The Hunger Games

[4.0 stars] The Hunger Games (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

Both Mrs. Salad and Pun Daughter have read the Hunger Games trilogy by Stephanie Collins, and I haven't. Pun Daughter even bought the DVD and (thanks, kid) lent it to us for an evening home viewing. A good time was had by all, with Mrs. Salad keeping up a running commentary:

"That's different from the book."

"They left a lot of stuff out that was in the book."

"I didn't see Haymitch like that when I read the book."

"Does this make you want to read the book?"

"Who's Lenny Kravitz?"

(That last one was in response to me saying: "Hey, Lenny Kravitz was in this?!" during the credits.)

Things are set in the dystopian country of "Panem", where a decadent upper class lives off the sweaty labor of twelve exploited "districts" in the hinterland. The districts are kept in line by the "Hunger Games": two youths from each are conscripted into a battle to the death. The competition is broadcast for the entertainment of the upper classes and the subjugation of the lower.

(I don't really get how that's supposed to work, by the way. Exactly how do you keep rebellion from breaking out by grabbing a bunch of kids and sending them off to their near-certain demise? That would not make me docile, it would royally piss me off. But maybe it's explained better in the books.)

Our heroine is from District 12, the plucky Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She's good with bow and arrow, but the odds are not in her favor.

The movie does a fantastic job of painting the ugly dystopian society, and making us root for Katniss. It's longish, at 142 minutes, and spends quite a bit of time setting up for the big competition. But once that kicks off, it's edge-of-your-seat for the remainder.

My favorite bit of trivia from IMDB:

The second movie in two years (after Winter's Bone) in which Jennifer Lawrence plays a character who feeds her destitute family and herself partly by catching and killing squirrels.

Beware typecasting, Ms. Lawrence! Before long, casting directors will be saying things like: "Yeah, this might be a good role for Jennifer Lawrence, except there's no squirrel-eating."


Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:58 PM EDT

Bernie

[3.5 stars] Bernie (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Img]

The plot revolves around a barely-fictionalized true murder, and yet it's a comedy. A dark comedy, true, but not as dark as you might think. Rated PG-13, for (as the MPAA puts it) "some violent images and brief strong language."

Jack Black plays Bernie, a funeral home worker who charms just about everyone in the small East Texas town of Carthage. He has deep roots in the community, and a beautiful hymn-singing voice that he deploys at church services, funeral services, and just while he's driving around town.

Bernie's usual practice is to console and support grieving family members of the recently deceased that pass under his care. But he develops a deeper-than-usual acquaintance with rich widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine!) after her husband's funeral. While Marjorie is poisonously hostile to nearly everyone else, she eventually takes a shine to Bernie. Over the years, he becomes her constant daily companion. But their relationship turns sour and, eventually, deadly.

The movie is shot in semi-documentary style, with frequent breaks for true-crime-style interviews with townsfolk and relations. (Some of the interviewees are actors, others are actual citizens of Carthage; I couldn't pick out which were which.)

It's fun, although you probably have to shut down the moral-judgment part of your brain for true enjoyment. I read up on the actual case at Wikipedia and (indeed) the movie leaves out or underplays a few sordid details that would have made it a lot less amusing. The real Bernie did get convicted of first-degree murder; the movie provides no insight into how that serious charge was justifiable, and implies it wasn't.

Matthew McConaughey has an unglamourous role as the crusading prosecuting attorney, Danny Buck. Unlike every other Matthew McConaughey role I've seen, his shirt stays on for the entire movie.


Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:59 PM EDT