Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Hunger Games Again: Catching Fire Indeed.

Okay. So. For those of you that hadn't read my review of the first film, The Hunger Games (here), I was unimpressed. It wasn't a bad movie, but it lacked a lot of the emotional integrity that the book had.

That being said, I was totally blown away by Catching Fire. In a rare event that only special sequels like Toy Story 2 and The Dark Knight get to enjoy, Catching Fire joins the ranks of sequels that are even better than their predecessors. And that ain't no easy feat.

Let's get into the "why," shall we?

I mean, come on. Even the promo art is better.

This movie picks up where the first one left off. Katniss has been living back in District 12 and is about to go on a tour of the 12 Districts with Peeta as part of their victory. But things are not all as quiet as she would've hoped. Before they leave on their tour, Katniss is visited by President Snow, who tells her that she and Peeta must convince the public that the way they left the games was because of their love for each other - not an act of defiance. After she promises to comply, the tour begins. But things only get worse. Riots and botched speeches give way to more conflict and, before they know it, they're back in the games that so haunted their lives the first time. Only this time with a twist. Competing against other tributes that have already won previous years, this round becomes the ultimate survival game.

As a side note can we talk about how all of Panem's propaganda posters
look like they were made in North Korea? (Coincidence?)

So wow. I tell ya what, wow. I didn't have my hopes high for this one, but the new director choice really served them well. (Francis Lawrence. Also, I feel it necessary to mention that a member of the audience shouted "BLESS YOU, FRANCIS LAWRENCE." at the end of the film. Yeah, it's that good.) Instead of vom-inducing shaky-camera, we've got a clear agenda going on here. Who knows if it's the fact that there aren't as many young children being killed in this one, but the action scenes were much more straightforward and SUSPENSEFUL. Each shot was made with more attention and details didn't seem as sugar-coated as in the original. The action part really gets fulfilled where the first one seemed a little unsure of itself

So much action!
(Couldn't find an action shot. Apologies.)

Another layer that seemed to form in this newest installment was the development of the characters. The ones I had considered largely miscast in the first one really seem to come into their own in this film. Jennifer Lawrence, who I thought played Katniss a little too cold in the first one, really becomes a full-bodied character in this one. Her experiences from the first games really seem to haunt her convincingly in this ones, as she finds it hard to emotionally separate herself from things that the state has told her to do. And Josh Hutcherson (bless his short little stature), goes from a lovesick puppy dog to a guy that you'd buy has legitimate feelings for this girl. While in Hunger Games he seemed full of big dopey stares and a questionable level of devotion, his experiences with Katniss in the first games make his love a little more believable and a lot more understanding. (God I love them together. Always was Team Peeta.)

Sorry, Lenny, still not buying you as Cinna. 
Get out of these movies, please.

Beyond all of the acting and cinematography, though, the story in this one is better pronounced as a film this time around. The first book isn't totally action-driven. There's a lot of internal monologue and confusion and waiting and sleeping in trees. But the second book, and this movie, are fueled by constant action and character interaction. Additionally, a lot of the smaller details that I skimmed over while I was busy devouring the second book are fully recognized visually in the movie so that they make more sense ("tick tock," ahem, ahem, and that whole set-up my fellow pre-readers).

The whole film, really is just so much more BADASS. While the first movie seems to take its time getting to know all of the various characters and special situations, it doesn't ever seem to dive right into the heart of the problem. But this one does. Blame it on the subject matter being of a "greater good" kind of depth as the series continues, but Catching Fire had me biting my nails waiting for the tension to subside. The whole idea of revolt really powers through and, even in the face of incredible diversity, the resilience of people in this is just really touching. Maybe that's the other thing that gives this movie more depth than its predecessor: the fact that friendships and bonds are made. And the fact that these bonds are interrupted by something as maniacal as their government only serves to fuel the fire of their revolution.

8.5 outa 10. I really loved it. Might even go see it again.

Also, I have to show you this:

"How should I know? I'm just a piece of bread." Oh my god, I died.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Top 6 Favorite (Well...Most Watched) Movies of All Time

Okay, kids. Getting personal this time around. Since I haven't seen anything in theaters that I'm really itching to see lately (or didn't see during my time at the NYFF), I thought now might be a good time to answer a question that I get asked all. the. time.

What's your favorite movie?

So. Since this question is, for all intents and purposes, unanswerable (depending on my mood, the weather, the availability of tissues that I have nearby, who I'm with, etc.), I've decided to share with you all a list of the movies that I have seen more times than I can count.


Most of these I have seen more than 30 times. I put them on in the same manner that most people like to have a radio playing while they're doing things. These are my "comfort blanket" movies. But also movies that I can still watch, captivated, over and over and over again.

So without further ado, here they are:

1. Coraline.

When Coraline moves to a new town with her workaholic parents, she's not too happy about it. There are hardly any other kids around and the house is a little far away from town, so she's frequently bored. Urged by her father, after he's annoyed with her interrupting his work, she explores their new Victorian home. After doing so, she finds a little door, through which she discovers a parallel world where everything is an ideal of her real life. Within this parallel house there is her "Other Mother" and "Other Father," mirror images of her real parents but with button eyes, and what seems like a genuine love for Coraline. As she continues to visit them in the more-perfect house, she receives warnings about the authenticity of her "Other Mother" and the "love" she has for Coraline. The end is really cool.

For some reason, this movie is perfect for everything. Something to sit and watch when you want something that won't blow your mind but will keep you entertained, something to half-watch when you're crafting, something that will creep you out but also make you laugh...I could go on, but I'll stop here. A stop-motion film (my weakness) by the same guy that did The Nightmare Before Christmas, this movie has all of the creepiness without the horrific creatures and macabre stuff. Very different, very entertaining, and (again) it's really incredibly well done stop-motion.

Fun facts: the entire soundtrack is nonsense words; the characters' clothes were knit using extremely small knitting needles; this is the longest stop-motion film ever made.

2. Moonstruck

An Italian family living in New York experiences the ups and downs of romantic relationships. The main story revolves around Loretta (played by the fabulous Cher) and her accidental love affair with Ronny (played by a baby Nicholas Cage), after she attempts to clear up the "bad blood" between he and his brother, Johnny - her fiance! Other stories include her parents' marriage, and smaller focuses on her aunt and uncle's marriage as well as her grandfather. A FANTASTIC commentary on family dynamics, modern culture, and the mystery of love. Really superb acting by the entire cast. This movie makes me want to be Italian. And also go to the opera.

I want to say that my mom introduced me to the absolute delight that is Moonstruck. For most of my life, we would jump at the chance to watch it on TV. I don't know why it took me until about two years ago to buy this movie, but ever since, I can consider my movie collection somewhat complete. Love it.

Fun facts: This movie features the famous "Snap out of it!" scene where Loretta slaps Ronny across the face; this movie is ranked at #8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 Greatest Romantic Comedies.

3. Stranger Than Fiction

An IRS agent named Harold Crick (played incredibly well by Will Ferrell) finds the innumerable opportunities in his life when he begins hearing his life being narrated by a woman. As he listens to his narrated internal monologue, he goes from being a boring man with a head for numbers, to a man that begins to rethink his entire life. Encounters with an anarchist baker (played by Maggie Ghyllenhaal) and getting to the root of the narrator make this movie not only quirky but completely engrossing.

I love the style of this movie. Not only is the plot something off the beaten path, but the way that this film begins is just so fascinating that it never gets old for me. Harold trying to throw off the narrator's attempts at dictating his actions, the graphics that illustrate how Harold's mind works in the beginning, and the wonderful interactions between characters make this movie pretty wonderful. But maybe it's the fact that for once in a film we get to hear every thought that the character is thinking in perfectly written prose. A movie for film and writer nerds alike. This one is a lesser known gem.

Fun facts: The last names of all of the characters are taken from names of real famous mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, and artists; the movie makes a few references to Magritte's "Son of Man" painting; the title of the movie comes from a quote by Lord Byron.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens's classic Christmas tale set to music and hilarious performances from both Michael Caine and the infamous Muppets. 

I love this movie for two main reasons: a. Michael Caine is my favorite Scrooge and b. Gonzo and Rizzo narrating this movie. For some reason, this version of A Christmas Carol is so well put together that it stands up to big ones like Allister Sim's and George C. Scott. While both have their own reasons for greatness, the Muppets effortlessly balance the drama of the original story (complete with dialogue from the original book) with the ridiculousness of their own humor. Both of these things are provided by our two main narrators, Gonzo and Rizzo, and that's why I think that they absolutely make this movie. As for Caine's Scrooge, there is something that cracks a little earlier on than the other Scrooges. Caine's Scrooge is the accessible Scrooge, while the other's take a little more time to grow on you. Additionally, the songs are the most memorable of any original Christmas songs in any holiday film within the last twenty years. Well done, Muppets.

Fun Facts: Michael Caine claimed that he acted throughout this film as though the Muppets were professional classically trained actors (it shows!); first Muppet movie made after Jim Henson's death; the song "When Love is Gone" is only featured in the VHS version of this film, not on the DVD or Blu-Ray versions.

5. Jurassic Park

I's Jurassic Park.

I bought this on VHS from a thrift store around the same time that I bought my dual VHS/DVD player about two years ago. Somehow I gave that dumb tape so much love that I figured I should probably just upgrade to the dumb DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack in Target. I have watched this movie so many times but it never seems to get old. The effects, music, acting, and plot reel me in every time. High-five Stephen Spiels!

Fun facts: Seriously, there are too many. Look at IMDB's Jurassic Park page for them.

(Pretty sure this is a fan-made trailer. But I like it soooo...)

6. The Swan Princess

I hear you laughing. Yes, from all the way over here.

Princess Odette and Prince Derek have been betrothed since birth, essentially. To improve their match, their parents make them spend every summer together as they grow up. Despite the fact that they finally  (somehow) end up falling in love, Derek totally blows it by making it seem like all he cares about is Odette's beauty. After the jilted girl leaves, she's kidnapped by the evil Rothbart and turned into a swan. It's then up to Derek to figure out the curse and to save Odette before Rothbart marries her and steals her kingdom.

So this is one rare cartoon (no it is NOT made by Disney.) movie that I didn't have when I was little. For some reason, I love putting this movie on. This is one that I can't really explain. I just do. I actually wrote a paper analyzing how bad this movie is for little baby girls (mostly the fact that they never really correct Derek's desire to marry Odette for reasons other than her beauty, as well as the fact that there are literally only three women in the entire film, two of which can actually speak). But, there it is, it cracks me up and entertains me every time. This was also my go-to drunken movie-watching flick for a while. Maybe that's why I like it so much.

Fun facts: The story is based on Swan Lake, the ballet; Nest Family Entertainment is actually a Christian production company.

(Disclaimer: the video quality of this trailer sucks. Probably because no one's watched this movie in 20 years.)

Runners up include:

The Mummy (I don't care how cheesy you may think it is, this movie is a classic nod to old timey "creature features")

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (watched it sooo many times)

The Hobbit (again, sooo many times)