The second time may be a charm, but hey, it’s all relative. The first “Hunger Games,” written and directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville”), felt paunchy, disingenuously deep and retro flimsy given the state of computer-enhanced filmmaking these days. That cinematic first chapter of Suzanne Collins’ runaway YA hit was a tad muddled, but then again it had the burden of informing newbies what they needed to know about the austere future world of Panem and its kid-against-kid death matches without boring the stuffing out of its loyal readership’s attention-challenged minds.
What made the first “Hunger Games” adaptation smolder, beyond its kinetic plot and high kitsch, was star Jennifer Lawrence, already revered for her work in “Winter’s Bone” and subsequently rewarded with an Oscar for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.” The actress, who possesses a wide, luminous face, aptly brought to the fore the deep disdain and skepticism imbedded in her can-do heroine, Katniss Everdeen. But living under the tyranny of a fattened plutocracy obsessed with power, control and hedonism while the masses slave and starve tends to do that to anyone possessing the faint embers of freedom and righteousness in their bellies. Continue reading
‘The Book Thief’: Stars and cinematography overcome cheapening of Holocaust setting
Call me a curmudgeon about all these flimsy, quick-read books hitting on one or two hot issues and built around a slightly-more-than two-dimensional hero or heroine that become template fodder for profitable spins into film. “Twilight” may be the most egregious example, but “Fifty Shades of Grey,” itself notoriously birthed from the “Twilight” franchise, is in the making. Then there’s the “Hunger Games.”
Why is a book about the Holocaust lumped in with this phenomenon? Because Markus Zusak’s novel, which the movie “The Book Thief” is based on, is little more than a safe, PG-rated watering down of the horrific events that took place in Germany leading up to and during World War II. It’s more young adult than dramatic literature or historical record. And, as a matter of fact, it’s not history at all, but historical fiction, a genre that like YA is fertile ground for studio execs seeking a ready-made and willing-to-pay audience. Continue reading
Abdellatif Kechiche’s beguiling portrait of passion and betrayal received much ado at Cannes, where it won the top prize and garnered an NC-17 rating as it came ashore here in the states. At three hours in length, the French film, originally and more simply titled “The Life of Adèle,” is just that: the tale of a young woman coming of age and her sexual awakening. The big brouhaha whipped up is over Adèle’s true love being another woman. For the middle third of the film as their relationship blossoms, the girls, one in high school and one in college, have torrid couplings under the noses of their parents. It’s pretty graphic, with lip-to-labia contact, contorted scissoring and deep-tissue rump massages.
The first of these protracted scenes feels apt and genuine, as it’s fueled by ardor and emotion, but the following ones feel staged and exploitive by comparison. Still, it’s how the two women, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux), meet and their journey that drives the film, not the over-the-top sexcapades. Adèle, fairly popular at school, has a quick, trivial interlude with a male classmate who, after achieving the conquest, becomes cold and aloof. Then, out at a gay club with male friends, Adèle wanders into the abutting lesbian meat-market where she’s instantaneous shark bait. Across the bar, she and the blue-haired Emma (perhaps the impetus for the American title – that and the fact Adèle is almost always wearing a blue dress or like-hued attire) lock eyes repeatedly. The sharks circle closer and take their exploratory nips. That’s when Emma steps in and pulls Adele from a persistent plier, offering a sprig of earnest camaraderie without pander or expectation. But clearly there’s desire. Continue reading
‘Free Birds’: Taste of this Thanksgiving item is a bit off, even if you like it dark
Poultry and tradition, that’s what’s on the menu in this animated butterball about America’s family holiday and the secret lives of turkeys. You can’t argue with the film’s angle about the big birds wanting to live – after all, how would you feel if all you did was gorge out on death row and pray that your number doesn’t get called as the calendar flips from October to November each year? But rescripting history and featuring death and violence prominently in nearly every frame, that’s a fairly big miscalculation for a kiddie flick.
Not that “Free Birds” is all stuffing and no trimmings. The 3-D animation is crisp and vivid and there are some quirky touches wittily infused into the script by writer/director Jimmy Haywood (”Horton Hears a Who” and “Jonah Hex”), the most cheeky and rewarding of which is the inclusion of Facebook humor sensation and former Enterprise crew member George (Sulu) Takei as the voice of S.T.E.V.E., the Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy, a top-secret military time machine. Adding to the fun is the presidential first daughter as a willful and rambunctious tyke who suffers bouts of narcolepsy. Continue reading