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Posts Tagged ‘The Hunger Games’

The HuntThe marketing for the movie The Hunt tells us: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen”.  The studio, Universal Pictures pulled its release last summer.  It had already drastically scaled back the marketing following a mass shooting in America.  The Donald Trump (who I understand had, not, and has still not, seen the film) got involved accusing the producers of inciting violence.  Having now seen the film, it is neither inciting or provocative, it is actually a run of the mill action thriller within a sub-genre that crops up from time to time.  The modern twist is the hunters are “Woke” liberal elites who are truly horrible, and the prey are call “deplorables”, basically people who have expressed less than woke views.  the film is fun and has some interesting ideas, but isn’t cutting enough to be a true satire on modern society. The Hunt

The first film of the genre was probably The Most Dangerous Game (1932) based on Richard Connell’s short story of the same name.  Anyone who has seen Zodiac (2007) will remember the reference to this movie, if the events of that movie are to be believed it even provide inspiration for the real life Zodiac killer. It has also inspired filmmakers for nearly 90 years with numerous, copies imitators and remakes. The idea was even used for an episode of The Avengers (The Superlative Seven) and is spoofed in The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XVI).The Most Dangerous Game

Made in 1932 parts of the movie look dated, the most notable of these are the use of close-ups of exaggerated facial expressions, a clear hangover from the silent era. The movie starts onboard a ship, all exterior shots are clearly a model and not up to the standard of King Kong (1933) that it actually shares a lot with (including one of its directors, sets and cast). Other than this the movie stands up really well and is wonderfully atmospheric. Due to the relatively low production cost it actually made more money than the better known King Kong. Coming in at only a fraction over an hour the movie is incredibly short, but its stripped down simplicity is to its credit.

A Game of Death (1945) directed by Robert Wise is a direct remake of The Most Dangerous Game, shot towards the end of WWII, the madman is a Nazi, not Russian.A Game of Death

The Tenth Victim (1965) is an Italian Sci-Fi entry to the genre featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.  “The Big Hunt,” is a televised competition with contestants who must survive five rounds as a hunter, and five as the prey. For years a hard to find obscurity, it is now available on Amazon Prime in the UK (complete with a terrible dub).  The Tenth Victim

One of the most interesting and controversial examples is the excellent Punishment Park (1971) shot as a bleak mockumentary. Punishment Park

Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle based on a Stephen King story (as Richard Bachman), The Running Man (1987) looks far more satirical and incisive in today’s world of reality TV than it did back in the day. The Running Man

One of my favourites of the genre: Hard Target (1993) is possibly the only Hollywood film by John Woo to live up to the bonkers fun of his Hong Kong movies.  Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a man down on his luck hired to find a missing man, he soon finds himself in the same “Most Dangerous Game” headed up by Lance Henriksen.Hard Target

This was closely followed by Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T as a A homeless man hunted by Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. Surviving the Game

Battle Royale (2000), and its sequel (2003), Series 7: The Contenders (2001), The Hunger Games (2012-15), The Belko Experiment (2016) all take a slightly different angle, as the prey are also the hunters, forced to kill each other. 

While Predators (2010), features and extraterrestrial hunter, it fulfills most of the tropes of the genre, even more so than other films in the series.  Predators

Revenge (2017), is also worth a look.  The setup is very different, put it soon finds itself in familiar  territory with a few interesting twists along the way. Revenge

Finally, if you fancy a different medium, take a look at the Jack Reacher novel Past Tense (2018) by Lee Child.Jack Reacher Past Tense

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Nearly sixty years after its original release Nicholas Ray’s seminal tean drama Rebel Without A Cause has been given a limited rerelease in cinemas. Made around a decade after the term teenager was coined, James Dean’s Jim Stark probably cinemas most notable adolescent. The template set by that character has endured ever since. From John Bender and Gardner Barnes to Cady Heron and Bliss Cavendar all the notable teenage and young adult charters from cinema have been outsiders in one acceptance within a group.Rebel Without a Cause

This trend is most evident in the glut of children’s and young adult novels that have been adapted into movies in recent years. In the modern cinematic world, being a little socially awkward isn’t enough. While the 80’s may have been the era of the teen movie, today’s films deal with the same angst, but it often disguised with a thin veil of fantasy and the fantastic. Initially not knowing his magical origins and not totally understanding his destiny until the end, Harry Potter (2001-2011) never quite fitted in the Muggle world or magicians world. The same is true of Clary in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures (2013), Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game (2013) and “John Smith” aka number 4 in I am Number Four (2011).I AM NUMBER FOUR

Twilight (2008 – 2012) is an interesting addition to the theme. Edward Cullen is an outsider because he is a vampire, he is an outsider within vampire’s because he is a “vegetarian”, but he is already accepted by his family. Jacob Black doesn’t know he is an outsider until he becomes a wolf. Bella Swan is an outsider, simply by being a typicle teenager. This disparate group find their place by their acceptance of each other. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012-2015) is somewhat different, she is human and only extraordinary by her actions, but they are actions caused by the dystopian world in which she lives. So as strange as it sounds, The Hunger Games is closer in this respect to the teen movies of the 80’s than many of the supernatural movies of recent years.The Hunger Games

But this leads neatly onto the latest pretender Beatrice “Tris” Prior in Divergent (2014). Born into a society that where people are divided into factions divined from peoples personalities: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave). When tested Tris is discovered to Divergent, someone who has attributes of multiple factions. This is considered to be a danger to society, a clearly flawed society making her an instrument or catalyst for change. Not satisfied with just finding her place in society, she has a part in shaping it. Following so closely on from The Hunger Games is this the new direction for the genre?Tris Prior

Have writers lost their imagination and need to create a dystopian world for our outcasts to inhabit because they have run out of ideas to make their ideas interesting? Or have we seen it all before and are too cine-literate to be interested in the mundane of real life? I think there is some truth in this, but with well drawn characters and a good script, everyday life can be just as interesting as the spectacular, take: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Igby Goes Down (2002), Easy A (2010) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), all films that could all sit alongside the films of John Hughes. A perfect example of this, is Jennifer’s Body (2009), while I am a fan of and constant defender of the movie, despite the inclusion of supernatural, it isn’t as good as writer Diablo Cody’s previous film Juno (2007) but they both perfectly explore the anxieties and ideas I am talking about.Juno

I could be reading too much into this but ultimately I think the success of films like Rebel Without A Cause, The Breakfast Club and Divergent is that they have all tapped into a fundamental paradox of human nature. As a society we are desperate to fit in but we also want to stand out from the crowd.

For those who are wondering, I am not sure of the origin of the quote "I want to be a nonconformist. Just like everybody else" but first saw it attributed to the street artist Banksy.

 

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If you take a look at the top ten grossing movies of the year so far there are seven sequels (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz The Great and Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness) and a reboot (Man of Steel). World War Z (based on a book) will probably be knocked out of the top ten by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smug leaving Gravity as the only original property to bother the top ten. Do audiences only go in large numbers to see sequels of franchise movies or do studios only commit large amounts of money to existing properties that a ready made audience? The $825million taken by Christopher Nolan’s Inception proved that a totally original movie could make money, however it would probably never been given the green light if not for the $1billion The Dark Knight took. As cinema prices creep up and audiences become ever more selective, studios become more cautious making it a self fulfilling prophesy relegating most original ideas to smaller films. With this in mind, here are my top five original movies of the year. Original movies, not a sequel, prequel, remake, re-imagining or reboot. Also, not based on a book, comic book or true story.

Stoker: In the year that the remake of Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece Oldboy limped onto cinema screens Stoker proved to be Park’s best film since Oldboy. The original screenplay was written by actor Wentworth Miller. A weird, beautiful and sublime blend of melodrama, psychological thriller and coming of age drama. Budget: $12,000,000 (estimated)stoker

Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón’s space adventure about a pair of astronauts trying to find a way home after a collision in space is a truly stunning film and the first film that should be seen in 3D preferably IMAX 3D. Budget: $100,000,000 (estimated)GRAVITY

Prisoners: Great acting from ensemble cast and stunning photography from Roger Deakins combine with taught direction French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve making his English-language debut elevate this from a genre movie with an overt subtext to a really good film. Budget: $46,000,000 (estimated)Prisoners

The East: An original story of the murky world of private intelligence firms and an environmental anarchist collective. Written by director Zal Batmanglij and star Brit Marling. It is notable for great acting and its dark melancholic tone. Budget: $6,500,000 (estimated)The East

Pacific Rim: To call Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robot movie original would be a stretch as it appears to be based on every other monster movie/comic book to have gone before it, however it isn’t directly based on any other previously produced work. It makes the list ads it is just great fun, pure and simple. Budget: $190,000,000 (estimated)PACIFIC RIM

Mud – the continuing renascence of Matthew McConaughey.
The Counsellor – Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay is far better than has been reported
About Time – Charming and funny time travel comedy from Richard Curtis.
Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett, deserves an Oscar.
Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s Sci-Fi action drama lacks subtlety but is still good

Check back at the end of the month to see how many of these movies make my top ten of the year.

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Last week saw the second attempt to launch a franchise based on a successful series of young adult novels. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on The Mortal Instruments series of five novels (with a sixth on the way) written by Cassandra Clare. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) plays Clary Fray a seemingly normal teenager who discovers she is a Shadowhunter, a sort of daemon hunter. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with less (intentional) comedy. The other movie earlier in the year Beautiful Creatures is based on The Caster Chronicles: Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan a seemingly normal high school student ( is this sounding similar?) who has a recurring dream about Lena played by Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion), a girl he has never met, until she turns up as the new kid at school. Both films are fun and entertaining movies with a suitably gothic tone. However they are also sadly unremarkable and unoriginal. Beautiful Creatures failed to find an audience making a sequel unlikely.  On the other hand the confidence in Mortal Instrruments is such that City of Ashes the second Mortal Instruments film is already in pre-production.  Shooting is due to start next month with a release next summer. This got me thinking about similar themed books that have been adapted into movies. Some have done better and more successful than others:

City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures

Harry Potter (2001-2011): The undisputed champion of the book to film adaptation in recent years has been Harry Potter having grossed nearly $8billion from its 8 films (based on 7 books). The success of the films comes partly from the great casting and the faithful (so I am told) adaptation from J. K. Rowling‘s books. But it goes further than that, a film should be its own entity and survive on its own merits not requiring the viewer to have read the books. This helps the audience grow over and above the fans of the novel. I didn’t see any of the films until 2011 but watched them all in a short space of time and have to admit I enjoyed them.Harry-potter-films

Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010): Based on C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series of books and produced by Walden Media in association with first Disney then Fox. Three of the seven novels: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) have been adapted into films so far. Faithful to the source novels and like the source novels, the movies are distractingly preachy but good entertaining fun. Commercially successful grossing over $1.5billion, the first is amongst the top 50 all time highest grossing movies. It appears the series has stalled with complications since Walden Media’s exclusive rights have lapsed.The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Golden Compass (2007): Was an unfortunate mess of a movie. Well cast and beautifully shot but completely ruining Philip Pullman’s fantastic story. If reports are correct it was nothing short of a clusterfuck for New Line Cinema. One of their most expensive films ever with a budget estimated at around $180million, it took around $70million at the US box-office. New Line then sold the worldwide rights to cover the production costs, it went on to take over £300million. In one way it is sad that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is unlikely to be adapted into a film anytime soon, on the other hand I am glad the series stopped before they made things any worse.

The Golden Compass

The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012): Coming second only to Harry Potter in the book adaptation box-office, The Twilight Saga had its detractors who were almost as vocal as its fans. It also had its ups and downs artistically; Eclipse (2010) directed by David Slade representing the high point and New Moon (2009) directed by Chris Weitz the low point. The first film directed by Catherine Hardwicke was arguably the most important as its success secured the budget for the ongoing saga. Love them or hate them, you can’t argue with nearly $3.5billion from 5 films (based on 4 books). Not great films but completely inoffensive, I really can’t see why people get so worked up about them.twilight-saga-poster

Tomorrow when the War Began (2010 – ?): Based on the first of a series of seven Australian novels that have a striking resemblance to Red Dawn. The first movie was well received in Australia but failed to find an audience in the rest of the world. Two sequels have been suggested but are yet to materialise.Tomorrow when the War Began

Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010 – ?): Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) are based on the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series of books by Rick Riordan. An updating of Greek mythology, Percy is a demigod, and son of Poseidon (based on his exploits in defeating various monsters, he appears to be based on Perseus, son of Zeus). The first film was a financial success but the second has only just managed to make back its budget making an adaptation of The Titan’s Curse less likely.Percy Jackson

I am Number Four (2011): Based on the first of four (to date) novels about alien children hiding out on earth from a second alien race who took over their home world. Finding a good balance between sci-fi action and high school drama the movie is entertaining if disposable. The cast is quite good but Timothy Olyphant is criminally underused and Teresa Palmer’s ‘number six’ is a more interesting character than Alex Pettyfer’s ‘number four’. Made on a relatively small budget (the money was all spent on producer Michael Bay‘s robot hitting exercise) for this type of movie it made a reasonable profit. A sequel was announced but then shelved.I AM NUMBER FOUR

The Hunger Games (2012-2015): Thanks largely to the perfect casting of Jennifer Lawrence the Hunger Games was a huge success. Grossing nearly $700million and becoming the best selling DVD/Blu-ray of 2012 a sequel was guaranteed. The first sequel Catching Fire is scheduled for release later this year with the final book Mockingjay split into two parts, Part 1 will be released in November 2014 with part two twelve months later. My only concern the second and third books were much weaker than the first creating a real challenge for the script writers.The Hunger Games

So what’s next?

Seventh Son: Based on the first (there are twelve so far) of Joseph Delaney’s children’s dark fantasy novel series The Wardstone Chronicles. The highlights of the casting are Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Scheduled for release next January (February in the UK) next year.Seventh Son

Vampire Academy: Based on a series of six young-adult paranormal romance novels by Richelle Mead. I haven’t heard of any of the principle cast but the supporting cast includes Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne and Joely Richardson. Scheduled to be released February next year.Vampire Academy

Divergent: Unlike the other films mentioned, Divergent is based on the first of an intended trilogy. It has been adapted into a film before parts two and three have been published. It is the debut novel by American author Veronica Roth. The film version is directed by Neil Burger and has an interesting cast including: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Maggie Q. it is scheduled for release next March next year.la_ca_0708_divergent

I’m not sure we have seen ‘The Next’ Twilight or Harry Potter yet but The Hunger Games is looking like the best and the most successful.

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Heather over at Man I Love Films has published a list of her “TOP TEN FAVORITE POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES” I started replying but soon realised it was just a list of other movies that I would recommend, so I decided to post my own alternate list instead. As an alternate list I have avoided all the films heather chose, The Mad Max Trilogy, 28 Days Later, 12 Monkeys, Children of Men would all have made my list. Escape From New York may have made the list and Reign of Fire would have been worthy of an honourable mention. As anyone who listens to Wittertainment (if you don’t know what Wittertainment is google it) knows, Post Apocalyptic is an oxymoron as there is no “post apocalypse”, after an apocalypse there is nothing! So putting that cheery prospect aside we will continue to use the term Post Apocalyptic as it is the accepted name of this sub genre.

Planet of the Apes (1968) Everyone knows all about Planet of the Apes, most people have seen at least one of the movies and many know the twist at the end, but go back and watch it again and remind yourself just how great it is.

Death Race 2000 (1975) I saw this movie when I was very young, too young! I loved it at the time but didn’t really get it. Following a financial crisis and a military coup United States has become a fascist police state. The most popular sport is the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, a race where drivers score points for killing pedestrians as they race from coast to coast. The acting is terrible and the production cheep, but it has aged surprisingly thanks to a simple subtext that makes it an effective political satire.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Heather favours the 2004 remake that I must admit I like but the original is my all time favourite Zombie movie. At its heart it is a clever satire and allegory of modern consumer society but forgetting that its just a great horror movie.

Hardware (1990) Written and directed by Richard Stanley and based on a short (7-page) comic strip called SHOK published in 2000 AD by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill. Set in a dystopian world ravaged by war, the population is living of the scraps of the dead and decaying civilisation. A soldier retuning home for the Christmas cease-fire, gives the head of a long destroyed robot to his sculptor girlfriend, before long it begins to reassembles itself the body count begins to rise. There is an inherent honesty in the low budget simplicity of the movie that is as sumptuous in its grime and bleakness as it is in its sense of desperation.

Delicatessen (1991) Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s feature début is set in a strange retro post apocalyptic France. A bizarre little film about a butcher and landlord who finds an interesting and cannibalistic way of feeding his customers. Like so many films of the genre, it is about a fight for survival, but in this case its on a smaller and more intimate scale.

The Matrix (1999) One of Heaters honourable mentions but deserving a place on my list as a hugely influential film and one of the best films of the 90’s. A lot of The Matrix is set within “The Matrix” so it is easy to forget the real world scenes onboard the Nebuchadnezzar. Like The terminator movies the glossy Sci-Fi is enhanced by the grim reality of the dystopian future. 

Doomsday (2008) Doomsday is a bit of a mess of a movie but it such a good fun mess it really doesn’t matter. Made up of multiple set pieces including shootouts, car chases and sword fights (inspired by movies as varied as Escape from New York, Aliens, Mad Max 2 & 3 and Gladiator) the final result is a little disjointed but each element is extremely well made. At the heart of the story and holing it all together is Rhona Mitra in her best role to date as a sort of female Snake Plissken. Think of it as a more polished and high quality take on a Enzo G. Castellari style movie. It actually gets better each time I watch it. 

The Road (2009) Post Apocalyptic movies are often gung-ho survival of the fittest stories in the new world order, The Road is very different. A melancholic and chilling story of a world dying with a whimper told through a grim and gritty story of a farther and sons fight to survive. It sounds depressing but it strangely isn’t.

Stake Land (2010) Thanks to a certain franchise of sparkly, vegetarian, teenage vampires the genre has taken a bit of a beating in recent years, Stake Land redresses the balance with the style, brutality and themes of a zombie film except with vampires. Like many great genre movies it is enhanced by a strong subtext, reflecting the time it was made, the tone of the movie is bleak but with a small but vital glimmer of hope, in other words a reflection of the world today.

Perfect Sense (2011) Like the road Perfect Sense tells a story of society going out with a whimper and not a bang. Starting with taste, people start losing their senses. Concentrating on a chef and a scientist (Ewan McGregor and Eva Green) who fall in love as the epidemic unfolds it could have been soppy, disjointed and depressing, it isn’t.

Here are a few more movies that are set in Post Apocalyptic future that are worth a look: Monsters, Zombieland, The Hunger Games, The Book of Eli, A Boy and His Dog, Night of the Comet. And don’t forget The Terminator and Terminator 2, set in the present day but featuring characters who have travelled back in time from a post apocalypse future. There are also a lot of films set in a dystopian future that probably don’t fit the Post Apocalyptic tag, they include: Metropolis, Brazil, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Rollerball, Eraserhead, The City of Lost Children.

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When I was in my early teens I loved The Running Man (1987), it was my second favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie after The Terminator (1984) that at the time was one of my favourite movies (Total Recall (1990) and Terminator 2 (1992) were yet to be made and I didn’t appreciate Predator (1987) until I saw it again a few years later). I had avoided watching The Running Man for the last ten years through fear of been disappointed at the way it had aged. Should I have been worried? Well, yes and no. It is dated but it gets away with it surprisingly well. It is only dated in as much as you would expect any twenty-five year old sci-fi movie to be (even Alien looks dated today), but it still has its charms and its thrills. The costumes and the sets are very 80’s, but you would expect them to be. The acting is as good as you can expect from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. The action is plentiful, but not as bold, bloody or as violent as I remember.

Set in a future totalitarian/dystopian society, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed for a massacre he tried to prevent and sent to prison. He escapes but is recaptured and coerced into taking part in a bloodthirsty reality TV show, The Running Man.

Directed by Paul Michael Glazeer (best known as Starskey in the TV show Starsky and Hutch) it is by far the best of his handful of movies. Loosely based on a short story by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Legend has it that the filmmakers didn’t realise at the time they made the film that Richard Bachman was Stephen King. The dystopia is set in the aftermath of a failed world economy result in the world (or a small corner of southern California at least) having a wide gulf between rich and poor. The story is very different but a lot of the ideas and themes remain. There is an underlying ideal in the movie of truth, justice and overcoming oppression.

The sets and costumes look very dated as you would expect of a futuristic movie from the 80’s but if you look beyond that, the story is strangely prophetic with the ailing world economy and the obsession with reality TV. We also see the producers of the show misrepresenting the facts to the audience, something else that has been in the news recently with various TV scandals. There are lulls between the action scenes and Schwarzenegger’s woefully delivered one-liners, but again it gets away with it. The action scenes benefit from being real and not CGI, but they are also limited by this, leaving the feeling the battles should have been more epic. There is a knowing glint in Schwarzenegger’s eye as his reluctant hero of the revolution tells us: “I’m not into politics, I’m into survival.” By 1987 the future (now former) Governor of California had already expressed an interest in politics. Is this like the movie itself a lucky coincidence coupled with rose-tinted hindsight? I’m note sure but whether intention or not, the movie is far more satirical than I remember, although too light-hearted to be truly cutting or cynical.

It is very much Schwarzenegger’s movie, María Conchita Alonso is on hand as a bickering sidekick/love interest, but is given little to do beyond pouting and has no chemistry with Schwarzenegger. Real life game show host Richard Dawson has fun as Damon Killian, the Running Man TV show slimy producer/host. The “stalkers” who are sent out to hunt and kill the contestants include former NFL star Jim Brown and former professional wrestlers Charles Kalani, Jr. and Jesse Ventura.

Following The Hunger Games earlier this year other similar themed movies like this are been dusted off, while it isn’t in the same league as Battle Royale (2000) it is still worth checking out. I’m not sure how much new audiences will take from the move, but anyone who enjoyed it in the 80’s will probably be pleasantly surprised.

A note for those who haven’t noticed, Harold Weiss is played by Marvin J. McIntyre, better known as Truman Sparks in Fandango.

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Its that time of the month again to look back at my past months cinema viewing and pick the best.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A fantastic cast of veteran British actors and rising star Dev Patel make this light comedy drama both charming and engaging.

Safe House: Enjoyable but unoriginal action thriller. Denzel Washington is as good as ever but completely unchallenged. I could have done without the overused and unoriginal grainy photography and shaky camera.

Hunky Dory: Uneven and lightweight British high school movie that isn’t without its charms. I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

The Raven: A fictionalised account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe. Its all a bit silly and more Sherlock Homes than Hammer Horror but John Cusack is good as Poe.

John Carter: A hundred years in the making and frankly not worth the wait. An unnecessarily convoluted plot, overlong runtime, lacklustre action scenes and pointless use of 3D make for a huge disappointment. The only positive, it does look good.

21 Jump Street: Buddy cop movie and high school comedy in equal parts. It works as both a homage and a pastiche of the original TV show on which it is based. The real revelation is how funny Channing Tatum is.

Contraband: Routine but enjoyable action/drama/thriller, a remake of the Icelandic Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The big problem, Mark Wahlberg is a far less interesting performer to watch than the supporting actors: Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna and Giovanni Ribisi.

In Darkness: The true story of a man who hides a dozen Jewish refugees in the sewers of a Nazi-occupied polish town. It seems less manipulative and more honest than bigger profile holocaust movies, this is enhanced by the claustrophobic environment end the more intimate story.

The Hunger Games: A perfectly cast and well balanced adaptation of the phenomenally successful book. It handles the difficult subject matter and the potential wide audience demographic perfectly but the greatest achievement is that it works for both fans of the books and people with no prior knowledge. Already a hit, parts two and three are sure to follow.

Wild Bill: Being a farther to his two sons is the last thing on Bill’s mind, but when he returns home after being released from prison on licence after eight years, but he is forced to make a choice when he finds them abandoned by their mother and fending for themselves. A great directorial debut by actor Dexter Fletcher.

I am pleased to report that I haven’t seen a bad movie all month and half of what I have seen are contenders for movie of the month. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and 21 Jump Street were both far better than expected. In Darkness came very close and The Hunger Games looks like a clear winner, however the last movie I saw Wild Bill just edges it. Not only is it at least as good as the other contenders but it came out of nowhere, I had never heard of it until a day before I saw it. Although not totally original it does avoid may of the pitfalls and clichés of your typical London gangster movie. It also manages to be a funny and engaging story of dysfunctional family without being saccharine sweet. Less an urban western than the title hints at, but the final showdown doesn’t disappoint.

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Around five years ago a book that I love was made into a $200million movie that I hate. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I love Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Books but I do like them and hope they don’t go the way of The Golden Compass the mess that was made of Northern Lights, the first part of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

In a dystopian future version of the United States, the country of Panem is split into twelve districts whose only purpose is to serve the people of the decadent capitol. In response to an uprising many years before, each year, two young people from every district are chosen to for the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. When her sister is chosen, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place, and is sent to the capital along with her and fellow District 12 “tribute” Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The skills Katnis has learnt as a hunter and poacher may be the thing that keeps her alive in the games.

A faithful and loving adaptation that successfully traverses the tightrope of what to cut and what to include. But it takes more than being faithful, it needs to be good, and The Hunger Games is very good. It is most likely helped by the fact that original author Suzanne Collins is amongst the script writers. The greatest challenge is how to adapt the first person narration of the novel to something more cinematic. This is achieved effortlessly with the addition of a pair of commentators (Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) who provide exposition and explanation for those who haven’t read the books.

The casting is perfect; it is possibly because of the parallels with Ree Dolly, her character from Winter’s Bone but I can’t think of anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence who could have played Katniss. But it goes beyond that, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Paula Malcomson (who was great in Deadwood) are all perfect. I struggled to imagine Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, but as always with Harrelson he pulls it off. But as with the book it is all about Katniss, Lawrence’s performance is note perfect showing fear and emotion as a reluctant hero. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to make our heroine socially awkward and sometimes cold and distant. It is this that humanises the character making her more likeable.

A film about kids killing each other in was never going without violence and it is very much in evidence but a 12A (PG13 in America) certificate is needed for the target audience. This is achieved by not showing the audience quite as much as we think we are seeing, it is a tried and trusted and surprisingly effective trick. Coupled with a minimum use of blood it works and the movie gets a teenage friendly rating without feeling watered down. There are couple of pacing issues, there is a lot to fit in and it does rush through parts of the story then sags a little in the middle, but this is quickly forgotten when the games begin. When it comes, the action is well constructed and paced but not as plentiful as the trailer would have you believe. It is a surprisingly thoughtful movie spending little time talking about the immorality and unfairness of the class structure leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions.

A resounding success that is better than the first two Harry Potter movies and all the Twilight adaptations to date. A film that should satisfy fans of the books and newcomers alike.

With a budget of around $100million the movie needs to be a financial success for parts two and three to be made. With an opening weekend that could exceed £200million (worldwide) it’s a safe bet that we will be seing Catching Fire and Mockingjay in the next few years. My only fear, the first was by far the strongest of the books with the last been the weakest. To create a successful and memorable trilogy they are going to have to get creative with the script and possible invest a bit more money on the effects for parts two and three.

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I read the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs many years ago when I was at school although I enjoyed it at the time hadn’t given it a second thought until the trailers for the movie John Carter appeared a few months ago. Judging from the trailer it is a lose adaptation at best taking characters and ideas but not the plot from the novel originally published nearly a century ago (1917). Given the number of versions Edgar Rice Burroughs other creation, Tarzan it surprising to learn this is the first big screen outing for John Carter and “Barsoom” series of novels. Tomorrows releases got me thinking about other books I have read that will be hitting the cinema this year:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: From a novel I read a long time ago to one I have only just read. I saw the box set of the three Hunger Games novels while Christmas shopping last year, having seen the movie trailer I purchased the books and read them over Christmas. Although it loses its way in the third book and isn’t as good as Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale with which it will be forever compared (despite Suzanne Collins insistence that she was unaware of the Japanese novel) it is still worth reading. The casting looks to be perfect most notably Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a character with clear parallels with Ree Dolly, her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone. Release date: 23rd March.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: The adaptation of this seminal novel of the Beat Generation is a bittersweet one for me, I have often thought it could make an excellent movie but my anticipation is tempered by fear that it will never live up to the book. It is in short, one of my all time favourite novels. Fortunately producer Francis Ford Coppola (who has owned the rights for many years) has chosen a perfect director in the shape of Walter Salles who did a fantastic job with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and has assembled a talented young cast. Release date: 21st September. 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2: The startling revelation, I have read the Twilight books. As for the movies, the first and third actually aren’t bad. Depending on your point of view, spitting Breaking Dawn into two movies is the only way to do justice to the epic final novel or a cynical attempt to extort the maximum amount of cash from the franchises loyal following. I’m going for the latter. Still as with the final part of Harry potter, Part two promises to better than the dull part one. Release date: 16th November

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: With four adaptations to date do we need another? The 1974 version staring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow is a good film but is somehow lacking, it fails to capture the mood and the magic of the novel that is as important to “The Lost Generation” as On the Road is to the “Beat Generation“. I was a little dubious of the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire but actually think it could work. It is a novel that deserves a great adaptation, Baz Luhrmann could be the visionary director to give it to us, but why does he have to make it in 3D? UK release TBA, USA: 25th December

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