âThe Hunger Gamesâ (PG-13) â â â
I have not read the novels so this will contain no comparisons. This is strictly a film review. All the hoopla has produced predicted massive crowds and those who loved the novels will probably love the film, but all the love cannot cover up some odd things in the script and in the direction.
First, director Gary Ross has directed only two previous films, âPleasantvilleâ and âSeabiscuit.â Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with the handheld camera, and his use of it is, for these eyes and stomach, excessive. Not only does it result in jumpy images, close-cut, but in fight sequences it completely obscures what is happening. The result is softened violence, but every fight scene is a surprise as only in the end do we discover who lived and who died. In a film about serial killing, this is not a successful technique.
Second, they may be âgames.â (The plot involves teens between 12 and 18. They are selected to represent their districts in deadly combat for the entertainment of a jaded public that often looks like a nightmare scene from the Family Research Councilâs website. See âHomosexual Excess.â) Then there is the matter of rules. We are told early on that the rules are strict, then the script allows them to change drastically: Instead of one winner there will now be two allowed. Allegedly a battle between teens, the Game Directors add impediments such as fierce beasts and balls of fire to affect the action. Then they change the rules again, to demand a single winner. By the end, what with the love interest between combatants Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) the film looks like an episode of âThe Bachelorette.â Does she really love him or is she using him to survive? Ditto for Peeta.
That the film is destined to be Part One of a series is foretold by the well-known fact that there are three âGamesâ novels and the fact that Donald Sutherland, as President Snow, is disgruntled at the end of the games, clearly a sign of a sequel on the way.
Of the rest of the players, Woody Harrelson continues a series of outstanding cameo roles as a boozy former winner of the Games, Hamitch Abernathy. On the other hand, Alexander Ludwig as Cato, the villain, is ludicrously one-dimensional and three pages short of any talent.
The premise is sick, the killing mostly curiously subdued and Jennifer Lawrence is comely and stoical enough (even while set afire); but there is a sense of cynical manipulation about the film that this viewer found disturbing. Incidentally there is a still-simmering controversy about striking similarities between âHunger Gamesâ and a Japanese book and film called âBattle Royaleâ that appeared to great acclaim in 2001.
Whatever its roots, this is a puzzling movie with many gaps in the plot, and I leave it to you to fill in the blanks.
âSalmon Fishing in the Yemenâ (PG-13) â â â â
Finally, this spring comes up with a winner! What a delightful, pitch-perfect romance this movie is with pathos, enough action to maintain suspense, but a constant reminder from a Sheikh that âItâs not about the fish.â
Ewan McGregor heads a stellar cast, including Emily Blunt as Harriet and a striking Egyptian actor, Amr Waked, as the Sheikh. Kristin Scott Thomas takes her minor role as a PR flack for the British government to unimagined heights, and the scenery, sensitive script and situation make this film a total delight to experience.
Ostensibly, the film is about a British-Middle Eastern project to bring water and salmon to the desert. Sheikh Muhammed wants to bring water and green fertility to his valley. Others around him see this as a Western plot and attempt to assassinate him and sabotage the project. British salmon fishermen rebel against the very idea of shipping their fish to the desert.
One of the sub-themes of the movie is the power of faith, of which Ewan McGregorâs Fred, a British fishery expert, has none â speaking of the churchgoers in his neighborhood, he says: âThey go to church on Sunday. We go to Target.â But is that true? Could he stick with this fanciful project if he had no faith?
Harriet has a lover of three weeks who is called off to Afghanistan and is reported MIA. Yet she sticks with the project. Meanwhile, Scott Thomasâs Patricia Maxwell, the flack, works to get the PM to go salmon fishing as the Brits need some good news to break the bad streak they have been suffering. She also cynically exploits the issue of both the salmon and the missing British soldier beyond what one would accept as decency. Thus politics is involved on both sides.
So is love, of course. Fredâs wife is not very interested in him. A lovemaking session ends with a curt âThank youâ and âGood night.â Besides, sheâs off on her own project to Geneva, leaving Fred to recognize the fact that his marriage is a sham and that Harriet is a wonderful person as well as extremely comely.
A reminder: Itâs not about the fish.
The performances are note-perfect, the casting the same and the entire film is hypnotic and done as only the British can do such films. âDr. Jonesâ and âMiss Chetwode-Talbotâ can go only so far, but the Brits manage to stress the formality perfectly, adding to the inevitable attraction of the two to each other. Probably boring for the very youngest, this film is so good that teenagers can appreciate the subtlety and truth of what it depicts, both about the salmon and people in general. Highly recommended.
âFriends With Kidsâ (R) â â â
This film is not what I expected and maybe turned out the better for it. Starting as a rom-com, it soon developed a twist: Instead of being 20-somethings, the cast is closer to 40 and over and their problems more varied.
The film involves three married couples and singles Jason and Julia (Adam Scott of âThe Officeâ and Jennifer Westfeldt of âTwo Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Placeâ). Jason and Julia are BFFs but donât feel any physical attraction to each other. Nevertheless, with love and pregnancy all around them, they compromise: Theyâll have a child together but keep independent, dating others while continuing to find âthe One.â Clearly, this is a mistake, and the working out of the complex relationship gets trickier and trickier, complicated by Kurt (Edward Burns) and MJ (Megan Fox). They appear to be perfect for Julia and Jason respectively, but we suspect they might not be.
The romantic comedy dissolves under the pressure of the married Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, who hate each other, and the tensions of seeing the changes in relationships brought by having children. Though they think their solution is ideal, Jason and Julia come to realize that the sexual freedom they both thought they might want and need is ephemeral. The other couples are realizing the same thing with reality serving as a friend in one case and a fatal wedge in the other.
The R rating is for language and some sexual situations but is, I am coming to discover, a relatively normal way that 30s and 40s talk to each other. If you have had enough of potty-mouth, you may not like this film, and if you are expecting, as I did, a comedy with half the cast of âBridesmaidsâ (Chris OâDowd, the cop from âBridesmaidsâ is Maya Rudolphâs husband here), just hang on for the meat of the story. You may find it engrossing as I did.
â21 Jump Streetâ (R) â
Prepared to laugh at some cop partner hijinks, I didnât. I couldnât. I was too deep into figuring out how the producers and PR people were going to market this confused mess of a movie. It is definitely an R film, aimed at high school minds and below, but the language and sex references make it an easy R, shutting out the core audience. The problem was, if they made it slicker, wittier and more truly clever, it would be more like the Eddie Murphy âBeverly Hills Copâ franchise or Mel Gibsonâs âLethal Weaponâ series. So they made a piece of goulash with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as rookie cops assigned to bust a drug ring in a local high school.
In an unsuccessful and very awkward plot twist, the writers reverse the logical class assignments and put Schmidt, the smart one, (Hill) in the dumb classes and Jenko, the dumb one (Tatum), in the smart classes. This is just one error that the film compounds with a series of miscalculations that force âJump Streetâ into frequent incoherence. The violence is, like that in âProject X,â most often mindless and meaningless, and there is a high school party that borders on Xâs excess.
Ellie Kemper is wasted in the role of a horny chemistry teacher, and the only potential saving grace for the movie, an uncredited cameo by an actor with a remarkable resemblance to a famous pirate, isnât enough to bail this mess out. Channing Tatumâs strength in the part is that he delivers his lines as if he is a teenager and frequently acts, like he did in âThe Vow,â like he has yet to finish Theatre 101. Hill, at maximum skinniness (heâs started to put the weight back on), does the best he can with a stock partâ nerd turned nerd â but even his almost romance with a high school student (Ewww!), played by Brie Larson, canât save his role or his character or, in the end, this disappointing movie.