Friday, October 5, 2012

Death, sex, and an orange moustache: September capsule reviews

The Hunger Games
Through the muck of shaky-cam aesthetics and poorly rendered futuristic design, there is something I admire about The Hunger Games. Though not short, the film offers a compact rendering of Suzanne Collins’ massively popular novel about a ruthless game of survival among kids in a totalitarian world. The intermittently compelling arena sequences and Jennifer Lawrence’s serviceable lead performance keep the proceedings somewhat engaging, but Gary Ross’ spiritless direction does no favors to the mostly recycled Orwellian plot. Equally disappointing is how the filmmakers miss nearly every opportunity to draw a deeper connection amid the elements of violence, economic disparity, and societal unrest. Alas, The Hunger Games is emblematic of a growing trend that has beset many film adaptations of popular books: It strips away any the source material’s strengths and settles for numbing blandness so as not to offend anyone. (Gary Ross, 2012) **

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
It’s hard to say anything more about the wretchedness of The Lorax that A.O. Scott hasn’t already expressed in his appropriately outraged review. Unfortunately, this film is not the first to contort the work of Dr. Seuss into something wholly misrepresentative and tonally afoul of the beloved author’s work. And although it is not as actively repulsive as the Mike Myers live action The Cat in the Hat from several years ago, The Lorax has a more rotten core. It peddles a message of environmentalism but then undermines it at every turn with the same over-stimulating, mass-induced thoughtlessness it purports to be against. The worst gut punch comes when the Zac Efron-voiced lead character—after venturing outside of the plastic town of Thneedville for the first time—becomes visibly annoyed at having to sit through an old man’s story about the death of trees. Sadly, young audience members are probably thinking the same thing. After all, why try to engage and instruct with actual storytelling when a bounty of noise and colors get the job done much swifter? (Chris Renauld, Kyle Balda, 2012) *

American Reunion
After the mildly disappointing Scream 4 last year, the idea of resurrecting another popular '90s franchise seemed positively dour. And while American Reunion heads down the same road of awkward nostalgia in its early-going, it eventually settles into a nice rhythm. Part of the reason it works is that it takes a more somber approach to its own premise. It turns out that revisiting the glory days of high school can unearth some pretty deep-seated unhappiness about who we were and who we become. John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wisely avoid anything too serious in their conventional approach to the same brand uncomfortable situational comedy that marked previous entries franchise (to varying degrees of success). The film’s probing doesn’t venture beyond sex, which works just fine. There is nothing too memorable about American Reunion, nonetheless it’s a rare welcome visit with old friends. (John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, 2012) **½ 

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