Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

4.5 Stars

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson

Studios have made a mad dash to find the next hot book property to turn into a film franchise, following the wrap-up of Harry Potter. Despite being pretty decent, Percy Jackson didn’t really land with audiences. Despite being terrible, Twilight‘s the only one that managed to become a hit. That all changes with The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins wildly popular book trilogy.

I will admit that I haven’t read any of the books. Though I only read one of the Harry Potter books, and maybe a paragraph of a Twilight “novel,” it didn’t affect my ability to judge the films. When a friend first described The Hunger Games to me, my immediate thought was “So it’s The Running Man meets The Giver?” After experiencing the story, I stand by that initial reaction. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

I’ve long lamented that the problem with the popularity of Twilight is that it’s empty calories for the mind. Despite featuring a female lead in Bella, she’s poorly written and has no real value. Were I to have daughters, she’s not a character I’d want them to look up to. Katniss Everdeen, of Hunger Games, is the complete 180 opposite. She’s a strong-willed character, who shows a lot of compassion for her fellow citizens and fellow competitors in the Games. She’s smart, clever and capable.

And Academy Award® nominee* Jennifer Lawrence captures that perfectly. She quickly became “One To Watch” following Winter’s Bone and X-Men: First Class, and her clout will only continue to rise following the impressive outing in The Hunger Games.

I was more than a bit skeptical at the prospect of this film. It was a young cast anchoring a hot book property that featured a love triangle. Very reminiscent. But when you get a solid cast in there, they’ll be able to do great things. Josh Hutcherson was fantastic as the conflicted Peeta, Katniss’ partner in the Games and possible love interest (it’s a little… up in the air, still). Liam Hemsworth wasn’t given much to do in the first film, but with the $155 million opening weekend, we’re all but assured the sequel.

My favourites were the supporting cast of familiar faces that would pop up. My inner 90s rock fan geeked out when Lenny Kravitz showed up as image consultant(?) Cinna, and I’m a little ashamed at how long it took me to recognize Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. The two supporting shining stars though were Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy, the world-weary Games coach for Katniss and Peeta, and Stanley Tucci’s colourful Caesar Flickerman, the Ryan Seacrest of the Games.

The only real fault to find in this film is Tom Stern cinematography. The shakey-cam. If done right, it can add to the film. Paul Greengrass had Oliver Wood over-utilize, but it didn’t really hurt his two Bourne films. J.J. Abrams likes to use it, and has had Daniel Mindel use the technique for Star Trek and M:I 3, and it usually adds to the excitement. Gary Ross was stepping into the fantasy action genre for the first time and it just seemed a way to cover up his lacking as a director (as is almost always the case with shakey-cam). It felt like he couldn’t properly film the action sequences, or even any sequence, really. I spent the first 20 or so minutes thinking an earthquake was happening.

Get to the theatre early and sit towards the back, you’ll avoid headache and nausea that way. Otherwise it’s a terrific film, and I can’t wait for the sequels (how often is that ever said?).

*2011 Best Actress for Winter’s Bone.

83rd Annual Academy Award Nominations

Like most film buffs, I awoke yesterday morning at the crack of  8am when my alarm went off, shuffled around, did my morning routine, got my coffee on, ate a yogurt (part of my New Years Resolution to be more like Michael Westen) caught the end of the Saved By The Bell episode when Zack accidentally knocks over Screech’s parents’ bust of Elvis, then gambles away Screech’s dog… not the best episode, but OK. And THEN, at 8:30, I turned to the Oscar nomination announcement ceremony.

My take is one of watching from the sidelines, having not seen all of the nominated films, nor even all of the Best Picture nominees (will be at 8 of 10 this weekend), but being a fan of not only film as an art, but the Oscars as a celebration of the art, I want to chime in, have my say.

I’m going to focus on the Big 5 (Picture, Director Writing, Actor, Actress, and technically 6, since there are 2 writing categories) & the supporting role categories, because I’d be lost trying to dissect “Best Documentary – Short Subject.”

As for locking in my predictions, that will happen a week before the ceremony on February 27th.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

127 Hours; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter’s Bone

It’s interesting that Toy Story 3 got the nod for adapted screenplay, as it, according to the rule, is based on the screenplay for the 95 original. I don’t see it, but hey, I don’t make the rules, or nominate films. But looking at the list, I’d say Toy Story 3 is the only serious contender to upset Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script for The Social Network.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Another Year; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King’s Speech

This is a category that’s just wide open. All the scripts are just so different, with their own merits and nuances. But ultimately, it’s a three-way race between the heavy family drama of The Fighter, the sometimes comedic character study of The King’s Speech, or the intricacies of Inception.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Fighter; Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech; Melissa Leo for The Fighter; Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit; Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

As with most of the major categories, there were snubs. And as with most of the major categories, the field just became too crowded to fit them all. Who would you swap, and why? Personally, the two biggest snubs for Supporting Actress are Mila Kunis in Black Swan, who keeps pace with Natalie Portman (who did get a nomination) and Chloe Moretz in Kick Ass who  exhibited a reckless bravado that blindsides you when you realize that she was (at the time of filming), in fact, a mere 11 years old. But who do you kick out? Steinfeld, who showcased a calm intensity against Bridges & Damon? Weaver? Bonham Carter?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale for The Fighter; John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone; Jeremy Renner for The Town; Mark Ruffalo for The Kids are All Right; Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech

This one was a much less crowded field, only if you discount just about everyone from The Social Network. It seems almost criminal to have left out Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer and, to a lesser extent, even Justin Timberlake. But like the Supp. Actress category… who would take out? Renner? It seems more criminal that he’s the lone nomination for the superb The Town. Ruffalo?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone; Natalie Portman for Black Swan; Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

This is another crowded category (which is surprisingly unusual) where you could bemoan the snubs, but who would you take out. The biggest snub I’m hearing is Julianne Moore instead of Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right. I’ll reserve my judgement after I see it this weekend. I’m also disappointed in, again, no love for Chloe Moretz, this time for her raw, emotional and entirely beautiful performance in Let Me In, achieving emotional highs that elude actresses more than double her age and experience. Ultimately, this category belongs to Natalie Portman.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem for Biutiful; Jeff Bridges for True Grit; Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network; Colin Firth for The King’s Speech; James Franco for 127 Hours

Lead Actor will essentially come right down to the wire. Firth is the heavy favourite, coming into this with two previous nominations and a multiple wins for this role, but I think newcomer Eisenberg will be the spoiler. The Social Network is a strong contender in all categories, and Eisenberg breathed life into not only the character (or, caricature? perhaps) of Mark Zuckerberg, and the story of Facebook. But Bridges and Bardem are previous winners, and Franco could also prove to be a viable dark horse. Perhaps the biggest acting snub belongs to this category with the absence of Mark Wahlberg, considering The Fighter picked up nominations everywhere else. But, yet again, the slogan for this year’s Oscars is “Who would you bump?”

Best Achievement in Directing

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan; Ethan & Joel Coen for True Grit; David Fincher for The Social Network; Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech; David O. Russell for The Fighter

This boasts a stellar, and interestingly diverse cast of characters, who all have their own distinct style. Unfortunately, this also contains a major snub, and the “Who would you bump?” question is easier to answer. As much as it pains me to say this, as I’m a huge fan of their work, I’d drop the Coen Brothers in favour of the more finely orchestrated work of Christopher Nolan on Inception.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

127 Hours; Black Swan; The Fighter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King’s Speech; The Social Network; Toy Story 3; True Grit; Winter’s Bone

Last year, the Academy started to experiment with expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees, in a bid to bridge the gap between audiences and voting members, and to a degree it worked. And I think we’re slowly seeing a trickle down that could, over time, open up the other categories to “non-traditional” Academy movies. The race is still wide open, with no clear front-runner. The Social Network is the heavy favourite for this category, but The King’s Speech is gaining momentum, with The Fighter and Black Swan also on track to be spoilers, and you can’t, of course, count out the great Toy Story 3.

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