Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games (Review)

BRIEFLY: Though The Hunger Games is well-acted and decently paced, there is simply not enough character development to justify the film which is itself reaching for a sort of young adult gravitas. We come to find in the end that, much like the reality television of today, the characters are disposable with motivations that conveniently yield to the plot rather than reflect the person. Further the dodgy camera work that schizophrenically pulls in and out of focus further undermines any sense of storytelling that director Gary Ross is reaching for. As a non-fan of the series(I haven’t read the books), the film did nothing to excite me for a sequel, but I’m sure that matters little as hardcore fans will certainly flock to the multiplex for this installment and several yet to come.

DETAILED REVIEW: It’s no surprise that The Hunger Games has been adapted for the screen. With Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Twilight carving out their own blockbuster film franchises it was only a matter of time until someone picked up the dystopian novel. The source material has all the makings of an epic: romance, action, death, sacrifice, and did I mention death? The Hunger Games is brimming death, but in the end, as each demise stacks up one after the other, the impact of such violence is lost and dismissed. Maybe this is a societal issue rather than a story issue, but if our society can care whether Snooki is pregnant or not, we should (the key word here being should) hold the capacity to care for death (albeit fictitious) of characters on screen. Couple that with the fact that the deaths are happening to teenagers and in some cases mere children, and I found myself reasoning that the film lacks the story elements necessary to help an audience connect and engage, but more importantly resonate with any character in the film.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the plot of The Hunger Games probably in passing, either from your mother, the cleaning lady Consuela, or your teenage niece. My niece in fact summarized it best, “It’s like in the future and there’s like these 12 districts who send two teenagers into a fight for the death, but only one makes it out.” Indeed, that’s about all you really need to know. Additionally, you probably should know that there is a romance (actually several romances), a few familial issues, and a global government hell-bent on utter control—sounds a lot like the Clinton administration doesn’t it?

In the midst of the story there is our main protagonist, Katniss and her fellow “tribute” from her barren home, District 12. The two have a history, but it’s unclear exactly what that history is until about two hours into the movie. The lack of characterization here really makes their relationship lack any resonance—romantically or otherwise.  

The lone exception to sloppy characterization however, is Katniss played by Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence. As the protagonist, Lawrence plays a powerful, independent, and cunning female. Indeed, the biggest achievement the film provides is its very positive representation of females. Katniss is strong without succumbing to clich├ęs yet also maintains a tender and emotional core that feels authentic rather than pigeon-holed into the so called norms of femininity.

On the other hand Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), slumps around with hunched shoulders and a chip on his shoulder that is more annoying than appealing. I found myself wondering why Katniss would ever wanna make babies with him? I think that for some reason we are supposed to connect with Peeta maybe even sympathize with him, however we can’t because we truly never care about him between he is either pouting or smirking with angst. He is jealous of the far stronger Katniss, something we see in his mannerisms, yet we get bludgeoned with dialogue that restates the character’s non-verbal thesis: “Katniss is better than me.”  

Though the characterization is shoddy, the acting is actually very sound. Lawrence is perfectly cast as Katniss. Lenny Kravitz is spot on as the fashion designer turned motivator, Cinna. Woody Harrelson is similarly great as the has-been hunger games trainer Haymitch. Even Stanley Tucci plays an effective role as the announcer/talk show host with Stephen Colbert’s candor and a Nicki Minaj hairstyle. If there’s one reason to see The Hunger Games, it is indeed the acting.

The biggest complaint is the camera work which is dodgy at best. At times it’s almost like watching one of those “found footage” films like Blair Witch or Cloverfield. But here, it’s far worse as the camera, for reasons unknown to this critic, moves in and out of focus faster than a Tebow Jets jersey at a Manhattan Footlocker. It’s an unnecessary move that proves futile in doing anything other than make it really hard for the audience to understand what’s going on.

Though it sounds like I really disliked The Hunger Games, I must admit that I was overall entertained. It’s a far better effort than Twilight, which it is somehow drawing comparisons to. I did find it at times very exciting, but those were only brief. The social commentary here screams the 21st century where we love reality television and have catapulted mere “nobody’s” into society’s “somebody’s” overnight—look no further than Teen Mom on MTV for further evidence! The film is most certainly trying to tap into that vein and for the most part it succeeds and does for once resonate, at least on the social commentary level.

In the end, the film concludes with a dues ex machina that removes any tension the film was attempting to build. It’s far too convenient (regardless of what happened in the books). I found myself going, “Okay, so what? What was all the hype about?” That’s most certainly never a reaction a Hollywood studio attempting to build a franchise would hope for. Though as previously mentioned, it matters little because the fans have spoken with their wallets and ticket sales are sky high (though still not quite to Dark Knight levels—just sayin). I’ll probably see the sequel, yet I can’t say I want to. Though if anything, seeing Lawrence command the film the way she did may be all the reason I need. I do love that lady.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From the Archives... Oscar picking the wrong film--AGAIN!

The Artist won Best Picture... yawn. Will we even remember the movie come 10 years from now? Probably not. I mean we might remember it as the "black-and-white silent film," but it's impact on the film industry at this point is moot at best.

This isn't the first time Oscar got it wrong--Citizen Kane anyone? Just a year ago Oscar got it wrong picking The King's Speech over the far better, more culturally relevant The Social Network. Though it's prbably a little bold to say, The Social Network might prove as revolutionary to our time as Kane was in the 1940's. In each respective case though, Oscar chose the "safe" route.

To further my disdain for Oscar's latest selections, I've turned my focus to the father of dramatic theory--Aristotle. It was he who brought up the idea of mimesis--a way by which good drama is evaluated as it mimics or replicates a representation of reality. Shakespeare took it a step further in Hamlet telling us that good thetre should "hold a mirror" up to the audience and reveal reality. In deed, we like movies because we find ourselves in them. In light of my mulling of Oscar stupidity coupled with the theory of the mirror holding itself to society, I found my review of The Social Network. It seems to echo my words and reinforce the theory of mimesis.

Take that Oscar!

The Social Network Succeeds with Snapshot of a Generation
By: Matt Howard
SUU University Journal
November 2010

A movie about Facebook sounds about as exciting as Katherine Heigl in another romantic comedy.

Yet The Social Network, a film about the founding of online-fixture Facebook, is simply incredible.
Directed by David Fincher of Fight Club, Seven and Benjamin Button fame, The Social Network is without doubt one of the best films of the year. The film is a deft mixture of Greek tragedy, courtroom thriller, college comedy and coming of age tale. Each respective genre is intricately and respectively woven into the plot’s moral fabric.

Based on the true story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, the film explores the consequences of success in our day and age. The very idea of Facebook actually started as a plot for revenge after Zuckerburg was spurned by a lover. He aired his disgust for the girl who turned him down the only way our generation knows how to — by blogging. From there, he took his revenge to new heights and spawned FaceMash, a site which users could vote on Harvard students’ overall attractiveness. In a little over an hour, the site had received a staggering 22,000 hits.

Being the genius that he is, Mark Zuckerburg realized the idea for FaceMash could be added upon and thus Facebook was born.

All the while, Zuckerburg is played by a hauntingly distant Jesse Eisenberg, whose lightning quick wit is mixed with an innocent yet roguish blank glare. He is the complete embodiment of a cunning wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Along the way, Zuckerburg makes and breaks friendships. His best friend and business partner, Eduardo Savarin, played by Andrew Garfield, is his only real friend and yet Zuckerburg throws it all away in order to protect his precious website.

Justin Timberlake plays Napster­­­­­ — founder — turned — Zuckerburg — friend Sean Parker, who does his fair share of bragging and backstabbing to get to the top. His cockiness exudes the one-upmanship of this generation.

The story follows a disjointed time line. Edits switch from present courtroom depositions to past events that lead to the said depositions. It’s abrupt and hard to follow in the beginning, but really adds to the fluidity of the pacing and character development.
In the end, Zuckerburg, like so many of us, is left alienated — relegated to his digital Facebook friends. He is successful, but without true human connection and interactions we are left asking just how successful he really has become.

As far as the social commentary overtones — they are apparent in every frame. For the college generation, which this film is definitely speaking to, it’s as if we are staring into a mirror, finding the ugly visage of instant gratification, fame, fortune and individualism. The Social Network is very much a cautionary tale for this digital age of social interaction and self-induced online obsessive compulsive disorder.
In fact, as I write this review I must admit that I’m logged into Facebook.

The Social Network is so masterful, that some are labeling it the “Citizen Kane of our time.” My response to that can only be answered by borrowing the words from college football analyst Lee Corso, whose popular phrase is, “Not so fast!” Truly, The Social Network is something to marvel at but it doesn’t reach Citizen Kane levels — at least not yet.

Instead the film needs some time to marinate in our minds before we get too ahead of ourselves. For now it’ll have to settle as “The Breakfast Club of our time,” as a film which offers a succinct snapshot of a generation. So move over Molly Ringwald, there’s a new nerd at the table.

At the end of my viewing of the film, a friend posed the question whether Facebook was a fad? I kind of paused and thought about it only to reason that a company with 500 million users, valued at $25 billion dollars, in nearly every corner of the planet except maybe Antarctica, should be relevant for a long time. Undoubtedly someone told Bill Gates his “personal computers,” were fads and look how that ended.
Whether we like it or not, Facebook, like Katherine Heigl romantic comedies, are here to stay.

The Social Network movie poster

Miss Lohan is BAAAAACK!

Y'all know I have a love for Miss Mess--Lindsay Lohan. Well, she was on SNL last week and did great (though I was holding out hope for either a Mean Girls reunion or a Parent Trap 2 skit). Nonetheless it was good seeing her back in the limelight. How long will it last? Honestly, I have no idea, but I hope it lasts... She was my generations Emma Stone or Molly Ringwald.

Check out the video... Lindsay+Real Housewives + Disney + Kristen Wiig = MAGIC