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Hunger Games, The (2012)

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The Hunger GamesStarring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci

Directed by Gary Ross

Distributed by Lionsgate Films


On March 23rd Lionsgate is poised to blow a certain pop culture juggernaut of a franchise about sparkly vampires away with The Hunger Games, the feverishly anticipated feature film adaptation of the first in Suzanne Collins’ teen-book trilogy centered around a strong-willed teenager named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who must fight to the death against 23 other teens in order to survive.

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States (now called Panem) where the problems of maintaining civil order and keeping the masses entertained by the boob tube all boil down to the same solution: The Hunger Games, a yearly contest where two dozen randomly selected 12- to-18-year-old Tributes are picked during the ‘Reaping’ of all 12 Districts outside of the Capitol.

The Hunger Games starts off quietly enough, but director Gary Ross packs in a gut-wrench moment right off the bat to engage viewers into this cruel world of the film’s heroine when 16-year-old Katniss’ 12-year-old sister, Prim (Willow Shield), is plucked from the unlucky fish bowl for the 74th Games. A shell-shocked Katniss volunteers to take her place, and she’s soon off to the Capitol with one of her flamboyant handlers, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and her fellow Tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who also happens to harbor a longtime crush on Katniss.

It’s a starkly bold opener that acts as a complete juxtaposition to the world Katniss is about to be thrown into, and Ross makes the transition seamlessly; once arriving in the Capitol, the sometimes socially awkward Katniss must embrace this odd and weirdly colorful world that wants to make a celebrity out of her before watching her die, but as she keeps resisting this new world, she soon realizes that if she wants to survive, she must play along with the lunacy that is The Hunger Games.

The Hunger GamesIn the lead up to its release, The Hunger Games has been compared to Twilight, the Harry Potter franchise and even Battle Royale, which is understandable since it’s human nature to compare something new to something old in order to drive home a point; however, it’s unfair to attach all that baggage so early to the film since it absolutely has its own merits to stand by, and frankly, associating it with something like Twilight is a detriment to the work of the entire cast and crew.

For those of you who may be looking at The Hunger Games as the next huge action series, don’t get ahead of yourself just yet; while the film is thoroughly enjoyable and immensely exciting, that’s not what is driving Ross’ vision here. The story deals with themes of self-sacrifice, mortality and rebellion, making The Hunger Games more thought-provoking than jaw-dropping really. Sure, there are great moments of violence and shock, but that’s not what keeps you glued to your seat at the end of the day- it’s the vision and the story, and for both Ross absolutely nails it here.

Ross approaches his action sequences and the narrative scenes in between with a realistic and grounded approach, making The Hunger Games feel like more of a drama than something super-stylized like The Running Man, which allows audiences to be continually immersed in this bleak future.

Performance-wise everyone in this eclectic hodge-podge of a cast delivers solid performances. The brunt of the heavy lifting on The Hunger Games falls squarely on Lawrence’s shoulders, and simply put, she’s brilliant, and fans of the book series should no doubt be pleased with her performance as Katniss. Hutcherson (who seems to be popping up everywhere these days and for good reason) is an interesting character that, honestly, isn’t all that likable at all. But by the third act Hutcherson gets you to come around to his side, making Peeta one of the more interesting and compelling characters to follow.

The Hunger GamesBut even the youngest actors, the aforementioned Shields and Amandla Stenberg, who plays the lovable Rue, could easily have been the weak links given their relative inexperience in comparison to their co-stars like Banks, Woody Harrelson or Donald Sutherland; but both are terrific. It’s also nice to see Wes Bentley involved since the poor guy hasn’t been given a decent role in almost 12 years now, and Lenny Kravitz (not exactly someone I look forward to in movies) reels in all the flashiness of his own persona and makes Cinna a warm and likable character in a world that is anything but.

And while it was incredibly easy to get swept up in the world of The Hunger Games, that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t suffer from a few problems- first and foremost being visual effects work that still feels unfinished (hopefully for the sequel they can nip that problem straightaway) and an oddly paced last 20 minutes that feels a bit underwhelming and rushed.

There is also a romantic subplot going on within The Hunger Games that felt a little odd to me (as someone who hasn’t read the books, I really have no frame of reference)- we get a sense from early on that Katniss and close confidante Gale (Liam Hemsworth) truly share a special bond, but once Katniss catches wind that Peeta has been harboring a long-standing crush on her, she begins to act wildly against the character established earlier on. At first she’s violent and enraged at him, and despite the fact that she isn’t wholly sure she can trust Peeta during the Games themselves (there’s a spoiler moment I wouldn’t dare reveal for those who haven’t read the books), she suddenly gets all warm and fuzzy for him.

Sure, I get that she’s a teenage girl and that teenage girls never act rationally, but still… there’s a weird sort of awkwardness between Katniss and Peeta in the film’s final act which left me feeling a little cold at the end and almost negated all her character worked so hard for throughout the rest of the film.

But with all that being said, who really cares? It’s like nitpicking at your Christmas presents, and what’s the fun of that? With a compelling story that actually has something to say for itself (a welcome change in the world of blockbuster filmmaking) and an entire cast delivering engaging and star-making performances (in Lawrence’s case) that sell everything perfectly, The Hunger Games looks poised to usher in a brand new hit franchise and deserves all the credit it gets for its confrontational subject matter and dystopian sensibilities, all masterfully helmed by Ross.

While the gorehounds out there might lament over how minimally the blood and violence play out, for teen/young adult audiences films don’t get much darker or more intelligent than The Hunger Games. Don’t let all the Twilight comparisons fool you- THIS is the way to make engaging youth-oriented stories for audiences of all ages (much like Chronicle did just a few weeks back).


4 out of 5

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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!

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User Rating 5 (2 votes)
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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.

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User Rating 3.11 (9 votes)
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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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User Rating 4.57 (7 votes)
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