That’s who representative Effie Trinket chooses out of a glass bowl to see who will play in the futuristic, titular 74th annual Hunger Games. It’s the nightmare scenario for the girl bearing that name (Willow Shields), as well as for her sister, our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), because the former will be too young to survive the bloodbath that comes with these games. Imagine if the neon lights of “American Idol” have younger and more homicidal contestants. But let’s get back to the real issue – this representative looks so ridiculous that I didn’t even know that Elizabeth Banks was playing her. It’s as if Nicki Minaj apparently is the face of the future, one of the adults from Panem’s Capitol – the seat of power of a futuristic version of North America – who all look like anime villains. And I haven’t run out of metaphors and references – as if Zac Posen and the now-defunct Heatherettes’ palettes puked on Stefano Pilati and Viktor and Rolf’s otherwise perfect tailoring, these futuristic designs fitting within the uber-capitalistic society, the latter’s flag looking like an Aryan bastardization of Rome built in the Rockies. It reminds me of what Walter Benjamin said about how France under Napoleon emulates Rome. And it’s not just because science fiction stories, by nature, are pretty much ideas and fashions and designs from the present day set in titanium. Present and future societies will always repeat their past. And these games are a reminder of the past, Effie repeating the words of the video she shows to the district about how the games are the Capitol’s way of giving peace and fear, indoctrinated that her messed up world is perfect.
I also noticed the differences between the people in the Capitol and Katniss’ peasant-like District 12, where pastel and steel are separated from earthier tones. She’s her family’s provider but when she volunteers as the district’s female tribute to replace Prim, she transforms. Her earlier ‘masculine’ habits of hunting are still intact. I never imagine her in a beautiful dress, as I’m supposed to, but there she is wearing a red number in her publicity tour as one of the tributes. She even twirls and shows off her ‘fire’ for the audiences. I saw this as a change from awkward, unsightly adolescence to full-blossomed adulthood but that binary is complicated that she’s one of twenty-four chosen while the rest of the people in many districts are stuck without ‘growing.’ But then again that seems more realistic, that the glamourous adulthood of our imaginations can’t come true for everyone. And even with being chosen she still has to compete with twenty-three other youths to ‘have it all.’ It’s like what Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says to the man presiding the games (Wes Bentley), that this kind of entertainment brings false hope to the masses. Dystopic sci-fis are really great in bringing up these issues in exaggerating present day conundrums and it’s really to Suzanne Collins’ – who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Billy Ray and the movie’s director Gary Ross – credit to have created such a detailed world.
And Lawrence, playing a younger version of her Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, is one of the foundations that make this world more solid, especially with the contradictions within her character. Her full cheeks masks her eyes’ rage and curiosity. She’s awkward – during athletic/publicity training she asks her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) how she can make people like her. Effie criticizes her for being ill-mannered after many conflicts against the sponsors and her co-tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But this young woman eventually finds and protects her new family, inadvertently becomes the face of a new rebellion and rides out a semi-fabricated story that she and Peeta are the games’ star-crossed lovers. That the characters, Collins and Ross’ final and cynical word on their love feels subversive for a young adult narrative. Although at least some of their love is real, Katniss bringing him medicine and both saving each other’s lives during the games.
If there’s anything I’ll strongly say against this movie, it’s that Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern bring their camera too close and fast, especially in its opening sequences. As much as I would like to be acquainted with these characters – the shaky cam replicating her perspective as she walks and runs through her journey – I also want to see the world where they belong. The Bourne-style quick-cutting also doesn’t help with the violent scenes. Seeing those deaths, admittedly, was part of the sadistic fun and it kind of sucks that the audience doesn’t get to fully experience this. The cast also includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Alexander Ludwig. Image via Villagevoice.
The trailer for The Kids are All Right shows Manohla Dargis calling it a ‘near note-perfect portrait of a modern family,’ in a way that it shows complex implications to the words ‘biological’ and ‘parent,’ there are clashes, affairs, dinners with people who are having affairs, cathartic speeches of redemption. It’s a typical formula if not for the slow pacing, the script, tick-y acting from the major players and the hand-held cam close-ups in group scenes, all giving the impression of a balance between improvisation and direct delivery.
Basically, two teenagers from lesbian parents look for the sperm donor, and whatever ensues, ensues.
Annette Bening as Nic is the best in show without trying. I’ve only seen her in crazy parts (American Beauty, Running With Scissors). Other reviews have tried to sell her as the stable one in the relationship, and she is that. She can also be ‘not my real self,’ be acidic, be the embarrassing drunk one, be the one who has to deal with the headaches just like a parent. Her first line at the first dinner conversation about Jules’ (Julianne Moore) truck makes the audience follow her more. Her calm reaction to a shocking revelation proves that Bening’s performance becomes the greatest one within greatest performances.
I’m ambivalent about Laser (Josh Hutcherson) as a character. It was his idea to contact their sperm donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo). A little selling point for the movie and his character that he might or might not be ‘too close to his loser friend Clay,’ that subplot being really hilarious. He also doesn’t know how to talk to Paul, being directly hostile about Paul’s opinions about little things, this approach somehow different from his sister, college age Joni (Mia Wasikowska) just smiling at him. Despite of those things, I don’t feel like I got to know the guy. He must have had female friends, unless that’s what ticked off Nice and Jules. I think Laser just fades into the background after the scene with the talk.
O hai, HaySpayTu. Tanya (Yaya da Costa) is a bit Earth Mother Archetype to me, just like a grown-up version of the real Yaya da Costa we know.
And hai, Peggy’s lesbian wooer (Zosia Mamet) from “Mad Men!”
I also wanna talk about the Susan G. Cole critiques to this movie. A) Mark Ruffalo doesn’t even act like a stoner in this movie and the last time he did that was in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think he actually does his best to defend his character – a lesser actor would have just laid there and portray Paul as the dirt bag that he is on the script. B) Bisexuality exists. I’ll concede that the film uses a Degrassi: TNG storyline, and that she’s not alone in thinking that the Jules and Paul thins is BS, but a plausibly realistic one. But then I’m not a lesbian so I don’t know how strong their fortitude is against Mark Ruffalo. Mine isn’t.
Now that that’s all out, time to download the rest of the soundtrack!