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Monthly Archives: November 2013

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a Thrill For Fans and Possibly Confusing For Others

This post was originally written for Nerdophiles. You can read it here and more of my writings for the website here.

There’s something that every Hunger Games fan goes through (besides numbing pain of everyone you love suffering horrible PTSD and/or dying), and that is people who’ve never really read the series saying, “Oh, it’s just a Battle Royale ripoff.”

Now, I like Battle Royale, but I have to say that I’m more than pleased to send those people to this film and tell them to can it. Because if anything, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire lives up to the book it’s based on by showing that surviving the Games doesn’t just end when you win, and that one person’s actions can be the spark of revolution, whether that was the intention or not.

Katniss pretends to shine for the camera. [cinemablend.com]

I have to say that my rating of the film is probably closer to a 4.5 than 5 stars. Much like the first film, Catching Fire sort of suffers from being a companion piece to the book rather than just a straight up adaptation. Which is great for fans like me who consider the books among their favorites. It’s super faithful to the book and all the changes are actually pretty reasonable. For example, Katniss finds out about the rebellions in other districts seeing video that the train conductors are watching instead of seeing a news broadcast at the Mayor’s house and Gale is flogged for trying to protect someone at the Hob instead of being caught hunting. It condenses the plot, but keeps the film moving while still making sense within the universe.

However, there are several things that might be a little lost on casual viewers if they haven’t read the series. Mutts still aren’t explained and neither is the significance of the Mockingjay as a symbol of revolution besides the fact Katniss wore the pin during her first Games. It probably could have stood to have a few interludes from Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith much like the first movie did after Katniss entered the arena for exposition purposes.

(Also, there was way too much of Katniss macking on Gale. I know I’m already biased against him, but I don’t remember her kissing him as much as she does in this movie.)

Why do you suck so much, Gale? [quarterquell.org]

Still, with that weakness, the second film also shares the two greatest strengths of the first movie: it manages to be in Katniss’ head without having her there to narrate it, and it isn’t afraid to step outside of her POV to show us what else is happening. There aren’t as many outside of the arena scenes as the first movie, but the scenes of President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee are delicious. Meanwhile, while Francis Lawrence’s style is less docudrama than Gary Ross, there are still these moments of quiet focus on Katniss where we can feel her fear and see the gears turning in her head. There are also more moments of Katniss crying in this one, so if you broke down watching her cry after Rue’s death in the first film, be prepared to bawl multiple times in this movie.

I was a little worried that some of the growth of the side characters would be cut in favor of focus on the Quarter Quell, but luckily, that wasn’t the case. Prim starts to come into her own as a character, Effie starts to show some emotion and care for her victors, and Haymitch shows himself as a mentor by helping Katniss and Peeta survive after the games. Which makes it even more tragic that his backstory of how he won his games was cut from the film. I’m not even going to get into Cinna. It hurts too much still. And while his character doesn’t really grow, Stanley Tucci gets to ham it up even more as Caesar Flickerman and I feel like my life is better for it.

Along with the character growth, Catching Fire sees plenty of fan-favorite characters joining the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as the stoically slimy Plutarch Heavensbee and all his scenes of plotting with Donald Southerland’s President Snow make the outcome of his character that much sweeter in the end. Jeffrey Wright as Beetee is so wonderfully smart and snarky that I felt myself gaining a new appreciation for the technical genius from District 3. Plus, in absence of Haymitch’s backstory, he does a good job setting up for the climax of the film. Not to mention the short and sweet portrayals of Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). Seriously, they’re so beautiful and they hurt so much in the end.

The team from District 12 makes their way to the Victory Tour party. [quarterquell.org]

Really though, this film is all about the introduction of Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. I was kind of skeptical of Sam Claflin as Finnick since he didn’t quite match how I saw the pretty boy of District 4, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I liked his character in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I’m glad I did because even if he doesn’t match how I thought he should look, he still manages to be the charming and complicated dreamboat with a trident that we all love. The sugar cube scene made me squeal with delight in both how true it was to the character and how it ends up setting up for Mockingjay in a very subtle way.

The runaway star of the movie though is Jena Malone as District 7’s Johanna Mason. While they don’t talk about how she won her games by pretending she was weak and surprising everyone in the end, you see a lot of that in her character. She’s blunt to the point where she curses out the Capitol on national TV and asks Peeta what it’s like to have everyone wanting to sleep with him, but we do get to see the parts of her that are broken that will be elaborated on in the next set of movies. They could have easily made Johanna just the bitch character to simplify it for movie goers, but I’m glad that they left in the complexities that make her great.

Johanna is too hot and too good for you. [quarterquell.org]

Well, that, and the one scene that I dubbed “just another Friday night at DragonCon” because I’m certain have ridden in that elevator. You can’t fool me, movie makers. I know the Atlanta Marriott Marquis when I see it. That was one thing that took me out of the movie was noticing the filming location shift from North Carolina to Georgia. If I didn’t live here, it wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s a certain thrill in knowing that Hunger Games cosplayers are going to have a lot of fun taking pictures at DragonCon next year.

If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games series, you’re probably going to love Catching Fire. Even with some details left on the cutting room floor or swapped around, it’s a very faithful adaptation that brings life to probably the strongest book in the franchise. There is even some dialogue lifted directly from the book that made me squee inside the theater and details added that make the implications of the universe even more terrifying. For people that haven’t read the book, some of it might be a little lost, but it’s still well acted with amazing action scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew everything that was about to happen. Which, by the way, didn’t make it any less emotional. If anything, see it just for Jennifer Lawrence and Jena Malone’s performances. Especially in the training center elevator.

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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Books, Film

 

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This ARTPOP Could Be Anything

I swear, I didn’t mean to neglect the Diary. Between writing for Nerdophiles and my

Album cover by Jeff Koons.

Album cover by Jeff Koons.

personal life, I’ve just been at a loss for what to write here. More personal stuff? Things I don’t get to write about for Nerdophiles? Perhaps more of the latter, which brings us back to Lady Gaga.

I had some fears for ARTPOP as an album when ‘Applause’ came out and was refusing to stick in my head. If this was the lead single, what would that mean for the rest of the album? Was this the end of Lady Gaga?

Well, I’ve had a few months to sit on it and I did end up warming up some to ‘Applause.’ Plus, the iTunes Festival performance she did alleviated some of my fears, but I was still curious as to what the album as a whole would be like. Yeah, I ended up liking Born This Way as a whole, but I rarely ever listen to it all the way through.

Lucky for me, ARTPOP is probably one of the best albums Lady Gaga has released.

I think one of the problems with Born This Way was that it was continuing from the dark lyrical and musical themes from The Fame Monster, but not in the same tight way that existed on the The Fame Monster. There are some amazing songs on the album that I consider some of Lady Gaga’s best songs, such as ‘The Edge of Glory,’ ‘Yoü and I,’ and ‘Marry The Night,’ but the album didn’t feel consistent. Cohesive, yes, but not consistent. ARTPOP manages to be both to the point I constantly find myself accidentally listening to the album when I only mean to listen to a song or two. It doesn’t hit as hard as The Fame Monster, but there’s a similar vibe and strength in ARTPOP. In fact, the only song I really don’t like is ‘Jewels n’ Drugs,’ but mostly because it feels out of place and doesn’t really have a whole lot of Gaga.

Despite listening to this album for a week, I haven’t really settled on a favorite song yet. ‘MANiCURE’ gets a lot of repeats, I have kept up three song loops of ‘Venus,’ ‘G.U.Y,’ and ‘Sexxx Dreams’ for an hour at one point, and I have really warmed up to ‘Do What U Want’ after seeing her performance of it on The X Factor UK. The one line in the whole album that stands out to me though has to be from the title track ‘ARTPOP,’ a song mixing meanings about love and art and how similar they can be. In the pre-chorus, Lady Gaga declares that her “Artpop could mean anything.” Which really is what drives the point of the album being a mix of pop music, art, and real life. We choose to express ourselves through creative means, but what we mean can be interpreted differently to those who listen/watch/read what we create.

Gaga performing 'ARTPOP' at the iTunes Festival.

Gaga performing ‘ARTPOP’ at the iTunes Festival.

So while the album could be about art and the relationship between Gaga and her fans, I think I purposefully read it as an album about love, sex and wanting to be desired.

I kind of got that feeling from ‘Applause’ after listening to Gaga explain it when she said it was less about living for the attention and more about living to make others happy, but it was really driven home at the iTunes Festival with ‘ARTPOP,’ ‘MANiCURE’ and ‘I Wanna Be With You’ (which later became ‘Dope,’ which I will talk about in a bit). However, I kept going back to ‘Sexxx Dreams,’ which I think really drives home the aspect of wanting to be desired from this album. It’s a great pop song on its own and a sexy one to boot. Like… “I probably need a cold shower after this” sexy. However, on a more personal level, I could relate to having a person populate your thoughts (especially when you’re trying to sleep) and wanting to know if they think about you the same way. ‘G.U.Y,’ ‘Venus’ and ‘Do What U Want’ drive this point home even harder. ‘Venus’ and ‘G.U.Y’ especially for invoking the gods and bringing it back to a long time artistic theme.

On the flip side, ‘MANiCURE’ becomes a song about needing to make yourself look good when needing that love drives you to a point of insanity. ‘Mary Jane Holland,’ ‘Fashion!’ and ‘Donatella’ have similar themes.

I think it’s fair to say this album makes me extremely sexually frustrated, but in the best way possible. Maybe that was Gaga’s intention. Maybe it is a metaphor for her relationship with her fans. Maybe it’s a retelling of some mythos I don’t even know about that. That’s the magic of ARTPOP. It could mean anything.

lady-gaga-nude-art-pop-coverThe most straightforward song on this album though is ‘Dope.’ Initially a song titled ‘I Wanna Be With You’ that could have easily been about her fans or a guy, it was rewritten and became a song about Gaga’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. It’s essentially a step nine, with Gaga asking for forgiveness and trying to make amends. From her lover. From her family. From her Monsters. From God. It was jarring at first to hear the song like this, but it’s probably her most personal and emotional song since ‘Speechless’ from The Fame Monster.

While ‘Applause’ is a good album closer, it feels more like an epilogue. ‘Gypsy’ gives me much more closure on the album. In an album that opens with the question ‘Do you wanna see the girl behind the aura,’ ‘Gypsy’ feels like a satisfying ending for this part of the story where Gaga finds someone who accepts that in her. Again, friend, lover, fellow artist, or fan, but it gives a feeling of love. It’s no ‘The Edge of Glory,’ but it gives that sort of feeling to close out ARTPOP. Grand and full of love. Plus, I love the callback to ‘Schieße’ from Born This Way.

The most constant thing I’ve seen in reviews of this album is that this album is uniquely Lady Gaga, and that is so very true. Other pop stars will try their best impression of this album for the next two years, but it can’t be duplicated. Love her, hate her, or mostly indifferent, you can’t deny Lady Gaga is definitely the most unique pop star out there in the current mainstream. She gives herself 1,000% to her art and it shows on ARTPOP. It’s catchy, unique, and crafted around the past while sure to shape the near future. I just wish the app had a bit more to give right now, but there seems to be future plans for that and I look forward to seeing them.

Petga from the ARTPOP app creating the user aura.

Petga from the ARTPOP app creating the user aura.

Is it about love and sex? Is it just about art and being an artist? Whether yes or no, that’s the beauty of this album. ARTPOP could be anything, and Gaga leaves it in our hands to interpret it as such.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Music

 

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