Oscars 2020 Shorts Review: Documentary

It was a big wonder if I would be able to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this year. The theatres are still closed and now is a case where in BC, places can’t have more than 10 people at a time. It’s frustrating not to be able to go places. Nevertheless I’m happy to have the chance to stream the shorts. To start with, I’ll be dealing with the Documentary nominees:

Colette: dirs. Alice Doyard and Anthony Giacchino – During World War II, Colette Marin-Catherine was a young French woman who took part in the resistance against the Nazis. Her older brother Jean-Pierre, stockpiled weapons for the resistance. He was caught, tried, and extradited to the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp where he was eventually killed. It’s 2019 and the 75th Anniversary celebrations of D-Day are approaching. Colette is to make a return to Dora-Mittelbau to come to terms with her past: a past that still upsets her 75 years later. She doesn’t know if she can do it. She relies on director/producer Alice Doyard for help. During the trip, it appears she might not be able to do it. She can’t hold herself as the mayor of Dora-Mittelbau makes a speech about preventing such an incident like happening again. She confides in Doyard her past and her fears as the moment is approaching. Then she visits the Camp. It brings back bad memories. Then she visits the oven where her brother is executed. She’s in tears and she says her goodbyes to Jean-Pierre.

This is an important film. This is a film that reminds you that very often, wounds and scars are very heard to heal, even 75 years later. Peace needs to be made, but peace is hard to achieve. Especially after something this horrific. The film does an excellent job of making it Colette’s story. However it also does a good job of making it Alice’s story too. Dealing with Colette, she learns a lot and is also overcome with her own emotions. The two even develop a closeness as Colette passes her brother’s ring onto her. It’s a great short film about humanity.

A Concerto Is A Conversation: dirs. Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot – Composer Kris Bowers is about to perform a concerto he recently wrote at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Interviewing him is his grandfather: 91 year-old Horace Bowers Sr. Horace Sr. had just come from a celebration honoring him for his dry-cleaning business that has served the area of Los Angeles he lives in. Kris appears in many an outfit. During the film, Kris interviews Horace and Horace interviews Kris. Horace reveals how he escaped the segregation in Florida for a better life in Los Angeles. He talks of racism he experienced in LA, but an opportunity to make a business happen. Kris talks about music, how much it means to him and some of the music he wrote over the years. The film then ends with his concerto and his grandfather watching on.

This was the last of the documentaries seen as part of the five-set. Since the other four were of depressing subject matter, it was nice to see one of an uplifting story. This is a story of a grandfather and grandson who are successful in two different ways. The grandfather owns a dry-cleaning business that has been hugely successful in the Los Angeles area it serves for decades. The grandson is a composer whose musical scores have been heard in video games, television and film including Madden NFL, Mrs. America, Green Book and The United States vs. Billie Holiday just to name a few. The film shows what it’s like to be black in the United States. It’s also as much about the triumph as it is about the struggle. The film is both an interview where one asks questions to the other and a show of a bond between the two that’s on full display during the documentary’s 13 minutes. You’ll enjoy it and be enlightened.

Do Not Split: Charlotte Cook and Anders Hammer – This film is a compilation of footage of the Hong Kong protests. The footage takes place over a period of eight months from August 2019 when the protests start to March 2020 when Hong Kong goes through social restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. The footage is of various individuals you will only see once and some individuals you will see constantly in the film. In the film, you will see images of the protests, rioting and even makeshift places of shelter they use during the protests. You will see a lot of actions they take, but you will also hear them speak their mind about the issues.

This film will capture your attention and will not let go. This film really gets you concerned with the students and their welfare. If you are up to date on the situation in Hong Kong, the film will make you side with the students and give you a good understanding why they’re fighting this. The arrangement of the footage is great at capturing the essence of the story as well as giving the people their voice.

Hunger Ward: dirs. Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Shueuerman – The film is focused in two therapeutic feeding centres in Yemen. The film focuses on the two female doctors in the feeding centres. Over in the centres, the doctors have to deal with children near death and as well with the families. This is happening during the Yemeni Civil War during what the UN calls the biggest current civilian crisis in the world. The film shows how they deal with them, how they weigh them, how they deal with near-death situations and their attitudes of the whole issue. They even show the aftermath in two cases when the child dies. It shows devastating reactions from family members and the frustrations of the doctors. One of the nurses keeps an album on her iPhone of images of all the children she dealt with who unfortunately didn’t make it. The film also shows survivor stories, like of two girls that did make it.

This is a film that showcases an issue that often gets overlooked by the media. We hear of wars but we often overlook some of the effects of the wars, like how it affects children. This is a film that definitely has a message about its topic. This malnourishment during the Yemeni Civil War ranks Yemen second only to the Central African Republic for the worst child malnutrition in the world. The doctors themselves have their own messages to say. One talks of how Yemen used to be such a great nation, but it has now fallen. The other doctor, she blames this child malnutrition not only on the war but the whole nation, including herself. The film also includes the two survivor stories as messages of hope. The film ends sending a message that the stories of hope and tragedy you see are part of an issue that’s still fighting. I admire how a film like this showcases a message the world’s news cameras rarely focus on. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

A Love Song For Latasha – dirs. Sophia Nahali Allison and Janice Duncan – The film is narrated from young women who knew Latasha Harlins personally. For those who don’t know who Latasha Harlins personally, Harlins was a 15 year-old African-American Los Angeles girl whom in 1991 was shot to death by a hostile storeowner in L.A.’s Koreatown. The store owner was found guilty of manslaughter and was given a very lenient sentence which had no prison time at all. In this film, you hear from women who used to know of Latasha of who she was and of her hopes and dreams, including a dream to be a lawyer. You see images of areas where Latasha lived and played and went to school. You also hear from one woman of the store Latasha would meet her fate. She talks of how the owner was already known for her hostility. Latasha knew of it but brushed it aside, saying “She won’t kill anybody.” She couldn’t have been wronger that day when she went to simply buy some orange juice and the storeowner thought she was shoplifting. That led to a violent confrontation where the owner shot her in the back of her head.

The film gives a human image of a person who was a subject of racial tension back in the early 1990’s. For those that didn’t know, the L.A. Riots of 1992 were started by the reaction of the verdicts of the police officers in the beating of Rodney King. however the Koreatown area of Los Angeles was a particular scene of much of the rioting. The death of Latasha and her killer’s lenient sentence was most to do with that. In fact the liquor store Latasha was shot dead at was burned to the ground during the riots. This film creates Latasha not simply as a victim of racism, but as a young girl with hopes and dreams. The media shows one thing; these girls show another thing. The film also showcases images of Latasha’s childhood, images of Latasha at school, and images of young African-American girls in poses of confidence.

This is a documentary important to have out. 2020 was known for its race riots. This film takes us back to the race riots of Rodney King and shows how complex of an issue racism is and how it’s not just one central story that’s the cause of the friction. Yes, the reaction of George Floyd’s death is what provoked the riots of 2020, but George Floyd wasn’t the only victim. Same with Rodney King and the 1992 L.A. Riots. The story of Latasha reminds us it’s not just Rodney’s incident that provokes such an angry backlash. The story reminds us that Latasha is not just a 15 year-old African-American girl who met bad luck that tragic day. She was a somebody. She was a person that mattered, and she will never be forgotten. That’s why I make this film my Will Win pick.

And there you have them. Those are my reviews of the five films nominated for the Oscar category of Best Documentary Short Subject. Reviews of the other short films coming very soon.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014

PSHI wasn’t planning on posting this. Actually I was planning my next blog to be another Best Picture review. Instead I post this because of how shocking it is. And of how much I admired him and his works.

Philip was born in Fairport, New York (just outside of Rochester) on July 23, 1967, one of four children to family court judge Marilyn O’Connor and Xerox executive Gordon Hoffman. His parents divorced when he was 9. Hoffman’s past-time in high school was wrestling but switched to acting after a neck injury caused him to quit. Talent was noticed at a young age as he was selected at 17 to attend the 1984 theatre school at the New York State Summer School Of The Arts in Saratoga Springs. He graduated from Fairport High School in 1985 and attended the Circle in the Square Theatre’s summer program. He would go on to attend New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts and graduated with a BFA in 1989. Soon after he had a bout of alcohol and drug addiction which we would attend rehab for shortly after and eventually overcome.

He made his acting debut on television acting in a 1991 Law & Order episode. His first film role came in 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. Minor roles in film continued for Hoffman over the next few years. In 1995 he joined the LAbyrinth Theatre Company where he staged and performed in numerous productions. However his breakthrough came in 1997 when he had a scene-stealing supporting role as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Hoffman would act in three more Paul Thomas Anderson movies: 1999’s Magnolia, 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and 2012’s The Master. Over the next few years, Hoffman’s reputation as an actor would grow with more excellent performances in independent films like The Big Lebowski, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and  State And Main. He also showed he could act well in popcorn films like Patch Adams and Almost Famous. In theatre, he would earn a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in 2000 for playing Lee in the readaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West.

Further excellent performances continued for him in films like Love Liza (which was written by his brother Gordy), Owning Mahowny and the TV miniseries Empire Falls. He also continued to do come off well in box office fare like Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly. Theatre accolades would continue with his second Tony nomination coming in 2003 for his supporting performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. However big critical acclaim in film. kept on alluding him until 2005’s Capote. There he was to play Truman Capote in a biopic directed by former Tisch classmate Bennett Miller. He was even said to act in character even after scene shooting ended.  It was there where Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. And Miller received his first and so far only Best Director nomination.

Things became better for Hoffman commercially as he would play villain Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3 months later. In 2007 he received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in the independent comedy The Savages and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War opposite Tom Hanks. It’s his role in Charlie Wilson’s War that would earn him his second Oscar nomination. Hoffman would return as an Oscar nominee the following year in the Supporting Actor category again as Fr. Brendan Flynn in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Doubt opposite Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Hoffman would continue acting in film, both independent and commercial. He would also continue acting and directing in theatre. He wouldn’t get too much notice or acclaim over the next two years but his work continued to be consistent. He would again steal scenes in 2011’s The Ides Of March and Moneyball as frumpy Coach Art Howe. 2012 was another big year for Hoffman as it would be acclaim in both his theatre and his film acting. On stage he blew Broadway crowds away during the summer with his performance of Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman and played controlling yet charismatic religious leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master. 2013 would give him more exposure to the commercial movie crowd as he entered into the Hunger Games trilogy as Plutarch Heavensbee in 2013’s Catching Fire. He had already finished playing Plutarch in the first Mockingjay film and had just finished most of the shooting for the second as of February 1st.

Outside of acting, Hoffman shied away from the spotlight. In 1999, he statrted dating Mimi O’Donnell. It would prove to be a permanent union and both he and Mimi had three children. He was open about his past alcohol and drug abuse from which experienced upon graduating from Tisch. He said of his experiences: “I abused anything I could get my hands on and I liked it all.” He recovered successfully and would describe himself as a teetotaler from his past experience but a relapse would eventually happen. In May 2013, he openly confessed to abusing heroine and prescription pills and checked himself into a rehab clinic for ten days.

On Sunday February 2nd, Hoffman was found dead by playwright and friend David Bar Katz in the bathroom of his Manhattan office apartment. A hypodermic needle was found in his arm according to the police. Heroin was also found in the apartment. He was 46 years old.

I hate to bring up the topic of tabloid gossip at a time like this but that topic is unavoidable. Especially when a famous actor dies in such a way. There’s no question in the weeks and months after, there will be a lot of questions about this. There will be some journalists who will want to interview Mimi O’Donnell or close family relatives about this situation. Cast mates of past movies will also be questioned. Even the rehab clinic Hoffman has been attending since his relapse will face its fair share of journalists. I myself am shocked to hear of that. Years ago I read his IMDB profile and it said he does not drink alcohol because of his past experience with alcoholism. I was happy feeling that there was an actor that can be free from scandal. I never knew about his relapse. This is especially surprising since you normally hear about such deaths of actors hugely in the public eye. And Philip was the opposite. He was mostly private, rarely attended A-list events, had friends who were mostly in theatre rather than in the Hollywood business, had an unmarried relationship to the same woman since 1999 and raised his kids quietly. I guess we’ll only know the whole story in the future.

One thing to say is I don’t want to focus on the surroundings of his death. Even though I feel like asking ‘What happened,’ I’ll keep my mouth shut for now. One thing I will say is that I will always admire Philip Seymour Hoffman for the actor that he was. I’m able to separate myself from actors as actors and actors as people. Whenever I admire actors, I admire them for their acting jobs. They’d have to give me a good reason for me to admire their lifestyle. Anyways Philip Seymour Hoffman was an excellent actor. He really knew how to embrace the character both physically and emotionally. He was more than a top character actor, he knew how to make the roles multidimensional. I’ve seen many of his performances and he never let me down once. He always delivered.

I’ve always considered Philip to be one of the best actors of my generation. I also must confess I was secretly predicting and hoping that Philip would  be the next Tom Hanks. It just showed how naive I was to the present acting system. There was a time when an actor had the ability to be both a master of their craft and a top box office draw. That was common form the 30’s to the 60’s. Then there was a time in the 70’s when the big money-winning movies and the serious films had a gap between them that really widened in that decade. With that came a bigger gap between the on-screen craftmasters and the money-winning A-listers. That was especially noticeable in the 80’s. The reason why Tom Hanks was so beloved was that he was one of those rarities who was able to deliver in their craft and bring in top box office dollar.

I felt that Philip had the potential to do just that. I just wasn’t aware at the time of the types of actors that were able to win over the box office dollars. Turns out it’s back to being a looks thing again. Especially in the wake of the Twilight movies. I should know that 5′ 10″ and slightly pudgy won’t make you an A-lister. In fact one New York journalist summed up the physical appearance of Hoffman as: “a stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star.” That was just his nature. He was more interested in being an actor than a star.

Like I said Philip never let me down. Whether it was a role in a popular popcorn movie or if it was in a serious independent production, Philip always delivered. Even his co-stars would vouch for that. I believe that’s the legacy Philip will leave behind. Character acting performances that he didn’t just play but embodied and he knew how to grab your attention. I will always admire him for that.

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And thank you for captivating us over the years.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman>

Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire does include some elements that keeps it being too much like the first Hunger Games.
Catching Fire does include some elements that keeps it being too much like the first Hunger Games.

NOTE: I know this is awfully late to post a review of Catching Fire but I’ve had another lack of ambition in terms of writing this year. Those of you who’ve been subscribed to my blog for more than a year will remember the six week gap that began after the Oscars and left me with a March of nothing. Fortunately this gap ends today. However it explains this review coming awfully late.

I’m sure most of you have already seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Heck, there are still people seeing it as it’s still in the Top 10 at the box office this weekend and about to pass the $400 million mark. In this review, I won’t focus too much on the nitty gritty as I normally do. However I will post my thoughts on it as I was watching. Being one who has not read the novels, I will have a lot to say from what I remember seeing.

Those of you who have read my review of the original Hunger Games may have gotten a sense I did not read the novels. Especially since I made guesses about what was to happen in future movies. The funny thing is in the first movie, I thought the new love between Katniss and Peeta was real. I should have known Katniss did it for the sake of both of them winning. If it was a real relationship, why would boyfriend Gale applaud at the end?

One thing about the ending of the first. It provides the catharsis for President Snow to visit Katniss and even threaten her. The funny thing about the beginning is that it tells the whole truth about Katniss’ love triangle. There’s Gale whom she truly loves. And there’s Peeta whom she faked love for the both of them winning but he truly loves her and is crushed with the truth. There’s also the whole Hunger Games charade. Champions have to tour year after year across the districts. That mean the Katniss/Peeta charade has to be kept alive. It’s not an easy thing to do as people see them as this thing and rebels are executed by militia. Even harder is Peeta adding to the charade by proposing marriage to Katniss.

As one who hasn’t read the novel, the Quarter Quell came to me as a total surprise. Each year you have kids killing for the win and now you have winners killing each other off? I’m sure there were others who thought: “Not another Hunger Games. Twenty-four winners competing to be the one still alive? Why?” I was confused by it all, even though I was made aware that this was part of President Snow’s plan. I was also thinking is this was going to be your typical movie sequel where they rehash the elements of the original.

The Quarter Quell does appear to be redundant as it involves a parade around the stadium and even the contestants introducing themselves to the crowd and showing off their costumes. Even the new high-tech training does appear to be a case of rehashing from the first. Having Heymitch back as their coach and Cinna back as their costumer didn’t make things that much fresher either. There was one new element. There’s Katniss interacting and even befriending some of the other contestants before the competition.

Then comes the actual competition. There comes deadly rivalry from some of the contestants. There’s even potential fatality from some of the virtual effects created by the games masters. The way Katniss reaches out and befriends some of the other contestants is only slightly repetitive of the first but it does have its own original moments with her befriending of Mags, Wiress, Beetee and even the obnoxious Johanna. The Katniss/Peeta relationship in this movie had me on the untrusting side. It left me wondering if this was real or fake for the show again. Even the addition of Finnick leaves me wondering about the love triangle as I wondered is he really helping or is he trying to get a piece of Katniss?

It isn’t until the very end of the movie that I learned that the real battle in this Hunger Games movie is not Katniss against the other competitors but actually Katniss against the whole Hunger Games institution. It was obvious she knew what President Snow was up to. It also gave Katniss a sense that the other contestants in the Quarter Quell were as much a victim of this whole Hunger Games system as she was. It was evident that they all wanted out and would be lucky to survive getting out. The ending of the movie left me with a lot of questions about what to expect for the final part of the trilogy. Make that ‘parts’ since the final novel will follow the examples of Harry Potter and Twilight and divide it into two movies. Way to go, Hollywood!

Now onto the technical stuff. Jennifer Lawrence was good but not that spectacular. I’ll admit that I compared it to her Oscar-winning role of Silver Linings Playbook and it just doesn’t compare. It’s hard not to now! Josh Hutcherson turned Peeta from a lonely homely boy to a boy now angry and hurting. Sam Claflin helped make Finnick the one fresh character that added to the movie this time around. Actually the characters of the contestants of the Quarter Quell were all quite good in terms of both their characterizations and in making their characters human and likeable. The characters of those pulling the strings of the Hunger Games like Stanley Tucci’s Caesar and Elizabeth Banks’ Effie may have come across as irritating and stockish at times but they added to the story. Actually they added to the theme of the movie of how there are these cartoonish people pulling the strings of the show while the contestants are mostly the real 3D people in this game. Even though they have a show to put on and a game to kill for the win, they still feel and hurt.

Now onto the technical stuff. Francis Lawrence did a good job of directing, even though there was nothing fresh added. Actually he’s slated to direct both Mockingjay movies. We’ll see how he works it. Once again I admit I’ve never read the novel so I can’t say how good of an adaptation Simon Beaufoy and Michael De Bruyn did. I will say that it did seem too much like the first. James Newton Howard did a very good job in terms of the score. The visual effects team did an excellent job with the effects. Trish Summerville did a very good job with the costumes. It’s unfortunate that the first movie’s costumes didn’t get an Oscar nomination. I shouldn’t be surprised since the Academy normally favors timepiece costuming over fantasy costuming. But is it deserving, even again here.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is bound to get a lot of people who haven’t read the novel surprised, then questioning, then surprised and then guessing at the end what to expect next. The good thing about this movie is that even though there is some redundancy, it doesn’t resort to Twilight’s trick of focusing on hot guys. It knows it’s mostly about the drama and sticks to it. That’s the best thing and I hope they keep it up for the two Mockingjay movies.

2012 Box Office: March and April’s Continued Success

Another two months have passed and the box office has enjoyed a continued increase this year, if not completely consistent. If there’s one message to be made so far,  it’s that Hollywood’s doing all the right stuff these past four months of 2012.

As many of my followers already know, I’ve been paying close attention to the total box office results this year. I started doing it every year only in recent years. This year I’m paying special attention this year because you can bet Hollywood is hoping for its biggest year ever. Also you can bet Hollywood is looking to rebound after the disappointments of the last two years as noted in my article about 2011’s Box Office.

2012 shows signs that the box office is looking up for sure. I made previous notes in my focus on January and February of the reasons for Hollywood to be optimistic. Its total gross was over $320 million more than last year’s and the biggest January/February total gross ever. March and April gave box office stats impressive enough to keep Hollywood smiling too.

The first weekend of March 2012 showed continuing promise for the box office as Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax opened with $82.8 million. It was even strong enough to keep the heavily-promoted John Carter from debuting at #1. The following week saw 21 Jump Street debut with a strong opening. However nothing could compare in March for the opening of the heavily-anticipated The Hunger Games. Its opening weekend of $152.5 million raked as the third-highest opening weekend of all time at the time and its buzz was even able to outdo the openings of Wrath Of The Titans and Mirror Mirror the following weekend. The end result for March 2012 was $1.071 billion: the highest-grossing March ever; only the second March ever to gross more than a billion dollars and $412 million more than the gross of March 2011.

April didn’t have as strong buzz as last year this time around. The month began with the continuing endurance of The Hunger Games keeping it at #1 during the first two weekends of April. Its box office domination even warded off debuts like American Reunion, Titanic 3D, The Three Stooges and The Cabin In The Woods. It wouldn’t be replaced as the #1 movie in North America until Think Like A Man opened. Think still continued as the #1 movie the following weekend, even outdoing the debuts of The Pirates! Band Of Misfits and The Five-Year Engagement. Nevertheless Think Like A Man’s opening weekend was only a humble $33.6 million.

The lack of sizzle of April’s openers led to a roughly estimated total gross of $725 million: $200 million less than last year’s record-setting April. Nevertheless April was only a minor box office setback as the box office of those four months amassed a total roughly over $500 million more than last year. So 2012 remains on pace for being the highest-grossing year ever.

As we head into May, we already know the box office is getting more boost as the very first weekend saw the release of The Avengers which not only broke the box office record for opening weekend but set a box office milestone too. Its record-setting opening weekend of $207 million made it the first-ever $200 million weekend! May promises more box office excitement with The Dictator, Battleship and Men In Black III. The rest of the summer is also full of buzz with Battlefield America, Madagascar 3, Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and the latest movies in the Spiderman, Jason Bourne, Expendibles and Batman franchises.

2012 is continuing on another impressive year and the buzz in the following months should continue long enough to make this a record-setting year.

WORK CITED:

“Monthly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2011. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com. <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/monthly/>

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a novel that has taken today’s young by storm. You can bet that the release of the big-screen adaptation has attracted the young and old alike to attend. There has already been a lot of attention directed to it. The big question is does the movie deliver to the hype?

The movie opens in a post-apocalyptic world. North America is now one nation consisting of a Capitol and twelve poorer surrounding districts. The Capitol has punished the poorer district for a past rebellion by holding a contest called the Hunger Games. In this contest, each district has one boy and one girl from 13 to 18 drawn by lot to fight to be the one to survive and live a life of fame and wealth.

The core of the movie focuses on Katniss Everdeen of the mining District 12. She is already a well-skilled outdoorswoman who knows how to survive outdoors and even hunt for her own food via bow and arrow. When the draw happens, her younger sister’s name is pulled but she volunteers for her, knowing she doesn’t have what it takes to win. The male winner is Peeta Mellark: a shy baker boy who met Katniss only once when he gave her bread. The two are taken by train to the Capitol where they are given instructions from former winner Haymitch Abernathy.

At the Capitol they are given styling from stylist Cinna who wants to make them look like something not from a mining town. The two learn this contest is as much about style and winning the audience as it is about gladiating skill. ‘Sponsors’ can also send gifts to contestants they like. They’re dolled up in stunning costumes for the opening ceremonies and also impress during training where Katniss has the highest score of all. As all the contestants are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman, Peeta confesses that he always had a crush on Katniss, much to Katniss’ discomfort. Nevertheless they remain aware of the Games and what they have to face. They also know they will face a formidable challenge from the two from District Two known as the ‘Careers’ as they are trained since birth to win the Games. A Career has won the Hunger Games the past eight years and this year’s top ‘Career’ is Cato who is well-trained, merciless and confident he will win.

The contest begins in an open gladiation of all twenty-four. At the end, half are killed. Katniss is left on her own to fend for herself. In the meantime the ‘Careers’ Cato and Clove form an alliance with some of the contestants to get Katniss. One of the members is Peeta. The alliance is successful in getting her to climb up a tree for her life. As they wait at the bottom for her to get down, she notices Rue: a small frail girl from District 11. Katniss is able to come down after she’s able to free off a branch containing a nest of bee-like tracker jackers and causes the surviving allies to flee as the jackers sting. Katniss develops a caring friendship with Rue as she gives her ointment for her sting. The friendship ends tragically as Rue is fatally wounded by a contestant. After Katniss kills Rue’s killer, she lays flowers over her body as a sign of respect.

The Games continue. There’s the medicine round where each of the surviving district has to have one contestant take the medicine. Katniss has a duel with Career Clove but Clove is killed by District 11’s Thresh in respect of what she did to Rue. Katniss discovers Peeta, wounded by Cato’s sword in a fit of rage. As she puts ointment on him he learns all the group’s supplies are captured by Cato and held in an area protected by landmines and an ally. Katniss succeeds in igniting an explosion destroying all the supplies. Now all that remains is the Cornucopia for the last survivor, or two surviors from a single district, to battle for the win of the Games. The ending consists of a battle involving two ‘created’ man-eating beasts. The ending leads to a thrilling battle with moments of intensity and a surprise twist at the end with a rule change. The ending also leads to set the stage for the follow-up movie, due for release November next year.

I’ll admit that I have not read the book The Hunger Games but I will say that the movie is very good in expressing a popular theme of drama in front of a world audience. We have the popular theme of fighting to the death just like it was done during the times of ancient Rome. We have the theme of drama created to stir popularity, intrigue and support. We especially have the theme of brawn vs. brains as best shown by Cato and Katniss. The two are an interesting study in opposites. Cato represents brawn. He comes from a district where children are trained to win from birth. Cato has all the traits of a trained competitor: confidence, skill, lack of mercy and even a lust for killing his rivals, and especially the charisma two win some of his rivals over to form an alliance to defeat his top rival Katniss, even making them forget they would have to be his victims if he wants to win. Katniss is the smart one. She knows how to fend her herself. She knows how to survive on her own. She knows the Games are stupid. She also knows how to show compassion to those she feels shouldn’t be in the Games. She knows how to play to the crowd in her natural way. She also knows how to rebel as she also is willing to give her life if it means losing Peeta. It’s no wonder Katniss’ edge is noticeable and could prove victorious in the end.

Even if you haven’t read the novel, you would notice how the world present in the Hunger Games represent a lot of barbarianisms of civilizations past. You have the Hunger Games itself where children are elected to fight to the death like the Gladiators of Ancient Rome. We have Distirct 2 which trains children to win the Hunger Games: reminiscent of both Ancient Sparta where children are raised from birth to be soldiers and of Communist countries that took children and trained them to be Olympic champions. We have The Capitol dictating these games on the twelve districts, reminiscent of Ancient Rome.

Also included in the Hunger Games are the many elements that remind us of our current voyeuristic culture. We have a reality show of these teenagers in these blood games that are broadcast to live audiences in each district. We have an image analyst and stylist who encourage and assists Katniss and Peeta in winning the crowd. We have a past winner giving the two hints on how to win. We have Gamemakers creating elements of drama and death like the forest fire, the man-eating beasts and the change of rules for two of the same district to win. We also have Katniss receiving instructions and drama directions with whatever ointment and food she receives. We have all contestants being shown off in an pre-games interview and given scores before the contest: reminiscent of weigh-ins before boxing matches. Bloody gladiator matches of the past combine with the voyeurism and media-savvy of the present.

Despite all that’s created, concocted or built up, we also have Katniss and Peeta representing the realness in all that’s staged. We have Katniss who wants to win but feels it’s an unnecessary threat for someone like Rue to be a forced warrior. We see Katniss representing the feelings and sensitivities of most trying to do battle with the charismatic but diabolical and controlling Cato. Even before the Hunger Games lottery, there was a connection between Katniss and Peeta, albeit from a long distance. It was only through the luck of the draw that the two could meet and Peeta could get the girl he always wanted to notice her. Even without the staging and set-up of events, the love and feelings between the two are real.

We also have Katniss’ sense of rebellion. Her moves during the Games, both of defiance and compassion, have sparked a lot of discomfort to those who call the shots in the Games. First act was before the Games as she volunteered to replace her younger sister for the Games. During training, she shot an arrow at an apple awfully close to a Gamemaker to get some notice.  During the Games, she developed a caring bond with Rue and laid flowers over her body. Her act of respect sparked a riot in Rue’s District 11 and caused producers to change the rule of allowing two from a single district to win. When the rule was rechanged to one winner only, she and Peeta were ready to eat fatal berries together in defiance. Even the deaths of both Cato and Clove could spark outrage from the Career’s district as they’ve been trained since birth to win and this is their first loss in years. Katniss’ rebellion definitely left the Gamemakers with a nervousness even after the Hunger Games were over. This sets the stage for what could happen in Catching Fire.

The acting in the movie was very good. Jennifer Lawrence gave a performance in a role that was beyond your typical teenage heroine role. She has already proven her acting excellence in the past and she continues to impress here. Josh Hutcherson also did a good job playing the boy-next-door type Peeta. His role wasn’t as complex as Katniss but he still managed to impress and come across well as the shy sensitive type. Alexander Ludwig succeeded in making Cato hateable on screen but his role as the charismatic killing machine was underdeveloped in the movie and given less screen time than it should’ve had. The adult actors in the movie did well with their supporting roles and the characters that came with it, but most were limited to being only minor supporting roles often consisting of stock characters. Of the adult actors, it was Woody Harrelson who did the most with his role. Gary Ross did a very good job of directing even though he has not been known to direct and epic movie before. His first effort pays off well. He also did a good job in scriptwriting with Billy Ray and the book’s author Suzanne Collins although there were some key elements missing. Costuming was also well-done even though there were some outfits that could leave one thinking they were at a Lady Gaga concert. The visual effects were also excellent.

 The movie had a lot of great qualities but the best thing about it is that the filmmakers kept from making a Twilight of itself. I haven’t seen any of the Twilight movies but I know enough about them to know it’s mostly about ‘hot guys’ and teen romance. The box office successes of that formula as well as the huge teen fanfare made me nervous that the Hunger Games might take those steps to gain a huge box office draw. Instead The Hunger Games doesn’t stoop to that low. It’s able to keep an intriguing story with the drama without having to resort to sex appeal for the sake of money.

The effort has payed off both on screen and at the box office too. Its opening weekend of $152.5 million made it the third-highest opening weekend ever. It spent four weekends at #1 at the box office and currently ranks #3 with a total gross of $380 million. None of the Twilight movies have been able to achieve either box office result. It’s no wonder there were even older adults in the audience the time I went. Unlike Twilight, The Hunger Games goes beyond the expected targeted teen and its pays off.

The Hunger Games does have its flaws and imperfections but it does an excellent job in creating an intriguing story that does its best to avoid distractions and most typical box-office gimmicks. The result is a quality epic that’s as smart as it is thrilling.

One last note: Okay I know it’s been weeks since The Hunger Games opening. The thing is I only saw it three weeks ago as I normally wait for big hit movies to have the crowds die down. Also I have been mentally exhausted for weeks and have had a lack of ambition to write. Finally I got it back.

The Hunger Games Very Hungry For Hype

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson: stars of the upcoming The Hunger Games.

Have you seen stuff about The Hunger Games? How could you not? The trailer has been showing in theatres these past few months. Magazines have been having cover stories and even special commemorative issues to do about it, even though it doesn’t open until three days from now. Movie shows both on television and Youtube are all abuzz about it. This is the latest movie hypefest, and for good reason.

The Hunger Games is based on a popular young adult novel by Suzanne Collins released in 2008. It has since sold over 1 million copies and has been translated in 26 languages. The first novel has spawned off two more subsequent novels Catching Fire and Mockingjay: all part of what’s known as The Hunger Games trilogy.

The film version of the novel finally hits the big screen this weekend and already boasts an impressive line-up. First up is 21 year-old Jennifer Lawrence who plays Katniss. She is most famous on television for The Bill Engvall Show but her film career has taken off in the past couple of years with roles in Winter’s Bone, which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and for X-Men: First Class. Peeta will be played by 19 year-old Josh Hutcherson who has had an impressive acting career as a child with movies like Zathura and Bridge To Terabithia and has continued success as a young adult in The Kids Are All Right. Gale will be played by22 year-old Liam Hemsworth. He’s best known as the younger brother of Chris Hemsworth but Liam has a resume of his own with television experience in Australia and movie experience in the US with The Last Song.

The movie also has supporting roles played by some well-established adult actors like Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland. The movie is directed by Gary Ross, most notable for directing Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. There’s lots of pressure for this movie to succeed as the success of the first movie should tell a lot about the future of the next two sequels. Hollywood is already expecting this to be the next hit movie series. And let’s face it.  The Harry Potter series is finished. The Lord Of The Rings series is history with one last Hobbit movie to come. Twilight has its last movie to come, hence its own twilight within a year. James Bond movies aren’t exactly one for the young clique. So this Hunger Games is seen as the next big movie series to propel the box office.

So far the hype seems to be paying off. The pre-sale tickets for the opening weekend have been on sale since February 22nd and has already sold almost 2000 shows in advance, a record according to the Huffington Post. Even the first Twilight movie’s pre-sales weren’t that high. The actual opening weekend total is still in question and to be determined this Sunday. Experts run the gamut over predicting the opening weekend to be anywhere from $85 million to $140 million. It could be possible to set an opening weekend record but it would be a bit of a surprise since March isn’t the best month for setting opening weekend records: the summer months are. So far the biggest opening weekend for a March movie is 2010’s Alice In Wonderland with $116.1 million: the tenth-highest opening weekend ever. Anyways for those keeping Box Office score, here are the records to focus on, according to Box Office Mojo:

  • Biggest Opening Weekend (All-Time): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – $169.2 million
  • Biggest Total Gross (All-Time): Avatar – $760.5 million (U.S.)/ $2.782 billion (Worldwide)

So hang tight folks. The Hunger Games open Friday. Let the games–both The Hunger Games and the Box Office Games– begin!

UPDATE: I saw the movie and here’s my review!