Why The Hunger Games are Important

Just try to put out this fire.

Just try to put out this fire.

The young-adult fantasy series translation from page to silver screen movement has become one of the most profitable propositions in pop culture over the past decade.  What started with the kid-friendly Harry Potter (whose films contained an admirable Disney-dark magic to them that began to wear off and bore me by the fourth entry) and crested into communal madness with Stephanie Meyer’s malarial Twilight series has become a go-to cash cow for Hollywood.  When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I thought, “Oh, here we go again.”  But then I read up on what they were about – a kind of Atwood-lite dystopian future, pop-Vonnegut if you will, spiced with The Running Man with a dash of Battle Royale.  Finally, a young adult fantasy series with very little fantasy, a dash of satire, and magic replaced by futurist woe and real violence.  And cast in the lead role was Jennifer Lawrence, the most talented young actress of her generation.  And whaddya know, the first film was typically mega-blockbuster flawed but pretty good.  And it was J-Law as Katniss Everdeen who changed the game.

Boys’ fantasies and hero-worship have been catered to forever.  In this day and age they have Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Ender’s Game, as well as the typical swarm of comic book films and sci-fi flicks featuring superheroes and manly men saving the world and getting the girls.  What have girls and young women had to dream about in similar fashion?  The occasional animated Pixar heroine?  The toxicity of Twilight, which when you strip away the sparkly emo-boyband vampires, teaches teenage girls to stay in abusive relationships?  “Yes, my dear, if you love him hard enough, maybe YOU can change him. You gotta stick by your man no matter how freakish and horrible he is, stick by him even if he kills you.”  Beautiful message, isn’t it?

Well, thank the pop culture gods, because into the modern mythos has stepped Katniss Everdeen.  Continue reading

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Boardwalk Empire: Farewell Daddy Blues

Boardwalk Empire - Jack Huston Farewell

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Farewell Daddy Blues

Season Four: Episode Twelve (Season Finale)

Directed by: Tim Van Patten

Written by: Terence Winter and Howard Korder

The Spin: The title of the fourth season finale may have been “Farewell Daddy Blues” (and Daughter Maitland blesses us with down-and-out moody blues over the signature closing montage) but “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” could’ve easily been an alternate title.  If the penultimate episode was a prime example of tight focus on just a few characters, the finale proved how effortlessly Winter and Korder are able to pack so much into a single hour, and how unpredictable their Empire can be.  This hour was a doozy.

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Boardwalk Empire: Havre de Grace

Mr. Gossett Jr. meet Emmy.  Emmy meet Mr. Gossett Jr.

Mr. Gossett Jr. meet Emmy. Emmy meet Mr. Gossett Jr.

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Havre de Grace

Season Four: Episode Eleven

Directed by: Allen Coulter

Written by: Howard Korder

The Spin:  Korder again proves to be the best series scribe with this crown jewel of an episode, a tightly focused hour of drama featuring the richest characters Boardwalk has to offer, executed with the skill of a master chef as a slow boiling fifty minutes culminated with a steam whistle in the final five.  This is what television drama is all about in the new golden age – blisteringly cinematic, tight, and dramatic tension crafted from interesting characters we have come to know over the years living on the razor’s edge.

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All is Lost but What Does it Mean?

All is Lost

Are filmmakers trying to tell us something important?  Here in 2013, is another film, this one from J. C. Chandor (who helmed the uber-relevant Margin Call), that when boiled down to its marrow (and trust me, this is one of the most boiled down films of recent memory) is essentially a “One Person Survival Tale Against All Odds.”  As if Cuaron’s epic cosmic odyssey of survival and rebirth in Gravity wasn’t enough…or we weren’t sufficiently bored by Captain Phillips (seriously, what was the point of that film other than for Tom Hanks to break down and cry for an Oscar again?)…or Solomon Northup’s harrowing true life story in 12 Years a Slave wasn’t adequately profound…here comes the minimalist to the point of banality All is Lost.  Is this trend (whose current incarnation actually stretches back to 2012 with The Grey and Life of Pi on opposite ends of the survivalist spectrum), which has admittedly seen some amazing highs, lending itself to some poignant commentary on the state of the world today?  Or is it all just a bunch of pseudo-philosophical-political-societal-mirror-holding hogwash, some of which has been better packaged than others?  And to be fair, though a survival tale, the historical and essential 12 Years a Slave should not be to be held to this type of reductionist dialogue like the others following this trend.

Robert Redford (looking old as heck and with oddly colored almost orange hair) plays the nameless “Our Man” – a loner, presented to us with next to no context, inexplicably out there somewhere in the Indian Ocean, who through a string of bad boating luck finds himself fighting for his life against the great big wide ocean.  J. C. Chandor’s direction is sparsely poetic, and he’s created somewhat of a miraculous cinematic oddity here.  I’ve never in my life been more mesmerized and bored simultaneously.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: White Horse Pike

Stand by your man...

Stand by your man…

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – White Horse Pike

Season Four: Episode Ten

Directed by: Jake Paltrow

Written by: David Flebotte

The Spin:  As much as Nucky has tried to stay out of the Chaky-Narcisse War, he can’t help but get sucked in when he learns Narcisse is in cahoots with not only Masseria’s clandestine Tampa heroin run (of which he got tipped off by stalwart Sally) but also with his puppet Mayor (whom he learns about from the trusty Willie).  Meanwhile he’s completely oblivious to Eli’s ongoing betrayal.  Elsewhere up in New York, Rothstein makes an interesting deal with a desperate to be independent but still all kind of cutesy-crooked Margaret.  Out in Chicago, a newly confident Muller is in like Flynn with Capone and gang who are celebrating high off the hog, hooch and hookers oblivious to the obvious retaliation brewing in the wake of Obanion’s obituary. Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Marriage and Hunting

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Marriage and Hunting

Season Four: Episode Nine

Directed by: Ed Bianchi

Written by: David Matthews, Jennifer Ames and Steve Turner

The Spin:  With the help of Roy (Ron Livingston) acting as her lover and confidant, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) has cleaned herself in her attempt to win the Tommy custody battle, but a shady phone call hints at Roy not being so forthcoming.  Meanwhile, Julia (Wrenn Schmidt) suspects her father’s terminal illness and gets married to Harrow (John Huston), who now comes crawling back to Nucky looking for steady work to support his family.

In other marital news, Muller (Michael Shannon) gets tired of being berated by his wife and bullied by Capone and regains some of his old Van Alden bad-assery.  Continue reading