Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Catching Fire Review: A Day at the Death Beach

I know this movie came out on Thursday, and today is Wednesday. Most of you probably saw this already and won't care what I have to say. But if you were as on the fence as I was about seeing yet another adaptation of a young adult bestseller, then you might want to listen up.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is miles ahead of its predecessor, and it's a great example of how to fix a franchise before it falls too far.

I was pretty skeptical going into this one. While I enjoyed the books (the first two, at least), the first movie was nothing short of a disappointment. The camerawork was sloppy, the runtime was bloated, the action was incredibly difficult to follow and the character performances hardly lived up to what the books put in my mind. Fortunately, Catching Fire pumps some life into the franchise before it can become a series of misfires.

Granted, some issues still rear their ugly heads, with the most notable being the movie's length. Catching Fire is a whopping two and a half hours, and it's not hard to feel that time wear on. This comes from the movie being a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel and sticking to its arbitrary structure. If you aren't aware, each book is split up into equal thirds of something, something and something else. If one something isn't as interesting as another something, well tough tortoises. Suzanne Collins is not one for structure, as you can see on her website.

But she is one for creepy rubber rats. I didn't read to see why.
Fortunately, though, the movie's two and a half hours are peppered with something great that way too few movies attempt to include these days: those little throwaway moments that serve to flesh out the characters and give them life outside the plot. I'd credit these - and the rest of the film's greatness - to the franchise's new director, Francis Lawrence. You know, the guy hot off the success of...Water for Elephants?

I know you forgot about this movie. But the elephants never forget.
I'm so glad The Hunger Games finally found a director who knows what he's doing. You can easily tell he had a hand in revamping the once-nauseating action scenes and giving the quasi-science fiction universe a more cohesive vision. And I commend him for getting decent performances out of the actors who felt pretty underutilized in the first movie. It's nice to finally see that Katniss is a smart and strong heroine rather than constantly just being told she is, and now there's reason to want these people to succeed.

If you like the series, you've probably seen the movie by now. If you were on the fence like I was, I really want you to give this one a shot. The last movie was perhaps a big turnoff, but Catching Fire finally gives reason to all the hype. So go see it or whatever.

What did you think of this movie compared to the last one? How do you think Mockingjay will turn out? Especially because, well, it's Mockingjay. I had a long talk with some friends about how I want to be excited for the franchise after how good Catching Fire was, but I can't because...Mockingjay. Let me know what you think in the comments, I want to chat. And there's no reason for you not to - I'm sure you've had a Google+ account rammed down your throat by now.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review: Like a Hit to the Face from MeowMeow

By now, there's an undeclared deal we all have with Marvel Studios: We give them our time and money, and they give us a string of movies that both introduce and revitalize fan-favorite characters from decades-old comics. These movies have also been of a consistent quality - even when they're not great, they're still good. I put the original Thor in that area, and I'd put the new sequel there as well. But while The Dark World isn't amazing, it's surprisingly fascinating.

In an effort to write reviews that lack flow, I'm going to switch gears for a second and familiarize you newcomers. Thor: The Dark World continues Marvel's "Phase Two" of movies, meaning that this is a continuation of both Thor's story and the overarching plot of the other Avengers-related movies. But whereas Iron Man 3 focused on the fallout of the New York incident, Thor 2 takes aim at the thunder god's new perspective on humanity and his obligation to protect them. This happens by way of an incredibly boring opening monologue from Odin about some dark elf with some weapon that's been locked away for some amount of time. Honestly, you won't really care about the main villain. Just know that the action's great, the settings are beautiful, the score is epic, and the movie is generally fun to watch. Oh, and there's Loki.

Pictured: One of the few Loki images not
involving hentai or someone's DeviantArt page.
If you haven't heard already, Tom Hiddleston's Loki spends some time in The Dark World, and he's easily the best aspect of the movie. It's either unbalanced writing or Hiddleston's presence that somehow makes the character who killed thousands of people the most likable one. The other actors do a fine job too, especially with their clear effort to make the otherworldly characters seem more human. However, a part of me wishes Kat Dennings and series newcomer Zachary Levi were the only other characters going for laughs. With everyone constantly trying to out-funny each other, you can tell they're among the few who know what they're doing.

So, I'd rather not continue my laundry list of the movie's elements. Instead, let's discuss my aforementioned fascination with The Dark World. It's common knowledge by now that Joss Whedon was brought in to "fix" the script. And you can tell.

"Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew..."
Thor 2 honestly feels like two films spliced together; and it's a job done well but not perfectly. When The Dark World is good, it's absolutely awesome. When it's not, it's really not. And the seams are very clearly visible. Certain scenes are incredibly written and immensely enjoyable. The action is great, and it all feels very appropriate in the world of Thor. Yet, other scenes are laughable mush that feel lazily put together. Several action scenes feel stolen from Star Wars. Yes, I meant Star Wars. I know it's a Thor movie, but apparently the director thought The Dark World needed space ships, laser turrets, black hole grenades and speeder chases. The dialogue feels even more unfitting. The best example is the scene where Odin makes a dismissive laugh that lacks anything I've ever seen on the emotional spectrum. If you're good with PhotoShop, please make it a gif and send it to me.

It goes without saying that you should see Thor 2, regardless of its really weird quirks and shortcomings. It's still a decent Marvel movie and it's awesome in the superhero department. Just know that you're not alone if some of it seems off.