“Mirror, Mirror, on the Hunger Games Wall…” (NO spoilers.) April 2, 2012 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns
Contents ©2012 Mike Pascale (All art/photos © their respective owners.)
…Which is the funnest film of them all?
(Yes, I know there’s no such word as “funnest”, but it fit the alliteration and rhythm better. Sometimes cleverness trumps grammar.)
This was a movie weekend. My wife and I saw MIRROR MIRROR, JOHNNY MNEMONIC (OnDemand for free, thank goodness), and THE HUNGER GAMES. The only reason I mention the 1995 Keanu Reeves non-classic is because Syd Mead was listed as a “visual consultant”, and we talked about his great work last week. The less said about that one the better.
Because I’m under a deadline crunch for tomorrow, I’m going to have to resort to less pics and more bullet points. But hopefully it helps you if you’re deciding what to see, if anything.
First up, MIRROR MIRROR, the first of two Snow White flicks this year. An exec of one of the films was quoted in a magazine saying whichever one comes out first will “win.” I think that’s bunk. After seeing this version and the extended trailer for the next (starring THOR and AVENGERS’ own Chris Helmsworth), the two films couldn’t be more different. It would be like comparing YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Both have “Frankenstein” in their title and subject but that’s it. This one is a romantic comedy adventure.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first:
- There’s some nasty animal bathroom humor in the makeup scene that might gross out some viewers (especially those eating while watching!); but kids and college boys will probably giggle like monkeys on nitrous oxide.
- The dialog, while not exactly “period” still stayed “internally true” except for one reference to “focus groups.” Unnecessarily modern American; for a split second it took me completely out of the environment.
- Lily Collins as Snow White is definitely the most hirsute one I’ve ever seen. Kind of refreshing, though some may find it distracting. (You may not want to read what Bru-Hed will say about it Thursday.) Her acting was great, and that’s what matters.
- The Magic Mirror had an interesting gimmick as far as whose reflection we saw. But getting to it was very odd–The Evil Queen (Julia Roberts) stepped into the mirror, then ended up underwater to rise up onto a wooden pier which sat on a flat black body of water in a nebulous cloudy world; she then would walk into a big thatched hut to talk to the reflection. (No sarcasm or exaggeration.) Next to the hut was another taller, thinner hut-thing that severed no apparent purpose. The CG looked distractingly fake compared to the excellent job on the castle and elsewhere. If you’re high on something, you may find it makes sense.
- There are major liberties taken with the fairy tale. If you’re a stickler for accuracy, you might not approve. For those like me who forgot it ages ago, no worries.
- I would have liked it to end about a minute earlier. The wrap-up at the end was obviously for a young audience feel-good.
However, all that was outweighed by the positives:
- Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, and most of the dwarves were perfectly cast and acted. Roberts and Lane turned in excellent performances.
- Dialog for the most part was very good, clever and funny. We laughed or smiled throughout most of the film.
- Direction by Tarsem Singh (THE IMMORTALS) was spot-on. Known for his flamboyant costumes and colors, this one did not disappoint. (I don’t recall another film having a specific credit for a “Color Designer”–this one certainly used one.) The colors were lovely. The contrast between the dreary downtrodden village and the spectacle of the castle was over-the-top and visually wonderful.
- The costumes!! Dare I say Oscar-worthy? Purposely and hilariously outrageous. (Check out the headgear during the chess game.) What a blast.
- The Beast creature wasn’t like other fairy tales (kind of a furry dragon) and well executed. Some may think his face was too cute, but they probably didn’t want to scare the little ones.
- Other than the bird poop in the one scene, it’s a very family-friendly film. No cursing, no bad violence, no gore.
- The dwarves were all very good, especially Danny Woodburn (“Mickey” on SEINFELD) and Martin Klebba, whom you’ll recognize from THE CAPE TV show. More adult than Disney’s version but not raunchy.
- This was just plain FUN. No idea why the reviews aren’t better; perhaps too many viewers were expecting something more serious like SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. From the trailers, I thought this was going to be a dumb train wreck. (Like JOHN CARTER, this was not marketed well.) But if you go in with an open mind and good humor, you should be pleasantly surprised.
On to THE HUNGER GAMES. First, I did not read any of the books. (And I have no desire to after seeing the film.) Second, in case you’re as clueless about it as I am, this film has nothing to do with the dinner buffet at Circus Circus. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world where kids fight each other to the death once a year out of “tradition.”
So here are the negatives:
- The whole premise is tough to wrap my head around. A civil war was quashed by the big mean corporate government and now, once a year, each of the 12 districts that make up the new nation send a boy and girl age 12 to 18 to The Hunger Games. One one can win; the others die. Really? Did the Union do anything even remotely similar to the kids of the Confederacy?Considering how much child labor and safety laws have changed in just the last 60 years, it’s absurd. Why would this advanced US society (everyone but Elizabeth Banks spoke with an American accent) suddenly want to see kids killed? Especially considering that age group is the prime target of so many advertisers! Even the worst Jerry Springer/Maury/Oprah episode doesn’t have kids trying to kill each other. And what’s with the 12-18? How on earth would a 12-year-old girl best an 18-year-old man? Would have made more sense to have different age and gender brackets.
- The “futuristic” fashions seemed rather silly. I’m guessing Syd Mead had nothing to do with this one. A lot of it looked more like a 1970s version of “futuristic”. The one guy I call “Weird Beard” who runs the games had an interesting shave pattern to his beard, until you see on closeups that some of it is painted on. The kids had high-tech versions of low-tech weapons, which was incongruous. If you’re going the low-tech route, go all the way: make the weapons wood and stone; much grittier.
- NO ONE HAD A ROLL OF DUCT TAPE. Didn’t anyone involved ever watch MYTHBUSTERS? You can’t survive without duct tape.
- District 12 (where the lead character, Katniss, is from) was far too idyllic for impact. Yes, the people live in crappy, beat-up houses, have to use horses and work in coal mines (assuming for their own use and not for the advanced Capitol, though that wasn’t explained), but the place butts up to gorgeous rolling hills and beautiful skies. Shouldn’t you make me think it’s all drab and dreary (like MIRROR MIRROR did)?
- Like the Snow White film, this also borrowed from METROPOLIS, the 1925 silent Fritz Lang classic, which used a downtrodden, dreary locale for the workers and a beautiful, advanced technological architecture for the city. Except the sets in METROPOLIS looked a lot more impressive.
- This film features a District 9 but it has nothing to do with the impressive sci-fi film of the same name from a few years ago. Bummer.
- The new nation is called Panem but pronounced “Pan Am”. My wife said it’s probably a nod to the old Pan American games, but I say it’s an old airline. Plus, there was a TV show last year with the same name–about the airline. Immediately made me wonder if there are other nations named Delta, Qantas, Southwest, or Air Alaska.
- Speaking of names, Katniss’s competitor beau is named Peeta, which sounds way too much like a British guy saying “Peter.” As it is it’s way too close to either the extremist animal-rights group or the Greek flatbread.
- The brutality and gore had to be dialed down from the book to get a PG-13 rating, but the film suffered because of it. Doesn’t need to be SAW-type gore, but they could have hammered home more of the distastefulness of the violence to make it more poignant.
- Because we’ve been hit over the head who the hero is, we know Katniss has to survive and win from the get-go. So no suspense there–it becomes more of *how* she’ll win and what will happen to the others. Then again, I suppose one could have the same complaint about any Spider-Man, Batman, Superman or other popular character film. But we expect it more of those.
- The bad thing about movies centered around games is that we the audience doesn’t know all the rules. So when they’re changed a few times throughout, there’s not as much impact.
- For kids who are supposed to be starving (“Hunger Games”, remember?), most of them looked pretty healthy to me! Some of the district citizens were downright plump. WTF? (And why was one district shown as half black and the rest mostly white? Where were the Indians, Asians and Hispanics?)
- The CG animals did not look good at all. One of the characters actually refers to them as illusions at first but we see they have physical presence and can kill. So shouldn’t they look real?
- The ending seemed contrived. If you see it, you’ll wonder why, in the 73 prior years of these games, did no one ever do this before, and why all 24 contestants didn’t think of doing the same thing. And during the flight of the characters to the game location, it looked like there were only one or two security guards on the plane! I’ve seen far too many movies where prisoners with much greater odds banded together and took control, flying to places unknown. (It would also make for a more interesting film; perhaps it happens in one of the other two books.)
- The film could have been 10 to 20 minutes shorter.
- This is not the type of film I’d want to own or see over again. Too depressing.
But it wasn’t all negatives. There were some positives:
- Jennifer Lawrence’s acting was phenomenal. You can see why she was nominated for an Oscar for WINTER’S BONE. She’s definitely a major talent. (And she has a killer figure which doesn’t hurt either—at least that’s what Bru says.)
- The rest of the kids were pretty well cast and well acted.
- The TV co-host, played by Toby Jones, was Dr. Arnim Zola in CAPTAIN AMERICA.
- Woody Harrelson is always good playing an a-hole.
- Rocker Lenny Kravitz can act.
- Not a single teen in this film texted anybody! (One positive about the distopian future.)
- Unlike LORD OF THE RINGS, this one has a definite and satisfying ending. In fact, almost too much so, because I don’t know how they’d effectively continue the story, unless they introduce new characters to play the game, or somehow have Katniss play again (which would be contrived). But it’s still better than a cliffhanger.
So bottom line, we both preferred MIRROR MIRROR and JOHN CARTER to the big hit. Obviously we’re not the target demo for THG, but we’re not exactly prime targets for the other two, either. If you’re like us and go to the movies to be entertained, laugh a bit and enjoy yourselves, you have two out of three that will do the trick.
What did you think? What films would you like to see? Please let me know below.
P.S.: If you’d like to be entertained with some ORIGINAL ART, how about a commission? Just ask Craig here!