Sunday, March 25, 2012


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Jennifer Lawrence,  Josh Hutcherson,  Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz,  Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks
GENRE: Drama, Action-Adventure, Sci-fi

Normally, I wouldn't lower myself to see a film aimed at 15 year-old girls,  but I wanted to see for myself if all the hype and the hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games--the screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling teen novel--was justified. I didn't read the book, but in my book, a movie should stand (or stagger) on its own merits anyway.   

The brief synopsis: In the dystopian future kingdom of Paner, a yearly "special" Olympics--of sorts--has been devised, which pits twenty-four young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen against each other in a battle to the death. Only one of them will come out alive and be declared the winner. (This person gets that stupid looking Mirabal Trophy from Dancing With The Stars ...NOT!.) The games serve as an ongoing punishment (and a way of keeping the uppities in their place) to the twelve outlying districts of the kingdom for an uprising against the all powerful central government,  headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Each district must cough up one male and one female gladiator to compete in the televised gore fest, which employs low-tech weaponry with blades, or bows and arrows, to maximize the up close and personal aspect of the killing.

Our heroine, from District 12--which appears to be the poorest and most downtrodden of the suburbs--is the brave and resourceful Katniss Everdeen,  played with effectiveness by Jennifer Lawrence, (Winter's Bone) as the blue-eyed Everygirl who rises to the challenge when it's do or die. Her saving grace is that she's a crack shot with a bow and arrow. And she's our hero because, unlike those other crass kids who just want to survive, she only kills in self defense--when there is no other way out. (Back home, I noticed, she's not as compassionate--she goes deer hunting, and likes to shoot other types of small defenseless furry creatures betwixt the eyes.)

Alliances form among the contestants  (like in Survivor, or Big Brother) and Katniss and her male counterpart from District 12,  Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson) are there for each other. Will they make it to the end?  Will romance bloom amidst the pervasive carnage? And what of the rule that only one teen must survive?

The first half of The Hunger Games  drags, as it's partly exposition, and then the mental and physical preparation the kids must undergo to give themselves a fighting chance. I could sense the mostly teen audience at the showing I attended chomping at the bit like the ancient Romans in the Colosseum--because, let's face it,  the video games and comic books they are into are mostly violent in nature.  

The second half of the movie gave them their fix.

 Woody Harrelson brings a touch of levity to the grisly proceedings as the drunken sot "mentor" to Katniss and Peeta, (gotta love those names)  who dispenses mostly thanks-but-no-thanks advice on their upcoming ordeal.    

Oh, and you've got to see the most MENACING looking beard in the history of filmdom--sported by Wes Bentley, as the organizer of the games. The sharp-edged design of it--as if he were wearing cutlery on his cheeks--is so heavy handed that it's funny, and it brings me to a pet-peeve about sci-fi films. You know, when the space ships that the invading aliens are traveling in are designed to look like nasty, evil creatures themselves--so there's no second guessing for us as to what they're all about.  But I don't think the aliens would  advertise their nastiness in such a blatantly obvious manner.  In reality,  evil often comes in the guise of a beautiful woman-- like a Casey Anthony--or that mass murderer in Norway with the movie star good looks. 

And while the dystopian image of a future world--the one depicted in The Hunger Games--seems heartless and cold,  that same world exists today.  And has existed among our species since pretty near the beginning. A world where innocents--who have no personal reason to hate their adversaries because they've never even met them--are pitted against each other in a kill-or-be-killed spectacle coordinated by governments. Often for no better reason than to gain some strategic political advantage in the world.

It's called war.   

Grade:  C +

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Rated: R

STARS: Jennifer Westfeldt,  Adam Scott,  Maya Rudolph,  Kristen Wiig,  John Hamm, Chris O'Dowd,  Megan Fox
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Westfeldt
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/ Drama

Maya Rudolph, with her hair pinned up, (not a flattering style for most women--flat-out  dreadful on her) and looking matronly in that bloated kind of way-- with the sound of young children screaming in the background--is enough to give any fancy-free bachelor the heebie jeebies about the prospect of "connubial bliss" in the new romantic comedy, Friends With Kids.

Kyra Sedgwick look-alike Jennifer Westfeldt writes, directs, and stars as Julie-- a thirty-something New Yorker whose biological clock is ticking. She and longtime best friend, Jason, (Adam Scott) observe their married friends, Leslie and Alex, (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) and Missy and Ben, (Kristen Wiig & John Hamm) and figure there must be a better formula. Neither Julie nor Jason have found anyone they want to settle down with, but both are amenable to the idea of child rearing, And though they are not physically attracted to one another, they decide to "do it" one time, become pregnant, and raise the child together while keeping their relationship platonic--which gives them both the freedom to continue to screw around with whomever. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS! 

Ah, if  only there were such a thing.   

So out pops an adorable kid, and things go along nicely for about two years, as our friends- without-benefits couple feels they've beaten the system and avoided the pitfalls of the dreary lives their married friends with kids have settled into. Jason meets his perfect woman, a Broadway dancer named Mary Jane, (Megan Fox) and Julie finds her hunky guy, and appears that what we have here is a forward thinking,  avant garde kind of romantic comedy!

Not so fast,  Kemosabe!

You can bend, but not break the romcom formula, and the ending of Friends With Kids is telegraphed from the time Jason and Julie's little scheme is hatched--though there are plenty of deftly placed road hazards along the way to keep many a- guessing about that. 

The film kicks into another gear when their  son asks: WHY DOESN'T DADDY STAY ALL NIGHT? we've all got to stop and think about what it means to be a REAL mom and dad--and that becomes the essential and lingering question in Friends With Kids--and it's what gives the movie its deeper and more contemplative tone. 

If you buy the idea set forth in When Harry Met Sally--that men and women cannot TRULY be friends, (unless they're both hideous) because there is always this subtle boy-girl thing operating beneath the surface, then the oh-how-I-could-never-be-attracted-to-you thing is a bit overplayed here. Both Jason and Julie are attractive people, and the awkwardness and near revulsion they seem to feel for each other when they initially  hop into bed to do the deed is played for laughs--not realism!

Jennifer Westfeldt is just as big a potty-mouth as any male screenwriter, which may or may not add to your enjoyment of this film. I think I was the only guy in the theater--surrounded by chicks on all sides--and they were yukking it up  throughout.

Oh, how jaded we've all become. Guess my old-fashioned side is showing, but I think we guys have lost some kind of edge when women can no longer be shocked by in-your-face sexuality. 

Grade:  B +