Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Reviews: Battleship, The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady

Battleship:So far, this is the only Hasbro property originally licensed to Universal that has seen the light of day. It cost $250 million to make. Was it worth it?

Battleship is like a bowl full of vanilla ice cream when you're wanting dinner. I can only imagine the director giving his instructions: "Walk here!" "Swim here" "Jump here!" "Say this line!" It doesn't much matter who the actors are or what they do, so long as they do it passably, which they do. Not one of them has a personality of any consequence.

All that seems to matter is the Armageddon love setup and the mcguffin plot around which to hang lots of CGI transformer space ships, cybermen, guns, missiles, explosions, hokey technical jargon shouting, and beams of light. It's all put together ok, I suppose. In fact, the movie depicts the aliens as never firing until they are fired upon; they are always assessing threats and not instigating violence unless a threat is detected and immanent. Despite the opportunity to give the movie a moral edge based on this (like in District 9 or Super8), no such edge is given. Instead we get to blow up the aliens, yay us.

The little elements of the board game - the grid firing and the peg shaped artillery - are kind of funny, but not as funny as the constant and forumlaic deux ex machina.

So it's not a colossal disaster, but neither is it a shining success. It is what it is. E5.

The Hunger Games:In contrast, this is a shining success of a movie, undoubtedly the best adaptation of the books that could have been hoped for. It's the story of a girl who volunteers in place of her sister to fight in a game to the death with other children as spectator sport for the ruling Capitol oppressors.

The book series is an odd one: the first book The Hunger Games is an oddly set up thrilling adventure: the games are depicted as horrible enslavement, yet the great majority of the book revels in the adventure of the games. True, it also covers senselessness, starvation, hopelessness, sacrifice, and so on. But it doesn't give any sense of rebellion or real world change until the very end. Only in the second and third book does the rebellion start, and even a lot of the second book spends an awful lot of time in the thrall of a game. By the third book, the rebellion, casualties, cruelty, and loss pile up so high I was in shock. I couldn't believe anyone would write a story like it for entertainment; I think that's part of its brilliance.

Meanwhile, the movie stays fairly close to the book, but also includes very briefly a little bit of the world reactions, politics, and rebellion that is beginning outside of the game that forms the center story (these elements are taken from the second book). Interestingly, Roger Ebert complained about the lack of rebellion and politics in the movie, which is ironic since the movie actually has slightly more than the book does.

The movie is fantastically acted and directed, beautifully sequenced and shot, and thrilling entertainment. The little bits of rebellion and politics are very important additions and expand the scope of the movie just enough to bait you for the sequels.

The Iron Lady: This is a Meryl Streep set piece, and she is brilliant, as usual. The movie, however, is rather odd. It focuses on  Margaret Thatcher looking back at parts of her life, which is all well and good, but it spends nearly half of the screen time in the present for no apparent reason other than to watch Meryl act old. The historical parts are much more worth the screen time and they suffer for being the lack of focus. Instead we get only bits and pieces of the historical story, which feels like only part of a movie.

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