“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and Movie Critic Failure

“That was so bad,” I despaired, waiting for nachos. “I’m right, right? It was really that bad?”

“Yes!” Daniel snapped back. “What the fuck were those monkeys?”

We were staring over our beers at the Chama River Brewing Company bar. It was May 2008, after an advanced screening of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I don’t often talk to strangers, but I couldn’t help telling the schlub two seats over “We just saw the new ‘Indiana Jones’ movie, man. Never see it. Oh my god.”

“South Park” soon made a graphic episode about how watching that movie was like watching Indy get raped by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

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The Rottentomatometer, which compiles every movie review on the internet into a percentage for each flick, shows a very high 78 percent for “Crystal Skull.”

If they serve any journalistic role at all, ubiquitous movie critics need to be calling out crap. They are too often wrong. I speak from a place of deep jealousy.

It was interesting to see Obama, between two ferns this week, say how bad an idea it was to make three “Hangover” movies, but how great Bradley Cooper is in them. Cooper also gets to be in good moves like “American Hustle.” Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence, the other stars of “Hustle,” have all served time in mutlistudio-powered franchises.

I think this is how it works for big-time actors. Yes, the studio tells them, you can make that David O. Russell movie with some of our money, but first you have to be in “Terminator Salvation.” Because we like driving gold-plated Bentleys.

There’s a scale, let’s say. At one end are movies made by talented directors with good scripts about interesting characters. At the other end are huge franchises. The huge franchises make billions for the studios, which subsequently finance the director-driven future Best Picture nominees.

Maybe critics can’t do anything about this system, but they shouldn’t enable it by endorsing obvious garbage like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Its Tomatometer was an astounding 89 percent. It is worth a billion dollars to its studio. It is an extremely bad movie with obvious, evil motives.

>:) $$$$$$$ $$$$$$$=-

A really cool guy I knew in my reporter days once told me his daughter hanged herself because of “Twilight.” He called the books “evil,” and thought I should write a story about what they do to young girls’ minds. His daughter insisted on being called Bella in the months before she died—the main character’s name—and gushed daily about how dreamy Edward is. Edward is the sexy high-school vampire Bella loves.

I ran with the story just long enough for suicide experts to explain why “Twilight” did not cause my friend’s daughter to kill herself. She had other (extremely sad) issues.

“Twilight” didn’t help, though. As we’ve discussed here before, “Twilight” is absolutely about sex, but it never says so explicitly. Immature entertainment consumers, around the ages of maybe 12-15, obsess over “Twilight” because of its love story, but they don’t realize almost every page or minute of movie is about characters who want sex but fear its consequences. That strange message seeps in before kids are smart enough to understand it.

I don’t think people understand how bad “Twilight” is. Bella gets so distraught when Edward dumps her that she starts riding a motorcycle too fast, without a helmet. Bella and Edward are confusing, dangerous role models.

Before the “Catching Fire” Blu-ray gets to the movie, an ad runs for the 10-disc collection called “Twilight Forever.” All four movies, plus 100 hours of bonus stuff. It costs $75.*

>:) $$$$$$$ $$$$$$$ $$$$$$$=-

There’s an amazing scene in the first “Hunger Games” movie. Katniss is one minute from the start of the game. She hugs her friend and she’s shaking. Her lips quiver. She’s breathing hard and her neck strains as she slowly walks to a tube that takes her to the field of play. A 50-second countdown begins. She can’t move until it’s over. She looks at the other kids, and at the stash of weapons they’re all facing. Everyone runs when the countdown hits zero. There’s no sounds but a hollow tone, and the camera shakes as Katniss watches opponents start killing each other with knives and axes.

It is so scary.

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Great science fiction mines tragic truth. Children should never, ever be in a position where they’re forced to kill one another. Yet this actually happens in our real world. The government of “The Hunger Games” is a lavish, wealthy class of psychopaths who rule impoverished slums and force the children of those slums to fight and kill. The story fictionalizes real problems, riding notions like income inequality and war to a dystopic vision of the future.

But it’s a tease. And, worse, a time suck. The fear Katniss experiences of having to kill others is a fascinating theme to explore, but not for four two-and-a-half hour movies. There is a true classic here, achieved by condensing the story and focusing on its most important aspects. We don’t get to see it.

Don’t tell me it takes 10 hours to tell. “Gladiator” has Maximus go from hero general to slave to gladiator to overthrowing the Caesar of Rome, all in under three hours. Katniss can inspire riots and take down Donald Sutherland in the same amount of time.

But no—10 hours. One movie can’t make what four can. So they pad the story with a teenage love triangle that oozes awful dialogue. Scene after scene is about either Peeta’s hurt feelings or Gale’s hurt feelings. Who will Katniss choose?

These scenes of two characters looking and talking intensely to each other are boring, but “Twilight” proved they work. It’s demographic targeting—tweeny love triangles are a billion-dollar formula. “The Hunger Games” pretends it’s about kids killing and elitist opulence, but those parts are brief. Almost all deaths in the games happen while Katniss is hiding far away. The actual meat is just fluff.

Instead of an incredible single science fiction movie, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of a franchise made interminable by selling out to a formula and disrespecting our time.

It’s probably not art if Hollywood suits are splitting billions in profits; it’s probably product. The critics should be watchdogging this. Instead, they happily swallow poisoned Subway sandwiches these megamoney franchises are branding. I’m telling you, Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” is so much better than “The Hunger Games.” No matter what the internet says.

Katniss gets attacked by computer-animated monkeys in “Catching Fire.” Monkeys. What the fuck?

* There’s also a trailer for “Divergent,” another “Twilight”/”Hunger Games” rip-off love story destined to make a billion dollars and be taken way too seriously.

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In “Breaking Dawn,” the only thing that matters is sex. But we mustn’t speak of that.

I have never seen anything like “Breaking Dawn: Part 1,” which is so brazenly about something it never actually acknowledges, but isn’t smart enough to be allegorical. It freaks me out, and it should freak you out too.

I’ve had an itch to know and understand the “Twilight” series of books and movies ever since I almost wrote a story about a young girl in Santa Fe who committed suicide. She was the daughter of a combat marine and coach here, one of the best guys I’ve ever met. A few years ago when I was a sports reporter, I was regularly bugging him about helping me report on real-life competitive knife fighting. I didn’t hear from him in a while, and then he got back in touch and said he had another story he wanted me to do.

She was a young girl, I can’t remember how old. She’d become completely obsessed with the “Twilight” books, about two high schoolers who fall in love. The boy in the story is a vampire. His name is Edward and he’s really good-looking. The girl’s name is Bella. My friend’s daughter gushed on and on about how wonderful Edward is. She started telling her dad and other family members to call her “Bella.” She changed her hair and clothes to match descriptions of Bella in the novels. Then she hanged herself.

I did not end up writing this story, though I did interview a few experts on teenage suicide. The girl didn’t kill herself because of “Twilight;” she had deep-running issues with abandonment and self esteem. My friend thought the books were evil and had changed his daughter, but they didn’t cause the problems that ultimately killed her, nor did they drive her to hang herself.

Still, I’ve always been curious.

Sh*tbird f*cking toolbags

This is what happens in “Breaking Dawn: Part 1,” based on the last book in the “Twilight” series:

Bella and Edward are married, at a nice-enough wedding where family and friends give funny speeches. Nice enough, that is, until Bella’s werewolf friend Jacob shows up to see Bella on her “last day as a human.” Except she’s not gonna turn into a vampire immediately, she tells him. He freaks out and tells her she’ll die. Apparently, they are talking about the danger of human-vampire sex. This has to be inferred, though, because they never actually say anything specific.

Honeymoon time. Bella gets really nervous about the sex, though she never says so. She shaves her legs and brushes her teeth and there is huge, huge buildup to her finally getting the chance to bone this boring whelp Edward. They start going at it, and in the middle of the act Edward grabs the top of the headboard and squeezes it so hard it breaks in his hands.

“How badly are you hurt?” he asks her in the morning. She says she’s fine, but then they both notice she’s covered in bruises. Edward freaks out, throwing a fit of self-loathing. No more sex, he has decided without saying so. She puts on a black nighty and poses for him, trying to goad his whelp libido into action, and he laughs at her.

She wakes up from a dream and literally begs Edward in the middle of the night. He consents. The next morning she finds herself alone, eating peanut butter and chicken for breakfast. As she eats, she starts staring at a chicken leg, slowly pulls the pink meat from the bone, then gets nauseous and goes to the bathroom to throw up. She’s pregnant, just like that.

The flick gets really dark at this point. All the characters start telling Bella she’s going to die because she’s carrying a vampire baby. Abortion, just like the sex, is talked about over and over, without actually being talked about. Everyone wants the baby “out of her.” She says it’s a miracle, though, and she’s gonna have it. Edward flips out again, angrily blaming Bella for forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. Now she’s gonna die because she was so insistent they do the dirty deed.

I just can’t stress this enough: There is no plot in “Breaking Dawn,” and no action. It’s all about the fretting over sex and its consequences.

When the baby comes we get a crazy caesarian scene, shot in first-person from Bella’s point of view. It’s incredibly bloody. Even worse is the way this scene sounds, with all kinds of crazy crunching noises. She actually dies for a while, until Edward bites through her skin on different spots all over her body. Then she comes back as a vampire.

This is just “Part 1.” “Part 2” is coming late this year, and it’ll sell out midnight shows and be a huge hit with little girls who are new to the feeling of finding boys cute instead of icky. That is a disturbing prospect. Being a little kid at that age (pre-teens and early teens) is genuinely strange. It can be scary.

Children should not obsess over a story line this brazenly sexual, especially if it can’t responsibly discuss anything. Kids are impressionable. If they’re consumed by a piece of teeny-bopper fiction, they may look to it for some kind of guidance. If some teenager’s boyfriend is a verbally and physically abusive man-child, well, he’s just like Edward so it’s OK. More likely, I think, “Twilight” just muddles the issue of sex in a confused young person’s mind. They sit and watch this garbage thinking it’s about one thing when it’s actually about another.

I looked up Stephenie Meyer, the author of the books and producer of the movies. She’s Mormon, for what that’s worth. She’s also filthy, stinking rich. If some sad tragedy in her past has screwed up her brain, I can’t find anything about that. She may be a covert culture warrior, helping the pro-life politicians who want to outlaw abortion and contraception. Bella is made to feel terrible, physically and emotionally, for wanting to screw her new husband before she was ready to carry his baby. That message would seem spot-on if you’re anti birth control.

Anyway, I hated this movie like nothing I’ve watched in a very long time. (Beyond the creepy politics, it’s just an awful piece of film making, with laughably terrible special effects and dialogue and acting.) If I ever have a daughter, it’ll be a personal mission of mine to keep “Twilight” out of her hands. I hope children who see these stupid movies don’t take them too seriously, because “Twilight” is the work of a sick, repressed mind.

Just like Bella’s demon spawn, it should not be.

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