Monday, 26 March 2012

The Children of Panem

"The Hunger Games"

I just had one of the best film weekends I have had in aaages. I hadn't been to the cinema for three weekends in a row by this Saturday, so I was very excited about this extra special trip to see "The Hunger Games" which I had been eagerly anticipating, having read and very much enjoyed the books. The film did not disappoint I can tell you!
Far right: Hutcherson, Lawrence, Hemsworth

I reckon many fans of the book, like me, will mostly be concerned about whether the films are going to get the three young leads right, whom we have followed and loved (maybe not all of them, but you will have your favourite two) throughout the three books. Luckily for us, the entire cast was nigh on perfect, with the brilliant  Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is an incredibly endearing, in-no-way-annoying protagonist, who has a lot of character in the book, unlike the protagonist of the book THG is most often compared to, "Twilight", who is completely 2D and incredibly annoying and for who I had not one ounce of sympathy while reading the book. Katniss is a skilled hunter and a beautiful girl, but you don't feel jealous or annoyed by these facts, because she's modest and brave and genuinely merits the admiration she generates and Lawrence was perfect casting for this. She's not just pretty, she has charisma, she is a strong actress, but still shows great modesty and likability. You need all these things for Katniss, as well as a capable actress, considering the range of emotions and horrors the character goes through.

The two male leads were also well chosen. Josh Hutcherson shows all the characteristics we expect from Peeta, though in a far less demanding role than Katniss'. He's sweet, sensitive and strongly moral, but also brave and charming. Hutcherson isn't quite as large or handsome as I imagined Peeta,  the powerful blonde baker's son, but he acts Peeta and so he comes to look like Peeta. As you all know, I have much love for Chris Hemsworth, the wonderful Thor, and his younger brother Liam, who plays Katniss' other male lead Gale, is quickly making his way onto my man list. He's like a slightly smaller, dark version of Chris, almost as handsome, and I believe has the potential to prove almost as charismatic. His part in THG is pretty small, but don't worry Hemsworth fans, it is bigger in book 2 and he becomes incredibly significant by book 3. What he mainly does in this first installment is stand there and look handsome and broody, which he does very well, but Peeta is definitely the male lead at this point. Who knows how things will develop later on though... ;)

As always, Elizabeth Banks is PERFECTly cast as Effie Trinket. The representative of the games in district 12, a native of the capital and as such, ridiculously dressed and incredibly oblivious to the horrific reality of the games.  It's all a fun show as far as she's concerned, though there's definitely a deeper, slightly more intuitive side of Effie that comes out as the books continue. I love love love Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, one of my favourites in the book, and ditto for Woody Harrelson, ever the amazing performer, as Haymitch Abernathy, the lovable drunk. And I did enjoy an appearance from Wes Bentley as Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, I haven't seen him since "American Beauty"! My only quarrel with casting was Donald Sutherland as President Snow. There's no problem with his performance, but Snow, as president of the capital, is supposed to have had extensive plastic surgery to reduce aging in his face, probably a lot of botox, resulting in fake, puffy, slimy lips and a repulsive facade which Katniss finds hard to approach. Even with an evil sneer, Sutherland has a pretty comforting face!

The effects were, as you'd hope for this film, brilliant! The capitol had to be an interesting task, not just the amazing buildings, the stadium in which they introduce the tributes for the 74th annual Hunger Games, but also its inhabitants, with their ridiculous make-up, tattoos, wigs, clothes, all far too colourful and lavish, to the extent of obscenity. The city floats in the middle of a lake, it is incredibly beautiful, but, as well all know, contains an incredibly corrupt society, which is part of what Collins wanted to put across in her book. A society which focuses that much on aesthetics, that doesn't have much bellow the surface, in the way of intelligence or morals.
Team Gale? or Team Peeta?

If you like, or even better love, the books, go see this adaptation! It is incredibly true to the books, to the extent that there were only one or two moments where I thought "That's been slightly altered, but not really," and there are no key excerpts from the book which I noticed missed out. It is very true and a VERY exciting, fun watch!! If you haven't read the book, well, either get reading or get watching! I only condone watching the film without having read the book if you genuinely have no trace of desire to read it. And people, it's time to chose whether you're Team Peeta (which I am in the book) or Team Gale (which I am in the film so far). Is it mega lame to get the t-shirt...?

To see my analysis of "The Hunger Games" books and for a slightly more detailed overview of the plot check out my post "The Hunger Games: A Briefing".

The Hunger Games was awesome, it really put me in a good mood. As I have said a million times, I love it when a book I am particularly fond of is transformed into a great film which really does it justice and I believe this is such a case. What was especially nice about this weekend trip to the cinema is that I left the Odeon to find the sun shining brightly and a warm breeze all around, allowing me to tear off my jumper and enjoy the sun on my arms for the first time in a while. Jim (with whom I watch and share all these movie experiences) and I then went down to Bristol docks, which is just lovely this time of year for an ice cream. But that's not all! No, the weekend delights reached an even greater high on Sunday when we returned to town to watch another film, "21 Jump Street", which turned out to be equally as exhilarating and noteworthy as "The Hunger Games"...

"21 Jump Street"

Jenko and Schmidt were high school enemies, now they're
BFFs,  hunting down some bad guys!
If I ever didn't love Channing Tatum (OK, I didn't, the fact that he was in "Step Up" and just appeared to be generic American hunk with a boring face put me off) I do now! He is seriously funny in this film. His comic timing is perfect, he's totally lovable and endearing as Jenko, while doing what we all know he does best: Play the high school jock with lots of brawn and no brains. Jonah Hill is equally well-suited to his part, the nerdy, awkward, never-successfully-asked out a girl Schmidt. So there we have our two leads and what is the premise? Two useless cops who have only managed to get by by combining their efforts - Schmidt brings the smarts while Jacob aces the obstacle courses and physical training - are caught out when an attempt to arrest their first perp goes horribly wrong. They are subsequently sent to 21 Jump Street, an old Korean church in which undercover cops are trained and sent off on their various missions. Tatum and Hill must go back to high school - at which, naturally, Schmidt was a total loser with no friends and Jenko was the dishy track runner and football player with consistent F grades - and uncover the dealers and brewers of a new drug, which is circulating the school and has killed one student already.

This is one of the funniest films I have discovered in years. The advert really made me laugh, but as is so often the case with comedies, I was expecting the film to not quite live up to it, to have given away its best bits in the trailer. Not so! Not so at all! This film was even more amusing than its brilliant trailer. The laughs are large and consistent and the film is very fast paced. The two leads both shine in their roles, neither one letting the other down or outshining the other, they balance each other perfectly. There are enough action sequences to keep cop-movie-fans satisfied I believe, and an incredibly cool looking party is held at the boys' home (actually it is Schmidt's home, with whose parents the boys are staying to keep up the facade of being teenage brothers). You also have a bit of a love story between Hill's character and Molly, the coolest girl in school, as well as a hilarious (though not a dominant story) romance between Tatum's clearly not teenage hunk and his chemistry teacher, who can't decide whether her morals outweigh her libido. It ticks all the boxes! I would recommend this to everyone, though I'm sure in reality there are those who will never enjoy this type of film.

Film News:
A new film on my "Oh my God, I must see that!" list is "The Cabin in the Woods". Why am I adding a horror film to this list? Especially one whose concept resembles "Cabin Fever" which was crap AND scary? Two reasons: 1) It is being directed by Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy", "Angel", "Firefly", "Dollhouse" and the soon to be released "Avengers Assemble", and 2) It stars Chris Hemsowrth, now getting a second mention in this week's blog, and currently heading my man-list. Plus, really, this is no ordinary horror film in which five horny teens or tweens (not exactly sure how old they're supposed to be) end up being attacked by slack-jawed yokels or killing each other instead of sleeping with each other, this film has a much more interesting, unique take on the genre. Check out the trailer to see what I mean (unless you want to go in knowing almost nothing, allowing for more surprises,  which can also be fun):

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Vampires vs Aliens

This post has been resting in my archives for weeks, filled with trailers and news which have caught my eye but without a film review to accompany them and merit the publication of said post. So today I say "Screw it!" I am going to put it out there just so that my home page can enjoy a bit of a change and so I don't get completely out of the loop of blog writing.

"Dark Shadows": This is the first trailer I have seen for "Dark Shadows" and my reaction was basically "Oh my God, this is already my favourite film and I haven't even seen it yet." I have strong hopes that this film will show Burton back on top form, reflecting the talent that created films such as "Edward Scisshorands" and "Sleepy Hollow". Admittedly, I have enjoyed all works of Burton's which I have seen, despite the general consensus that his recent films haven't been to the high standard he was once known and loved for, but I do believe that his finest works are his earliest and would love to be able to add this new one to that list!

"Prometheus": The first trailer for Prometheus was rather vague, a teaser trailer as they say, showing brief, though exciting and tantalising clips, but with no real hint at plot. This is a more detailed and comprehensive look at the film and it has me even more excited than before, because, as well all know, the viewing of a trailer really hits it home that the film WILL soon be coming to a cinema near you.

Film News:
An "Artemis Fowl" movie? This would be the best film news I'd received since I discovered  they were dramatising "the Hobbit". Like all other popular, un-filmed series of books, there have been rumours for a while now on an Artemis Fowl film. According to author Eoin Colfer this time last year, the script is still in the making! Well get it done people, so I can inappropriately fall in love with 13 year old boy genius, Artemis Fowl! To be fair, in the latest book he was 17, plus he's a genius and reads like an adult, PLUS he's Irish and has dark hair. I think I've justified myself sufficiently.

Someone has decided to create a film that is perfect for me in almost every way and not tell me about it. The cast includes Helena Bonham Carter (I could stop there and be happy) and Eddie Redmayne, two of my favourite Brits, and an impressive dash of the Hollywood A-list with our favourite Aussie-Bafta-combo Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe and wannabe-Brit Anne Hathaway. To top this all off, it's a musical! Aka, back to a bit of singing for Helena and the beautiful Eddie will be using that rich voice of his to make us all swoon I hope. What is this glorious movie-in-the-making you ask? Or are you much more in-the-know than I have been lately? Well, either way, it's the new production of "Les Misérables"! I'm ashamed to say I don't know the plot, it's terribly uncultured of me I know, but I will most certainly be getting myself up to speed. According to a Tweet by Jackman, today (8th March) is the first day of shooting.

First photo from the "Lone Ranger" shoot
"The Lone Ranger": This also promises a fun cast, a re-imagining of the classic, it stars Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer (aka the Winklevi twins from "The Social Network" and a current like of mine) as the Lone Ranger himself. It will be directed by Gore Verbinski ("Pirates" 1-3) and lo and behold, it also stars Helena Bonham Carter. Yay for me. Check this Hollywood Reporter article for more details.

Monday, 5 March 2012

A History of Edits

Devoted and much appreciated readers, I have some good news for you! Having greatly betrayed you last week in forgoing any cinema trip, I have come back with a vengeance this week with not one but TWO viewings, "The Woman In Black" on Friday and "Project X" on Saturday; both interesting case studies for yours truly.

As I'm sure I've mentioned on this blog before, I've only been to the cinema alone once before, to see "Norwegian Wood", the sad tale of a boy who loves his dead best friend's depressed, suicidal girlfriend. Not the best choice to see alone one might think, well I made an even BETTER choice this week and went to see "The Woman In Black" alone and oh my god did it scare me. 

There were several moments when I considered leaving the cinema because I'm not sure that I was really enjoying myself and throughout the second half I was scrunched up on my seat, arms wrapped around my legs, that is, when my hands weren't perched by my ears, ready to cover them as I closed my eyes and hid my senses from what was going on in front of me. That said, this was by no means a bad film, all that I am demonstrating is that it is a bloody scary one. I will admit, however, that this may be the first horror film that I have ever seen in the cinema, or at least that I can remember, and I am not a connoisseur of the genre, I tend to avoid it as a matter of fact.  Therefore, true horror fans, as I am sure they can deduce on their own, should not take this as a sign that they won't be able to handle the fear either, but perhaps they should see this as a recommendation if anything. 

Watching this film, I soon decided that the two components which make the scariest films - for me at least - are children and dolls (or puppets - I still avoid ITV's Ripley and Scuff). What's more, the creepiest setting in all of history is Victorian England. How anyone managed to live at this point and not break down in fear every time that night arrived is beyond me. This film contains all of these factors. It centres around the legend of a "woman in black" (you'd never guess), who haunts a house on the outskirts of a small village near the English coast in the late 19th century. Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliff), a young lawyer and single father, whose wife died in childbirth, is sent to this house, whose owner has recently died, to process all the paper work. In the nearby town he is warned away from the house and as children begin to die and Kipps keeps catching the figure of a women in black in the corner of his eye, he starts to unravel the house's dark secret!

This film does several things very well. One is the aesthetics, the costumes, hair and make up are all done very well and look very gothic and cool in this period setting. The horrific face of the woman in black is very well made up and I truly never wish to see it again. The house is magnificently decked with everything you wouldn't want to encounter in an isolated, dark place: old paintings, cobwebs, children's ancient and decaying toys, a surplus of dolls and puppets, some of whose faces had a little too much life in them for my taste. 

It is also a master at making you jump, whether it be the multiple viewings of the women in black or the dead children, or a crow bursting in through the window, I have not cried out in fright that many times in one film in years. One could argue that you can usually see these moments coming - if ever there is a shot facing Kipps as he walks towards you, something will appear behind him, out of his sight, if ever the camera rests a few moments on a window, someone's face will pop up -, but that doesn't mean they won't scare the bejesus out of you! Seriously, rethinking over this film is making me a bit squeamish. 

There are two scenes in this film which make it a must for horror/ghost/suspense fans. The first is one long scene in which Kipps stays over night in the house - I think everyone was yelling "foolish Daniel!" in their minds when he made that decision -, which probably lasts about 20 minutes but feels like a lifetime, when all the things you don't want to see pop up do. I was so incredibly tense watching this scene and so ridiculously relieved when it was over, that is, until the second of these horrific scenes arrived, the final scene in the house. Kipps spends a further 15 minutes wandering around at night with candles, though luckily this time in the company of Ciaran Hinds, who put me at ease a little (I do love a bit of Ciaran).

"Project X" was considerably more light-hearted than "The Woman in Black", though, at times, also hard to watch. This is the story of Thomas Kubb (Thomas Mann) and his nerdy friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) deciding to throw the party of all parties in Thomas' house while his parents are away. The boys want to bring popularity to their obscure group and basically provide an opportunity for lots of sex. Costa, the equivalent of "Superbad"'s Seth (while Thomas is more of an awkward Evan), decides to invite everyone he can AND post a local radio ad AND mention the party on Craig's list, and what Thomas hopes will be 50 a maximum of people turns into about 1,500. What ensues is pure mayhem but also possibly the best, coolest party any high-schooler has ever thrown! There's drugs, booze, a swimming pool, a bouncy castle!!, 12-year-old security guards, a dog on drugs, local celebrities and many, many naked women.

What's brilliant about this film - another of the hand-held camera genre so popular with indie teen films these days - is the authenticity of the characters and the party. The three leads feel like genuine nerds you might meet in an American High School and the party truly looks like 100s of teenagers (and some not so young, creepy men) having an epic night, completely off their heads! The majority of this film is purely one long party, with the occasional angered neighbour and visit from the police. Thomas Kubb achieves what all sweet but obscure teenage boys wants to achieve: he becomes the most popular, legendary kid in school because he throws the best party in living memory. This film is ridiculously fun and makes you wish you could go to such a party - despite the risk of being burnt alive! -, scrap that, makes you wish you could go to THIS party! Me being me, however, there were moments when I was thinking about the accumulating cost of the damages and the danger to so many young people's health. Plus, I just like how the three lead males' names are the same as the actors' :p .

Aaaaalso, I saw the trailer for "Snow White and the Huntsman" when going to see "The Woman in Black" and it looks awesome! Check it out for some olden day, fairy-tale action with a twist and for the beautiful Chris Hemsworth (I'll just ignore Kristen Stewart's presence). I couldn't find the awesome new trailer with Hemsworth's voice over, but this one also looks good...

4 Films Which Give History A... Twist (I am not saying "Top" this time, because some of these films are good and some not so good, it's more about the idea that they edit and rewrite history AND I'm sorry to say I didn't have time to do a fifth film):

To be honest, I don't have much time for people who claim that they don't believe William Shakespeare wrote the plays which carry his name. Such famous figures are always surrounded by conspiracy theories ("one man couldn't have written so many!" - except they're clearly all written by the same person, etc.), it's the same with James Dean, Elvis, Jim Morrison, supposedly they're all still alive! On the other hand, where this film is concerned, the idea that it was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who wrote "Romeo and Juliet" and all the classics we know by heart, is not what bothers me. The film claims that de Vere, as a noblemen and married into a wealthy family, would have ruined his reputation had he published the plays himself. Ok, I shall accept this lose theory, there are many who believe, as I said, that Shakespeare was a fraud, but all means, explore this idea. The history that bothers me within this film is the stories around Elizabeth I, her lovers and her illegitimate children. Her known lover, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is merely sidelined as a conspirator, while almost every other noblemen in the film appears to be an (ex-)lover or illegitimate child of the queen. Though I'm sure she may have had the occasional affair, I think it's a stretch to say that almost the entirety of England's nobility was sired by the Virgin Queen. Plus, when all is said and done, despite the fact that it entertained me greatly, this is a pretty poorly made film, though Rhys Ifans is incredibly cool as de Vere.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004)
Slater as Churchill
Tagline: "History... Hollywood style!"
I very much enjoyed "Churchill", though I'm sure many critics would argue it's a mediocre film. I think it's a genuinely funny satire, making fun of the American tendency to claim all of history's victories for themselves. In this film, Winston Churchill is an American soldier, who captures the enigma machine for the allies and goes on to save the British monarchy from Adolf Hitler and help win WWII. All the Brits in the film are portrayed as helpless but lovable and the men are often incredibly camp. They'd be nowhere without Winston! There's a pretty good comic British cast going on there, we have Vic and Bob, Harry Enfield, Rick Mayall, Jon Culshaw,  and Eva Braun is played by the wonderful Miranda Richardson!

Gladiator (2000)
I have to be careful when discussing Gladiator in its historical context because I know very little about Roman history at this time (Marcus Aurelius died in 180AD, so the film must start around then). In the film, Aurelius is old and dying and looking for a successor. His son, Commodus, is weak and cruel and not the ideal candidate, so he looks to his loyal general, Maximus, to take over and gradually turn Rome back into a Republic. On discovering this plan, Commodus murders his father and tries and fails to have Maximus murdered too. Maximus must now wage war on the new emperor - with the aid of Commodus' sister, Lucilla - for the good of Rome! In reality, I believe Marcus Aurelius died of an infectious disease and willingly left his empire to Commodus, who was his only surviving child.
Aurelius was, nonetheless, a just and fair ruler and his son proved to be a tyrannical, neurotic and cruel successor, as presented in the film. Commodus' death in the film is at the hands of Maximus, who has been plotting a failed coup against him. Reality was not too different: Commodus was murdered as the result of a conspiracy which resulted in his being strangled whilst taking a bath. He was, however, succeeded by a new emperor, not, as the film suggests, a republic. Despite the changes to the true story, "Gladiator" captures the nature of Rome and its rulers in the 2nd century BC and is a fantastic, exciting film of epic proportions. It is so well made, I believe the alterations are completely justified as Ridley Scott has presented us with one of the greatest cinematic tales ever.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
This has to be one of my favourite Tarantino films (following closely behind the classic "Reservoir Dogs") and the most... artistic interpretation of Nazi history I have ever seen. The film includes multiple story arches, as is a tradition in Tarantino's works, and revolves around several plots to take down the Nazis and Hitler himself. On the one hand, you have First Lieutenant Aldo Rain (Brad Pitt) and his crew of American-Jewish soldiers, who specialise in torturing scalping, entering German territory on a mission to collect 100 Nazi scalps. They are the "Basterds". We also have the French Shosanna, whose family were killed by Nazis and who now runs a cinema in Paris. She arranges to have the premier of a new Nazi propaganda film, "Nation's Pride", in her venue, where she will be able to trap and murder many top level Nazis. This plot is joined by the Basterds when the British government learns of it and turns in into "Operation Kino", an attempt to kill the Nazi elite, including Hitler, once and for all. This is when the German-speaking, Britsh-chappy Lieutenant Archie Hicox, aka man of my dreams, Michael Fassbender (lets see if I can get to 100 mentions of his name in this blog) to infiltrate the event.

Though based around the events of the Second World War, especially the spread of Nazi influences throughout Europe and the ruthless persecution of the Jews, the main narratives within this film are fictitious. At times one can simply say that the fictitious characters and events don't contradict the true story, that he has just created people and actions that could feasibly fit within what was actually going on. There were many cruel SS leaders, like the character Col. Hans Landa (the Oscar winning Christoph Waltz), many European Jewish families were hidden by friends or neighbours and hunted down by such officials and a big part of the Nazi regime was the propaganda of film. However, the ending - which I don't wish to give away, making this review difficult - completely goes against  all that we know to be true about the end of WWII, contradicting fact to a greater extent perhaps than any other historical film I have ever seen. This did not ruin my enjoyment of the film, it is, in a way, a very interesting take on the historical genre, but it did bring about in me a confusion as to how I feel about what Tarantino has done with a very serious period of history.

Film News 

"21 Jump Street": Out 16th March, this comedy about two undercover cops going back to high school looks incredibly fun, I recommend you check out the trailer! It stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as the two policeman but also, and much more importantly, their boss is played by "Parks and Rec"''s very own Nick Offerman aka Ron Swanson aka one of the many loves of my life!

"Oldboy" remake: They appear to be making an American remake of Park Chan-Wook's "Oldboy" (2003). The new version will be directed by Spike Lee, the lead will be played by Josh Brolin and there are talks for Elizabeth Olson to take on the lead female role. See this Guardian article for more info.

"Sex and the City" prequel: Even though "Sex and the City 2" was the only film bad enough to make me actively get up and leave the cinema, the idea that they are now going to make a "Sex and the City 3", which will be a prequel and probably with an entirely new cast does excite me, because I do love the series. The current favourites for the girls are Elizabeth Olsen as Carrie, Blake Lively as Samantha, Selena Gomez (???) as Charlotte and Emma Roberts as Miranda. See this Guardian article for more information. Clearly, Elizabeth Olsen has decided to remake all of cinema!