The Hunger Games movie review

Warning: this movie is NOT for kids (I heard it’s PG-13 in the cinemas). Bring them to The Lorax, or The Muppets, but not here. Do not buy them the books until they’re older because the tone is darker, the fighting more brutal. It is not for the faint of heart (and for those who’ve allowed their kids to watch Battle Royale, well, you must’ve been Japanese to do so).  If you do make the mistake of exposing the little ones to this, well, you’ve a LOT of explaining to do. This effort is not to make them sheltered, ungrounded children, but because the timing of emotional maturity in their growth is important where literature and media exposure are concerned.

***

I’m very, very pleased with the adaptation.

Bookworms are usually hard to please, especially since we’ve all the background to compare it against. It’s far from reaching the unanimous LOTR epic feedback, but it is good enough. There are quite a number of breathless moments, and even if I already know what’s going to happen, not knowing how or what they’re going to show still adds to the excitement of the wait. Let me break down into bits my positive thoughts about the film.

  • Good build-up. Adaptations that fail to satisfy its viewers don’t get the mood/tone and the historical background right. This one did. The gripping drama of the Everdeen family anguish over the ‘reaping’ gave me a heartache. The chime-like music that accompanied the scenes gave me the creeps because it sounded like a psychological thriller, and Effie Trinket’s wildly colorful garb and piping happy voice looked very OFF amidst the washed-out hues of the somber crowd. Something looks terribly wrong with the picture, right? After Katniss volunteers, everything seems like a whirlwind of curious events. Well, it was really that, even in the book. It’s surreal for katniss and Peeta to be transported into a progressive and wealthy world, being presented with the excess and opulence that shell-shocked their impoverished sensibilities. Think of wagyu beef before their slaughter…
  • Stellar performances of the cast. Jennifer Lawrence is intense as Katniss, the family breadwinner and protector of children. It’s plain to see the eldest child syndrome in her (Mulan is that you?). She also does a very good job of acting socially inept with her instant fame and fortune that her awkwardness is almost funny. The kids who played Primrose and Rue (as played by Willow Shields and Amandla Stenberg) are so pure and childlike that the tragic circumstances make it really heartbreaking for them to experience it. It tugged at my heart so badly I was moved to tears. It was comical to see bald guys Stanley Tucci (Ceasar) and Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) sport long hair. Tucci played the perfect tv show host and Harrelson still made an impact even if I wished Haymitch was portrayed as the worst drunk you’ve ever seen. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket is fit to a T. I wish she had more exposure as Miss Manners! Lenny Kravitz as Cinna is a bit amusing (‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ was playing in my head), and he made his contribution to the narrative by showing how some Panem people still have hearts when he bade goodbye to Katniss.
  • Visually entertaining. The costumes were extravagant! In my head, the term was futuristic, but all the murmurs I could hear from people were that they all looked Gaga-ish. Blame it on the icon to limit the genre to that, haha. The grandness of Panem was magnificent. It was nothing I’ve ever imagined, and it’s just fun to be spectators of spectators in their reality show called the Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta’s entrance into the stadium with fire trailing behind their backs like capes (along with the Olympic-sounding music accompanying them) made me giddy with joy. Wow. Katniss’ gown of fire was cute (twirly girl). The cuteness though, stops here. When the Hunger Games commenced, it was good that the audience caught a glimpse of the sophisticated technology that controlled the environment of the games. Touch screens, holograms-turn-real gameplayers, whoa! Hand in hand with the digital effects of the movie, the good use of action shots and film directing techniques gave a glimpse of the games on a first-hand basis. The trackerjack hallucinations were so awesome they actually made me feel a bit dizzy too.

I know I haven’t mentioned either Peeta or Gale in this review, because if there’s anything that’s amiss in the movie, it’s that they’re in the wrong roles (in my humble opinion). Physically, Liam Hemsworth is built like Peeta in my imagination (and he has blonde hair) and Josh Hutcherson as Gale. Hmm, I’ll re-read the books to know if I misunderstood things correctly, but that’s just me. I also wished that the there was more explanation on the circular area/circumferential bit on the arena. It just seemed like a huge, endless forest wherein it was supposed to be a huge “pie” wherein every hour something will happen to that specific area or “slice”. Living conditions in the book were deadlier, habitable areas getting smaller and smaller to bring the tributes closer together and to make the process of elimination much faster. The book’s more Darwinian.

Anyway, it’s good enough to merit a second look. I wanna watch it again!

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close movie review

It is the poignant story of a special boy’s way of coping with the loss of his father during the 9/11 tragedy, and how he is instrumental also in mending the hurts of the rest of his family. The film starts by establishing the very close relationship of father & son (Tom Hanks & Thomas Horn who both have the same initials), the mother (Sandra Bullock) quietly observing in the background. Everything changes when tragedy strikes, and Oskar Schell is left alone to figure out the mystery of the key he found in his father’s closet. Labeled ‘Black’ on the brown envelope that stored it, he presumed it to be a person’s last name and immediately organized a ‘quest’ to find out what treasure or message his dead father might have sent him. This is the point where the film spends the most time expounding: Oskar’s obsessive-compulsive organization of his files for research, his stubbornness and ignorance of his mother, his journey to find the people on his list on foot, and his encounters with the people surnamed ‘Black’.

I missed out on a few scenes in the movie because I actually DOZED OFF! I watched in the evening, I was feeling pretty tired, and there were moments when Oskar’s solo adventures feel a bit stretched out. Honestly, his role was starting to get annoying midway instead of endearing, and there should have been more background on his condition to help the viewers understand that on top of his deep mourning, there is another complex layer that makes him react differently to the tragedy. It didn’t feel like an ‘automatic’ understanding to me since I watched the movie first before reading the book. Oskar’s character though, was grounded again when The Renter and his mother came in the picture in the latter part of the film.

Max von Sydow!

Max von Sydow played ‘The Renter’, an old, mute recluse in one of the apartments whom Oskar’s grandmother had been telling him to avoid. I immediately noticed that the old man used (I think) Moleskines to write on (among hundreds of used up ones in his apartment). ‘The Renter’ is a powerful presence and contrast to Oskar’s non-stop chatter, and the revelation that he is Oskar’s long-lost grandfather is both a happy and sad moment, as grandparents aren’t able to reconcile their differences. How I wish this subplot had a happier ending as Oskar lost male figures in his life twice, and his grandmother seemed too bitter in life to not forgive Thomas Schell, Sr., even kicking him out of the property. Sigh.

The last saving grace in the film’s narrative is the disclosure that Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock) actually paved most of the way for Oskar to have easier encounters with the strangers he was about to visit. Mother thought ahead of son, visiting the ‘Black’ list ahead of time and praying everyday that she had helped her son go through his quest. This helped calm the boy, and eventually allowed himself to get closer to his mother.

I took a peek at the first few pages of the book, and with those alone I liked it better than this Academy Award nominated film in general. There was much more background on Oskar being a prodigy in the novel than by just looking like a weirdo in the film. I’ll make my justifications/book review soon when I finish it.

Slumdog Millionaire movie review

I am four years delayed in viewing this Academy Award-winning movie. This file was just quietly waiting for me to be watched, stored in my hard drive for years until I viewed it last weekend because am trying to clear some space. Dev Patel and Freida Pinto became instant Hollywood stars when this came out, and I was proud of them and the production for managing to make it to American mainstream cinema, and get the critical acclaim too! Now I’ll be able to say that I am certain it deserved the awards that this movie adaptation reaped. Based on the novel “Q & A” by Indian author Vikas Swarup, it made me believe that that there is triumph at the end of the dark tunnel of suffering, that true love will prevail, that smartness is not just a privilege of the educated, and that the song “Jai Ho” is a really, really catchy tune I still have fond memories of it being a dance routine fad 🙂

I love that the narrative is structured in such a way that every question in the game show has a backstory that is relevant for Jamal Malik, which, coincidentally, leads him to know the answers. After all the hardships that he went through, he really deserved to get the main pot. The film was able to explain well the heartaches of his complicated relationship with his brother, while keeping up the search for the ‘missing’ element in Jamal’s life that he calls his ‘third Musketeer’.

Dev Patel was convincing as a humble, innocent, abused teen. He gave a really earnest performance. The kids playing their younger versions were great too, and the little Jamal was cute as a lamb. The social conditions the Malik brothers lived in were compelling, as it is really a dog eat dog world in underdeveloped countries like theirs and mine. Freida Pinto was, well, a bit underwhelming as a leading lady. She has a charming smile though, and in the scene where she looked up to Jamal in the train station, she looked like she was made of sunshine.

Usually, luck doesn’t really determine a life, but if you want to see how luck is Jamal’s triumph that he deserved, go see the film. Let me leave you now with the sexy Pussycat Dolls’ very catchy “Jai Ho”.

Mirror Mirror movie review

Retellings have a caveat. It’s expected to rise above the original tale if it presents interesting elements that make the adaptation unique yet recognizable to all. Did Mirror Mirror pull this off? For me, it did!

The only expectation I have of this is that it might be funny based on the trailer, and I was giddy with joy at the wit of the script and Julia Robert’s sugar-coated mockery. The seven dwarves’ puns (named Napoleon, Grub, Half Pint, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher, and Chuckles) are on the dot in their comedic timing, and Armie Hammer’s recurring half-nakedness made the audience in the cinema with me chuckle a lot. Lily Collins’ portrayal of Snow White was lovely as she is. Her beauty and her gentleness fit her character perfectly.

The production value of the movie is fantastic, starting off with the animated, ceramic-ish  doll figures’ reconstruction of the fairy tale in the stepmother’s point of view, to Alan Menken doing the original score, up to the lavish, Victorian-inspired costumes of the women and colonial wigs for the men. The fashion is dated, and yet Academy Award-winning Japanese costume designer Eiko Ishioka made it edgy modern. Here’s a preview of their stunning looks (grabbed from the internet):

Julia Roberts is fierce!
Remember Bjork's swan dress? Ishioka designed for her 🙂
Elaborate!

The fairy tale was tweaked toward the end. The final reveal (Sean Bean’s appearance) and the closing sequence just gave the satisfactory contrast of the film to the ending of the original narrative.

If you want a magical, fantastical experience, go see this wonderful retelling of Snow White! Bring the kids along, but you need a bit of explaining to do 🙂

Zombie fixations.

The Walking Dead

Everyone’s buzzing about the recent developments of this US television series, wherein despite the scarcity of real, breathing humans, they turn against each other in a fight for survival and power to lead. It’s shocking and yet understandable how civility & morality has been blurred as these characters are pushed to the brink of insanity in the incomprehensible world they exist in. Dead walk day and night, the meaning of life lost to existential survival, and just this week, the unbitten dead still turn into zombies. What the hell, right?

Season 1 has been mostly about the ‘chase’ and recovering missing loved ones. The adrenaline of escaping near death, dealing with loss of companions along the way and keeping those who survived, well, alive was the main cast’s goal. The hype before was more of the exciting scenes of their escape from one place to the other, not knowing what awaits them in their search for temporary refuge. The current season, however, is more controversial because it deals about the existential drama and discussions on the intricacies of the common good versus  individual survival, the necessity of killing the threats whether human or zombie, their loss of wonder in the world and the numbness to the blessing that is life. The tv series is also crafted in such a way that viewers will get confused on who to side with: there’s Rick, the hero who will always think of what is good and what is right, and there’s Shane, the impulsive best friend whose brash and rational ways still manage to save the group. Rick’s messianic tendencies make him want to save everyone he comes across in their journeys, while Shane would opt to sacrifice the excess/unnecessary ‘baggage’ to their survival. I guess the answers to the question “What do you value?” will determine pretty much how the viewers perceive their truths. I haven’t read the graphic novels yet to have an idea of what is yet to come in the end of the second season, but am pretty sure there will be little respite from the heaviness of losses from the main cast.

The Walking Dead graphic novel cover (series released in 2003)

The Japanese came up with their manga version of the zombie apocalypse in 2006 and named it High School of the Dead. They also translated the manga into anime, and I watched it for fun. It’s action-packed and not as dramatic as the American series but VERY risque (maybe enjoyable to the male population? Haha)! It lasted for only a season, and the finale was open-ended it made me scratch my head (the high school gang arrived at a mall…then The End).

I will not post the R-rated photos :p

The zombie trend in pop culture is making me wonder about this generation’s interest in it. Is it about the thrill of the chase? Is it boredom with life? Is it a search for meaning? Or just reinvention of literature to adapt to current interests of media and the masses? Maybe all of the mentioned, or maybe there are still a lot of reasons I haven’t thought about of yet.

http://www.outbreakmanila.com
I'll grab a copy of this soon

I allow myself to get exposed to the hype, but I don’t have to wallow in it for long since trends or fads eventually die down (thank God the vampire stuff is almost over). I wonder what will be next. Hmm.