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“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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Chins Up, Smiles On! The Catching Fire teaser trailer is here!

Before I gush about The Hunger Games yet again, I want to start off with a hope that everyone is safe. I’m writing this blog in the middle of incoming news about the explosions at the Boston Marathon. If you’re in Boston or just have a lot of connections to the city, I hope you and your loved ones are safe today. Google has put up a person finder for those looking for loved ones, and the Red Cross is looking for blood donors in the area. And if the events in today’s news are too much for you, I hope that this blog can provide you with some distraction.

Last night during the MTV Movie Awards, the first teaser trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire premiered. If you’re like me and just could not put yourself through another MTV awards ceremony for a few glimpses of fandom joy, the trailer went online immediately after. I’m embedding it below and the link is here. There is some violent imagery and implications in the trailer, but nothing graphic.

So, what’s noticeable about the sequel to one of last year’s biggest films right off the bat? Besides the chills down my spine and the tears running down my face?

Well, first off, the editors of this trailer definitely remember what the word ‘teaser’ means. Fans of the books know that half of Catching Fire takes place on the Victory Tour and in District 12 while the other half is in the Capitol and in the arena for the Quarter Quell. Besides the scene with President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee and the District 12 victors entering the gala, we see nothing of The Capitol or the Quarter Quell in this trailer. This has lead to some fan speculation that the Quell won’t be seen in this film and might be delayed till Mockingjay – Part 1. Which I’m 1,010 percent sure will not happen because:

  1. What’s the point of a teaser trailer if you’re alluding to everything that happens in the film? It’s likely we won’t see a full trailer with scenes from the Quell until the end of the Summer Blockbuster season. Plus, it’s a good idea marketing wise to focus on the uprising initially to get people who aren’t as familiar with the books hooked onto the story line of the film. Hence the use of the hashtag “#TheSpark”
  2. It’s April. The film comes out in November. If anything, they’re probably still working on editing the scenes in the arena.

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The other obvious things in this trailer are the director and location changes.

Okay, maybe the location changes aren’t as obvious to others as they are to me. I spend a lot of time in Atlanta and in Georgia. The aesthetics of the state are supremely obvious to me, especially after seeing the state in so many movies and tv shows in the past few years.

But the director change…

I loved the angle Gary Ross took in The Hunger Games. The documentary angle that allowed us to be in Katniss’ head and share her experiences without hearing her thoughts on a voiceover while seamlessly stepping outside of the arena to see the outside influences that were shaping the events inside the arena. In the trailer, we see that there is still some of that, with the discussion between Snow and Heavensbee and the uprising that recalls images of the violent protests that have proliferated the news in the past few years. But everything seems a bit… glossier. And not as rough and tumble as the first film. Maybe that’s director Francis Lawrence’s music video experience shining through. Maybe it seems that way just from the limited scope of the first trailer. I mean, we won’t really be able to see the real difference in directing until we get into the arena again.

I'M NOT CRYING. IT'S JUST RAINING ON MY FACE.But maybe this kind of directional change will work out for the movie’s favor.

Starting in Catching Fire, the Hunger Games Trilogy becomes a different sort of animal. The first book was about a girl trying to survive a fight to the death that’s entertainment for the people of the Capitol. Catching Fire and Mockingjay are about the same girl dealing with the consequences of what she experienced. Becoming an inadvertent icon of the revolution while having to battle the demons that planted themselves after she left the arena. The Katniss of those books are miles away from the Katniss we meet in Chapter 1 of The Hunger Games. Maybe it makes sense that our view of the events happening around her changes in the next three films.

I just hope that Francis Lawrence has some sort of understanding of this.

No matter how this film turns out though, I think some of the images we see in the trailer are going to stick with me for quite some time. Especially the one of the graffiti that says “The odds are NEVER in our favor.” Because if you ever wanted to sum up District life in one sentence, there it is.

Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence in Making Me Cry A Million Tears: The Franchise

That’s it for today’s blog. Come back on Wednesday for a little less Hunger Games and a little more “Save Rock and Roll.”

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Books, Film

 

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52 books in 52 weeks, part 2: Steampunk Benders and Paper Towns

So my weekend was a bit hectic. Between hosting Birdeatsbaby, going to the Red Bull Soapbox Race, and watching the Tonys, every moment of downtime between them was welcome. I’m currently trying to figure out a way to catch up, but for now, I’ll be back on schedule with the second part of my 52 in 52 review. This one has a lot of Graphic Novels, but also some Steampunk goodies. Starting with…

14.) Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine – This was a peculiar, but very interesting book. Set in a steampunk circus that’s surrounded by a bleak dystopia, the tale of the Circus Tresaulti is filled with plenty of contradictions and mystery. By the end of the novel, I’m not sure if anything was clearer than it was at the beginning, but it was an enjoyable ride nonetheless. It’s like the reader is one of the people who only briefly joins the circus. You enjoy your time there, but you’ll never truly know anyone who’s in it for life.

15.) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – My re-read took longer than I thought, but re-reading the book before and after the movie’s release gave me a better idea of what was changed in the film, and how the film stayed true to the book nonetheless. I need to start my reread of Catching Fire soon.

16.) Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope (The writers of Parks and Recreation) – If this book seemed massively entertaining in the episode ‘Born and Raised’, it’s because it is. A complete history of everyone’s favorite fictional and ridiculous Indiana town, Leslie’s book is just as hilarious and spirited as the town itself. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America is an episode of Parks and Recreation set to paper, as evidenced by the huge smile on my face while reading it.

17.) Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru – I don’t think I hate this book as much as some Avatar fans, but The Promise seems to be missing something that made the series so great. I like the set up for the reason Republic City will be built, and Sokka being grossed out by Aang and Katara is great. Will report back for Part 2 when I get it.

18.) Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures by Various Authors and Artists – The comics in here range in art and length, but provide wonderful little insights into what the Gaang is doing when we can’t see them. Gym coach Kyoshi might be my favorite though.

19-21.) Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volumes 2-4 by Naoko Takeuchi – As I said in my previous post, reading these books is like visiting old friends in different dimensions. Everything is familiar, and I have vague memories of how they were before, but things are just different enough to differentiate it. At some point during Vol. 4 though, I realized I was approaching the end of what I knew. I was close to resolving the cliffhanger that’s been with me for almost 10 years.

22.) Paper Towns by John Green – I bought this book on a whim, and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. I had previously read An Abundance of Katherines, but it was nowhere near as entertaining and wonderful as Paper Towns is. Even with the strange things happening to Quentin Jacobsen, the events of the book seem so realistic and are beautifully written. John Green has a gift, and I’m glad he’s sharing it with the world.

23.) Clementine by Cherie Priest – This is the least known entry into Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century, but it’s probably my favorite. Telling the story of Captain Croggon Hainey on the chase for the Free Crow after the events of Boneshaker, it’s another Priest novel with two protagonists. The other being the tough-as-nails Maria Isabella Boyd, a former spy for the Confederate army. Boyd might be my favorite of all of Priest’s protagonists, and it’s so much fun to see two extremes like Boyd and Hainey work together. It makes me sad that this is the shortest of all of Priest’s novels in the Clockwork Century.

24.) I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! by Stuart Smalley (Al Franken) – I found this book completely by chance, but I’m glad I did. A daily affirmation book written by the hapless Saturday Night Live character, the book quickly turns from a daily affirmation book to a story of a broken man trying to make it through life. It’s very entertaining, and sometimes true to life.

25.) Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volume 5 by Naoko Takeuchi – This is where I’m picking up where I originally left off. It’s as exciting as I thought, and I can’t wait for the Outer Senshi to appear in Volume 6.

26.) Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman – It took me a long time to finally read this, but I’m glad I did. While it’s not a good collection overall as Fragile Things, it’s still plenty entertaining with stories such as ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ and ‘We Can Get Them For You Wholesale’ within it’s pages. My favorite quote in the whole thing though had to be in the introduction about Alan Moore. “One day the good burghers and honest townsfolk of Northampton will burn Alan as a warlock, and it will be a great loss to the world.”

Next post will be my review of Prometheus, and how it falls parallel with Alien.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Books, Steampunk

 

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52 books in 52 weeks, Part 1: Comics, Languages, and Sailor V! Oh my!

After ending last week’s post, I realized what my topic for today is! Earlier this year, I signed up for the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. My book reading last year was abysmal, and I wanted to improve upon that. So far, I’m halfway through my challenge, but I’m only going to cover the first 13 today! The next 13 will come either tomorrow or Saturday depending on when I want to do my review of Prometheus.

Anyway, here we go!

1.) The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi – A short illustrated fairy tale by the author of Persepolis. It’s a quick read, but Satrapi’s fairy tale about a young woman falling in love with a prince, and finding a way to bring him back to life after she accidentally kills him. It’s a lovely little tale with nice morals and lovely illustrations.

2.) Lost At Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley – Before there was Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley created Raleigh, the teenage protagonist of Lost At Sea. While the art isn’t as refined or dynamic as it was in the Scott Pilgrim series, Lost At Sea was a surprisingly accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be introverted and depressed at that age. While I never ended up on an accidental road trip the way she does in this book, reading about Raleigh was a lot like reading about myself at that age. O’Malley has always been good at writing women, and Lost At Sea just proves it.

3&4.) Codename: Sailor V, Volumes 1 and 2 by Naoko Takeuchi – Ahhh, the long fabled prequel to Sailor Moon. Something that was never read by most Americans until Kodansha acquired the rights for re-translation and publication in the US. As a Sailor Moon fan, reading about Minako’s adventures before she was a fully realized Senshi was a treat indeed. It was a bit surprising to me though, because Sailor V tends to read more like a loving parody of the magical girl genre than an actual prequel to the biggest magical girl manga of all time. Still, Sailor V made me love Minako more, and made me glad that Takeuchi’s work is available to us again.

5.) Habibi by Craig Thompson – I’m going to be honest here. I’ve never read Thompson’s debut novel Blankets. I’ve always seen the thick tome on the shelf of comic shops and graphic novel sections, but I never thought to pick it up. So going into Habibi, I was not aware of how lush Thompson’s work actually is. A tale of love between two children sold into slavery, this beautifully illustrated tale tells a story of religion, math, writing, and language as we read the story of Dodola and Zam. This book was a labor of love, and it shows on every page.

6.) Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff – Man, this book was weird. It starts with a woman charged with murder claiming that she’s an assassin, but by the end, it’s just a confusing combination of twists that left me staring at my iPad and flipping pages back and forth. I’m not sure if I hated it or loved it.

7.) Freerunners by Joseph Chandler Cain – I’ve pretty much said everything I needed to say about this book. It’s flawed, but still fun.

8.) Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volume 1 by Naoko Takeuchi – Reading the Kodansha edition of this book was like visiting an old friend from another dimension. I know that it’s pretty much the same thing I read when I was 12, but something about her is slightly different. Like I said with Sailor V, it’s nice to have these new editions in the US.

9.) Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid by Lemony Snicket – This book is a quick read, but it’s full of wonderful snark and truth that only the creator of A Series of Unfortunate Events can provide.

10.) The Beejum Book by Alice O’Howell – I read this children’s book on the urging of my friend Thaddea, who is so named for the main character of this book. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it as much as Thaddea did, but I’m happy to be wrong here. A wonderful children’s book, it’s a great book that combines imagination, real life lessons, religion, and psychology into a way that translates for children of any age. It makes me sad that this book isn’t really in print anymore.

11.) Shakespeare’s Sonnets by William Shakespeare – Having an e-reader to read these classic sonnets on is magical. My copy in iBooks is covered with a digital purple highlighter that has all my favorite lines and poems. Oh Will, you wordsmith you.

12.) Oracle of Shadows and Light Guidebook by Lucy Cavendish – This was a small book that accompanied a wonderful oracle deck illustrated by Jasmine Becket-Griffith. Sometimes, Cavendish seems very new age-y, but the deck and her explanations of how we work makes so much sense to me. It doesn’t hurt that Becket-Griffith’s paintings are so very lovely.

13.) In The Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent – This is an immensely entertaining book. While it is a non-fiction story about invented languages, linguistics PhD Okrent manages to explain the nature of language and the people who invent them in a way that all of us can explain. The beginning of the book may be a bit hard to get through, but the language that she’s dealing with is pretty hard to get through too. In the pages of this book, she really makes these languages shine, and the people who create them sympathetic. It’s not just a guidebook. It’s a story for the underdogs.

Tomorrow will either be more books, or Prometheus. Also, if you’re in Atlanta tomorrow night, you should come see The Extraordinary Contraptions perform with Birdeatsbaby! See you then!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Books

 

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Ending Hunger Games Month with thoughts on the score, the future and other various things…

Happy belated Easter, Passover and Ostara, my readers. I hope that whatever holiday you celebrate was safe and joyous, and if you didn’t celebrate, that you at least had a good weekend!

If you’re wondering why I didn’t update for the past two weeks to close out Hunger Games month… Well… Never underestimate the power of getting sick and busy all at once. If it wasn’t a thing for finishing my degree, it was something for the Contraptions, or hacking up my lungs due to the extremely high pollen count we were hit with back in late March.

In the meantime though, I saw the movie two more times and might be going for a possible fourth soon, I continued my re-read of the first book, bought the score to the film and had several sessions of discussion over the series with many people, including my own father. I was also featured on Welcome to District 12, where I rambled about my midnight experience. Thanks for the shoutout, ladies!

So without any further ado, I bring you my final blog post for Hunger Games month, which are thoughts about the score, the franchise’s future and other random things.

The Score (and Rue’s Lullaby)

 One of the main complaints that I’ve seen about the release of the score is that it is incomplete. I hate to say it, but I sort of agree. While the score does include all of James Newton Howard’s music, neither the score release or the companion album feature any of the outside music that was used in the film (like the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s ‘War’, which was Cesar Flickerman’s entrance music), or the version of ‘Rue’s Lullaby’ that’s sung by Jennifer Lawrence.

However, these songs not being included should not take away from the fact that James Newton Howard created a score that goes perfectly with Gary Ross’ adaptation of the books. Like the film, it’s very subtle and atmospheric. It doesn’t depend too much on grand music cues and it doesn’t overpower what’s going on in the film. However, it is powerful enough to be associated with their original scenes when listening to it on it’s own. ‘Katniss Afoot’ brought back chills of the scene where Katniss is stalking the deer through the woods and ‘Rue’s Farewell’ makes me cry just as much as the actual scene does. Plus, like the companion album, it mixes the folk tones of District 12 with the creepy futuristic atmosphere of the Capitol in an extremely effective way, but that might come from the help of The Low Anthem. (Also, how excellent an anthem was ‘Horn of Plenty’? Win Butler and Regine Cassagne should do more scores.) Either way, it did remind me of David Newman’s score for Serenity. Both scores blend well with the film, but are powerful enough to stand on their own.

But what to do with the problem of ‘Rue’s Lullaby’…

As I mentioned before, Jennifer Lawrence’s version of ‘Rue’s Lullaby’ was not made available on either the score or the soundtrack. Instead, as a bonus track, fans were offered a version of the song sung and composed by… Sting?!

Yes, because when I think a folk lullaby sung to a dying 12-year-old in the middle of an arena, I think the guy who wrote ‘Roxanne’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’.

Okay, I’m probably being a bit harsh. It’s not a bad version. The arrangement is quite nice and Sting’s voice, while it can be a bit weird and mismatched in some places, compliments it okay. I just don’t know if it fits the context of the film. If we weren’t going to get Jennifer Lawrence singing it, why not have a version sung by a woman? ‘Rue’s Lullaby’ sung by Rhiannon Giddens or Joy Williams would have been wonderful. Hell, I wouldn’t have minded Taylor Swift singing it that much. And if it had to be a guy, maybe Glen Hansard or Ben Knox Miller. In my wildest dreams, Adam Turla or Butch Walker could have done a great version of it as well. The point I’m trying to make here is that the artists that I mentioned have ties to what ‘Rue’s Lullaby’ was supposed to be, and Sting is… Sting.

If we get ‘The Hanging Tree’ for Mockingjay, I hope that we’ll get Jennifer Lawrence’s recording.

Speaking of Mockingjay, let’s talk about…

Gary Ross, Finnick Odair, and the future of Catching Fire

Oh lord, this past week has been stressful for fans of the film. Director Gary Ross has been locked in negotiations for a bigger paycheck for a while now, and it’s been a whole back and forth with no actual resolution yet to if he’s back or not.

It’s really a shame that most movie studios see directors as disposable when it comes to big name franchises. Both the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises lack a visual coherency due to the fact the direction switched hands so many times. While The Hunger Games trilogy does advance in themes and events from a simple battle to the death to a full blown rebellion, there’s still a coherency to the events and themes of the books. It’s a Greek Tragedy Cycle, and Gary Ross GETS THAT. He’s a fan of the books and knows what needs to be done for it to be effective. If the direction for Catching Fire and Mockingjay change hands, we lose the coherency and the chance of having a director who understands what the series is about.

At least we have him and Suzanne looking over the script. Meanwhile, check out Ross Is Boss and show your support for Gary coming back to the franchise!

Of course, this isn’t the only thing Catching Fire is banking on. Right now, there’s been a lot of speculation and whispering over who will be cast as the new characters who appear in this novel, and the kind of schedule the film will have due to Jennifer Lawrence having to go right into the sequel for X-Men: First Class as soon as Catching Fire is done

Oh, who am I kidding? We’re all wondering about Finnick Odair.

For those who don’t know, Finnick is a victor from District 4 who is the ONLY character in the entire franchise that everyone loves. He’s handsome and charming, but he’s also so tragic. Casting Finnick will be what makes or breaks fan confidence in the next movie, and will inevitably cause the most debate. Most of fandom seems to be behind Armie Hammer and Garrett Hedlund, but the speculation seems to be going the opposite of that and I don’t understand why. Hopefully, the casting director will understand that Finnick can’t be just a pretty face. He has to be young enough (Finnick is only 24 and most people on dreamcasts are in their 30s) and he has to be good enough to carry the emotional weight that Finnick does.

While most people are hung up on Finnick, there is so much hype and timing riding on Catching Fire. What happens over the next year might make or break the rest of this franchise and I sincerely hope that this isn’t the beginning of a terrible downfall that starts with Gary Ross and ends with Thor.

Miscellaneous Hunger Games tidbits

  • Three weeks in a row at number one spot in the box office! I am excited. We’ll see how it does next week compared to The Cabin In The Woods (which I am just as excited for).
  • Reading the books while seeing the movie so many times makes me notice all the things that were changed, but I still stand by my belief that it’s the best book-to-movie adaptation I’ve seen. What was taken out, changed and/or put in made the movie flow better, but it still stayed true to what The Hunger Games actually is.
  • The attention to detail in the movie is impressive, especially the third time around.
  • The racists douche canoes who hate Amandla Stenberg, though, are not. Seriously, people? Between the racism and the lack of reading comprehension, it makes me sad that these people call themselves fans.
  • The Katniss Everdeen Barbie has been revealed. I have to admit, I kind of like her! She’s not too far off the mark costume-wise, and they actually kept Jennifer Lawrence’s facial structure. Would it be weird of me to want it? Probably. I haven’t decided yet.

Aaaand that’s it for Hunger Games Month! Thank you all so much for reading! I’m looking forward to doing this again for Catching Fire in the future. This month, though, I’ll finally be reviewing Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Cabin in The Woods. Maybe even revisit Sailor Moon. We’ll see!

For now, may the odds be ever in your favor.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Books, Film, Music

 

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Hunger Games Month: Let the Games begin.

The day has come. Today is the day where the Games finally begin and the first movie is finally released onto the world. Has it lived up to they hype? Is it as fantastic as it looks? Has it left me trying to form coherent and intelligent thoughts beyond screaming Jennifer Lawrence’s name over and over again while crying since 2:30 this morning?

In short, yes.

The proper review begins after the picture. I’m keeping them light, but beware of spoilers.

It’s impossible to start any review of this film without mentioning Jennifer Lawrence’s beyond fantastic performance as Katniss Everdeen. While there is not one bad performance in this film, Lawrence really does seem to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders as Katniss. From the opening moments of the film where she comforts her sister Prim after a nightmare to all the eerily silent moments in the arena where Katniss is trying to survive, Lawrence just GETS  what Katniss is all about and knocks it out of the park. And as I’ve said at least three times before this review, she might just be a better crier than Alyson Hannigan. Because as every Buffy fan knows, if Willow cries, the world cries with her. Well, if Katniss Everdeen cries, the world is a sobbing mess.

While Jennifer does indeed carry the film, she’s surrounded by a bright and amazing supporting cast. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark was amazingly charming, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna made my heart swell, Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove was absolutely frightening, and Woody Harrelson made me realize how much I really do love Haymitch Abernathy. I could go on all day about how amazing the cast was, really, but my three favorite supporting performances really had to be Willow Shields as Prim, Amandla Stenberg as Rue and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.

Both Shields and Stenberg managed to bring a severely emotional performance as the two 12-year-olds who are essential to Katniss’ journey. Stenberg in particular had everyone awwing and sniffling throughout the film, but her death scene and the funeral is what brought the biggest emotional sucker punch in the entire film. Even with the knowledge it was going to happen, it was still so painful. Matched with the followup scene of the riot District 11, that whole sequence brought chills through my body and left me sobbing in my seat.

As for Banks, her portrayal as Effie made me remember why she’s my favorite comedic actress. Even with the serious intensity running throughout the film, she managed to bring a certain sort of humor to Effie’s obsession with manners and decorum and her general ignorance. There is probably no line in the film funnier than her shocked and appalled delivery of “THAT IS MAHOGANY!” It’s not easy being comedic, but it takes some real skill to be appropriately funny in a film such as this.

Now to talk about the film as an adaptation of the book. Next week, I’ll be talking about my current re-read of the book, but the film is honestly the best book-to-film adaptation I have ever seen. Much like William Goldman writing both versions of The Princess Bride, the film is at a distinct advantage of having Suzanne Collins, who has had previous screenwriting experience, helping adapt the book. Many hardcore fans will balk at certain changes, like how the Cornucopia was actually portrayed in the film, the cutting of Madge and Lavinia and downplaying the prep team and Katniss’ search for water, but they were necessary cuts to keep the film moving. In their place, we get insight as to what’s going on outside of the arena, such as what the Gamemakers are doing, the riot in District 11 and Haymitch trying to keep his tributes alive from the outside of the Arena. These moments give a better sense as to the world of Panem, which was severely lacking in the book while Katniss was in the arena. These moments in the Capitol and the outlying districts also managed to cinch my belief that The Hunger Games is a retrofuturistic series, especially in the design choices for The Capitol.

One of the strengths of the adaptation, in my opinion, was how it managed to portray Katniss’ point of view without actually having her narrate everything. The use of silence, the occasional shaky cam as Katniss rushes through the arena and the special attention to details as she hunts and tracks through the woods. Mixed with Lawrence’s performance, the audience is able to understand Katniss’ mental state without everything needing to be spelled out.

The ending of the film is a bit rushed after Katniss and Peeta exit the arena and some characters do seem to disappear or not get as much focus as they should (much like the book), but it leaves it in a perfect place for Catching Fire to pick up. Even with those flaws, Gary Ross and company have managed to create an amazing film that is both a great adaptation of a book and an amazing science fiction film. I can only hope Catching Fire will be a successful followup, but the building blocks have been successfully laid in a film that has made me feel feelings I haven’t felt since I saw Joss Whedon’s Serenity many years ago.

Hunger Games month concludes next week with my assessment of the score, my feelings re-reading the book, and what we need to expect from Catching Fire.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Books, Film

 

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Hunger Games Month: A look at Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Happy West Coast Wednesday! Yeah, this one is a little late for me. First off, my latest review at Steampunk Chronicle went up and I can now confirm that I will be at The Steampunk Empire Symposium in late April! More on that later, but let’s get down to what you came here for.

Ever since T-Bone Burnett was announced as the music supervisor for The Hunger Games, I’ve probably been more excited for the soundtrack than the movie. Even more so when Glen Hansard revealed he had been writing songs for the movie. With the elements, it was assuring me that the soundtrack was going to be my anachronistic retrofuturistic dream come true.

Thank you, T-Bone Burnett, for answering my prayers.

While The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond is more of an official companion album to the book and the movie than a soundtrack, it’s so fitting for the overall feeling of the universe. As a Hunger Games fan, the running themes and references to the books make me so joyful to know that the artists involved actually tried to fit within the universe. As a retrofuturist, the sounds were a fantastic blending of the old of District 12 and the intruding future of the Capitol.

The main single for the album was ‘Safe and Sound’ by Taylor Swift and Civil Wars. When I first heard it, I was genuinely impressed by ‘Safe and Sound’ due to the fact it wasn’t a typical Taylor Swift song. It showed a lot of emotion and real growth for Swift. However, it might have been the assistance from Civil Wars that might have helped on that one. I wasn’t as impressed with ‘Eyes Open’ due to the shades of her usual wide-eyed-everything-is-cotton-candy-ness popping out during the song. However, maybe writing from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen is what makes her a better songwriter.

The soundtrack has an interesting mix of mainstream and independent artists on the listing. Arcade Fire opens the album with the haunting ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, which takes a turn on the story of Abraham and Isaac that’s ultra-fitting of Katniss. Glen Hansard has two tracks on the album. Well, two written by Glen Hansard. His track, ‘Take The Heartland’, is an intense track that feels like you’re right in the arena and holding your own in the Cornucopia. His other track, ‘Come Away to the Water’, is performed on the album by Maroon 5 and singer Rozzi Crane. Adam Levine’s voice isn’t as intense as Hansard’s, but it still carries across a strong emotional impact. It’s dark, fluid and fitting for the universe.

The most surprising track for me though was ‘The Ruler and The Killer’ by Kid Cudi. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the end result was a dark and reptilian track about totalitarian power. Very fitting for President Snow, the series’ main villain.

Along with that Cudi track, the ‘Beyond’ side of the title is covered fairly well. ‘Lover is Childlike’ by The Low Anthem reminds me a lot of Annie and Finnick of District 4 and ‘One Engine’ by The Decemberists is a high speed track that brings back mental images of the train ride into the Capitol.

The best tracks for me though are the one that really seemed to pay attention to the source material. ‘Nothing To Remember’ by Neko Case, while not mentioning Katniss directly, gets right into her head and puts her personality and emotional distance to song. My absolute favorite track on the album though is ‘Daughter’s Lament’ by Carolina Chocolate Drops. I’ve been a fan of the Drops for a while now (and will be reviewing Leaving Eden sometime soon), and I was extremely excited to see that they would be on the soundtrack. The Rhiannon Giddens written and lead track is about the death of Katniss father. Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies also have a song about it called ‘Run Daddy Run’, but the Drops do it in a style of an old folk song for District 12. It’s an amazingly emotional track that shows that the Drops just get District 12. If they make it onto future albums, I would not argue.

If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games and/or retrofuturistic folky music, I’d highly suggest The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. It’s an amazing companion album to the universe of The Hunger Games filled with solid tracks from artists all across the board. I hope that they will be keeping T-Bone Burnett for future films because he’s put together something great.

Come back on Friday, because I’ll finally be reviewing the movie I’ve been waiting ages for…

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Books, Film, Music

 

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