★★ ½ (PG-13)
When Gary Ross decided to tackle Suzanne Collins' ultra popular book Hunger Games' translation onto the screen, I was kind of hopeful. Ross is really no Hollywood hack trying to make a quick buck. His previous 2 films were the delightful Pleasantville and the more than decent horse race flick Seabiscuit. In Hunger Games Ross does the legion of Collins fans proud, of course this all comes with compromises. The books aren't necessarily what I'd call high art in the first place and the story -although an interesting concept- has been done before in films like The Running Man and Battle Royale. The Hunger Games is much tamer than those 2 films and that is one of the problems I had with Ross' film. It doesn't have that Tarantino explicitness going for it. Then again there's is stuff to recommend here too.
The story is set in the near future where a "survivor"-type reality TV show is organized by a big brother-type of government. The catch? the government chosen, lottery picked teenage contestants have to kill off each other with only one winner remaining in the end. Pretty dark stuff right? And Ross does an admirably good job with the story and keeping our attention throughout. The problem lies with the fact that the 140 minute running time isn't enough to fully develop the story. And of the 24 contestants vying to stay alive, only a handful actually get decently developed. There also is a gooey love story that just didn't need to be developed this much -even though I hear it's just as prominent in the book, which kind of explains all the rabid teenage girls that have fallen prey to the novels. The film falls short in being a great Sci-Fi movie because it just doesn't have the social criticism that infused such classics as Minority Report or 2001 - the series' readership sadly does not have the ability to comprehend such heavy stuff.
What keeps this film from being a dissapointment? Jennifer Lawrence's great performance as heroine Katniss Everdine. Lawrence, who's quiet performance in 2010's underrated Winter's Bone still haunts me to this day, shows incredible flair for a 20 year old actress. Her wits as an actress are noticed and the film just wouldn't be the same without her fiery talent. Everdine is an expert archer and her bow is the talent that can keep her from dying in the bloody contest. There are gripping action scenes which are just as disturbing as anything I've seen in Hollywood this year. Kids fighting kids to death? of course that will get our attention, it's a juicy plot that really works at times. However at close to 142 minutes long the film can be draggy and doesn't go anywhere but then again Ross -out of nowhere- can grab our attention by staging expertly done and suspenseful action set pieces.
It's really no surprise when I say that Titanic 3D is the best movie playing right now in movie theaters. Its epic scope and unsurprising amount of passion beats anything. I remember watching the film for the first time more than 17 years ago and being amazed by its pop spectacle. And all through the years I've had a chance to re-watch it and re-live what I had experienced in that very same theater in December of 1997. One can however look back on the flaws that have encompassed James Cameron's film. I always thought the upper class/lower class divide in the film was a bit too facile and manipulative, as if Cameron wanted the rich too be sleazy and devious and the poor to be all too innocent. Ditto Cameron's dialogue which has always been a problem in his films from The Terminator all the way to Avatar.
Then there's the love story which is really the heart and soul of the film and something that I'm sure was well thought out and had substantial meaning to Cameron. It can clearly be seen on screen through the images he creates and NOT the dialogue -"I'll never let go Jack"? ugh. That's the thing though, with all the flaws that come with a Cameron film you can never deny his passion for the images he creates. Just look at Avatar which was worth watching for its incredible imagery despite its Pocahontas-like deja vu and semiprofessional dialogue. In Titanic Cameron explains his story through harrowing images like that of an upside down ship cracked to it foundation, falling bodies dipping into a sea of nothing or two lovers standing at the peak of the boat with their arms up in the air as if finally free of the conventions.
Then there's of course that famous scene in which Kate Winslet's Rose poses naked for Leonardo Dicaprio's Jack. Such pop culture moments are far and few these days. When was the last time a movie came out in which an entire nation was dissecting a slew of its scenes? That stuff just doesn't happen anymore not even when The Dark Knight came out and made Titanic-esque money. However as much as Cameron is to be congratulated for his poet's eye and degraded for his tin ears, one cannot forget the amazing performances that came in the form of Dicaprio and Winslet's. Their careers were just starting and they were not yet known as major talents yet the film changed everything. This is one of those rare instances where actor and actress came together to create something special & given the fact that Dicaprio didn't even get nominated for an Oscar shows the lack of brains in the academy's arsenal at the time.
At the end of it all this was a pop culture masterpiece. Something that not only critics could rave about but audiences too. A kind of Gone With Wind phenomenon that America hadn't really seen since that 1939 epic. Sometimes a movie is just too damn good to neglect despite its obvious flaws and Titanic was that very movie, an American epic that just wow-ed people and convinced them of the power and possibilities that movies can create. James Cameron visual eye, Winslet & Dicaprio's incredible talents and the breathtaking special effects took it all home for us and left us moved by the end of its blown up 194 minute running time . Now if only Cameron could have resisted and taken out that god-awful Celine Dion song.
★★½ to ★★★ (PG-13)
I was kinda won over by Chronicle. Its story is the essentially the beginnings of a comic book super hero. Much in the same way as M. Night Shayamalan's severely underrated Unbreakable (although not as good). I won't spoil anything but to say that Chronicle does works wonders in many scenes, making you blink twice with its surprises only to run off with excess in its finale. It's all good. Chronicle is just what I needed this spring. Not much has been good and the one decent movie you find to be decent is well worth mentioning. Which doesn't mean Chronicle is average, but it most likely would have been forgotten by yours truly if there were better movies out there to watch. Nevertheless I was still taken by its tale of three high school friends who make an incredible discovery. It's when their lives spin out of control and the darker side of the story gets unleashed that the movie really takes off, showing just how fragile we are as human beings and how easily corrupted we can be as well. Stuff that's been done to death before but is given a cool style here. The film is shot -by first time director Josh Trank- with hand held digital camera. big studio pictures love shooting this way now, just check out last month's Project X, and I do think that shooting the movie this way does makes the story a bit more plausible. Especially given its sometimes lazy script and the flaws that inhibit it. But really do go watch Chronicle, its got a cool vibe going for it, has a slim running time at just 84 minutes long and does have more things to say than most American stuff out there at the moment.
I've been a pretty big supporter of Quebec born filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. I always figured that his incredible visual style -watch Maelstrom- and brilliant storytelling -watch Incendies- would be a big hit in Hollywood with the critics and audiences. Well, the talented Canadian filmmaker has just signed on to direct Prisoners starring Hugh Jackman. I guess you can say he's finally hit the big time. This is great news for Villeneuve fans such as myself whom have been championing his work for quite a few years now. I'm actually amazed he didn't hit Hollywood sooner but I guess they had to wait until he got an Oscar Nomination, which happened in 2011 when Incendies got nominated for Best Foreign Film. Another unknown gem of a film that came out not long ago, Polytechnique is well worth watching too although I'm sure it'll be tough to find that one at any video store, although if you do that store is a keeper.
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