Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games -

A Collection of Thoughts:

1) The movie theater was a bit of a zoo, and between the survival jackets and braids, were a number of Effies, Caesars, Senecas (complete with beard!), fire capes, and Panemanians. (Panemaniacs?)

2) I enjoyed it. It clipped along, it hit all the important points, I was enthralled, I jumped several times and teared up quite a few. A lot is indicated instead of explicitly stated, such as when Haymitch becomes involved and holds his hand over his wine glass to refuse another drink while continuing to talk strategy. A lot also comes from Katniss' subtle expressions and reactions.

3) I liked the way the camera work mimicked what was happening to Katniss.

4) Jennifer Lawrence was perfect, as expected. You completely followed Katniss' interior monologue.

5) I liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta much more than I expected to. (When he was cast, I was very skeptical, even given that I don't really like Peeta to begin with). So, in winning me over, he did a very good job. I actually really enjoyed the entire cast. Cinna, Caesar, Seneca, Snow, Haymitch - all fabulous. (Effie maybe the least.)

6) Gale got one thing to do in this film: sad and dejected head nod. I laughed the third time it happened.

7) I loved the sound work in the film. There was this really interesting tinkly-bit in District 12 that was wonderful. Bits like the explosion and the reaping were great.

8) Getting to see the action from an omniscient stand point (the Games control room, Districts 11 & 12, Snow's garden, etc.) was wonderful.

9) There was a lot of plot to cover. A LOT. And as such, while I followed it all -having read the books- and while I did like the way it flowed as it played out, looking back, some of it seems to have been hitting a lot of marks. As in; there are certain landmarks in the book that have to be shown, and the movie perfunctorily hits each along the way as it races to the finale. (And the finale does feel like a sprint.) Because so many moments have to be included, certain elements didn't really get the time they deserved to make sense. For example, when Katniss and Rue team up, they instantly set about destroying the alliance's supplies. Now, having read the books, my mind filled in the gap, knowing that the career tributes wouldn't survive as well in the woods and the girls could starve/exposure them to death (or something to that effect). But that is entirely glossed over in the movie. As is the fact that it does weaken the Careers. I generally think splitting books into two movies is a lousy money ploy, but I wish this had been longer, so that those elements could be fleshed out better. There are moments that are beautifully played out, such as Rue's memorial and Katniss going off to hunt in the beginning. But it's hard not to feel that, in return, there were scenes pared down to the absolute bones to squeeze them in without having a four hour film, and that's too bad.

10) Other elements which needed changing, due to time constraints, ended up changing the meaning of those events. Cato's death in the book was long and drawn out and underscored the horrific deaths of these children. That really didn't come across in the movie. The mutts, while scary, weren't horrifying, as they were in the book. Rue didn't teach Katniss the signature whistle, just a four note melody, and Katniss whistled the tune that plays over the trailers. (Also - I thought I remembered the three finger salute being Rue's district?) Peeta is shown lobbing bread at Katniss, rather than burning some intentionally (and at his own detriment) for her. All minor quibbles, but each that change some of the expected elements' meanings. I purposely did not reread the book before the film (and now I want to). And while Katniss' dehydration could be cut for time (not so cinematic, even if it gave more time to Haymitch's silent coaching from on high), cutting down all the time with Peeta in the cave did shift the focus a little. While I'm mostly okay with that (I've never been a huge Peeta fan), I seem to recall that it was that element which got Katniss most of her sponsors. And which leads to the ambiguity of her feelings towards Peeta. In addition, we never get to think much about the fact that Haymitch and Effie have been guiding children to their deaths for years upon years, which accounts for some of their behavior.

11) The mockingjay pin. I'm fine with cutting out the mayor's daughter. Clearly; I don't remember her name. But when Katniss gets the pin at Greasy Sae's, she asks what it is. She obviously doesn't know. And then when President Snow questions her about it, she says it is a symbol from her district. Where did that come from? And if she gave it to Prim to protect her in the reaping, and it didn't work, why does Prim give it back to Katniss for her protection? And if the pin becomes a symbol of the resistance, it wasn't visible during the games... so... does it just get picked up from the coronation?

13) There are moments that are horrifying (the initial bloodbath, the guard getting his neck snapped, the commentary on the moment when the tribute becomes a victor, Seneca's death), scary moments (the mutts in the night), moments that invoke genuine terror and anguish (Katniss stepping into the tube, Prim being called, Rue's death). And perhaps this quibble comes from already having read the books, and experiencing these character's deaths once already. But given that the focus is children killing one another for entertainment, I didn't leave quite as unsettled as I would have expected to? Maybe because the story takes place from Katniss' point of view and so you are rooting for her to win. In addition, her kills are all self-defense (although that's sort of true for everyone), and she only has to kill those that were enjoying themselves.

As Vulture put it; "The audience at Monday’s packed preview of The Hunger Games came out juiced and happy, ready to spread the good word, while all I could think was, They’ve just seen a movie in which twenty-plus kids are murdered. Why aren’t they devastated? If the filmmakers had done their job with any courage, the audience would have been both juiced and devastated." Now, I don't agree that they purged all the horror (see above). But the film didn't maintain the creepy tone throughout. To its detriment, I think. Not to mention the PG-13 gore, a la War Horse. I understand that this film is going to make millions and millions of dollars, and I'm happy about that. I do like it overall. But child death should be horrifying. I think if the final death, Cato, had played out better, maybe that would have helped? As it is, we worry for Katniss' safety, but in a 127 Hours, survival-type way, not as much an appalling, dystopian V for Vendetta type of way.

Another review, from /Film, mentioned that they didn't understand how the districts were so afraid of the capitol (this from a viewer who hasn't read the books). While I thought cutting out the Avoxes for time was a smart move, perhaps that isn't the case? Maybe Donald Sutherland's creepy menace doesn't cut as well when you don't know he smells of blood?

I guess in the end, my feeling is that I liked it. I like the plot of the book, and I'm glad to watch it on screen. I really like "resourceful girl surviving in the woods." I love Jennifer Lawrence and the sound design and some of the camera work. And the supporting cast.  I think that, overall, it is uneven. There are scenes that are incredibly well filmed, and ones that got short-shrift. And because there are some noticeable inconsistencies, it doesn't feel as if the movie entirely lived up to its potential. Maybe in the next go-round, when the arena is more "terrifying monkeys" and less "Katniss' home element", the arena will feel more horrific.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The best television characters

Whee! Fun with lists! I probably shouldn't say the best, I should probably say 37 of the most memorable characters of the last 25 years. But that would tone down the hyperbole of this blog.

Anyways, I got to thinking about stand-out characters during Vulture's Drama Derby. I mean, the president is weighing in...

Some characters never got enough show to develop and/or turn into all time stand-outs (see: Mal from Firefly, The Piemaker on Pushing Daisies, Harriet Hayes on Studio 60, Ben Hawkins and Justin Crowe on Carnivale, the Flight of the Conchords, Jaye from Wonderfalls, Veronica on Better Off Ted, Alpha on Dollhouse - he could have been such an awesome recurring villain!). Length of time is also why I'm not including miniseries in this list. Some characters were on shows that lost their way (Niles Crane on Frasier, Sylar on Heroes). And some are really very good, and given another season or two might crack the list (Sherlock, Fiona and Lip on Shameless).

And there are those I have yet to see: Starbuck, Tyrion Lannister, the Gilmore girls, Kalinda Sharma, Patty Hewes, Buffy, Carrie Mathison, Angela Chase, Coach and Mrs. Taylor, Don Draper, Eddy and Patsy, CJ Cregg, the Sopranos, Vic Mackey, Malcolm Tucker, John Luther, Bernard Black, Roy and Moss. [Blog quiz! How many of those tv shows can you name?] Maybe the guy with the mask on Boardwalk Empire. Or someone from Freaks and Geeks. Or Weeds. Parenthood, Happy Endings, Raising Hope, or Cougar Town. Or Spaced (I tried! I didn't get into it.) And I have to finish Six Feet Under and Farscape before I feel qualified to pick anyone from those shows (though I'd lean towards Claire and Aeryn or Chiana thus far). And I've actually never seen all of The Prisoner, either. But Number 6 should probably be included under protagonists.

The honorable mentions: Lafayette from True Blood (his ghost storyline from last season was terrible for poor Lafayette. That said, we'll always have the AIDS burger. (Bonus points for Jason's giggle at the end.)) Burt Hummel on Glee. Burt and Kurt are responsible for most of Glee's better moments (Santana and Lea Michele ballads are the rest). Nathan from Misfits. A slew of SNL recurring characters. Ron Swanson (See also: this). Jack Donaghy. Boyd Crowder (a character so beloved by the end of the pilot that they brought him back from the dead). Maxwell Smart. Chris Keller on Oz. Benjamin Linus, John Locke and Desmond Hume from LOST. But without further ado, my list:

The rich, complex protagonist:
Scully - The X-Files. I loved Scully. She was a scientist who had adventures. She was the sceptic who held things together and took care of her (somewhat) crazy partner.

Leslie Knope - Parks and Rec. I really expected not to like Leslie. For one, she is very blond. And she seemed like she might be intolerably perky. What she is, though, is loyal, funny, kind, quirky (but not in a twee way), and, above all, dedicated to making the world a better place. Her unflagging optimism in others and the world around her is incredibly heart-warming, and not something that gets depicted on tv very often. 

Raylan Givens- Justified. Put Timothy Olyphant in a hat and I'll be happy. Put him in a western and I'll be happy. Put him in a drama about conflicted cops and possibly redeemed bad guys, blood ties and blood feuds, and the communities of Appalachia and I'm completely sold. Raylan is a US Marshall who errs towards shooting first and who can't escape his past in Harlan County, KY.

Liz Lemon - 30 Rock.  She's taken a few detours into infantile behavior, but for the most part she strives to put on her show, keep her team functional, and keep her life from falling apart. She often doesn't succeed. At least she is hilarious.

Gil Grissom - CSI. One of the best geeks on tv. He was fascinated by everything, smart and thoughtful. He was a great team leader. He had a complex off screen life. He was self-assured. He was the kind of person I would want to get to know in real life.

Picard - Star Trek Next Generation. Here, this person has expressed it better than I can.

The Doctor - Doctor Who. Several characters rolled into one. But all with a love of travel and a mania for helping out.

Veronica Mars. She was whip-smart, brave, but vulnerable, and her long, complex relationships with her friends, father (and boyfriends) always rang true. 

Kermit - The Muppet Show. The straight man frog, who tried to keep things together in the midst of utter chaos (I'm sensing a theme in protagonists). It's not easy being green. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pionta Guinness, le do thoil

This. Heprechauns.

It's been a super Irish week for me. All Dropkick Murphys and corned beef and Irish breakfasts and Chieftains and MiWadi and fish & chips and Hula Hoops and Guinness. So I thought we should have a little round up of some awesome Irish films. Okay - there are plenty that I haven't seen (The Field and The Commitments come to mind), but here are a few that may not have been on the radar over here in the U.S. that you may enjoy.

Six Shooter. I'm not including In Bruges since it takes place... in Bruges... but Martin McDonagh is wildly brilliant and I adore him. I've loved every one of his plays that I've seen (The Pillowman, the Lieutenant of Inishmore, A Behanding in Spokane). I cannot wait for Seven Psychopaths. His pitch-black humor feels immensely Irish to me. Anyhoo, as wonderful as In Bruges is, this is his short which won an Oscar. More to the point, you can go watch it right now.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Awards!

What with being so late on all my Oscars coverage, I completely forgot to pick winners for my own awards! Sheesh. Winners in Bold.

Okay - I really need to see my top three again. That said, on one viewing,

Best Film:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tree of Life
Jane Eyre
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
Another Earth

Best Popcorn Film (those genre flicks worth your time):
Stake Land
The Guard
The Muppets
Mission Impossible
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Rise of Planet of the Apes
Attack the Block
Source Code

Best Actress:
Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre)
Brit Marling (Another Earth)
Michelle Williams (Meek's Cutoff)
Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Elizabeth Olson (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene)
Nikohl Boosheri (Circumstance)
Rachel Weisz (The Whistleblower)