"The Hunger Games" (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)
Directed by: Gary Ross
Running time: 142 minutes

Now Showing this week is The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville) and is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. Having now gained a spot in the top five opening weekend box offices takes of all time, and being the first of those films to not be a sequel in a franchise, The Hunger Games can now no longer be ignored as a force to reckon with the likes of Twilight and Harry Potter (the other four films on the box office list). But before I go into my review of this film, I will throw up a spoiler warning as some of the points I wish to cover will touch upon important moments in the film. I apologise for that, but I have deemed it necessary. Also, I feel I may also come across as a little sadistic by the end of this review, but please judge not. I do so for the sake of art! I will forgo the plot synopsis for length reasons, if you would like my own plot synopsis please read my foresight into upcoming 2012 movies article.

Allow me to begin with the positives of the film: the performances of the actors in this film are excellent. I would not say that there was a bad apple amongst them, and they all performed their characters with conviction and skill. Jennifer Lawrence crafted a very good heroine in Katniss Everdeen; she found the perfect balance between her hard, cold exterior and her internal sense of vulnerability and maternity. I really do commend her on this as it must have been a tough thing to get right; it could have very easily slipped into simply being blank and lifeless but the life was there in her and it came out every now and then at moments that suited. Josh Hutcherson was quite good in the other leading role of Peeta Mellark, however I would say I didn’t quite believe his supposed betrayal in the Games. I know he didn’t actually betray her, but it didn’t seem like he would actually convince anyone that he had. And rather than list every single character one by one and say they were good, I’ll just have a final shout out to Woody Harrelson as previous Games winner Haymitch. I felt that Haymitch was the very embodiment of what I feel the tone of the story is; that huge sense of uselessness, resentment and disgust at the barbaric contest with which they are all part of.

Speaking of tone, the opening sections of the film really nailed the tone I was hoping for in this film. Beginning with some sinister text explaining the uprising of the Districts and the inception of the Games, it was followed by an interview with the Games coordinator about it the role it plays. Couple that with the “Reaping” and a sickening video of why the Games are a good thing (and the fact that it is being played to the people who are being exploited by the Capitol and the children who are about the be sent off to slaughter) and the introductory twenty minutes was excellent. Throw in a few news broadcasts featuring praise for previous contestants and their winning kills and the film had me. It had me right there, and I was sickened, as I and anyone else should be. And all the jokes coming from Effie (the Capitol rep assigned to the District) came off as disgusting, it was wonderful.

But the film wasn’t perfect. And so I move on to my criticisms. But before I do, I know that some of my criticisms stem from my being a fan of the novel; and as with all novel to film adaptations the fact that it can’t possibly be the same as my imagination etc. will be an issue. I have therefore tried to limit my actual criticisms to those that even if they stem from my liking of the book, they are still relevant and are detrimental to the story. Disclaimer over!

While we still have the novel in our minds, there were parts of the film that seemed to assume the audience had read the novel, and for any novel to film adaptation that is a bad thing. You should never, ever assume that everyone has read the source material. In The Hunger Games it wasn’t such a big issue as some of the latter Harry Potter films, but the problem was still there. The big one for me was that everyone was making quick reference to the fact that people’s names can be in the Reaping ballot multiple times but not explaining why this was so. As I recall, one could have their name added an extra time in exchange for a year’s supply of grain. To me, that is relevant information as to another way that the Capitol is oppressing the Districts. But like I said, not a big issue, but also you should never, EVER, assume the audience has read the book.

The characters of the Capitol made me feel very two sided. I found the Capitol to be a very imposing, immoral and disgusting antagonist of the film. On top of the joyful participants in the Games, the Capitol is the villain of the story, the oppressive government that is forcing this violence to occur. And the film was very good at presenting the Capitol in this way when they weren’t on camera. All the stuff I talked about earlier, with the opening sections of the film being so effective, all of that was because we never saw the Capitol; we just saw one representative and a sickeningly cocky video. But once we see them, we see that they are all a strange crowd of mardi-gras/carnivale weirdos. The speaking Capitol characters, such as the commentators, were very well performed and were excellent characters, but they looked just awful. All these different colours and ludicrous outfits didn’t make them seem overly materialistic and Dionysian; it made them look stupid.

The issue of actually seeing the Capitol in all their stupidity ties into another gripe I have, and I apologise because this one is very much a “it was better in the book” one, and that is that once the Games have begun the film still occasionally cuts back to outside the Games and showing what’s going on behind the scenes. One of my favourite aspects of the book was that once the Games began, Katniss was alone. She had to fend for herself, and any influence the Capitol or Haymitch was having on the Games was interpreted by her through their actions. We didn’t see the Capitol team setting up the forest fire, it just happened and we discovered that the Capitol could mess with the environment. We never saw Haymitch bargaining for sponsors and medicine; the packages just arrived and they were symbols rather than just items. And I have heard people say that they couldn’t have left it with just Katniss in the Games as things like the forest fire would not make sense. To that I say no, it is entirely possible, it just would have taken some establishment prior to the games. If you say that the Gamemakers can mess with the environment at will, then when the environment suddenly changes the audience will figure it out. Give them some credit.

One of the complaints I had about the novel was that the pacing was too fast. Once we were inside the Games, the book zooms through the week or two that they spend in the arena. This is mainly due to Katniss’ internal monologue suddenly jumping to new events that are sometimes hours after the one we just read but not having a chapter gap or anything. Anyway, in the film the pacing seems even faster. With only half the movie devoted to the Games, and it having to cross that length of time, it never really felt like the contestants had been in the Games for very long. While this sounds like a minor gripe, the reason I bring it up is I believe that character relationships suffered because of the quick pacing, especially the relationship between Katniss and the twelve year old girl contestant Rue. They had probably four minutes of screen time together before they separated and don’t meet again until (again, spoiler alert) Rue is killed. All their bonding, all their scheming, all the stuff that is there to make us care about her before her death is reduced to four minutes of screen time. As a result, Rue’s death, my favourite part of the novel as it brought a tear to my eye, did not have the same impact.

Speaking of Rue’s death, this leads me into my next point. They changed her death. The same thing happened to her (the spear to the stomach etc, but more on that sort of specifics later) but then they altered the events immediately following it. In the novel, After Katniss sings Rue to her final moments and arranges flowers on her body so as to show the Capitol what they have really done, she receives a package from outside the Games. Inside is a fresh loaf of bread, still warm. Katniss remembers that Rue was from District 11, the wheat farming district and the bread makers for the Capitol. The bread would have cost them a lot of money to send to Rue, and on her death they decided to thank the contestant who showed her some respect and was there for her. No words were spoken, it was all there in the image of a loaf of bread and it was beautiful. It was that moment that brought the tear to my eyes. But that doesn’t happen in the film. Instead, we see the people of District 11 suddenly turn on the Capitol militia that oversee them watching the Games. They kill guards, they ruin buildings, they express the decades of rage they feel against the Games. And it was very powerful, and very appropriate; however I am just wondering: why change it? I can understand changing aspects of novels that won’t directly translate to film, that’s fair, these things happen. But what about the scene I described would not have worked on film? With some establishment of District 11’s role in the world prior to Rue’s death, everything would have fit perfectly. Why did they change it?

But now we come to the big question on all of your minds. The question you all want answered after you read my previous foresight to The Hunger Games (I know this because it’s been the first thing I have been asked by almost everyone I’ve seen after seeing the film). And that question is: what did I think about the way they handled the violence?

I hate to say this, but I wanted more. I don’t say that in a sadistic way, as a call for there to always be lots of blood and gore in everything I see. I say that because it felt for most of the film that it was dancing around the violence that was taking place; that the film was trying to avoid actually acknowledging the fact that these are teenagers murdering other teenagers for the entertainment of the wealthy masses. No one can deny that this is what is taking place, so I just wish they didn’t try to. You never really saw anyone actually hurt anyone, you just knew they did it thanks to quick cuts. But the violent moment with the most impact, both to me and the audience (I heard gasps), was when one of the older boys simply snapped the neck of a younger one. We saw it happen, in full, and it was brutal and horrible. You truly saw what this gluttonous Capitol has created. But in all the other moments you could tell that the film-makers were trying to hide it as much as possible. They never showed Rue get hit by the spear, only her taking it out and a little blood stain on her shirt. The bloodbath that opens the Games is full of quick cuts and is completely silent. I felt it would have been more effective if we could actually hear the screams and yells and the slicing of blades etc. To make it feel like how the soldiers who went to Gallipoli must have felt, having had the idea of war seem so glorious and honourable, to then arrive and hear the horrors of war’s true reality. The film had the chances to present these feelings and have these impacts, but it didn’t take them. And the reason for that is because of the demographic the film is being marketed towards: fifteen to sixteen year olds.

But having said all this, and putting aside the part of me that is a fan of the book, The Hunger Games is a good film. It has a great story, interesting characters and without prior book knowledge the narrative makes perfect sense. It is action packed and funny and thrilling; a great sci-fi adventure. And I will never understand how something that is about teenagers murdering each other for the entertainment of others is popular with the Harry Potter and Twilight crowd, but I am thankful that it is. They’re finally seeing the undeniable truth: dystopian science fiction is the best, every time.

See you next time!

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"John Carter" (2012)

John-Carter-Poster-1John Carter (2012)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Running time: 132 minutes

For those of you eagerly awaiting my opinions on The Hunger Games, the film only released eleven hours ago (at time of writing) so cut me some slack! I’m looking forward to it just as much as you are, trust me, but for now let us talk about a film almost no body is talking about if the box office records are anything to go by!

Now Showing this week is John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton of WALL-E and Finding Nemo fame. John Carter is an American Civil War vet who in a desperate attempt to escape having to continue fighting stumbles across a hidden cave out in the wilderness, and in this cave he murders a man carrying a strange medallion. Upon coming into contact with the medallion, Carter is magically transported to the planet Barsoom (known as Mars by earthlings) which is itself suffering a conflict similar to a civil war. Two human factions are at war, one side clearly good and the other clearly bad, and the princess of the the good side is being forcibly wed to the leader of the bad as a means to end the conflict. The princess has escaped however and meets Carter, who vows to protect her. And as a bonus, due to his different body chemistry and Mars’ difference in gravity, he has super strength! That’s pretty much the idea of the film without me describing the entire thing which would be dickish of me.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, it all sounds very melodramatic. And that is really the only big issue I had with John Carter, it was VERY melodramatic. Carter himself is a buff, husky superhero; he’s fallen for and wishes to rescue a princess from a wrongful marriage; the clean line between the good guys and the bad guys etc. it’s all part of the melodrama formula. While this certainly wasn’t a deal breaker and was entirely tolerable, it wasn’t the most riveting plot-line ever. And that was going to be a huge complaint from me, but first I did some research into the film and discovered that not only was this film based upon a novel series (“John Carter of Mars”) but it was based upon a novel series that was originally published in 1912! That’s right, the story of John Carter was originally exposed to the world exactly one hundred years ago.

I don’t know about you, but that blew my mind. Suddenly all the aspects of the film where I thought “oh that was totally taken from (insert established sci-fi franchise here)!” should actually have been “oh this is where (insert established sci-fi franchise here) got that idea from!” I did some further digging and saw that so many huge franchises are influenced by “John Carter from Mars”, the most hilariously obvious one being the Superman comics. Seriously, think about it; both Superman and John Carter are humanoid beings, transported from their home planet on which they were normal, to a new planet where the fact that they aren’t from said new planet results in them being superhuman. I know right?!

Anyway back to my original point. The early 1900s was the time in which melodrama was slowly becoming less of the norm in the realm of theatre and film was still in its infancy, so the fact that the stories of “John Carter of Mars” are really melodramatic kind of makes sense. So if John Carter wasn’t melodramatic, it would be unfaithful to the source material. But I feel that unless you are aware of this then John Carter will feel like this overly cheesy and unoriginal sci-fi film because it’s full of things we’ve all seen before, we just didn’t know that those things were influenced by the original books.

On an easier to explain and more positive note, the film looks amazing! Not only in the quality of the computer graphics and the seamless-ness between actual characters and animated ones, but also in the art design of everything. The look of the insect-like, solar gliders was awe inspiring the first time you saw one; as well were the quadruple armed aliens known as the Tharks. The film was full of interesting architecture from the human civilisations and the Thark compounds, all of which seemed fitting to the characteristics of each society. And some of the creatures were awesome, especially the weird dog/frog that follows Carter everywhere!

So all in all, despite the melodramatic nature and the complete lack of explanation as to why the hell there are humans on Mars, John Carter was quite enjoyable. I’m certainly not going to put it in my top ten, but it was nonetheless a fun and well executed sci-fi adventure. Don’t let the crappy box office stats deter you, I’d recommend checking this one out.

See you next time!

"2012 could actually be awesome! What movies I’m looking forward to and why you should be too!"

So it’s been a slow couple of weeks movie wise, hence the lack of opinions being splattered across here. I saw This Means War last week and it was actually quite good, but not the sort of film I could have a rambling opinion of. So I got to thinking that I wish all the movies I want to see this year were coming out sooner so they would end this cinematic monotony and spice up this blog! As I had that thought I could already hear the masses crying: “but what are these films that you’re so looking forward to Tom?” and who am I to deny the people what they want?! While there are many, for the sake of length I shall limit myself to some highlights. So here they are, in order of release date: the movies of 2012 that I am looking forward to and why you should be too!

The Hunger Games
Release date: March 22nd
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNxb28j5C1w&ob=av3e

I am arriving very late to the Hunger Games party, but having recently read the first book in the trilogy I am very interested in the upcoming film adaptation. For those of you who don’t know, the basic premise of The Hunger Games is that it is a dystopian, science fiction, action story (for the uninitiated, the last five words immediately spell: awesome!) set in the relatively newly established country of Panem, formerly the United States of America. A gluttonous “Capitol” presides over twelve Districts, and following an attempted uprising the Districts must each donate a young girl and a young boy between the ages of twelve to eighteen to compete in the “Hunger Games”, a televised fight to the death; last one standing wins precious resources for their district.

The book was quite good, and it felt like it would make for an interesting movie. I suppose the main reason for my intrigue in the film is that large parts of the novel involve the lead character Katniss being by herself in the large arena, with only her internal monologue guiding the reader, and I don’t know how that will translate to film. Will they literally have the internal monologue playing ala Dexter or will it be a more WALL-E affair and convey so much story and character through very little. I hope for the latter as the former may result in cheesiness. And finally, I felt in the novel that the power and confronting nature of the fact that the main characters are children who are murdering each other was downplayed more than I would have liked in the book; so I am hoping that the visceral nature of film will aid on this front.

Likelihood of awesomeness: Fairly likely
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The Avengers
Release date: April 26th
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY9DnBNJFTI

It feels like it’s been a lot longer than three and a half years since that jaw dropping reveal at the end of Iron Man back in 2008, but after five movies worth of anticipation, The Avengers is here and its here next month! Now I was initially very skeptical of this film. With Iron Man‘s sub-par final act, The Incredible Hulk being largely forgettable, Iron Man 2‘s sub-par final act, Thor’s unbelievable romantic sub-plot and Captain America‘s unbearable amount of cheesiness; the scale and ambition of this film was seeming to becoming so huge that there was absolutely no possible way that it would be successful and live up to the hype. I’m not even a huge Avengers fanboy who has probably been wanting this to happen for the last thirty years and I was extremely skeptical of the hype. But then I learned a new piece of information. A piece of information that was only six words long and it put my fears at rest. “Written and directed by: Joss Whedon.”

And with that one beautiful statement, no one has any need to worry because if there’s anyone who can tackle the challenge that is The Avengers, it’s Joss Whedon. Because the trick to making this Avengers movie successful is to not only deliver huge spectacle and action (which it clearly will, watch the above trailer) but to also add depth to the interactions of these larger than life heroes, and this is Joss Whedon’s strong point. Anyone familiar with his work with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel will know that if there is one thing Joss is good at it’s working with superhero ensembles. He understands how they would work together, how they would fight together and sometimes with each other and how all of this would fit their psychology. Couple that talent with the fact that he is an amazing dialogue writer, then we are in for one hell of a ride come April 26th.

Likelihood of awesomeness: Guaranteed
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Prometheus
Release date: June 7th
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-EZC5zn2Fk&feature=fvsr

Ridley Scott has not made a science fiction movie in a long time, the last one he made was that awful movie Blade Runner (that’s right, I said it!) but before that he made another science fiction film. You may be familiar with it, it was a film that defined a genre and is still considered one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. I am, of course, referring to his masterpiece: Alien. That had me sold on this film, the fact that Ridley Scott was returning to science fiction plus it had some interesting stuff going on in the early promotional pictures and posters. But then the trailer I linked above was released and suddenly I knew that this film is a prequel to Alien

Now nine times out of ten that would make me (and many others) very apprehensive. Prequels usually never go down very well and are often seen as blemishes on the original film’s legacy. The classic example of this would be Star Wars and the prequel trilogy that while was passable as trashy sci-fi was not to the calibre of the original trilogy. However, Prometheus is something different. Ridley Scott has said that Prometheus is not a direct prequel to Alien. They do take place in the same fictional universe, and the two films are connected, but the events of Prometheus are not related to the Alien story. The best example I can think of for what he is talking about is that of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as in that The Hobbit is a prequel to Lord of the Rings, however the only connection between their stories (other than certain characters obviously) is that during The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins stumbles across the Ring. The Ring isn’t the focus of the story, but it is an important part of the follow up story of Lord of the Rings. I have the impression Prometheus is the same, in that it will involve the planet LV4-26 and by looks of things will involve the crashed spaceship from Alien but the story itself will be about something different, but will result in those two things occurring. Anyway, I’m excited!

Likelihood of awesomeness: Very likely
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The Dark Knight Rises
Release date: July 19th
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss25hr9sqTc&feature=fvst

The next installment in the Christian Bale Batman films also seems to be suffering from same problem The Avengers is suffering from: the amount of hype and anticipation behind is almost surely going to make it collapse under its own weight! The Dark Knight back in 2008 was received as the greatest movie of all time by critics and movie goers alike, and combine that with it being the eternal legacy of the late Heath Ledger with his inspiring portrayal of The Joker, and you have one hell of a movie to follow up. I remember thinking back when The Dark Knight Rises was announced that they should have just quit while they’re ahead, especially since I could see no way in which the villains of the third installment (admit it, Batman is all about the villains) Bane and (maybe villain?) Catwoman could live up to Ledger’s Joker. But then promotional material started to emerge as well as some interviews with the people involved and finally the above trailer and then I suddenly remembered what I should of remembered all along. Forget “dystopian, science fiction, action story” and “written and directed by: Joss Whedon”, the true spelling of brilliance is made up of just two words:

Christopher Nolan.

It’s no secret to anyone who regularly reads my posts that I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan, but the man has proven many a time that he is the very god of the medium of film. He can tell a compelling narrative backwards (Memento); he can pack a film full of little intricacies that lead to a mind blowing revelation (The Prestige); and he can handle a complex concept in a coherent manner (Inception). The man has consistently established that we should have complete faith in him to deliver an amazing cinematic experience.

But…

Not everything I have seen about this film has been perfect. The one that sticks out for me is Bane. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to Tom Hardy’s Bane and I am very sure he will be amazing, but I am being cautious. My initial concern was that the mask they have put on his face, while awesome looking, basically hides all the main parts of his face that would convey character. This may result in a wooden performance. But then I thought: “but Darth Vader had no moving features and he was a fantastic character, mainly through his vocal work!” so that led me to think that it was Bane’s voice that would save him. But then the critics came back from the famous six minute preview saying “it was great, but couldn’t understand a word Bane said!” And the first time I saw the trailer above, I didn’t hear a word he said. It was on my third viewing that I finally caught the awesome line: “when Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.” Hopefully this will be fixed, and if it is, then this film will almost certainly be amazing!

Likelihood of awesomeness: 95% guaranteed!
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Twilight Breaking Dawn BellaThe Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Release date: November 15th
Trailer: As yet unreleased

Surprised? So was I a little when I realised I was actually anticipating the final film in The Twilight Saga. But my reasons for anticipating it are very different to those that all the “Twi-hards” have (along with all their other annoying, pre-pubescent/lonely-housewifery tendencies). For starters, my review of Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the highest viewed review on my entire blog EVER, so clearly it’s something that you readers like to hear me talk about. Or maybe you don’t but the point is I feel I am at my most entertaining when I passionately hate something rather than enthusiastically love it. But there is another reason I want to see the final Twilight (aside from the obvious that the whole thing will be finally over and we can hope the fans will be so depressed that they shall spend the rest of their days in tearful isolation where I won’t have to hear about them!) and that is that, SPOILER ALERT, Bella turned into a vampire at the end of the last movie.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for that to happen for ages! I think it’s the shot in the arm that the series needed to actually become interesting. I haven’t read the final books, so clearly there are people who can tell me I’m already wrong, but I’m really hoping for some actual drama to occur in this next film revolving around Bella struggling with an insatiable blood-lust and trying desperately not to become a serial killer that would mean she’d have to be put down by her husband. But knowing Stephanie Meyer and all her crappiness, I’m most likely gearing up for disappointment. Just hopefully I’ll be angry enough to write another good rant about it.

Likelihood of awesomeness: Hilariously unlikely
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Well I hope you all enjoyed this insight into my anticipatory mind. See you next time!