Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games

On Thursday night I saw The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.

To catch up with the rest of society, I read the source material fast and feverishly (just last weekend) in advance of seeing the film. I'm very glad I did.

1) Because the book was better.

2) Because I may not have understood everything without the details explained in the novel.

For the few people who haven't read it or seen the movie, The Hunger Games explores a dystopian future on the site of the former North America, where 13 districts of people are governed by a Big Bad Capitol. In punishment for the uprising that killed the prior society, they must sacrifice 24 of their young during annual "hunger games" where the kids fight to the death—with only one surviving.

The story focuses on poverty-stricken Katniss (Lawrence) who has become an expert hunter to feed her family after her dad's passing in the coal mines. When her younger sister is chosen to be a fighter ('tribute') in the games, she unselfishly volunteers to go in her place. Her partner in the games, from the same district, is Peeta (Hutcherson) who's family runs the district bakery.

They are soon whisked into a whirlwind of 'training' for the games with their drunken host Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and reserved stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Among their entourage, it's decided that the angle the two will portray to win over sponsors (and the watching public) is that of star-crossed lovers. Peeta is happier about this than Katniss, to say the least.

After a clever entrance, which featured the two fighters literally on fire, they are positioned as underdogs who may actually have a chance at winning, after all. They're both clever, and Katniss has mad skills with a bow and arrow.

Everything leading up to the games is very faithful to the book and well executed. Once the battles begin, the story begins to drag and a few of the details (the only district to 'riot' after a tributes' death is the predominantly black one - really??) stray.

It's still entertaining, but the shaky camera bits I could have done without, and the pure heart of the novel I would've liked to see a lot more.

Nonetheless, the characters were well-cast and the dialog was close enough to be satisfying.

~~~

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Kid With a Bike

Last night I saw The Kid With a Bike, starring Thomas Doret and C├ęcile de France.

It will be the topic of our April Cinebanter episode, so stay tuned for that show.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Silent House

Today I saw Silent House, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Eric Sheffer Stevens.

I've decided that from now on I'll see anything starring Elizabeth Olsen. She's just that good.

Sarah (Olsen) and her father John (Adam Trese) are getting ready to sell the family lake house. They have returned to the apparent small town to pack up their things and fix the place up.

Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) is Sarah's long-forgotten childhood friend, ecstatic to learn she's back in town. Uncle Peter (Stevens) is also around, and you get the sense there's a bit of sibling rivalry between him and John.

Everything here happens in real time, and the film is shot in such a way that you feel like an uninvited voyeur. That's not a bad thing considering the tension it subconsciously builds.

There doesn't seem to be any electricity in the home, so everyone carries camping lamps to light the rooms as they pack. The pair is supposed to have been there for a few days when we join them, but some of the rooms look as if they haven't been touched in years.

At night, Sarah grows scared of noises she hears upstairs so she sends her dad to investigate. When he doesn't come back, and a large crash is heard, Sarah knows she's in trouble.

For another hour, we're holding our breath right along with her as she hides from, escapes, follows and runs into what/who is terrorizing her. In classic horror storytelling fashion, we feel a sense of false peace more than once when we think she's overcome the evil, but there's always another surprise or twist around the corner.

I really liked this film, and more importantly loved the amazing performance by Olsen.

Seeing her for the first time in last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene, I knew she could shine in a drama; now I know she's also mastered all of the emotions necessary for a convincing horror piece.

Go see this—but do better than me, and take someone to hold onto.

~~~

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Friends with Kids

Today I saw Friends with Kids, starring Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott.

Finally, a film for single folks that's not trying to be Sex and the City or it's blatant opposite.

Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Scott) are best pals. The kind of friends who have known each other since college and get each other through the tough stuff—bad relationships and the general perils of being single. They even live in the same Manhattan apartment building, which makes things convenient.

Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) are their close friends, and represent the couple we all love to hate: the ones who can't keep their hands off one another and show up late to things because they're probably having sex.

Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd) are also good friends, and show a more traditional pair, being the first among their group to take the plunge into parenthood. Soon they're frazzled and frumpy just like so many couples we all know.

Instead of being frightened or repulsed by the thought of parenting, Julie and Jason want to be a part of it. In their thirties, realizing they're not getting any younger, they decide to have a child together—just as friends—and attempt the awkward action of having sex with each other. It's understandably tough at first, but they do figure things out and produce a beautiful baby boy.

Their friends and family are skeptical about how it will all work, but they soon prove them wrong. Their homes stay clean; their bodies look great; their friendship has never been stronger. Most importantly, their ability to work as a team makes them incredibly good parents.

Things only get weird when each finds another partner, and feels the need to confide in the other about the new relationship. There are undeniable feelings on both sides, but they don't go there because they feel it would ruin their harmonious situation.

But why shouldn't they go there?

Westfeldt, not only the star, but the director and writer, makes this question the essence of the film and writes it in such a way that we can't help but root for them... with caution.

The fact that their dearest friends aren't outwardly in their corner only makes them appear jealous, as if they wish they'd done the same thing: find a really great friend with whom to build a life. And if you've ever been in a relationship with someone you primarily found physically attractive but did not have a mental attraction to, or someone who you loved to be with, but didn't feel a strong physical attraction, you may envy those who have somehow found someone to satisfy both.

Regardless, this smart, funny movie will keep you engaged from beginning to end; reflecting on your own life and invested in the characters.