Worth a look – The Hunger Games (2012)

 

Previously on A Legally Black Blog, I reviewed Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”, a film that has been appearing on certain movie reviewers’ lists of the worst films of 2012. Yes, it was a disappointment but personally I didn’t think it was that terrible of a movie.  Today’s post deals with a film on the other side of the spectrum. Yes, Lionsgate Entertainment hyped the SHIT out of this film. And yes, it has appeared on many Best Films of 2012 lists since its release. And yeah, this film is possibly the inspiration behind R&B superstar Alicia Keys’ latest single “Girl on Fire” (a song that has drilled itself completely into my skull). What I’m referring to, of course, is….. (cue dramatic movie trailer guy voice here) “THE HUNGER GAMES”.

 

For those who forgot or didn’t give a shit back then, “The Hunger Games” (directed by Gary Ross) is the latest film adaptation of an insanely popular series of novels to hit the big screen since the epic Harry Potter film series and the not-so-epic (more like a fucking soap opera, if you ask me, but with expressionless vampires and snarly werewolves) “Twilight Saga”. Based on the first book in the appropriately-titled Hunger Games Trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year old girl who partakes in…you guessed it….The Hunger Games – an annual event where kids between 12 and 18 compete in a battle to the death. The books received positive feedback from reviewers and authors, though the author was accused of ripping off the premise of the controversial 1999 novel “Battle Royale”, by Japanese author Koushun Takami. Interestingly enough, Suzanne denied these accusations, stating that she never heard of “Battle Royale” until she turned in the first Hunger Games book.

 

Even more interesting, and perhaps coincidental, was the decision to turn “The Hunger Games” into a Hollywood movie. In 2000,”Battle Royale” was adapted into a BRILLIANT feature-length film. The movie itself caused an uproar in Japan, due to scenes of brutal violence (all involving teenagers) and its negative portrayal of the school system. Throughout the years, it received critical acclaim, mostly from Western film critics. Quentin Tarantino even rated the film as the best he’s ever seen since his directorial career began in 1992.  Anyhoo, plans were made by New Line Cinema in 2006 to do an American remake of “Battle Royale”. However, after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and an Internet backlash concerning the rating of the film as PG-13, those plans were put on hold. Three years later, Lionsgate Entertainment released the AWESOME (and deservedly R-rated) superhero satire “Kick-Ass”, which showcased young adults in costumes killing their (adult) enemies for the sake of truth and justice, to much acclaim. Whether Lionsgate Entertainment’s decision to adapt “The Hunger Games” for the big screen has anything to do with New Line Cinema’s unwillingness to remake “Battle Royale” or its breakthrough in having an eleven-year old girl curse, shoot and stab her way into cult stardom, is anyone’s guess. Or maybe they simply wanted to cash in on the success (and I use that word loosely) of the “Twilight” movie franchise. But whatever the reason was, the film became a critical and commercial success, and plans are already underway to adapt the second Hunger Games novel “Catching Fire”.

 

I must admit that I was one of many who saw “The Hunger Games” during its opening weekend in March, and I did enjoy the film for what it was. But I chose not to write a review, since I felt it would reflect the comments of those who were swept away by the overwhelming hype surrounding the film, both before and after its release. So I decided to wait until the hype completely died down before I would watch the film and review it. However, due to laziness and a complete lack of good shit to watch in cinema right now,  I am now writing this review. In September. Shame on me, I know.

 

So about those Hunger Games…

 

PLOT

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, our story is set in Panem, a North American nation made up of the Capitol (where rich bastards live) and 12 districts (where the poor people live). After the 13th district was decimated during a rebellion against the Capitol, the remaining 12 districts must face punishment. For 73 years, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected by an annual lottery (called “The Reaping”) to partake in the televised “battle royale” (Ah-haaa! Get it?) known as the Hunger Games. The last participant (or “tribute”) standing will be rewarded with fame and wealth.  When Primrose Everdeen, a 12-year old girl from District 12, is selected as tribute, her 16-year old sister Katniss volunteers to take her place. Along with Peeta Mellark, the son of a baker, Katniss is the latest tribute from District 12.

 

Both Katniss and Peeta are taken to the ultramodern Capitol where they undergo a crash course in weapons training (excluding guns for some reason). They also meet the adult, drunk-ass Haymitch Abernathy, a former victor of the Hunger Games. He regularly gives them advice on how to gain audience support, since popularity is key in obtaining gifts of medicine or food from “sponsors”. Slowly but surely, Katniss and Peeta win the admiration of the audience – mostly due to Peeta’s confessed feelings for Katniss and Katniss’ amazing skills with a bow and arrow. A few days later, they’re taken from the Capitol and placed into a forest where the “battle royale” begins. With 22 more individuals set on survival by any means necessary, the question remains: who will be the victor of the 74th Hunger Games?

 

CHARACTERS

Katniss Everdeen – Jennifer Lawrence

Peeta Mellark – Josh Hutcherson

Gale Hawthorne – Liam Hemsworth

Haymitch Abernathy – Woody Harrelson

Effie Trinket – Elizabeth Banks

Cinna – Lenny Kravitz

Caesar Flickerman – Stanley Tucci

Seneca Crane – Wes Bentley

Rue – Amandla Stenberg

Primrose Everdeen – Willow Shields

President Coriolanus Snow – Donald Sutherland

 

MY THOUGHTS: Let me get this out of the way, first and foremost. I never finished reading the “Hunger Games” novel. I started reading it a week before the movie came out (in a failed attempt to “hype” myself for the film) and I stopped somewhere in Chapter 5 or some shit. So I will not judge this film in the annoying way a Harry Potter fan(atic) criticizes the movies for “leaving out too much from the books”. This is a movie review, and as such, I’ll review “The Hunger Games” as a movie and not as one that must follow every detail from the source material. So let’s begin.

 

Jennifer Lawrence – wow, does she deliver a great performance in “The Hunger Games”. Not Oscar-worthy great, mind you, but a performance that holds up for hours after you’ve seen this film. Most fans of the Hunger Games novels were hesitant when they heard that Jennifer would play the protagonist Katniss, and some complained that she didn’t fully capture the essence of the character (one of the main ridiculous controversies surrounding the film). So I guess that strong acting, dying your hair black and learning how to use a fucking bow and arrow doesn’t account for anything, I guess. Sigh! The rest of the cast, from Elizabeth Banks who looks like the equivalent of an elderly Lady Gaga, to Lenny Kravitz who proves that he actually has some acting capabilities (ain’t that some shit?), impress as well. The music by James Newton Howard matches the film’s somber tone, and the mostly hand-held camerawork provide a gritty, documentary-like feel to the movie. However, the film is a tad bit long, and the pacing is uneven at certain times. The actual battle-to-the-death competition in the forest alone (which was heavily advertised in the trailers and TV spots for the film) occurs after the first hour of the film. Even though there are interesting things which occur in the first half of the film, the viewer shouldn’t have to wait that long for the Hunger Games to actually begin. And speaking of the “Games”, the second hour itself is filled to the brim with tension, thrills and emotion. The violence in the film is indeed PG-13-friendly, and edited with such ease that the deaths in the film feel more dramatic than they actually are. On the downside, you’re forced to care for only Jennifer Lawrence’s and Josh Hutcherson’s characters (and to a certain extent, Amandla Stenberg who plays the 12-year old Rue) and no one else. The other combatants exist merely as obstacles for our heroes. We’re never given a glimpse into their lives or their individual psyche, and we’re never provided with a legitimate reason, apart from survival, as to why they would resort so quickly to acts of violence. On a whole, “The Hunger Games” isn’t perfect, but it is a very good film nonetheless. I actually enjoyed the film a little more on my second viewing, and I may probably appreciate it even more with subsequent viewings. It isn’t “Battle Royale”, but it is a damn good substitute.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Even though it was way too over-hyped for a teen-oriented sci-fi movie, “The Hunger Games” is actually worth looking at – at least once. If you’re looking for something darker that will hit you in the gut instead of the heart, I strongly recommend “Battle Royale”.  It’s undoubtedly one of the best Japanese films ever made, and it’s actually one of my favourite movies from the Land of the Rising Sun. If teenager-on-teenager violence really isn’t your thing, then there’s always “The Twilight Saga”. At least it has expressionless vampires and snarly werewolves in it. I’m just saying.

 

MY RATING – 3  1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)

 

– Matthew

See it if you really have to – Dark Shadows (2012)

 

With the summer of 2012 already ended, and the resources within my wallet depleted due to my numerous visits to the local movie theater (*cough*to see The Dark Knight Rises THREE TIMES*cough*), I can safely say that in a year of successful hit movies and not-so-successful misses, we’ve finally reached a dry spell. Unless you count “Resident Evil: Retribution”, “Dredd” (both of which I’m guaranteed will suck ass) and “Finding Nemo 3D” (part of Disney’s ongoing project of re-releasing classic animated films in 3D just so they can squeeze the last remaining drops of sweat out of your bankbook), there’s hardly anything worth watching in the movie theater right now.  As a result, I’ve decided to catch up on the films that I missed out during the past few months or so, due to certain “pressing matters” (*cough* saving money for “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” *cough*).

 

One of these films is the latest collaboration between the great (depending on what film you’re watching) director Tim Burton and the great (also depending on what film you’re watching) Johnny Depp: “Dark Shadows”. I mean, it’s fucking Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. What’s the worst that can happen?

 

Ummmm….well….

 

Before I begin, here’s a bit of history. After the success of his 1989 superhero blockbuster “BatmanTim Burton began work on the romantic fantasy “Edward Scissorhands”. Johnny Depp, already a teen idol thanks to his starring role as Tom Hanson in the hit TV show “21 Jump Street” (which was adapted into…you guessed it…that buddy cop movie that came out this year with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill), was cast as the lead character. Depp’s oddball performance, combined with Burton’s darkly satiric look at American suburbia, and the haunting, emotional musical score provided by the legendary composer Danny Elfman made “Edward Scissorhands” a critical and commercial success. Their creative synergy continued with the BRILLIANT 1994 biopic “Ed Wood”, the gory 1999 horror “Sleepy Hollow”, the visual equivalent of getting high off fucking mushrooms masquerading as the family movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, Burton’s first foray into stop-motion animation “Corpse Bride”, the deviously fun and deliciously bloody horror musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and the highly successful yet heavily overrated fantasy adventure “Alice in Wonderland”.

 

And now we have “Dark Shadows” which, like this year’s “21 Jump Street”, is based on a TV series that some people never knew existed. The series itself, highly praised by the likes of Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino and (GASP!) Madonna, is an American gothic soap opera which ran from 1966 to 1971. A year into its run, the vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced, and he became the series’ most iconic character. Two feature films were released in 1971 and 1972, both of which centered on Barnabas: “House of Dark Shadows” (which I actually saw when I was younger – I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember being scared shitless after I saw it) and “Night of Dark Shadows”. Thanks to its atmospheric tone, supernatural themes and CREEPY theme music, “Dark Shadows” has become a cult classic.

 

In viewing the trailer for Tim Burton’s feature-length remake of “Dark Shadows”, I was surprised at first that the spooky vibe of the original series was replaced with dark, quirky humour. And then I remembered…it’s a Johnny Depp movie. Let’s face it – the guy has become famous for his weird, quirky characters, and his role as Barnabas Collins is no different. And then I also remembered….it’s a Tim Burton movie. Tim has become somewhat notorious for his “uniquely” creative take on his source material. Look at the nightmarish “Sleepy Hollow”, or the psychedelic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and even the self-indulgent “Alice in Wonderland”. So does this quirkiness and uniqueness work for a TV-to-film adaptation like “Dark Shadows”?

 

Yes and no.

 

PLOT

Our story begins in 1760. The Collins family from Liverpool migrates to America and sets up a fishing port (Collinsport) in Maine. The son, Barnabas, seduces the family maid, Angelique Bouchard. Later on, he tells her that he doesn’t love her. Angelique, who’s revealed to be a witch (ain’t that some shit?), is obviously pissed! Meanwhile, Barnabas falls for another girl, Josette du Pres. Angelique takes her revenge on Barnabas by bewitching Josette to leap off a cliff to her death (OUCH!) and turning Barnabas into a vampire. He’s then captured by the townspeople and buried alive in a chained coffin. Cut to 1972, and a crew of construction workers discover the coffin. Of course, they “accidentally” remove the chains, allowing Barnabas to rise from the coffin and feed on the crew. Now in a new age, Barnabas is a literal fish-out-of-water as he tries to make sense of the world that has changed during the past 196 years. He stumbles onto his manor home to discover his descendants and their servants: the family matriarch Elizabeth, her brother Roger, her 15-year old daughter Carolyn, her precocious 10-year old son David, David’s psychiatrist (who’s there to treat his “precociousness”, I guess) Dr. Julia Hoffman, and the caretaker Willie Loomis. Also in the manor is Victoria Winters, a newly-hired governess and (spoiler alert) the reincarnation of Josette (hmmmm). The occupants of the Collins manor are weird in their individual ways, including Victoria who has the ability to see spirits, preferably the spirit of Josette (“Sixth Sense”, anyone?). Obviously, Barnabas falls for Victoria, despite the fact that she’s WAAAAAY younger than him. However, trouble brews when the owner of a rival fishery approaches Barnabas. And she is… (DUM DUM DUMMMM) Angelique! Yes, ladies and gents, Angelique is still alive, and she still desires Barnabas… and she’s still smoking hot! Will he accept her, or will he go for the younger Victoria (creepppppy)? And why does the spirit of Josette continually haunt Victoria? And how much more insane shit will take place in this movie? Find out in the next episode of “Dark Shadows”.

 

CHARACTERS

Barnabas Collins – Johnny Depp

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard – Michelle Pfeiffer

Dr. Julia Hoffman – Helena Bonham Carter

Angelique Bouchard – Eva Green

Roger Collins – Jonny Lee Miller

Carolyn Stoddard – Chloe Grace Moretz

Willie Loomis – Jackie Earle Haley

Victoria Winters/Josette du Pres – Bella Heathcote

David Collins – Gulliver McGrath

 

MY THOUGHTS: Compared to the previous collaborations of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, “Dark Shadows” is unfortunately, a disappointment. I say “unfortunately” because like I said earlier, it’s fucking Tim Burton and Johnny Depp! You expect greatness from them! Apart from great visuals and music, you expect a great story, great characters and great performances by its cast, especially Johnny Depp. And to his credit, Johnny pulls off a pretty good performance as the lovelorn vampire Barnabas Collins. However, he’s not a very likeable character. At the end of the day, he is a vampire and you do see him kill people for the sake of satisfying his bloodlust. Like nearly every Tim Burton film you can think of it, the film looks spectacular. Nearly every shot in the film boasts superb cinematography and striking visuals. And yes, Danny Elfman handles music duties in this film, and he does a fantastic job. But there are flaws aplenty in the world of “Dark Shadows”.

 

The secondary characters are introduced in the first act of the film, and are never fully developed by the film’s end. Victoria is the only other character, apart from Barnabas, who has a back story. Unfortunately, it’s included clumsily in the events of the second act, just when you’ve forgotten about her. The rest of the characters, from the pseudo-hippie Carolyn (played by Chloe Grace Moretz of “Kick-Ass” fame) and the kooky Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) are forced to squeeze in the backseat while Johnny (with Tim Burton in the passenger seat) drives the film into self-indulgent absurdity.  Eva Green is easy on the eyes, but her sex-crazed, batshit crazy character gets really fucking annoying rather quickly.  There’s even a “sex” scene (set to Barry White music, of course) that plays out like a Yuen Woo-Ping wire work fight sequence where Johnny and Eva slide on and bounce off walls, smash vases and wine glasses, and leave scratch marks on furniture. Yes, it’s as embarrassing as it sounds. Fortunately, for us and them, it doesn’t last long. Also, the story starts off strong with Barnabas’ back story and his revival in 1972 Collinsport, slows down in the boring second act when Angelique is re-introduced, and tries desperately to pick itself up in the final act when Angelique unleashes her wrath on Barnabas. And speaking of story, it’s never quite clear what genre the film falls under. It’s not funny enough to be labelled a comedy (most of the jokes fell flat, and I chuckled more than LOLed) and it’s not frightening enough to be labelled a horror (I yawned as opposed to jumping out my seat). If one were to actually describe the film, it would be a fantasy/comedy/horror/romance. Which begs me to ask one dumb question – if the original TV series was a horror, then why make the movie a fantasy/comedy/horror/romance and label it as a fucking HORROR COMEDY?!

 

‘Cause it’s a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie – that’s why! Like I said…dumb question.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Certain reviewers have already placed “Dark Shadows” in their Worst Films of 2012 lists. But in my opinion, I’ve seen worse films this year. I was one of the few persons to sit through the entirety of “Piranha 3DD”, and live to tell the tail (get it, tale? Tail? Fish? Anyone? Why do I hear crickets?). Anyways, “Dark Shadows” started off well, but eventually lost focus thanks to an inconsistent story and a number of characters who served no real purpose except to fill the background of the film’s poster (see above), and resulted in a lackluster conclusion. To be honest, the unique creativity of Tim Burton, the quirkiness of Johnny Depp and the hotness of Eva Green are the only reasons to watch this film. Expect anything else and you will be disappointed. Better luck next time, Burton/Depp.

 

MY RATING – 2  1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

 

And now, for your viewing and listening pleasure:

 

The opening of “Dark Shadows”….

 

 

…. and a rap song (one of my all-time favourites) which actually samples the “Dark Shadows” theme. If you listen carefully, you will hear. ‘Til next time, folks!

 

 

– Matthew