Reviews have been rolling in all week--most of them positive--for the first real blockbuster of the year, the big screen adaptation of The Hunger Games, the first book of Suzanne Collins's trilogy of young adult novels. The film has already broken records for presales, and excited fans of the books camped out on the streets of Los Angeles over the weekend to get into the film's premiere. Expect excitement to rival that at Twilight and Harry Potter at tonight's packed midnight screenings, and at showings all throughout the weekend.
New to the world of The Hunger Games? Collins's books are set in a distant dystopian future, in which most of what was once North America is now a nation called Panem, made up of twelve "districts" ruled by a totalitarian Capitol. After a 13th district attempted to revolt against the Capitol decades before the events of the movie, the Capitol obliterated it. To remind the people of Panem that the Capitol has absolute control, every year each district has to submit two tributes, a boy and girl, to compete in a cruel competition in which the 24 children are required to hunt and kill one another until only one is left alive. The story centers on Katniss (Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence), a teenage girl who volunteers for the games in order to save her younger sister from having to compete.
Indonesian cinema doesn't often get much attention in the West, but when this film by Indonesian-based Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans screened at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, audiences were blown away, and the film picked up distribution. The setup is simple: A group of cops is set to raid a high-rise that is, to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. But the crooks catch wind of the plan and trap the elite team, and the movie is a fight to get out alive and stop the bad guys. Twenty years ago, it probably would have been marketed as Die Hard in a Jakarta slum. Now it's just being talked about as one of the best made pure action flicks in recent (or not-so-recent) memory.
This year's French entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars was this film from actor-turned-director Valérie Donzelli, starring her and her cowriter, Jérémie Elkaïm. The two are a couple in real life, and the film is an adaptation of their own experiences as parents who discover their toddler has a brain tumor. That's heavy subject matter, but the film is actually a comedy, with a little bit of music thrown in, meant to explore the ways this hardship affects the day-to-day relationship of the couple, with the aim to ultimately uplift through its blend of the real and the surreal--and the recognition that life doesn't stop happening even when it throws tragedy at us.
Billy Plympton became familiar to many thanks to his many distinctive animated promos on MTV in the late '80s, but his career also has included a number of animated features, shorts, and some live action work and music videos, as well as political cartoons for a number of publications. In conjunction with the Environmental Film Festival, the AFI is presenting this evening with Plympton, where the animator will screen a couple of new shorts, provide a sneak preview of some upcoming work, and a selection of classics. Check the event page for more details.
And don't for get that the Environmental Film Festival, which we've mentioned here previously, is still in full swing through the weekend with dozens of screenings all over town. Check the schedule to find out what's left to see.
Tomorrow at 7 PM at the AFI.
Whit Stillman, the love-him-or-hate-him 1990s chronicler of the casual decadence of preppy youth WASP culture, has been quiet on the cinematic front for 15 years, but he makes his return this year with his fourth film. All these years later, he's still fascinated by the lives of young, educated Northeasterners, setting his latest fictional New York liberal arts college where a group of female students, led by Greta Gerwig, seek to change their school. Much deadpan banter and many romantic entanglements should be expected, though the film also promises something a little different from the norm, as Stillman has incorporated musical numbers into the proceedings this time around.
Next week's special sneak preview at the AFI will feature a Q&A with both Stillman and Gerwig. The film opens a week later, on April 6.
View the trailer. Next Thursday, March 29, at the AFI. $15.
DVD Pick of the Week: Battle Royale
I'm sure it's no accident that the first North American release of Kinji Fukasaku's cult classic 2000 film comes out this week. The movie is about a group of teens in a totalitarian dystopia who are rounded up by the government, dropped into a wilderness area, and told that if they don't kill one another until there's but one left standing, then they'll all die. Sound familiar?
While the release may be blatantly timed to capitalize on the plot similarities with The Hunger Games, that doesn't mean the film itself is deficient in any way. As smart and thrilling as it is violent (it was banned in a number of countries upon release), the film is an adaptation of the 1999 Koushun Takami novel of the same name, telling the story of a class of Japanese students who are drugged and taken to an island as part of a government program designed to make an example of wayward students and stem the tide of teen rebellion.
Special Features: The film is being released in two editions: a single disc with the director's cut of the film, and a three-disc collector's edition with both that cut and the theatrical cut, the sequel directed by Fukasaku's son, and a number of making-of and background materials.