The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all! We hope you are enjoying your turkey day with a good film or two.

Secondly, we are happy to introduce a guest writer for this piece, Nick, in place of Vig, who was unavailable this week.

And now for the feature presentation, The Hunger Games; Catching Fire. Based off the worldwide best selling series of the same name, The Hunger Games series has been adored/not by people of all ages, and the same goes with the films. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, thematic elements, and language, and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) in the aftermath of her defiant victory in the 74th Hunger Games, as she becomes the symbol of hope and revolution all across the Districts, much to the dismay of the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Before she embarks on her victory tour, she is confronted by Snow, who challenges her to prove her love with Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), the co-champion from the previous games, in order to convince the world that her defiance was love, not rebellion.

With the help of their team, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta attempt to continue on with their lives. However, Snow, in an attempt to kill Katniss to extinguish an uprising, announces that the 75th Hunger Games, the “Quarter Quell” will feature solely past winners. Katniss, being the only female victor from her district, is automatically chosen to the games. Katniss, with the hopes of millions on her shoulders, is forced to find help in those she trusts, and those she doesn’t.

8.0/10

I’d like to start out by saying I read the Hunger Games Trilogy which these movies are based on. The first movie, released last year, didn’t quite do the series justice. I was unimpressed by the stale acting, some pacing, and the horrible “shaky cam” that effectively ruined every action sequence. That being said, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improved on everything that was lacking in the first movie, and went above and beyond my expectations.

After comparing the sequel to last year’s film, it’s easy to see that a new director was at the helm this year. Hearing about the change actually worried me before seeing the movie. Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, was replaced by Francis Lawrence, known for I Am Legend and Water For Elephants. I thought his butchering of both those titles from the books to the big screen would foreshadow how Hunger Games: Catching Fire would turn out, but I’m glad to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

The film starts out with Katniss, now a victor of the 74th Hunger Games, struggling to live her life after defying the Capitol. Everything around her depends on her ability to convince the nation she really does love Peeta and defied the Capitol out of love instead of rebellion. As the story progresses, society around the characters begins to crumble, and by the end it is clear the film has set everything up to climax in the next two movies (Mockingjay will be split into two parts).

The acting in this film has seen a huge improvement since the first movie. After watching Silver Linings Playbook (for which Lawrence won an Oscar), I expected a lot more of Lawrence this time around. And I’m quite happy to say she definitely delivered. She behaves less like a cardboard cutout and more like the complex character that she is supposed to emulate. Everything from her screams to anxiety attacks feel real, and that is a definite difference in the sequel. Katniss’s relations with some other characters such as Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta are complicated to say the least. The chemistry between these actors is definitely interesting to watch, but the main relationship between Peeta and Katniss fell a little short for me. Hutcherson has certainly improved from the first film, but has still a ways to go in my opinion. Characters that get less screen time, like President Snow manage to absolutely nail their roles. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) was only on screen of about fifteen minutes, but his performance and role manage to stick out in the forefront of my mind.

Although the pacing was a bit odd (The actual games started an hour plus into the movie) the movie really focused on the bigger picture of the movement against the Capitol. I loved this, especially as the time in the actual games was far less interesting than out. By the end, you know the next movies are where the series will become even darker.
The fact that this whole movement started because of a helpless girl just being fed up with being played around with is very apparent. Katniss is constantly out of her depth, and the Capitol will stop at nothing to bring peace back to Panem. At this point in the series, it’s Katniss and her friends versus an entire omnipotent government that doesn’t have an inkling of what mercy is. And in short, the movie set up for the bigger picture events while also having a story of its own. Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a great film, and gives me hope for the next movie in the series.
~Nick

7.0 out of 10

Can we get a film about the guy who yells “HUNGER GAMES” in the trailer?

I kid. I kid….A little. But around two years ago, when Hunger Games had just wrapped up its trilogy and I was about to start reading the books, people warned me that there was to be a gradual decline in the quality of the books; culminating in the polarizing mess that is Mockingjay.

While I can’t say if that happened in the books (I’ve only read the first one), I can confidently say that the movies aren’t appearing to lose their strong points anytime soon. I went in under the pretense that it would be a lukewarm re-hash of the original as some have said the book is and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it expanded on it, just a sequel should do. The movie plays out like a bleak middle chapter that is shaped around our characters rather than the opposite.

But if there is one thing that the Hunger Games movie (s) tends to suffer from, its indecisiveness. The franchise has a lot of different types of fans to appeal to. There are those who see it as a character-study of Katniss while others see it as a commentary on modern day entertainment and inequality. Still, there are always going to be those who are a part of it just for the wooden love triangles that seem somewhat hastily set up. In reality, I do think it is a mix of the three elements (Yes, even the third one) but, in our world of fast-paced movies, asking for two hours and twenty-six minutes of a viewers time is a touch too much if the film is undecided on what exactly it wants to develop.

lawrence

The actors tend to keep the scenes rollin, however. I don’t think I can really say anything about Jennifer Lawrence that hasn’t been said by fans, critics or the Academy but I’ll reiterate that I feel like I’m watching the character, not the actor playing her. The others are also good picks as they fit pretty perfectly into the world their characters are in. Rumor says that Donald Sutherland found the role of President Snow so complex that he would continually write detailed letters to the producers of the Hunger Games films just to expand his role and confirm all of his choices and I think that shows here. Much like Tom Hiddleston with Loki, you can tell that Sutherland finds the villain he’s playing very interesting to the benefit of the audience.

As for what themes there are that need to be discussed, I would say they are relatively obvious. The Hunger Games perpetually and flawlessly depicts the brutality of modern media in such an extreme way that the viewer can not help but resonate with it. Its hard to believe that we, as a society, needed a franchise about kids killing each other to meet this realization but we meet it nonetheless.

Catching Fire falls into that category of sequels that about meet the quality of their predecessor. I would personally say that it surpasses it by a millimeter. With some direction, Mockingjay could cement this trilogy as a success.
~Zach

Bonus Video! Coldplay’s song “Atlas” made for the Catching Fire soundtrack.

IMDB: 7.7
Metacritic: 75
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

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Thor: The Dark World

Both of us are gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe fans. We don’t love each movie individually per say (cough *Iron Man 3* cough), but as a whole, we love the series and what is being done with it. Even though the most recent release, the aforementioned Iron Man 3, was pretty disappointing to the two of us, we are excited to watch and review the newly released sequel  to Thor. Directed by Alan Taylor, and starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Portman, it is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some suggestive content.

Thor: The Dark World is the next sequence in The Avengers saga, following Iron Man 3. In the film, Thor (Hemsworth), the hot headed Norse god of thunder, is faced with his most difficult challenge yet, battling an ancient villain unknown to his homeland of Asgard. A very powerful villain who no one can take down, not even Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins)

Thor eventually embarks on a journey that will reunite him with his love from Earth, Jane Foster (Portman), and require him to cooperate with his worst of enemies– his brother Loki (Hiddleston)– in order to save himself and his people from a terrible fate.

8 out of 10

I remember my extreme disappointment after seeing Iron Man 3. My jaw literally dropped after seeing the Mandarin destroyed by Shane Black, ask Zach. The movie was just stupid. And coming off The Avengers, my expectations were sky high, unfortunately. And seeing the trailers… I cry just thinking about it. Trailers literally kill a movie, but that’s a story for another day. So my expectations were not too high going  into the Thor movie, so when I saw it, I was pleasantly surprised.

It didn’t go without flaws. Natalie Portman was horrific, for one thing. All her choices and dialogue seem forced and ingenuine. She makes the Jane Foster-Thor relationship seem uninteresting… and it is, but not because of Chris Hemsworth. She is a great actress, don’t get me wrong, but she doesn’t have a place in sci-fi. It’s unfortunate she was such a huge art of the film. Stick to drama, Natalie. Some of the humor with Darcy (Kat Dennings) also seemed a bit forced, but for the most part she was very funny.

The film also seemed somewhat unoriginal to me. I saw everything coming (except the very, very last scene). It seemed like a completely mix of Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, and while it did turn out fine, it would have been nice to see something new. This movie is really the only movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that explores space and other dimensions, and I would have liked to see something completely different.

Despite the criticism I have for it, it really is just a fun ride. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have phenomenal chemistry, and I love their relationship. Loki has became as prominent as Thor in terms of familiarity with the audience, partially because Hiddleston is so good. He plays it with the cockiness and the slick attitude that Loki has, while still providing him with a sense of humanity. The two of them together are always fantastic, and this film proves no different.

The film is also very funny– the gag with Loki transforming in Captain America was hilarious– and the dialogue, with a few exceptions, was pretty good. Darcy was very funny, even though it could be a bit much at times. And though there was seemingly a lot of comedic dialogue, they still found a way to balance it with fantastic action, which looked great to watch, as always. That’s something you can always rely on Marvel for: a movie that looks good to watch.

And speaking about Captain America, the most important thing about this movie is the role it plays in the universe as a whole. It was able to reference it, keep its continuity going, and also add to it. In a universe such as huge as this, it’s crucial that every single film contributes to the series as a whole, while also being its own. Thor: The Dark World accomplished both of these.

When people ask me if I like this film, I say sure, why not. It has it’s flaws but it’s not meant to be an Oscar Award winning picture. It’s meant to be a two hour action-filled adrenaline rush, and it is.

However, if you’re a Natalie Portman fan… Hold off on this one.

~Vig

7 out of 10

(I love going off topic so forgive me if I get little positive words in here but, believe me, I liked this movie)

Everybody loves an anti-hero.

Yeah, The Dark Knight pretty much cemented that five years ago. We, the public, love us some flawed, morally ambiguous characters who are wild cards in their given situations. Why? Because they’re unpredictable.

Thor

Thor

Which brings us to the Thor movies’ (Maybe even the Marvel world’s) greatest asset: Loki. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the Loki plotline in the original Thor, mostly because of how much Tom Hiddleston has to play out about the character. Almost every viewer can sympathize with him. He’s a safe villain with just the right amount of distorted heroics in him to keep us all engaged even when our lead actors fail us.

When Phase One finished up, my main worry is the Marvel movies would start spinning their wheels. The Avengers was just such a colossal, earth-shattering movie for the genre that it seemed like a perfect way to end the whole thing. That there was no more to be said. So was I right?

I was. Kind of. The past two films (The other being Iron Man 3) have a lot of repetitive moments and go through the same cycles as before. Thor and Jane go through more of the same here and one can tell that the writers tried extremely hard to encapsulate everything that made Avengers so great; humor being the most apparent. At times, things feel forced and we pretty much just want to get to Avengers 2 here if this is all going to be inconsequential.

But, above all odds, the Marvel Universe has failed to collapse under its own weight. Its still got a hell of a lot pulling for it. And one of those forces is our aforementioned favorite Loki. While he is ridiculously underused in this, the scenes he is in pretty much saved the movie for me. While every other character is caught in the motions, he seriously develops. I think that the writers really underestimated how interesting Hiddleston could play out the convenience alliance angle.

Hemsworth is also very good. But both of these actors are best when they are playing off eachother. They can (And should) really open up the old wounds in their relationship that actually move the plot forward. When they argue, it’s far more entertaining than anything an SFX producer could conjure up.

My advice to Marvel would be to acknowledge the past events, have characters face them, then move on from them and keep letting the world turn. Until then, Thor; The Dark World was a pretty dang good start.
~Zach

IMDB: 7.2
Metacritic: 54
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

Ghostbusters

We know we’re a few days late, but happy belated Halloween! To celebrate, we took a look at the classic Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver. It is rated PG for language, some frightening scenes and some sexual references.

Three misfit parapsychologists, Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stanz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis), after losing their jobs from Columbia University, decide to establish a ghost-exterminating service known as ‘Ghostbusters’. Struggling with customers, the team is finally hired by the Sedgewick Hotel, and successfully capturing a poltergeist known as Slimer. Their business takes off after this, and they continue to take down ghosts of all different… varieties, building up their reputation in the process, even hiring a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).

However, after this success, they face their biggest challenge yet in Zuul, a demonic spirit residing in the Dana Barrett’s (Weaver) apartment. Ghostbusters hilariously tells the story of the gang as they face ghosts, the EPA, and eventually, their biggest (and probably  funniest) ghost ever.

Kick-ass trailer with a kick-ass theme song

8.5 out of 10

Before watching this movie, I never understood how Ghostbusters was such a beloved film. All I knew about it was its extremely 80’s theme song and how much Woody Harrelson’s character in Zombieland loved Bill Murray in it. When I sat down, little did I know, but I was in for a very enlightening session.

I don’t know why this movie is as good as it is; it’s pretty corny, to be honest. The jokes are not exactly knock your socks off funny, they’re just goofy. The whole film is just goofy. And despite this silliness, the dialogue is still extremely slick and smartly-written. The comedy is intelligent, instead of the relative dirtiness comedy today tends to have. None of it is forced, and it’s all very genuine, very conversational… as far as a movie of this nature can get at least. The leading trio of Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and especially Bill Murray, is so funny and connected, and are perfect in each of their respective roles. The vast contrast between the three characters is what provides the movie with the comedy and silliness it has, and each of their contributions are not gone unnoticed.

Stick with me for a second, but the special effects are truly great. Remember this is the 80’s, so special effects are not exactly Hollywood’s mojo. This isn’t quite Gravity or Life of Pi, but hey, no one is expecting it to be. They are relatively well done, in a way that they’re so corny that they’re funny. The green monster in the hotel is so freaking stupid that it’s just funny, and I truly believe Reitman intended this to happen. Don’t even get me started on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man… That has become one of my favorite moments in film history. It’s just so freaking stupid that it’s funny! That’s where this movie gets you. It’s written so intelligently, yet is so ridiculously comic with it’s exaggerated graphics and funny acting that it truly is extremely entertaining. And it’s not even one of those things that is so good it’s bad… It’s just something you love, even if you don’t understand how.

This movie is extremely memorable, which is why it’s adored as much as it is today. From Slimer, the green poltergeist from the hotel, to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, this movie has a handful of moments and characters that you never forget. That’s the issue I always seem to have with a movie. I can love it as soon as I come out of a theater, I can never remember it past that. A movie from which I can remember a specific scene, or a character, or even a quote is a movie I truly love. Ghostbusters will be one of these films… large in thanks to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man.

If I had any criticism for this film, it would be the addition of Winston Zeddemore. When I mean addition, I mean the actual way it was done. I thought Ernie Hudson did a fine job, it was just that it came out of nowhere. Literally, we weren’t expecting anything and bam, Hudson comes walking through the door asking about the job. That whole situation didn’t develop enough, and by the end he was praised as one of our main heroes, when really, we hadn’t gotten time to know and love him. It could work, it just needs more work (perhaps Ghostbusters III…?)

Overall, I loved this movie. It was so funny, so whacky, and so smart (yet stupid at the same time). If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out.

~Vig

9 out of 10

I think there’s something important about Ghostbusters that people often forget. I hate to be so superficial but Ghostbusters was one of the first comedy movies to utilize special effects to its advantage. Before it came out, special effects in a comedy were kind of a gimmick. It wasn’t really a big deal, but it still drew plenty of people in. Ghostbusters actually NEEDED the effects and they still really hold up. The “Stay Puft” ghost looks more realistic than half of what we see in multi-million budgeted movies today.

That being said, the reason it all works so well is the cast. Hudson, Murray, Akroyd, and Ramis all work off each other perfectly. For example, when the others are panicking about the Marshmallow Man and Murray’s character says (In his usual deadpan manner) “There’s something you don’t see every day.” I always laugh, even when I know its coming. The thing is, its not the funniest piece of dialogue but the actor interpreted in a way that made it hilarious. It really goes to show how a couple of good deliveries and choices can take a comedy far.

Now I’d like to focus on one character for the fun of it just because it really perplexes me. Out of all the ghosts that have appeared in this movie, Slimer became the most popular in his day. He was pasted on to every Ghostbusters project and was chosen to be the mascot for the drink based on this movie (It’s called Ecto-Cooler and its really gross sounding). Why Slimer? What did Slimer do?

Slimer rocked one or two scenes and that’s all it took. Stay with me here, I’m not trailing off into a Slimer tribute. He represents what has made this movie so popular besides the above reasons. He is individual and he is memorable like all of the other ghosts in this movie. All it took was a few memorable monsters to keep this movie possible and I think we have all seen one outside this movie.

So, if there’s anything I can take away from this movie, it’s that a movie does not really have to be complex or bloated to make it. Yes, the effects were great but they only used them when they needed to. For the rest, they stuck to puppets and costume and that’s fine. It’s okay because the single-scene characters are so well-written that we are going to remember them anyway. I watched some clips from this movie to review before writing this and, after each one, I was incredibly satisfied. There are so many gems and snarky lines that its fresh every time. We get to know how the characters (And ghosts) work in a way that makes them so likeable that they’ll always stick in my head (Especially this time of year).

Slimer!

Slimer!

And, if you’re curious what I think of the sequel…..I have not seen it yet. I have never really checked it out but I certainly intend to at some point. Last year, there were rumors that they were creating a third and I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it. It’d certainly be awkward in terms of timing the franchise out but I think that they could recreate at least some of that fresh humor from the original. I’ll certainly go, but only if Slimer’s involved.

~Zach

IMDB: 7.8
Metacritic: 67
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%