The Hollywood blockbuster machine has churned out its share of insipid box office goldmines aimed at teens during the past several years.
So, it’s refreshing to see one get it right. Gary Ross’s “The Hunger Games,” which is adapted from the first of Suzanne Collins’s enormously popular dystopian trilogy, is an exciting and occasionally – gasp – thought provoking science fiction thriller.
It’s no secret that the material includes some borrowed elements, namely from Kinji Fukasaku’s uber-violent cult classic “Battle Royale.” But “Games” makes up for the its lack of originality in the story department with pointed social commentary, imaginative sets and costume design and a solid performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
For those not in the know, “Games” is set in a not-so-distant future following a war between The Capitol and 12 outlying districts.
As a punishment for their revolt, each district must annually choose a young man and woman to take part in the titular gladiatorial competition. Only one of its 24 contestants will survive.
Much like a season of “Survivor” or any other reality TV show, the youngsters are followed by camera crews in the weeks leading up to the games as they are trained and strutted about in stylish costumes.
Lawrence, who impressed me with her performance in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” plays Katniss, a young woman from a coal mining district who takes the place of her sister in the games. The actress proves once again her ability to convincingly portray young women in dangerous circumstances.
For a movie aimed at teens, “Hunger” is pretty violent, although most of the deaths are not displayed in graphic detail.
But the grim tale features some clever commentary on the spectacle of reality television and the public’s tendency to flock to the tragedy of others.
The trilogy is off to a solid start. I’m hoping next year’s sophomore effort retains the first entry’s energy and ideas that make the “Twilight” films pale in comparison.
Another of this week’s new releases involves characters thrown into a confined space and then left to bump one another off.
Film festival favorite “The Raid: Redemption” is likely one of the most violent movies you will ever see. Set in Indonesia, the picture is a ballet of broken limbs and battered bodies.
Director Gareth Evans wastes little time setting up. A nefarious crime kingpin runs his operation out of a dilapidated 30-story building in the slums of Jakarta.
As the movie opens, we meet Rama (Iko Uwais) - a rookie cop with a young wife and baby - and his squad as they attempt to infiltrate the building and take out the entire syndicate.
And that’s the story. For most its 100-minute running time, the cops and criminals engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
To its credit, the endless fight sequences incorporating Indonesia’s martial art, Pencak Silat, are breathtaking and brilliantly choreographed.
On the other hand, the film is otherwise threadbare. A plot twist occurs halfway through the movie, but it barely registers. Another occurs near its end and has the same effect.
I’ll give credit where it’s due: “The Raid” includes virtuosic stunt and camera work and is a must-see for action movie enthusiasts. All others might consider proceeding with caution.
The weekend’s third selection also doles out significant pain to its characters, but its story revolves around matters of the heart.
“The Deep Blue Sea” is the latest film from Terence Davies, whose work recently screened during a retrospective at Brooklyn’s BAM Cinemas.
The director’s best efforts – “The Long Day Closes” and “Distant Voices, Still Lives” – could be described as elegiac hymns that chronicle its characters’ memories of 1940s and 1950s England.
But Davies’ latest is a mournful dirge. In the film, Rachel Weisz is Hester, the wife of a British judge in 1950s London whose life unravels after having an affair with a cad, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), who does not return her affections.
The movie is equally gorgeous to view – with its lush cinematography and imaginative use of color – and painful to watch.
A sequence in which Hester stands before an oncoming train and then flashes back to the huddled masses singing in unison in a subway tunnel during a World War II bombing is particularly effective.
Hester’s obsession with Freddie is unreasonable, considering the horrid way in which he treats her as well as her husband’s doting attempts to win her back.
But the story encapsulates Blaise Pascal’s statement that “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
“The Deep Blue Sea” is a haunting film about a character’s illogical descent into all-consuming love.
"The Hunger Games" is playing at Douglaston's Movie World, while "The Raid: Redemption" is screening at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and "The Deep Blue Sea" is playing at the Paris Theatre and the Angelika Film Center.