*Note: I actually give this film 3.75/5 stars. I like this film, I really do, I just can't give it the same rating as such films as Captain Phillips and Blue Jasmine (both great films, by the way, check those ones out, too).*
Even though I really like the first book, and to a lesser extent the third one, the second book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I do not enjoy. I find it unexciting, hard to follow, and very cliché in its romance. Therefore, I am very pleased to say that the movie adaptation is much better: it's exciting, well acted, and features some great buildup.
After winning the Hunger Games last year, Katniss and Peeta have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble with their defiance at the Games and, so, the Capitol wants them dead. As a result, they get sent back to the arena, for another episode of the Hunger Games.
Only, this year, the people who have to settle their differences in the arena are reaped from a pool of existing victors, young and old.
Now, before I go into my criticisms of the film, let me make one thing clear: this is a good movie! I really think so. It's an exciting, well directed film and it held my attention for 150 minutes. However, I simply do not think that it is worthy of all the other praise that's been thrown at it. This movie, to me at least, is undeniably flawed.
One of the big flaws is the romance, which hasn't improved much since the last film. There's a love triangle (ugh), but inexplicably, there seems to be a corner missing. Gale and Katniss have very little chemistry in a movie that the former is barely in.
Also, some of the lines and scenes of romance with the other male corner are not very good. Glaring examples of poorly written romance include their conversation on the beach and conversation on the train (I'm sorry, but the question "what's your favorite color?" doesn't exactly do much in developing their relationship) . I wouldn't say that the romance is any worse than what we saw in the book, or even what we saw in the first film, but it's still not very satisfying.
The other big flaw - and I realize I'm in the minority with this - is the Games. Now, I'm not saying they're unexciting or uninteresting. I love the look of the Games, I like the participants, and I think the action is exciting. However, they just feel like a break from the narrative, intriguing buildup and escalating political tension that had full attention in the really interesting first act. You see, there are those who see the Games as really powerful symbolism: social satire, an allegory on the status of celebrities today, about reality television. I've even heard a theory about how the Hunger Games is about finding Jesus (no, really,). But, even though I see that, I'm not as moved by it as other people. And, so, to see the really interesting tension rising replaced by the (admittedly exciting) narrative halt is rather disappointing.
Another problem with the games is the hourly events, which aren't very interesting. They weren't very interesting in the book either, but I think this is one of those times where you should change what's given to you (on an entirely different note, the scene with Haymitch's Hunger Games was not one of those times, but I digress). You have this very clever setup with the clock, and then the poisonous fog, poorly animated monkeys, and blood rain that's in it isn't very creative. That being said, the jabberjay hour is fantastic. They mimic the voices of the tributes' friends and family, creating a really fantastically surreal scene.
Also, and I promise this is the last subject of my criticisms; the last ten minutes completely collapse. It doesn't make sense, and it's full of overly dramatic shots. The cliffhanger's silly, the idea of hitting a lightning bolt mid-strike is stupid and it simply does not work.
All that being said, this is a good movie, and I very much enjoyed watching it.
As I've already mentioned, I really like the buildup and first act. It's very interesting and very well done. I wish the whole film had been done like this. The pacing isn't always top-notch, but that's excusable when you see the careful thought put into the somber tone and building of political tension.
Another improvement is the characters who are all much better than they were in the first film. The main one is Peeta. He's more interesting, likable, given more to do, and he has better lines to say. President Snow is also an upgrade. I saw the first film before I read the books, and I didn't even realize that Snow was supposed to be a villain. He's definitely villainous here, even if there isn't much to distinguish him from any other baddie. The best character here, by far, is Stanley Tucci's Caesar, who's just fantastic. Tucci plays the character so well. He's a very believable talk-show host, with his flamboyance and smiling and laughing. It always put a big smile on my face when he was on.
The tributes are also an improvement. One of the biggest problems with the original film is that, with the exception of Rue, you hardly knew any of the other tributes, which reduced the suspense quite a bit. In this film, we know the other tributes fairly well. Johanna Mason is the best one with a very strong personality, and Finnick is surprisingly not very annoying, which is a plus. Beetee is fun, even if he's not really given much of a personality to work with.
The directing is also a big improvement. Gary Ross plagued his film with sloppy, nauseating shaky cam, which does very little to up the suspense. He also made his film feel very understated (some, like me, might say boring instead) with no music or anything playing during the very big scenes. I'm all for being understated, but that crossed a line to just being dull. This is not the case with Francis Lawrence. It's obvious from the very first shot of Katniss, shrouded in the shadows, sitting by the lake that he wants to impress us with his directing, and for the most part, he does. For one thing, the movie looks very pretty. Lawrence has a great eye for interesting camera angles, and the big budget that he's given helps the production designers create a very nice world. It's all very pretty, and the somber tone he sets is really nice. He does well.
He also directs the actors very well. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss. She's just *perfectly* cast, and plays her character very, very well. There are a lot of emotions and subtleties that you have to juggle while playing Katniss, but Jennifer Lawrence does them all excellently. The Lawrence's in this film do a very good job (Lawrence Kasdan should have written the script; he's actually a good fit, as well as having the right name). Josh Hutcherson is also very good. The fact that his character is so much better helps of course, but his acting is still very strong. The actors are all excellent, and very impressive.
However, I was perhaps a bit less impressed with the score by James Newton Howard, which is a shame. Parts of it are excellent (Beetee's violin theme is just terrific), but on the whole the score fails to leave much of an impression. The chase music is very generic chase music, with little added flavor. It's not a terrible score, but I was hoping for a bit more.
On the whole, and in spite of all my nitpicking, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very good, if overrated, piece of entertainment. It's well acted, intriguing, nicely shot and features a really excellent first act. You'll love it if you're a fan, but even if you're a little hesitant on the series, you'll find much to enjoy.
Thanks in large part to Disney and Johnny Depp, pirates are now thought of as little more than alcohol-drinking, makeup-wearing, Pepe-le-Pew-esque people. Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass's first film in a couple of years, does not have Johnny Depp parading onto the Maersk Alabama, asking where the rum is. This movie has Barkhad Adbi and his three friends climbing onto the ship with machine guns threatening to kill the crew in just 60 seconds. It's surprising...and it's terrifying.
Captain Phillips is the story of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama Cargo Ship, which, in April of 2009 was hijacked by four Somali pirates. The pirates board the ship, and scare the audience and crew half to death, but then take Richard Phillips hostage in the ship's lifeboat, sparking a big Navy Seals operation to save Phillips before it's too late.
This story is intense, and really suspenseful. I don't think Gravity even had moments of intensity like the scene in which the pirates are on the ship, and looking for the rest of the crew. It's intense and oh-so-terrifying. Even if the Navy Seals operation isn't as intense as the pirates-on-the-ship scenes, this movie is intense all the way through, and will leave you at the edge of your seat.
The intense moments are really well done, as well. There's a lot of yelling going on, a lot of shots being fired, and the camera moving a lot. Yet it never feels muddled. It always feels like these scenes are organized chaos. That sounds like an oxymoron, but check the film out and you'll know what I mean. It sounds strange, but it's really what I got out of it, and it's rewarding.
And the camerawork is terrific, really adding to the suspense. I was concerned going into the film that Greengrass would go overboard with the shaky cam (having never seen a film of his before) and so I am very happy to report that this is not the case at all. The camera moves a lot, and there are a lot of closeups on the faces so that you can count the little beads of sweat rolling down the characters' faces, yet it never makes you nauseous or uncomfortable. What the shaky cam does so well is that it shakes the camera to get you scared, to make you feel like you're in the situation, but it doesn't shake it so much so that you can't see what's going on.
Furthermore, the scenes of shaking are well chosen. It's not like The Hunger Games where the camera shakes randomly even during the conversations and slow moments (ironically, Billy Ray the writer of Captain Phillips, also wrote The Hunger Games, but that's neither here nor there). The camera is held steady in the uneventful scenes, but when there's action or something exciting going on, the camera builds in shakiness. This adds a feeling of suspense and heightening of intensity that The Hunger Games was never able to achieve. The camerawork is great, and highly commendable.
The acting, too, is really, really great. Tom Hanks is terrific as the title character. Even if his Boston accent is a little alarming at first, he gives a brilliant performance and really, really makes you care for him. He gives Richard Phillips the personality the writers can't. And he's perfectly countered by Barkhad Abdi, the actor who plays the main pirate Muse. He's never been in a film before! That's unbelievable! He's fantastic in this film. The choice to cast Somalis as the pirates was quite risky, but it more than payed off. Especially with Abdi, who is terrifying. It's well worth an Oscar nom.
One more thing that the film gets right is in showing both sides. Now, it doesn't show everybody's side (the film doesn't show the crews' side; that Phillips did deliberately go very close to the Somalian coast; waters which he knew very full of pirates), but it does show way more than most Hollywood thrillers do. Namely, the pirates. Captain Phillips doesn't portray the pirates as bland, one-sided bad guys. It does show their side, it does show why they have to do this, and that's very good, interesting, and new.
However, if I am to point out a flaw with Captain Phillips is that the Navy Seals mission really isn't as intense as the beginning of the pirate incident, and the film does take a little step down. It's still gripping, and I'm just nitpicking, but it is a bit unfortunate nevertheless.
Also nitpick-worthy is Henry Jackman's score. It has good moments -- particularly when the pirates are boarding the ship -- but in general, it's too generic-thriller-score-ish. It also sounds a lot like Hans Zimmer's score for Inception, oddly enough, something that is definitely worth wondering about.
There will be those who will watch Captain Phillips and see messages about globalization and economic disparity and those themes are definitely very evident. But the film is more than enjoyable without looking at it like that. An extremely thrilling, well acted ride, Captain Phillips is a film that will entertain you almost as much as it raises your heart rate. It's not quite as good as the other survival film of October, Gravity, but it's highly recommendable nonetheless.
On paper, Rio looks just like another run-of-the-mill animated movie. It's a story we've seen before, with a predictable romance, fuzzy characters, and a pro-environmental message. The catch, though? This is actually a pretty fun movie. This isn't like Madagascar or some other "domesticated animal finds himself in the wilderness" movie. No, this film is funny, energetic and certainly worth a viewing or two if you get the chance.
The story follows Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and he, after being smuggled out of the sing-songy, energetic forests of Rio de Janeiro (or, at least, I assume it's Rio, we're never really told) and adopted by the loving bookworm Linda (Leslie Mann), has become so domesticated, he can't even fly. Instead of flying, he walks around the store, plays around, watches TV, and receives lots of comfort from Linda. One day, though, coming into the store is Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) a Brazilian bird nut. He tells Linda that Blu is the last male of the species, and there is only one other girl blue macaw in the whole world, and they must come together and save the species.
Now, right off the bat, there's something that doesn't really make sense and kind of annoys me. What happens after Blu and the girl, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), get together and have children? Do their children have to mate each other? Do, for the rest of the history of the blue macaw, siblings have to mate? Are blue macaws doomed to be related to each other for eternity? Is this the case with all animal species and I just don't know yet? Are there only as many families in the world as there are species? Am I related to you?
Am I reading into this too much?
I don't know, but this just gave me way more questions than answers. A little explanation would have helped.
OK, but fine, I'll forgive that.
But, anyways, seeing as Jewel can't come to Minnesota, Blu and Linda have to go to Rio to see her.
Which brings up my next nitpick. Why couldn't Jewel have come to Minnesota? Did the people that were taking care of her not want to handle her or something? Was she too mean and ferocious? If that's the case, then how do they nurture her and keep her healthy? Or if that isn't the case, why couldn't she come? Would the airlines not let her on the plane? Did they not have enough money? If they didn't have enough money, couldn't they have just shot Linda an e-mail explaining the whole "save the species" thing, so that they can save the money that they spent sending Tulio to Minnesota and back? There are a bunch of logical answers to this, but the film doesn't really explain, even though it would only have taken a couple of seconds. I don't know. It's just a nitpick, but it is a question I have. And there are many moments through the film like this.
Back to the story, when Blu and Linda finally arrive in Rio, everything goes wrong: Blu and Jewel hate each other right off the bat and, to make matters worse, they're smuggled by the greedy bad guys of the film.
Now, even though I do have questions concerning the plot, I really enjoy this film, and a large part of that is the great energy it has. The film all takes place in Rio De Janeiro during the famous Carnival and that was a really smart move to set this film during such an energetic time. The film certainly gets a lot of that energy into its pace, set pieces and tone and I really like that. Turns out, the birds are all very musical too and so you get a lot of scenes of singing and dancing and samba and it's all very nice. The set pieces have loud music playing, the movement is almost to the beat of the music and almost feels like a dance, and everything is just bursting with energy. I thought this was really fun and a very smart move by Carlos Saldanha.
But what really surprised me the most in the film was the humor. The movie is actually really funny. Now, don't get me wrong, there's certainly a fair share of groan-worthy lines and moments, but, for the most part, the hits outnumber the misses (I'd say by about a ratio of 4:1, from good to bad). And there are really inspired hits here, too. Blu, even though his fish out of water routine isn't all that new, gets lots of really funny lines here, and how he, the domesticated pet, plays off of Jewel, the lone, free and adventurous spirit, is pretty fun and gives room for some great lines. Tulio gets some good lines in there too, and there are some good visual jokes.
The characters aren't as inspired and many of them are very familiar, but, for the most part, the film gets away with it and you can enjoy it all. Blu is certainly a very entertaining character, not least because he's voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, who gives in a pretty entertaining performance. Jewel is all right, she's serviceable, but isn't really anything special. The monkeys are fine, Nigel is a fine villain, Raphael, Pedro, everybody's serviceable. Everybody does the job, and does it with a bit of flair.
There is, of course, one exception. I did not like this Luiz one bit. His character is so stupid, he's such a "reach-into-this-random-barrel-and-see-what-silly-character-we-get" character, such a "let's-google-what-we-can-do-with-this-character", and such a "what-does-the-computer-say-children-like?" character that it's not hard not to get angry. And not a single line that Tracy Morgan says sounds real. Hmph *crosses arms and stomps away, before promptly putting a cherry flavored lollipop in mouth* .
The music is OK. John Powell is an excellent composer, but I don't feel like this is his best work. Sure it's fine, but for a movie revolving around song and dance so much, I would have liked a better score. The film works with the score it has, but maybe the effect would have been bigger, had the score been a little better. Oh, well. You'll live.
I know I'm sounding really negative, but I don't dislike this movie. On the contrary, I really like it. Sure, there's no shortage of glaring flaws, but we nonetheless get a lot of really inspired moments, and moments that I really love. Saldanha has some impressive scenes, the energy is infectious, the set pieces impressive and the color scheme great. Rio is a very funny film, and certainly one that, in spite of its flaws, should definitely be seen.
The Lord of the Rings is one of the most famous film trilogies ever. They're often considered classics, masterclasses of filmmaking, and some of the best films of the 21st century. And, actually, it is a really entertaining ride, that I thoroughly enjoy. I would never go so far as to say it's one of the best films of the 21st century or a masterclass of filmmaking, but it still kept me entertained for 180 minutes, and that alone is an impressive feat.
The film opens in a calm, peaceful looking place called the Shire. This is where the Hobbits live (whatever a Hobbit is), including the Frodo Baggins and his uncle Bilbo Baggins. A long time ago, Bilbo Baggins took a very powerful ring from Gollum, some scary-looking mix between a naked mole rat and monkey. This ring that Bilbo took was actually the same ring that Sauron used many, many years ago to wreak havoc all across middle-earth.
However, one day in battle, Sauron dissolved (but didn't die; I don't get it, either), leaving the ring, for several hundred years, to stay with the monkey/naked-mole rat I mentioned earlier. After those couple of hundred years, the ring escapes from Gollum, and Bilbo Baggins finds it, and uses it for many, many years to keep old age away. One day, though, Gandalf the Grey finds out that Bilbo has the extremely dangerous ring, and that Sauron is gaining strength, and is trying desperately to find it. So, he sends Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee to drop the ring off at a certain place, where different hands will handle and hide it from Sauron. However, it turns out that nobody is there at that certain place, and so a team of people, each from different races of Middle Earth, head off on an adventure to destroy the ring in the same pit that it was created, the volcano...Mordor!
And it is this adventure that makes the movie as good as it is. It's fun to see this cool group of people going on their epic journey, to try and destroy their ring. It's hard not to get a goofy grin on your face when the Fellowship is walking through some fantastic landscape of New Zealand, with Howard Shore's majestic theme playing. The movie's best moments are those scenes where you get the feel that the adventure is in full throttle.
And, helping make the adventure so fun, the characters are very endearing, too. Many are a bit formulaic -- for example we have the essential comedy relief, and many other cliches-- but they're still very likable. I don't think that Gimli is a very original or creative character, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want him safely out of all dangerous situations. Orlando Bloom's Legolas isn't really given much of a personality, but he looks so cool holding a bow-and-arrow that he endeared to me. My favorite character is Sean Astin's Sam. He's Frodo's determined sidekick, and seems like a very nice guy. The great mix of fun characters and interesting adventure is what makes the film as fun as it is.
Unfortunately, though, for an adventure to be exciting and tense, besides good characters, we also need to know what's happening, what's at stake and all that good stuff. And this, most regrettably, brings the film's biggest flaw: the exposition. The exposition is so often done in such a dull manner that it really brings the film down. The movie opens with a several minute long explanation of the history of middle-earth, and it's just boring. Although I realize that the exposition made me understand -- and therefore enjoy -- the adventure more, I wish they had done it in a more exciting manner, in a show-not-tell way. The exposition made the already overblown length (way overblown) seem even longer.
The acting, though, helps bring the film through the exposition well enough. The acting really is quite decent. Elijah Wood does a very good job as Frodo Baggins, even getting passed the cold wall of cynicism that I initially felt towards him. He does a very good job in showing that he's having trouble bringing the ring to Mordor, but without playing Frodo as a damsel in distress. He's very good...(but I still can't wait for Martin Freeman to star in The Hobbit).
The other acting is also very good, with Ian McKellen playing a good Gandalf the Grey, Orlando Bloom playing a cool archer and John Rhys-Davies doing the bearded, slightly formulaic dwarf with a bit of flair.
What the actors can't help us get through as well, though,is the exaggerated fantasy element. Being not that big a fantasy person, there were times when I found the fantasy people and world to be a wee bit silly, self-serious and exaggerated. People whisper mystically and, while I can see how that would appeal to fantasy-fans, I just didn't buy it. It's a minor flaw, yes, but, it still annoyed me when it was on screen.
That does not mean, however, that I disliked the whole fantasy aspect of this film. On the contrary; I loved the fantastical world that Peter Jackson creates. All the locations look gorgeous, from the peaceful, grassy Shire, to the dark and mysterious mine. It's all terrific.
And DP Andrew Lesnie shoots it gorgeously. The cinematography is really nice -- it rightfully won an Oscar -- helping to add to the mystical element of the film. There's some really nice use of color and cool angles all over the film. The whole film is a feast for your eyes, thanks to some fantastic special effects, gorgeous cinematography, and terrific locations.
The score by Howard Shore is also quite good. It's got a very majestic -- and now famous -- main theme and some rightfully fantastic tracks. Did it deserve to win the Oscar? I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that, but it's still a very solid score.
Although the tediously dealt exposition, and extremely long runtime, which you will definitely feel the length of at times, keep me from truly loving this movie, I still thoroughly enjoy it. An excellent start.