Everybody knew at least one kid growing up who would copy and paste articles from the Internet or encyclopedias and attempt to turn them in as part of an assignment. Well, it turns out that Hollywood has that kid too, and his name is Shia LaBeouf. On Monday, LaBeouf released his directorial debut, the short film Howardcontour.com, online, where it received some acclaim, but was mostly regarded with the same kind of indifference that greets every "artistic" project James Franco undertakes. Then, several critics and bloggers began to notice that LaBeouf's film bore several striking resemblances to the graphic novel Justin M. Damiano by Daniel Clowes, and began to dissect the two works, only to find that in addition to plot similarities, HowardContour.com included direct quotes from Clowes' text and many of the film's shots were almost identical to panels in the novel. But there's no reference in the film, its promotional or press materials or any interviews LaBeouf has given about the project that gives any kind of credit to Clowes.
In response, the film was quickly taken down and password-protected. However, LaBeouf knows that the best thing to do when you're caught passing off someone else's work as your own is to apologize, and he did so in a series of tweets where he explained that he was a fan of Clowes' work, and that it was the inspiration for Howardzzzvontour.com, but "in my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation. [I'm] embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration. I was truly moved by his piece of work & I knew that it would make a poignant & relevant short. I apologize to all who assumed I wrote it." He also added that "deeply regret[s]" what happened, and ended his apology with a succinct summation of the events that transpired, by stating "I f***ed up."
Unfortunately for LaBeouf, there's a small problem with his apology. No, it's not that he expects us to believe that it was possible for him to just "forget" to credit Clowes despite basically adapting his work. Instead, it's the very first tweet in his apology, in which he proclaims that "Copying isn't particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.", which BuzzFeed noticed happened to be eerily similar to an entry on Yahoo Answers from several years ago, written by a user named Lili. Of course, it could just be an unfortunate coincidence, but things aren't looking good for LaBeouf right now.
But we're not just upset about the fact that LaBeouf attempted to steal someone else's hard work. We're also upset because, well, we should have seen this coming. After all, almost a year ago it was revealed that the touching, poignant, thought-provoking poem the actor "wrote" for Alec Baldwin after leaving the Broadway production of Orphans was actually plagiarized from an Esquire article by Tom Chiarella. And yet, despite our disappointment and shame, we wanted to believe that LaBeouf had changed. We didn't think to suspect that he could be up to his old tricks. We had forgiven, forgotten and moved on, and now, we are back in the same place that we were last February, feeling the same disappointment and shame.
Putting our hurt feelings aside for a moment, though, we're primarily wondering why LaBeouf constantly thinks he can get away with plagiarizing other people's work. Did he miss the day in middle school when our teachers sat us down and defined plagiarism and its consequences? Did he skip the high school English classes where we learned how to properly cite other works in our term papers? Did he never have to submit anything to Turn It In.com like the rest of the world did? And, failing all of that, did he never watch a single episode of any children's show where cartoon characters taught us about how stealing is bad? We're pretty sure there was even an episode of Even Stevens dedicated to that concept, so he must have heard it at some point in his life.
Just in case nobody has ever sat LaBeouf down and explained plagiarism to him, assuming it would just be common sense, allow us to do the honor. So, Shia, listen up: if you want to use someone else's words in something you're making, you need to give them credit. We recommended you try footnotes, or even MLA-style parenthetical. Throw a credit up onscreen at the end of your film. Begin quotes with the phrase "In the words of..." It's okay to be inspired by someone's words or art. It's okay to reference someone else's work. Just stop thinking that nobody will notice if you incorporate large portions of other people's work into your projects, and then attempt to pass the whole thing off as solely your idea. It just makes you look like a jerk.
And if you have trouble remembering all of that, just keep in mind that old adage: fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times, however, and we will start requiring you to turn in a Works Cited document with every project, statement, apology or tweet you release.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.