Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 7 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!
I first read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the latter days of 1999 after receiving it from my grandmother for Christmas that year. I was only 7 years old at the time, but I devoured it and was ready for more, so I was given Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban for my birthday just a few weeks later. When this movie adaptation was announced, I forced my grandmother to read the book so she could take me to the theater, and despite her initial reluctance, she loved it as well, and so we went to the theater together. While it will never capture the exact magic of the book series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen as well as one of the most important movies of my childhood.
10-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up believing that his parents died in a car crash, which is why he lives with his terrible aunt, uncle, and cousin; he’s forced to wear his large cousin’s too-big hand-me-down clothes and sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs. His life is far from happy, but all of that changes when mysterious letters start arriving in strange ways, all addressed to him. Harry soon finds out that not only did his parents not die in a car crash, but that they were wizards who died protecting him from the most evil wizard of all time – and that Harry himself is a wizard too. He’s whisked away into a world that is entirely new to him and to a new magical school called Hogwarts, filled with friends, teachers, and danger.
It should be said right off the bat that the production team absolutely nailed the casting decisions; every single actor is perfectly placed in their role, and as a result, I find it difficult to imagine others playing these characters. The child actors – Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione – aren’t all-stars here, but they visually fit the descriptions and perform their parts believably. Yes, they’re children and make typical children mistakes, but they’re still charming and make you feel for them when they are emotional and worry for them when they are in danger, which is what really matters – that they make you care.
And of course the adults in the film are outstanding as well! Richard Harris is pitch perfect as Professor Dumbledore, completely capturing the “twinkle in the eye” aspect of the character as described in the book series. Though I did enjoy Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in later films after Harris passed away prior to the release of Chamber of Secrets, I think that Richard Harris more perfectly embodies the calm, wise old wizard demeanor. Maggie Smith as McGonagall is every bit as stern as her book counterpart, but at the same time she’s able to show the proper warmth and joy when she discovers Harry’s flying capabilities and concern while watching his first match against the rough-playing Slytherin team. Other admirable performances come from Alan Rickman as Snape – you can catch some subtle hints towards his characters’ eventual fate if you watch for it, but at the same time he appears just as loathsome and borderline evil as the children believe him to be – and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid – who, as Harry’s first real father figure is just as warm and gentle as you would expect him to be despite his size, and his constant refrain of “I shouldn’t have said that” shows both his loyalty to Dumbledore and his secrets as well as his dedication to the children and their safety.
The story, which is basically just a reiteration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, isn’t overly complex, so the real focuses of this movie are the characters and world-building. Since Harry is just as new to the world of wizards and witches and magic as we are, we are able to witness everything through his eyes and experience things such as Platform 9 3/4, the magic feast in the Great Hall, and the moving staircases through his eyes. J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world is a wonder to behold in all of its details, but the addition of magic doesn’t take away the human lessons to be taken away here. In observing Harry, Ron, and Hermione, we learn about the importance of true friendship and sacrifice for the ones you love, as well as bravery in the face of danger and difficult choices. Additionally, Dumbledore teaches us the importance of living our lives rather than focusing on what could be (“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live”) and the power of true, pure love.
Though I won’t go on about it at length here, I have to at least mention John Williams absolutely incredible score for this movie (my review). It was the very first film soundtrack I ever owned, and it sparked a fascination with both film scores and John Williams that continues to this day. More than that, it taught me that instrumental music can still tell a story; when listening to “The Quidditch Match”, I can completely visualize every single action on screen based on the musical cues alone (and to this day, that is one of my top 5 favorite-scored scenes in all of moviedom). “Hedwig’s Theme” remains a classic to this day and is recognizable by those who have and haven’t seen the movies alike, and “Leaving Hogwarts” still causes me to shed a tear or two every time I hear it. This soundtrack is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t given it a listen before.
While this movie is definitely not the best in the series – or even second best, to be honest – it’s the one that means the most to me, and it’s the one that started it all; if Chris Columbus and company hadn’t gotten it right here, then Harry Potter may have continued on very differently and might not have become as successful as it ended up being. To that end, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is exactly the film that needed to be made at that time – it’s not only a great and accurate book-to-film adaptation, but it’s also full of the magic, wonder, and heart that inspired me as a child to seek true friendship, to be brave in the decisions I make, and to unselfishly love others.
MPAA: PG – for some scary moments and mild language
Leave a comment | tags: alan rickman, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, chamber of secrets, chris columbus, cinescope, daniel radcliffe, emma watson, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J. K. Rowling, JKR, John Williams, maggie smith, prisoner of azkaban, Richard Harris, robbie coltrane, rupert grint, steve kloves, The Sorcerer's Stone, tom felton | posted in Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Recommended, Recommended, Scores, The Cinescope Podcast
Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 6 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!
Most of the movies I remember from my childhood are animated and no longer worth my time. However, there are a few gems that withstand the test of time, and the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is one of those movies that is part of some of my earliest movie memories; it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this movie tells the story of young Charlie Buckett, a boy who lives in a rundown one-room shack with his mother and four bedridden grandparents. They are the very definition of poor, and Charlie himself has a paper route to help to provide for his family. One day, the mysterious Willy Wonka – a reclusive, highly successful candymaker – announces to the world a contest that will allow five lucky people access into his factory for a day, along with a lifetime supply of chocolate. When lucky Charlie finds a ticket, it’s off to the factory with four other children to see what awaits them.
*this movie is 45 years old; there are spoilers*
This movie is a classic for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fabulous Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He captivates the viewer in every moment he appears onscreen, and his energy is occasionally menacing but more often charming. The twinkle in his eye will make you smile, and listening to him sing “Pure Imagination” will tug at your heartstrings. In the final scene when Wonka promises Charlie his factory and a “happily ever after”, the warmth felt is so incredibly genuine that you can’t help but smile – and maybe even shed a tear.
But Gene Wilder isn’t the only highlight here. All of the children are wonderfully despicable and spoiled, but believable to the point that children viewers can identify parts of themselves and therefore learn from the mistakes of their onscreen counterparts. Peter Ostrum as Charlie shines in his only film role to date: he portrays all of the character’s honesty, kindness, and pure intentions with such an earnestness that you feel for him when he longs for a Golden Ticket but realizes how low his chances are, you grin when he sprints home with the Ticket clutched in hand, and you cheer as he hugs Wonka, knowing that his family will hunger no more. Rarely do you get a child actor, especially one with so little other film experience, who is able to portray such a wide range of emotions believably. Jack Albertson as Charlie’s Grandpa Joe is also a standout role, featuring the love and care expected of a grandfather as well as the energy and zeal of a much younger man. His love for Charlie is obvious as he acts as the beacon of hope for Charlie during his search for the Golden Ticket and as he climbs out of bed for the first time in twenty years to accompany Charlie to the factory – and the first thing he does is participate in an entirely too fun dance number! Watching him sing and dance to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” is one of my two favorite scenes in the entire film.
Speaking of songs, I’ve already mentioned my two favorites – “Pure Imagination” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, and “Candy Man” is a great show opener featuring the wonderful Aubrey Woods as the candy shop owner singing to a group of ecstatic children, a scene that also introduces us for the first time to the idea of Wonka and who he might be: a man born to make candy, apparently! The team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley composed both the songs and the film score, for which they won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, and rightly so; the overture that plays over the montage of candy-making in the opening credits is a fantastic introduction to the musical landscape of the movie, and other fine musical moments include the instrumental versions of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination” that play in the scenes when Charlie runs home to show off his prize and when Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe view the city from the Glass Elevator at the end of the film, respectively. And who could forget “Oompa, Loompa” (no one…the answer is “no one”).
I really don’t need to say all that much about this movie because no doubt you’ve already seen it. And if you haven’t? Shame on you. Go get yourself a copy, now, and bask in the magical, scrumdiddlyumptious world. Roald Dahl was always one of my favorite authors as a kid because he taught that childhood was something to relish rather than rush, and that creativity and imagination are our greatest gifts. Not only does Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory display these themes of childhood wonder and pure imagination, but it also serves as a visual and musical treat that stands the test of time and still dazzles to this day. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it’s a movie that’s as (or even more) important to me now as it was when I first watched it as a child.
Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.
Leave a comment | tags: anthony newley, charlie, chocolate factory, gene wilder, jack albertson, leslie bricusse, peter ostrum, pure imagination, roald dahl, willy wonka | posted in Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Recommended, Scores, The Cinescope Podcast
Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 4 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!
*very mild spoilers*
What is the appeal of the sci-fi genre? Certainly the potential of catching a possible glimpse of the future is a draw, and people are always glad to see the exciting action sequences that are typical in sci-fi works. But I would argue that what sci-fi does well, often better than other genre films, is ask questions, present new ideas, and generally give us life questions to ponder after the credits roll. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner accomplishes all of the above.
In 2019 Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in by his former supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and briefed on a new assignment: four Replicants – illegal androids – have escaped to Earth from off-planet human colonies, and they must now be killed. You see, Deckard used to be what they call a “Blade Runner”, a sort of bounty hunter tasked with tracking down these Replicants and “retiring” them. With Replicants being nearly indistinguishable from humans, Deckard has his work cut out for him, and he may just lose his humanity or even his life along the way.
The plot of the movie is relatively simple: good guy needs to hunt down robot bad guys and kill them before bad things happen. But, as I mentioned, the real highlights here are the questions…are the bad guys actually bad guys? Are the good guys actually good guys? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be human? All of these questions carry quite a bit of heft and really drive the momentum of the film. I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here – namely because my answers might be different than yours, as they’re meant to be.
Though the whole cast shines, there are three in particular that stand out in my mind when I watch this movie. The obvious choice is Harrison Ford as Deckard. As our primary human character, he brings us an interesting mix of the empathy we expect in a human but also the coldness and moral distance you would expect from a machine or, in this case, a Replicant. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – questions from this movie is whether Deckard is a human or a Replicant, and Ford masterfully plays along that fine line without definitively revealing anything either way. Another standout is Rutger Hauer as the Replicant Roy, who has perhaps the biggest character arc in the film, or at least the most interesting one. He possesses a strange energy that both endears and frightens, especially through the vibrancy of his bright blue eyes, but he also often shows more human traits than Deckard does: compassion, empathy, sadness, happiness, and he delivers one of the finest speeches to be found in any sci-fi film, or to be honest, in any film at all (and partially improvised, at that!). The last one I’ll mention here is Sean Young as the Replicant Rachael, who is particularly fascinating because her character initially believes herself to be a human thanks to implanted memories. Where Deckard is a human with many Replicant qualities, Rachael is just the opposite, and watching her cry as she learns that the memories of the life she thought she had were forgeries is heartbreaking. Throughout the rest of the movie, she expresses conflict between which faction she owes her allegiance to – the humans who created her or the Replicants who share her origin.
Vangelis, of Chariots of Fire fame, sets the tone of the film with another synth-based score that works extremely well in this futuristic dystopian setting; there’s a technological energy in the music as the film opens, but this eventually gives way to a strong feeling of melancholy and despair that matches the state of the world and the conflict going on within our characters’ minds.
The questions and the themes found in this movie could be talked about and written about for ages to come (and probably will be), but for now I’ll leave you to watch the film for yourself and ponder over everything on your own. If you do, I highly recommend checking out the basis for the film as well, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Reading the book really helped me to get into Deckard’s head and to understand some of his motivations and internal struggles. Once you have watched the movie and maybe read the book, talk about it with others! Blade Runner is a film that demands discussion because of the complex questions found within, but, for the more casual moviegoer, it still has a lot to offer in the way of good sci-fi worldbuilding and action. However you take it on, enjoy the ride and consider: what does it mean to live?
(P.S. – Watch the Final Cut.)
MPAA: R – for violence and brief nudity
1 Comment | tags: androids, blade runner, chad hopkins, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, cinescope, daryl hannah, do androids dream of electric sheep, edward james olmos, electric sheep, harrison ford, joe turkel, m emmet walsh, philip k dick, replicants, ridley scott, rutger hauer, sean young, vangelis, william sanderson | posted in Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Recommended, Recommended, Scores, The Cinescope Podcast
I must confess to something: before this film, I hadn’t seen any of the Jack Ryan-centric movies, meaning The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears, which is apparently a big deal. I own Patriot Games but haven’t gotten around to watching it, and The Hunt for Red October has been on my list for a while as well. Anyway, the point is that I had no established expectation for this character; I just knew that it was a reboot, and that it was the first Jack Ryan film to not be based on one of Tom Clancy’s original novels. My expectations weren’t too high, which I suppose is a good thing because I walked away moderately pleased.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (re?)introduces us to Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), a CIA analyst who has a past as a Marine but left due to severe injury. He is engaged to Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), a physician who helped him to recover following his accident. When Ryan discovers a discrepancy with bank accounts connected to Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a discrepancy that might endanger the economy of the United States, he flies to Moscow to get to the bottom of it, but he is nearly killed upon arrival, forcing him to resort to his military training and take care of business in a way atypical of his position as an analyst. Tensions rise as he comes into contact with Cherevin himself, is suspected of infidelity by his fiancé, and is joined by his supervisor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) in a race to stop Cherevin and save the US.
Chris Pine as Ryan was the best part of this movie. The backstory provided at the start of the film showing how he joined the Marines as a response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center gives us an emotional reason to invest in his decision, and his subsequent injury resulting from trying to save another Marine further solidifies that investment. He has a likable personality and does well in the action film setting thanks to his charisma and confidence. Kenneth Branagh both directs the film and plays Cherevin, and though I liked parts of his portrayal, it also seemed to me that his attempts at what I can best describe as “Russian stoicism” often seemed flat and uninteresting. There isn’t really anything to say about Kevin Costner except that he did an acceptable job without being stellar, as did Knightley as Ryan’s fiancée, though her American accent was inconsistent and, frankly, laughable.
My biggest complaint about the film – aside from the fact that the villain’s evil scheme was actually pretty confusing – is the abundance of overreactions from multiple characters throughout. At one point, Knightley’s character suspects Ryan of cheating on her with another woman because she finds a movie ticket stub in his pocket…sounds like cheating to me! She then flies to Russia like it’s not a big deal just to confront him on what she thinks is a business trip. This is most obvious example of what I’m talking about, but Cherevin and a couple of other minor characters have similar reactions for no reason at later points in the film.
Patrick Doyle’s score was actually pretty decent. I haven’t listened to it outside of the film itself, but what I heard in the film did an excellent job at propelling the action forward and building the tension/anxiety of the plot up. Doyle’s scores have been hit and miss for me in the past (well, more accurately, his score to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a HUGE miss), but I was relatively pleased here.
Though I was a bit confused at time and irritated at others, this movie did a fairly decent job at keeping me interested and on the edge of my seat throughout. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may have been my first venture into the world of Jack Ryan, and it may not have been an overwhelmingly positive one, but, to the film’s credit, it has piqued my interest in the character himself, so I am looking forward to looking backward at the previous films in this character’s history.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
Leave a comment | tags: chris pine, clear and present danger, jack ryan, jack ryan shadow recruit, keira knightley, kenneth branagh, kevin costner, patrick doyle, patriot games, the hunt for red october, the sum of all fears, tom clancy | posted in 3, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
Note: This is going to be a completely spoiler-free review.
As most of you probably know by now, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy is the hottest series off the Young Adult press to be adapted into a film, with the first installment set for release in just a couple of weeks. Watching the initial film trailer did absolutely nothing for me. What is this film about? Why am I supposed to care? Am I supposed to be excited? Whether the trailer made me feel it or not (it didn’t), I felt like I should be excited for this movie, so I decided to read the books to see if that built my anticipation more. And it did. Quite a bit, actually.
I initially planned to give a brief sum-up of my opinion on each book, but the fact of the matter is that I loved all three. Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a fantastic character who grows in so many ways over the course of the trilogy, and Four has fascinating complexities that keep him interesting as well. There are definitely similarities to Suzanne Collins The Hunger Gamges trilogy especially, but none of these bother me; one work of art inspires another, and I think I actually enjoyed the Divergent trilogy more anyway. (I also particularly enjoyed her reference to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game with Peter, who is obviously inspired by Ender’s violent older brother with the same name.) Questions that I had in the first book – Where is the rest of the world? Who started the faction system and why? What is outside the walls of the city that needs guarding? – were all answered in time, even if it took Roth until the third book to do it.
I only have a couple of small complaints. In the first book more so than in the other two, it often seems like Tris is turning toward the metaphorical camera and saying something dramatic directly to the audience at the end of a chapter. For example, the following two sentences are the last of chapter 14 of Divergent:
I wish I could say I felt guilty for what I did.
[dramatic turn to camera] I don’t.
Obviously, the bracketed part is my addition, but you get the idea. It’s not a huge issue, but I did get the feeling that it happened a lot, like Tris needs to say something dramatic to say something about her character, but I don’t think it is necessary; Tris’ actions very clearly define her character, especially the further we advance in the books, so these dramatic moments just feel overdone. My other minor complaint is that I have no real sense of how much time has passed from the beginning to the end of the trilogy. Roth uses both “weeks ago” and “months ago” at multiple points in the series in random orders, so it is difficult for me to tell how much time is spent at each moment or location in the book. I mean, it obviously has to be long enough for certain characters to heal from injuries sustained in action, but the passage of time is not clear enough for me to follow. Again, though, this is minor – the story and character development means more than the passage of time, and, in any case, we can agree that time passes, which is all that you really need to know.
But complaints don’t really matter when everything else is top-notch. Roth absorbed me into her world from page one, so much so that I read the entire trilogy in less than a week…with the second two being read within a 48-hour time period. I suppose I should say something in regard to the huge spoiler in Allegiant that I’m sure you’ve all heard about, whether you know what it is or not; it doesn’t bother me. Maybe because I was (unfortunately) exposed to the spoiler by someone who was careless online, or maybe because I knew that many people didn’t like the ending because of this giant spoiler, I don’t know, but I thought that this particular spoiler brought something full-circle in a bold way. Like I said, no spoilers here, but if you’ve read the books and are curious to read the author’s reasoning, check out this super-spoilery blog post on her website (you’ve been warned).
Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy continues to prove that the world of Young Adult fiction has quite a bit to offer – and that it isn’t strictly for young adults to read. These are young characters, yes, but they go through very adult situations, and the way they react to these situations and how they grow from them can teach us a lot about ourselves no matter our age. I haven’t read something entertaining and engaging in this way in quite a while; I’m looking forward both to reading it again in the future and to seeing the movie soon.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
Leave a comment | tags: allegiant, beatrice prior, divergent, ender's game, four, insurgent, orson scott card, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, tris, tris prior, veronica roth, young adult | posted in 5, Book Reviews, Books, Entertainment, Film, Movies
The delay in me typing this up comes from the fact that there are still a few major films from 2013 that I have yet to see – American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street (though I’m thinking I won’t see the latter due to excessive sexual content). That being said, I wanted to go ahead and tackle what I have seen before too much of 2014 passes, so just know that, if I see these films and find them worthy of this list, I will update it and let you all know.
2013 was a pretty great year for me. I saw more films than ever before, largely due to my involvement in The MovieByte Podcast with my friend TJ. If I totaled everything correctly, I saw 40 new films this year in theaters, so this list is drawing from a pretty wide selection.
An important note: this is a list of favorite films, which may conflict with my ratings. My ratings are usually based on a combination of both quality and enjoyment, whereas this list will mostly be based on enjoyment with quality mixed in just a bit. Click on the titles to see my reviews for each film. With that said, let’s get started with number 10:
Honorable Mention – Thor: The Dark World
After the mediocre first Thor film, I was hoping for a much better second film, which we thankfully got in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, made better by the fact that we’re not establishing an origin anymore. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to impress as well, this time as an ally, bringing an interesting twist to the character and allowing for a fun and occasionally potent brother-to-brother relationship. Brian Tyler’s score is just as fun as the movie itself, and Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is appropriately menacing, if a bit vague in intention.
I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast (my review), and Aladdin were supreme. Frozen reminds me of those 1990s Disney movies, but this time with a nice twist at the end – which I won’t spoil for you. The voice cast is incredible here, namely Kristen Bell as Anna and Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman, with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” set to be a surefire nominee for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards – and, I’ll call it now, it’ll win too. The animation is beautiful, the story is touching, and you’ll walk out whistling the songs, wanting to watch it again and again.
9. 12 Years a Slave
This film is difficult to rank because, while it’s certainly a 5-star film, it’s also difficult to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve long years. The film covers his incredibly painful time spent on a plantation in Louisiana, where he meets good people, bad people, and fellow slaves who are also struggling for their lives. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of slavery and how brutal the slave owners often were, making this film exceptionally powerful and a must-watch – if you can stomach it.
8. Ender’s Game
I read Orson Scott Card’s classic book in anticipation of this film, so it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the theater. As expected, the book is much better and much of the content in the film is watered down, but that doesn’t stop the film from being pretty excellent on its own. For the most part, it keeps the themes of morality and unnecessary violence intact, and Asa Butterfield as the eponymous Ender does a fantastic job of capturing the character, from his calm control in stressful situations to his intense emotional outbursts upon the realizations of what has happened to him. The visuals in this movie are gorgeous, with scenes from the book, such as the armies in the Battle Room, flying right off the page in a great way.
7. The Book Thief
I also read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before seeing the film based on it, and many of my criticisms are the same as for Ender’s Game in regards to the watering down of content and such, but that doesn’t stop this film from being an emotional punch to the gut. Sophie Nélisse is outstanding as Liesel Meminger, as are her parents, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The period setting of the film is well-done, and John Williams delivers as intimate and beautiful a score as ever. Bring a box of tissues for this one…maybe two.
6. Captain Phillips
In this film, Tom Hanks has the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Man, he continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors out there. Captain Phillips tells the true story of how Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama but were thwarted by Captain Richard Phillips, who not only protected everyone on board with his actions but also offered himself as hostage to continue that protection. Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate, who isn’t portrayed as a bad guy but rather as a guy forced to do bad things due to unfortunate social circumstances. There isn’t a bad guy here, not really – at least, that’s not how the film portrays the pirates – but there is simply reality and suspense that rises from it. The long run-time never feels too long as you are caught up in the action from start to finish, and if Tom Hanks doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’ll only be because he lost it to Chiwetel Ejiofor.
5. Saving Mr. Banks
Emma Thompson shines in this historical film about the making of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P. L. Travers. Thompson’s portrayal of the stubborn author is both quirky and humorous, but it’s also heartbreaking in her remembrance of moments in her childhood that inspired her books. Colin Farrell plays her father in these flashbacks, juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunkard, giving us insight into Mary Poppins and the Banks family that I was not previously familiar with. Tom Hanks plays an admirable Walt Disney, even if his performance doesn’t convince me enough that I am watching Walt himself rather than Hanks playing him. Still, the charm of the movie as a whole as well as Thompson’s performance knock this film out of the park. (You should probably bring tissues to this one as well.)
I had a self-imposed boycott on Tom Cruise’s films for quite a long time, but since lifting it for 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) he has quickly become one of my favorite actors. His performance here is great, as is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as his partner, but it’s the themes and questions raised by the film that bring Oblivion so far to the top of my list. Themes of asking questions, seeking answers, and the thirst for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are brought to the forefront, and, for some reason, it really resonated with me. The script is smart, Tom Cruise is as great as ever, and the score by M83 is energetic and fun, in the same vein as Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (my review), which was directed by the same man, Joseph Kosinski. This film not only shows off Tom Cruise’s continuing capabilities as an action star, but his talents as a dramatic actor as well.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As far as book-to-film adaptations go, 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review) was one of the best I’d seen, but it still had problems. Director Gary Ross’ replacement by Francis Lawrence for the second film seemed worrying at first, but it seemed to pay off. Not only is Catching Fire a better film than the first one, but it’s also a better adaptation of its book counterpart, which is hard to believe. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that I enjoyed the film more than the book, at least as far as the opening scenes involving the Victory Tour go, which I know is probably blasphemy. Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the best actresses out there today as evidenced by her continued terrific performance as Katniss Everdeen. The stakes of this film are higher than in the first, and the character development is even better than the already-good character development of the first film. The shaky-cam is gone in favor of better choreographed action scenes, and, in fact, nearly every aspect of the first film is improved upon this time around. This is an excellent film whether you’ve read the books or not.
If you didn’t catch this film in theaters, I’m sorry. You missed out. Maybe they’ll bring it back for a few extra showings before the Academy Awards, in which case you should buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. Though this film is great all-around, from the performance of Sandra Bullock to the music by Steven Price to the brilliant visuals of space, the real thrill comes from the thrill of total immersion. You seem to experience everything that Bullock’s character experiences, from spinning around in the vacuum of space to the rush of being trapped in a shower of incoming deadly space debris. The theater experience makes an already-great film even better by involving the audience fully in the action and atmosphere – or lack thereof – of space.
1. The Way, Way Back
I love, love, love this film. Love it. I caught an early screening about a month before it reached theaters and subsequently paid to see it twice more. I purchased it on Blu-Ray the day it became available and have watched it three times more since then, and I have yet to tire of it. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age film about Duncan, played by Liam James, who is the most perfectly, believably awkward person I’ve ever seen onscreen, which is exactly how his character should be. The growth of his character throughout the film is equally fun and touching, contrasted by Steve Carell’s portrayal of Duncan’s awful stepfather, a role refreshingly atypical of Carell’s usual fare. However, the standout performance in this film is that of Sam Rockwell as Owen, a local waterpark owner who befriends Duncan and helps him to make his summer one of the best of his life. Rockwell brings many laugh-out-loud moments, but he also brings the most poignant moments of the film. The moral is great, and the ride is a great one. I don’t think I could possibly over-recommend this movie.
Well, there you have it. Do you agree or disagree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2013? Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.
Here’s to 2014 – another great year for movies!
Leave a comment | tags: 12 years a slave, academy award for best actor, academy award for best actress, academy award for best original song, Academy Awards, Aladdin, alfonso cuaron, american hustle, andrea riseborough, andrew wiggin, animation, anna, asa butterfield, barkhad abdi, battle room, Beauty and the Beast, best original song, brian tyler, captain phillips, captain richard phillips, catching fire, chiwetel ejiofor, chris hemsworth, christopher eccleston, colin farrell, daft punk, Disney, disney animation, elsa, emily watson, emma thompson, ender wiggin, ender's game, francis lawrence, frozen, gary ross, geoffrey rush, george clooney, gravity, her, idina menzel, inside llewyn davis, jennifer lawrence, John Williams, joseph kosinski, josh gad, josh hutcherson, katniss everdeen, kristen bell, let it go, liam james, liesel meminger, loki, m83, maersk alabama, malekith, markus zusak, Mary Poppins, maya rudolph, mission impossible, mission impossible: ghost protocol, moviebyte, musical, oblivion, olaf the snowman, orson scott card, Oscars, p. l. travers, peeta mellark, pl travers, richard phillips, sam rockwell, sandra bullock, saving mr. banks, slavery, solomon northup, Somalia, somalian pirates, sophie nélisse, steve carell, steve mcqueen, steven price, the book thief, The Hunger Games, the hunger games: catching fire, the lion king, the moviebyte podcast, the secret life of walter mitty, the way way back, the wolf of wall street, Thor, thor the dark world, tom cruise, tom hanks, tom hiddleston, top ten, top ten 2013, top ten films, top ten movies, travers goff, tron legacy, twelve years a slave, victory tour, walt disney | posted in Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
I don’t think that anyone would argue with you if you were to suggest that Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a masterpiece, but his recent adaptations of Tolkien’s predecessor to LOTR, The Hobbit, is a bit more controversial. The main argument against Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy of films is just that – it’s a trilogy, three films based on one 300-page book in contrast to the three films based on three 400-600-page books. Regardless of your opinions on this new trilogy, it’s happening, and though the first film, An Unexpected Journey, wasn’t anything spectacular (my review), The Desolation of Smaug certainly steps up the game and brings to the table a better film.
The second film in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film trilogy picks up where the first left off, with the dwarves of Erebor, Gandalf the Grey, and the eponymous hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, rapidly approaching the dark forest Mirkwood, with the orc company led by Azog the Defiler hot on their tail. They seek solace with Beorn, a skin-changer with the ability to transform into a large bear, who houses them and sends them off into Mirkwood. Along the way, the company of Thorin Oakenshield comes across terrifying giant spiders, the Wood-Elves of Mirkwood (including a certain familiar face from the LOTR…), Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and the people of Lake-Town, and, finally, the dragon of Erebor itself – Smaug.
Martin Freeman continues to be the perfect Bilbo Baggins, from the way he reacts under stress to the way he communicates with the rest of the company. His energy on-screen surpasses that of any other actor in the film, though Richard Armitage as Thorin is also pretty great here. The character of Thorin is developed better than it was in the first film, with his conflict between his desire for gold and his dedication to his friends being brought into question. The other truly noteworthy performance here is Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Smaug. Cumberbatch provided both voice and motion capture for the dragon, and his work is nothing short of amazing. Aside from the fact that the CGI is beautiful and as realistic as it could possibly be for a giant dragon, his voice is an excellent mix of both creepy and charming, and his whole conversation with Bilbo in the hall of gold is every bit as clever and entertaining as the “Riddles in the Dark” scene with Gollum in the first film.
Other characters were not so great. While it was admittedly nice having a familiar face pop up, Orlando Bloom’s return as the elf Legolas feels shoe-horned in, as his character serves no real purpose other than for some cool action scenes and to be a member of the poorly setup (and thoroughly awkward) love triangle between him, Tauriel (an elf character created for the film, played by actress Evangeline Lilly), and Kili (Aidan Turner), one of Thorin’s nephews. The explanation behind the inclusion of Tauriel is to provide a strong female character for audiences to look up to, and, yes, she does have a couple of good action scenes, but the insistence of the filmmakers to create this romantic side-plot makes my feelings toward her and Legolas to be ambivalent at best. I’m also sick of the side-plots involving the orcs hunting down Thorin for his head – more stuff made up for the films that weren’t present in the book. I’m not a book purist, meaning that I don’t think that filmmakers have to follow the book exactly, and, hey, if the filmmakers come up with something that adds to the book’s story in a good way, cool for them, but that is not the case here, at least not in regards to the elf characters.
An addition that I did enjoy this time around is Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) quest to find out more about this “Necromancer” that we only briefly glimpse in the first film. In the book, Gandalf leaves for chapters at a time, but Tolkien doesn’t expound on what he might be off doing…at least, not in The Hobbit. Jackson has graciously given us a glimpse into those adventures, which are quite entertaining. The Hobbit as written by Tolkien is not a prequel to The Lord of the Rings so much as it is simply a predecessor that takes place in the same universe; you don’t have to read one to understand the other. However, Jackson is turning his trilogy into a prequel for his earlier trilogy, and it’s scenes like Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur and the impending rise of Sauron that fulfill this purpose nicely. Also worth noting is the expansion of the role of the Ring in this film; in the book, it is simply a magic ring that turns the wearer invisible, but, as we learn in LOTR, it is actually much more than that. We start to see Bilbo’s fascination and obsession with the ring in this film, watching him slash something to bits to protect his possession of it – or, rather, its possession of him.
I enjoyed the first film in this trilogy well enough, but I can’t deny that our second outing with Thorin and company is much better overall. The feel of The Desolation of Smaug is more natural and (thankfully) less expository, and the higher stakes of this part of the journey bring more action to the table and make the film more enjoyable as a whole. The run-time is about the same as the first film, but it doesn’t feel that way because it does a better job of keeping you on your toes and engaged throughout. Sure, it has its problems – the HFR is still a bit cartoon-y at times – but it’s on-the-whole a superior film, with an ending that will leave you thirsting for more. Howard Shore has composed another great, although more forgettable, score for the film, and Ed Sheeran’s outstanding song “I See Fire” is worth sitting through the credits for. I can only hope that Jackson doesn’t disappoint with the third and final film later this year.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Leave a comment | tags: aidan turner, an unexpected journey, andy serkis, azog, azog the defiler, bard the bowman, Benedict Cumberbatch, bilbo baggins, cgi, erebor, evangeline lilly, gandalf, gandalf the grey, gollum, hfr, Howard Shore, ian mckellen, j. r. r. tolkien, jrr tolkien, kili, lake-town, lee pace, legolas, lotr, love triangle, luke evans, martin freeman, mirkwood, necromancer, orc, orlando bloom, pale orc, peter jackson, richard armitage, riddles in the dark, sauron, the desolation of smaug, the hobbit, the hobbit: an unexpected journey, the hobbit: the desolation of smaug, the lord of the rings, thorin oakenshield, thranduil, tuariel, wood-elves | posted in 4, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
Has there been an excess of book-to-film adaptations this year, or is it just that I’m attending most of them this year? In any case, I’m not complaining…adaptations of books give me good excuses to set aside the time to read the original book. I had no knowledge of the existence of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 science fiction classic Ender’s Game until I heard word of this film being made. The trailers for the film sparked my interest a bit, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy the book when I finally picked it up to read it a couple of weeks before the film’s release…I loved it. So, naturally, I was excited for the film, like I always am for adaptations of my favorite books, and, like so many other book-to-film adaptations this year, the filmmakers did a great job.
Ender’s Game takes place in the unspecified future, sometime after the second invasion of an alien species (called “buggers” or “Formics”) nearly destroys human life on Earth. In anticipation of an imminent third invasion and convinced the humans’ victory in the second invasion was only due to luck, the International Fleet turns to the youth of the world as the next generation of great commanders. Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius child who possesses the potential of being the greatest commander that the IF has ever seen. Ender must complete both Battle and Command School in order to lead the fleet against the Formics before time runs out and the human race is wiped out.
This year has also been a good year for casting in these book-to-film adaptations, and this film is no exception: Asa Butterfield is a brilliant Ender Wiggin. He perfectly portrays all facets of the character – focus, determination, despair, vulnerability. He successfully holds his own against veteran actor Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, a feat not easily matched by other actors at Butterfield’s age. Speaking of Harrison Ford, I have one word to say regarding his performance: FINALLY! It has been quite a long time since I last saw Ford in a role that I thought he did really well with, but I think that he really brought a lot to the character here. He is firm and, to a point, ruthless, but cracks appear when his decisions are held up to the light, which is exactly the way it should be. The role of Major Anderson is gender-flopped from the book, but it works with the aid of Viola Davis, who brings compassion to the character in light of Ender’s situation and the pressures placed upon him. Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, the commander who defeated the Formics in the second invasion, plays the character with the appropriate level of fierceness – he’s pretty much just the way I imagined him in the book, which is always a nice touch.
I have two minor quibbles in regards to casting – not that I think they were bad choices, but that I think there were better options available. Hailee Steinfeld plays the character of Petra as she written admirably, but the way she is written in the film contrasts with how I remember her being described in the book; I pictured a tougher female character, one who wasn’t afraid to throw a few punches at her male peers or curse with the others. In the film, however, she’s almost completely opposite – while she remains a highly capable shooter in the battle room, her character seems much more timid here, watered down so that she may be seen as a potential love interest for Ender. Now, this idea is only hinted at in the film, which I’m thankful for, but it’s still hinted at in a couple of scenes. My other minor complaint is with the choice of Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid, the commander of Salamander Army in Battle School and antagonist to Ender. Arias plays the character fine as far as his attitude and general demeanor, but he’s also tiny, which, in my opinion, makes him much less of a threat. I don’t remember how his size was described in the book or if it was even mentioned at all, but the fact that Ender looked down on him bothered me because it seemed to lessen the extent of their very important rivalry. (Also, I must admit, the fact that he played a character in Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana TV show might have made it difficult for me to take him seriously as well…)
One of the best aspects of the film is how it brings the locations of the film to life so beautifully; the exterior design of the Battle School is awe-inspiring, and the Battle Room and the battles between armies that take place inside help us to visualize some of the more active scenes in the book, scenes that almost require the visual aid in order to experience them fully. The design of the simulator at Command School is similar, despite the fact that it deviates a bit from the description given in the book. The way it is presented absorbs you fully into the environment, allowing you to experience the incredible interaction that Ender feels while operating and directing the fleet…these are the types of scenes that were designed to be seen on the big screen. The mind game sequences on Ender’s tablet are truncated quite a bit for time’s sake, but they still work really well in setting up the ending of the film.
The ideas of necessary (?) violence and the morality of what the IF is doing here are brought into question here, as they are in the book, though they are admittedly more diluted here. Is it right to force these kids into violence with each other, even if it turns them into more efficient military commanders? Do Colonel Graff, Mazer Rackham, and the rest of the IF have the right to withhold important information and/or the truth from Ender during the course of his training even if it means that he saves the world from a third invasion? These are hard-hitting questions with serious implications, and they are presented well in the context of the film, especially when Ender confronts Graff face-to-face at the conclusion of the final battle at Command School.
My only real complaint for this film is that there isn’t enough…of anything! I can justify all of the creative liberties taken with the author’s story, so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that in the Battle School, we only really are able to see a battle and a half before Ender is shipped off to Command School, where we see brief snippets of two or three battles before being treated to the final battle. These sequences are the coolest in the film, but they are so brief that we don’t get much of a feel for Ender’s military genius aside from the fact that we’re told by Graff and others that Ender is a military genius. In the book, we witness Ender’s growth as he faces opponent after opponent in the battle room, and, no matter the odds, he always wins! We know he’s a military genius, but the trick is to show us being one rather than simply telling us. I’m also slightly disappointed by the fact that Ender’s siblings’ roles are reduced so significantly; I didn’t need their entire subplot, but the issue here is that it is Ender’s relationship with his siblings and how his personality differs from theirs that makes him who we is, so we are missing a huge chunk of Ender’s personality since we are missing that aspect.
I loved this film. It’s a great adaptation of a fantastic book, and, despite the fact that I had some minor disappointments with what made it into the film and with what was significantly reduced, it is well-cast and well-told, and the musical score by Steve Jablonsky, who I’m not normally fond of (he is most known for his work on Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy), is his best work yet. Ender’s Game manages to take the themes and questions presented in the book and mostly keep them intact, albeit a bit watered down. I can’t imagine a fan of the book disliking this film because it so vividly and admirably brings Ender Wiggin and his story to the big screen.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material
1 Comment | tags: asa butterfield, battle room, battle school, ben kingsley, bonzo madrid, buggers, colonel graff, command school, disney channel, dragon army, ender wiggin, ender's game, formics, hailee steinfeld, hannah montana, harrison ford, international fleet, major anderson, mazer rackham, michael bay, moises arias, orson scott card, petra arkanian, salamander army, sir ben kingsley, steve jablonsky, transformers, Viola Davis | posted in 4, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
More and more often, as books are being adapted into movies for the big screen, I find myself reading the books before I see the film, a habit that I had as a child but dropped as I grew older. When I read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief for the first time, I was completely absorbed; the writing was beautiful, the characters were fantastic, and the combination of setting and plot was heartbreaking. The end of the book destroyed me emotionally like no book has done in quite a long time…needless, to say, I had high hopes for the film adaptation. Could they successfully adapt such an incredible book into an at least decent film? The critical rating over on RottenTomatoes.com had me worried, but, rest assured, I can personally attest to the fact that this film is much better than the critics would have you believe.
The Book Thief begins in 1938 and tells the story of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), who, at the start of the film, is on a train to Molching, Germany with her younger brother and mother so that she may be fostered into the care of Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, respectively) after the departure of her father. On the journey to Molching, however, her brother dies, and, at his funeral, Liesel finds a book, stealing it as a reminder of her brother, in spite of her inability to read. When she arrives at the Hubermanns’ house and her mother leaves, Hans begins to teach Liesel how to read, and she befriends a neighbor, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). The Hubermanns lives change forever when a Jew, Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), arrives on their doorstep, seeking protection based on a promise made by Hans to his deceased father. The rest of the film tells of the growing friendship between Max and Liesel, Liesel’s increasing thirst for reading, and the survival of a poor non-Nazi family living in the middle of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The first thing I should say is that, though this is far from being perfect, it’s a decent adaptation of Zusak’s original book; I literally saw the film on the same day I finished reading the book for the first time, so everything was fresh on my mind, and there weren’t any changes made that really upset me. The film’s greatest strength in translating from the book is its casting. Sophie Nélisse is brilliant as Liesel, bringing to the role the appropriate naivety and innocence to a girl of her age during this time, but she also brings out the fierceness and determination of the character, ensuring that she holds her own against an actor as established as Geoffrey Rush. Speaking of Mr. Rush, he settles into the role of Hans “Papa” Hubermann so effortlessly that you’ll want him to be your Papa from the moment he first speaks. He successfully communicates all the different personalities shown by Hans in the book, from the kind gentleness he shows Liesel when she first arrives, to the determination exuded upon the arrival of Max, and the remorse shown upon revealing what danger he has put his family in by standing up to the Nazis. Emily Watson as Rosa “Mama” Hubermann makes the character as mysteriously multi-faceted as she appears in the book as well, with her outwardly rough, coarse behavior making her rare moments of vulnerability and intimacy all the more poignant and emotional. Though these three are the shining stars in this film, honorable mention goes to Ben Schnetzer as Max and Nico Liersch as Rudy, both of whom give excellent performances too.
The critical consensus at RottenTomatoes states that the film plays it too safe with its Nazi Germany setting, which I actually agree with. I generally do my best to not judge a book-to-film adaptation based on its quality/accuracy in regards to the book, but this particular adaptation, despite being a great film overall, is definitely a bit too watered-down. Many of the darker aspects of the book, such as Rudy and Liesel stealing, Liesel’s relationship to the mayor’s wife, Rudy’s rebellion against the Hitler Youth program, and the Jews being marched through town to the Dachau concentration camp, are either barely touched on or simply skipped over, providing the film with what I would personally consider to be missed opportunities. For example, the Jews are actually marched through town once in the film, but it is never explicitly stated what the purpose or final destination is; yes, it is implied and should not be difficult to figure out given the context, but the scene is so brief and only happens once, so it is difficult to take away any real emotion from the scene as presented in the film. In contrast, though, there is one particular scene that stands out to me as being particularly powerful. Liesel is standing and singing with the choir at her school, and the music sounds lovely in their high, sweet voices. However, captions across the bottom of the screen reveal the anti-Jewish lyrics being sung, and the camera cuts to scenes of Nazis raiding Jewish homes and taking the families away. It’s a sobering scene, with the juxtaposition of the innocence of children and the realities of Nazism.
Another complaint I have about the film is that I worry that some aspects weren’t explained well enough for non-readers to understand, namely the inclusion of Death as Narrator, as he is in the book. The book is told entirely from his perspective, which is why it works so well; I mean, who better to tell a story that takes place in Germany during World War II than Death himself? But it doesn’t work so well in the movie because Death’s narration only interrupts the story two or three times throughout the course of the film, and I mean exactly that – interrupts. If the film had involved him more throughout, it might not have been as awkward, but, unfortunately, that is not the case. Despite the awkwardness, I liked Death’s voice (Roger Allam), a notion that gives me goosebumps – how profound that the voice of Death be pleasing to listen to?
The best translation from book to screen would definitely have to be the final fifteen minutes or so of the film. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but it’s safe to say that you would be wise to bring a box of tissues. The incredibly emotional ending from the book is kept intact in all the ways that matter, bringing the film to a satisfying and poignant close.
I learned at an early age that you can’t walk into a film adaptation of a book you love and expect the same experience – each is its own art form and therefore must be absorbed differently, without comparison to the other. However, you do have to at least consider how good an adaptation it is, which is why I talk so much about how the film compares to the book here. In any case, though it may seem like I didn’t like the film because it wasn’t as good as the book, I really did enjoy this film for what it was. On the whole, it is a pretty good adaptation, albeit a bit watered down one, but when aren’t film adaptations of books watered down in some regard? The important thing here is that the film’s heart is where it needs to be; the characters are genuine, there are many wonderfully touching moments, the characters are cast and portrayed well, and the instrumental score by John Williams is phenomenal…even at the ripe old age of 81, he continues to prove why he’s one of the best in the business. The Book Thief is good, solid filmmaking and has my full recommendation.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material
1 Comment | tags: ben schnetzer, death, emily watson, geoffrey rush, germany, hans hubermann, himmel street, John Williams, liesel meminger, markus zusak, max vandenburg, molching, molching germany, narrator, nazi, nazi germany, nazism, nico liersch, roger allam, rosa hubermann, rotten tomatoes, rottentomatoes, rudy steiner, sophie nélisse, the book thief, world war II | posted in 4, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
Adaptations of books are often difficult to pull off, but 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review), based on Susanne Collins’ 2008 book of the same name, managed to be both a decent adaptation of the source material and a pretty good film, though it was certainly not without its shortcomings. When director Gary Ross was replaced by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), the question arose: will this new director be able to improve on Ross’ film, or will he make the same mistakes? I can happily answer that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an improvement over the original film in every possible way.
The events in this film pick up shortly after where we left off at the end of its predecessor. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 as the victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Since the Games, Peeta has learned that Katniss’ apparent feelings for him were merely an act in order to survive, and, as a result, interactions between the pair have grown cold. However, in a surprise visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) before the two leave on a tour of the districts, Katniss is told that her actions have incited rebellion in the other districts. She must convince everyone that her actions were of love for Peeta, not defiance against the Capitol, or the lives of her family, Peeta’s family, and her best friend/real love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), will be at stake. When she fails to pacify the districts, Snow and the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), come up with a plan to not only get rid of Katniss, but to get rid of all of the other victors as well.
Perhaps this film’s greatest strength is in its character development. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta, respectively, bring out the conflict of their characters’ relationship so well that it is sometimes even difficult for the audience to tell whether Katniss’ apparent affection for Peeta is genuine or merely an act. Katniss’ reactions to her sort of post-traumatic stress, to learning that she would be competing in the Hunger Games once again, and to Peeta’s near-death experience are all heartbreaking and incredibly intimate; it’s a true testament to Lawrence’s abilities as an actress. Her feelings for Gale seem more believable in this film because more time is spent displaying them. Liam Hemsworth does a fine job of displaying the hurt his character feels for having been betrayed by the girl he loves, and his defiance to leave and determination to fight the Peacekeepers to protect his district make the character more likable and make the question of “Peeta or Gale?” much more of a difficult question for both the audience and Katniss to answer.
All of the familiar faces are also excellent, with my favorite performances coming from Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Haymitch has a great duality as both occasional antagonist and father figure to Katniss, and Effie is elevated above her role as comedic relief in the first film to a mother-like figure; when she bursts into tears to tell Katniss and Peeta how sorry she is that this is happening to them again, you just might shed a tear or two yourself. President Snow is, perhaps even more intimidating this time around as he threatens Katniss and the people she loves, or plots with Plutarch to kill Katniss in a new twisted iteration of the Hunger Games. Speaking of Plutarch, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays him perfectly; his dry voice and cruel plans set the character up for a solid twist…one that I won’t reveal here. And, of course, all of the new faces are perfect fits for their roles. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, Amanda Plummer as Wiress, and Lynn Cohen as Mags all have their moments to shine and are all likable in their own ways. There are no weak performances in this film, which not every film can boast.
The higher stakes of this film are introduced and dealt with extremely well. The themes of government control, independence vs. teamwork, and excess vs. deprivation are all explored and dealt with in their own ways. Katniss struggles with her desire to be independent, when in reality she needs to be interdependent on others – Peeta, Haymitch, Finnick, Joanna, Beetee – in order to survive. What we see in the Capitol versus what we see in the districts provide the contrast for excess vs. deprivation – colorful vs. colorless, joy vs. depression, stuffed vs. starved. It’s a powerful juxtaposition that really shows the extent of what President Snow and the Capitol will do to stay in control. The filmmakers don’t shy away from these deep themes, and they also don’t shy away from the same cliffhanger ending that the book leaves us with.
There is much more to talk about here, but all would involve spoilers, so I’ll refrain for now. The point of the matter is that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire manages to take what was already a great film and improve on it to make a truly excellent film. In fact, I might even say that this is one of the only instances of me enjoying a film adaptation over its source material; while the book is great in its own respect, parts of it, like the excessively long beginning, worked better for me on the big screen. What Francis Lawrence has done here is, for lack of a better word, awesome, and it has me even more excited for the two-part adaptation of the third book in Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
1 Comment | tags: amanda plummer, beetee, catching fire, district12, donald sutherland, effie trinket, elizabeth banks, finnick odair, francis lawrence, gale, gary ross, haymitch abernathy, i am legend, jeffrey wright, jena malone, jennifer lawrence, johanna mason, josh hutcherson, katniss everdeen, liam hemsworth, lynn cohen, mags, mockingjay, Panem, peeta mellark, phillip seymour hoffman, plutarch heavensbee, president snow, quarter quell, sam claflin, susanne collins, symbol, The Hunger Games, the hunger games: catching fire, themes, trilogy, twist, wiress, woody harrelson | posted in 4.5, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies