jennifer lawrence

Leave No Trace at The Devil’s Doorway.

What’s on tap for today?

Happy Friday the 13th! In honor of the day I was able to take in a couple of screenings for some smaller movies–not related to The Rock punching a building or Adam Sandler sucking in ways unrelated to his non-animated work–that you should be able to take a gander at beginning, well today (7/13/18). Leave No Trace stars the ever talented Ben Foster as a tortured vet who prefers living off-the-grid with his daughter until their all natural life is uprooted and they are forced to integrate back into society. Then, we’ll dip into the volatile world of found footage horror with The Devil’s Doorway, a scathing exploration of religion that dives into dark recesses of hell and the mysterious supernatural–good times were had by all. PS….children doing weird sh*t in the dark is never not scary.

Leave No Trace

leavenotrace_posterGenerally, when you consider the idea of a homeless individual one’s natural instinct is to assume that this is an individual with no means to secure a roof over their head. It’s not unreasonable to assume very few have ever considered the idea that the people they’ve encountered and assumed were homeless are choosing to live that way–and–if you choose to live out in the open, are you really homeless?

Such is the case with Debra Granik’s latest picture, Leave No Trace, which finds Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) living out in the woods surrounding Portland, Oregon. Not struggling to survive, not out on the streets begging for money or shelter, but living off the land with the supplies they have–and buying goods from selling expired meds that Will was once given to ward off his PTSD. However, despite how carefully Will trained his daughter to be in the lookout for people roaming the woods they are plucked from their nook and forced back into society to try to assimilate back as productive normal on-the-grid schmucks. This proves to be too much for the tortured Will to bare and his insistence to go back to normal becomes the wedge that may drive he and Tom apart now that she’s gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a part of a normal society. (more…)


[Movie Review] mother! Puts the Exclamation Point in WTF!

Movie nerds bristle with excitement at the idea of a new year and a new movie from visionary director, Darren Aronofsky. Blake Swan made so many swoon at the filmmaker’s artistic prowess and delivered a gold statue at the feet of Natalie Portman. Oh, what marvelous treasures must be waiting for us with the allignment of such a bold innovative voice and stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film opens and like a George R.R. Martin like twist the fans and critics alike are lining up to take turns diving a dagger into Aronofsky’s divisive vision.

I never do this, but to truly dig below the surface of mother! I feel it’s important to delve into some context of why people are so split–why some might worship Aronofsky’s artistic expression while others might take their ticket stub and use it as some part of a voodoo ritual that culminates in the director’s untimely demise. Before we venture into those treacherous waters let me say this–mother! is a work of art. An interpretive painting that disgusts you, but strangely you feel compelled to keep starring and marvel at its audacity. Pretentious as that sounds, it’s a cinematic voice that should be encouraged even if it’s not something mainstream audiences have the stomach for. I encourage moviegoers to take the plunge into Aronofsky’s troubling psyche, but be forewarned that when you come out on the other side, remember…it was your choice to actually do so.  (more…)

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

mockingjay2_posterThe revolution continues in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. At this point in the series there is seemingly no need for introduction, but Katniss finds herself in the final stages of a face-off with her natural enemy President Snow as she and the rebels of District 13 prepare for war with the Capitol.

Once again Jennifer Lawrence continues her masterful portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, but in a series that in it’s final incarnation seems to be treading water. The transition from Part 1 to Part 2 certainly seems to justify being split into two films, but simultaneously feels a bit long winded. Additionally, director Francis Lawrence has made some questionable choices in terms of story details that serve only to bloat the runtime, and short changes certain characters to the point that their impact on the film’s conclusion leaves much to be desired. In the director’s defense though, his source material does much of the same. (more…)

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

hgmockingjaypt1_posterThe hiring of director Francis Lawrence was easily and shockingly the best decision made by the studio for last year’s CATCHING FIRE and for MOCKINGJAY PART 1 & 2. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of other qualified directors that could turn in equally impressive films, but sometimes continuously passing the torch can create a disconnect from the direction a series is going. Lawrence, being able to continue momentum from CATCHING FIRE is able to bridge audiences from the final chaos of that film into the far less action packed set-up that is MOCKINGJAY PART 1. I’m normally not a fan of this trend of taking the final book in a series and stretching it to two movies, but in this case Lawrence is able to expand the landscape and let the set pieces have room to breathe. With the games now in the rear view the action this time has more meaning and the film as a whole hits harder than its predecessors- though still at a level of its YA target audience.

If you haven’t seen the previous films I can only speculate why you’d be reading this, but obviously spoilers are ahead for aspects of the previous movies. MOCKINGJAY PART 1 picks up where CATCHING FIRE left off- Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in what remains of District 13, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being held captive in the Capitol as a rebellion is quickly growing. The leader of District 13, President Coin (Julianne Moore), along with Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) want to use Katniss’ Mockingjay symbol as the spark to ignite a full on rebellion against the Capitol and Katniss as the face of said rebellion. With a series of propaganda broadcasts calling for all districts to join the fight the Capitol deploys a series of broadcasts meant to undermine District 13’s efforts and make Katniss question whether or not what she is doing is really for the good of Panem.  (more…)

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmendaysoffuturepast_posterThere’s usually one or two things I don’t ever expect from superhero movies. One being that I don’t expect my IQ to grow even slightly and two being I don’t expect to feel any type of emotional connection. There’s a few superhero movies that surprised by making me feel the latter- X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was one of those special few. It was so surprising to me that I would feel so connected to the relationship between Magneto and Professor X that it almost felt silly. Regardless of the shame I feel on the front of having any emotional connection to a character nicknamed Magneto, it really made me love that movie. So here we are with X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and I’m left wondering what happened to that magic?

This film blends the old cast and new cast by showing a future where mutants face extinction by an unbeatable foe, the Sentinals. To combat the threat Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the gang come up with a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into the past to the point in history where the threat began. When he awakes in his younger body Wolverine/Logan must do the impossible and unite Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric (Michael Fassbender) at a time they were bitter enemies. Together they all have to track down Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) before she unintentionally gives the war on mutants exactly what it needs to defeat them. (more…)

Mini Reviews: The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Rush and More

thewolfofwallstreet_posterThe Wolf of Wall Street – Poor Leo- he tries and he tries to put in stellar work and never gets his hands on that gold statue. I don’t know at this point if THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is going to put an end to that drought, but man does he lose himself here- and boy is it a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Awkward at times, but a hell of a good time was had watching the hurricane of F-bombs, awkward sexuality and utter debauchery on display here. I just wish it wasn’t so damn long.

DiCaprio headlines as Jordan Belfort in a true life story of a stock broker that works his way from the bottom to the top of his craft only to find himself at the mercy of the federal government. That’s really all one needs to know about the story here- it’s all the other stuff that DiCaprio and his merry bunch of miscreants do with wealth that should be spoken of. For instance, how many times do you see a discussion of throwing a little person at a target and all the scenarios of how this will be pull off. Or close ups of a highly acclaimed actor get a candle stuck up his own rear end. That’s only the tip of the iceberg in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.


Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


I hate sequels. Now, before you start including me in your own elaborate Hunger Game scenario and imagine my ultimate demise let me clarify- I hate good sequels. What an odd complaint to make? Well, you’re right, but the thing is that every now and again a movie comes along and you might enjoy it, but have some lingering doubts about just how much you like it- and then the sequel shows up. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE is one of those rare sequels that is so good that it makes me a little embarrassed about how much I loved the first film.

If I had hated THE HUNGER GAMES, then not a one of those two opening statements would matter. The fact of the matter is that I really like Gary Ross’ film, but its flaws became all the more evident with Francis Lawrence’s CATCHING FIRE. I had my doubts after all, Lawrence did ruin a book that I love (I AM LEGEND) with some horribly awkward CGI that couldn’t be saved by Will Smith’s fantastic performance. So I had a thought in the back of my mind that his adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ second Hunger Games book could cause the franchise to fizzle out. Luckily, that’s not the case as Lawrence’s film shattered every expectation I had, minus one or two slight problems.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series I’m not sure why you’d be reading this, but I’ll be vague about the plot either way. The film follows the continued struggle of Katniss Everdeen against the cruel hand of the Capitol following her victory in the previous year’s Hunger Games.

From the get go Francis Lawrence’s vision of Panem feels so much more realized than in the previous film. The characters feel more fleshed out and the actors playing them all seem more comfortable with their roles. Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic in the first and everyone else wasn’t bad necessarily, but their work in CATCHING FIRE is far better. Even some of the new faces are extremely welcome which includes Finnick as played by Sam Claflin, who in spite of not being aware of anything else he’s done almost perfectly captured Finnick’s cocky but charming persona.

The actors are indeed important, but when comparing it to the first film the atmosphere and tempo of the film are also vital to its success. With all the information that has to be crammed into CATCHING FIRE Francis Lawrence is able to lay out every last detail either visually or through the storytelling and pose a pretty incredible world with strong science fiction footing without making it seem overly cheesy.

From there the thematic elements are all nearly pitch perfect. Leading up to the games there is a tremendous portrayal of the fakeness of celebrities and their role in helping people forget their current situations. More than that though the emotions run higher, the action is more exciting and the story is deeper. Lawrence however is not simply stepping on Ross’ head to get to the top, instead he is just filling in the blanks and building on what Ross started in the first film. Where the first film does a more than adequate job at setting this world up this film brings it to the next level. CATCHING FIRE utilizes some of the values from the first film, but injects them with steroids to transition into a far more expansive world to accommodate the more action heavy aspects of the last book.

The next redeeming factor is that when the action starts, we can actually see what’s going on. Most remember Ross’ incredibly dizzying shaky cam from the first film whenever action was taking place- well that’s all gone here and replaced with clean steady shot sequences. However, there are at least two or three scenes that take place at night that are almost too dark to see everything happening which can be disorienting.

To add on to the gorgeous cinematography, the special effects are just one more aspect that trumps the original film. One of my biggest gripes with the first film was the horrible CGI in the final scenes and the weird dog creatures which were rendered horribly and the scene took place at night which still didn’t manage to hide the crappy effects. Lawrence is responsible for some pretty terrible CGI in previous movies like Constantine, but more so the “vampires” from I AM LEGEND- not the case in CATCHING FIRE. The effects in the arena are spectacular and the setting is absolutely beautiful to look at, but that also goes for the expanded looks we get at Panem throughout too.

To say that THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE is better than the first is not giving it enough credit. Aside from some darkly lit action sequences the film is perfectly paced, exciting, emotional and beautiful. Francis Lawrence has upped his game substantially for this blockbuster franchise and I now have nothing but hope for his involvement in the final two movies. The second CATCHING FIRE ends I was immediately pumped to see the next installment which is a testament to the quality because had it been a middling experience I’d have been okay with a bit of a wait until the next film. Jennifer Lawrence shines once again and helps to make THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE one of this years best films that should not be missed.

Rating: A-

Movies To Watch In 2013

Now that 2012 is in the rearview our eyes are focused on what is to come. As is the case every year there are plenty of movies high on everyone’s most anticipated and lots of movies full of promise in general. Now, the likelihood of every movie being anticipated will be as amazing as we hope is relatively low, we will not know for sure until release day. The following list of films are the productions that I am most looking forward to and further on down the road around the middle of the year I like to revisit the release schedule and add anything not referenced on this list- so if you don’t see the one you’re really looking forward to then by all means tell me about it in the comments or wait patiently for the mid-year report.

You’re Next – First on the list is a film that made my most anticipated list from last year. In retrospect at the time no official news for a release date was even announced except that coming out of its immensely successful premiere at TIFF Lionsgate snatched it up, shut down remaining screenings and threw out a vague October 2012 release. In early September Lionsgate finally came forward and announced the release for August 23, 2013 and I was hit with a mixture of excitement and anger- excitement that a release was finally announced and anger that it was so far away. Regardless, this flick has been soaking in high praise for those who have seen it and sounds like it will be something all horror fans should keep an eye on.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – The first HUNGER GAMES made my list last year as well- it made it for my enjoyment of the books and curiosity to see how it turned out. CATCHING FIRE has that same curiosity factor, but given that I really enjoyed the first film the sequel also makes it for the fan in me. Jennifer Lawrence is a fantastic actress and fits the role of Katniss perfectly and other cast members like Woody Harrelson make other moments of this as enjoyable as it was.

The second book in The Hunger Games series was my personal favorite, which is why the film adaptation is one I’m anticipating a little more than the first film. I am looking forward to the new characters an expanded part for Haymitch and to see what kind of visual flair Francis Lawrence can bring to Panem and the Hunger Games battlegrounds. I have to say though that I’m a little worried about Lawrence going crazy with the over abundance of CGI characters after he dropped the ball with the “vampires” in I AM LEGEND.

Lords of Salem – I sincerely doubt that any of Rob Zombie’s movies would have been on any previous most anticipated list the years that they were coming out- so what’s different this time. Rob Zombie clearly has a distinct voice- granted one that is bizarre if a little too bizarre for most people to swallow, but he is capable of delivering films that illicit feelings of dread and horror even if the films aren’t always that good. I love THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, parts if his HALLOWEEN remake and didn’t like HALLOWEEN II all that much at all. There are two other films in his filmography that I’d just assume not get into at the moment, but LORDS OF SALEM looks to be something that could define exactly what type of film Zombie wants to make. Visually, based on the trailer it looks fantastic and it looks to have a mixture of the crazy random satanic savagery evident in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. I really look forward to seeing how this one turns out- for better or worse.

Elysium – I have remained blissfully ignorant on just about everything involving this one so far, so much as I mean there isn’t a trailer that’s been released and I’ve yet to read a plot synopsis. I can’t really say Matt Damon is what’s selling me on this one- instead its DISTRICT 9’s Neill Blomkamp that had me sold on this long before I even finished watching DISTRICT 9 for the first time in theaters all those years ago. When more footage gets released you can be sure I won’t be avoiding it, but for now I’m just enjoying the anticipation.

Iron Man 3 – I am sure that I’m not the only one hesitating about the next IRON MAN. Sure Shane Black has taken the reigns and the trailer looks far better than I expected, but neither of those two things guarantees a return to what I loved so much about the first film. One thing I’m hoping for more than anything else is a satisfying final battle, which both of the first two failed to deliver.

Star Trek into Darkness – After the teaser release for J.J. Abrams new film people seemed to have had the wind taken from their sails a bit. For me though, I’m even more excited about the new STAR TREK and I’m even digging the idea that it could be a darker take than the first film. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tone and fun of the first film, but I’m a sucker for films that take dark turns and adhere to darker tones, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little giddy about a dark STAR TREK.

World War Z – I am really kind of sick of the argument about fast versus slow zombies and ever since the trailer for WORLD WAR Z I’m also getting sick of the complaints about the giant wall of zombies. I can jump on with the complaints that just simply say the CGI isn’t perfect and I understand complaints about the fact that it won’t or can’t adhere to the book, but in my opinion I feel like sticking to closely to the source material would have had plenty of its own issues. I’m cautiously optimistic about this, but given it was on my most anticipated list last year I felt the need to include it once again even on spite of the many production woes this one has gone through.

Kick Ass 2 – I absolutely loved Matthew Vaughn’s KICK ASS and if there was anything on my wish list for a sequel, it would be that I want to see someone else come in and give another homemade hero over-the-top performance to follow on the steps of Nic Cage from the first film. It seems my wish just may come true with the casting of Jim Carrey, but that could also come back to bite me in the ass if he comes in and really drops the ball.

Evil Dead (Remake) – I, like many others really didn’t see a point in remaking Sam Raimi’s classic horror film EVIL DEAD. Right up until I watched the red band trailer I was skeptical, but once the trailer ended I was actually extremely excited about this one. I realize it’s a remake and not just that, but a remake of a beloved horror classic that many genre buffs believe is untouchable which means it’s got some pretty big shoes to fill. I for one have high hope for this, but remain realistic about the possibility it may not live up to expectations.

Maniac (Remake) – By now you might have noticed that I might have a bias for horror films. It is true, I love horror and looking at the slew of horror releases every year is something I really look forward to. Also, surprisingly here is yet another remake that made its way to the list. I’m somewhat foggy about the release for this one as I did see it on a couple “Best Horror of 2012” lists, but given the fact that I can’t find anything solid on a release I’m lumping it in with 2013. Another surprise for me is seeing Elijah Wood in the lead role and word on the street is that he knocks it out of the park as I’ve read almost nothing but good things about this one. Foregoing the trailer, below you can see the first 6 minutes of the film that was released online.

Pacific Rim – Lastly I want to outline my most anticipated film of 2013. Guillermo del Toro has been attaching himself to countless projects, not the least of which is PACIFIC RIM that had me squealing in joy when I saw the first trailer. I realize there is plenty about that trailer that kind of stinks of terribly clichéd action/science fiction drivel, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t believe the final product was going to be kick ass.

A Rundown Of Some Other Anticipated Releases

Man of Steel
Gangster Squad
John Dies at the End
Side Effects
The World’s End

Movies I’m Not Looking Forward To In 2013

Beautiful Creatures
The Host
G.I. Joe Retaliation
Scary Movie 5
A Haunted House
Pain & Gain
After Earth
The Lone Ranger
Grown Ups 2
The Smurfs 2

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


One of my favorite films of 2010 was David O. Russell’s THE FIGHTER. The film contained and was anchored by incredibly strong performances lead by the Oscar winning turn from Christian Bale. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, since I knew very little about it beyond it starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Having seen the film I’m not even sure of the best way to describe the film that accurately conveys how I really feel without making it seems incredibly negative.

The film follows a man, Pat (Bradley Cooper) that has spent 8 months in a psychiatric facility battling a violent mental breakdown. He is diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and is determined to rehabilitate himself by trying to win back his wife and get his old job back while living with his parents. He meets a Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose husband has passed away and is suffering from significant mood swings as well and the two begin a peculiar relationship with one another.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is- all in all- an extremely bizarre film. Ultimately it can be predictable, but the events in the film are so off center that even when I thought I knew what was going to happen I couldn’t be sure. Essentially, this is a film that takes everything you think will or should happen based off of everything you’ve seen before and skews it ever so slightly to create a familiar style of film in a much more compelling way.

Much like THE FIGHTER, this is a film anchored by fantastic performances- with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper leading the charge. Cooper’s character becomes the one that’s the easiest to read and predict, although he does it in a way that’s hilarious and endearing in spite of the horribly inappropriate things he says. Lawrence on the other hand is a wild card here- she has moments here that are powerful, bizarre and sweet and her performance is phenomenal. Between the two of them and they multi-layered characters everyone else kind of gets lost in the shuffle, although you cannot undermine the great work done here by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.

The thing that makes the film a bit bizarre is the screenplay from which the actors are working from. However, as strange as the script is, there are some editing choices that lend to the proceedings as well. The two main characters are given plenty of backstory so that we as an audience can understand why they are behaving the way that they do, which in spite of how much we know it likely won’t stop some from being confused about the choices they make in a physical nature and to what they say in any given situation. The audience’s reaction can likely mirror the reaction of the characters surrounding these two as they are constantly confused and frustrated by their actions.

During the course of writing this and trying to get my thoughts in order I’ve on more than one occasion gotten stuck trying to find the right words to say. Eventually, I arrived at the decision that while the film can be a bit alienating at times with the mixture of extremely off-beat dark humor, goofy humor, drama and predictable romantic elements those are also the things that I found fresh about the film in general. Based solely on the willingness to be different while mixing in hints of familiar tropes creates something that’s endearing, funny and fascinating to watch. The finale itself is an amalgamation of all the things you’ve probably seen, but based on everything else that came before it was still undeniably sweet and corny at the same time. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK may just be one of the most unconventional crowd pleasing films I’ve seen in a while, but one that will surely charm and move people from all types of audiences.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)


Going into the ticket selling juggernaut that is the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best selling young adult novels my expectations were pretty high. I really loved the books and there are a lot of questions I had in regards to how they were going to translate this material faithfully while being able to appeal to new fans, win over diehard fans and maintain a PG-13 rating. THE HUNGER GAMES is indeed a faithful adaptation and its biggest missteps are the way the action and violence is filmed to come in at a teen friendly rating, moments of the script and aspects of the original story that are oddly absent from the film. It’s still an immensely entertaining flick that’s tense and emotional that falls just short being truly sensational.

There’s a lot of ground to cover as far as plot goes so here we go. War has torn the country into what is now known as Panem which has been divided into 13 districts. The 13th district rebelled against the Capitol which rules Panem and is headed by the slimy President Snow (Donald Sutherland). So every year to punish the districts from ever trying the same thing and to keep them under control the Hunger Games are held. Each district puts forth one girl and one boy, known as tributes, between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in an arena where they are forced to fight to the death until one person stands as winner and wins fame and fortune for their starving family. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young teen that goes to represent District 12 along with the boy tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has secretly been holding a crush on Katniss for years. Their districts only winner, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), acts as their trainer while Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) is tasked as their fashion coordinator to help them make an impression on sponsors. Sponsors send the tributes helpful tools and gifts in the Hunger Games arena to help them survive and the more popular the tribute the more gifts they receive. In the arena the Capitol has the use of Gamemakers that monitor each tributes location and if the action ever slows down they deploy traps to move the tributes closer together and coax a fight, every action caught by cameras as the Games are televised and each citizen of Panem is required to watch. Katniss has a strong survival instinct and skilled with a bow, but also is not a willing participant in the Games and takes every opportunity she sees to keep the Gamemakers as well as the Captiol on their toes.

That’s the basics of what Gary Ross’ film focuses on. It goes so far as to explain the lethal sting of something like the tracker jacker but one specific character in many of the scenes during the first hour is never even named. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie, who is District 12’s Capitol representative and is the woman who draws the names during the reaping and accompanies Katniss and Peeta everywhere they go before the games begin- had you not read the book or the cast list you would never have a clue who she is or why she’s even there. It’s that mixture of small details that are included but other semi large details that were glossed over that aren’t incredibly annoying but noticeable for fans of the book.

The film moves at a rapid fire pace in regards to the amount of information that gets thrown out in the first hour that I can imagine being a bit overwhelming for audiences unfamiliar with the books. I do feel though that the pace works well for the film considering the run time is just under two and a half hours and unless we are to sit in a theater for four hours cuts from the source material had to be made and the setup pushed across rather quickly to get into the training, interviews and games themselves. Also despite how rushed material feels at times I feel the need to point out that action in movies happens much faster in a movie than in a book because it takes more time to read each word in an action scene than to just see it unfold in real time. Also the book utilizes a lot of internal monologue from Katniss since it’s from her point of view and the film basically puts the audience in a fly on the wall types of situations.

The first hour is all set up for the games- meeting the main characters, the reaping, travel to the Capitol, grooming, parade, interviews and of course training. The second hour is focused on the games with brief shots of citizens watching the televised events, Gamemakers watching each tributes move and shots of President Snow giving orders or explaining his motives for holding the games and having a winner. During these times there are a lot of slower moments that are not all that different from the book, except a lot of the fat is trimmed from the novels and the movies moves quickly from key character moments to action bit way quicker than the books did.

The weakest part for me goes back to when I read the books- the romance. Obviously it’s tailored for a teen audience and it never really worked for me in the books and the same goes for the film. I really like all the characters and Katniss’ indifference toward Peeta but it doesn’t fully translate on screen because once again the book goes in depth to Katniss’ perspective on what she needs to do survive and put on a good show for the sponsors. The dialogue in the books was also pretty corny at times and the script brings some of that over sometimes causing what I felt were unintentional laughs.

The action is also a point of contention- especially when the countdown hits zero to start the games and everyone makes a mad dash for weapons and a massive “bloodbath” takes place eliminating many of the tributes right off the bat. The tension is phenomenal leading up to the countdown and when the weapons start flying the camera goes into convulsions making it hard to decipher exactly what was happening. The choice was obviously to mask the violence and not focus on anything graphic which is understandable but at times the shaky cam can be a bit excessive. The highlights of the games are the curveballs the Gamemakers throw at the tributes to force them together or to speed things along. There’s a scene where Katniss finds herself sprinting through the woods with fire all around her and I found the visuals to be pretty spectacular and very exciting as far as the action goes in that scene. Also another highlight was towards the end that I was dying to see how they translated in the movie that was also tense but it takes place at night and it was tough to really make out everything that was happening.

My complaints for the most part are nothing more than minor grievances I have with choices by the filmmakers- they make the film imperfect but no less enjoyable. Aside from my complaints about the romance nothing else really hurts the movie for me. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic and I couldn’t picture anyone else in that part- she’s a powerful actress that has a wonderfully emptive face that really pushes across her sadness and utter fear in situations and an adorable smile in others. Haymitch is my personal favorite character from the books and Harrelson plays him perfectly I just wish there had been more of him. Banks is very fun as Effie and Stanley Tucci as the charismatic Caesar Flickerman is always a delight when he’s on screen. I even enjoyed Josh Hutcherson as Peeta even though I never cared for him in the books. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) takes a backseat in the first film just as he does in the book once Katniss heads to the Capitol but he was great in the scene where he has to say goodbye to Katniss.

The biggest surprise for me and incredibly effective aspect of the film- the silence. The majority of THE HUNGER GAMES is long stretches where there is no score whatsoever and you just hear the sounds of nature and other ambient noise- or moments where the chaos of a scene is muted and certain sound effects are amplified that certainly make an impression. Throughout the film I was delighted that there were not music swells around every corner telling me when I should feel sad or warning me that something crazy was about to happen. Eventually there are moments where the score kicks in during dramatic moments but a good slice of the film goes without the use of score. What I found effective about the choice to leave out music was how much it highlights the desolate nature of the settings and how hopeless and empty the world of Panem can be. It also helps make a film that’s essentially fantasy feel more realistic and gritty even amongst the glossy world of the Capitol.

The world the film creates is vast and beautiful but at all times I couldn’t help but feel a bit claustrophobic- largely due to the tension created by the score or lack thereof. The moments before Katniss steps into the tube to enter the arena had me on the edge of my seat holding my breath even though I’ve read the books and knew what was essentially getting ready to go down. Even in the woods when you see the map of the arena it looks massive yet the action happens to fast and furious that it never feels as large since there’s never a real long stretch of time where there isn’t a threat lurking around the corner. This is more of a compliment than a complaint because the more closed in I felt with the setting the more tense and on edge I felt.

One other praise I’d like to put forth to the film is that it made me feel more emotional during certain moments that the book fell short of. As much as the first book drew me in, I never had a real emotional reaction until the later books and those moments packed a bigger punch in the film even with the abbreviated involvement of certain characters. I attribute my emotional connection to the strength of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance- although I really enjoyed the brief glimpses of Haymitch watching Katniss struggle in the arena.

Eavesdropping on conversations outside the theater, there was a mixture of people praising how faithful it was and how some people thought the book was way more action packed. I fall in the camp that believe it was extremely faithful to the source and disagree strongly with anyone who says the book had more action. I personally enjoyed the second book the most and this film leads into it about as well as I could have hoped. I refer back to my previous comments that action feels a lot more drawn out when you have to read each word describing the scene and with the movie every detail is right there in front of you which makes the action play out as it would in a natural setting. The film doesn’t linger on details in the action and instead just throws it at you and it keeps you on your feet even if you know what’s going to happen. I feel strongly that almost every action beat is present and accounted for and translated exactly the way it should have in the context of the movie.

Does THE HUNGER GAMES live up to the massive hype leading up to its release? Yes, for the most part it lives up to the quality of the book if not improving it along the way. My opinion comes from the side that doesn’t care for the romance of it all, but the interest in the plot, the futuristic setting and the path the story goes in the subsequent books. The film is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but as an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel it succeeds on several levels. The PG-13 rating does handcuff the overall effect at times, but what THE HUNGER GAMES lacks in brutality it makes up for in the emotional depth of its main character and the tension created from the film’s sound design and relentless pace. Fans will have to fill in the blanks as far as some of the small details of the story goes and new fans might find themselves lost every now and then but the film manages to find a balance that makes it accessible to audiences that have read the books or are going in cold. THE HUNGER GAMES has about everything you can ask for- action, drama, comedy, fantasy and even a small amount of horror. There are hiccups that hold the film back from being as unforgettable as it had the potential to be, but the style and performances still manage to create a heart pounding experience that’s fun and exciting to watch.