog.)
Last night was the annual yawn-fest that is the Super Bowl. I explained last year that I’m not a huge fan of American Football, but apparently last night’s game was pretty exciting, if you find an hour of men running about in shoulder pads spread over about three and a half hours and punctuated by almost incessant advertising and a Madonna gig exciting. While the football itself was a great watch for those who like that kind of thing, the trailers this year have been something of a disappointment. Consider last year, when my picks included Super 8, Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Pirates 4, Transformers 3 and Rango. Even if some of those films turned out to be shockers, the trailers were all for big budget films looking for blockbuster audiences, which is more than can be said for this year.
Missing, presumed uninteresting this year were the likes of Wrath Of The Titans, Men In Black III, Prometheus, Rock Of Ages, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, so poor was this year’s crop of adverts that the six I’ve picked from this year didn’t even all air during the breaks in the “football.” The Hunger Games, for example, is described as a Super Bowl ad but as far as I can tell, it didn’t even air on TV during the big event. So desperate were the studios to hype up what was left that we even got trailers for some of the trailers; if you actually got excited by the trailer for the trailer for the Avengers, you may need to seek professional help. (And I don’t mean an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Anyway, here’s the best of a pretty mediocre bunch this year.
G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation
You’ve got 30 seconds to promote your sequel. So lots of action sequences, moody ninjas, fighting on a cliff and The Rock quoting Jay-Z. Throw in the Jay-Z song being referred to and some gratuitous Bruce Willis, and we’re about done. Next!
If anyone actually knows what this is trying to be (and don’t say Transformers 4, even those movies looked coherent compared to this), then answers on a postcard please. If it wasn’t for Liam Neeson, this wouldn’t even get a look in. Next!
Act Of Valor
So this apparently features the guy who played Navi Araz in season 4 of 24 and some actual armed forces types. There are apparently eight real life Navy SEALs in the film, but none of them will actually be mentioned in the end credits. Is it real? Is it fake? Does anyone actually care? Next!
Even though Andrew (Wall•E, Finding Nemo) Stanton is directing, my criminally low expectations for this have only been slightly elevated by this trailer. I don’t care if the source material came first, it still looks like Attack Of The Clones meets new Conan. That cannot possibly be a good thing. NEXT!
The Hunger Games
This is the next in the series of Harry Potter / Twilight book franchises to hit the screen, but this is actually looking pretty decent. Anything with Stanley Tucci in can’t be all bad. Next!
“I have an army.” “We have a Hulk.” “Well he still looks fake – and this is the third one!” The rest looks pretty cool, though. But you’d better do better next year, America.