March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have not read the book, but as my college Film and Literature professor would say, “Each work should be judged on their own merit.” Thus, I have no problem reviewing The Hunger Games with no prior knowledge of the novel.
That said, I do have a vast knowledge of post-apocalyptic literature, film, and other media. So I must agree with Mr. Platt and say the film’s story stands on the shoulders of giants. The story is strikingly similar to Bachman’s (AKA Stephen King) “The Running Man” and “The Long Walk.” I also see some lesser known post-apoc literature like “Serenity” (from Sci-Fi Digest, NOT Whedon’s work) and films like Solarbabies, to more classic works like Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”
All of this is NOT a bad thing. Anything that adds to one of my favorite genres and does it with a large budget is most welcome.
I liked the story, except the screenwriter/director Gary Ross, with help from the novelist, Collins, left out of the movie a lot of the details of how the state of things arrived at the current situation depicted. I assume they felt the audience would have read the book prior to screening. Too bad, really. I think it would have made the film less a marketing tie-in to the book and more a piece able to stand on it’s own if they had informed the viewer at bit more. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, I think eight more minutes of back-story would have been well spent.
I also take exception to the general camera work especially related to establishing shots being too short and the combat cinematography being extreme “shaky-cam” to the point of being unable to tell what is going on. Frankly, I will rack this up to Ross mainly being a writer and a green, beginner, director that has never directed anything remotely action-oriented. No, I don’t count Seabiscuit as action. Also, it doesn’t help that the producers on the film also never worked in sci-fi or action. I wonder what this film would have been like with a more journeyman and sci-fi/action director helming. Maybe the sequels will be better in this department?
I rate this film 3 out of 5 stars, it’s worth a watch, but it could have been better. If you have not read the book, expect to have questions.
March 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
Take Stephen King’s The Running Man and The Long Walk. Mix generously with William Goldman’s Lord of the Flies. Add a dose of young adult angst from the Twilight series. Throw in costumes and funky hairdos from The Fifth Element and Amadeus.
Welcome to The Hunger Games!
It doesn’t matter that it is extremely derivative. Derivative can be awesome if it’s done well. In this case, Hunger mostly satisfies. For those who’ve been living under a rock, it’s the story of a girl in post-apocalyptic podunk North America who volunteers to take her little sister’s place in a brutal reality show that pulls young people from twelve districts once a year.
Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job bringing to life the character of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who has already grown up too much before being yanked away from her coal-mining town to the Capitol. Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson also deliver solid performances as Kat’s stylist and mentor, respectively.
Really, the acting is great all the way around. Even Donald Sutherland, a master of quiet menace who can sometimes over-camp it, is at his low-key evil best in this movie.
But the movie leaves me wanting in some areas.
First, it felt like it took way too long to get to the actual competition. An odd complaint coming from me, I suppose, because the wait allowed for some decent character development. Still, it seemed draggy, a little heavy around the middle. Like I feel after chomping down a burger at Five Guys.
Second, due to the PG-13 rating, the film’s creators had to throttle back on the violence. There’s lots of fast editing and vague splashes of what might be blood, with mere glimpses of the savagery during the competition. It mutes the message and dulls the impact.
Overall, though, it’s a great effort that makes me look forward to the next installment.
March 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
AMC’s series The Killing begins season two on April 1, but it’s no joke. This show is seriously well done and season one is masterful. As the title implies the show is centered around the murder of a Seattle seventeen year old. However, this is not just a crime drama or regular cop show. Instead the show explores the different levels and facets of society the murder touches.
Yes, there is the police investigation which has landed on Detective Sarah Linden on her last day on the force, otherwise she was ready to move to California and get re-married and start a new life with her troubled son. She is supposed to break in her replacement, the sketchy, wise-cracking, ex-undercover narc, Stephen Holder. Odd-couple, buddy cop show this isn’t, though.
The show also explores the family of the murdered teen and the torture of losing the daughter/ sister/ niece, Rosie. The layers peel away and Stan, Mitch, Terry and the boys all go through the struggle in their own way. The stresses of running a business, household, old wounds, and the urge for vigilantism pile up on top of the tragedy.
The last layer depicted is the Seattle mayoral race being fought out between the corrupt incumbent and the seemingly spotless city councilman, whose image just took a hit due to the fact Rosie’s body was found in the trunk of one his campaign cars and his relationship with the primary suspect.
The Killing is equal parts family drama, cop show, and political thriller which recalls the short-lived Fox series The Chicago Code. Where that show focused on “crime of the week” with the political story over arching, The Killing narrows the scope to the single crime and paces the show to one day of action to one episode.
The production value of the show is high, especially expert in the capturing of the grey, rainy drear of Seattle that turns the city into a soggy annex of hell. This is not the shiny, hipster, Starbucks and Microsoft city that is usually depicted.
AMC continues to produce great shows and I recommend checking this one out. Heck, along with Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Hell on Wheels, you may not need to change the channel much.
March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Final Four is set! As a fan of college ball I’ve been watching and am thrilled at the drama of the upsets and the close games. What I have been thinking about a lot during March Madness is the almost ubiquitous bracket pools.
The act of filling out a bracket is, on the face of it, gamification of the tournament results. Adding in rewards from as little as bragging rights to high stake monetary amounts adds to the this notion.
I would venture to say this gamification increases viewership and interest in the sporting events. I would bet that there are those who didn’t watch a single game during the regular season that are paying attention now.
With this in mind I wonder what other entertainment could be improved with brackets. It sure could breathe life back into some of the more tired “reality” shows out there. Imagine if American Idol was bracketed with the judges seeding the contestants and the singers having to go head to head rather than the nebulous competition against the pool. I think that could rock, so to speak. The “regions” could be divided by the style of performer: Pop, Rock, R&B, Eclectic, etc.
This style of competition even harks back to the origins of rock: In the world of blues and early rock there were informal “cutting heads” jam sessions of direct musical competition.
So as you watch the Final Four think about what other events could be made even more fun with your participation via filling out brackets.
March 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Birds. Space. Angry. Awesome. Is. Really.
Excuse me. Right now, my brain is kind of bent. I’ve been playing Angry Birds Space on my iPhone for the past few days.
I’ve been addicted to the original Angry Birds game off and on for about three years. This souped-up sci-fi version brings a fresh take to the tweeting trebuchet phenomenon. The narrative remains the same: Your tribe of birds is furious at that tribe of green pigs that took off with your eggs. Only this time, they’ve sought refuge amongst the stars in their silly houses of wood, block, and glass.
The twist: We’re now dealing with space physics and gravitational wells around planetary bodies. Targeting becomes critical. Aim wrong and your bird may go zooming off into oblivion through vacuum, or get snared by the pull of a nearby moon. Play it right, though, and maybe you’ll slingshot around and hit those pigs right where it counts!
It gets really brain-bendy when you’ve got multiple moons with differing gravitational arrangements, but that really just adds to the fun (unless that’s the sort of thing which is liable to give you migraines, in which case, not fun at all)!
Something else that’s nifty: Discoverable content. Hit an eggsteroid and your birds get hauled off through a space-time rift (wait, what?! OtherSpace players may ask) to face a sort of challenge level. The first one I encountered actually made me laugh aloud: An homage to the old Space Invaders video game.
Another nice touch: You can earn space eagles – those cheaty birds that help you on the tougher levels – by beating the content rather than just throwing money at Rovio.
However, I was mildly irritated that after beating the first two areas of content, I encountered a third section that could only be accessed by paying more money. In fact, unlocking that content cost as much as buying the game to begin with on the iTunes store.
March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The human drama, or Politics of the Apocalypse, came down to a showdown with Shane and the group’s dynamic was then reinforced by the zombie herd attack on the farm: this rotting new world isn’t a democracy any more Rick declares. You have to feel empathy for Rick that the group is almost too stupid, either with fear, or from just hanging onto the same illusion that Rick had kill, for it’s own good.
How ironic is it that in a group that includes his own family it is the outlaw, Daryl, who is backing and understands the sheriff best? Which brings me to Lori: for a someone who was largely responsible for the fracturing of the group, her reaction to Rick’s actions is worse than betrayal.
But back to the zombies! The long introduction to the episode was a nice visual narrative of how zombie herds work: they follow whatever sound/moving object that they last “locked on.” Thus, the herd encountered early in the season was probably chasing some fleeing survivor that had long out paced them. The bad luck of a herd following a helicopter lead a horde from Atlanta to near the farmhouse where Shane’s gunshot aimed at killing Rick ultimately kills two from the group he thought he could protect better. If the power play didn’t happen, as likely as not, the herd would have just kept on walking pursuing that helicopter instead of attacking the farm.
The plague’s nature is, as Rick learned in secret at the CDC, revealed to the audience and group. The observed un-bitten water works security guards, Randall, and Shane rising as zombies was explained as everyone is now a carrier. The Max Brooks-ish side of my zombie lore immediately thought about the ancient Egyptian burial practice of brain removal . . . maybe the disease goes dormant and active throughout history? In any case, the show’s title can be read to really mean those still living.
Finally, the audience was gifted with two teasers for next season. Poor left 4 dead Andrea (ha! video game pun) meets a cowled, katana wielding savior that is leading chained, armless, “pet” walkers. Awesome and gnarly at the same time. Finally, Rick’s foreshadowing musings about a place to fortify and rebuild is revealed to be more than a “pipe dream” with a wide angle camera shot revealing what will probably be next season’s focus: a “super max” prison. Nothing says “fortification” like guard towers and steel reinforced walls! I really look forward to next season and may replay the video game “Dead Island” just for the prison missions to pass the time!