Review: The Hunger Games

So unless you were hiding under a rock last weekend, you probably, at some point, got bowled over by the pop-culture juggernaut that is The Hunger Games. Based on a popular young adult book series, this film laid waste to box office records this weekend, as everyone and their mother turned out for the first tentpole flick of the season.

Having not read the books, I was curious to see what would unfold. I was familiar with the premise enough to initially be pissed off that they would DARE rip off Battle Royale (one of my all-time faves), water it down and feed it to thousands upon thousands of teens and moms. As we crept closer to release date, and early reactions started coming in from some trusted nerds and critics, I began to put my tantrum aside and legitimately became curious about the story and wanted to see what all of the hype was about.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future 70-something years after a massive civil war. After the rebels were beaten back, the douchebags in charge decreed that every year, each of the rebelling Districts would send one girl and one boy between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in The Hunger Games – a survival battle to the death, where only one competitor will remain standing. Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young girl who volunteers for the Games in place of her younger sister.

The Games themselves are kind of like if Battle Royale had a baby with American Idol and that baby’s playpen was the Holodeck. Millions of people are watching, cheering for their favorites, and the assholes running the game are backstage creating various creatures and various obstacles that are then made real inside the Arena (you know, because 24 kids killing each other isn’t interesting enough for the people watching at home).

I never found any particular moment of the Games themselves to be shocking. I understood the gravity of the situation, and several scenes created some great moments of tension, but the moments of pure horror that should accompany this premise were never there for me. I largely blame the PG-13 rating for that. I’m not complaining about it – this flick had to be PG-13. No way around it. But I do think the rating handicapped it in terms of some of the emotional magnitude that it should have carried. In the scene where the games first begin, you are never truly horrified as a group of teenagers begin slaughtering one another. The scene is somewhat of a chaotic mess, and you can’t really tell for sure what is going on, or even who you are looking at. I get it – it was absolutely necessary to gloss over these moments, but in doing so, I feel like they lessened the accompanying emotional impact that the moments might have carried.

Having not read the books, and going in with only a very basic understanding of the story, I did enjoy the film. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an entertaining piece of genre fiction that  I appreciated the way they layered on information about the world and the games as needed, and refrained from giving us a massive idiot tutorial all at the beginning.

The Hunger Games was an entertaining piece of genre fiction and fun viewing experience. It was well-cast and the story was well-written. I’m sure that details from the books were changed or left out of the final film, but even so, as someone unfamiliar with the source materials, I thought that director Gary Ross told an exciting, well-rounded story, and I am excited for the next film. Though, if I am being PERFECTLY honest, if I had to choose one movie about a group of kids being forced to kill one another, it would still be Battle Royale. The Hunger Games probably could have benefited from a little more Beat Takeshi.

Dark Tower Adaptation Moving Forward?

Interesting news in Mid-World. Deadline is reporting that the film and television adaptation of Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower novels might be moving forward again. Last word on the project came a few months ago, when Universal was considering backing the adaptation in the form of three films and a television series, with Javier Bardem playing the role of the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain. The project was being developed by Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (yes, the dude who wrote Batman & Robin). Universal eventually balked at the ginormous price tag, and the project has been floating ever since.

Now, it looks like Warner Bros. and HBO are close to finalizing a deal with Howard and Goldsman and it might be moving forward as early as 2013. 
Without a doubt, it is a MASSIVE undertaking. I would love to see this series come to the screen, but I am honestly not in love with Howard and Goldsman being the ones to take it on. 
Fingers crossed as we move forward, though. This is a fantastic story, and the multiple film/television series set-up would be a great way to tell it. In the meantime, fans only have to wait a few more weeks for the new Dark Tower book, The Wind Through the Keyhole.

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Joshua, The Good Son, Orphan, The Bad Seed …at their core, these scary kid stories are still the stuff of demented fairly tales. The bad kids are always PURE EVIL, which makes for a fun viewing experience, but removes actual believability in the long run. You don’t go back out into real life fearing the existence of kids like these because there really isn’t too much kid-like about them – as fun as they are to watch, ultimately, the wind up feeling like an adult writer’s version of Evil Children.  The horror behind We Need to Talk About Kevin is that it is based in an all too real reality. There is a dark familiarity in his story. Something we have all heard on the news, have failed to understand, and every parent fears: What if your child was born bad? You tried to do everything right, but there is still just something…wrong…

We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the story of just such a kid. I don’t think I’m delving too much into spoiler territory when I say that Kevin is a bad kid who eventually commits a terrible act. You’ve probably gleaned that much already. Told from the perspective of his mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), this film tells the story of her journey through motherhood. Shown in a dual-linear narrative, one story follows Eva throughout Kevin’s life, from struggling to comfort him as an infant who never seems to stop crying, to trying and failing to connect with him and engage him as a toddler, to his teen years. We get to see just how Kevin progressed over the course of his life. This thread culminates in the tragic act that Kevin commits just shy of his sixteenth birthday.  The second story follows Eva in the aftermath, as she struggles to come to terms with what life has thrown her and to pick up the pieces.The stories run parallel to each other, each one filling in gaps left by the other and weaving a complex web of telling events and life experiences.

Tilda Swinton is beyond amazing here. Truly one of her most impressive performances thus far. She expertly conveys the conflicting emotions that Eva experiences as Kevin grows. The pair never truly bond. Try as she might, they never make that connection, and relationship is always always strained in one way or another. But she still embraces her role as mother to the best of her ability. Life with Kevin is a constant struggle for her, but she continues to try to connect with him throughout his childhood. And it’s not easy – the kid is a little bastard, and that’s on his good days.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Eva is alienated by the town, as many believe she shares responsibility for what happened. Her home is vandalized, strangers yell at her in the street and every room she enters is reduced to an uncomfortable silence as people realize who she is.  And she take all of it. She never fights back, because part of her agrees with them. She shoulders her share of the burden of responsibility, and bears her punishment.

We Need to Talk About Kevin examines the Nature element of Nature vs. Nurture in a realistic way. You don’t have any problem buying that this kid is a bad seed, but he doesn’t spend the entire movie twirling his little mustache to get the point across. It’s subtle, but very effective.  And even once we establish that this kid is rotten, his behavior is still somehow shocking. It’s very well written and expertly acted. The story and characters are all very grounded in reality. It is easy to understand the situation and to put yourself in Eva’s place, which, in real cases such as this, is something the public doesn’t generally do.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is doing a slow crawls through theaters, and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on May 29th. It’s absolutely worth your time.