Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Hunger Games and Quartet


New Year's Eve was spent watching The Hunger Games, that strangely amoral piece about 24 teenagers plucked by lottery from twelve different tribes and sent off to kill each other in some Roman games kind of affair in earth's future where the scenery can change at random and strange pig-dogs can be brought into being out of nothing by a large bunch of technicians working back at base.  I say amoral because the whys and wherefores of these kids killing each other off is barely gone into.  Everyone seems to accept the 'normality' of it, and a only a brief discussion at the beginning of the movie (between the heroine and the young man who looks as though he's going to be the hero but who vanishes for almost the entire movie) indicates that there are any people who find the whole idea revolting.  Certainly as soon as the so-called games start, almost half the teenagers are slaughtered by those who are quick off the mark.  The curious thing is that at least one young girl survives this awful sixty seconds, and that out of it some alliances are formed between some of those who survive.  Given the ferocity of the initial slaughter this didn't make sense to me.

Now, I haven't read the books in this trilogy, so perhaps I'm a step or two behind everyone else and perhaps there are explanations there that are missing from the movie.  (Rather like the situation for anyone who watches the Harry Potter movies without reading the books.). We have the books on Kindle so maybe it's worth checking the first one out at least to see if it clarifies a few issues.  However there are a lot of holes in the plot and background in the movie, to my way of thinking, and we could have done with some more explanations as to how things came to this pretty pass.

Jennifer Lawrence is superb in the main role, and Josh Hutcherson, who, as a child star, always seemed to specialise in playing grumpy boys, here brings more sensitivity to his role as Lawrence's opposite number than usual. However his role isn't well-written; we're surprised that he makes through.  It's almost entirely because of Lawrence that he survives, and in reality he would have been easy outwitted and killed off by one of the nastier teenagers.  The fact that they allow him to run with the pack seems unlikely. He's too nice.

Stanley Tucci - almost unrecognisable at first - plays one of those TV hosts who is vile in every respect, and Woody Harrelson is the mentor who at first seems unlikely to be of much use to anyone.  Again he does well with an under-written role.

And talking of under-writing in terms of a script, we went to see Quartet today.  This is the new Maggie Smith piece in which she plays an ageing opera singer, as do Billy Connelly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins.  It's set in an old people's home that caters for singers and musicians (preferably serious music people, although a couple of music hall guys seem to have snuck in) and there are the usual squabbles and tiffs going on and the usual old people jokes.  I enjoyed it (the music itself is great) but felt that the cast were ill-served by the scriptwriter, Ronald Harwood, who adapted it from his own stage play.  When you have a bunch of top actors, and in this case a bunch of real-life retired singers and musicians as well, you'd think it would behoove you to provide them with some zingers of lines, but much of the dialogue here is fairly low level stuff.  Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this movie.  A slightly curious choice: a quintessential American actor working with quintessentially English characters.  Suffice to say, he doesn't provide anything extra in the way of bells and whistles.  
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