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.
(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.
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.
Dave, Devindra, and Adam:
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.
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