Tuesday 24 April 2012

The Hunger Games - Review

Right between the eyes...
Youth entertainment is usually pretty formulaic in Hollywood: adapt a popular teen’s book series into a dramatic series of soppy films featuring various topless models and terrible screenwriting. Although I’m not pointing any fingers (at Twilight), this safe approach is detestable from an artistic perspective and I’m glad that Lionsgate’s most recent foray into adolescent fiction adaptation has been more admirable.

The Hunger Games is based off the controversial and, understandably, wildly successful book series by Suzanne Collins and is based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic United States where children from various oppressed states (named ‘districts’) are made to fight to the death in a purpose-built arena to provide entertainment for the wealthier citizens of the empire and so the government can maintain the fear by their oppressed citizens of the authorities.

Gripping though the story sounds, it was surprisingly short (the novel itself was about half the size of the first Harry Potter book) and I found that the film did a great job of narrowing the scope of the film’s setting. Many movies fail in trying to encapsulate too much content into their message and not focusing on the simple things – like good storytelling – and this film keeps it very simple. On that note, the film does come across as a little narrow-minded at times, as though the small plot was being overly expanded. I like to call this ‘Rowling-Syndrome’, when a franchise is awaiting its finale for most of the answers.

Although based on a premise, it’s worth noting that the movie avoids becoming a ‘concept-film’ by stressing characterisation and genuine storytelling over all else. Rarely have I noticed such a strong ensemble cast portray so many contrasting individuals with the vigor that it was done with in this film. Although the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ were clear, the obvious contrast and ample screen time per character enabled the viewer to really observe each of the performances in exquisite detail.

My favourite line :-)
The cinematography was well-suited to the film and well-executed, the acting by all was of a high standard (especially the younger cast) and the screenplay was excellent, especially considering that it was adapted from a children’s novel. I’ve found plenty to rave about and can’t think of any more substantial negatives of the film so it’s time to wrap it up, I think.

The Bottom Line: A very well-executed and entertaining offering, I would definitely recommend this to anyone with the mindset for a film with a twist of the macabre.

Friday 6 April 2012

The Muppets Movie - Review

At least the poster looks good...

Remakes are one thing, but ‘nostalgia movies’ are an entirely different genre. The Simpsons, The Addams Family and American Pie have had their own attempts at rebooting their franchises or instilling an old set of characters into a young audience. Late last Christmas, Jim Henson’s most famous creation joined the ranks of franchise sell-outs the world over in Disney’s The Muppets Movie.

I’ve seen a number of Muppets films and never have I been more disappointed with such a memorable group of characters then I was with this film.

It must be admitted that the movie did yield some excellent gags, but the key issue with the film’s humour was its attempt to entertain an older audience. Cameos from Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris and The Office star John Krasinski all hinted at this but the real nose-clipper was the nature of the hilarity. It simply tried too hard. The film’s ‘campy’ theme wore out its welcome after the first few allusions and when the actors (particularly Jason Segal) broke the fourth wall it seemed lazy and predictable. Irritatingly, the disappointing screenplay failed to even bring humour to the Muppets themselves. True, there were more enjoyable moments with them than anyone else on screen, but the original charm and deviancy of the Muppets had been lost amidst a sea of reminiscence by the filmmakers. There wasn’t a huge focus on plot, cinematography or dialogue, only the characters.

The musical elements of the film disappointed me also. Although I usually enjoy musicals, the songs in this picture really just felt unnecessary and clich├ęd. Disney managed to spit out at least ten songs a film almost every year from 1937 till now and every one of them is unique and original. But with The Muppets Movie, there was an emotional song, a profound ballad, a cheery opening number, and a heart-warming finale: the usual bunch.
As mentioned, the lack of charm in the film was not only disappointing, but a direct result of the movie being for kids. Studios don’t take risks any more with children’s movies because it doesn’t always yield the best financial performance. It’s sad really, how so much of broad cinema these days is mostly just based around numbers and statistics. Instead of art, that is.

The Bottom Line: Overall a disappointing endeavour, boasting mostly mediocrity and near-misses. Although sometimes funny and beguiling, Miss Piggy just doesn’t bring home the bacon this time.


- Mr Critter

Thursday 5 April 2012

The Iron Lady - Review

Still going strong, Meryl...
If the recent academy awards prove anything, it’s that Meryl Streep hasn’t given up. I mean, why should she? She’s intelligent, very talented and beholds a net value higher than half of Hollywood put together. But although her third academy award for ‘Best Actress’ was well-deserved, this film does raise an interesting critical point: how can a brilliant performance survive within such a heavy-handed film?
The Iron Lady encircles the life of controversial British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who, although successfully winning almost four successive federal elections, was widely despised by much of the working class of England. Her extreme right-wing economic and social policies rocked the world and certainly drew up a new page in political conservative history. The film’s take on the political issues of Thatcher’s reign is somewhat disappointing. Although definitely avoiding the didactic, the pathetic thing is that director Phyllida Lloyd tries as hard as she can to be as politically and artistically persuasive as possible, but instead imparts a sense of uncertainty and a feeling that she (Lloyd) had no solid opinion on Thatcher at all.

This hindrance is particularly evident when Lloyd uses disgustingly stylised cinematic techniques to symbolically portray Thatcher’s emotions (in my opinion, you can stoop no lower than use obvious symbolism in a motion picture). Half the time the film presents Maggie as an emotional, thoughtful person and for the rest of the film she’s Hitler reincarnated. This is why the film was not merely being objective or un-biased, just hopelessly confused.
But Streep’s performance becomes all the more amazing as a result. Although the flashbacks, slow motion sequences, montages and symbolically chosen colours – yes, that’s right, symbolic colours – devalue the film itself and cause the work to seem all too desperate to make itself plain, Streep’s Thatcher doesn’t so much reason with the viewer then it does disclose. Rather than saying “Here’s my imitation of Thatcher’s persona, deal with it”, her portrayal subtly divulges a personal will and struggle of an infamous woman.

And it is here that the film earns merit.

Not only in Streep’s performance, but through the splendid supporting cast, the emotional and psychological background to Thatcher’s dominance takes precedence (as it should) in this sometimes surprising biopic. Although the director tried and failed to convey any kind of artistic or political perspective, the cast and decent writing return the film to gloriously solid foundations.

The Bottom Line: The Iron Lady is undoubtedly the Weinstein Company’s latest grab for a ‘Best Picture’ nomination (amongst its more successful The King’s Speech and My Week with Marilyn projects), but although a poor choice of director makes this impossible, a sound cast and script certainly bring to the film 
certain credit.

- Mr Critter