Archive for the Film Industry Category

The “next” Harry Potter? A look at The Hunger Games as a movie franchise

Posted in Action, Film Industry, Interesting..., Upcoming Releases with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by judsonw

On July 15, the final piece of the Harry Potter saga will unleash itself upon the world. After “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” arguably the most popular and loved series of books will officially end as a narrative (there will of course still be theme parks, online experiences, etc). So what new book series will take its place? The Twlight series may come close to Harry Potter’s rabid fan base, but that movie franchise is also coming to an end next year. And is there really a legitimate comparison between the two anyway?

The “next” Harry Potter franchise that everyone keeps talking about is The Hunger Games. Written by Suzanne Collins, the trilogy of young adult novels is about a post-apocolyptic America that is now called Panem. Panem is separated into 12 “Districts” that all serve the ruling “Capitol.” Each District has its own speciality. For example, District 12 is the coal mining district while District 4 is all about water. Long ago, the Districts held an uprising against the totalitarian Capitol, but eventually failed in their attempted fight for freedom. As punishment for this attempt, the Capitol now requires two “tributes,” one male and one female aged 12-17, to be sacrificed from each District. The tributes are then thrust into something called The Hunger Games, a reality television program where the kids are forced to fight to the death for all of Panem’s viewing pleasure. The Games continue until one tribute remains.

The protagonist of this story is Katniss Everdeen, a tough-as-nails 16 year old girl from District 12. Skilled with a bow and arrow, Katniss spends her days hunting for food so she can keep her mother and younger sister, Prim, alive. Katniss’s nightmare comes true when 12 year old Prim is selected for The Hunger Games. Katniss takes her place, immediately changing the lives of herself and everyone she knows.

The first novel, “The Hunger Games,” is an insanely addictive read. Ultimately a tale of survival, it features strong characters, great world building, and enrapturing action. It is currently being filmed for a March 2012 release. Here are five reasons it should succeed as a movie franchise and five reasons it may fail.

5 reasons it should work:

The cast

If you’ve ever seen “Winter’s Bone,” then you know Jennifer Lawrence can completely transform into a character. Katniss Everdeen is almost the exact same character as the character Lawrence played in that film, minus the bow and arrow. The casting for the main character couldnt have been more perfect. Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids are All Right”) shows some of the most promise of any young actor working today. He will be taking on the role of Peeta, Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12 and sometime love interest. Woody Harrelson will play Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor for the Games and a former winner. I couldn’t imagine a better person to play a belligerent drunk with a heart of gold (and that’s a compliment!) Rounding off the pitch perfect casting is Elizabeth Banks as the spunky Effie, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s stylist Cinna, Stanley Tucci as the Games flamboyant host, and Donald Sutherland as the Capitol’s evil President Snow. If this movie fails, it won’t be because of the lack of talent on board.

The director

The best way to predict if a movie is going to suck or not is to look back at the director’s previous work. Gary Ross has “Pleasantville” and “Sea Biscuit” on his resume. I’m sold.

The fan base

While The Hunger Games’ fans aren’t as widespread or rabid as Harry Potter’s, there’s still a fairly large following out there. Lawrence already made the cover of Entertainment Weekly in her Katniss garb, and more and more people are picking up the book every day. Come March, The Hunger Games may have as many fans as any other young adult book.

It appeals to both sexes

The Hunger Games is in the fortunate situation of doubling as a war and romance story. Katniss is a kick-ass, independent female hero that will be sure to draw in girls of all ages. There’s also a love triangle that is constantly building up underneath the surface between Katniss, Peeta and Katniss’s best friend, Gale. All of this is wrapped up in a testostorone-filled war zone with violent killings and explosions so you better bet that the marketing behind the film will push that to attract the male demographic as well.

No more Harry Potter

After this summer, the Harry Potter book and movie franchise will officially be over. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but there’s always another great story around the corner.

5 reasons it may fail:

The Twilight effect

For some reason The Hunger Games keeps getting compared to that vampire love story adored mostly by tween girls. The two series, however, couldn’t be any less alike. For one, the female main protagonist in The Hunger Games is actually a realisitic human being, not dependent on a man and not annoying as fuck. Katniss is what every young girl should strive to be…Bella is what every young girl should avoid becoming. While there is a romance angle to The Hunger Games, it isn’t as centrally focused as in Twilight. However, the Twilight franchise is currently bringing in the bucks, so sadly the people behind The Hunger Games films might play up the love triangle angle, resulting in an inferior product.

It’s too bleak and violent

At least on the page, The Hunger Games is gruesome, brutal, and sometimes hard to read. Collins is very descriptive in the tributes’ deaths, ranging from an arrow through the neck to beheadings to flying limbs. Mainstream America may just not be ready to accept a blockbuster about kids brutally murdering each other. The film is reportedly going to be rated PG-13, further proving the fact that the MPAA has no problem with kids-on-kids violence, but shudder at the sight of a nipple. Let’s hope for a hard PG-13 similar to “The Dark Knight,” and not a watered down version of the source material.

There’s not really an ending

Each book in The Hunger Games trilogy literally leads right into one another. There is no span of time between each book. If it’s faithful to the novel, the movie will end on a semi-cliffhanger, most likely upsetting many audiences who want more. A similar problem occured with “The Golden Compass,” which pretty much solely acted as set-up for a franchise that never happened.

The Games themselves

The largest, and most exciting, portion of the first book is the actual televised death match that Katniss tries to survive. During these Games, however, Katniss is mostly by herself, alone with her thoughts. Translating that to the screen will be difficult as her inner conflict over killing innocent people and trying to decide whether to trust Peeta make the book so hard to put down.

No more Harry Potter

As much as I love The Hunger Games, it doesn’t come close to the epicness of the story of the boy who lived. The final installment of the Harry Potter screen version may (hopefully) be so satisfying that audiences wont want another potential book adaptation movie franchise thrown in their face. Everything may just pale in comparison.

We’ll see what happens come March.

Ruminations on Oscar Nominations

Posted in Film Industry on January 30, 2011 by judsonw

Last Tuesday the 82nd Academy Awards nominations were announced. While the Academy usually snubs a deserving picture or performance, this year’s nominations are an all around solid bunch. The Oscars aren’t telecast until February 27th, but that doesn’t mean some predictions can’t be made for the outcome of Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show.

Best Picture

Black Swan

True Grit

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

Winter’s Bone

The King’s Speech

The Kids Are All Right

The Fighter

127 Hours

Inception

Last year’s decision to add 5 more slots to the Best Picture category allows crowd-pleasing hits like “Toy Story 3” and “Inception” to join the mix, but the high number of nominated films seems to taint the honor of the winning the award. However, every one of these movies is deserving of their nomination, and it’s nice to see some recognition for indie darlings “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone.” But it’s “The Social Network” that has been gaining the most serious buzz since its release back in October. The film is close to perfect in every aspect. It’s hard to imagine the Academy not recognizing the timely, socially relevant modern masterpiece.

Who should win: The Social Network

Who will win: The Social Network

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

David O. Russell (The Fighter)

David Fincher (The Social Network)

Tom Cooper (The King’s Speech)

Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

One of the biggest surprises in this category is the inclusion of Aronofsky for his role in directing a fearless and extremely fanatical tale of a ballet dancer gone mad. He is mainly known for directing cult indie favorites, so the fact that the Academy is recognizing his excellent work is hopeful. The other biggest surprise is the snub of Christopher Nolan for the mind-bending thriller “Inception.” As well as being one of the most ambitious films of the past decade, his direction both exhilarated and challenged the audience. The Coen Brothers stay in familiar territory with a third career nomination for their retelling of a classic Western. Cooper and Russell both put in exquisite work in their respective films, but it is David Fincher who truly went above and beyond. Every little detail, from a note next to Zuckerberg’s PC to the sound of the Winklevoss twins rowing crew, is obsessively crafted into perfection. Fincher, who has always been a greatly revered director from his work on such films as “Fight Club” and “Seven,” is at the peak of his career with “The Social Network.” If his direction of this film doesn’t deserve an award, nothing does.

Who should win: David Fincher

Who will win: David Fincher

Best Actor

James Franco (127 Hours)

Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

Jeff Bridges (True Grit)

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)

This is a race between two very different actors and performances. Firth goes for a second shot at the award after being nominated last year for his heartbreaking performance in “A Single Man.” He has been getting the best reviews of his career as the stuttering King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” Oscar co-host James Franco managed to do the impossible as he carried an entire film on his back. Franco is the only actor on screen in “127 Hours” for almost the entire runtime, and his likeability and charm make that 90-minute runtime feel like a breeze. Bardem’s nomination is surprising, if only for the fact that “Biutiful” has gathered lukewarm reviews from its very limited release. Bridges is great in “True Grit” but his award for last year’s “Crazy Heart” seemed to be the career achievement honor his work was leading up to. While Eisenberg’s chances of winning are slim, it’s his performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that catapulted “The Social Network” onto numerous “Best of 2010” lists. He plays Zuckerberg as a young man apathetic to the world around him, all the while trying to change it. By the end of the film, I couldn’t decide whether I respected the guy or wanted to punch him in the face. While Eisenberg will surely get more recognitions for his future roles, it will most likely be this performance that he and the real Zuckerberg will be remembered for.

Who should win: Jesse Eisenberg

Who will win: Colin Firth

Best Actress

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)

Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)

The female performances that people can’t seem to stop talking about come from Bening and Portman. While the two entirely transform themselves to take on their respective characters of a lesbian mother and ballet dancer on the brink of a mental breakdown, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who truly gave the best performance of 2010. Her turn as a strong-willed and independent 17-year-old girl from the dirt poor Ozarks looking for her drug dealer father is striking in its naturalness and subtlety. Her rough nature is even more impressive when you witness the actress’s real life sunny demeanor. Her role in “Winter’s Bone” is a true breakout performance, and it won’t be the last we hear of her.

Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence

Who will win: Natalie Portman

Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)

Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Jeremy Renner (The Town)

Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)

Every once in a while, an actor gives a performance that not only goes above and beyond the material, but also transcends the art of acting. Christian Bale does just that with his transformation into drug addict Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter.” While the advertising may want you to think Mark Wahlberg is the star of the movie, Bale shines as the most brilliant ingredient to an excellent sports film. His performance is simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking and, in my mind, is completely unrivaled this year. However, Rush’s supporting performance as King George VI’s speech therapist in “The King’s Speech” has been generating raves from movie critics and fans alike. Rush will be Bale’s only competition, but the Academy will most likely reward Bale’s incredible body of work with his first Oscar.

Who should win: Christian Bale

Who will win: Christian Bale

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Fighter)

Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech)

Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

At first glance at this category, it’s natural to wonder why Steinfeld is even included. Her powerhouse role as Mattie Ross in “True Grit” is a leading role, through and through. She is in nearly every scene in the film and is clearly the protagonist. No matter which category she’s nominated in, however, Steinfeld’s performance is by far one of the best of the year. Sharing the screen with such big names as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, she more than holds her own, she steals the film from right underneath them. In “True Grit,” the young newcomer comes across as strong, witty and independent, all without coming across as an annoying child actor. Her role as a girl determined to find her daddy’s killer would be a challenge for a 40-year-old veteran actress, let alone a 13-year-old girl.  Speaking of veteran actresses, the Academy likes to recognize longtime actors’ careers with an Oscar. Melissa Leo hit the peak of a long, lustrous career with her performance as a tough and controlling mother of a boxer in “The Fighter.” I expect the veteran to beat out the newcomer, despite how much the newcomer deserves the Oscar.

Who should win: Hailee Steinfeld

Who will win: Melissa Leo

Golden Globe nominations: Solid, minus one category

Posted in Film Industry, Rant on December 14, 2010 by judsonw

When it comes to movie awards shows, I could care less. It’s such a political process today when actors, directors, and writers have to actually “campaign” for their rightful chance to hold the trophy at the podium. Money goes into “For Your Consideration” marketing and the winner often ends up going to the most popular guy in the room or the movie of the moment.

Despite my distaste for these events, I still force myself to tune into the Academy Awards. Why? Because they mean so much. Even if the best film doesn’t win (which is often the case), the impact the Best Picture decision has on the film industry is enormous.

Though I put up with the Oscars and all its vapid “look at who I’m wearing!” star gazing, I draw the line with the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, responsible for the nominations and winners, are simply a joke. It seems that year after year the nominations are simply a way to get pretty famous faces on live television, loosened up by that glass of scotch from the bar.

Sure, the Golden Globes can be a fun watch. But in no way should they be taken seriously.

Here are the nominations (from slashfilm.com): red represents WTF-ness

BEST PICTURE: DRAMA
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

BEST PICTURE: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Alice in Wonderland
Burlesque
The Kids Are All Right
Red
The Tourist

BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronosfsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

BEST ACTOR: DRAMA
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

BEST ACTRESS: DRAMA
Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

BEST ACTRESS: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Anette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone, Easy A

BEST ACTOR: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jackie Weaver, Animal Kingdom

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Biutiful
The Concert
The Edge
I Am Love
In a Better World

BEST SCREENPLAY
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech
Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Hans Zimmer, Inception

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Despicable Me
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Tangled
Toy Story 3

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Bound To You” (Burlesque)
“Coming Home” (Country Strong)
“I See The Light” (Tangled)
“There’s a Place For Us” (The Chronicles of Narnia)
“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me”  (Burlesque)

Overall, pretty solid. It seems that everything that’s worthy (that I’ve seen) has gotten their due as well as all the films that seem to have the potential (if word of mouth proves to be true) to be great. I’m a little surprised to see True Grit shut out in every single category. These are the Coen Brothers we’re talking about here! Jeff Bridges! Matt Damon! Josh Brolin! A Western! How is this not an Oscar lock??

I can’t help but laugh at the “Best Picture: Comedy or Musical” section. Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, BURLESQUE??? I understand that comedies aren’t really “award material,” but fucking BURLESQUE? Apparantley no other musicals existed this year so Cher and Aguilera had to represent. What about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? That movie possesses more energy and heart (save Kids) than every movie in that category combined.

Sometimes the nominations seem to be handed out by people who haven’t even seen the film they’re recognizing. How else can you explain both Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp getting nominations for The Tourist? This was a film that was expected to be an enjoyable romp, with 2 top notch performances, acutely directed by the man behind The Lives of Others. If the HFPA had actually seen the film, they would know that it’s none of these things.

Oh well, Depp + Jolie = ratings! And that’s all that really matters at these things anyways, right?