Viv from Irvine, CA writes:
I have to say I was so excited for your Hunger Games review (as a big fan of the books myself) that I actually listened to it LIVE for the first time Sunday night! I’ve been really curious, I guess, as to what film geeks like myself might think of the film, particularly because I’ve been surrounded by other Hunger Games mega-fans (and went with a few to see the movie) and have, by now, the sound of high-pitched squeals burned into my brain. I really just wanted to see what non-fangirls/fanboys might have to say about the movie, thinking that perhaps they might be able to look at the film with a more discerning eye.
I myself have been a big fan of HG since I read the first two books in 2009. Like a lot of the other fans, I had to survive the excruciating wait for Mockingjay (the third and final book) only to be disappointed by the complete catastrophe that was that book (no really, it was horrible - and it’ll be split into two movies?); perhaps that’s why my love for it waned pretty quickly after that, but I still consider myself a fan and I was still swept up with all the hype leading up to the release (I wouldn’t say I was quite at the level of camping outside my theater for the midnight showing, but I did go opening day). That being said, while I enjoyed the film - definitely a little bit more than Dave did- I was incredibly underwhelmed by this offering.
I don’t really know where to start and I don’t really want to write a lengthy review…but I think my opinions can really be summed up with one statement: the Hunger Games movie rests on the laurels of its previous incarnation; that is to say, it almost entirely relies on the idea that the audience will have read the books and developed a connection with the material before watching the film. That’s not to say that people who haven’t read the books can’t enjoy it, but most of the scenes feel to me as though the emotional response of the audience (the emotional responses they’re trying to illicit from us) is dependent upon the audience already having had that emotional response while reading the scenes of the book beforehand.
I mean think about it. What is the Hunger Games movie really? Like you said in the review - it’s a bunch of scenes. It’s as if the screenwriters had a checklist of scenes that needed to be in the film, and just kind of checked them off as they filmed them and stitched them together. As a result, have lots of emotional ‘pay off’ with no build up to make it feel earned.
So for example, the Cinna/Katniss scene, right before Katniss is launched onto the battlefield. Was it amazing? Sure! Did it move me? Of course! But where the f**k did it come from? There was like no build up AT ALL for that relationship. They had one scene together and then you see Cinna kind of lounging around with Effie and Haymitch, and then suddenly he’s kissing her on the forehead in this really emotional moment. It only makes sense to me because I’ve read the books, which actually built up that relationship. I’ve followed their relationship, I’ve been there as it slowly developed, and I know how it ends. THAT’S why that scene matters to me and that’s why it illicited an emotional response but…in the context of the actual film, it’s not earned at all. The film is depending on the fact that the audience will already have established an affective bond towards that relationship.
Another example would be the (SPOILERS - well not for you :P ) Rue Death Scene. I have to agree with you Dave that it was actually hard to feel anything for her dying. Well, okay, yes it’s always sad when an itty bitty girl dies horribly on screen and I would argue that only someone firmly without a soul (Dave!) would not be moved on that very basic level (perhaps, though, if Rue had been a majestic horse, galloping freely through the countryside, you might have found it within yourself to shed a tear at her horrific death :P). But beyond that, Katniss’s grief, the emotional tone of the aftermath, and the swell of music - none of it was really earned at all, because we barely got to see that develop in the movie. The film, perhaps, is at a disadvantage, because the books are told in First Person Present tense, which means we literally are in Katniss’s head and are privy to each thought she has as she has them. So we understand what Rue means to Katniss, we see Prim in Rue because SHE sees Prim in Rue. But in the films, there’s very little in the way of a connection established between the two. And while Jennifer Lawrence can emote her ass off, without the moment being earned it feels little more than melodramatic emotional manipulation.
I would say on the topic of the Rue scene though Dave, the fact that they showed the reaction of District 11 was a really great move. For me, Rue’s death in the books was all about Katniss. However, what The Hunger Games makes explicit (in a way that Battle Royale doesn’t) is that the death of the children isn’t just sad in and of itself - it’s also a loss for their communities. It’s designed to be a reminder to those communities that they are utterly disposable - their children can be slaughtered with impunity by those in power - and there isn’t anything they can do about it. So seeing the reaction of Rue’s father was incredibly important in that regard. What happens when you watch your child die and are told to accept that his/her and your life ultimately means nothing? It was a smart move opening up the scope for a little bit of that perspective to come in (ie: it’s not all about Katniss and her ~pain). That was more emotional for me than watching Katniss freak out.
I could go on. Ultimately, though, the film was underwhelming. I am still looking forward to how they pull together the next three movies (as a fan of the books), but I definitely think people have been giving it way too much credit, so I was really happy to hear some voices of dissent in the podcast. I think that this is generally a problem that we’re seeing with book-to-film adaptations, particularly for popular books like THG and HP. Fans are happy so long as they see the book come to life, and lots of fans demand a literal translation - so if you try to create a film that works in and of itself (and sacrifices certain characters/scenes to do so) the fans go nuts. That’s why lots of diehard Harry Potter fans hated the third film, for example.
Oh, and by the way, I can’t remember if you guys really talked about the sets and design, but don’t you think it was totally mediocre? I mean District 12 is supposed to be a place where people are starving and suffering and they all literally look as if they’ve been time warped to the 1930s (which makes the flashbacks with Peeta giving Katniss a loaf of bread completely incomprehensible, or I’d assume for some people who haven’t read the books - I mean the point is that she was starving and desperately needed food, and Peeta gave her burnt bread from his bakery. And yet, in none of the District 12 scenes do you get an impression that they really are suffering the way that it’s maybe hinted at in some exposition). The Capitol as well as super underwhelming, and I remember cringing during the scene we see President Snow at the Olympic-style Opening Ceremonies for the Games, just because the setting just looked…I dunno, cheap? Everything looked super cheap. Obviously they’ve got more money to work with for the next few movies so I hope they beef it up, because it really did feel like a shitty tv-movie sometimes.
This email relates to a review you guys did a while back (After Dark - Ep. 72), but having listened to it the other day I felt I really had to email. This is a bit of a blast from the past, but I hope you’ll indulge me with this discussion as it pertains to a movie the /Filmcast spent quite some time discussing. Last week I finally got round to catching LAW ABIDING CITIZEN.
Above and beyond my thoughts on the film (which, for full disclosure, I actually agree with you for the most part) there was one part of the review which baffled me. Apparently neither yourself, Devindra, Adam or Katey from Cinema Blend could ascertain any possible reason as to why the sequence in the movie which intercuts between the cello performance and the lethal injection was done in this way. Perhaps it takes a non-American to point this out, but I interpreted this sequence as a commentary on capitol punishment - an audience gathers to watch a man die in the same way as it does for a school music recital. How macabre is it to have people gather round to see a human life extinguished? The applause (from the cello recital) which concludes this sequence really hammers the point home. At the heart of this sequence is one of the central themes of the movie - is this justice?
In terms of pure film-making this is arguably the most successful sequence in the entire movie. It’s all the more bewildering that none of you chose to comment on this as it was so blatant; not subtle by any stretch of the imagination. (I don’t think the term “subtlety” can be associated in any way with this movie.)
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
This is a pretty good analysis, but two points:
1) The reason I didn’t make that connection is that the two events are so clearly different in nature (even in the context of the film): One is a public performance, the other one is a private gathering where only a select few are allowed to witness.
2) Even if your analysis is correct, how do you think that furthers the themes of the film, if it can be said to have any?
Thanks for your reply. I would venture that the fact the two events are “different in nature” is exactly the reason why they are intercut in the manner referred to above - the emphasis is placed on two “audiences” gathering to watch an event. The applause at the conclusion of the cello recital/execution is humour at its blackest - when the death penalty is carried out and we don’t actively attempt to stop it, aren’t we all applauding in acquiescence?
I think any detailed analysis or search for themes within LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is going to prove somewhat futile, but I believe at it’s core (perhaps before thirty or forty rewrites) the script is about the nature of justice - how far is too far? When do the ends stop justifying the means?
All the best,
(Spoilers for Take shelter)
OMG, please tell me I didn’t just listen to 3 guys talk about Take Shelter for for an hour and a half and completely miss the whole point INCLUDING THE VERY LAST WORDS OF THE MOVIE! It’s the RAIN, dummies! The frickin’ motor oil RAIN that turns you into a murdering zombie if it touches you. You guys seriously need to watch that movie again. The rain makes the dog attack him, the rainmakes the zombie-like people attack him, and Samantha is shown dripping in the stuff right before she’s about to attack him in one of his visions. The apocalypse is the rain, the storm just brings it.
And how the HELL can you guys talk about the ending and ignore Samantha gazing transfixed at the storm and then nodding and saying “Okay”. The very last words of the movie are her accepting the storm’s commandment (and probably God’s commandment) to murder her husband.
But that loud wooshing you’re hearing is NOT the storm. Nope, that’s the sound of the whole point of the movie going over slashfilmcast’s collective heads.
Dan from New Jersey writes:
I was listening to your recent episode of the slashfilmcast and discovered your total loss of hope for this next generation. I usually find myself getting frustrated with my generation and its lack of caring about the future and knowledge. But, after listening to your show I found myself wanting to take the stance of supporting my generation. The podcast ended and I brainstormed ideas about how something like after school is covering the soon to be cubicle workers or how the best of us are not being captured because the worst of us is over shadowing it. I wanted to somehow get my message across, that I, like you dislike my generation but I do acknowledge that there still is hope.
But sometime between listening to your podcast and writing my essay I decided to do a little research I have spent the last hour looking at videos of Skrillex, Deadmau5, Jersey Shore and The Kardashians. You know, the stuff that my generation lives off of. And my conclusion….. We’re Fucked…
On your blog, it says you may discuss Certified Copy on the podcast. If so, I hope you include spoiler talk because I’d like to contribute to that conversation.
SPOILER - SPOILER - SPOILER for Certified Copy
When I see all the “theories” about this movie, it baffles me that people are treating this well-made relationship drama like it’s LOST or something.
It is, to me, clearly a film about a married couple who go on a pretend first date, but their existing issues take over the narrative and ruin it. The place they go on their date is also where they were married and had their honeymoon, but the “copy” of their happy honeymoon phase turns out not to be as good as the original. They can’t go home again, as it were.
You see many times how perfect the Woman wants the date to be, as she hopes it will fix some of their problems, and how annoyed she is when people deviate from the plan in her head. She is annoyed with her son at the beginning who teases her about the date and “why won’t you tell him your last name?” because the son believes the pretend first date to be a silly thing to do, and is only just barely playing along. She is annoyed a second time when the Man takes her sister’s side during the car ride, which is probably something she’s vented to him about many times through their relationship. She is annoyed once more when he asks her about having been to this location before, or whether she was married there, because he is too close to the truth, and not acting as a “stranger” well enough. And finally, when he gives an opinion about being happy to live a separate life from his family, that is way too close to how she really thinks he sees their family relationship (with his too-frequent travelling) and she is unable to continue the game. From then on, the game is off, and they simply argue.
Every time I read a new “theory” about this movie, I reflect upon it again, but I can’t see how any interpretation other than this one can seriously be argued.
It’s not a terribly complicated idea, really. It’s the kind of thing couples do on sitcoms all the time, like Modern Family, for example.
It’s a very good movie, but, once you see what’s going on, and how the Man’s book about copies vs. originals is a metaphor for their attempt to relive the happiest days of their early relationship, it is not all that complicated.
I listened to your Tinker Tailor discussion back in December but wasn’t able to catch up with the film until it (finally!) opened in my town last weekend.
Interestingly perhaps, this film - and your various reactions to it - remind me a lot of Never Let Me Go; your complaints (Adam’s and Dave’s) about both films and the films themselves strike me as being incredibly similar, and hey, guess what? Here I am again to side with Devindra in a defense of Tinker Tailor, just as I defended Never Let Me Go, a while back, a defense you were kind enough to read on the podcast. :)
They are very different films, of course; among other things, one has a very dense sort of plot and the other is relatively straightforward in its plot points - but there are distinct similarities: they are both British with British sensibilities, they are both quite slow films (Adam used the word “sluggish” to describe Tinker Tailor), they both have central characters who are difficult to read (Cathy and Smiley) and who might be characterized as unfeeling, and perhaps, most importantly, both films deal in anti-climax, something Adam and Dave, very much dislike in both films.
But like Never Let Me Go, Tinker Tailor is purposeful in that anti-climax (as both Matt Singer and Devindra argued), an anti-climax that is necessary to the film if the film is to be successful in saying what it wants to say. Dave, you argued the the film is “purposefully esoteric,” something that’s “irritating if there’s no good pay-off” and you said you’d be ok with the “uncompromising demands” (as Devindra so nicely described them) the film puts on the audience if “the ending gave you more.”
But I think the refusal to accept the anti-climax is like a refusal to accept the film on its own terms, a refusal to see what it’s trying (I think wonderfully successfully) to say in the way it needs to say it. (Just like Never Let Me Go.)
As Matt noted, the ending is “supposed to feel anti-climactic because that’s what the movie is saying about being a spy” - essentially that there is no reward or catharsis in a successful mission, that the world they’ve so carefully constructed is a hollow one, despite the paranoia of it, despite the labyrinthine relationships because that’s exactly what the spying life is: hollow and unfulfilling. Do you think the film could have said that about spying if it gave us a big pay-off?
Another point about the film’s dense plot: you all agreed that it tried to fit too much story into the film, that the film failed because it needed to be longer, a TV series perhaps. I believe that, combined with the “sluggish”ness, the difficult denseness of the plot, like the anti-climax, is, rather than being a failure, is intentional and beautifully tied to the idea that the film is about; the film is not primarily about the journey of uncovering of a mole - it’s not supposed to be what we expect from Hollywood, a thrilling adventure with clear villains and heroes. Finding a mole isn’t glamorous at all, it’s not exciting - it’s difficult, complex, and soul-destroying. It involves a lot of paperwork.
Dave and Adam, you guys also complained about the fact that we never really got to know the characters, that we couldn’t really care about them by the end (and thus get a character kind of pay-off, too). I would argue that that element, that hidden-ness of the characters is also deliberate; so immersed are they in the soulless world of spying, they have become (or are becoming or must become), themselves, as hollow and passionless as their job demands - only so many chess-pieces on a board. You all noted that you could connect with Hardy’s character, that he was the only one who showed some emotion, and you indicated in your discussion that you wished the other characters would have had more to emotionally connect to, like Hardy’s. But the difference between Hardy’s character and the others makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? He is not one of those at the very top, one of those making the soulless decisions to end lives for the sake of information; he escapes that hollowness because, quite simply, he’s not the very best spy there is. He’s only on the fringes, and he thus escapes the emotional decay the others experience.
The film does give us, however, hints of the humanity that is being suppressed in even the very best spies, and I think therein lies the tragedy and the beautifully constructed darkness of the film. Devindra noted these hints of humanity - if you are looking for them, you will see them. We get the scene in which Cumberbatch’s character must make a huge personal sacrifice - it’s a purposefully small and understated scene, no high-flying emotions and explosions, only a glimpse of Cumberbatch, sitting alone in his dark flat, weeping. It tells us so much, doesn’t it? And Smiley (one who’s been longer at the business than Cumberbatch, one who wouldn’t sit weeping, not even alone, we feel) - Smiley’s face and body work to be as emotionless as possible, and it’s less a matter of seeing the emotion itself than seeing the suppression of it. Did you see, for example, close to the end, the slight tremble of Smiley’s hand as he was walking into his home and he saw who was sitting in a chair there? The tremble betrays everything - he has been hollowed out, but vestiges of soul remain.
And if we saw more soul, more emotion from Smiley than that, could the film accomplish what it wants to say about what Smiley’s life has been, about the effects of the intelligence institution?
I honestly don’t think so, and so, if we take the film on its terms, we have to say it is, in fact, successful, wedding theme to character and story. You all say the acting and cinematography is brilliant, and if you might also admit it is successful in giving us characters who are consistent with the ideas and story it wants to convey, can you still say, Dave, that the film is “dangerously close to being a disaster”?
You don’t have to like it, Adam and Dave - it is, indeed, a dreary film that is meant to be dreary, but I think if you are willing to engage with the ideas at its heart, you will at least appreciate it more than you indicated you do in your discussion of it. I, myself, find the ideas fascinating and truthful, and I think the film, in spite of its deeply British character, offers us something to think about in terms of our own failing institutions, in terms of our own government, even. I wouldn’t want to take the parallel too far, but it strikes me that the films this year have something in them that betrays our collective unease (think of Margin Call, Melancholia, Take Shelter, The Ides of March, Contagion, even something like Martha Marcy May Marlene or Planet of the Apes) - lots of films that demonstrate a dissatisfaction of the ideas and institutions we’ve taken for granted. Tinker Tailor does that, too.
I’d love you to take a look at my write-up of Tinker Tailor here: http://ajournaloffilm.blogspot.com/2012/01/men-and-bits-of-paper-tinker-tailor.html and see if that might convince you, if my email hasn’t done so, to consider whether there’s more to the film than a unsatisfying and faulty adaptation that “fails horribly.” (I’ve not seen the mini-series or read the book, by the way, so I wasn’t operating from a position of prior knowledge when coming to the film.) Adam said that “Alfredson made exactly the movie he was trying to make”: I agree. And that movie is brilliant.
All the best to you guys - I listen every week to your podcast as well as to the Tobolowsky Files (so glad, Dave, that the Seattle show was such a success! I was dearly hoping to get to it, but couldn’t).
Melissa in Bellingham, WA
Dave, Devindra, and Adam:
I just finished listening to your review of Hugo and the analysis of the last shot of the movie. Both Adam and Eric D. Snider felt like the final shot of the automaton is designed to play with the audience’s expectations, making the audience believe the automaton is going to come to life and when it doesn’t, it reinforces the reality of the story. While I think that is part of it, I believe there is more happening here.
If you look at the two movies Scorsese has directed previously, Shutter Island and The Departed, he chose to end those films on one final shot of a symbol. In The Departed is was a rat, and in Shutter Island it was the island lighthouse. I believe the same thing is happening here with the final shot of the automaton. As you discussed in your review, Hugo celebrates the past while looking to the future and I believe the automaton is the perfect symbol of this. Robots are something that have always been thought of as futuristic. The automaton is a robot, and it is an old one that uses old technologies to run. Yet, those technologies are very intricate and advanced and able to accomplish tasks that would be impressive for the robots being constructed today. It is in that way that if feels both old and futuristic at the same time, and for that reason it feels like a really pertinent symbol of the themes and ideas of the film as a whole.
Additionally, while coincidence is a major force in bringing everyone in the story together, that coincidence all centers around the automaton. It is the joining point for all the characters so it feels appropriate to end on it.
As one final note, the automaton provides a sort of book end to the film which begins with a shot of gears moving that morphs into the Arc de Triomphe.
Just wanted to share my thoughts. Keep up the amazing work you do.
Thanks for your time,
I just subscribed to the /Filmcast for 2 bucks a month, and I’d meant to do it a lot sooner. When I had a horrible job reading mind numbing engineering report after report you guys really made a huge difference. I looked forward to Wednesdays just because that’s when I could download your podcast. It really helped me to get through each week. It may sound silly but in a big office it can feel like there is no intelligent discourse left, and listening to you guys always restored my faith in the world at large. When everything is miserable the littlest things make a big difference, and your podcast was far from a little thing for me. The only negative was that I could never jump into your discussion to argue or agree. Luckily, now I have a better job but I still listen faithfully.
Thanks so much for continuing to do what you do.
I wanted to write in about Breaking Dawn, which I know you don’t care about and nor should I. However I saw it this weekend, mainly out of morbid curiosity, because I’d heard some rough plot details about what happens in the movie and it sounded like there would be some insane spectacles to see.
Even with my low expectations, Breaking Dawn was a huge disappointment because they didn’t show any of the insane plot points I’d heard about! <spoilers ahead>… If you make a movie where a girl gets F’d unconscious by her new husband, gets demon pregnant and requires a fang Caesarean operation… give the people what they want, actually show some of those insane or gory moments rather than a discretion shot or skipping the scene altogether. People know what happens in those scenes so being delicate about it seems like the most boring choice.
I know Breaking Dawn isn’t really a movie, so I shouldn’t care, but I’m really curious why they chose that tactic and whether you guys saw the movie.
Thanks, love the show… keep it up. :)
Amy from Vancouver
Dear Dave, Adam and Devindra,
I just listened to the /Filmcast After Dark featuring Armond White and I really enjoyed it. There were some things though with which I don’t necessarily have an issue, but about which I wish I had more clarity.
I liked how Adam challenged Armond about his comments on “Toy Story 3” when Armond said that most people were just bowing at the altar of Pixar and Adam asked about the reaction to “Cars 2” and then there was this incredibly deafening silence.
I also liked how Armond said that most critics know or at least most critics should know that works of art are generally not appreciated in their time and that art history teaches us that big hits fade, while least appreciated works usually stand as the best. Yes, that is generally true, but I didn’t think that the argument was whether or not “Toy Story 3” will stand the test of time as art to be appreciated forever. I thought the argument was whether or not it was a good piece of entertainment and craft-work that will connect emotionally with its viewers.
"Toy Story 3" didn’t play in limited release in art-house theaters only. It played on a massive wide release with the intention of being a piece of entertainment for families. I don’t think it was made with the intention of winning an Oscar and being considered great art for all time. If people want to think that way, I wouldn’t argue, but what Armond failed to mention is that art is also subjective. Art is not science. It can’t be measured and all together intellectualized or sometimes even reasoned. Art is mostly emotion and visceral. It’s about what people feel, not necessarily what they think, although thinking is important.
I understand Armond’s point about cultural heritage and cultural legacy. He builds almost every argument on comparing something with something else that came before it. It makes me curious as to what he would have said about “Toy Story 3,” if, for example, “Robots” and “Small Soldiers” didn’t exist. What if these two previous films hadn’t been made? Is his opinion of something always conditional on something else? Can nothing be judged or understood on its own and by its own terms and merits? Is Armond’s reviews nothing more than a series of similes, strung one after the other? Are some films only good because they came out first? If “Robots” had come out after “Toy Story 3,” what would his opinion of it be?
I know that there is a lot more when it comes to film criticism. One must know about film theory, film language, etc. You should know about various camera angles, film stock, lighting, editing techniques, mise en scene, acting techniques, sound and music techniques and etc. Some reviewers or critics or even “Gentlemen amateurs” don’t consider these things and that’s a problem, but I don’t know that I agree with what he said that “you cannot democratize expertise” and that not everybody can do it.
If his point is that film criticism should have standards, then I agree. Yes, it should have standards, but, what are those standards? Is one of the standards having a Master’s degree like Armond has because if so then I suppose someone say like Alfred Hitchcock could never be a film critic. He hasn’t a film degree. He never went to film school, so what could he possibly know about films? Armond said that he “studied” film, but so what? So do a lot of people, just not necessarily in the same way! Quentin Tarantino “studied” film as well. Was it at Columbia University? No. Was it at any university? No. It didn’t stop him from getting two Oscar nominations in directing. Same for Steven Soderbergh! How did they do it? For Tarantino, all he did was watch movies. To study films, nowadays, all you need is a NetFlix account. That alone doesn’t qualify you to be a film critic, but I just don’t agree with his democratization of expertise when it comes to film criticism or film-making for that matter.
No, I wouldn’t want someone who watches “ER” to think they can come in and be a doctor, but again understanding or even making movies nowadays doesn’t require that kind of scientific know-how. I don’t mean to demean films as an art. Nor do It mean to attack Armond. I actually enjoy his spirit and discussions, and I’m all for smarter conversations, or even more technical ones when it comes to films, but ultimately it seems, when it comes to film criticism, Armond wants to narrow the field not expand.
One question I would have loved to ask Armond and one which I suppose I can pose to you, Dave, Adam and Devindra, is whether or not an actual discussion about a film where you were talking with someone who disagreed with your opinion changed that opinion. In other words, in the course of a film discussion did someone change your mind about a film that at one point that you had a firm opinion about? I would be thoroughly surprised if that ever happened to Armond White, but who knows? He just seems like the kind of person that once he’s made an opinion about something, nothing will ever change it, even overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
-Marlon from MD