Friday, March 23, 2012

Game On! The Hunger Games are here.

  If you are a female between the age of 12 and 35, Christmas has just come early. The Hunger Games are here. I walked out of the theatre and saw the lines of young girls already formed for tickets to see the teen drama. While it is less sappy than Twilight, it is certainly a story that we have probably seen before. Let's put people in an environment where they are forced to fight for their lives. The Running Man, The Condemned, and Surviving the Game. These came first and most guys have seen it done. Why is their so much hype surrounding this book/movie? Probably because this one is for the young ladies.

 The Hunger Games is set in a post apocalyptic North America called "Panem." The rich and powerful live in the Capitol and control the other twelve districts. It's an interesting concept.
As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol in which a 13th district was destroyed, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by annual lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, an event in which the participants (called "tributes") must fight in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol, until only one remains. The movie follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl from the Appalachian region of District 12 who , a baker's son whom Katniss knows from school, who once gvolunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games when her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected.  Peeta Mallark is also selected from the district. He once gave Katniss bread when she was starving. He also has a crush on her, but has not told her his feelings yet. Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her best friend and hunting partner, gives her advice for the games. She promises her sister that she will try and win and makes her mom promise to take care of them.

 Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are taken to the Capitol where their drunken mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), winner of a previous games, instructs them to watch and learn the talents of the other tributes. They are then put on display to the Capitol audience in a televised session with interviewer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). It is here that Peeta reveals on-air his long-time unrequited love for Katniss. She  believes this to be a ploy to gain audience support for the Games, which can be crucial for survival, as audience members are encouraged to send gifts like food, medicine, and supplies to their favorites during the Games. The Games begin with 11 of the 24 tributes dying in the first day, while Katniss relies on her well-practiced hunting and outdoor skills to survive. The death toll increases as the games progress. increases. Katniss develops an alliance with Rue (Amanda Stenberg), a 12-year-old girl from District 11 who reminds Katniss of her younger sister.. During a plan to destroy the supplies of the others: Rue is killed by another tribute. Katniss sings to her, then spreads flowers over her body as a sign of respect—and of disgust towards the Capitol. She then holds up the sign for District 11 for the world to see.

Supposedly due to Katniss and Peeta's beloved image in the minds of the audience as "star-crossed lovers", a rule change is announced midway through the Games, stating that two tributes from the same district can win.  Katniss searches for Peeta and eventually finds him wounded. As she nurses him back to health, she acts the part of  falling in love to gain more favor with the audience and from her sponsors. After they become the final two, the Game makers reverse the rule change in an attempt to force them into a dramatic finale, where one must kill the other to win. Katniss, knowing that the Game makers would rather have two victors than none, retrieves highly poisonous berries, that she had kept earlier, and offers some to Peeta. Upon realizing that Katniss and Peeta intend to commit suicide, the Game makers announce that both will be the victors of the 74th Hunger Games.

  She survives the Games and is treated to a hero's welcome in the Capitol but, Katniss is warned by Haymitch that she has now become a political target after defying her society's authoritarian leaders so publicly. Afterwards, Peeta is heartbroken when he learns that Katniss's actions in the arena were part of a calculated ploy to earn sympathy from the audience. However, Katniss is unsure of her own feelings, and from the look of it so is Gale.
 The movie is close to faithful to the book, but fans will notice some changes. Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland are used very well. Wes Bently is also well cast. Thanks to American Beauty he will forever be creepy, but it is good to see the talented actor clean and working. Jennifer Lawrence is a rising star and this is a great vehicle for her. She looks slightly different than Katniss in the book, but plays her vulnerability very well. I wasn't crazy about Hutcherson, but he does enough with what he is given. The games are fun to watch play out and scenes with the wasps and the "American Idol" like television show are great. Stanley Tucci was my favorite character to watch.

 What scares me is the fact that this may one day happen. Maybe not to kids , but in our Internet video watching world, are televised fights to the death that far off. One would hope not, but nothing surprises me anymore. So is the hype warranted? The Hunger Games is fun to watch. It's an interesting look at a warped American society. Twilight is ending and for young girls, this is the next hot thing. The sequel will happen and the movie will make a ton of money. It may not be for everyone, but it's audience will love it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Down on Jump Street

  Once upon a time a fledgling network known as Fox ran an hour long drama about cops who went undercover in high school to bust car thieves, drug rings, and other domestic cases. Some of you were fans of the show while others know it simply as the show the launched Johnny Depp's career. These days Hollywood seems to be out of original ideas so they recycle old ones for a new audience. A fact that this movie even makes fun of.  Sometimes they work ala The Karate Kid and other times they are not so lucky ala Lost In Space. In the case of 21 Jump Street, they use the original idea and go the comedic route. Great move.

 Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill went to the same high school, but were not friends. Tatum did nothing but pick on Hill who looks like a chubby Eminem. Jenko (Tatum) is popular but not very smart. Schmidt (Hill) is smart but not popular. We fast forward seven years and both enter the police academy. They become friends and partners, but are given bicycle patrol duty. They bust a couple of drug dealers, but fail to read the Miranda warning when Jenko cannot remember it. They are transferred to the revised Jump Street program under the guidance of Ice Cube.

 They go under cover as brothers, move in with Hill's parents, and try to blend in as modern high school kids. Tatum who used to be popular, is all of the sudden not and Hill now fits in better than he used to. The principal mixes them up and Tatum becomes the science nerd while Hill gets in the cool kids. They quickly track down the dealer of a new designer drug, but have difficulty finding the supplier. Hill quickly adjusts to his under cover role while Tatum struggles with not being the cool one. They throw a party, learn to accept their new roles, face expulsion, and track down the bad guys.

 The comedy is at times great. I laughed out loud. This version of 21 Jump Street is cast very well. I personally don't think that I will ever forgive Channing Tatum for G.I. Joe, but in this type of role he works. He and Jonah Hill have great comedic chemistry. Ice Cube works as the Captain and Rob Riggle is very entertaining. He has done well for himself since Step Brothers and The Hangover. James Franco's little brother Dave is the Eco-friendly juvenile villain and works well. The party scenes are fantastic and car chase is entertaining. Comedy was the right call.

 Do they acknowledge the originals? Yes and very well. Holly Robinson Peete cameos as Judy Hoffs in the police impound yard. I had heard rumors that Depp filmed a cameo and am happy to say that those rumors were true. He and Peter Deluise reprise their respective rolls of Tom Hanson and Doug Penhall. I was impressed because it was certainly not something that Depp needed to do. His career seems to being doing just fine. 21 Jump Street was surprisingly good. It does a good job of putting a different spin on what some would call a classic series. It's not one for the kids , but an adult comedy in March isn't always a bad thing. If the movie does well and the sequel is green lit, do we get a Richard Grieco cameo?

Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter ...of March

    It's Disney. It's got a lot of hype surrounding it. It's the first big movie of the fast approaching summer season. John Carter sounds like a recipe for success, but like Prince Of Persia, I can't help but feel it falls just short. Let's face it, there are a lot of impressive things heading our way. Superheroes, Pixar films, and that Battleship flick. It's only March so it's hard to be too hard on this movie, but there is probably a reason it's not being released in the summer.

  I have never read the classic literature and therefore am not swayed by the whole book to movie thing. I did enjoy the nod to Burroughs. When we meet John Carter he is an ex cavalry man looking for gold and overwhelmed with grief over the loss of his family. He battles some Apache, finds a cave, kills an alien, and ends up on Mars. He quickly discovers that he is much stronger and can leap great distances Ala the Hulk. His first alien encounter comes from a tribe of multi-armed green barbarians called, "Tharks." He is imprisoned even though their king takes a liking to him.

 He quickly saves the Princess of Mars (Lynn Collins) and becomes involved in the conflict between the two waring nations of Barsoon (Mars.) The princess promises to show him the way back to earth if he helps her keep her city from being conquered. The opposing race was given an alien power from a race of creatures called, "Therns." This immortal race has chosen Sab Than (Dominic West) to rule Mars and has fueled the conflict. Carter soon falls in love with the princess, wins over the Tharks, and liberates Mars. Confused? It is actually a fairly simple story of good versus evil, but I don't know if it lives up to 2012 standards.

 What worked? I liked Lynn Collins as the Princess of Mars. She was the right balance of tough and sexy. The film is fantastic visually. The aliens and the planet look great. The world that was created is on par with films like Star Wars and Avatar. It is obvious that the story influenced Lucas and Cameron. The ships and concepts burst off the screen. The 3D is adequate and the action is decent. The arena fight was fun to watch, but I kept imagining "Attack Of The Clones," and felt like Lucas pulled that battle right from the pages. The problem is people will see it the other way since the Star Wars exposure came first.
 What didn't work? The villains. Dominic West didn't come across as threatening enough. I like villains that scare me. Stephen Lang should have tried this instead of Conan. A good villain can carry a story and this is one of the biggest areas that John Carter lacks. Mark Strong does what he can and while I think his portrayal of Sinestro was the bright spot of Green Lantern, it is not the case here. The bad guy aliens are not nearly menacing enough either. Pacing is also bad. The love story happens too quickly and the overall story is confusing. This is obviously shot with kids in mind, but the two hour and nineteen minute time is too much to keep their attention. I found myself updating Facebook a lot. I am not sure that Taylor Kitsch works. I think that he tries, but he is not the leading man type. I think this movie would've worked much better with a stronger lead. Someone who is more of a household name. 
I think that a work of classic fiction can be a tough sell. In a summer where we are all excited about the next Batman, Spider-man, and G.I. Joe, I think John Carter falls a little short of the mark. I wasn't bored and I didn't hate it, but I am OK if their isn't a sequel. I will be just fine staying on earth.