Ep. 127 – Dark Phoenix, I Am Mother

June 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Fox’s X-Men swan song DARK PHOENIX and the Netflix sci-fi thriller I AM MOTHER.

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Ep. 112 – Red Sparrow, I, Tonya on Blu-ray, Oscars post-mortem, and a recap of La La Land live from the San Antonio Symphony

March 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” talk “I, Tonya” on Blu-ray, break down the 90th annual Academy Awards, and recap their visit to the San Antonio Symphony’s performance of “La La Land” live.

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Red Sparrow

March 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“A Cure for Wellness”)

While the French term “femme fatale” can be traced back to the early 20th century, the archetype — a dangerous woman who uses her beauty, charm and sexuality to tempt her lovers into deadly situations — has been around for centuries. From the Greek mythological references of the Sirens, who lured sailors to their watery graves, to Biblical figures like Delilah, whose betrayal led to Samson’s enucleation and ultimate death, the femme fatale has taken on many forms in literature, art and other mediums.

In cinema, however, is when the typified seductress has really shined over the last century. Whether she is defined for audiences by Rita Hayworth as the hair-flipping title character in the 1946 noir “Gilda” or by Scarlett Johansson as an irresistible, ethereal being in the 2013 sci-fi drama “Under the Skin,” male film characters have had plenty to concern themselves over when a potential love interest starts batting her eyelashes or — as Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) does in her new spy thriller — bares all for the uncomfortable assignment at hand.

In “Red Sparrow,” which is adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by former CIA operative Jason Matthews, Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian prima ballerina who experiences a career-ending injury, which puts her sick mother at risk since no job equals no health insurance. In steps Dominika’s slimy, well-connected uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) who forces her to join an intelligence program known as “Sparrow School,” so she can train to become a spy and learn how to weaponize her body and sweet-talk secrets from unsuspecting men. Her main mission: to cozy up to CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is caught up in some Trump administration-level Russian-American relations, and — ahem — persuade him to reveal the identity of a mole with whom he has been working.

Lawrence reteams with filmmaker Francis Lawrence, who directed her in three of the four “Hunger Games” movies, and depicts her provocative albeit exploited character with realism and sexual prowess. Although she’s had a chance to stretch her man-eating muscles in the past as Mystique in the “X-Men” franchise, her role as Dominika is the most audacious of her career and one that she puts some definite enthusiasm behind. Lawrence owns the role as a honey trap and takes it as far as she’s allowed.

The major problem with “Red Sparrow,” however, is the slow-burning script adapted by screenwriter Justin Haythe (“A Cure for Wellness”) that desperately wants to be a sexually charged version of a John le Carré story. But where recent films like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “A Most Wanted Man” are absorbing, smartly crafted espionage dramas, “Red Sparrow” only manages to bring the same amount of intrigue in short bursts and does so without making any significant statements about the current political landscape, despite how deeply ingrained the Russian narrative is in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

One of the segments that works is the time Dominika spends inside the Sparrow School, where she is humiliated by a ruthless schoolmarm (Charlotte Rampling) and told that her body now belongs to the state. To call it a nightmare scenario is an understatement, and director Lawrence captures the disturbing nature of the school with authenticity. Actually, his take on the full world Dominika inhabits is noteworthy, too. The film is set in present time, but the Cold War-era ambiance fills each scene with an unsympathetic and disconnected quality that’s as thick as the snow in a Moscow winter.

Still, the film’s deception and manipulation, even while between the thighs of J-Law, is somewhat of a dull affair and one that is running counter to the idea that using sex as an element of female empowerment only works when the character isn’t forced into the position to survive. Sure, the style and skin might be present, but without any sociopolitical thrills, “Red Sparrow” never really takes flight.

Mother!

September 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”)
Written by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”)

If you’ve ever had someone approach you and utter the words, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and your first instinct was not to automatically run in the other direction before the storyteller began to describe their incomprehensible nightmare in extreme detail, you might find filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s new thriller “Mother!” profound in a bat-shit crazy kind of way. Aronofsky has created the cinematic version of sleep paralysis. It’s vivid, uncomfortably terrifying and once you snap out of it, you’ll never want to experience it again. Ever.

Without attempting to plunge deep into the psychobabble metaphors Aronofsky amplifies to frustrating proportions (this coming from a critic who loves some good symbolism), “Mother!” follows an unnamed married couple, played by Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”), as they watch their quiet life get disrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests.

When a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their door and is invited to stay by Bardem’s famous writer character, the friendly gesture sets off a series of events that lead to the unraveling of Lawrence’s medicated character’s sanity as her mind and home fall apart piece by piece. Joining Harris’ character in overstaying his welcome is his boorish wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and later their two bickering sons, who turn the visit from discordant to destructive.

Is every insane thing happening around Lawrence simply a figment of her imagination or is Aronofsky making it a point to draw a faint line between reality and possible hallucinations. Like Natalie Portman’s ballerina character in “Black Swan,” the existence of Lawrence’s lucidness is left to the viewer to wrangle over, but what is obvious is that Aronofsky has embraced his sprawling, chaotic narrative without remorse.

Maybe that’s a sign of a groundbreaking director. Aronofsky has created a picture about obsession and, in turn, has become a manic of his own making. He’s much better telling human stories like in “The Wrestler” or even “Requiem for a Dream, which is still just as nerve-wracking as “Mother!” It’s a bold move and he should be commended for the original and ambitious albeit preposterous content. What we could use less of Aronofsky doing, however, is making a film that doesn’t add up to much more than two hours of navel-gazing and waxing philosophical. With “Mother!,” he can’t seem to check his ego at the front door.

Joy

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“American Hustle”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

After the success of the half-great “Silver Linings Playbook” and the terribly overrated “American Hustle,” filmmaker David O. Russell again calls on his reliable acting twosome, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, for the least accessible of their films together. Based on the true-life story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the single mother who invented such products as the Miracle Mop, Russell’s film is dragged down by a confusing tone, but makes up for it with a satisfying look at the way Mangano built her business empire from the ground up. Although it’s obvious Russell would like Lawrence’s Mangano to emerge as the female version of Michael Corleone, there’s simply not enough unforced conflict to create a true sense of struggle. Where the film is most convincing is during the QVC portions of the story. Who knew ordering a set of Huggable Hangers on TV could be so exciting?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “I Am Legend”)
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Danny Strong (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”)

The economically-sound trend of splitting the final chapters of book-to-film franchises into two movies presents a unique—if not always positive—film-going experience. Like the penultimate films in “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series before it, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t really feel like a normal movie. It creates a sense of unease as you try in your head to look for typical story beats and plot markers that just aren’t there because, alas, this movie is meant to end with a sense of having been all about building to a climax that we won’t get to see for another year. It can all be a bit disorienting and insulting, but what are you going to do? Wait until both films have been released on DVD and Blu-ray so you can watch them back-to-back so that they make a cohesive whole? Good luck with that.

After her lightning-charged arrow destroyed the arena during the Quarter Quell in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a symbol of rebellion in the oppressed post-apocalyptic state of Panem. After being rescued from the arena by Capitol turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated), Katniss is whisked away to the militarized District 13, a grim underground bunker of jumpsuits and cafeterias. Clearly suffering from PTSD and the separation from her would-be lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—himself a prisoner of the Capitol and a propaganda tool—Katniss is called upon by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to become the Mockingjay, a symbol to unite the Districts in rebellion against the Capitol and the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the help of Heavensbee, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss will need to overcome her own suffering if the people of Panem have any hope of living free of Snow and the Capitol.

When you can look past the table-setting and sometimes lumpy, drawn-out storytelling, “Mockingjay – Part 1” ventures into some incredibly dark yet intriguing places for a film franchise that, at least on the surface, is aimed at teenagers. The body count is high and the politics of propaganda is a refreshing change from the typical “chosen one” storylines that usually inhabit these YA worlds. Katniss is not valued by Coin for her skills in the arena, but for the televised image she cultivated in the Game—not that anyone should ever doubt her when notching an exploding arrow, though. Scenes of Katniss working with filmmakers to put together rebellion-sowing video clips are the bright spots of the film, creating a much richer world than the movie’s goofy future-animals like mockingjays or tracker jackers ever could. The rebellion is coming. Too bad we have to wait another year for it.

Ep. 17 – The Guest, The Maze Runner, Tusk, the Deadpool movie is finally a go, and filmmakers we once loved that now disappoint us

September 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “The Guest,” “The Maze Runner,” and “Tusk.” They also discuss the officially green-lit upcoming “Deadpool” movie, the now delayed HBO Penn State Football drama “Happy Valley,” Magnolia Pictures buying and burying the Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper starring “Serena” and filmmakers we once loved that now disappoint us.

[0:00-3:33] Intro and Alamo City Comic Con talk
[3:33-12:45] Fox has finally greenlit a Deadpool standalone film.
[12:45-21:40] Brian De Palma’s Penn State HBO movie casts an actor for Jerry Sandusky and promptly halts production.
[21:40-34:25] The long-delayed “Serena” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper is headed straight to VOD. Discussion of big name actors starring in straight to video/VOD films.
[34:25-44:12] The Guest
[44:12-55:20] The Maze Runner
[55:20-1:01:43] Tusk
[1:01:43-1:12:11] Tusk Spoiler Talk
[1:20:11-1:22:66] Tusk Wrap-Up
[1:22:26-1:43:27] Filmmakers we once loved that now disappoint us
[1:43:27-1:45:23] Teases for next week and close

Subscribe to The CineSnob Podcast via RSSiTunes or Stitcher.

To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “X2: X-Men United”)
Written by: Simon Kinburg (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Sherlock Holmes”)

In this golden age of comic book movies, the X-Men franchise is the unlikely elder statesman. Bill Clinton was still president when the first film hit theaters in 2000, for crying out loud, and since then we’ve had two different sets of Spider-Man movies, three different versions of the Hulk, and we’re working on our second go-round with both Batman and Superman. And the X-movies, with their often blatant disregard for continuity with one another, fly in the face of the clockwork-precision the current slate of Avengers-based blockbusters Marvel and Disney are pumping out. It’s no secret that Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine is the glue that holds everything together, anchoring the everything from the best (“X2”) and worst (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) in the series with his definitive take on the most popular X-Man. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is no different, only this time it shrewdly sends the mutant MVP back through time to undo some of the franchise’s most glaring missteps in an adventure that ranks among the series’ strongest.

Opening in a dystopian future — and weirdly, seeming to shrug off the post-credits sequence of “The Wolverine” — “Days of Future Past” finds Logan, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), and a small group of X-Men fighting for their lives against shape-shifting killer robots known as Sentinels. Originally meant to hunt down mutants, the Sentinels’ programming changed to include taking out mutant-sympathizing humans as well. In an effort to end the war before it begins, Professor X hatches a plan with Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) to send Logan’s consciousness back through time into his younger body. His goal is to unite the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lesherr (Michael Fassbender) to stop Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinel creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an event that set humankind on a mission to eradicate mutants from the world.

Returning to the franchise for the first time since “X2,” director Bryan Singer seems to have one goal in mind: clean up the mess the series has become. Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinburg rely heavily on the audience being familiar with  most of the events in “X-Men,” “X2,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and the prequel “X-Men: First Class” (again, oddly, the superior “The Wolverine” is largely ignored), and the duo make a massive effort to smash all of that into a timeline that makes sense within itself (spoiler: it never does). Thinking about it too much can make your head hurt, and thankfully the film is exciting enough that you don’t need to worry about it. At this point Jackman IS Wolverine, and his performance is as badass and funny as ever. The “First Class” cast, led by Lawrence, McAvoy, Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult (as Hank McCoy/Beast) all shine as well. “Days of Future Past” ultimately serves as a giant reset button and with Singer back at the helm, the future of the franchise seems brighter than ever.

American Hustle

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams
Directed by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Eric Singer (“The International”)

As David O. Russell’s career trajectory continues to move upward, it seems he’s getting more freedom to make the films he wants to make. After the huge success of last year’s deeply personal “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations and one win, Russell heads backs to the 70’s with the con-artist film, “American Hustle.”

“American Hustle” tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his accomplice Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who are forced to work for FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after they are caught running an illegal business. As more prominent people become involved and things become more dangerous when they try to bring down a local mayor (Jeremy Renner), too many loose ends, including Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), could bring the entire operation to a head.

Much will be made of the cast, reuniting many veterans of Russell’s previous films and all principle actors being Oscar nominees or winners. As an admittedly impressive collection, the ensemble is certainly solid, but mostly unspectacular. Bale who gained nearly 50 pounds for the role is the best of the bunch, as a pudgy con artist with a terrible comb-over. As with many of his latest films, Bale disappears into the role and carries it with ease. Cooper is fine and Adams is hit or miss, with her fake but purposely imposed British accent becoming a little grating at times. For most of her career, Lawrence has been impressive at convincingly playing characters above her actual age. It might be the hair and costumes associated with the 70’s, or just her characters general life situation, but in “American Hustle,” Lawrence finally feels and looks too young for a role and is a little bit distracting.

“American Hustle” starts out with a bit of background on Bale and Adams’ characters and makes use of a dueling voiceover that bogs the film down and subsequently makes the film slow to get into. Once “American Hustle” gets going, Russell has a clear goal for presenting a playful and comedic tone, which is something that – for the most part – fails. Though the humor is a bit subtle, most of the jokes fall flat and there are only a few legitimate laughs in the film, mostly involving stand-up comedian Louis CK in a small role.

Russell does a few things right in the film. He nails the setting of the 70’s and there’s clearly an energy of filmmaking that transferred over to his actors. The issue here is that Russell appears to have had the intention of crafting something grander and more clever than what it actually is. Unfortunately for Russell, the film plays off as a by-the-numbers con movie and frankly, something akin to a second-rate Martin Scorsese film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

November 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Water for Elephants”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)

Unless you’re an unbiased fan of the wildly popular adult-book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to the record-breaking 2012 original film won’t hold much emotional weight. Without a deeper investment in these characters, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” much like the latest “Thor” sequel, was only made for its most hardcore followers.

Exploring much loftier ideas than the first film, “Catching Fire” does give Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) a good enough reason to reprise a role she was born to play.  Lawrence, whose beauty never overshadows Katniss Everdeen’s heroic nature, once again stands apart from the movie script’s unoriginal ideas. The dystopian themes featured in this series might seem new to somebody who has never picked up a science fiction book written in at least the last century, but, unfortunately, “Catching Fire” doesn’t seem all that interested in breaking any new ground.

On what is called a “Victor’s Tour” (think of a TV reality-show tour for “American Idol” contestants), Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are traveling from district to district being touted as the winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Unhappy with the way those games unfolded (the duo is pronounced co-champions only after they threatened to kill themselves with poison berries), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees their win as a threat to the way his government functions.  If someone like Katniss can break the rules, what’s to stop others from revolting against the system?

Putting an end to Katniss’ revolutionary way of thinking couldn’t come at a better time with the 75th annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) about to begin. Established as an All-Star type of reality show, past winners of the Games, including Katniss and Peeta, are forced back into a new arena where they must once again fight to survive against other competitors. This time the to-the-death battle is headed by a new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who shares in President Snow’s thoughts that Katniss is a menace to the status quo.

Much like the first movie, “Catching Fire” takes quite a while to get to the action most mainstream moviegoers not familiar with the books might be most interested in. For a second movie in a franchise like this, there still seems to be a lot of set-up left to do before the last two films are shot back to back in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, much of that set-up is filled with lazy dialogue and plenty of underwritten secondary character that don’t matter much in the big picture. It’s surprising since the screenplay is penned by Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).

At this point, all that really matters is Katniss. A strong female character like her is rare in movies these days, and Lawrence does an impressive job at portraying her as someone we can all root for. In an age where the Disney princess culture reigns supreme among audiences, it’s nice to see that there’s a fictional character out there that girls (at least tweens) can stand behind. Sure, Katniss might get someone’s attention by shooting an arrow through their chest, but is that kind of PG-13 rated violence really any worse than Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or the Little Mermaid finding happiness only after they hook up with their Prince Charming? Just as long as Katniss stays a lot manlier than Peeta (and that damn Gale Hawthorne doesn’t get much screen time), a lot can be said about how “Catching Fire” and the rest of this series can pave the way for more of these roles to find a permanent place in Hollywood.

Silver Linings Playbook

November 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“I (heart) Huckabees”)

In another light, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) might be thought of as a quirky, but excessively optimistic guy. Searching every situation for a “silver lining,” Pat thinks positively, works hard, and is dedicated to reaching his goals. But things aren’t that black and white. Pat has bipolar disorder, which means that his optimism is more like mania and his goals are delusional. Serious mental illness might not seem like a topic that is ripe for comedy, but thanks to a razor sharp script and career defining performances from its leads, “Silver Linings Playbook” nails the perfect tone dealing with a serious subject.

After spending time in a mental institution following a violent incident, Pat returns home to try to win back his estranged wife. In the process, Pat runs into Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) who is herself trying to overcome the death of her husband. As they get together and find out all the ways they are screwed up, it becomes clear that if they are going to get what they want, they’ll need to help each other along the way. Meanwhile, Pat’s superstitious Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) tries to keep their relationship close by spending time watching football games together.

Cooper is nothing short of amazing in a role that is simply in another league from anything he’s done in his career thus far.  Not only is Cooper very funny as the unfiltered Pat, but he is also able to capture the darker parts of mental illness with precision. It would be a crime if Cooper didn’t walk away with at least a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Part of what makes the film so successful is the flawless chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, who is also on top of her acting game. Fresh-faced enough to play a teenager in “The Hunger Games,” Lawrence also shows that she can play older and mature in a role that calls for a strong presence and strong sexuality, while matching Cooper laugh for laugh.  Not to be outdone by the young talent of the two leads, De Niro delivers his best performance in ages as Pat’s father.  With all of his superstitions and the inability to communicate outside the realm of football, De Niro’s performance is honest and a welcomed return.

Other than superb acting across the board, the greatest success of “Silver Linings” is David O. Russell’s script. It’s fast, sharp, funny, touching, essentially everything one could ask for in a screenplay. Though Cooper’s personality is greatly enhanced by his outstanding performance, his character is enriched by great dialogue, especially in arguments with Lawrence. Russell is also able to capture Pat’s mental illness pitch perfectly in moments of total meltdowns.  Though the film’s ending is telegraphed and a bit predictable, it is completely fitting and the reaction of the characters is well worth any sort of contrivance. “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t particularly flashy in its visual direction, but Russell certainly makes up for it with an Oscar caliber screenplay.

While the film has the tendency to get a little messy at times, it is never bothersome. In fact, in many ways it mirrors the neurotic personality of its leads, which ultimately becomes part of its charm. Don’t be fooled by the confusing ad campaign that markets the movie as some sort of sports romantic comedy. While the film does feature a fair amount about football, (in highly rewarding ways, by the way) at its core, “Silver Linings Playbook” is not only about mental illness, but two wounded people trying to help each other out. With top-notch acting, especially from Cooper and an offbeat screenplay, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a smash hit in the making and appropriately enough, providing its own silver lining to a disappointing year at the movies.

The Hunger Games

March 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”)
Written by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”), Suzanne Collins (debut), Billy Ray (“State of Play”)

There are a few things inherently lacking in director/co-writer Gary Ross’ highly-anticipated film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” that should be puzzling to anyone who is familiar with the history of the sci-fi genre and even the more complex ideas behind dystopian literature and how it carries into the social context of today.

Thematically, the film, which is based on the popular young adult series by Suzanne Collins, doesn’t have a single original thought in its flimsy framework. It’s bothersome because young fans of the series won’t care how similar it is to films of the past. Audiences just want something to replace the hole that will soon be left by “The Twilight Saga.” It is fortunate “The Hunger Games” doesn’t stoop to a level like Stephenie Meyer, but it still makes it hard to appreciate Collins’ concepts when she does nothing to separate herself from the pack.

Set in the future, “The Hunger Games” takes about an hour of the first act to explain the mythology behind the title competition. Two kids or teenagers from 12 different districts are chosen through a lottery system to compete in an all-out fight to the death on national TV where only one of them will survive. Representing District 12 is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss enters the competition after her younger sister Primrose’s name is chosen and she volunteers to take her place.

Whisked off to the Capitol (a sort of Emerald City on acid), Katniss and Peeta are pampered like royalty and assigned a mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Hunger Games champion who is now a drunk, to teach them the ins and outs of a competition that will leave at least one of them dead.

Borrowing generously from the text of writers like Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”), and Richard Connell (“The Most Dangerous Game”), “The Hunger Games” will definitely attract its fan base who have been itching to see the film come to life on the big screen. While its easily-accessible plot and characters also might generate some new interest from others not familiar with the books, the movie has no real ambition. More importantly, it fails to build any type of emotional structure around its characters besides Katniss herself. As kids get picked off one by one in the battle royale (look it up, kids: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film “Battle Royale”), it’s about as affecting as watching pawns get removed from a chess board.

Take away the fact that “The Hunger Games” is a 142-minute rehash, and we’re left with a perfectly-cast Lawrence in the lead role who makes up for a lot of the film’s problem areas. As Katniss, Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for the fantastic 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” is a strong female protagonist that puts someone like the always-suffering Bella Swan of “The Twilight Saga” to shame. Lawrence is the reason to hope the inevitable sequels to this franchise can break away just a little more from Collins’ original text and at least give it a style that doesn’t feel so synthetic at times.

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