REVIEW: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Rae (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (book)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson

The biggest asset The Hunger Games has in both the book and the movie is its insistence on making you think about war as a meaningless, almost ritualistic sacrifice of a country’s youth.  As many are likely aware by now, it is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a gritty young woman raised in the poverty of a dystopian future.

She is chosen along with a young male tribute (Josh Hutcherson) to represent her district, District 12, in the country’s annual Hunger Games “celebration.”  This consists of 22 other tweens and teens being thrown into an arena and fighting to the death.  The winner returns a war hero, a champion lauded with spoils and congratulated for being turned from child to murderous shell.

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REVIEW: Our Idiot Brother

Our Idiot Brother
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Written by: David Schisgall & Evgenia Peretz (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer

Your ability to enjoy Our Idiot Brother hinges on one thing: your ability to enjoy Paul Rudd.  If you don’t like him, which is unlikely considering his career is built on being likeable, then you will not like this movie.

In this movie we find Rudd at his most laid-back and whimsical.  He is not uptight or broken like he is in movies like Knocked Up or I Love You, Man.  Here he has already discovered the man-child within.

Modern comedies are especially infatuated with hopelessly care-free fools like the one at this movie’s center.  They release a passive aura around the audience, which is odd because they often have the exact opposite effect on the other characters in their respective films.  Rudd’s Ned is no different.  Where he and his laid-back lifestyle go (in this case to his three sisters’ homes), chaos ensues.

The whimsical, Dude-esque man-child injects levels of honesty into an environment that is not built for it.  Ned’s three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer) are all successful in the traditional ways.  They either have a job, a couple children, or a significant other that they treasure.   However, they all betray those things in one way or another because their “idiot” brother is incapable of lying to keep the world in balance.

The screenplay alternates between making us laugh at Ned’s disruptions and making us as angry as his sisters.  What it thankfully doesn’t do is condescend to any of them.  The director Jesse Peretz seems eager to move past conflict in the screenplay, so much so that the all-too-tidy ending doesn’t feel quite as contrived as it should.  Peretz knows that his movie depends on Rudd and the rest of the cast, and allows the supporting characters (mainly Rashida Jones and Steve Coogan) to steal the comedic spotlight at appropriate moments.

Our Idiot Brother creates an atmosphere of understanding around all of its characters and their problems.  To say it is about anything other than Paul moving past a speed bump would be stretching it.  Rudd is so hell-bent on being nice that he recalls Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, a movie that this movie doesn’t aspire at all to be like but whose protagonists share the same overly-kindred spirit.

Ned finds himself in a financial pickle because he sold marijuana to a uniformed cop claiming to be having an off week.  His niceness is his problem and his family’s solution.  Peretz and the writers treat them all warmly, and allow the actors to give performances that go beyond their own cliches and into a territory that sometimes even feels real.

Someone like Ned would typically be the supporting character in a movie like this.  By putting him front and center and (sort of) exploring his necessity to be the way he is instead of letting him only tell jokes, the movie unintentionally offers a fresh take.  In I Love You, Man you wanted to follow Jason Segel’s character everywhere.  This movie lets you do that.

Grade: B-

Ten to finish out ’10

With The Social Network and Let Me In giving movie-goers some anti-summer entertainment to look forward to this weekend, we thought it’d be a good idea to map out what the rest of 2010 will look like at the movies.  Here is our list of the 10 movies we think will matter the rest of the year.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)– Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another behind the scenes plunge into the dark depths of competitive sports.  This time it’s Natalie Portman in the lead, playing a ballerina in a a gruelingly competitive production of Swan Lake. When Mila Kunis comes in as a the new kid on the block, the game is on.  That makes it sound like Step Up, but from trailer, which shows Portman sprouting feathers and red eyes, it will be decidedly weirder.  Aronofsky knows his way around pitch black, and has a knack for turning misery into beauty.  Expect nothing less here.

True Grit (Dec. 25)– What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a Coen Brothers movie?  They team up with Jeff Bridges again, this time to remake the western that won John Wayne his Oscar.  However, the brothers list the novel as their main source of inspiration because of its quick dialogue as well as the premise.  A daughter (newcomer Hailee Steinfield) sets out to apprehend her father’s killer with the help of a stubborn marshal (Bridges.)  The movie also features Matt Damon as a ranger accompanying the two and Josh Brolin as the killer.  With a remarkable cast like this, and the success they had adapting No Country for Old Men, it’s hard not to be excited about this one.

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