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Having no insight into the financial reasons behind studios deciding what pictures to make and when, it is from a place of pure conjecture that I posit that X-Men: Days of Future Past was greenlit as a last ditch effort to save a once-beloved and now decently performing property.  Though I believe X-Men: First Class and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Wolverine were financial successes, they also didn’t quite make the splash desired.  If the re-boot/pre-boot/door-to-a-new trilogy didn’t work, then abandon those plans and just fold it into the “classic” line-up and everyone will be pleased.  The cinematic X-Men­ world isn’t as planned or cohesive as its Marvel Studios cousin, but given the number of characters involved it certainly could be something equivalent.  DOFP is an interesting creature because of this, and the fact that it’s not an overwhelming mess is praiseworthy.  Unfortunately it’s got the strange feeling of too-little-too-late, and it’s greatest virtues are it’s pleasurable but pointless fan service.  It sometimes comes across as a belated victory lap to the franchise that started the most profitable trend in Hollywood of the new century. Read the rest of this entry »

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As surprise box office juggernauts go, you can do a lot worse than The Hunger Games franchise.  Though the first film was flimsy and mostly tacky, there was at least an interesting concept – brutal state repression to protect the wealthiest individuals and the moral backflips one has to do when forced to kill others, and the grotesquerie of Reality Television bloodsport.  None of this is particularly new, and as I wrote in my review of the first entry, it’s too hard to ignore the similarities to Battle Royale, a film which is in every far superior.  Still, a popular film about income inequality that is intent on sowing the seeds of revolution is timely and, for someone with my politics, nothing to be sniffed at.  That said, even though the broad strokes are good, there’s a trouble with the sequel Catching Fire, and though this may just be a symptom of “the middle book” syndrome, it’s hard to get too excited because of it.  Despite Jennifer Lawrence being more than capable in the role, and the fact that this film is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way, the biggest sore spot is Katniss Everdeen herself.   Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunger Games

March 29, 2012

The difficulty in approaching any film, especially one based on a popular book, is that of knowing and understanding history and where it might fit in.  It’s almost impossible to watch John Carter and not think of all the similar elements it shares with a host of popular movies from the 20th century, and yet it was published far before those works and is clearly an influence on a number of them.  It is probably best to disregard the notion of ‘authenticity’ as being crucial to enjoyment when possible – though that gets tricky when you think of the number of films and TV shows that function almost entirely on the audience’s preconceived notions of a particular genre (think of everything Joss Whedon has done).  In a perfect world, pure originality shouldn’t matter.  After all, it’s the specific approach to an idea that pays dividends, or else you’re left with nothing but an idea.  In that spirit of generous critiquing, I can’t blame Suzanne Collins for writing a hugely popular book and then having it adapted into a successful film even though Battle Royale has existed for over a decade now.  That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, though. Read the rest of this entry »

The Beaver

August 30, 2011

Issue Films tend to be the most problematic projects that Hollywood produces on a regular basis.  There is a tendency to treat serious subjects in a po-faced, serious way that is often reductive and, more often than not, insulting.  The most obvious recent example is the Best Picture winning, critically loathed Crash, which treats race in America in such an insulting, ham-fisted way that only a self-congratulatory cabal of morons could pat themselves on the back for being so damn sensitive.  There’s also the issue of Hollywood having to be Hollywood.  A serious subject can give weight to a film that doesn’t deserve it, because the audience will be guilted into thinking it is something they are supposed to like, but it can’t be too alienating that it just flat out depresses people.  So you get a po-faced representation of a real problem, but you must distract the messiness because it’s still a movie and people don’t want to leave thinking there are Real Problems that are too complicated to be easily dealt with.  This all means awkwardly shoehorning the serious subject into a classical, comforting formula, often leading to a series of offensively dull clichés peppering a structure too rigid to allow a serious exploration of whatever serious subject they want to explore/exploit.  Jode Foster’s The Beaver falls into an awful lot of these traps.  In fact, it falls into so many I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating it.  Read the rest of this entry »