Monthly Archives: April 2012

God Bless America Movie Review

[God Bless America
Written & Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr
MPAA: R – For Strong Violence and Language, Including Some Sexual Sequences]

Remember when I said in my Hunger Games review that the dystopian sci-fi film was an incredibly important genre because of how it can critique society in bold ways? Well, the only other genre that I can think of that is even more important would have to be the satire. Satires, much like dystopian fantasy and sci-fi, are able to give strong statements about society and the culture we live in in direct and insightful ways. Sometimes, much like dystopian films, they can even predict the future, 1984 style. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, for example, accurately seemed to predict where the state of mass media journalism would be heading; and with tabloids and gossip magazines lining up the racks in supermarkets, it’s arguably more relevant today than it was more than 60 years ago.

One of my favorite satires is Peter Berg’s The Truman Show, which–much like Ace in the Hole–seemed to accurately depict a society fixated by reality television in an age where reality television wasn’t even that big of a thing. I rewatched it months ago as part of a school project, and it left me thinking: Now that reality television is a huge thing thing…why hasn’t anyone really done a satire of it and updated the material for modern times?

Well, I got more than I asked for. I’ll tell you that.

God Bless America isn’t just a satire on how reality television can damage a society; it’s a brazing middle finger to absolutely everything that is wrong with pop culture today. Not just reality television; but right-wing fear mongerers, religious nut-cases in the vein of the Westboro Baptist Church, spoiled teenagers and their equally terrible parents, people who talk at the movie theater, and more are all given a bullet in the face by two gun-crazy partners in crime that have had it with the rotten state of American pop culture and wish to teach every idiot that still breathes a lesson.

Now I dunno about you, but the second I heard this premise, I started getting giddy with anticipation. A dark satire that basically takes everything that is wrong with our culture and gives them the beatdown they deserve? And it’s being directed by the same man that gave us the masterful dark comedy World’s Greatest Dad? Holy shit, this is a movie that we need! This could finally be this generation’s Truman Show or Fight Club! I mean, the only way this could go wrong would be if it somehow got incredibly preachy and repetitive and ran out of original ideas within its first half hour and it becomes the very thing that it’s trying to parody as it desperately attempts to pander to its demographic of similarly-minded people so hard that you can almost hear Goldthwait behind the camera straining with the effort to fully realize his masturbatory wish-fulfillment…oh, god damnit.

Here’s a basic rundown of the premise: Frank (Joel Murray) is a lonely schlub who is divorced, trapped in a white-collar nightmare job with the douchiest co-workers, and possibly terminally ill. When he discovers that he has a brain tumor, he decides to off himself with a bullet in the mouth. But then…something happens. As he’s ready to pull the trigger and end his sad life, he starts viewing what’s basically the movie’s own version of MTV’s Sweet 16, depicting a spoiled white rich girl whining to her parents that she didn’t get the Escalade that she oh-so desperately wanted for her birthday. It is at that moment that Frank realizes that he isn’t the one that deserves to die: It’s all those assholes who do. So he decides to go on a killing spree across America along with a psychotic, young teenage sidekick Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) to get rid of all the reality stars, Tea-Party protesters, Westboro Baptist Church members, and right-wing fear mongerers of the world.

This material is absolutely ripe for a dark satire. All it needs now is good execution.

Here’s the sad dilemma I’m having with this film: I agree with so many of the points that God Bless America is trying to make. It is filled with a few individual scenes that absolutely, positively work. These scenes have authenticity and truth and they bring up a lot of great criticisms about the state of American culture. That being said, God Bless America is currently my contender for the worst movie of 2012 thus far. Because the other 97% of the film is just preachy, pandering bullshit with no arc or development and absolutely zero actual insight into the very subjects its skewering.

It essentially reminded me of the James Gunn film Super, which has a somewhat similar premise, except if you replaced the crazy gun man with a crazy man who thinks he’s a superhero and pop culture with crime. Super was a film I had a lot of problems with, but I will give it this much: It at the very least new just how absolutely batshit its main characters were and painted them in the appropriate light. The two main characters of God Bless America on the other hand, are painted as full-on protagonists. They aren’t even antiheroes. Because of this, the film lacks the bite that a dark comedy such as this needs. Because the filmmakers fully expect you to be cheering for everything Frank and Roxy do, the film ultimately never explores the fact that what they’re doing is actually pretty fucked up, even if their intentions are good.

It’s weird, because Bobcat Goldthwait has proven in World’s Greatest Dad that he can create incredibly dark comedy with absolutely terrible characters that you can sympathize with at certain moments. In World’s Greatest Dad, Goldthwait was fully aware of just how screwed up Robin Williams’s character’s actions were, and brought some insight into how those actions can lead a man further down a rabbit hole of lies. This leads to another problem with God Bless America: There is no insight because there is no arc.

The movie opens with Frank going off on a monologue about how rude and inconsiderate his next door neighbors are, and proceeds to imagine a fantasy scenario that is honestly incredibly shocking, a little funny in a skewed sense, but still kind of repulsive all at once. After this he goes to work, having to deal with his douchey co-workers who think he’s a Godless-liberal for not liking the same stuff or agreeing with the same politics as them. It is here that he goes off on a very well-written and acted speech about how our civilization has become completely uncivilized.

Now this is a scene that rings true. Is it preachy? Yes. Is it correct? Absolutely. This is a great jumping-off point for the movie to begin its arc. We get Frank is mad, we understand why he’s mad, we agree that what he’s mad about deserves to be gotten rid of; now all the movie has to do is develop him, give him nuance, insight on how a man could…oh wait, never mind. Instead the movie is just going to throw around more and more speeches about everything that sucks about American culture and do absolutely nothing else.

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The result is a repetitious film that is essentially just a segment of “Grinds My Gears” stretched ad nauseum. There is absolutely no sense of flow or pacing or development as Frank and Roxy go on their rampage across America to off the next douchebag in their sights. The whole film is essentially just Bobcat Goldthwait directly telling the audience all the things that piss him off and how much you should be pissed off by these things too. Frank goes on with speech after speech after speech after speech after speech, but he doesn’t learn anything or grow as a character. And the same goes for his sidekick Roxy…

Speaking of which, remember when I reviewed Super on the podcast and discussed how Ellen Page’s character felt unrealistically psychotic, and how it came out of nowhere and really went over-the-top? I take it back. I take it all back. Because Tara Lynne Barr’s depiction of Roxy makes Ellen Page in Super seem civil by comparison. Her character makes absolutely no sense, has no purpose of even being in the movie, and just completely takes you out of the experience. Her sole purpose is just to give Frank someone to talk to just so he can go off on YET ANOTHER GOD DAMN SPEECH. You know the show-don’t-tell rule? This is the absolute nadir of breaking that rule.

If there’s one thing that works about the movie, it’s the performances. Joel Murray does the best that he can do with the weak, preachy script; and there are even some moments where you feel a ton of sympathy for him, especially in the scene near the beginning where he ponders suicide. Tara Lynne Barr, despite having to play a terribly written and morally reprehensible character, is charming on her own. The two of them play off of each other surprisingly well, and have some playful banter that can be amusing at moments. But it still isn’t enough to distract you from three of my biggest problems with the film:

The first is that all of the parodies and skewerings of pop culture that they encounter are excessively broad. While the movie is attempting to skewer the real problems of today’s pop culture, it seems to take place in some fantasy world where everyone other than the main characters seem to be douchebags, hicks, bigots, you get the idea. Usually, broad generalization is fine for comedy and satire; except that all of the things that Goldthwait is skewering are already absolutely ridiculous and ludicrous in their own right. It’s practically redundant to make a parody of Jersey Shore, when Jersey Shore is already a parody of itself. I mean, I get it when he’s attempting to show us all of the television channels he’s flipping through, but when it gets to the point where his daughter starts crying to him because mom got her a Blackberry when she wanted an iPhone, it gets cartoonish. And being cartoonish usually isn’t a bad thing, but for this subject matter, if Goldthwait really wanted to get into the nitty gritty of American pop culture, he wouldn’t have had to change a thing. Because of this, a lot of the movie just feels completely false.

Secondly, this is a movie that is trying way too hard. It gets to a point where it feels like Bobcat Goldthwait is less concerned with genuinely trying to engage the viewer with his message, and it starts to feel more like he’s pandering to the demographic that would most likely agree with his statements. This demographic includes me, to a certain extent. Like I said, I agree with many of the individual points he brings up. But the reason why I do so much is because Bobcat is directly pandering to me. Unfortunately, I can tell when a filmmaker is bending over backwards to please its audience.

I wouldn’t say that it’s forced, because I have a feeling that Bobcat has genuine feelings for this subject, understandably so. But he gets so passionate about it that his film ends up having all of the sophistication and nuance of a comments section on a YouTube video of Justin Bieber: It’s just filled with a bunch of people talking about how “everything today sucks”. It feels juvenile, like when you’re a teenager and you get into that phase where you all you talk about on the internet is how much the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber or whoever’s the famous teenybopping icon at the moment absolutely sucks without realizing that you can just ignore it and it doesn’t have to bother you and every facet of your life (I’ll admit that I went into that phase for a brief period while the Jonas Brothers were the big thing. As much as I look back at how stupidly angsty I was, I realize it was for the better since it wouldn’t have led to me becoming more mature than that).

But the biggest problem of all would have to be just this simple fact: God Bless America is terrible at satire. As the film starts offing each celebrity one by one, the movie never asks the question of whether or not Frank and Roxy have become bigger monsters than the very people that they’re senselessly killing. Frank’s whole message throughout the entire film is just “Why do you have to be so mean?”, but isn’t locking a bratty teenager into a car and attempting to put a burning handkerchief in the gas valve just as if not more cruel and mean-spirited? It’s fine for a movie to have this sort of depravity, only as long as it has the responsibility to point the criticism at itself just as much as it does at all the Snookis, Kardashians, and Fred Phelpses of the world.

You wanna know what makes Fight Club not only one of my favorite movies of all time but also a great satire in general? It points its criticisms inward just as much as it does out. We get the appeal of Tyler Durden’s organization, and we can sympathize with why all of Fight Club’s members feel the way they do. But when things go to far, the film has the responsibility to look at itself and see how a good idea can grow out of control instantaneously. If God Bless America were truly smart, it would’ve seen that Frank and Roxy had become the very thing they set out to destroy. But instead, by treating them as heroes as the final moments roll around, it’s the movie that becomes the very thing that it set out to parody. It becomes just pandering to the crowd, albeit not a mainstream crowd, but there is definitely an audience for this film. It just becomes a bunch of “edgy” and “extreme” nonsense, in the same way (but through different means) that an MTV show like Jackass is a bunch of edgy and extreme nonsense.

The result is a film that has no idea how to convey what it’s trying to say or the moral implications of its story. It sets up a clear doctrine and doesn’t stop to look at how it could go wrong easily. My parents love American Idol. According to the movie, I should shoot them along with the rest of the “masses that feed into that garbage” or whatever crap its trying to say (And I loathe American Idol). Indeed watching a teenage girl mowing down Westboro Baptist Church members with her pistol is fun on a purely visceral level of wish-fulfillment fantasy, but does that mean that I encourage or endorse actually doing it, even if those people are absolutely terrible and if they were killed in such a manner, I wouldn’t even miss or sympathize with them? What it all boils down to is this…

Final Verdict: God Bless America is the worst sort of movie. It’s a genuinely clever idea that’s worthy of having a real good movie made of, and instead it’s absolutely wasted on a horrendously static screenplay and confused direction. While the central performances are nice, it isn’t enough to save God Bless America from being poorly written, poorly directed, and absolutely misguided in its themes and morals. A bad, bad movie, regardless of how much I agree that the world would be better without Kim Kardashian.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more reviews on this blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rip off of Taxi Driver some more. Bye!


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The Raid: Redemption Movie Review

[The Raid: Redemption
Directed by Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, and Doni Alamsyah
MPAA: R – For Strong Brutal Bloody Violence Throughout, and Language]

Often, you’ll hear various movie critics talking a lot about how a majority of today’s action movies and blockbusters just downright suck. Transformers is shit, Battle: Los Angeles is stupid, Wrath of the Titans pretty much has 0 reason to even exist, etc. That isn’t to say thatevery action movie sucks today. Last year, I highly enjoyed both Fast Five and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but even those movies had a certain something lacking in comparison to the all-time action classics.

Namely, as cool and important as CGI is to the movie landscape, it’s also kind of ruined a majority of action movies because none of them know how to use it well. The main reason why I enjoyed Fast Five and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as much as I did was because whatever CGI there was, it wasn’t distracting, and all of the action scenes had a sense of tangibility making each of them feel more gritty and intense. Tom Cruise really was hanging by the edge of the Burj Khalifa, to a certain extent, is what I mean. But even those films were lacking in a certain visceral punch that has been absent from a lot of films since the PG-13 rating dawned. The most brutal we can get with our action movies these days is simply just having more blood, but that just doesn’t cut it either.

I was pondering this while The Raid: Redemption was being screened in front of my very eyes, and as I was watching what seemed like hundreds of gang members being absolutely annihilated through various means of rifles, propane tanks, knives, machetes, and the Indonesian martial art of Silat, I realized that for the first time in a long while…I felt that punch. I wasn’t just gawking at cool set pieces or ogling at the action; I was sweating fucking machismo. I felt like wrestling a monster truck and taking a dump in a UFC fighter’s open, bleeding throat-hole. I felt like I was just taking a walk with John McClane and Rambo.

In short: The Raid: Redemption is badass in every possible level.

Our setup: A SWAT team decides to go on a top secret operation to raid an apartment complex that houses a ruthless crime lord, and hundreds of gang members. In video game fashion, as the team ascends up higher and higher levels , they’re confronted with tougher enemies and hordes upon hordes of baddies waiting to get their faces kicked in. Many critics have used the term “like a video game” as an insult for an action movie’s lackluster plot. The Raid is proof that it can also be a compliment.

Whenever mainstream audiences see critics’ reactions to movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the general consensus is usually something along the lines of “Well, what were you expecting brah? The story isn’t supposed to be good. It’s about alien robots kicking the living shit out of each other. What’s you’re problem, broski?” My counterargument for that is that the main reason why movies like Transformers and Battle: LA fail in the first place is that they have a plot to begin with. To put it in simpler terms: These movies don’t have a grasp on what they’re supposed to do. If you don’t have a good story worth telling to accompany your whizbang action, then why do you even have a story to begin with.

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The Raid: Redemption is a great example of a minimalist plot. The set-up is simple, you know what’s at stake, a good sense of geography, who to root for, and who needs a bullet in the head. Unfortunately, this also means that the film has zero depth and complexity. Thankfully, it means that nothing can get in the way of the thrills, but that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been some depth in other areas, like character development. While lead actor Iko Uwais shows off his incredible talents as a martial artist, he doesn’t really give much range other than “subdued rage” and “general kick-assery”. The script doesn’t really help things much either, trying to tug at heartstrings by showing us his pregnant wife waiting at home, and including a generic subplot about his brother, who also turns out to be one of the gang members. These segments are thankfully brief enough to not be obtrusive enough to ruin the experience, but they’re definitely weak and keep the film from being a true action classic like, say, Die Hard.

But you don’t watch The Raid for a good script. While The Raid isn’t quite an action movie masterpiece, it is a masterpiece of an action “showcase”. Really, everything described above is all just one big excuse to have hundreds of guys brutally dispatched in intense hand-to-hand combat. Every time The Raid decides to put its engines on full-throttle and focus largely on the actopm, it’s insanely entertaining. From intense shoot-outs to fisticuffs, throat-slitting to machete-swinging, everything feels brutal and director Gareth Evans makes sure that you feel each and every bone-crunching punch of it.

Which leads me to another thing that differentiates The Raid from countless other action schlock fests: Choreography and cinematography. Remember choreography? That bygone art of actors actually knowing what they’re doing in a fight and performing stunts and moves that actually looked complex and cool? It almost seems like the last good sequence of choreographed action was iin Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Or all those Tony Jaa movies that I still haven’t seen). The Raid, meanwhile, has incredible stuntwork. So incredible, in fact, that I found it hard to believe that all those actors didn’t just flat-out die in the process of making this movie. It looks that good.

Gareth Evans also seems to get that the fight choreography is that good, and makes sure to shoot it all as smoothly and crisply as humanly possible. One of the main reasons why I hate so many of today’s action movies is that 90% of them are shot in bullshit shaky camera to hide the fact that the action just isn’t very special and bring a sense of faux-intensity. This is the exact opposite. Shot in just about every cool angle imaginable and edited to perfection, Evans makes sure that the audience has a perfect sense of who’s fighting who, what they’re doing, and how fucking awesome it all is.

There isn’t really much else to discuss about The Raid: Redemption. Action is really all it has, and as such, is all I really get to talk about. I still think that it was a missed opportunity to put in just a tiny bit more depth into the story and characters; but when I’m watching something this skillfully made, it’s hard to really complain.

Final Verdict: Consistently thrilling, entertaining, and brutal the whole way through; The Raid: Redemption, simply put, kicks ass. What it lacks in deep storytelling and memorable characters it more than makes up for in some of the most skilled direction of action you’ll see in a long time. Don’t let the fact that it’s subtitled scare you away: Just about anybody who loves action should not miss out on this one.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more reviews and articles on this very blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a monster truck to wrassle…

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The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review

[The Cabin in the Woods
Written & Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, and Fran Kranz
MPAA: R – For Strong Bloody Horror Violence & Gore, Language, Drug Use, and Some Sexuality/Nudity]

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m very adamant when it comes to refusing to spoil movies. But with all that being said, reviewing Cabin in the Woods is like the ultimate Catch-22. I can tell you that, as of now, it’s my favorite movie of 2012, it’s the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long-ass time, and it’s basically heaven for a guy who’s seen countless horror movies such as myself. That being said, I can’t tell you why I think all those things, because the thing that makes Cabin so very special is the element of surprise. There are movies with twists, that usually build up to one final twist ending that changes your perception of everything before such as The Sixth Sense and Citizen Kane; and then there are “twist movies” that slowly unravel twist after twist after twist consistently throughout the running time, such as Duncan Jones’ modern sci-fi classic Moon. And I really can’t think of a better movie that fits the latter category as well as Cabin in the Woods, which is so chock-full of surprises, critics all around the internet are practically castrating anyone that even dares to spoil the movie.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to do the same thing that I did in my Catfish review, in which I’ll go and just give you guys my Final Verdict early, and then dig deeper into some mild spoilers. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal anything that wasn’t revealed in the trailer, but I still think that it’s best to go into this movie as clean as you possibly can. You’ve been warned.

Final Verdict: Cabin in the Woods is one of the most clever, and imaginative horror films I’ve ever seen. Somehow able to freely switch various tones from scary to funny to weird, Cabin reinvigorates the horror genre by making its own rules and then smashing them to pieces. The first “Can’t-Miss” movie of the year.

Now, onto the real review…

You’ve all heard the story before, so you might as well all sing along: A group of teenagers decide to go to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. Each teenager represents a typical horror movie archetype: The jock (Chris Hemsworth, who you may recognize as Thor), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the smart guy (Jesse Williams, who also doubles as the black guy), the comic relief guy (Fran Kranz, who also doubles as the stoner), and of course the virgin (Kristen Connolly). As you may expect, the teens are picked off one by one due to supernatural forces and/or psychopaths in hockey masks.

This classic set-up is only part of Cabin in the Woods. But, as you may have seen from the trailer, there’s something even more sinister at play. A group of strange men in a futuristic surveillance room (Two of which are played by the wonderful Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) has the entire cabin wired, and are secretly manipulating the events going on in and around the cabin. What is their purpose? Why are they doing this? And what do these teenagers have to do with it? All I can say is that whatever you expect it to be: Trust me, it’s not what you expect it to be.

Part of me wants to call Cabin in the Woods an experiment, because it belongs under so many different genres and deals with so many meta-themes that it’s hard to look at its audaciousness as something you nor the writers have ever experienced before. However, it should also be noted that first-time director Drew Goddard’s direction is surprisingly assured. While juggling all these different, crazy ideas; hopping from genre-to-genre; and seamlessly switching from completely different tones; Goddard still knows exactly what he’s doing on and off camera, and has a firm grasp on the boldness of his ideas and how they apply metaphorically to the nature of the storytelling process.

Because Cabin in the Woods isn’t just a deconstruction of the tropes and cliches of the horror genre. Cabin in the Woods uses its wild framing device as commentary on the nature of cliches and formula storytelling themselves. Really. One critic described the film as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Truman Show” and he’s absolutely correct. Much like how The Truman Show used its inventive premise to look deeper into the metaphysical, Cabin does so to introspect the weaknesses and ultimate importance of horror cinema.

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Usually, when a movie is self-aware of its own cliches (such as the Scream films, which I’m also a fan of) it still ends up resorting to plenty of the cliches that its simultaneously lampooning. As much as I love the Scream films, what they really do is take horror cliches and turn them on their head. They rarely ever actually subvert them. Cabin in the Woods, on the other hand, is all about subversion, careening from genre to genre, tone to tone, etc. You can’t pigeonhold the film into one genre; it is its own unique vision. There’s literally nothing else like it.

You can tell that Joss Whedon (who co-wrote the film) and Drew Goddard had a blast with this screenplay. As soon as the film reaches a particular point and the third act begins, their imaginations are able to run absolutely wild with their craziest horror fantasies, as are the audience’s imaginations. The film just oozes originality and creative energy that feels rare in a film. This may sound weird, but this movie pretty much reminds me of why I love movies in the first place: They’re able to bring us things so fantastical and original that no other medium can execute as well. Everything just feels fresh and invigorating that it feels downright irresistible. It’s pretty much some of the most entertaining and downright fun movies you’ll see in the theater for some time.

Of course, this leads to one of the film’s very few flaws: It’s not very scary. There are some pretty scary moments sure, but it isn’t like Black Swan or We Need To Talk About Kevin where you’re sweating and squirming at the edge of your seat clenching the arm rests until its over. Cabin in the Woods has more in common with Evil Dead II than the original Evil Dead which was just straight horror. However, it’s thankfully not like Army of Darkness where the comedy overshadows the scares. It still keeps a nice balance of suspense and laughs, even though you aren’t pooing your pants in the process.

The other small weakness that can be leveled against it is the characters. Sure, they’re meant to be two-dimensional archetype and part of the fun is seeing which ones get the axe first and which ones subvert the expectations of their pre-determined personality types. That being said, there isn’t really much to them. The only one that you genuinely root for is, of course, the comic relief character of Marty. Not necessarily because he’s well-developed, but because he not only has the funniest lines, but is played about as perfectly as his character requires him to be by actor Fran Kranz, who brings a magnetic charm to his pothead with a retractable bong.

But what made me love Cabin in the Woods as much as I did was the surprising amount of subtext in it that made it more thought-provoking than I could’ve ever expected. Much like I mentioned earlier, the film uses a premise that could’ve just been made for clever twists, but uses them to ask larger questions on the nature of storytelling and the toll of creativity. Questions such as which characters represented the audience and which ones represented the filmmakers left a surprising amount of food for thought. It’s not a subtle metaphor (One of the characters in the film is literally called “The Director”), but it’s one that works incredibly well.

All in all, Cabin in the Woods is just a great, great, great, great time at the movies. Again, I can’t really describe more about what these big ideas are, and the insanity that ensues (Especially in the absolutely bonkers third act), so just trust me on this: Don’t read anything else about this and see it immediately.

Final FINAL Verdict: Cabin in the Woods is a triumph of meta-awareness. Clever for all the right reasons, filled to the brim with smart commentary on the cliches of horror films and the nature of formula storytelling; it’s also endlessly entertaining, filled with quotable one-liners, fun suspense, ridiculous mayhem, and wickedly smart dialogue. Fun, smart, clever, unpredictable, it fills out just about every quota you could possibly want in a modern genre classic.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more reviews and articles on this website as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to [REDACTED DUE TO SPOILERS].


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The Top 10 Found Footage Movies Of All Time

[The following blog post was found in the middle of the woods, corresponding the mysterious disappearance of Z-list internet blogger Enigma Bigglesworth VanNoLastNameInParticular. What you are about to read is entirely real.]

The found footage film has officially become a genre in and of itself. At first, it was a neat little gimmick employed to provide eerie realism to low-key horror films. Now however, we have comedies and action films joining the found footage bandwagon. With recent flicks like Chronicle and Project X expanding what a director can do with the gimmick, we also find that the gimmick is stretching itself thin. There are so many films claiming to be found footage now, that it is starting to get rather tired taking X genre but applying it to the found footage aesthetic. But I still do remember a time long ago where this gimmick was fresh, inventive, and clever. And today, I’m honoring those films that still feel fresh, inventive, and clever in its use of the found footage gimmick, even during a period of time where there’s been a glut of this sort of movie. So without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 found footage films of all time…

#10: Chronicle (Directed by Josh Trank)

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The only non-horror film I’ve included in this mix, Chronicle uses the found footage style to breathe life into one of the most traditional, commercial stories in pop culture: The superhero origin story. When three teenagers discover a strange object under the ground, they discover that it has given them the power of telekinesis. Rather than doing the usual origin story thing of “With great power comes great responsibility”, Chronicle instead shows plenty of footage of the three kids dicking around with their new powers. And it’s all a lot of fun, until the buried emotions of one of the kids, Andrew, begins to surface with furious rage. And those new powers don’t seem to help with that.

While Chronicle does stretch the realms of believability in terms of “who” is holding the cameras, “why” they’re still filming, and other logical errors (Especially in the climax), Chronicle is an interesting take on the superhero origin story that has great performance from its young cast, many thrilling moments, and clever ways to use the aesthetic.

#9: Cannibal Holocaust (Directed by Ruggero Deodato)

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One of the most shocking and controversial films of all time, known mostly for its shocking violence, Cannibal Holocaust is also noteworthy for another big reason: It’s literally the first film to ever use the found footage style. So yeah, regardless of whether people considered this film too disgusting for merit, it is notable for pretty much inventing the genre itself.

Centering around a crew of documentary filmmakers studying an indigenous cannibal tribe in the Amazon rainforest, when they suddenly piss of the tribe they’re documenting, the viewer plunges into a bloodbath filled with over-the-top amounts of rape, torture, gore, and yes, cannibalism. While certain things about this film haven’t aged well, and its metaphors are about as subtle as a boat crashing on a train crashing on a plane crashing in the middle of a freeway, it’s worth watching if you have the curiosity (and stomach) for one of the most profoundly disgusting and shocking films of all time.

#8: Paranormal Activity 3 (Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman)

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I’ll admit, I think the Paranormal Activity sequels are good. This is coming from someone who was fully trying to find reasons to hate them while watching them, but couldn’t find much to truly “despise”. They have problems, sure, but they deliver in giving you the heebie-jeebies when appropriate. Paranormal Activity 3 was especially surprising for me. While I liked the second film despite a few little problems, I think the third film did a good job at employing new scares into the franchise and had one helluva climax. Which isn’t to say this entry doesn’t have problems too. There are a few terrible jump-scares and some logical fallacies to the franchise’s mythology (Yeah, who would’ve thought that Paranormal Activity would have its own mythology), there are moments of great build-up and equally great payoff. The final 10 minutes in particular, were sweat-inducingly scary (Though that may just be my fear of old ladies slowly walking up to the camera…very specific fear, I know).

#7: Cloverfield (Directed by Matt Reeves)

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Of all the films in this list, Cloverfield undoubtedly has the most incomprehensible shaky-camera, but deservedly so. I mean, if I were recording something while skyscrapers all around me were being toppled over by the mighty swipe of Cthulu and Godzilla’s bastard child, I’d be shaking the camera around like an idiot too.

Cloverfield may not be horror in the traditional sense, but it is a pitch perfect example of a film that has almost non-stop suspense from beginning to end. The effect of being thrown right in the center of the chaos you typically see in most monster movies, almost as if you’re an ant in the middle of a tornado storm, is wickedly executed and insanely intense from the first explosion to the final moments. And while the constant shaking of the camera may be vomit-inducing, Cloverfield delivers on what it’s supposed to: Diving the viewer head first into the chaos. And it does this simple fact better than just about any other monster movie.

#6: Noroi: The Curse (Directed by Koji Shiraishi)

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Now here’s one I can guarantee just about none of you reading this list have seen. Not a fan of the slam-bang chaos of Cloverfield and Cannibal Holocaust, but looking for something eerier, creepier, and more along the lines of the best Japanese horror films such as Ringu, Ju-On, and the original Pulse? This will be the source of your wildest nightmares, to be sure.

Noroi follows a paranormal investigator tracking down the activity of a mythical demon named Kagutaba, and how he makes life a living hell for the people under his curse. As the incidents become more and more bizarre and unsettling, Kagutaba soon begins to haunt our protagonists everywhere they go. Filled with some of the creepiest imagery you’ll ever see in J-horror history (Two words: Ghost babies), Noroi is just unsettling to the core. This film is hard to find in the US, so if there is a way to see this film without having to pirate it, I’d be more than happy to know so I can share this little gem with more people.

#5: Grave Encounters (Directed by The Vicious Brothers)

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Grave Encounters was perhaps the most surprising film on the list for me. I heard almost nothing about it other than a few recommendations from critics I respect and a brief summary of the premise: The crew of a GhostHunters rip-off show entitled Grave Encounters decides to investigate paranormal activity in an abandoned mental asylum for a night, only to discover real, actual paranormal activity that is much more than they bargained for.

I’ve seen a surprising amount of negative reviews for this one, and I can see where they’re coming from. Grave Encounters doesn’t really do anything too fresh or innovative to set itself apart from other found footage films, or other horror films in general. The acting is solid but you never give a damn about the characters, some of the effects look cheesy, there are some absolutely cheap jump scares that are admittedly effective but for all the wrong reasons, and the beginning of the film that parodies the fallacies of ghosthunting shows is tonally different from the bleak final moments.

But god damnit, this movie scared the living shit out of me. This is mostly due to one of the most excellent uses of an abandoned mental asylum since Session 9, logical explanations on why there would be so many cameras and equipment to capture the footage, and the way The Vicious Brothers the directors* take the usual “safety nets” of these sorts of premises and remove them from the viewer, leaving for a horror setting that works insanely well and more than makes up for the flaws in character development. If pure atmosphere is all you need to be terrified, this will chill your bones for good.

*Oh, and dear directing duos: Please don’t ever call yourself something like “The So-So Brothers” or “The Brothers Herpaderp” because it’s stupid. Hell, the Vicious Brothers don’t even have the last name “Vicious”! And they aren’t even brothers! At least those hacks “the Brothers Strausse” that made Skyline had an excuse! You aren’ the Coen Brothers. Stop it.

#4: [REC] (Directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza)

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Much like Cloverfield, the Spanish film [REC] is all about taking viewers into a chaotic situation, and plunging them all headfirst into it with the mockumentary approach making everything feel more intimate and visceral. And also much like Cloverfield, the film rarely stops to take a break. Virtually non-stop intensity all the way through, [REC] takes an already terrifying situation (Being trapped in a quarantined apartment crawling with zombies) and ups the suspense at every chance it can have. And while that does include a lot of jump-scares, my oh my, what incredibly well-executed jump-scares they are. The only thing scarier than the first 70 minutes are the final 10, in an almost pants-wettingly suspenseful climax.

The film was later remade into the inferior American film Quarantine, and also got a sequel back in Spain called [REC]2 that explained what the viral outbreak was with mixed results. I say skip those and remain with only this pants-crapper.

#3: Home Movie (Directed by Christopher Denham)

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Home Movie meanwhile, lies on the opposite end of the spectrum of Grave Encounters and [REC]. While Christopher Denham’s Toronto Film Festival hit doesn’t offer up a logical enough explanation for the found footage style and the atmosphere is more low-key than some of the other titles in this list, Home Movie is absolutely terrifying largely because of the way Denham develops his characters, makes you surprisingly care about them, and then show you unspeakable atrocities involving children. Basically, think Children of the Corn but with more believable characters and more subtlety.

Taking cues from classic demon-children films, Home Movie starts with a married couple (Cady McClain and Heroes’s Adrian Pasdar) moving into a new home in the woods of upstate New York with their two young innocent children. But as soon as they move, the children start to act strangely, refuse to talk, and perform seemingly random acts of violence on the family pets. Thankfully, the reasoning for the children’s behavior is wisely left unexplained, leaving you to wonder whether they’re possessed, insane, traumatized, what have you. While the movie is definitely a slow-build, it pays off with an incredibly disturbing climax that takes the usual cat-and-mouse chase scene but from the cat’s point of view. Another underseen little gem. Not for everyone, but fans of slow-building horror should keep an eye out for this one.

#2: Paranormal Activity (Directed by Oren Peli)

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The success story of Paranormal Activity is indeed an astounding one. A little indie film that was made with a budget of less than $20,000 that goes on to become the biggest horror franchise of this generation. Even if you don’t like the film, you can’t help but appreciate how director Oren Peli was able to get so many people to become entranced and horrified by long stretches where almost nothing happens. It’s the best sort of suspense. The build-up of each crazy night, each night getting increasingly hectic, tiny details that can be seen at the corner of the viewer’s eye that are elegantly simple and eerie all at once. There isn’t really much more I can say. The scares are all inventive, the build-up is great, and the minimalistic scares prove that less can indeed be more.

But of course, all of these things that I’ve said also apply to my #1 pick…

#1: The Blair Witch Project (Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick)

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As an 8th grader, I actually wasn’t that into horror movies. I know, right?! How shocking! Then, I saw a little movie that changed my life called The Shining that not only scared me pantsless, but also left me with a craving for horror, a genre I was just getting into and was discovering to be a much more fascinating world than I previously gave it credit for. A friend of mine recommended to me The Blair Witch Project saying “It’s not that scary, so it would be a good ‘starting horror movie’ for you,” unaware of how utterly scarred I would be from the experience.

The Blair Witch Project is beautiful in its simplicity. We begin with a title card, there are no gimmicks except the central found-footage one, we are given a logical enough explanation for the gimmick to be justified, a basic enough introduction for the well-rounded cast of characters, an intriguing hook for the story, and what follows is some of the most terrifying shit ever assembled on screen. Except unlike every single movie on this list, that features kids with telekinesis, ghosts, demons, demonic children, giant monsters, and zomibes; all The Blair Witch Project gives you are bundles of twigs and the rest is up to you to go wild. To quote Roger Ebert’s review, “The noise in the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark.”

The Blair Witch Project remains one of my favorite horror films because of this golden principle of how the imagination is much more effective than any visual the director can conjure up. The audience becomes an active participant, and begins to create the fear him/herself into something that each different audience member will have a different reaction to, even though at the end, they’re ultimately both wetting their pants for the same reason: They created the horror themselves.

The directors never cheat. There’s never an explanation. There’s never a hint as to whether there really is a witch, whether it’s all in their heads, or even if it’s just some crazy old loon posing to be the witch. It doesn’t matter because the witch is what you want it to be. And what it is to me is my greatest fear: Pyramid Head. Because as we all know, everything leads back to Pyramid Head.

Beautiful in its simplicity, filled to the brim with eerie images and moments, and with a climax so unbelievably scary it makes seeing a man with geometry for a face raping two leg monsters in an abandoned apartment room seem pleasant. The Blair Witch Project is not only one of the best uses of the found footage gimmick, it’s one of the scariest movies ever and it still holds up.

Honorable Mention: Marble Hornets (Directed by Troy Wagner)

Of course, this list doesn’t really matter worth crap, since 90% of this list isn’t even close to reaching the amounts of scariness found in Marble Hornets, a web series about film-school students that accidentally unleash the wrath of a mythical creature that is by far one of the scariest looking motherfuckers I’ve seen in a horror film, series, book, whatever. Of course, it doesn’t count since this is a web series and not a film, but everyone simply needs to see Marble Hornets if you need something to make sure you don’t sleep for a good 2 weeks. Link here.

That is all. If you liked this list enough, you can read more of my work this website including reviews, podcasts, and more top 10 lists; as well as follow me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 so you can read more of my general ramblings on film, video games, television, etc.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll–

[Those were the last words Enigma ever typed. The authorities still haven’t recovered his body, nor do they even know if he’s even still alive. The only clue that could be found was his notebook stating that Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was “a load of ass so unforgivably terrible it makes me want to eat monkey feces”. We will continue the search, so long as The Devil Inside doesn’t get $35 million at the box office. You idiots.]


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The Hunger Games Movie Review

[The Hunger Games
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense Violent Thematic Material And Disturbing Images]

Yes, I know this review is late to the party.

The dystopian future is one of the most important little sub-genres that fiction can offer. Not only can stories about future dystopias be filled with imaginative settings; the best ones are able to reveal a truth about our society and ask us whether we wish to accept it or not better than any other form of science-fiction. The most perfect example, and also one of my favorite books of all time, is George Orwell’s brilliant 1984, which not only revealed a truth about where the society of 1948 could eventually head towards, but also predicted many things that eventually started happening today, lending itself a prescience that no other work of fiction can really top.

Since 1984 we’ve seen plenty other dystopic visions in literature, film, television, etc.; and the most recent big break-out in dystopic fiction since 1984 was Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games, the first in a trilogy of novels set in Panem: A post-second-Civil-War North America divided into 12 Districts and a ruling Capitol that maintains peace and keeps away rebellion but at the cost of a strict totalitarian rule. To keep each of the Districts in line, they annually broadcast “The Hunger Games”, a gladiatorial death match designed to sedate the masses under their doctrine just as much as entertain them. Each of the 12 Districts sacrifices two tributes, a boy and a girl, and all 24 of them are forced into killing each other to provide a catharsis for any rebellious natures within the citizens of Panem and in turn remove those rebellious natures entirely. To put it in broader terms: Think Battle Royale meets The Running Man meets Rollerball with just a hint of Orwell’s original inspiration.

I’ve read the first book and it is a very solid, well-paced piece of young adult fiction that proves that not every fangirl-targeted property has to be as awful as Twilight. But, like most properties with large fanbases, adapting something like this into a movie is always met with intense scrutiny since the fans will lunge at you like wolves if a single detail is different from the source material. And while I enjoyed the book, I was skeptical as to whether director Gary Ross (who previously directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) could make a solid adaptation that appeals to fans while still standing on its own.

After finally having seen it however, I can assuredly say that while The Hunger Games is no Blade Runner, it’s a really well-done film that does stand on its own as very good movie and a strong start for what could be an interesting trilogy of movies.

The movie opens with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone) scrounging her way through life in District 12, one of the poorest districts in Panem. When her sister Prim is picked from a random selection as tribute for the current year’s Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers herself into the games so her sister could be safe. This leads her and another boy from District 12 named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) on a journey that leads them into the strange world of The Capitol of Panem and deeper into their own human natures as they too are forced to fight to the death.

The thing that makes The Hunger Games work as well as it does as a film is that the dystopic elements are handled in a much better way than the books. Because a film can quickly convey information visually we get a strong sense of Panem; the sharp contrast between the gaudy, ridiculous looking Capitol and the poorer Districts surrounding it; the purpose of the Capitol’s authoritarian control; etc. I was actually more absorbed in the film’s dystopia than I was in the book, because even though Collins does use very descriptive writing in her novels, the visual information that Gary Ross uses is more effective, and detailed enough to give you a strong sense of what Panem is.

The other thing that makes this film work: The performances. Many readers know that I’m not the biggest fan of Winter’s Bone, the film that skyrocketed Jennifer Lawrence into super stardom. I also wasn’t a fan of another film that Lawrence had a main character role in: X-Men First Class. The Hunger Games, however, is the first time I really got the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence. She’s really perfectly suited for this sort of role: Defies gender expectations, stubborn for all the right reasons, sweats with strong-will, but still allows for a shred of vulnerability to ground her and keep her human. And Lawrence sells it in every scene she’s in. Considering 97% of the movie is from her perspective, and there are a lot of scenes of her just wandering the woods, a lesser actor could’ve killed the experience and made the movie a drag to sit through. She keeps you invested in everything that is going on, and gives you a reason to care about the traumatizing effects of the dystopian society she lives in.

Many of the other supporting actors fare strongly too. Woody Harrelson gets to chew the scenery a lot as Haymitch, a drunkard mentor figure who gives Katniss and Peeta sound advice for surviving the Hunger Games since he’s the only person from District 12 who actually made it to the end of the Games. Elizabeth Banks gets to be as silly as she could as the garish Effie. Stanley Tucci is marvelously hammy as talk-show host and Games-commentator Caesar. Even a tiny role such as Cinna is played incredibly well by Lenny Kravitz, as he infuses a lot of personality into his character in such a short amount of time.

The only supporting character that doesn’t really work is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Not because he’s bad, mind you, but because I never really found him all too useful in the story. He’s merely there as an obstacle for Katniss in the first half of the Games, and then as a romantic interest in the second half that feels shoe-horned in just so Collins can have a “Team Peeta/Team Gale” thing going on for her target demographic. I haven’t read the other two books in the series, so I don’t know if he gets more to do as the series progresses, but it also doesn’t help that Hutcherson doesn’t really give too much depth in his portrayal of Peeta.

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But while we’re on the topic of what doesn’t work in the movie: While I do think that the way Gary Ross visually conveys information is very good, there are a few things that the movie doesn’t really make all that clear. For starters, it’s never really explained what the winner gets from completing the Hunger Games. Well, aside from the obvious “You get to live another day, dummy!”, the film doesn’t really explain the other benefits of winning since it’s too busy displaying the falsities of the dystopia; which is all well and good, but they could’ve at least had a 20 second piece of dialogue quickly explaining it. Another thing that isn’t really made clear is that there’s a certain “rule change” in the middle of the Games that I won’t spoil, but they don’t really get into how this is supposed to be such a big deal, and it feels more like a contrivance than anything else (Keep in mind that this particular problem also applies to the book as well).

The special effects are also really bad. They look like CG cutscenes for a video game…a PS2 video game. Thankfully, most of the film takes place in forest settings and a lot of the effects are practical, but whenever there’s a CG shot of the Capitol or a forest fire, you can practically feel your thumbs wanting to press the start button so you can get to the main menu.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they had a big problem with the shaky-cam cinematography of the film. Speaking as someone who generally hates shaky-cam action, there are certain instances where it can work and The Hunger Games uses it to effectively capture the chaos and panic of being put into Katniss’s shoes during the Games themselves. And even though the camera does shake a lot and there’s plenty of quick cutting, I was still able to follow the action enough so that I can understand who was fighting who, what each person was doing, and get a good framework of the situation as a whole. Unlike a turd like Battle: Los Angeles, which uses shaky camerawork in the cheapest, laziest way possible, there’s a real purpose for it in The Hunger Games and it really captures the immediacy and intensity of the scenarios.

Another interesting thing to note is the violence of the film. I was honestly stunned that this got a PG-13 because this is a very brutal film. Okay, it isn’t quite up to the levels of Battle Royale (Which, as many of you should already know, is absolutely insane), but there are some shocking deaths to behold, especially coming from a film that is supposed to be PG-13. The fact that it is children going through these brutal demises, of course, makes it all the more unsettling. When the Games actually do begin, they begin in a freaking bloodbath as blood is spattered across walls, people are pounded into submission, beaten senseless, stabbed, maimed, and that is only the beginning. The most shocking moment to me came when a young boy’s neck was snapped. I read it in the book, and didn’t know if they would actually have it in the movie, but seeing it all unfold on screen, it all feels more brutal, more raw, and shocking in its own way.

But even in spite of the brutality on display, Gary Ross still handles all the death scenes in a way that is as tasteful as he possibly could. If anything, his restraint actually lends the movie a greater impact than Battle Royale in a way. Seeing 20 kids getting chopped and shot to bits in Battle Royale is shocking, but also entertaining in such an over-the-top way. The Hunger Games meanwhile is able to let the imagination of the viewer flex its muscles, making the deaths have more of an impact when they do happen.

The main flaw of the movie for me, however, was the pacing. The book had some excellent pacing as it slowly built up the games leaving you waiting to see what the big deal is, and when it finally starts it doesn’t let up on the suspense. The film follows this exact structure, but certain things don’t work as well on the screen as they do on the page. This movie is just too d*mn long. This is a problem that just about every book-to-film adaptation has that’s based on a property with a large fanbase: The makers of the film become too afraid to change or remove anything from the original source material since their target demographic that they want to reach out to that will guarantee box office success is the scrutinizing fans who will screw you over if you leave out a single thing.

I don’t mind slow build-up so long as there’s a point. The book works well with it because it’s able to describe things in as much detail as possible with a lot of descriptive writing. In the film, because conveying information visually works much more quickly than in written format, we already get the idea quickly. We don’t need to see every single bit of training and interviewing before the games to get a sense of the rules of the Games, the rules of the dystopian society, and the character’s motivations. A single frame is worth a thousand words, and not that many movies remember this. To say that this movie is too long is like saying that The Limits of Control is only “kind of pretentious”. I’m pretty sure that a half hour of this film could’ve been put on the cutting room and not a thing would change except it would be a leaner, tighter film.

Despite it’s imperfections, however, I do think that this is a very good film. Hell it would be a “great” film if not for those little quibbles I have with the pacing and other things mentioned earlier. I even prefer this version of the story to the book’s version, which has a lot of bad humor and a cheesy romance angle that is thankfully underplayed in the film. It’s the right sort of adaptation, removing a lot of the things that didn’t work while keeping the stuff that did.

The best dystopias are a reflection of the current state of our society and I honestly can’t think of a more timely dystopia than the Panem of The Hunger Games. We live in a world not only dominated by reality TV, but also hampered by financial and economic crises. The Hunger Games with its 12 poor districts and sprawling, lavish Capitol not only captures the dehumanization that reality TV brings, and also reflects the 99% rebelling against the 1% dichotomy that is oh so prevalent in our American society. It also helps that it’s exciting and thrilling as well.

Final Verdict: Strong performances and great direction from Gary Ross elevate The Hunger Games as more than just a good adaptation of the source material; it’s a very good film in general. The world is richly drawn, the characters nuanced, the mood surprisingly subtle for a good chunk of the first half while still being exciting and captivating in the second half, and the dystopic elements resonate more truly in this film version than it did in the book. Despite being overlong, not having the most consistent pacing, and a couple weak supporting characters, this is well worth checking out even if you’ve never read the book.

That is all. If you liked this review, you can read more on this site as well as follow me on the Twitter machine @Enigma6667 so you won’t ever have to miss a single review from me as well as read more of my general ramblings on film, games, television, and other such things.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m not gonna bother volunteering when my sister’s eventually chosen in the reaping. She’s always been the bad apple of the family.

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