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REVIEW: The Hunger Games
Thursday 29 March 2012, 01:07PM
142 minutes, Rating: 15+ Director: Gary Ross Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland. With the blockbuster book set to become the biggest film of the season, it is impossible not to feel like The Hunger Games has missed a real opportunity to make an influential movie. For fans that are already familiar with the material, the film is probably fine, or at least adequate. For newcomers, it is an unequivocal dumbing down of some genuinely interesting conceptual content; a film inexplicably designed to set up a new franchise rather than deliver serious commentary on the serious social themes that arise within the material. The basic story takes place in a dystopian future where ‘the Capitol’ rules over the country of Panem (in what used to be North America), and uses ‘The Hunger Games’ to suppress the surrounding districts. Each year, one girl and boy are randomly chosen from each of the 12 districts to participate in the Games – where the 24 “tribute” children fight to the death until only one remains. With one or two exceptions, the non-District 12 tributes (that is, everyone other than our heroine, Katniss Everdeen) are blank caricatures that leave next-to-no emotional impact as either victims or villains. Obviously, with 24 tributes, it would be hard to get to know everyone; however the experience could have benefited from more time spent with the others. On the technical side, the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. Quick, frantic cuts probably helped the film maintain a more family friendly rating, but as a result, the film is short on captivating battle choreography or epic one-on-one confrontations. The action scenes that exist are shot on hand-held shaky-cam, and can be almost nauseating to watch. Part of the problem arises from the direction of Gary Ross – the master of movies that settle over you like a warm blanket. Ross delivers a family-friendly version of the gladiatorial death match with all the sharp edges are smoothed off. You have to wonder what the film could have turned out like in the hands of a horror auteur such as Guillermo del Toro. The best adaptations take novels and add something more to them, but this installment feels like a reduction. Rather than the engrossing, world-building spirit that imbued the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films, The Hunger Games is little more than a by-the-book (and buy-the-book) adaptation. 2 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Moneyball
Friday 23 March 2012, 10:10AM
133 minutes Rating: 13+  Director: Bennett Miller Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman There are not many sport movies that inspire you to become an accountant. But then Moneyball is, quite frankly, a bit of an oddball when it comes to sport films. Most notably, for a film about baseball, there is surprisingly little baseball actually shown. And those parts that do feature in-game action are perhaps the most tedious and drawn-out of the film. Instead, the real joys of this movie come from the nuanced performances, stellar script and well-judged direction, which admittedly may not appeal to everyone.Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, who has an epiphany: that all of baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane has to outsmart the richer clubs with the help of impassioned numbers man Peter Brand (an uncharacteristically dramatic Jonah Hill). Director Bennett Miller, whose only major previous credit was 2005 film Capote, has a restrained but dead-on storytelling style that is an ideal counterpoint for a tale set in the volatile world of professional sports. Given what could have been fairly dry subject material, Moneyball relies heavily on Pitt’s ability to bring subtle humour to the real-life proceedings – and simultaneously, delivering believable emotional complexity in some especially tough scenes. The supporting bench definitely helps, with Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Manager Art Howe) and Brent Jennings (playing A’s coach, Ron Washington) offering some especially entertaining counter-points to Pitt’s more solemn portrayal. That said, with the exception of Beane, the story almost entirely pushes side characters out of the picture in the closing act, and the narrative becomes much more about Beane and how he “changed baseball” than about his team. It feels like it’s really building towards something, and then rapidly changes direction and rather abruptly ends. But if you take it for what it is, Moneyball is, at least in its attempts, ultimately an honest film that gives the audience unobstructed access to Beane’s quite remarkable journey, warts and all. Just don’t go in expecting a baseball movie. 4 stars – Dane Halpin