Archives for March 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games PosterRating: ★★★½☆

As the early minutes of the movie unfolded, it seemed to me that its principal premise was assembled by prominent ideas that came before it. When the story reveals to us that young men and women would have to slaughter each other for survival’s sake, we cannot help but be reminded of the infamous Japanese cult classic, “Battle Royale”. And later, when we learn that the bloodshed is to be controlled and televised by a game master, “The Truman Show” comes to mind. We can sit here and try to draw parallels between these different worlds, but no. Any discussions regarding the film’s possible influences would end in useless futility. “The Hunger Games” is independent in its desires and ambitions. It has a life of its own.

This adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s bestseller takes us to a dystopian future where the North America of today has become, in a word, kaput. Wars have destroyed democracy, and out of their wreckages the nation of Panem comes into being. The poor and powerless are distributed in the destitute 12 Districts while all the douchebags and oddballs can be found in the thriving, dominating Capitol. I like how the movie ignores the common vision of how people in the future dress in bland costumes. The citizens of Capitol have fascinating taste; their daily lives are spent with hairstyles and clothing that would startle cosplay addicts. The fashion trend there is so perplexing that if Lady Ga Ga lived during that era, she would easily blend in.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss EverdeenThe rulers of Capitol exercise their superiority against the 12 Districts through The Hunger Games, an annual event that features teenagers, weapons, murders, and live television. (Disturbing, yes, but not as disturbing as that TV show about the Kardashian folks.) Here is how the event goes: One boy and one girl from each district are randomly selected. Once drafted, the chosen district members, called Tributes, are brought to the Capitol. That they undergo special training is not really a surprise. What intrigued me were the movie’s subtle examinations regarding both ends of reality television. How much of a Tribute’s identity is sincere when it is broadcasted through the lens of the media? Where do the viewers of The Hunger Games find the entertainment in its mindless violence?

The story starts off with the happenings leading to the 74th Hunger Games. Most of our attention is focused on District 12’s Katniss Everdeen, who is impeccably played by Jennifer Lawrence. The movie demonstrates patience in the way it builds the Katniss character. Before she is thrown into the game’s deadly arena, we are given a chance to study her thoughts and memories, fears and feelings, strengths and weaknesses. As the movie progresses from District 12 to the Capitol, we realize that she’d rather be with a bow and arrow than with a camera and an interviewer. Though she is at first shy and awkward, she makes her way in the hearts of a number of people. When she finally steps foot in the arena, we see her more than just another participant in a televised bloodbath.

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta MellarkWhile the movie was still in the process of casting, I heard rumors that my love, Saoirse Ronan, was one of the actresses that were being considered to play Katniss. Without thinking of actress/character compatibility, I rooted for her. And now that I’ve seen the film, I realize that the role was made for Jennifer Lawrence. Ms. Lawrence is slowly becoming one of those tremendous talents that should always be aiming for high challenges. She played Mystique in last year’s “X-Men: First Class”, but that character didn’t deserve Lawrence. (If you’ve seen her in the excellent “Winter’s Bone”, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.) I’m glad that they chose a real actress to play Katniss. Imagine if Katniss was portrayed by Selena Gomez or Vanessa Hudgens. LOL.

I mentioned earlier that two Tributes are selected from each district. Katniss is joined by the sympathetic Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson); he specializes in camouflage and cheesy dialogue. His special feelings for her have remained hidden for years, but The Hunger Games have provided him an opportunity to finally express his love. Teenagers will be teenagers. A romance is expectedly developed. Most girls will disagree with me on this, but I thought that the romance was far too overworked. To attract a bigger audience, the movie sacrifices a lot of its compelling content in exchange for more common ones. If you’ve read my review of “Real Steel”, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Another downside in “The Hunger Games” that isn’t exactly the fault of the filmmakers is the movie’s exaggerated hype. It’s a satisfying movie, but it won’t match the impossible expectations set by its fanatical fans. Lower your standards for “The Hunger Games”, and you should have a jolly good time. On a similar note: Lower your standards for “The Dark Knight Rises”, and you should enter Movie Paradise.

John Carter

John Carter Poster Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Once upon a time, the folks at Disney wanted to make a movie that combines the qualities of Westerns, War Epics, and Science Fiction. 250 million dollars later, and we are introduced to the vast and zealous vision of “John Carter”. Here is a concept that’s big enough to spawn its own franchise. Heck, I’m already saving up for the Happy Meal collectibles it will inspire at McDonalds. The movie’s franchise-sized idea holds good potential, but too much set-up is dedicated into this one movie that there is isn’t anything in it except for those darn set-ups.

The film follows the journey of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War Veteran from Virginia who isn’t in good terms with the local authorities. His attempts to elude imprisonment lead him to a cave with a well-dressed alien loitering within it. He knocks the bastard down. It instinctively pulls out a glowing medallion and starts reciting something in its native language. Carter grabs the medallion, and before he could sell it to the nearest pawnshop, he is transported to Mars. It is there where he comes across with the green-skinned, four-eyed Tharks. Fascinating creatures these Tharks are. If a giant caterpillar and a tall NBA player ever had a love child, it would look something close to a Thark.

Tas Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and John Carter (Taylor Kitsch)Like all beauty pageant contestants, what the Tharks really want is world peace, but their influence is limited by their meager population and inferior technology. A great war between the mighty cities of Helium and Zodanga is at its peak. This issue is expanded with heavy exposition: The people from Helium are the good guys, and it’s Zodanga that’s causing all the trouble. They want to seize Helium so they could win the ultimate prize: Mars, a wasteland the size of a planet. Of all the citizens of Helium, it is its princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), that is most fearful of defeat. If their army is unable to fight off the soldiers of Zodanga, she will be forced to marry its leader, Kantos Kan. One thing I like about Dejah Thoris is the fact that she is one helluva scientist. We finally meet an intelligent woman in a Summer Blockbuster Movie, and she’s from another planet.

Besides John Carter’s encounters with the Tharks, and besides the dispute between Helium and Zodanga, and besides the efforts of the princess to prevent her forced marriage, is a subplot involving the shape-shifting Therns. Equipped with great powers that can vaporize any structure and being, they hide. Of course. Anyway, there’s also this story about a plan to conquer… but why continue? “John Carter” is all introductions and explanations and discussions separated by brief and generic action sequences. John Carter himself is a dull and bland character; he is one of those heroes who is defined by their special ability. But even that part is underwhelming. The lower Martian gravity allows him to leap at great lengths, but so what? I like Roger Ebert’s observation: “When it is possible to teleport yourself from Earth to Mars, why are you considered extraordinary because you can jump really high?”

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in John CarterThere is a 30-second span in the film where John Carter slashes his way through dozens and dozens of towering aliens. In a later scene, we see him use a chain to hurl a large boulder against a monster. How is this possible for a Civil War veteran from Virginia? Did the change in gravity also grant him super strength? Some more observations: Where do the Martians get all the materials to build their complex space ships and gadgets? Since there is no vegetation in sight to supply oxygen, what keeps John Carter alive? Why won’t the Therns use their vaporizing weapons when needed? Why do the citizens of Helium and Zodanga look like… Americans? If they are Earthlings who arrived before John Carter, then why is their blood blue?

I’m sure everything in the movie is better explained in “A Princess of Mars”, the book from which “John Carter” is based upon. Maybe it’s one of those novels that doesn’t translate well in film. Books contain more space for plotting and characterization. 132 minutes is quite long for a film, yet it wasn’t enough for the broad story of “John Carter”. I mean, if Mr. Carter and Ms. Thoris got married, and they had children, and they scratched their arm, will purple blood come out?

Great Movie Posters (Volume 1)

Batman Begins Poster

Black Swan Poster

Bridge to Terabithia Poster

Hard Candy Poster

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Poster

Inception Poster

Man on Wire Poster

Lord of War Poster

Die Another Day Poster

Rambo Poster

Saw 2 Poster

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Poster

Sunshine Poster

The Matrix Poster

There Will Be Blood Poster