In that sense, Lincoln lets its audience off too easy. It’s comforting to feel that we can always find great wisdom in the middle. For the slight cost of waving away those who carry radicalism in their very blood, it reaffirms our great faith in democracy. It’s much more terrifying to consider how democratic compromise can be disastrous and how zealotry can be perceptive. Lincoln should have been harder on us. And I still loved it. And it still left me weepy. And you should still see it.
HUNGER GAMES | wish fulfillment fantasy: alpha girls like Katniss and Bella have two obsessed lovers in film—if not in life
- Relax, you legions of Hunger Gamers. We have a winner. Hollywood didn’t screw up the film version of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult bestseller about a survival-of-the-fittest reality show that sends home all its teen contestants, save the victor, in body bags. The screen Hunger Games radiates a hot, jumpy energy that’s irresistible. It has epic spectacle, yearning romance, suspense that won’t quit and a shining star in Jennifer Lawrence, who gives us a female warrior worth cheering.
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- “The Hunger Games” is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in “Gattaca” or “The Truman Show.” Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series’ author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they’re right. But I found the movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral issues.
- What invests Katniss with such exciting promise and keeps you rapt even when the film proves less than equally thrilling is that she also doesn’t need saving, even if she’s at an age when, most movies still insist, women go weak at the knees and whimper and weep while waiting to be saved. Again and again Katniss rescues herself with resourcefulness, guts and true aim, a combination that makes her insistently watchable, despite Mr. Ross’s soft touch and Ms. Lawrence’s bland performance. One look at District 12, which Mr. Ross conceives as a picturesque old-timey town — filled with witheredDorothea Lange types in what was once Appalachia — and it’s clear that someone here was enthralled with the actress’s breakout turn in “Winter’s Bone” as a willful, resilient child of the Ozarks.
- If Ross glosses over the story’s bleakest aspects, he brings the bread and circuses of Collins’s story to life with lurid color or primitive brutishness, depending on the setting, often within a jangle of jarring close-ups captured with a constantly bobbing hand-held camera. The region Katniss and Peeta represent, the coal mines and hollers of District 12, seems to have popped straight out of Walker Evans’s dark room; the Capitol — a Vegas-like hive of callous sophisticates and jaded fashionistas — looks like Oz by way of Albert Speer. (It remains to be seen whether “The Hunger Games” and its Draconian burlesque of centralized government will make it a dog-whistle hit with Tea Party audiences.) The stoic, impassive Katniss threads her way through the Capitol with the dubious help of a chaperone named Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), whose kooky, fin de siecle style includes white-powdered wigs, candy-colored costumes and rosebud lips, and a mentor named Haymitch Abernathy, played by Woody Harrelson in a soddenly bravura turn that somehow combines his two most recent roles, the corrupt cop in “Rampart” and a world-weary political consultant in “Game Change.” Stanley Tucci finds his inner Silvio Berlusconi as a tooth-capped, spray-tanned, blue-haired TV host named Caesar. That name — as well as the monikers Seneca and Cato — is clearly meant to underline “The Hunger Games’ ” roots in the Coliseum, a gratuitous reminder made more unnecessary once the young gladiators finally join the battle.
- 0 comments resize text printbuy reprints Recently, I made the mistake of joking on Twitter about the possibility of a Team Peeta vs. Team Gale dynamic, referring to the two young men who hold special places in the heart of Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old heroine of “The Hunger Games.” Some people played along but many were appalled at the very idea of something as cliched and flimsy as a love triangle defining the young woman they’ve come to admire so fiercely from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trio of novels, the first adaptation of which makes its way to the screen this weekend amid great fervor and expectation. I learned very quickly: These people do not mess around when it comes to Katniss. Those same fans should be thoroughly satisfied with the faithfulness of Gary Ross’ film, with its propulsive nature and vivid imagery: a mix of decadent costumes and architecture and harsh, unforgiving exteriors. At its center is Jennifer Lawrence, an ideal choice to play this strong, independent young woman. Those who saw her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” already were aware of her startling screen presence — her natural beauty, instincts and maturity beyond her years. And yet there’s a youthful energy and even a vulnerability that make her relatable to the core, target audience of female fans. Lawrence is endlessly watchable, and she better be, since she’s in nearly every single shot of Ross’ film.
- Watching The Hunger Games, I was struck both by how slickly Ross hit his marks and how many opportunities he was missing to take the film to the next level — to make it more shocking, lyrical, crazy, daring. A highlight of the book is how Cinna uses his showbiz savvy to make the reluctant Katniss — who can’t conceal her loathing of the decadence and inhumanity of the conspicuously consumptive District 1 — a star, the center of the pre–Hunger Games pageant. But in the movie her entrance in a costume that’s literally in flames is so poorly framed you can’t savor her triumph. Ross throws away what could be a startling image of child warriors rising out of tubes to face one another in a semicircle, each knowing that he or she might have seconds to live. The novel’s most unnerving detail, that a pack of man-eating synthetic mutts have the eyes of murdered children, is inexplicably left out: Now they’re just generic beasts. The Hunger Games has two great assets: the score by James Newton Howard, which manages to be at once thrilling and plaintive, and the Katniss of Jennifer Lawrence. The actress is not a conventionally chiseled Hollywood ingenue or a trained action star. But there’s a steadiness in her blue eyes that makes her riveting. She brings the same grim self-containment to Katniss that she had as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone — and she looks mighty good with a bow and arrow. Without words, Lawrence makes it clear that Katniss’s task is not merely to stay alive but to hold on to her humanity at all costs.
- So why is the market for ritualized dystopian child murder so obvious and large? Three theories spring to mind after watching Gary Ross’ solid if unexceptional adaptation. One: As a race, human beings never really got past the need to sacrifice their children to the gods of (fill in blank). Two: The parallels with modern society, our fear of a dictatorial government and the ever-expanding rift between the haves and the have-nots, are striking a chord in the age of Occupy Wall Street. Or three: “Twilight”-style love triangles featuring one girl and two boys are hot.
- Less spectacular, but never less than competent, are other major players in this game of thorns: Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) as Peeta Mellark, the other District 12 tribute warrior; Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the drunken games mentor and sole previous District 12 survivor; Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, a close friend and possible romantic interest for Katniss; and Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow, a combo Nixon and Obama figure who rules with both iron fist and silk glove. Secondary characters are enlivened by fun and even inspired casting: Stanley Tucci as blue-haired and silver-tongued Caesar Flickerman, emcee and interviewer for the 24/7 televised games; rocker Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, dresser and motivator to the tributes, who are also TV stars; and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, the aptly named airhead who escorts the District 12 tributes, wishing them all, “Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds forever be in your favour!”
- As for visual spectacle, there’s enough but, along with it, a feeling of being slightly shortchanged; the long shots of gigantic cityscapes, of a fast train gliding silkily through the country, of massive crowds gathered to see this year’s gladiators before they set off to kill one another, of the decorative flames emanating from the leads’ costumes as the pair is presented to the public for the first time — all are cut a bit short, as if further exposure would reveal them as one notch below first-rate. On the other hand, the costumes and makeup are a riot of imagination designed to evoke a level of topped-out decadence comparable to that of Nero’s Rome or Louis XVI’s Paris. PHOTOS: Hollywood’s A-List Redefined Most noticeable of all, however, is the film’s lack of hunting instinct. The novel conveyed a heady sense of blood-scent, of Katniss Everdeen’s lifetime of illegal hunting paying off in survival skills that, from the outset, make her the betting favorite to win the 74th edition of the Hunger Games. While present, this critical element is skimmed over onscreen, reducing a sense of the heroine’s mental calculations as well as the intensity of her physical challenges and confrontations. One senses that the filmmakers wanted to avoid showing much hunting onscreen, for fear of offending certain sensibilities; stylistically, one longs for the visceral expressiveness of, say, Walter Hill in his prime. It’s also clear that the need for a PG-13 rating dictated moderation; a film accurately depicting the events of the book would certainly carry an R. That said, Hunger Games has such a strong narrative structure, built-in forward movement and compelling central character that it can’t go far wrong. From the outset, it’s easy to accept a future North America, once decimated by war and now called Panem, divided into 12 districts kept under tight control by an all-powerful central government in the stunningly modernistic Capitol.
- When you’re talking about “The Hunger Games,” it all comes down to Katniss. Like other strong-minded women who have driven book sales into the stratosphere — think Lisbeth Salander of the “Dragon Tattoo” triology and even Bella Swan of the “Twilight” series — ace archer Katniss Everdeen is an indomitable heroine whom nothing fazes or flusters for long. Making a successful “Hunger Games” movie out of Suzanne Collins’ novel required casting the best possible performer as Katniss, and in Jennifer Lawrence director Gary Ross and company have hit the bull’s-eye, so to speak.