The Hunger Games

I haven’t read the books. So this film was my initiation into the dystopian future created by Suzanne Collins. In this world, the 1% lives in opulence and splendor in The Capitol (it’s all very Roman) while the districts full of laborers are forced to send two teens every year to fight to the death in a televised spectacle called “The Hunger Games”.

Our main protagonist is Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) who, since her father’s death and her mother’s dissolution, looks after her sister by hunting and selling squirrel meat. (Those who have seen Lawrence Winter’s Bone will note how it was a film-length audition for the Katniss role.) She is selected to fight in the Games.

Also selected from Katniss’ disctrict is Peeta, the baker’s son (Josh Hutcherson). He harbors a crush on Katniss, and he once saved her life. Thus the dramatic set-up is that neither of them like the thought of having to kill each other. Katniss also has a hunk back home, but that’s love triangle’s being saved for the sequel, it seems.

There is really very little I can fault in this film, although I can’t say I was blown away, either. The story is surprisingly violent for a teen girl novel. But Katniss is about as strong a female role model as one can imagine, so I’m guessing that’s the appeal. She kicks ass, stays true to her morals, protects her family and friends — oh, and all the teen boys desire her. One thing that took me out of the film was the small ways she compromises her survival skills, like wailing loudly out in the open and forgetting to grab the arrows she’s shot. Either this is ‘movie logic’ or she makes some dumb mistakes.

Some of the production design and especially costumes/makeup for the denizens of the Capitol are quite extreme and I bet will rankle some people. I loved them! The parade of the Hunger Games contestants, especially, was bad-ass. It made me forget that the movie takes a long long time to get to the action of the games.

The music was good, especially the eerie whistling ‘mockingjay’ theme. The sound design was also top-notch — note how the growls upstaged the CGI visuals on the man-faced dogs in terms of invoking terror.

The camera-work was very visceral, and at times you could see shots were under-exposed and had to be boosted severely in color correction. I’m not a fan of staging action with quick cuts and no sense of geography, but post-Bourne that’s the trend and director Gary Ross doesn’t buck it. Ross deserves a lot of credit. The difference in the quality of the performances of the young actors in this film versus the Twilight movies is night and day.

P.S. Did anyone else find the scene where Katniss and Peeta stick their fingers in each others wounds one of the most bizarre ways of adding sexual tension to the story?

21 Jump Street

I have not seen the original T.V. show. So this film was my initiation into the world of 21 Jump Street. From what I understand, the original series was not comical, except of course looking back, now, from 20 years distance, at how cheesy it all was.

Thankfully, writers Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall take a self-aware comedic approach to the premise of undercover cops pretending to be high school students. Hill plays Schmidt, a smart but un-athletic kid who had a terrible high school experience. His friend and partner Janko (Channing Tatum) was a dumb jock but, of course, ruled the school. The twist is that, when they go back undercover, enough has changed in student mores that Schmidt is now the cool one and Janko can only find friends among the geeks.

I laughed a lot at this film and that’s all that really matters. Maybe fans of the original show will have fun with some of the references that went over my head. (Korean Jesus, was that a thing?)

Anyway, it’s well worth renting for some good laughs, and to preview Dave Franco, who seems talented enough that he may soon eclipse his older and better-known brother James, if James keeps phoning in performances.