Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger Games Review

This is not one of those reviews where I will tiptoe around key plot points. I will go into every nook and cranny (whatever those are), so if you haven't seen the movie yet, then don't read on. I warned you. So, I wasn't able to go to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games, but I did make it to a Friday night IMAX show. I honestly didn't think about it being IMAX while I was watching. I think you really have to just go to a regular IMAX theater like at The Henry Ford to get the real "bigger than you would ever need it" feeling. So was it worth the extra couple dollars? Ehhhh. We mostly went for it for the convenient time, not the luxury. Now, before I get to the movie, a little blurb on the previews. I don't know about all of you, but I can't wait for Ridley Scott's Prometheus to come out. The Avengers and MIB:III all look like good summer fun, but I may have to sit out Tim Burton's adaptation of Dark Shadows. It just looks too odd. Which is weird, because I usually really like Burton movies. I've watched the show that it's based off of and it doesn't look anything like it. Oh well. On to the film!

So, first thing I'm going to say is that I did like this film a lot. It deserves all the praise it has been getting and it stays pretty close to the book. What I'm going to do throughout most of this review is nit-pick, because the movie is that good to where the only thing you can do is point out all of the minor flaws. And yes, I have read all the books, so I'll give my two cents on things they left out or changed. I liked the opening of the movie, it set the stage nicely and allowed the uninitiated to not be completely in the dark about what was going on. I thought Katniss' relationship with Prim was portrayed very well in the pre-reaping, with the director taking liberties with the mockingjay pin to build up the sisterly bond. Did I mind that they totally scrapped Madge? Nah, she wasn't necessary, and I think it was important to emphasize the sister's dedication to each other. The scenes with Gale were OK. I feel like they could of built up that relationship a little bit. I mean, they are supposed to be soul mates and they just seem a little playful in the movie. The whole reaping scene was perfect-o. The beaten down look on everyone's faces, the eerie stillness in the air, and the sense of dread that is all over Prim. Enter Effie, whose cheeriness seems very out of place against the white-washed stage. Elizabeth Banks played Effie very well, to the point where I didn't think about her being Effie, but that the person there was Effie herself. Anyway, the scene that really hit me was when Effie calls out Prim's name. Everyone kind of backs away from her (and Peeta too when his name is called) as if she has an incredibly contagious disease and she looks around as if she isn't really sure if this is a dream or not. Is she just having a recurring dream or has her worst fear been realized? She snaps out of it long enough to tuck in her duck tail and heads towards the stage before Katniss intervenes and blah blah blah. We all saw the part in the previews. Anyway, its sad and we all know it. Good job, movie.

A few things missing from the beginning: The fleeing Avox girl and boy are gone. This is also not a huge loss and I can see why they ditched it. Katniss thinks about the Avox girl a lot in the book, and it would have been hard to translate that to the movie screen. There is also little to no explanation about why they have to put their names in several times or what that gives them. It's said by Katniss very quickly before she leaves, but if I didn't know what was going on, I probably would have missed it.

On the train we finally hear from Peeta and it's right then that I realized that perhaps Josh Hutcherson wasn't the best choice for Peeta. I really didn't like him throughout the movie. Peeta was borderline worthless in the first book, which is why I didn't really like him until a little ways into Catching Fire. Hutcherson just played him as being this dull idiot who meant well. Oh, and he was super whiny. Don't hate on me yet, Team Peeta, as I'm all for him, but he wasn't portrayed well in this film. Someone who was portrayed well was Haymitch. Woody Harrelson is Haymitch, end of discussion. All the capital scenes played out pretty much how I imagined them, with people wearing tons of different colors and all looking like hipsters. Cinna was oddly the only person in the prep team who has a lot of screen time. The others are seen for maybe ten seconds. They'll be along in the next film, trust me. They are too pivotal in the third book to be left out completely. I though Lenny Kravitz did a fine job as Cinna. He played him basically how I thought he'd be in real life.

A few good things about having a movie based on The Hunger Games is that we get to see things through more eyes than one. In the book, we only see things through Katniss' eyes and hear her thoughts. With a movie, we can see scenes with Haymitch, Seneca Crane, and President Snow, even though they are not sharing a scene with Katniss. It was fun to see Haymitch helping his team out by going and talking to sponsors, because in the book it seemed like he wasn't doing anything at all (though he was). The only trade-off is that we do not have Katniss' thoughts. We don't hear her think about her relationship with Gale or her confusion with how she feels for Peeta. We don't hear her thoughts on the Avox girl, or her close studying of Foxface, or her fear that she may have to kill Rue if it comes to it. That's why when it really comes down to it, books are just a bit better than movies. I really felt that I understood Katniss and her struggles in the books. It's harder for me to say the same thing for the movie. I don't know, maybe it's just me.

OK, now for the arena. It was just as bloody and violent as I hoped it would be. That makes me sound like a horrible person. What I meant to say is that I'm glad that they didn't sanitize all the violence from the book. It still had kids getting sliced up, beaten, and not to mention eaten. Best deaths go to the male tribute from District 3 who gets his neck snapped by Cato, and my all time favorite death is Clove getting her head bashed in by Thresh. She totally deserved it! I'm glad they kept the scene where she is fighting with the boy for the backpack at the beginning of the arena.
I'm not sure why I like this part so much but it just shows how real the whole thing was, that Katniss was a backpack away from getting a knife in the face in the first minute. The whole thing with Rue is beautiful, if not tragic at the same time. Cato was much more menacing than I thought he was going to be. I saw a picture of the actor before seeing the movie and I thought he wasn't going to pull it off. He just looked...well...not scary. He pulled it off though. But how is he the "main villain" for the movie? Sure he lasted the longest, but he didn't really come close to killing Katniss. Hell, Clove almost killed her twice! She should have been the main villain. Too bad she got cornucopia'd. Yeah, so the whole Peeta-Katniss cave scene: yuck. I didn't like that part in the book either. It was too awkward and honestly cringe worthy. As soon as Peeta started talking about how he should have gone out to her in the rain that one day and given her the bread, I started rolling my eyes. Their relationship was just not believable and Peeta shouldn't have been fooled for a second.

Foxface always intrigued me in the book. She was that tribute that I figured would either help Katniss, or would end up being her foil. It turns out it's neither, but she isn't even mentioned until ten minutes before the credits roll. That was a little odd. The mutts were...well....just big dogs, as I guess it would have been hard to show that they were supposed to represent the dead tributes. I guess if they would of focused more on the tributes eyes and then showed the mutts eyes? Nah, too much work for something that wasn't that important. I honestly didn't like the cornucopia scene at the end. It just wasn't as suspenseful as the book. Instead of Cato running out of the woods being chased by the mutts, he's already on the cornucopia. Then Cato throws both of them around for awhile until Katniss shoots his hand and he's knocked over into a gang of Meh. It was alright, but not exactly what I expected. I kind of wish Peeta had actually done something during the games. Sure he warns Katniss and gets slashed because of it, but the rest of the time he is just kind of there. Katniss killed Marvel, Glimmer, and Cato (kind of, Peeta helped), while Peeta unwittingly killed Foxface. I just never got the feeling that Peeta was ever really protecting Katniss, but that she protected him. Oh, and one last change from the books is that Thresh was killed by the mutts instead of Cato. Fine.

My biggest gripe with this great movie was the very end. Here is the end of the book:

""It was all for the games," he says. "How you acted."
Not all of it,” I say, tightly holding onto my flowers.
“Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what’s going to be left when we get home?” he says.
“I don’t know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get,” I say. He waits, for further explanation, but none’s forthcoming.
“Well, let me know when you work it out,” he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.""
Heartbreaking, right? It's also a fantastic ending to the book. The movie says somewhat the same thing, but only shorter and lacks any emotion. She says she wants to forget everything, and he says he doesn't. That's it. I didn't like it. It didn't even seemed like he got that she was playing him to keep them alive. So, not the best ending in my book. So, the movie had some disappointing parts, but it had a hell of a lot of good parts to make up for it. Sure they left out some things or didn't explain other things, but it all worked out in the end. Right? What did you think of the film? Better or worse than the book? Me, I say the book was better. The movie was great, but it lacked the satirical edge that the book had, and I felt more invested in Katniss while reading it. I give the film a B+. It's sure to please both fans and outsiders alike!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Craig's Pop Culture Round-up!

Hi there! Welcome to my new blog, which will basically be my ramblings that don't belong in my other two blogs. I'll talk about current movies, TV shows, issues, and anything else I can wrap my head around. Who knows, you might learn something! In my first installment of "Craig's Pop Culture Round-Up!," I'll look into the new Disney live action movie, John Carter, share my thoughts on the upcoming Hunger Games film, and give my reaction to this year's Oscars.

Now, if you have seen a movie in the last couple months, or watched TV in that same span of time, then you've seen one of the trailers for Disney's new movie, John Carter. At first glance, it looked like another CGI heavy Sci-fi romp that looked sort of cool, but would end up sucking because of bad dialogue and all around uninspired ideas. The name is stupid too. John Carter? That's what they came up with? I'm guilty of writing off movies after seeing a preview of it in theaters, as are most people. That's the purpose of trailers, to show us a peek of what the movie is about and by that we decide if we will spend ten bucks or more if it's 3-D/IMAX to see it. People know what they like. I know what I like. I do like sci-fi, but not cheesy and uninspired sci-fi. Then I was informed that the movie is in fact based on a book, and not something that Disney created out of thin air. The plot thickens.

It turns out that John Carter is based off of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom (Barsoom is what they call Mars) series, specifically A Princess of Mars. Hmmmm....maybe John Carter wasn't such a bad name for the movie. A Princess of Mars is a little confusing. Burroughs is best known for creating the character Tarzan, though that was after he published the Barsoom series. Burroughs' Barsoom series was written in 1912, a whole century ago, making claims of it being a total rip-off unsubstantial. In fact, the series inspired authors like Arther C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and especially Ray Bradbury when he did his Martian Chronicles. Carl Sagan even credits the series for inspiring him to become an astrophysicist. Many may balk at the claim in the recent trailers for the movie that this inspired Star Wars and Avatar, but it turns out to be completely true. Both Lucas and Cameron have mentioned in interviews that they based certain aspects in their movies off of the story of John Carter. So why the hell hasn't someone already made this movie?

People have tried since the 30's, it turns out. Bob Clampett approached Burroughs with the idea of adapting A Princess of Mars into a full length animated film. Burroughs liked the idea, since he acknowledged that a live action film would be impossible. Why impossible? Well, let me give you a quick background on the story. In A Princess of Mars, John Carter is described as being an immortal, someone who doesn't remember a childhood, only being in his 30's. He fights for the Confederacy during the Civil War and eventually strikes it rich in Arizona. While hiding from Apaches in a cave, Carter appears to have died. He is mysteriously transported via astral-projection to Mars and inhabits a body identical to his earthly one. Since he is accustomed to Earth's higher gravity, he is much more agile and stronger than the inhabitants of mars. There he meets a princess and helps the locals defeat a threat. I won't go further into the plot, as I'm sure some of you will want to see the movie. Anyway, if anyone had literally tried to make this movie at any time before special effects and CGI, it would of looked incredibly crappy. Sure they could have made the many species of mars, but how do you pull off the insane acrobatics and such that we've seen in the trailers? Anyway, getting back to Clampett, he went ahead and got some footage animated and showed it to test audiences. They hated it, mostly because they found an earthman on mars to be too outlandish. Clampett had to scrap the idea. If the movie would have been made, it would have predated Disney's Snow White and become the first full length animated film. Stop-motion extraordinaire Ray Harryhousen expressed interest in doing a film version in the 50's, but it never came to fruition. Disney bought the rights in the 80's but then realized that technology was still not advanced enough to tackle the project. Disney waited until 2007 to buy the rights back and try again. They finally had a John Carter movie made.

So, there is just a sneak peek at what everyone had to go through to make what appears to be one of the most influential tales in sci-fi. The movie doesn't come out until this Friday, so I can't tell you if it's worth seeing or not. Is there a possibility that Disney will screw it up? Sure, but early reviews for the movie are pretty good, so there's a good chance that we'll see more John Carter movies.

Next topic, The Hunger Games. If you've read the books, then you know that this movie is a huge deal. It's not just with teenage girls either, as I've heard from plenty of males and females of all ages that they can't wait to see the movie. How do I feel about the movie? Well, I'm hopeful. Like every fanboy/fangirl, I want to see a visual representation of what I pictured in my head while reading the book. Guess what though, there never is a really perfect representation. It's because we all picture Peeta looking a different way, or Katniss a little younger. Something will disappoint us fans of the book, I can guarantee it. So, just get over it and enjoy the movie. People haven't liked the casting of the characters. I think they're fine. Let's see how they do before we assume that they are all terrible and cannot fulfill our dreams of a perfect Hunger Games movie.

Here are a few small SPOILERS that I have dug up: Madge will not be in the film. People have already noticed that Prim is the one who gives Katniss the pin in the preview instead of Madge. People are pissed about this. Why? Who cares about Madge? She literally does nothing the whole series except that. Remember the Avox girl? She's gone too. It was interesting in the book, but I can see why they cut it for the movie. We will not see a lot of Cinna's prep team. Sure, we'll meet them and all, but they won't be shown as much as they were in the book. END SPOILERS! Now, I'm sure that some people are going to put up a fuss about those things, but seriously, how do you expect the filmmakers to include everything? Movies would be so much longer. Three hour movies don't appeal to the larger audience, only to die-hard fans. LOTR is an exception to that. What is the one thing I am worried about? The violence, and how they will portray it. The Hunger Games series is extremely violent. People die a lot in the books, and mostly in gruesome ways. Now, this movie is rated PG-13, so the violence has been turned down a little I'm assuming. That, or they'll pull a Dark Knight and not show most of the gruesome stuff. Both ways could lose audience for the film so let's see what they do. Either way, I'm extremely excited for this film.

A few quick hits:

  • A new show that I find intriguing: Awake. Dad gets into accident with wife and kid. In one reality, the wife survived, in another, the son survived. So, every time this guy goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other reality. Oh, he's also a cop, and uses both realities to help him solve crimes with the help of his two partners. I just watched the first episode today and I really enjoyed it. I'll continue to watch it, unlike Alcatraz, and hope that it's not a one note show, like Alcatraz.
  • Community and Bob's Burgers are coming back this week! I was a little afraid they both got cancelled. I need some more Troy and Abed in my life.
  • Hope you liked the Oscars this year. Saw The Artist winning Best Picture from a mile away (great film btw) but Meryl Streep winning Best Actress threw me off. It also ruined the contest I was in to win free movie passes for a year. STRE-E-E-E-EP! Note to the Academy: More hosts like Billy Crystal, less like Hathaway and Franco. Sincerely, Everyone.