Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

I caught a showing of The Hunger Games this weekend, and I've gotta say, I was very impressed. I honestly wasn't expecting much, basically for the movie to just be okay, but this far exceeded my expectations. Now I haven't read the book, so I was left with a few questions that may have been addressed there, though they were nothing that took away from the movie, just things that got me pondering, but I'll address those questions as I get to them.

Fair warning, this review contains a few spoilers.

So basically, we're following a girl named Katniss, who lives in a society where the children of lower class citizens are chosen at random to compete in a battle royale to the death for the entertainment of the upper class citizens. It's certainly a disturbing premise, and leads to some quite disturbing situations. And while this type of story has surely been done before, I felt that they did an impressive job here and presented it in a respectable manner that made it stand out.

I really liked the visual style of the movie. The higher classes are dressed in such campy, over-the-top attire, yet the movie itself never actually feels too campy or over-the-top. This was in contrast to the more down to earth style of the general population, which I thought gave a nice distinctive touch. I also really liked when they brought in the kids and showed them off with their flashy outfits. The fire suits were especially awesome, though Katniss' spinning dress sequence might have gone on for a tad bit too long.

Before the Hunger Games begins, the kids from the different districts were all brought in to train and prepare for the event. I found all of this really interesting, and I liked that they didn't go full montage on us. Once the countdown for the Games began, you could just really feel the anxiety that these characters were going through. And the moment the Games start, it gets pretty brutal right off the bat. Like I said, this film can get pretty disturbing, and watching a bunch of kids not only kill each other, but in some cases seemingly having fun doing so, was quite disturbing.

Jennifer Lawrence did a terrific job as the lead girl, Katniss. She pretty much carries the whole movie on her back, though the supporting actors did a fine job, too. I wasn't expecting Woody Harrelson to show up, but he brought the goods with him, even if his character did sort of jump from belligerent drunk to helpful advisor rather suddenly. And I didn't even recognize Lenny Kravitz, but I really enjoyed his character here as well. All the other actors were all fine, and while nobody in particular necessarily stood out, I didn't find anything too objectionable with any of the performances, either.

The movie didn't spend too much time bothering to develop some of the more minor characters, though they still all manage to feel very real. That said, the fact that they managed to make the death of a fairly minor character be as devastating as it was is quite an accomplishment. We honestly don't learn much of anything about this character, and we only spend maybe about 10 or 15 minutes with them, but in that short amount of time we're given enough reasons to really care for and pull for this character. And then the death happens so suddenly, and it's so genuinely striking.

However, this did bring up some of my bigger questions. After the death of this character, the district this character originates from starts to riot. Now, what was it about this one person's death that caused the people back home to actually get up in arms about it? Why did nobody riot over any of the other kids' deaths? Did they just not care about them as much? And were riots something that happened often, or was this the first time that the people got so distressed over the Games that they finally met their breaking point? I don't know, and I suppose none of this really matters too much, though it did get me thinking.

My other big question came when a boy comes to Katniss' aid later on as a result of that character's death. The thing is, how did he know that Katniss was helping this person? I didn't think that the participants in the Games were aware of everything going on around them like everyone watching at home. Unless that person was maybe just watching out for them from afar? Possibly, and perhaps these questions are addressed in the book. But as I said, they didn't really detract at all from the movie, though they did leave me wondering.

Anyways, great as everything was, I definitely feel that the times where we follow Katniss through the woods are definitely the strongest. Whether she's hunting deer at the beginning, or just roaming through the woods, avoiding the Games at all costs, I found that these quieter sequences really sucked me into the movie. And as a whole, the movie was really great, and it definitely peaks right around the time that that one character dies. However, once we then transition into the "star crossed lovers" portion of the story, the movie begins to fall a bit flat.

Basically, we learn early on that Peeta, the male representative from District 12 played by Josh Hutcherson, has a crush on Katniss. And trying to take advantage of this, the people running the Hunger Games manipulate things in order to get the two working together. And it's not that this stuff is bad or anything, it's just that everything before it was so good, and this part just didn't quite meet the same standards of quality that had previously been established. I was glad that they underplayed the romance between Katniss and Peeta a lot more than they could have, though.

I'd say that on a technical level the movie is pretty much solid, all except for one thing. That damn shakey cam. Someone needs to inform director Gary Ross that the era of shakey cam has ended. There were a few scenes earlier on that really could have been substantially improved had they merely decided to keep the camera steady rather than allow it wobble around like it did. And while annoying, the shakey cam during the action scenes honestly weren't too intrusive for most of the movie, though it got really bad during the big final fight. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, an action scene where I can't actually see the action is entirely pointless. You may as well cut to something else and just leave in the sound effects, because that would be about as helpful at deciphering what's going on, and at least then we wouldn't feel dizzy watching the movie. But yeah, that was my biggest complaint with the movie, though it honestly wasn't that big an issue.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this movie. It was much better than I was expecting. Most of my issues with it are pretty minor, and while I can't say how it compares to the book, I thought that on its own, this was a very well put together movie that does a great job pulling just the right emotional chords. I loved the scenery and the visual style, and I can't stress enough how fantastic Jennifer Lawrence was here. Very impressed, and I can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Multiple Theater Viewings

So I was thinking about how, whenever an older movie gets re-released in theaters, I just can't bring myself to even bother with it. Especially if it's a movie that I already own. It just doesn't make sense to me to pay up to see something that I can just watch at home for free. However, when a movie is still in its original theatrical run, there have been times where I've been willing to shill out the money to go see a movie multiple times. Most of the time when this happens it's due to merely seeing the movie with different groups of people, the most notorious of examples being Van Helsing, which I got dragged to three separate times over the course of two days. However, there have been a handful of times where I've actually gone out of my way to see a movie in theaters a second, or even third, time. Right now I'm going to take a look at the top 5 movies, in order of release, that I deliberately made an effort to see again in theaters.

Independence Day

I'm not even sure if this one counts, since I was so young when it came out. I guess it's a bit much to say that I went out of my way to see it, though I did have my mom take me to the movie at least three times, one of which I brought my friends from school along to watch on my birthday. The movie's a blast, and is still one of my all time favorites. If it were released today I'm not sure if I'd be as enthusiastic about it, but at the time, it was the most fun I had ever had at the theaters, and it would be almost a decade before I'd be open to deliberately seeing another movie so many times.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

I've always enjoyed the Star Wars movies, though I've never been a huge fan of the series or anything. However, this was the movie that almost turned me into a full blown Star Wars fanboy. I just loved everything about this movie, and though it gets hated on quite a bit nowadays (as do the rest of the prequels), I wasn't alone in my love for Episode III when this movie released. I just loved how dark everything got, and how it made the series as a whole feel so complete. I enjoyed it so much that, even after seeing it three times in theaters, I ended up downloading it just so I could watch it again before I left for the military. Note: I am adamantly against the practice of illegally downloading movies and such, and I ended up purchasing a legal copy the second it became available. Though it's telling that this movie was so persuasive that it forced me to turn to the dark side just that once in order to experience it one last time.

War of the Worlds

With both Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds, I guess 2005 was one hell of a summer for movies! But really, this is actually the oddball pick of the bunch. With the rest of the list, I can safely say that these are among my absolute all time favorite movies. But that same thing can't really be said for Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. I actually just thought the movie was okay, really entertaining, but nothing to write home about.

However, there was one scene in particular that demanded I see this again in theaters. When Tom Cruise and the gang are on the ship, and the aliens emerge from the ocean, that scene was just jaw dropping. The booming horns, the crashing waves, the overwhelming scale of the alien craft, it sent chills down my spine. It was absolutely mesmerizing. This scene may have single handedly sold me on the movie, and I was more than willing to pay up and see it again on the big screen. I've seen plenty of movies that are seemingly made purely for the theatrical experience, but while most of these other movies I'm mentioning were just me wanting to see the movie again right then and there, this was the first and only time that I was specifically after that grand theatrical experience that doesn't quite translate to your home television set.

Spider-Man 3

This movie was glorious. Everybody hates on Spider-Man 3, but I love it. It's, in my opinion, by far the best in the series, the ultimate culmination of everything else the series has been leading up to, though I can definitely understand why it gets the hate that it does. That said, it's the things that everyone rags on so much that dragged me back into theaters a second time. I just loved all of the shenanigans whenever Peter Parker was wearing the black suit. Walking down the street with a strut in his step, pointing at all the ladies with a campy confidence. And the dance scene, my god. Everybody just loathes this scene, but me? I can't get enough of it! I thought the scene was great, and if the aliens emergence single handedly bought me a second ticket to War of the Worlds, then the dance scene did the same for me with Spider-Man 3.

Now, I did take issue with a few things in this movie, most notably the fact that we barely got much of Venom as a villain. But most of the issues I had with the movie have deteriorated over time, and I've grown to accept the movie for what it is and all it accomplishes, despite its flaws. Hell, Venom wasn't even supposed to be the main villain, the symbiote suit that Peter was wearing was the true villain, and Venom was just a way for him to have a final physical battle with it. But yeah, so I'm one of the few who actually really liked this movie, and it's for all the reasons that you probably don't like it that I ended up seeing this bad boy twice on the big screen.

The Dark Knight

This one's probably not so surprising. It's a movie that only gets better every time, and that certainly rang true after three theatrical viewings. But unlike a lot of the other entries here, it wasn't any one specific scene or aspect that brought me back. From beginning to end, this was the full package. This movie brought the goods, and it brought it on hard. Heath Ledger's Joker was infectious, and the sheer scope of the story was just epic. This felt like so much more than just another superhero movie, this was a movie that transcended genres. It was something different yet still familiar, something fresh in a sea of tired movies that all felt like just the same thing over and over again. In fact, it's pretty much still been that way ever since, which is probably why this is the most recent movie on this list. Sure, I've seen a few movies multiple times since The Dark Knight, but this was the last time I actually made a point to do so.

So yeah, I'm sure this feels like a bit of a random post, which I suppose it sort of is. But it's just something that I was thinking about, and the fact that four out of five of these movies rank up there as some of my all time favorites kind of urged me to actually go ahead with this one. I actually am dying to see another movie like the one's listed above, something that I just instantly fall in love with, that I can't wait for it to release on video to see again, I gotta see it now. And there have been a few times where I've considered seeing something a second time, though nothing that really made it a necessity like these movies did. And maybe that's just because I typically see more movies nowadays than I did when these were new, I dunno. But for one reason or another, these all had something that really, really stood out to me and dragged me back to the theater on their own accord.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

John Carter of Meh

John Carter looked like a movie that was right up my alley. Boy was I wrong about that! Maybe I just went in expecting too much, but I was extremely underwhelmed with this exhausting, unnecessarily long movie. That's not to say the movie was bad, necessarily. It was just very, very mediocre overall. But it does have its moments where it really shines bright. However, there are just as many, if not more moments that just left me either cringing or face-palming throughout.

Now, I'm about to go into a fairly spoilerly rant, so heads up on that.

One of the big issues is that there's just so much going on in this movie. It just feels all over the place, and the first third of the movie especially is just a big jumbled mess. We see a little bit of the conflict on Mars, then we jump to Earth, where we're told about John Carter's untimely demise. Then his nephew starts reading John's diary, which then gets us going on the story of how John found his way onto Mars. We start meeting some of the local life as they capture John, until we cut away to some other political nonsense about a princess, Dejah Thoris, who needs to marry the enemy in order to bring peace. And there's more going on as well that I'm not going to get into, and all of this is sorta just thrown at us in a very clunky fashion. It's not that any of this is hard to follow, but it just felt like the movie never knew what aspect to focus on. It just sorta hops around quite a bit, and a lot of it felt like it could have easily been trimmed down on.

By this point I was already starting to have doubts about this movie, but then John Carter meets the princess, and that's when the movie's biggest flaw presents itself. The love story here is so, so forced. I was screaming "bullshit" at half the crap related to the romance plot. When the princess proclaimed that she "knew" John Carter through his actions, I could only sit back and groan. Bitch, you don't know him! And then when John tried to convince her not to marry the enemy, after he previously antagonized her for being selfish and not going through with it in the name of peace, I just lost it. What a freaking hypocrite, and really, what changed his mind so suddenly anyways? He's known this girl for, what, a freaking day? If that? And this was before he learned that the enemy was setting the princess up for a trap, too, so really, this sudden change of heart for him was complete and utter bullshit. But none of that compares to when, at the end of the movie, he actually proposes to her. Really? Really?!

I was just taken completely out of the movie by this point. See, I can buy the fact that after this adventure, he fell in love with this world and saw it as his new home. But for him to also fall in love with the girl, to the point that he was willing to just get over the unfortunate death of his family like it was nothing and marry another woman who he's known for maybe a day, I'm sorry, but I'm calling bullshit on that one. This is that psycho Romeo and Juliet kinda bullshit. Now I don't usually expect much from the love stories in big blockbusters like this, but I can't remember the last time the entire romance plot irritated me so badly. Maybe in Thor, though as forced as it was in that movie, it was so much worse here.

Ugh, so that was my main issues with the movie, though certainly not the only problems I had with it. There were a few other, more minor things that annoyed me, such as the quick, anti-climactic death of that one asshole Thark. All that build up after all these bad ass action scenes, and we're treated with little to no payoff to this big confrontation? And the entire scene where John learns how to walk on Mars' gravity may as well not even exist, as mere moments later he suddenly just miraculously masters it with no effort at all. Also, they insisted on using white subtitles against bright backgrounds, making them almost impossible to read half the time, though gladly they were pretty quick to introduce a plot-device to remove the need for further subtitles.

But enough bitching, right? After all, this movie's not all bad. There are several good things about it, too. Some of the action scenes are pretty exciting, and the special effects in this movie look absolutely tremendous. The gallons of blue blood lead to some particularly awesome visuals at times, too.

Also, the movie is oftentimes quite funny. The humor just flies at you in the most unexpected ways. Even when they're doing a continuous gag near the beginning, with John constantly escaping his captors, they just find more and more ways to one-up the previous escape in the most humorous fashion. It was a nice touch for them to add to a movie that otherwise takes itself far too seriously.

I also found the mythology pretty interesting overall, and there's some fairly imaginative ideas here. In fact, watching this movie has me interested in checking out the novel it's based on by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I've never been one to do after seeing a movie, no matter how much I liked it. But I'm just curious about exploring some of these ideas a little more, and I'm also curious to see just how faithful this movie is as an adaptation.

While the proposal at the end took me out of the movie, I do have to admit that they managed to reel me back in, as the final moments of this movie are probably the strongest as well. When John Carter is sent back to Earth and begins his desperate search for a way back, I thought this whole sequence and the final reveals were played out very well. I was left satisfied in the end, and the movie definitely concludes on a very high note.

Overall, the movie has its moments, but my god can it be obnoxious. If you were already looking forward to this, then I suppose it's worth checking out, because there are definitely some things here that work. However, there's probably just as much that doesn't, and so if you weren't interested in it already, you're honestly not missing a damn thing by skipping this. It's an exhausting experience, and one I'm not likely to revisit anytime soon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Silent House

Okay, now here's a good freaking horror flick! Silent House is genuinely scary, creepy as hell, and super tense throughout. And unlike so many other horror movies these days, it never relies on cheap, overly predictable jump scares to force home its horror aspects. Instead, this one provides a mood of dread that keeps you constantly on edge, and uses an interesting "single take" technique that keeps us intimately close to our main character and her terrifying experience.

Elizabeth Olsen delivers yet another great performance here. Her father and uncle are fixing up an old house to try and sell it, but it's not too long before they realize they're not the only ones home. The film is presented to us as if it were shot in a single take, which was a really interesting choice. I was a bit skeptical at first, as single take shots can have a tendency to become distracting if you keep noticing they never cut away, though that was hardly ever the case here. It was generally unnoticeable for the most part, and actually allowed for some really interesting shots. For instance, in a scene where Olson's character is running away from the house, the camera moves in a smooth, yet frantic motion, sweeping through the grass and following the action in a very fluid fashion that really stood out to me.

But as I mentioned, the camera never strays too far from Olson, and as a result, we're able to really get a feel for her horrifying situation. We're constantly by her side as she's walking alone through the darkened house. We're hearing all of the creaks and bangs as she does, and save for one or two minor teases, we only get to see whatever it is she's seeing. The film really grounds us in her perspective, which makes for a satisfyingly tense experience.

Where this film also goes right is in its sense of security. Whenever our characters are wandering in pairs, its like the movie puts us at ease for a moment, like everything will be okay, which I thought was a nice touch. Though even then, it slowly, gradually builds the tension back up, and just when you're feeling complacent, the movie snatches away your safety net and amps the tension back up. I just loved how this movie handled such sequences, and the way it really does play with your fears.

The further along we get in the movie, the more creepy things become, until we finally hit the big twist ending. And really, here's where my only minor complaints come in. Without giving away too much, the ending pretty much changes everything about the movie up to this point. It basically takes a movie that was one kind of horror film and turns into an entirely different kind of horror film in the process, so I'm really not sure how this'll hold up upon multiple viewings. However, concerning the twist itself, I was initially unsure about it, though upon some reflection, I really don't have too much of a problem with it. It works, for the most part, and it's not exactly pulled out of nowhere, as the movie leaves a trail of little hints and clues throughout that could have easily gone unnoticed, but brings it all together for the big finale. It's something different, though like I said, it changes everything. But while I can't say if it ruins the movie upon a second viewing, for this viewing at least, this movie was great.

Olsen was awesome, the mood and setting were frightening, and the movie wastes no time before it starts introducing its horror aspects, only to slow things down in order to gradually build up the dread. This movie was genuinely scary, which is a real treat in a day and age where so many horror movies just get it so wrong and only aim for cheap startles. So yeah, if you're looking for a seriously good new horror flick, check this one out. Probably the scariest movie I've seen in years.