Movies: 'The Hunger Games,' 'Casa de mi Padre' & 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE HUNGER GAMES"
How well does this movie accomplish what it sets out to do? That's the primary question that propels my writing each review. In cinematically adapting the first of Suzanne Collins's young adult "Hunger Game" novels, the answer is superbly.
In a dystopian future, a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once North America, is divided into 12 districts. As annual penance for an anti-government uprising 74 years earlier, each district holds a "reaping" in which a teenage girl and boy are selected to participate as Tributes in a televised, high-tech sacrificial slaughter known as the Hunger Games in which only one competitor survives.
When her terrified younger sister is chosen, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) impulsively volunteers to take her place, representing impoverished, coal-mining District 12, presumably Appalachia, along with the baker's son, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
En route to the garish, candy-colored capital, they meet their mentor, drunken, dissolute Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former victor. After a brief indoctrination, grueling evaluation and sycophantic beauty pageant-like interviews, the pubescent gladiators are released into a wilderness compound, where the brutal carnage commences. Combatants connive and, occasionally, cluster into groups but scrappy Katniss, a skilled archer, is determined to outwit and outlast the others while maintaining her integrity and humanity.
Collaboratively created by Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and director Gary Ross ("Pleasantville," "Seabiscuit"), it's an intense cautionary tale and visceral fable about ideological rebellions against totalitarianism. It's also an acerbic indictment of our voyeuristic obsession with reality television, like "Survivor." What's also clear is that Panem's affluent citizens are desensitized to the Tributes' trauma and pain during the gruesome spectacle. But the obvious emotional undercurrents involving secondary characters aren't fully explored. Plus, it's bizarrely edited and too often photographed with a "shaky cam," like a docu-drama.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Hunger Games" devours a humongous 9. It's tension-filled action-adventure, delivering a pulse-pounding, pop culture message of female empowerment.
"CASA DE MI PADRE"
As an ultimate vanity project, Will Ferrell has taken a "Saturday Night Live" skit and fleshed it out into a full-length, desperately un-funny feature film -- in "Mexico Scope" Spanish.
After spending his entire life on his macho father's ranch in Mexico, ne'er-do-well Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) isn't terribly bright. But he suspects that something's amiss when his smarter, more successful, younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) shows up at the hacienda with his sultry fiancee, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and promises to settle all of the debts of their formidable father (the late Pedro Armendariz Jr.) As it turns out, Raul's international financial acumen has come with a price, as the respected Alvarez family finds itself at odds with the notoriously trigger-happy La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), Mexico's most feared drug baron, while Armando falls in love with Sonia, who has her own troubled history with La Onza.
Desperate to fill time, screenwriter Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont -- Ferrell's gringo friends from "SNL" and his "Funny or Die" comedy website -- throw in a cheesy, clunky, cliche-filled flashback about intended incest and accidental matricide, along with additional drug-dealing scenes, featuring Nick Offerman (TV's "Parks and Recreation") as a stereotypically bigoted DEA agent. Since La Onza means "snow leopard" in Spanish, mystical animal puppets also get screen time.
A low-budget, joint venture of Lionsgate and Grupo Televisia, Pantelion Films slyly presents itself Hollywood's first Latino studio. Ferrell speaks Spanish, albeit with doofy, exaggerated diction that's straight out of the textbooks -- and he sings too. Hammy acting prevails, including longtime, south-of-the-border compadres Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal. Peyote-fueled production values are intentionally amateurish and tacky, including the obvious use of miniatures, rear-projection of two riders on horseback, and an artsy reflection shot that deliberately includes the image of a crew member. And Christina Aguilera warbles the theme song.
In English with Spanish subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Casa de mi Padre" is a racist, repetitive, ridiculous 1 -- unless you're a devoted fan of Spanish telenovas.
"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN"
Lynne Ramsay's bleak psychological thriller revolves around the relationship between a guilt-riddled mother and her troubled son. Based on Lionel Shriver's best-selling novel of the same name, it explores nature vs. nurture with a different twist.
From the beginning, travel writer Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) suspects that something's wrong with her son Kevin. Screaming incessantly, he didn't react like most babies, or toddlers or other young children. His behavior was always alienating and aggressive. In contrast, her naïve husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) is heavily into denial, even when devious Kevin vandalizes the house and causes his younger sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) to lose the sight of one eye. So by the time psychopathic Kevin (Ezra Miller) reaches 15, he's become the archery-expert poster boy for wicked malevolence.
Told in a foreboding, non-linear fashion, the present-day, post-massacre sequences are consecutive, while the cross-cutting flashbacks seem more random, distinguished primarily by the length of Eva's hair. Scottish writer/director Lynne Ramsey has been acclaimed for her desolate, visually stylized, European-art house sensibility, as demonstrated in "Ratcatcher" and "Morvern Callar," as she makes repeated use of the color red, not only in the opening tomato-throwing festival sequence in Spain, but also in the paint that neighborhood vandals throw on Eva's house and the soup cans Eva hides behind in the grocery store. In addition, Ramsay makes the most of her suburban location shoot in Connecticut.
Obviously inspired by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, it adds little but a new growth to the problematic "Bad Seed" premise, suggesting that neither the parents nor society is to blame when a child is -- quite simply -- born evil. Along with the ironic fact that no one ever seems ready to discuss Kevin's problems, there's also no mention of whether Kevin was ever diagnosed as ADHD and given medication.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a ponderously sinister, savage 6. It's difficult to endure and primarily notable for Tilda Swinton's agonized performance.