Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games


Just like that – a little over two hours is all it takes sometimes.  A great book, a blockbuster movie, a terrific character, and a whole lot of talent - that’s all it takes to make a star.  Sure, she already has a few golden statuette and shiny globe nominations under her belt for a film no one saw.  It’s not like no one knows who she is.  Now, everyone is going to know who Jennifer Lawrence is and unless I miss my guess, we are going to get to enjoy her work for a very long time.

Make no mistake about it.  Jennifer Lawrence is the star of The Hunger Games.  She is absolutely brilliant as Katniss Everdeen, the stalwart heroine of Suzanne Collins’ beloved Hunger Games series.  It is almost as if the part was written for her.  She combines a fierce toughness with gut wrenching vulnerability that is the essential key to the role.  Her dialogue is never strained and she can convey even the most minuscule trace of emotion with her facial expressions and body language.  Her performance entrances the theater audience, just like the character from the books.  She dominates that big screen and draws the eye to her every movement.  Her actions are never rushed or forced, from the faint smile that seems lurk behind her brooding features to the way she calming pulls the string of her bow.  I’m telling you folks; Jennifer Lawrence has what it takes to be a superstar.  If I were a director, she would always be my first phone call when casting a lead actress from now on.

Of course, she had beautiful material in which to inspire her.  Collins had a big role in the screenplay and I am sure that’s why the transition from the page to the big screen went so well.  The movie follows the book carefully in all of the right places.  The biggest divergence from the novels is that the books are all from one viewpoint - from Katniss’ view.  There just isn’t enough time for the film to allow us to learn everything we need to learn through Katniss.  The film gives us a look at things from a few other points of view, just to keep the story moving along at the correct pace.  It does not distract and it fills in necessary holes here and there.  The biggest difference between picture and novel is that we lose a lot of the background development and characters, mainly from Katniss’ home, District 12.  The movie was a long one and there just wasn’t enough time for the depth the book offered. 

Some of the satellite characters were expanded.  Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman both have more screen time than in the book.  I felt Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy’s was actually a tad underplayed, if possible, and I was intrigued by Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ wardrobe supervisor.  Amandla Stenberg was terrific as Rue; I just wish her role had been slightly bigger.  I only recognized Elizabeth Banks because I already knew she played Effie.  The make-up job was terrific.  Donald Sutherland is President Snow and while he makes a subtle few appearances, his biggest moments will come in the later films.

The final key to this film is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta.  While I felt he fell short early on in the movie and lacked chemistry with Lawrence, he slowly built up believability as the film progressed, much like in the book.  He grows on us, as intended, and by the end, we welcome the twist we all know is coming.  It will be interesting to see how the dynamic with Liam Hemsworth as Gale will play out in the second and third movies when Gale’s is greatly expanded.

The story, of course, is about a futuristic world divided into twelve districts, controlled by the Capitol.  The districts are poor and the Capitol is rich.  The people in the districts are kept down so there is not revolt.  A 13th district existed but revolted 74 years ago.  As a remembrance (penalty), each district has to provide 2 tributes each year, a teenage male and female, to participate in an arena.  Only one of the 24 is allowed to walk out alive and is showered with riches the rest of his/her life.  What a happy world!  Thus the need for a heroine, our Katniss.  The movie focuses most of its time on the action in the arena as children fight for their lives against each other and the game master (Bentley’s Crane).  The arena is loaded with dangers controlled by the game master as he manipulates the game play, and sometimes, who survives and who dies.

The Hunger Games has few faults.  What few that exist are washed away by Jennifer Lawrence’s screen presence.  When the camera goes off her, all we want is for it to return to her.  It is hard to focus on the film’s weaknesses.  The arena scenes of death are watered down so they are friendlier to younger viewers.  The violence is shown in a jerky, blurring fashion, hiding the worst of the violence from the audience.  We see the aftermath.  Keep in mind, the premise is a dark one to begin with.  Young children may be disturbed by the very fact of children trying to kill each other.  We all should, and that is part of the point of the movie. 

I obviously loved the movie and Jennifer Lawrence.  Take the time and go see it.  Enjoy the action and the acting.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GCB


GCB (ABC, Sundays, 9pm CST)

I have always been a fan of satirical humor on television.  It is one of the reasons The Simpsons has been a personal favorite of mine for more than 20 years.  It is also why I find myself chuckling throughout each episode of ABC’s newest silly hour long, guilty pleasure comedy, GCB.

There is nothing of importance about this program revolving around Amanda (Leslie Bibb), a mother of two and former high school mean girl.  The fact is Amanda was the queen of the mean girls and she ruled the social aspects of her high school, treating others she deemed beneath her as only a teen age mean girl could.

Life has not been kind to Amada of late.  Her husband operated a national, Texas-sized ponzi scheme and just as he was about to get caught, he absconded with millions of dollars of ill gotten cash and Amanda’s best friend.  Then dies in a fiery car crash.  Amanda, penniless and in disgrace, has to crawl back to Texas to live with her mother (the always hilarious Annie Potts).  The thing is, Amanda is not the same person as she was 20 years ago.

Unfortunately for Amanda, all of the girls she treated disdainfully in high school have turned their lives into something positive.  They were all rich to begin with and they all marred more money.  They have (surgically, in some cases) fixed whatever flaws held them back in high school and now are the social queen bees of Amanda’s world.  And they want revenge for all of the ill treatment they suffered through at Amanda’s hand 20 years ago.

The cast is terrific, featuring the always perky Kristin Chenowith as Carlene, Amanda’s most tortured target from the past.  Carlene went from ugly duckling to swan but she’s mean as a snake and she remembers every past transgression.  Jennifer Aspen, Miriam Shor, and Marisol Nichols complete the cast of former classmates.

Each woman lives behind a hypocritical fa├žade, especially Carlene.  She hides a malicious soul behind a Christian, Bible-quoting persona.  She makes every situation a religious lesson but does so with the most unchristian of intentions.  The humor comes from the fact she isn’t even aware of it.  She thinks she is the most devoted of people and that her Christianity is her driving force.  Her close friends and partner’s in crime seem to know this about her but are willing to go along with her plans because of their long fostered hatred for Amanda.

The show is silly and really holds little redeeming value – except it makes me laugh.  The irony of Carlene’s behavior being so crossways with her supposed beliefs are what lends the most humor.  While I know many people of stout and true religious belief, I also know several hypocrites who can reconcile their actions Monday through Saturday because they attend church every Sunday.  The hypocrisy is exaggerated for sure and so it becomes satirical in nature. 

The actors relish their roles and play them to the hilt.  While Bibb’s reformed Amanda is the central character, it is Potts and Chenowith who steal the show, making it a truly funny break from all the medical and law dramas that fill the network airwaves.  ABC wants GCB to replace the (finally) ending Desperate Housewives.  For my money, GCB is a much funnier program.  Watch (and enjoy) it for it is and don’t try to make it more.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Carter


It is a big surprise to me that Hollywood waited so long to roll out a big production about the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic character, John Carter.  Maybe it is because science and technology have already laid waste to the central background of Burroughs’ story – Mars.  Considering some of the retreads the Hollywood filmmakers have churned out in the past few years, I would have thought someone could have green lit this project well before now.

John Carter is a good old fashioned, science fiction, swashbuckling tale of good and evil.  It is remarkable that Burroughs wrote these characters and stories a century ago.  Along with Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs is a science fiction literary pioneer, displaying an imagination that was well before his time.  I have not read much Burroughs but he is moving to the top of my read list.  I am curious to know how much of the movie’s storyline follows Burroughs’ work.

Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins from one of my all time favorite television programs, Friday Night Lights) holds his own as the title character.  Combine this with his lead role in the upcoming blockbuster, Battleship, Kitsch is making a play at becoming our next big action star. While he isn’t the smoothest actor in the world at delivering his lines, he is far ahead of Sly and the Governor at similar stages in their careers.  He hasn’t displayed the key sense of humor shown by Will Smith and Mel Gibson, either.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some talent.  I found him quite believable as John Carter and he pulled of the action sequences with aplomb. 

Lynn Collins plays Dejah Thoris, the princess of Mars and she should thank the costume designers.  She was stunning in her not quite revealing wardrobe.  She looked at home as the heroine counterpart to Carter’s hero.  Mark Strong was sufficiently evil as the villainous Matai Shang.  Dominic West, Willem Defoe, and Thomas Haden Church add their talents to the film in various roles.

The storyline and action flow evenly and almost constantly throughout the film.  The special effects were, for the most part, excellent.  If I have one complaint, the scenes with Carter jumping were not as good as the other effects throughout the film.  The fight scenes were action packed and the plot was easy to follow.

This film is appropriate for all but the youngest viewers.  There is no nudity, cursing, or spurting blood.  While younger children might be bored by the opening scenes, as the film provides the necessary background, but once Carter reaches Mars, the action and alien creatures will keep all viewers interested to the end.

I really enjoyed John Carter and I look forward to possible sequels.  I tip my hand to Burroughs’ imagination and vision.  If you like science fiction action flicks, you won’t be disappointed in this film.  I think it was long overdue.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Lorax


The Lorax is a nice little movie with an important message.  Children will love the film and they won’t be able to help but grasp the theme.  There is enough fun stuff in this movie that most adults will be able to enjoy itas well, for the most part.  That’s the good.

Now for the bad.  I felt the movie’s deliverance of the central environmental theme was heavy handed and politically driven.  There was absolutely no subtlety.  While I enjoyed the characters, especially the forest creatures, by the end, I was pretty tired of being bombarded by propaganda.  I get it – let’s save the trees.

I am not particularly thrilled about this new trend I am seeing in Hollywood – that of delivery of political propaganda via children’s movies.  Our kids get enough stuff thrown at them in everyday life.  Do they really need to be brainwashed so thoroughly in the theater?

Don’t get me wrong.  The message is a vital one.  We need to curtail our destruction of the rain forests and of all trees in general.  Yes, we do need to find a way to get away from packaging everything in environmentally damaging plastics.  Yes, we need to find a way to get closer to nature and away from the concrete jungles.  Our children do need to be exposed to the knowledge we are slowly destroying our planet.  I just wish the message could be delivered in a manner not so overwhelmingly blunt.

I can’t believe this movie was released in 3D form at all.  There was very little in the film that would have been greatly enhanced by 3D.  It is just another way for them to dip their greedy little hands deeper into our shallow pockets.  Did the people in charge even consider the irony of handing out plastic glasses for a film that so strongly preaches about the environment?  Nope, they didn’t.  Either that or they just don’t care really.  We did not watch in 3D and there was reason to either.  My recommendation is to wait for the DVD.

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