The Hunger Games
By David Vicari
Well, here it is, the film version of The Hunger Games, based on the first of Suzanne Collins' wildly popular series of books. So, does the movie live up to all the intense hype? Of course not, but it is a satisfying movie. I feel it works better as a pointed examination of reality TV, celebrity and class struggles rather than as a survivalist action picture.
It's the near future and what is left of the United States is divided into 12 districts, and each year two young people from each district are selected to participate in a televised battle to the death that takes place in the great outdoors. There can only be one winner. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), from district 12, volunteers herself in the place of her younger sister. The boy selected from the same district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and, as luck would have it, harbors a secret crush on Katniss.
Before the games begin, the participants have to get sponsors, and that is where mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) come in. Their job is to get Katniss and Peeta noticed so they will become fan favorites. This is the best part of the movie, even though the "flaming chariot" scene is hokey rather than dazzling, thanks to some sub par digital effects.
Through both literature and film, like The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man or Battle Royale, we've seen this type of kill-or-be-killed survivalist scenario before, so The Hunger Games is familiar, but it's a well put together film, for the most part. It has good filmmakers behind it—director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) and co-screenwriter Billy Ray (Breach, Shattered Glass).
The heart and soul of the film is Jennifer Lawrence. She was great in Winter's Bone and her strong performance here proves again that she is the real deal. I love the scene just before her character is about to enter this tube elevator to begin the game. She is nervous and listening to Cinna's last words of advice. She is trembling, but it's not overly overt. I like that.
Without spoiling anything, I just wish that, during the game, Katniss was faced with harder dilemmas. It seemed a bit too easy, thus making the finale somewhat anticlimactic. I know this is the first in a trilogy, so I'm sure it will get more complex. As a stand alone film, The Hunger Games is flawed but engaging. You'll probably like it just as long as you don't think it's going to be the second coming.
21 Jump Street
By David Vicari
The locally shot 21 Jump Street alternates between being a terrible throw away comedy and having moments of near brilliant satire. Like that 1987 Dragnet movie, this is a comedy spoof of an outdated television series, except the results here are much funnier. Back in their high school days Schmidt (Jonah Hill) was a nerd and Jenko (Channing Tatum) was a jock that picked on him. Now they are both bumbling cops who are sent back to high school on an undercover mission. The movie has fun with the conventions of the teen comedy genre as well as action movie car chases where everything usually explodes. Hill and Tatum have good comedic chemistry together. From his past work in movies like Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, we know Hill has the gift of comic timing, so the surprise here is Tatum. He's funny! And seeing familiar locales on screen that include Lafreniere Park in Metairie and Riverdale High School is kind of a thrill. It's just too bad that the film is kind of sloppy in its execution. The scenes with Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, TV's "The Office") as a young teacher who is wildly attracted to "student" Jenko could have been a very amusing subplot, but the filmmakers unfortunately mine it for only a few jokes. Then there is the disastrous "Peter Pan" school play which isn't all that hilarious. Worst of all is the jarring and unnecessary violence in the third act. Come on, this is a light comedy. But all in all, 21 Jump Street made me laugh...often...and out loud.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
By Fritz Esker
Louisiana filmmakers the Duplass Brothers return to the big screen with the Baton Rouge-set (but largely Jefferson Parish-shot) comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) plays a 30-year-old layabout who lives in his mother's basement. He constantly looks for signs in mundane occurrences (like a wrong number call) in an effort to give meaning and direction to his life. The film follows him on the course of a single day where an errand to buy glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon) takes him on some unexpected paths. Segel's character has the potential to be seriously off-putting, but the script and Segel both supply him with enough innate kindness and decency to keep viewers caring about him despite his obvious flaws. Ed Helms and Judy Greer also turn in strong work as Segel's brother and sister-in-law. For most of its brief running time, the film charmingly captures a day in the lives of people coping with life's disappointments and frustrations and trying to salvage some meaning from it all. The movie's final 10 minutes descends too deeply into melodrama, but not so much that it negates the goodwill the film had earned leading up to it.
Casa de Mi Padre
By Fritz Esker
Will Ferrell's new film Casa de Mi Padre is one of those ideas that would have worked well as a Saturday Night Live skit, but really doesn't have any business being a feature-length film (albeit a very short one, clocking in at just over 80 minutes including credits).
Ferrell plays the son of a rancher, who has to defend his family's honor when his brother (Diego Luna) returns home, now flush with cash from the drug trade and accompanied by a young fiance (Genesis Rodriguez).
The movie is almost entirely in Spanish and is an homage/parody of Mexican telenovelas. Ferrell deserves points for bravery making a movie like this, considering most Americans have little to no knowledge of telenovelas and don't like reading subtitles.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters is whether or not the film is consistently funny. It isn't. There are some scattershot laughs, but the film really strains to stretch its story out into a full length movie. As a result, viewers get repeated gags poking fun at the soap opera's cheap production values. A few of these gags hit the mark, but many don't. Kind of like the movie itself.
By David Vicari
As I am writing this, it is official that John Carter is a box office flop. Unfortunate, because the movie is fun, escapist entertainment. John Carter is like a Frank Frazetta painting come to life. This live-action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" by Pixar's Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) is visually arresting. It's also a grand adventure story. Civil War veteran and gold prospector John Cater (Taylor Kitsch) is transported to Mars and finds warring fractions and a beautiful princess (Lynn Collins, whose scantly clad attire is pleasantly reminiscent of Princess Leia's slave girl outfit from Return of the Jedi). Initially, it's a little convoluted as to who is who and what these characters are actually up to, but the movie eventually makes it all clear. Please, see this movie! It has something for everyone. Kids will get a kick out of Carter's pet "dog." Girls will appreciate that Kitsch is all buff and practically naked throughout most of the film. Guys will enjoy the same about Collins. The special effects and action scenes are cool, especially in 3D. And the film has a good sense of humor as well as a few philosophical moments. Come, on! What's not to like?