Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

With so many big name movies already out this year, it can be easy to forget about those that are still left. For me that was this movie. Until I was invited out to see it, I had actually forgotten it was even coming out anytime soon. After reading the books though, I will admit I was more then a little excited to see the movie. For me this was the book that sold me on the franchise. While I liked the idea behind the first one, this is where the story finally starts to form. Without spoiling anything, this should be the best movie in the series. So did it live up to that? 

Let me start by talking about the new director. Francis Lawrence takes over for Gary Ross, and it is a great change. I had nothing against Ross or the artistic direction he took in the first film. However this one felt more, well more professional. To me the first movie was done in a style you don't normally see in big budget flicks. And I am not just talking about the shaky cam most people seemed to have a issue with. From the way they tried to show the oppressive nature of the peace keepers and the Capitol, to the camera work and the pacing. Everything just felt better in this movie. Instead of using shaky cam, weird angles, and other tactics to try and elicit emotion; Lawrence uses other means. Better pacing, better timing, solid camera work that does not take away from what is going on. The difference was far more noticeable then I thought it would be. 

If you saw the first film, you know what to expect as far as acting goes. Jennifer Lawrence still knows what she is doing, and does very well. She brings a lot of emotion into this movie, and has more then a few stand out moments. Josh Hutcherson, who I tend not to like, did very well also. He was more likable in this movie, and seems to be growing as a actor. As most of this film was not action, and more drama, I was a little worried about that. Kravitz is still amazing, and Harrelson turns in a good performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman took me by surprise though. I don't remember his character in the book having the presence he did in the movie. He was delightfully unlikable, and yet you loved him at the same time.

Speaking of the movie being more drama then action, I would like to talk about the story a little. I don't want to get into spoilers, so let me just talk about the tone of the film. This is a very depressing movie, from start to finish. When you start to see something good forming, it rips it away. This is actually what makes the film so good though. They really draw you in and make you care about the peoples struggles. From the killings, to the torture, nothing is shown in great detail....but it still really gets to you. Emotion is a powerful tool,and they use it to turn a fairly simple story into something you care about. When it does finally shift into action mode, around the final third of the film, that emotion stays with it. 

While there are special effects before the fighting starts, they are more noticeable late in the film. From some crazy fog, to cool forcefields, this one gets it right. Everything looked great, and yes That includes Katniss's fancy dresses. As far as the fighting goes, you don't see a lot of the actual killing. Most of the times you see the beginning, and the after math. Guessing this is a ratings thing, but it doesn't detract from anything either. You still have plenty of tension and suspense.

I saw online where you could order the soundtrack to the film. After seeing it though, I can't imagine what that would comprise of. Most of the movie is silent, I don't actually remember anytime a song was playing in the background. I felt the silence added quite a bit to the overall effect. It made you feel uneasy at times, or more into what was going on onscreen at others. Who me ever scored this film did a great job by going with the minimalist approach. 

So we have a stronger overall film then the first. Better camera work, better acting.
Better story, that begins to get at the overall idea of what the series is all about. Great effect when used, and solid audio work. And a very sad and angering movie that keeps you entranced for its duration. Honestly I don't see the franchise getting better then this entry. If you enjoyed the First one, you will like this one to. If you loved the book, this does a good job with it.

It does pretty much everything right. Well worth your money.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ender's Game

I saw Ender's Game a few nights ago with my wife. After the movie ended, I had a pretty good grasp on my feelings for it. However the more I thought about it, and the more I talked about it, the less sure I became. I have some how managed to never read the book, even though it has been recommended to me multiple times. So this review, and my thoughts are in no way based upon the book or the similarities or lack there of. I don't know if that helps or hurts in this case, as the book is pretty well known. So as you read this, just remember that. This view and opinion does not take the book into account.

Ender's Game, the basic idea is Earth was attacked 50ish years ago. Aliens who look like giant ants came in and tried to set up a colony, we fought back and managed to push them off world. In the final battle, we only won because of the heroic sacrifice of one pilot. In the time between then and now, we have managed to increase our military might and technology to the point we are a threat to the aliens and have them locked down on their home world. We have decided that children make better soldiers then adults, because of some reason I don't recall. They are able to better process situations and something or made sense, but it sounded idiotic. The idea is if you raise the kid in that environment, they will be mature enough to handle it. And will be able to better utilize the training then a adult would. Ender is one of those kids, he is being trained and Harrison Ford believes he is the kid to end the war.

The story is what the movie is all about, it is based off of a book that is very well known after all. The original book won some big awards, and as such the movie has a lot to live up to. While I have not read the book, my understanding is some of the more...important aspect of it, were left out. The whole political structure of earth, and what his siblings were up to while he was away for example. From my view though, the story was not a issue with the film. The whole child soldier thing worked well, and was believable in the way it was presented. While I never really felt attached to any character, I was still kept interested in what they were doing. Seeing Ender go from his initial academy, to battle school and beyond was a interesting journey. While it did have some action, at its core it really was more of a drama film. I did find that disappointing, but as I was not really sure what the movie was going into it, I can't fault it for something I did not understand. I liked the family dynamic, and it worked well withing the movie. But it never seemed like they got the most out of those scenes. You never really learn much about them, so the fact his sister is a main focus of the film just felt odd. The movie did have some miss steps though. For one I felt it was to long. Certain parts seemed to last longer then they needed, and the whole pacing of the film suffered for it. While I think Harrison Ford did a good job with the role, he also was one of the more boring parts of the movie. So even though the story seemed good in concept, the execution dragged it down. Maybe they just tried to fit to much in.

Acting....I had no real issues with it. Harrison Ford always does well, and he continues to do so. It is odd seeing a film where you do not like him, but apparently he can do unlikable just as well as charming. Another big role was Viola Davis as Major Anderson. If you don't know who she is, you are lucky. It means you don't have a wife or girlfriend who made you go see Beautiful Creatures. She plays a sort of psychologist to the children. She is constantly checking on Ender to see how he is doing mentally. She is one of the few roles in the film, that shows somebody actually caring about the kids. It is a pretty big contrast to the rest of the military, and I thought she had a good performance here. Ben Kingsley did well, although he didn't really do that much. And Asa Butterfield does decent with Ender. I don't think he was good enough to carry the movie, but I would say he has a good future ahead of him in acting.

I want to talk about space for a moment. The movie takes place in it, and the only real battles are space battles. We see them simulating battles as part of their training, and they use a unique system that allows the commander to see and command the entire fleet at once. Think of a camera pulled back away from the battle, kind of like a video game. He can spin the camera, focus on things, and pretty much get any view of the battlefield he needs. It all sounds pretty cool, but in actuality it lessened those scenes greatly. By not focusing on the ships, and giving us the chaotic view of the battle, all of the space portions just came off as lackluster and boring. I don't go to movies to watch somebody else play a video game, I want to feel like I am out in space with them. For a movie whose final chapter is pretty much about space battle simulations, it really failed to make that section worth while. When Ender takes his final test, his crew is fighting against impossible odds and thousands of ships. That should not be boring to watch, and it should carry some sort of emotional weight with it.


Okay so the ending is the government is screwing with Ender. It seems like it should have been a big reveal, but they give it away before they drop the bombshell on the kid. By the time he finds out, I was already over it. It made that whole moment feel cheapened. They also never go into why his friends deceived him, or did not tell him what was going on. The ending felt rushed and tacked on, it seemed like there should have been more to it. The whole movie was building to that moment, and for it to fall flat like that really dragged the whole thing down for me.


Okay so we have a strong book which seemed to be stripped down for the theatrical version. We get a story that seems to be lacking key elements, and that fails to deliver in the end. While the movie starts strong, it does tend to lose steam near the end. The entire final act was a let down to me, and by the time the movie ended, I was more then ready to go home. Acting was decent all around, but the kid who played Ender did not seem capable of fully embracing that role. And for a movie who has some pretty big space battles, they all tend to be pretty poorly done. Was the film enjoyable? I would say it had its moments. Ender has some good lines, and seeing the kid mouth off was pretty funny. His emotional scenes though left much to be desired. I enjoyed the movie overall, but would rather have not paid theater prices for it. If you are a fan of the book, from what I have been told you should enjoy it. You will be able to fill int he portions that the rest of us were simply not given. I think most can enjoy the film, but few will truly love it.