Film In Review: The Hunger Games Scores a Victory

Film In Review: 'The Hunger Games' Score a Victory

Film In Review: The Hunger Games Scores a Victory

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]omparisons will be made. You can’t have two films about photogenic teenagers in love in supernatural circumstances without drawing parallels.

With “The Hunger Games,” team Edward and team Jacob have been swapped for team Peeta and team Gale. Bella, whiny wallflower and maven of melancholia, has been upstaged by the heroic and determined Katniss.

But the biggest difference that immediately emanates from the screen is that “The Hunger Games” oozes with a fundamental element that the “Twilight” series lacks—great performances.

Film In Review: The Hunger Games Scores a Victory
Lenny Kravitz and Jennifer Lawrence
in "Hunger Games.

For those of you unfamiliar with the latest tween craze, here’s the gist: Following a civil war, North America—referred to as Panem—is divided into 12 districts, including the tyrannical rulers in the Capital.

As punishment for their rebellion, each district must offer up a teenage boy and teenage girl to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. After her younger sister Primrose is selected for the games through a lottery, Katniss volunteers for the games, protecting her sister from certain slaughter.  She leaves behind her best friend Gale, and instructs him to protect her family while she is taken away with Peeta to fight to the death.

With a stellar cast including the likes of Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland, the film flies by at a staggering 142 minutes.

Elizabeth Banks provides great comic relief in her quickly timed portrayal of Effie Trinket: the ill-placed socialite representative of District 12 who prepares Katniss and Peeta for the games.

She is impervious to the pain of the lower class; viewing life and the life of others in how it will reflect upon herself.

Lenny Kravitz is endearing as Cinna, the stylist and unexpected mentor for the two young fighters, while Woody Harrelson expertly plays Haymitch, the often drunk former winner of the games who trains and prepares the District 12 team for the grueling games to come.

Director Gary Ross uses hand-held camera techniques to introduce the audience into the intimate world of Katniss Everdeen, dashingly played by Jennifer Lawrence. The shaky camera is cleverly used throughout the film and it effectively softens the brutality of the killings during the game.

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Arriving at the Capital, there is a striking class disparity between the have districts and the have-not districts.

Katniss was raised in a coal-mining, have-not district, and thus is put at a disadvantage. The theme of extreme class separation seems to be common in many recent films— I was reminded of the separation of classes in the zones of the recent Justin Timberlake film “In Time.”

In “The Hunger Games,” the rich have more than enough food, clothing, and shelter, as well as medicine that cures overnight, while the poorer districts struggle each day to survive.

While Katniss’ world is opened to the possibilities of the riches outside of her district, what motivates her to fight is the thought that she must return to her home district in order to protect her sister. This self-effacing charm makes her likeable to the district crowds who root for her to win, though it also makes her hated by President Snow (Sutherland), who doesn’t want her bravery to inspire hope within poor districts.

Katniss remembers Peeta from District 12 as a selfish brute, but comes to learn that there is more to Peeta than she knew: He is kind, caring and has had a crush on her for years.

Together they struggle to survive the games, knowing only one can return home as the victor.

“The Hunger Games” entertains on so many levels. The idea of kids fighting to the death is repulsive, yet this film makes it fascinating. Visually, the film is stunning, and performances were solid.

Film In Review: 'The Hunger Games' Scores a Victory

I’m fairly confident Lionsgate will make back its $100 million investment and then some, as Suzanne Collins’ books, from which the film is adapted, have already sold over 25 million copies.

I am already anticipating the sequel, which, undoubtedly, must be in the works.

Hell, I may even pick up the book series to read in anticipation of the next film.

Go see this film. You will not be disappointed.


The Hunger Games opens today in theaters everywhere, click here  for theaters and showtimes.

Film in Review – “A Little Help” Needs Just That

I generally enjoy going to movies to escape the mundane of life through celluloid scripted comedy and fantastical storytelling and adventure.  If the movie can’t give me the happy ending or an alternative universe, which I crave, I can still endure it and yes, even enjoy a tear inducing heartache of a drama if it is well penned and acted.

Unfortunately, A Little Help is none of the above.

This film is a snapshot of a dysfunctional Long Island family in the aftermath of a husband’s death.   Jenna Fischer plays Laura whose marriage to Bob (played by Chris O’Donnell) is falling apart.

Laura drinks too much and Bob is always working.  Laura is the pretty but screwed-up sister at odds with her sister Kathy (Brooke Smith) who is the less pretty but put-together domineering sister.  Kathy is married to a man who tolerates her but doesn’t fully love her and she openly disapproves of his life choices.

All characters must learn to live with their continued litany of poor decisions which balloon out of control after Bob’s death.  One of the biggest poor decisions occurs when Laura allows her 9th grade son, who is nervous about attending a new school, to lie by telling his friends that his dad was a firefighter who died in the attacks during 9-11.

What bothered me most about the film was that none of the characters were likeable.

Continuing with the notion that we are all flawed, this film demands we shine a lighthouse searchlight on every little facial pore and every little crack within the complexities of family dynamics.  And through all the intense scrutiny, I could not find any redeeming qualities in anyone.

Even Laura and Kathy’s parents are screwed up.  Their mom (Leslie Ann Warren) is extremely overbearing while their dad (Ron Leibman) meekly goes along with everything she demands.

The film is written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn, who is best known for his work on the “King of Queens” and “Family Ties” TV series.    As an admirer of his work, I was surprised that none of the sweetness of his past characters came out through this film.

Yes, we are born into families and we have to live the sum of our life’s choices every day.  Yes, the only thing we can do is to learn from each choice and to either change or live with the decisions we make.   But yet, this family trudges through each day oblivious to being on the path to their impending destruction.  And it hurts to watch.

Fischer was severely miss-cast as the drunken mom.  Although she was rarely seen without a can of Budweiser, she performed unnervingly chipper and present, making it hard to suspend my belief at her performance (or lack thereof).

One standout performance, however, goes to Zach Page who played Kathy’s son, Kyle.  He is a talented musician and I would definitely like to see and hear more of his work.

If you want to see a stunning portrayal of a breakdown of a marriage, I recommend staying in and renting Blue Valentine.   Otherwise, feel free to check out this film that could use “A Little Help”.  C-

A Little Help opens today July 29 at AMC Shirlington 7 in Arlington, VA and in select theaters nationwide. This film is Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use.


Film Obsessions: Bradley Cooper Reaches His Full Potential in "Limitless"

What if you could access 100% of your brain’s ability instead of the 10% we all use now?  How differently would you live your life?  What job would you have, who would you date or marry?

Bradley Cooper’s character Eddie Morra has the opportunity to test a new experimental drug called NTZ that helps the user access 100% of their brain, in the new film “Limitless”.

As a struggling writer, NTZ helps him complete his book, learn languages quickly, charm women, and enter the world of Wall Street finance with ease.  Sounds great, right?  Who wouldn’t want NTZ?

Well every transformation has its price.  Morra gets the NTZ from his slimy ex-brother in law who is being chased by Russian mobsters and various other bad guys.   Soon the bad guys turn their attention to Morra (Cooper) who is now experiencing physical side effects and memory loss.

Limitless is an action - packed thriller that will appeal to action film lovers, adrenaline junkies and fans of Bradley Cooper everywhere.  Cooper proves that he deserves to be in an acting league above the limited McConaughey’s of the world, as he transforms his character Morra from an aimless slacker to a high-power broker in a quick 105 minutes.

Abbie Cornish does a great job as his girlfriend  (in a younger Charlize Theron sort of way) and of course, Robert De Niro is great as the business tycoon, Cal Van Leon.

One other reason you must see this film is the amazing direction of Neil Bruger who steps out of his usual writer-director role to direct someone else’s work.

For a Hollywood mid-range budgeted film ($27 million), this movie is visually stunning.  There are some great special effects with several seemingly single endless shot sequences that bring the viewer into the film.

The choice of coloring and close shots of the characters provide a perspective that we, the viewer, are going through the process of discovery with Morra.  It just works!  The film sticks with you even after the credits roll.

Limitless is based on the novel Dark Fields by Ian Glynn and the screenplay is written by Leslie Dixon (Thomas Crown Affair).  

Limitless is now playing in theaters and I strongly recommend that you skip 3 days of lattes to budget the $12 see it.

Why 'The King's Speech' Will Probably Win Multiple Oscars

No, the King’s speech is not about Martin Luther King’s famous speech in Washington DC.

This movie is about King George VI of England.  (Wait – before you yawn and complain about another historical period drama with a boring story meant for blue hairs who lived through it the first time – stop!) This movie is exciting and amazing and a must see.

Imagine two princes – one a serious study of royal duties and the other, who is in line to inherit the throne, a partying playboy.

The senior prince decides to marry a commoner divorcee from Baltimore, which jeopardizes his right to the crown. (Remind you of anyone – ripped from the headlines of today’s tabloids—Prince William and Kate Middleton?)  I guess history really does repeat itself…

But unlike the seemingly cordial relationship between Princes William and Harry, their grandfather’s (King George VI, played by Colin Firth) and great uncle’s (King Edward VIII, played by Guy Pierce) relationship is a bit more combustible.

George VI reluctantly agrees to take the throne during a tumultuous time while Britain faces the reality of entering World War II.  While King George VI has mastered his royal duties and responsibilities, he has not mastered the art of speaking without a significant stutter.

Enter Geoffery Rush as the unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue.  His self-taught techniques that he developed dealing with shell-shocked soldiers in WWI pushes the King in ways he had never been pushed before.  Over the course of their sessions they develop a great friendship that broke the boundary between society’s rules towards commoner and royal.

After the fighting and stress and drama, the film culminates into one final dramatic speech that King George VI is to deliver to the entire British Empire on the brink of war via radio.

Colin Firth delivers an Oscar worthy performance as King George VI.  His ability to stuttering and stammering in gradients as his speech lessons improve his speech was masterful and amazing.  His emotions of joy and anger that he displayed through his friendship with Logue, portrayed by an equally amazing Rush, was a lesson in dramatics for every wanna-be actor of the world.

This is a must see movie and a predicted multi-Oscar winner movie for Firth and Rush.  I also predict Princes William and Harry are proud of the portrayals of their family as well and are rooting for the film to win, too.

Much Ado About Christmas

Before you call child protective services about the old man on the corner, beckoning children to sit on his lap, tempting them with sugary sweets, stop the madness and use the common sense test.  It’s December and the old man is wearing a bright red suit trimmed in white faux fur.  We call him Santa Claus and through his many incarnations he’s been delighting children and parents for centuries.

Santa Claus is a beloved symbol for the national holiday of Christmas.   The definition of a National holiday means the holiday is recognized by the national government and all of its states.  So why did NPR reporter Nina Totenberg openly apologize for using the phrase “Christmas party” while telling a story?  When did we start publicly apologizing for Santa Claus? Are we going to have to apologize for mentioning we attended a Labor day party or Washington’s Birthday party (both national holidays) too?  Can we use some common sense please?Read more

Why You Should Watch Glee in 2011

Forget Ross and Rachel. (Who, right?)

The newest couple to root for is Finn and Rachel.  Will they or won’t they?  And why do we even care?

For every jock , head cheerleader, band geek, and computer nerd out there-  there lives an insecure inner child who wonders if they are good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or popular enough.  And we all can feel and relive their wounds and hurts of adolescent angst.  But instead of a Morrissey sound track to accompany the acned face of misunderstood youth, Glee’s blemish free stars sing their anthems through the musical stylings of a show choir on Broadway.

If you love music and love high school but not in the  sugary sweet Disney-high-school-musical way, you will love Glee.  There is definitely someone for everyone to relate to on this show.  Clichéd closeted gay jock, pretty and slutty cheerleaders, the sassy black chick, the kid in the wheel chair, the girl with two dads, the dad who died in war, the bully, the Asian kid, the openly gay kid – is there any stereotype that’s not represented in this show?  Yet, somehow the campiness works.  I’m a Gleek.  I get it.  We all like to root for the underdog.  We like to prove society now has acceptance for those who are different.  We all feel like we are all different.  And we are all looking to belong.

No character is more appealing to root against than the mean spirited with a tiny heart of gold Sue Sylvester, played by Emmy award winning perfection Jane Lynch.

Her one-liners will become a drinking game some day- if not already in the works. She is the woman we love to hate but also want to friend.  Her admission of being single-handly responsible for Mai Lai incident in Vietnam during the Christmas episode was understatedly clever and telling.

Former, current and future outcasts can unite through song on Glee.  It is the MUST watch show of the new year.   Will Finn and Rachel reunite again after Rachel’s betrayal with Puck, Finn’s bad-boy frenemy?  Will Arnie ever walk?   Will Emma and Mr. Schu ever get a chance at romance?  And what ever happened to the baby?  All these questions that we will stay tuned to have answered.

It seems as if formerly (or currently?) socially awkward Hollywood writers are getting revenge at their childhood tormenters through the visual representations of their revisionist memory of their personal high school experience through this show.  Did someone get stood up for the prom?  Or did someone get one too many boys bathroom swirlies?  Aaawww; so sad.  Either way, the writers’ not so repressed childhood pain becomes our entertainment.