Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Way (Mai Wei)

Although the US's post-war plan for Japan could be considered very humane, it's sort of interesting to note that WWII-era Japan was monstrous, and now they can't even be bothered to reproduce. I mean, they're so goofy on so many cultural levels, we forget that they were comparable to Nazi Germany in their atrocities, perhaps killing as many as ten million people.

I mention this because, as you might imagine, Imperial Japan's victims in Korea, China and Russia haven't forgotten.

Which brings us to this epic war film, the Korean movie My Way. The Boy loved this film, and he asked me what I thought of it, because I was laughing through parts of it that weren't especially funny. But it wasn't a mocking laughter, but kind of a sardonic one, mixed with a kind of incredulity.

This is just a balls-out patriotic war movie taking one of the oldest storylines in the book and creating a sweeping fable that is appropriately anti-war but not punishingly so. In other words, where modern war movies all have to remind us how awful war is, they often can't stop preaching long enough to relish the chaos, destruction and gore in the manner of a boy playing with toy soldiers (which, after all, is what a war movie is, sans pretensions).

We're not being lectured or shamed for enjoying the movie, which is nice.

The story concerns a Japanese boy who comes with his family to rule over a Korean prefecture (I think that's the right one) and discovers they are served by a Korean family with a boy of their own, who loves to run and is famed for being the best in the city. The Japanese boy, convinced of Japanese superiority immediately competes, and we flash forward to the two as young adults, still racing in bigger and bigger races, and trading off wins.

Though the Korean wins slightly more. 'cause, hey, Korean movie.

Also, the Korean man, Jun-shik, wins the Olympic trials—even over the Japanese trying to trip him up with dirty tricks—but the Japanese judges disqualify him. This leads to a riot and Jun-shik and all his friends being sent to the Mongolian front to fight for the Japanese. The Japanese man, Tatsuo, is there leading the troops, and he's just gotten meaner and crazier.

The Japanese guy—he's way over-the-top evil. Looks evil. Acts like a maniac.

Korean movie.

But! Remember: The Japanese were maniacs. They did really crazy, evil stuff. A lot of it to Koreans.

Anyway, the battle goes bad and our two heroes get captured by the Soviets, and are pressed into service...fighting the Germans! But now the shoe's on another foot, and Tatsuo is no longer the boss. And when he's being treated like he treated his own men, well, he doesn't like it one bit.

Well, pretty soon, they're captured by the Germans. And before you know it, they're at Normandy.

It's definitely a credit to this movie that I'm still rooting for these guys, even though by this point, it's American soldiers they're fighting. The war left them long ago, and they're ten thousand miles from home, just trying not to get killed.

Subtlety is not in the director's vocabulary, at least not here, but I'd rather watch this movie than Saving Private Ryan, for an example of another less-than-subtle war movie.

The music is similarly on-the-nose.

The two-hours and twenty minutes whiz by, and hit nearly every cliché you'd find in American war movies of the '40s and '50s, and it seems kind of tragic we couldn't do this sort of thing here and now. Still, it's fun to see the Koreans do it.

And it's done with big budget effects (only a little goofy with the CGI blood).

Tragically, this was as big a bomb in Korea as (I think) an American version would be here. So I doubt we'll be seeing many more like it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

I am sort of becoming convinced that the field for "foreign language" Oscar encompasses at least one film for each of the 6,909 known living languages—and possibly a few more like Elvish, Klingon, Esperanto or Aramaic.

And so it came to pass that the Boy and I ventured to see a movie in a strange, obscure language called "French", in an even obscurer dialect of "French-Canadian", called Monsieur Lazhar. "Monsieur" being the male honorific in this esoteric culture, similar to "Mr." or "Sir, With Love" here in the US of A.

I keed.

Quebec, or as I like to call it "French-Canada", is the location of this tale about an Algerian refugee who finds employment after one of the teachers hangs herself. We actually didn't know, going in, that it was a Canadian film, but the constant snow was sort of a tip off.

This movie is really a scathing indictment of the Canadian educational system, though I don't know if the moviemakers are aware of that. It's somewhat reminiscent of The Barbarian Invasions, where the crusty old socialist hippies die at the hands of the horrible medical system they insisted on foisting on their country, while all the time lamenting the attempts of the titular barbarians to bring it down.

Ostensibly, this is a movie about how we deal with grief and loss, and from that perspective, it's a tale well told. Mohammed Fellag, as the ironically named Bashir Lazhar ("bearer of good news", "lucky") is a very natural performer, apparently known in France for his stand-up routines. (Groucho Marx rightly pointed out once that comedy required dramatic chops in a way that drama does not require comedic chops, QED.)

But the more interesting aspect of the movie is the fish-out-of-water tale of a 60-year-old Algerian man trying to teach a class of Canadian kids in a modern school of political correctness.

Lazhar gets the job by claiming to have been a teacher in Algeria (though we quickly learn it's not true) and he immediately sets to schooling the kids the way he was schooled. They're used to sitting in a semi-circle, he puts them in columns and rows. He has them "take dictation" by reading from Balzac, which is way out of their league. (N.B., that wouldn't have been the case 50 years earlier when he was in school.)

At one point, one of the kids says something cruel to another, and he swats him on the back of the head and demands he apologizes. Later, he's called into the principal's office and accused of hitting a child, which he insists he never did. Truthfully, I think, since he doesn't regard a swat on the back of the head a "hit".

It's not really a "Dangerous Minds" kind of thing, in other words, where the teacher swoops in to save some underprivileged or racially correct kids. It's not really about pedagogy at all. But Lazahr is basically the only man around, except for two custodial staff.

The school has no concept of how to deal with boys. About the most horrible thing in the world to them is violence. When the boys play king of the hill, a teacher stops them. Another boy has dark, violent moods, and they talk about expelling him. Indeed, if there's an emotion running through this school, it's fear. (And how well does that describe public schools in general?)

But if there's one thing worse than violent contact, it's non-violent contact. Teachers are not allowed, at any time, to touch the children. And the teacher who committed suicide, it turns out, had been accused by one of the kids of giving him an unwanted kiss. (The movie does get around to pointing out that a child does not cause an adult's suicide, and that the adult in question was troubled to begin with, but it doesn't explore nearly enough the system's influence.)

As a result, Lazhar is the fish-out-of-water because he acts like a normal human being—an adult, who takes his responsibilities seriously and acts with both common sense and a normal respect for human dignity. Something only someone not immersed in modern pedagogical theory could do.

The Boy liked it all right, but he felt it was over-rated. (It has near perfect reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.) I liked it a good deal more, but The Boy only went to a couple of small private schools for a few years (and even then, he got exposed to the paranoiac fear of violence) so I think that was a factor.

Next up? A Korean war movie! (No, not a movie about the Korean War, but a movie from Korea about war.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To Be On TV

When you turn the TV off
Perhaps you are aware
Of a presence on the screen
A figure in a chair
Ghost-like in living monochrome
A specter sitting there

Stilled life like a picture
Painted by Vermeer
Painted by Vermeer

You're haunted by this figure
Yet, you are not afraid
It feels so familiar
Doubt and fear are allayed
A reassuring presence
Thoughtful, rather staid

Expressing a calm kindness
The figment your mind made
This figment your mind made

Is this thing in mourning
Shrouded there in gloom?
Buried in obscurity?
Living in a tomb?
Some sort of a strange sonogram
An image of a womb?

Or simply a reflection
Sitting a room
Sitting a room

At the back a window
Off to one side a bed
Upon the wall a photo
Of a loved one dead
Beside the chair a floor lamp
Shines light around its head

No, it's not a ghost at all
It's an angel instead
An angel instead

And when you turn the box back on
Perhaps now you will see
It's not about survival
Or reality
We're desperate to be captured
Afraid to be free

Everybody's dying
To be on TV
To be on TV.

--Loudon Wainwright III

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Kid With A Bike

In contrast to recent flicks with low critical scores and high moviegoer ratings, this week went to see The Kid With A Bike, a Belgian film by the Dardenne brothers, who've brought you such films as...ah, who am I kidding? You've never seen any of their films, you cretin.

This movie is the story of Cyril, who lives in an orphanage in...well, Belgium...some place. Not Brussels. His dad has dropped him off for a bit while he takes care of something or other, and when the movie opens Cyril is having it explained to him that his father is gone, no forwarding address, not so much as a "by your leave".

But since this is a movie, rather than slipping into a life of despair, Cyril flees the orphanarium and seeks out his father in his old apartment (where, sure enough, the father no longer lives). In the process of flailing about, he attaches (literally!) to Samantha (played by the lovely Cécile De France, seen in Clint Eastwood's Hereafter) who offers to foster him on the weekend.

For Cyril, this just means more time to find his father, in which quest Samantha helps him. Actually, she finds him early on, and Guy (Cyril's dad) turns out to be an abject coward who just wants to "start over" and a son gets in the way of that ambition.

This segues into other issues, Samantha's maternal issues, Cyril's trust issues, a local Fagin who sees Cyril as a useful tool, and so on. This all builds to a very low-key climax and a denouement that provokes some thought but doesn't seem to have any dramatic purpose.

So, what's it all mean? I dunno. The acting is good, although the kind of flat affect Thomas Doret has, while doubtless being in character, is anti-dramatic. The direction is pretty crisp, though there's one shot of Cyril riding his bike that seems to go on for a minute or more, from the same angle. It's technically kind of a cool shot but it seems to have no purpose.

Which, you could say about the whole movie. Good acting, not particularly boring, technically competent, but seemingly without a point. The 96% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes reinforced The Boy's notion that critics have terrible taste.

It's not bad, but we tended to agree more with the 77% moviegoer rating.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

A pattern has begun to develop at Casa 'Strom: If a movie is reviled by critics, but loved by audiences, it's probably a go. Last year's Machine Gun Preacher (29/61), and Act Of Valor (25/80)—though we didn't know the split when we went to see it—and now, Blue Like Jazz (45/93).

This is the odd tale of Don Miller, a Southern Baptist from deep-in-the-heart-of Texas who has a crisis of faith shortly before leaving for a Christian college, and ends up at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Reed is a Godless, heathen cauldron of bubbling decadence—I mean, moreso than even your average university.

Don is quickly advised by Lauryn, a neo-Lesbian who unabashedly uses the unisex bathroom—the urinal, even—while he's in there, that he needs to get in the Christian closet if he expects to survive the year. As a white, Christian male, he is the source of all the world's problems.

What follows is a year of sly conformity, a friendship with the Reed College "pope", and the pursuit of a devoted activist, a comely, chaste blonde named Penny who is no dilettante when it comes to fighting for a cause she believes in.

The quirky characters and antics keep the movie entertaining, but unlike your average "coming of age" college story, there's some serious meat under here. Don struggles with what it means to be a Christian, when so many Christians are major-league jerks. Ultimately he struggles with the concepts of Jesus and God, and the very essence of religiosity.

This is not a preachy movie, however. There is a ton of debauchery (though no explicit sex or graphic drug use), which has upset some Christians, and one of the things Don has to wrestle with is that he's sometimes embarrassed by others of his faith. (Which probably also may have cost it some popular support.)

But, seriously, how different is any of it from missionaries going out among the savages a thousand years ago? Not at all, really.

I was really pleasantly surprised with how the movie ended; in many ways, it's a perfect resolution to Don's character arc. The Boy decreed, after seeing this, "Critics are dumb. And they have bad taste."

I had a kind of eerie feeling throughout the proceedings. British directory Lindsay Anderson directed a trilogy of films: If... (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973) and Britannia Hospital (1982) with Malcolm MacDowell as a hapless naif who stumbles his way through degenerate British society—and this was a kind of late '60s/'70s thing, this genre of counter-culture movies design to show the wickedness of society while celebrating various other kinds of wickedness.

This reminded me so strongly of that kind of movie, with the weird vignettes of Portlandia, only from the other side. Twenty to thirty years after these guys won the war, the society that they've created is a bad parody of the parodies they ushered in the revolution with. The ignorance, amorality and just general pagan-ness of the proceedings—well, I think these are scarcely exaggerated. Kids are now being taught by teachers who were taught by teachers who had no interest in the truth.

The movie wisely steers clear of any expounding on these topics, just preferring to observe them. In a way, it presents this decadence as a failure of religion, and that's a fair cop. Even if we are sympathetic to the assault religion has undergone in the last century, on principle, you can't control something you won't take responsibility for. And the movie has an interesting response to that.

This is a really fine, solid film, that was saved by Kickstarter funding when traditional means of funding fell through. And unless you're completely allergic to Christianity, it's very watchable.

Act of Valor

"It's propaganda...but I liked it. A lot." So sayeth The Boy regarding Act of Valor, the special ops action movie featuring actual special ops guys.

It is propaganda, of the sort Hollywood used to turn out pretty regularly: Pro-America movies about our kick-ass soldiers saving the world from the bad guys.

It's also the coolest movie in I don't know how long. As someone who could see the US go back to not having a standing army, it still was amazing to see all the cool hardware our troops have. The action is cooler than the other side of the pillow (I'm bringing the '90s back, one tired expression at a time!)

It's also the most macho movie I've seen in a long time, including The Expendables. There's actually a fair amount of emotion in it, with the guys going to do the stuff they have to do, even if it means possibly widowing their wives and leaving their children without fathers.

But the entertainment factor is the attention to detail as the special forces guys go off to save a victim of torture or to stop a madman from releasing splodeydopes into the US. There's all kinds of stuff you just don't see in your regular action flick.

This has gotten some negative buzz: It's a little clunky in some of the scenes, especially the ones showing "the guys" hanging out and talking natural. It was weird, because the dialog sounded realistic enough, and the delivery was pretty natural. But "natural" sounds weird unless the sound editing is really crisp, and the mix is a little off here at times.

The characters were hard for me to keep track of, as well, but I felt like it really didn't matter. The whole thing has a feeling of it being about the job, and the traditional narrative approach of informing the audience about this character or that so that they feel the drama more when tragedy strikes—although that's used here, it's superfluous.

Why? Because they're all human beings. They're all heroes. One getting wounded or killed is a loss and a tragedy, whether you know his "back story" or not. They could've left the back story out completely, I think.

But maybe that's just me.

On the other hand, when you hear negative press about this, consider the Rotten Tomatoes rating: Critics, 25%. Moviegoers, 80%. Critics couldn't possibly love this film: It's an action film, it's fiercely pro-American (though nobody expounds on American superiority, it's kinda self-evident), the villains are largely Muslim, etc.

We enjoyed the hell out of it. And our admiration tended to grow over time. It's easily re-watchable, to boot.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Gray, er Grey

Liam Neeson's kind of freaking me out lately. It's not that he's decided to go full-on action hero in his 50s. That's cool. Gives me something to look forward to. No, it's that his recent movies all seem to feature him grieving over a lost or deceased wife.

It's a little weird. In the case of The Grey, particularly because he's in the snow. Fortunately, this has nothing to do with the wife he's pining for. (But from the commercials, it's hard to know that.)

This movie was sort of a surprise to the Boy and I, actually. We were expecting more of a spy-like action thriller, like Unknown or Taken. In fact, this is a Ten Little Indians story, where the cast is plucked off one-by-one. Not by a mad slasher, but by The Wild. Particularly, but not exclusively, wolves. Not all of whom are grey.

Really didn't see that coming.

The basic idea is that Liam works for an oil company up in Alaska, where his role is to shoot any animals that threaten the workers. Particularly, but not exclusively, wolves. On a flight into town with a bunch of these oil-drillin' miscreants, the plane crashes, and the survivors—well, they're basically screwed. Alaska's a big ol' place without a lot of Howard Johnson's on a per-square-foot basis.

Any idea of huddling up by the wreckage—which Liam assures them is simply waiting for death, since there's no way they're going to be found—is cut short by the appearance of Very Large Wolves. The wolves aren't even that hungry, apparently, indicating their aggression is due to the presence of interlopers in their territory.

In the weakest part of the movie, plot-wise, Liam suggests moving as quickly as possible to a forest barely visible on the horizon. (Because wolves hate forests?)

Anyway, the misfit group of survivors trudge across the tundra while Forces of Nature pick them off. It's quite gripping really. Director and co-writer Joe Carnahan keeps things moving while his script (with Ian Jeffers) manages to feel fresh. It's not really a horror movie, but it basically follows Joe Bob's rule of great horror movies: "Anyone can die at any time."

Except Liam, of course.

Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Footnote

"I've been seeing all these movies I think are going to be funny, and they're not," quoth The Boy in the lobby after Footnote, the Israeli film about a competitive father and son who are Talmudic scholars, and who face a crisis when the father is informed he has received an award that was actually meant for the son.

OK, that's probably my fault, but hear me out: The trailers look whimsical. They use a lot of pizzicato, which is the universal sign of cartoon whimsy.

Well, I guess not universal, apparently stopping at the West Bank.

Like the many other Israeli films we've seen lately, Footnote draws strong characters and sets them in motion against each other, like American movies used to in the '30s and '40s. The movie opens with the son receiving an award, but the camera is on the father. He's despondent, sluggish, unhappy, even as his son relates a story meant to flatter him.

We subsequently learn the true story is much less flattering than the way the son makes it out.

When the father is called and told he has won the Israel prize, he changes. Comes alive. His life's work (thwarted by a twist of fate) has not gone unrecognized. So when the son finds out the truth, he can't bring himself to let the father find out.

And while it is funny in parts, and oddly so sometimes (as when the son is discussing the matter with the prize committee in a room that doesn't really fit them all), this is a movie about what's true versus what's nice, and ultimately what is right.

Which, at least in this movie, is kind of a heavy topic.

The Boy liked it all right; I liked it more but I wasn't expecting an out-and-out comedy (and I'm pretty good about adapting to cinematic shifts in tone). I guess father/son competition is common, but I assured The Boy that he could exceed me in every fashion and I would be pleased. (Not that he could. *kaff*)

Anyway, I really did like this movie and the whole question of truth versus nice versus ethics was well done. (I think if I were going to take a message it would be that we should favor true over nice because nice may lead to very many not nice things whereas truth, however difficult, is at least simple.)

But I think writer/director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) copped out at the end. There's a point where all the main characters have figured out exactly what has gone on, and the movie...just ends. I mean, I get that. There's a danger of getting cheesy, or melodramatic, or...well, there's just a lot of pitfalls.

What we got instead was no resolution, which if one follows the implication through, suggest that everyone has sold themselves out and just left things as they were forever after.

So...no. Didn't like the ending. Felt we deserved to see the characters handle their situations. But otherwise, I'd give this a thumbs up.

Nominated for the foreign language movie Oscar.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

The affable Jason Segel, who graced us with his penis in his Forgetting Sarah Marshall, plays a shiftless 30-year-old man-child who—

Wait, I gotta stop this review for a moment. Does it seem to anyone else like all the movies these days center around shiftless young men? Or at least, all the movies centered around young men are either feature them as fantasy heroes—or shiftless layabouts?

Don't men go out in the world to seek their fortune, overcome obstacles and find love any more? I mean, I know there's a trend, of sorts, of young people living at home but The Boy is talking about moving out when he turns 18 next year! (I hope he hangs out a bit but far be it from me to stand in his way.)

I digress.

In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Segel (as the eponymous Jeff) is a 30-year-old man-child who's puffing it up in the basement when he gets a call from an angry guy looking for Kevin. Jeff is a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, and also a heavy pot-smoker, so he's sure this means something.

He then gets a call from his irritated mother (Susan Sarandon). It's her birthday and she wants him to get some wood glue, so that he can fix the slat on a closet door. That's all she wants out of him, but it's clear she doesn't think he's up to even that minor task.

Reluctantly, Jeff meanders onto the bus, but he's immediately side-tracked by a kid wearing a basketball jersey with the name "Kevin" on the back.

And so goes the story.

Jeff's journey takes him all over the place, as he crosses paths with his (relatively) high-powered paint-store employee older brother (Ed Helms, playing a high-strung asshole, rather than a high-strung nebbish, as in Hangover and Cedar Rapids) and his brother's wife (Judy Greer, The Descendants), as well as his mother and her friend (Rae Dawn Chong).

Somehow, in defiance of stereotypes and melanin, in this movie the 51-year-old Rae Dawn Chong looks older than 65-year-old Susan Sarandon. Not sure how that happened, since Susan Sarandon always looked a little older than her age.

Anyway, the whole Chong/Sarandon part of the story-arc is ridiculously obvious from the get-go.

There are actually quite a few really obvious parts to this movie, which didn't really bug me.

I actually didn't see much in the way of trailers for this film so I don't know how they're pitching it. It's not really whimsical; it's really a bit too heavy for that. It's funny, but The Boy complained it wasn't funny enough, and I noted that it's not really a comedy.

It's really a "light" dysfunctional family film. Trying to think of a film this was most like, atmosphere-wise, Cyrus came to mind. Which, upon reflection, makes sense, given that the Duplass brothers wrote and directed both movies (and Baghead, which also had a similar feel).

So, these guys have a style. You probably know whether you like it. The Boy and The Flower both liked it, though The Boy wanted more humor, as noted. However, you might not like Jeff. Or his brother. Or his mother. (They are listless. Low-key. Irritable. Aimless.)

In which case, you probably won't like this film.

I did, though, because I felt like they were trying, and the movie gives you a reason to hope.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hunger Games

In a dystopic future, random citizens are pulled from the populous to die for the entertainment of others in The Hunger Games.

Fresh!


People don't know this but the original title of this movie was Escape From The Dangerous Naked Apocalyptic Roller Maiden Logan And The Soylent Thunder Death Race Running Killer Cyborg Idiocracy 2020AD. True story!

OK, so, this is the story of a future (technologically advanced) world where a strong central government district basically enslaves 12 subordinate districts, and shows its metaphorical pimp hand by annually plucking two random teenagers (one boy, one girl) out of the population and forcing them to serve in the titular games.

Said games involving fighting to the death. Not even the last pair: Either one girl or one boy survives.

Movies like this (and there have been oh, so many) can be weighted in several different ways: Social commentary, commentary on human nature, and, of course, action. For example, all the '80s Road Warrior knock-offs were basically just Enter The Dragon in a post-apocalyptic millieu. They barely commented on human nature, much less made an attempt at relevent social commentary. The '70s Rollerball, which is probably over-rated at least in part because of the execrable remake, was heavy with the typical nihilism-laden commentary of that era.

In fact, if there's a problem with this sort of movie, it's that the desire to be relevant and meaningful is often just an dime-store philosophical icing on top of a doughnut of action. Whether that doughnut is stale or not, the icing ain't gonna help. (Hunger Games, see? Food metaphors? Not doing it for you?)

So, let's look at the initial setup for the movie first: The concept of an oppressive central government. That's some fine social commentary there. And the beauty of it is that, a la Scrotie McBoogerballs, it doesn't matter where you fall politically: You can support your feeble platform here, given the complete lack of information as to how the central government became powerful in the first place.

Though not well detailed in the movie, it feels real enough. Central governments have been known to leech off their colonies, and oppress said colonies. So, sure. Why not. Good social commentary.

Now, I'm of the opinion that the social commentary is less relevant than the commentary on human nature. And here, frankly, I find the movie wanting. I mean, it's all very well to show the oppressed people how oppressed they are by you, but if you're going to do it by killing their children in a spectacular television extravaganza you'd better REALLY have them pinned down.


You know what I mean? Child killing is a real rabble-rouser. It's an awesome humiliation, for sure, but you gotta be able to pull it off or you'll get riots. And, in fact, they do at one point, which one could charitably attribute to a weakening of the central power. That is, perhaps these games started when the central power was stronger and this story takes place as the power is collapsing.

The more realistic view is that a young adult novel should feature young adults as the main characters. I'm not gonna fault that (much).

There are actually quite a few places where you can either take a charitable view or not. I was inclined to be charitable: I understand the books filled in the blanks, and it didn't feel like the movie was just making stuff up as it went along but rather skipping the unimportant details.

Finally, there's the action. And it's solid. A nice mix of hand-to-hand, running and hiding, traps, cleverness, and so on. What's more, you get some pretty strong characters.

Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss) is typically compelling. Tough by nature, and also socially awkward, the sense that there's a wildly emotional teenage girl underneath is overpowering. Not unlike her roles in Winter's Bone and as Mystique in X-Men: First Class. That she has a certain star quality is apparent at this point.

That said, I actually liked her boy counterpart, Peeta, better. Ably played by Josh Hutcherson, Peeta is the baker's son, who lacks the athletic skills the others have, but manages to be resourceful and simply strong in ways that others aren't.

Woody Harrelson reprises his role from Kingpin, or really Bill Murray's role from Kingpin. He didn't quite work for me. I really didn't recongize Elizabeth Banks or Wes Bentley. Donald Sutherland is wonderful, of course, but his moonbatty conviction doesn't carry the fact that his expository dialog makes the least sense (at least to me).

Stanley Tucci steals every scene he's in, becoming an oddly charismatic and repulsive mixture of Richard Dawson, Monty Python and Satan. As a character and a caricature (of entertainment media personalities), he's uncomfortably real feeling.

Also a mixture of uncomfortable caricature and realistic depiction are the audiences, which have to echo strongly with the viewers of certain reality shows.

So, what's the verdict? Well, I'll tell you: I think this movie separates the boys (and girls) from the old folks. The number of times I thought of another movie while watching this is literally uncountable, and the movie gives what has to be knowing nods to classic dystopic films. This film could have been made in 1974 for the way it looks and feels.

Except! It lacks the characteristic despair of that era. Which, frankly, is welcome in its absence.

This being my millieu, I got a few smiles, especially in the Capitol, where I felt like the director, costumer and set designers were all winking at me. And, really? The movies that this borrows from really weren't that good. So, yeah, I liked it.

The Flower and the Boy both liked it. The Flower in a simple fashion, as befits her ten-year-old nature. The Boy's reaction was more of pleasant surprise. He felt like the 2+ hours passed in a subjective 90 minute way.

Most of the negative reviews I've seen are from the older set, and I can understand this, but I would say: Yes, it's been done many, many times. But has it been done better? In a lot of ways, I think the "young adult" nature of the story (like last year's The Eagle) keeps it out of the weeds more "adult" presentations tend to wallow in.


Contributors