Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

The Wife: First off, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor! I was beginning to wonder if there would ever be another series that would send me into a fangirl frenzy like my beloved Harry Potter. Several months ago someone recommended that I read The Hunger Games trilogy. After speaking with other friends regarding the series, I decided to give it a whirl. While Harry Potter will always be my number one, I have to say that The Hunger Games is an amazing series. I breezed through all three books and developed an attachment to the core characters, like my love, PEETA <3! I now fully consider myself a Hunger Games fangirl and I admit it proudly! After I finished the final book of the series, Mockingjay, I allowed myself to really get excited about The Hunger Games movie. For weeks I anticipated the film's release by watching trailer after trailer; downloading Hunger Games music; watching live coverage of the movie premiere online; purchasing my movie tickets well in advance; and of course, getting the China Glaze Hunger Games nail polish collection. Yes, it's ok to be a fangirl sometimes, I promise!

So naturally, when Friday came I was super pumped that it was FINALLY Hunger Games Day! (I didn't go to the midnight showing because I am old and have to be at work very early like an old person.) I really fangirled it up for the movie by wearing my Hunger Games t-shirt, District 12 Peeta/Katniss lanyard and my mockingjay pin. I even did my nails for the occasion, painting them in the China Glaze Hunger Games shade "riveting." Needless to say, I was EXCITED! Well, the movie did not disappoint at all. I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the book. Obviously it couldn't be exact due to time constraints. As with any book to movie adaptation, there were some minor details changed. However, I think the film was almost spot-on in terms of the main plot/details at hand.

The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic era. The Capitol controls twelve districts, and each year as an attempt to show the districts that it remains as the powerful center, The Capitol conducts The Hunger Games. The games pit two youths from each district into an arena where a fight to the death takes place, with the eventual lone-remaining tribute being crowned the victor. Obviously, that plot point right there indicates that The Hunger Games isn't your "happy, fuzzy feeling" film, but one that encompasses many dark and disturbing tones. This movie could have easily earned an "R" rating if it kept pace exactly with the gory nature of the book, however, a PG-13 rating is where the money is, so I can see why it wasn't.

The movie began basically in the same fashion as the book. The audience is introduced to the series protagonist, Katniss Everdeen of District 12, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, known for her work in films such as, X-Men First Class. We are given a brief synopsis of The Hunger Games and their purpose, and then the movie really kicks into gear as Katniss' sister, Prim, is announced as one of District 12's tributes for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Upon hearing this, Katniss volunteers herself as tribute in her sister's place — this act marked the first time District 12 had ever had someone volunteer as tribute. Katniss is then joined on stage by District 12's chosen male tribute and my favorite character of the series, Peeta Mellark (portrayed by Josh Hutcherson)! Yes, I love the boy with the bread! After being announced as tributes, Katniss and Peeta are whisked away via train to the Capitol, where they will soon compete in The Hunger Games. That is where my plot spoilers stop as I don't want to ruin either the book or movie for you Hunger Games newbies.

Aside from some minor details that were changed, like the way Katniss received the symbolic Mockingjay pin (which yes for this movie doesn't matter, but down the line it could) and some shortened scenes, like the Katniss-Peeta cave moments (which obviously had to be decreased due to a movie time-clock), I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games movie. As I mentioned earlier, it was an excellent adaption. The Capitol was almost exactly how I pictured it to be in the book. Lawrence, who I was initially unsure of in the Katniss role, did an outstanding job. I think Hutcherson nailed his role as Peeta as well. He really brought about Peeta's loveable, simplistic nature, which contrasts perfectly with Katniss' personality. Woody Harrelson was PERFECT as Haymitch. Simply perfect. So perfect that I could never picture another actor in the Haymitch role. When I re-read the books, I know I will now picture Harrelson as Haymitch every time! Although his scenes are cut short, I was very impressed with Lenny Kravitz' portrayal of Cinna, one of my other favorite Hunger Games characters. Elizabeth Banks also did a great job as Effie Trinket, which sort of surprised me. Finally, I thought Stanley Tucci, who rarely disappoints in any role he plays, was excellent as Caesar Flickerman.

Almost everything about The Hunger Games film was spot-on. I felt attached to the characters on screen just as I did while reading the books. Despite not knowing Katniss' inner thoughts, like we get from the book, I could sense her emotions and confusion regarding situations, such as her relationship and what it really means with Peeta as well as her bond with Rue. I enjoyed that the film took some liberties in showing the audience the game's control room, which is something that is unseen by book readers. I only wished the mutations (dogs) had looked more like how they were described in the book, but even CGI would be hard pressed to accomplish that task on screen. As for the shaky cam, which I am sure the husband will gripe about below, it wasn't necessary at all points, but it didn't bother me. For the actual games, I think it added to the movie. As I discussed with a good friend earlier, the games themselves are like a "reality show," so, the shaky cam fits for this.

I know I've talked forever (sorry that's what comes with being a fangirl), but I really do recommend everyone see The Hunger Games. I also encourage everyone to read the trilogy. It is very well written and will not disappoint. Ahhhh now the long wait starts for Catching Fire (book two of the series) to hit the big screen! I don't know about you, Hunger Games fans, but I am ready for some Finnick Odair!

Hobo Dan: I have to admit when I first heard of this movie, I instantly thought it was going to be Adam Richman from Man vs. Food and Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives buddying up to destroy hunger in the third world via various, semi exotic, team based eating challenges. One game would have Paula Deen cramming butter sticks down every one's throats. Then Anthony Bourdain shows up and shoots her with an AK47, before providing the soothing voice over for the final meal, sowing everything together with class and elegance as Richman devours thirty pounds of steak and Fieri gets brutally beaten by some natives for constantly calling all their indigenous food “money”. I was wrong.

This could have very easily been rated R. Not that it needed to be, but the content of the film is much darker than any of the commercials really let on. It took about ten seconds into the games themselves for me to realize this. If you're one of those men who've seen the adds for this and are thinking it just another Twilight, but science fiction you are mistaken. I think people of all ages and sex can appreciate the story here. I've not read the books myself, but I don't feel I missed too much by it. There is always back story and character development missed  when doing text to film translation, but I didn't feel there were a lot of gaps. I was able to fully enjoy the film without my prior knowledge.

All that said, this was not a perfect movie. My biggest gripe is the shaky cam. I don't think the director has ever heard of a tripod before. This is not to say the camera style is imperfect and without use. I liked films like Cloverfield, but the shaky cam had purpose in that film because of the way the story was being told. Here the camera was all over the place at times when it wasn't necessary. It's fine in intense action to portray confusion, but other times I just want to see what the hell is going on, and this camera shaking prevented it. But this is by no means a show stopper. The Hunger Games is the kind of movie we should be supporting because it is the anti-twilight in every way. I am recommending any and everyone go see this film.

Oh, by the way, The Wife and I played a little hunger game of our own before the movie when the restaurant we ate at got the Wife's order wrong about three times...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TMNT Aliens?

You may or may not know (or care), but next year a new live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie will be hitting theaters! I was so excited until I learned that Michael Bay will be producing. This news irked me some what. Then Michael Bay opened his month on the subject. Now I'm super mad. Here is the comment he made: "These Turtles are from an alien race," What? Aliens! What! Aliens? What... ALIENS!

He later post this on his official message board (why does he have an official message board?) to TMNT fans:
Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script. Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world.

Michael
No Michael, I won't chill. Did no one else here see what he did to the Transformers? The last thing I need in the new TMNT movie is huge explosions that make no sense in a ninja movie; shaky, vomit inducing camera work and Shia Labeouf. But Aliens? I'm all for expanding the back story of the turtles. I'm also aware there is precedence in the TMNT universe for aliens, but the turtles themselves are turtles, from earth. I don't care if the Ooze comes from Uranus, the turtles are mutants from earth.

Big thanks to Ninja Pizza for all their up to date TMNT news including this topic. Great blog, go check it out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring 2012 Movie Preview

So I realize March is almost over, and this is very late. Oh, well. In Spring movie preview I generally cover films releasing in March, April and May. Well nothing good really came out this month so far anyways. As usual I have three anticipation levels for the new releases on the schedule: see it in theaters, wait for netflix and never see this movie, ever, even if threatened with physical, mental and/or emotional harm. And don't forget option four (the Wife is making me see it).

The Hunger Games, March 23
I've been keeping myself in the dark on this one. The Wife just read the books and has been busting at the seams to tell me about them, which makes my info embargo all the more worth while. I get the basic idea from the trailers and that's all I care to go on. It looks interesting enough for me to recommend putting down some cash for tickets at the theater. We will have the full review next Monday, full of the Wife's fangirl raving, in case you were wondering.

Wrath of the Titans, March 30
Sadly this movie will be terrible. It sure looks pretty. Every time I see the trailer I want to see it and I want it to be good. I know it won't be. It is further tarnished by it shameless flaunting of 3D effects. Seriously, is the 3D fade still ongoing? Thanks a lot Avatar, or should I call you Pocahontas/Smurf/Fern Gully on crack rip off? I'll wait until it's on Netflix. Check that, I'll wait till Netflix streaming (never).

Titanic 3D, April 4
Ha!

American Reunion, April 6
Another one? Unfortunately for me, The Wife's birthday is in April. With a choice between this and Titanic 3D, I'll choose secret option three (death).

The Raven, April 27
Hey, I like John Cusack as much as the next guy, but this looks awful. They are turning Edgar Allen Poe into the hero of a murder mystery? Here is how that would really go down, Detective: "Hey Edgar, you want to help us solve this murder?" Edgar: "No, I'm just going to have a few more drinks and then go lay down in the ditch. Thanks though!" Ugh.

The Avengers, May 4
This could be so good it smashes out our ear drums, gives us cataracts and removes our ability to enjoy any form of entertainment less awesome that it, or so bad it smashes out our ear drums, gives us cataracts and removes our ability to enjoy any form of entertainment because we have lost our souls. Either way I'll be first in line at the theater wearing my Captain America shirt.

Battleship, May 18
Yep, it's a board game and now a movie. Only a movie with 100% more aliens and explosions and super manly men doing awesome manly stuff on ships. Seamen, if you will. What's next completely-out-of-ideas Hollywood? Risk, Chess, Checkers, Uno, Monopoly, Key to the Kingdom? Okay, that last one I'd go see. In short, I'll eat my new Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival knife before seeing this movie, and it's a big knife.

Men In Black 3, May 25
The first one was awesome,
the second one was not,
the third one is unnecessary,
so see it I will not.
Sad Face.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lazy Gamer?

Here is a lovingly crafted guest blog from our good friend Alex...

Alex: So the Hobo and I were talking (texting actually, even though I hate it) about video games, a perpetual topic of discussion, when the subject of video game difficulty came up. Here’s the string of texts (somewhat cleaned up, due to autocorrection’s unique brand of “help”) that lead to the rant that will be following:

Alex: I still didn’t hit level 60 by the end though. (In reference to Mass Effect 3)
Hobo: Lol, as if the level really matters anyways.
Alex: True. Leveling is pointless when the game levels with you. . .
Hobo: All you get are skill unlocks, and starting at level 25 gives you a ton of points to spend.
Alex: And by the end you have WAAAAY more than you’ll need.
Hobo: Whatever happened to games with actually difficulty?
Alex: They have those. They’re Japanese.
Hobo: Haha true. So what happened here in the USA to make us so soft?
Alex: Laziness.

Now I really hate the Western versus Japanese video games arguments. I really think it does a lot to further concepts of “they are different from us.” This is the same kind of thinking that leads us towards xenophobia and the scary parts of nationalism, when we should realize that we’re all humans and are more similar than different. That said, I do realize there are some differences in the overall aspects of games.

People say the Japanese prefer grinding (doing the same things again and again to level up or achieve some progress) in their games. What the heck is with the millions of World of Warcraft players then? That game is one gigantic grind! However, there are plenty MORE Japanese games that require some level of preparedness and planning to get through when compared to Western games, just as there are far more Western games about just quickly moving through the experience. It’s up to individual gamers to pick their style of play, neither is inherently better than the other. Monetarily it makes more sense to buy a game that you’ll get more hours out of, but I have known people to complain when a game takes too long.

Here is where my distaste for Western RPGs comes in. I can’t STAND when games scale alongside the player‘s level. Two recent examples to this are the aforementioned Mass Effect 3 and last year’s Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. By their very nature they render leveling useless and dilute the meaning of it. Leveling up should mean getting stronger, but are you actually getting stronger if the enemies are constantly matching you? Relatively speaking (I must stress the “relative“ part of this equation), no you are not stronger.

Part of the joy of leveling is to make use of that boost, to feel stronger than the enemies you’ve fought before. What sense does it make when that dime a dozen Banshee takes as much effort for Shepard (the galaxy’s supposedly best soldier) to kill when he’s level 54 versus level 30? None. Now here’s where that laziness comes in. Having the game auto-scale means you never have to judge where the player is at in that part of the story and craft encounters that are suitable to that level. This also means the player will never have a challenge, by crafting a scenario where the enemies are sufficiently higher level than the player. Never having a challenge also negates the necessity to do sidequests, as there is no need to be a higher level since you won’t actually gain an advantage.

I completed two games recently, and I think they’re a perfect representation of this concept of scale versus true leveling. The first was Mass Effect 3 (I know I keep using it as an example, it’s freshest in my mind). The two most frequent causes of death for my characters in ME3 were terrible controls (due mostly to their awful version of a cover mechanic) and my Xbox 360 freezing. That was it. The second game I finished recently was Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2. Main cause of death? Not being prepared. Leveling up, choosing the right skill compliments, and getting better demons all factor into the game’s difficulty. You can take your time and over prepare to make it easier, or you can be curb stomped because you neglected something. Your effort has direct input on the difficulty, creating a genuine challenge. There are even optional fights that are too powerful for that point in the game, all to add extra challenge.

Ultimately, you should just play whatever makes you happy. Video games originated as a source of enjoyment, and they should always have some games that use that as their focal point. As long as you’re having fun, nobody should take that away from you--certainly not my opinions. The one thing I do worry about is what George Carlin referred to as “the pussification of America.” The idea that everyone is equal and everyone gets a trophy, even if they half-assed it. In reality there are difficult moments to life. Not everybody wins. In fact, there are far more losers than winners. It’s something you have to learn eventually. I prefer challenge to my games. I feel far more accomplished for beating Devil Survivor 2 than Mass Effect 3. If that challenge ever leaves the industry, that’ll be the day I stop buying games.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: John Carter

The Wife: TEXAS FOREVER! Oh yes, of course I will go see a movie if it features my favorite fictional football player, Tim Riggins, on the big screen. Plus I love just going to the theatre for movies, so that is another reason why I agreed to see John Carter over the weekend. Those of you who have never seen Friday Night Lights are probably clueless about my Tim Riggins references. That sucks for you because Friday Night Lights is an amazing show! But, I am not reviewing Friday Night Lights (unfortunately). The purpose of this blog is to tackle Disney’s latest movie, John Carter. The film stars, Taylor Kitsch, who is, of course, known for his role as the troubled, sexy bad boy, Tim Riggins, on Friday Night Lights! You X-Men fans may remember him as Gambit in that horrendous Wolverine movie from a few years ago too.

John Carter is actually based on the 1917 book, A Princess of Mars. I’ve only read a few pages of it, so I can’t really say how well John Carter holds up to the book. I would like to eventually finish the book, but that’s another topic entirely. As for the movie itself, at times I couldn’t tell what I was watching. Was it a movie more for little boys who live for action, was it a comedy with a weird space-like twist, or was it another typical action thriller with good vs. evil. Other than the various tones and at times choppy plot, I will say I was pretty entertained by John Carter. It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening. Some buttery popcorn, TIM RIGGINS and very pretty action scenes = an entertained, happy me. However, as I said, the plot was quite choppy. For a movie that was really marketed to the younger boy age range, I have a hard time believing that that particular audience was able to grasp what exactly was going on at times. Nonetheless, the little boys in our theatre all seemed to enjoy themselves and laughed at all the cheesy jokes. Ok ok ok, so I laughed at the cheesy jokes too. Then again, I sometimes find Jar Jar Binks funny…so yeah I can laugh at almost ANYTHING!

The story begins in the post-Civil War era, which is not conveyed in the film’s previews at all. I already knew this, however, from the little bit of A Princess of Mars that I had read prior to seeing John Carter. We aren’t in this time period for long, as John Carter is soon magically transported to another place, which is actually another planet, MARS! Funny antics ensue with Carter not being used to the atmosphere on Mars. Then of course he meets a group of alien type people and more hijinks ensue. We later find the true “bad guys,” who apparently lurk on earth as well and have spent all their time plotting groups against each other. Our ever so savvy John Carter of course figures this out, but not before falling in love with the precious princess, who wants his help in saving her home. If I explain more I will essentially give away this choppy plot, so my spoilers will stop here.

Acting wise, I’d say Kitsch did a decent job. I still see him as Tim Riggins, but he was able to portray John Carter and make it seem like a separate character, unlike the last half of the wolverine movie where Gambit basically morphed into Tim Riggins! We didn’t get enough of Bryan Cranston, best known for his role on Breaking Bad. The other acting was ok, not great, but not horrible either. I know John Carter did poor at the box office, and I blame that on bad marketing. This movie was not promoted well at all. As I mentioned previously, John Carter seems to have a problem with finding a target audience.

Overall I enjoyed this movie, but wouldn’t say it was great. I’d recommend you wait and Netflix this one, unless you are a huge fan of the book.

Hobo Dan: Hey, this movie was really pretty. For the first time in forever a movie successfully mixed real world backdrops with amazingly realistic CGI. The Aliens looked real. Everything looked real. I often cry because movies these days have shunned any real world sets for green screens. John Carter mixes this in a great way. If you don’t like the film itself, you can surly enjoy what it has accomplished technically. The story was everywhere and at times tough to follow. The acting was okay, although no one really stood out. I agree with The Wife on most of what she said. Wait on seeing it the theater unless you liked the books or if you really like seeing graphical stunners on the big screen. Mars Forever!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spoiled

I am the generation of no surprises. I cannot remember ever NOT knowing that Darth Vader was Luke's father. I am the generation of spoilers. I already knew Bruce Willis was dead and that Tyler Durden wasn't real. I know they are making a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and before it comes out I'll know its plot. When I go the the theater, I've already seen all the previews. You could suggest I simply ignore the media. Stop reading the spoilers and watching the trailers. I may as well cancel my Internet connection too.

So you can imagine my dismay when the last few episodes of a certain Zombie centric television show I enjoy was spoiled for me. Anger. Even as I’m sitting there listening as the spoilers roll forth, I think “Why am I doing this?” I’m trying to come to terms with it. I am totally to blame. One: I read the spoilers. Two: by reading the spoilers I supply a viewing audience, which in turn fuels more spoilers. Three: I watch the show/movie anyways. Sure there is plenty of blame to go around. How bad is security in Hollywood these days? You can’t go anywhere interesting on the Internet without running into back lot camera pics or leaked screen plays. But I still have to click the link. That step is within my control. Why can’t I resist?

I sit on this blog and hypocritically whine and complain about the lack of new material in movies these days. Then what do I do? I go online and consume every little bit of information about movies I can. And when the rare film comes out I’ve never heard (John Carter) I research until it is old news. It’s an addiction. I'm not alone. There are plenty of people just like me. But why? Anyone?