Tag Archives: The Hunger Games

Divergent Trilogy (2011-2013) – Veronica Roth

divergent-trilogy

 

 

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)

-Chad

“I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

 

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Top Ten Films of 2013

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 HustleHerInside 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:

thor the dark world

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.

frozen

10. Frozen

I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion KingBeauty 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.

12-years-a-slave

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.

Enders-Game

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.

book-thief

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.

Tom Hanks

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.

SAVING MR. BANKS

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.)

oblivionstarringtomcruise

4. Oblivion

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.

the hunger games catching fire

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.

gravity

2. Gravity

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.

The Way Way Back

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!

-Chad


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

the hunger games catching fire

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.

-Chad

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


Now You See Me (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!

 

NOW YOU SEE ME

Magic is fun. Movies are fun. Combining the two to make a movie about a group of magicians who rob a bank? Even more fun! With a premise like that, Now You See Me, sets itself up from the start to be one heck of a ride – and quite an entertaining one at that!

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco star as four magicians of varying abilities who work alone. As we are introduced to each magician performing his/her solo act, we notice a hooded figure  in attendance at each performer’s show. Soon, the four are brought together, each having received a card from this unknown person telling them to show up at an apartment, where the performers are given blueprints and instructions to a grand master plan that involves bank robbery through the art of deception. They form a group and call themselves the Four Horsemen, and, through the sponsorship of insurance businessman Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), they give a performance a year later in Las Vegas where they seemingly rob a bank in Paris using their talents. The FBI gets involved, with Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) on the case, as well as French Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent). They ask for help from Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician who exposes magicians’ secrets for a living, leading to several intriguing explanations behind some of the magic tricks performed.

While all of that is a lot to comprehend on paper, it doesn’t feel convoluted in the context of the film. Each of the lead actors does a fine job, though Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson both seem to be channeling previous roles at times (Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network and Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games, respectively). None of that detracts from the film, however, because, believe it or not, the focus isn’t much on the magicians; the focus is on Rhodes and Vargas, the FBI and Interpol agents who are frantically trying to get ahead of these apparent criminals.

The entire film is a boatload of fun; I’ve had a fascination with magic tricks since a very early age, so I was constantly on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how things were being done. The performance sets were huge, and the constant camera movement (not shaky-cam) helped add to the notion that what you were seeing was an illusion…nothing was held still for very long, so the film had a dynamic feeling of movement throughout that worked quite well, pushing the story forward in a great way. The music, composed by Brian Tyler, was a huge asset to this film, sounding appropriately like a Vegas stage show, background music for an inspirational speaker, and like an action film, all simultaneously, again adding to the notion that everything that the Four Horsemen did, on stage or not, was a performance.

Like all films, though, this one has its problems, with this one being its ending. I won’t reveal the twist to you, but I’ll tell you that someone gets arrested, and it happens in a way that seems entirely illegal. The character who gets arrested is the object of another character’s longtime plan for revenge, and he gets locked away simply out of spite, which is definitely not okay. Had he done something actually illegal, I would have been completely fine with it. Additionally, Michael Caine’s character, Arthur Tressler, disappears for the entire final act of the film with no payoff. Unfortunately, even if his character had come back with a proper payoff, Caine’s performance seemed pretty weak to me, something that I fear can be attributed to his age – at 80 years old, the range of Caine’s acting ability is growing thinner, and I think that this role, however small in the overall context of the film, is outside of that range. I didn’t dislike him, but he certainly could have been better.

Aside from those couple of issues, I really enjoyed this movie. Something that I noticed was what I took to be a hidden commentary on Christianity and belief in God. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes has a firm disbelief in magic. At one point in the film, a comment is made about believing in something you can’t see to make yourself feel better, and, though I initially thought it was a slam against those who believe in God, I later decided that the film was in support of the idea of having faith in something like magic or God or whatever it may be. I may be completely wrong in that assumption, but it was a bit of commentary that I picked up on and that I really appreciated, being a Christian myself.

Overall, this movie is (mostly) everything I hoped that it would be. A strong central cast takes an intriguing premise and takes us on an exciting journey into the world of magic where its all too easy to get sucked into the fun of the illusions, and, although I was skeptical of the twist ending at first, I’ve come to really appreciate it as I look into how it fits back into the earlier parts of the film. Now You See Me isn’t the kind of film that calls for extra scrutiny or criticism at a superficial level as other films might; just sit back, get your popcorn, and enjoy the ride!

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for language, some action and sexual content


The Hunger Games (2012)

I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy a month or so before the release of the first film, and I was immediately addicted. The dystopian world that Collins has created is engrossing and a bit potent…while we aren’t there just yet, it seems like we could be living in a world like that not too far from now. I attended the midnight screening of The Hunger Games and was impressed with how well Gary Ross as director and the rest of the cast and crew captured the essence of Collins’ original novel.

The minimalist approach that the filmmakers took is part of what makes it so good. Everything – from the cinematography to the acting to the score – is done in a way that is entirely non-excessive. I wouldn’t say that everything was held back, but it was all just right, entirely representative of the novel. Though the handheld camera was occasionally irritating, it certainly added a bit more realism. The settings were well done, especially in District 12 where we really get the sense of the control the Capitol has over the people and the desperation of the citizens.

Jennifer Lawrence excels as Katniss Everdeen, a girl fighting for her life. She knows the meaning of sacrifice and the value of life, and she is determined to do what she can to protect the people she love. These are all traits that Lawrence captures perfectly, and she does it all without overacting or trying too hard. Josh Henderson as Peeta, while not being exactly what I expected, does a fine job as well, and Woody Harrelson captures the wit and sort of drunken brazenness of Haymitch. Donald Sutherland gets a little extra screen time as President Snow than the character does in the first book; a couple of brief scenes are added that really delve into the character of President Snow and what his intentions are.

Movie adaptations of books are difficult to pull off well; they either entirely leave the source material behind, or they follow the book too closely and get lost in themselves. The Hunger Games does neither and manages to be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen. The acting is superb, especially from Ms. Lawrence, and everything from the script to the cinematography is fantastic as well. I can’t wait to see what the next film in the series brings!

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by James Newton Howard, here!


Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


The Hunger Games (2012) – James Newton Howard

When I first read the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was thinking to myself the whole time, “man, these books were written to be made into movies!” With that mindset, I was imagining a film score for the book while I was reading, and, though I’m not a composer, I was pretty satisfied with how it sounded in my head.

I haven’t listened to many film scores by James Newton Howard, but I was familiar enough with his work to be excited when he was announced as composer for The Hunger Games. I counted down the days until the score was released and bought it as soon as it was posted on iTunes. For the most part, I was pretty satisfied.

My favorite part about this score is how minimal it is most of the time. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country some time in the future, so why would you have a big, fully-stocked orchestra recording music for it? You wouldn’t, and Newton Howard does that perfectly. The main motif for District 12, as heard in the opening track, “The Hunger Games”, is uniquely soloistic and simple, making it profound when it is placed later in the score during the actual Hunger Games themselves in the track “We Could Go Home”.

However, there are a few moments when the full orchestra is appropriate, and Newton Howard scores these equally as beautifully, as heard in “Horn of Plenty” (the Panem national anthem, composed by the band Arcade Fire and orchestrated by Newton Howard) and “Searching for Peeta”, as well as in another track or two. Generally, the Capital is given these larger orchestrations, representing the prosperity found in the city. The contrast between the minimal themes for District 12 and the big moments for the Capital is striking, sort of embodying the class/quality of life shift between the two areas.

As much as I enjoy the majority of the score, I have one HUGE complaint: “Rue’s Farewell”. Is it pretty? Yeah, sure. Is it all that it could have been? NO! Where’s the five-note whistle that we heard in every single TV spot for the film? I had hoped that this track would be a memorial to the character based around that motif, but we don’t get that. Why, Newton Howard? WHY?!

Aside from that, and the fact that it’s WAY too short, James Newton Howard’s score for The Hunger Games is a score that works on multiple levels, despite the criticism I’ve heard from others who didn’t care for it. Give it a shot! It’s a great score for a great film.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Hunger Games”   1:10

2. “Katniss Afoot”   1:49

3. “Reaping Day”   1:35

4. “The Train”   1:27

5. “Entering the Capitol”   1:28

6. “Preparing the Chariots”   1:05

7. “Horn of Plenty”   1:59

8. “Penthouse/Training”   3:36

9. “Learning the Skills”   1:41

10. “The Countdown”   1:58

11. “Booby Trap”   2:37

12. “Healing Katniss”   3:04

13. “Rue’s Farewell”   5:00

14. “We Could Go Home”   1:15

15. “Searching for Peeta”   1:27

16. “The Cave”   3:13

17. “Muttations”   4:45

18. “Tenuous Winners/Returning Home”   3:25

Total Length: app. 44 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!