Monday, March 26, 2012

The Abominable Snowman Meets the Wild Wild West

Today saw the brand new trailer for City Slickers Part 3 Doctor Who Series 7.  Let the rampant speculation begin!

This is serious. Who thought we'd see the day when the Doctor actually wished to face down Daleks?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lighting the Spark - Review of "The Hunger Games"

SPOILER WARNING for "The Hunger Games" movie. Read at your own risk.  This is your ONE and ONLY warning!

I've made it no secret that I am eternally impressed by "The Hunger Games" book series by Suzanne Collins.  In fact, all of the dystopian fiction I've consumed since reading this trilogy has been held up against the story of Katniss Everdeen and her rise from poor, starving girl from the backwoods of District 12 to inadvertently inciting a rebellion against the Capitol of Panem.  When news came that this series would be made into a movie, my only hope was "Please don't screw it up, Please don't screw it up."  And I am happy to report that they did NOT screw it up.

From the trailer, this movie looks like any flashy, showy, big-time summer blockbuster (even though it was released at the beginning of spring - eh, nit-pickiness there).  Vivid effects, awesome background music, intense voice-overs - the whole enchilada (oh, and that little issue of playing up the love-triangle that every young adult novel MUST have that is truly only secondary in this story).  But the movie opens up with stark white lettering on a black background that briefly describes the point of Panem's Hunger Games.  Then, they cut to a seemingly innocuous interview of Seneca Crane (head Gamemaker) conducted by Caesar Flickerman (oh, Caesar Flickerman - how you amuse me so).  That part's flashy and self-important - all the smugness that the Capitol has to offer and prides itself on.

And then - cut to the absolutely bloodcurdling scream of a young girl.

District 12 - Katniss Everdeen comforts her little sister, Prim, who is about to endure her first Reaping - where her name is entered for the first time as part of the selection of the Tributes for the Hunger Games.  No music, no effects, no flash - just a terrified twelve-year-old girl waking from a nightmare and being reassured by her older sister.  That is where "The Hunger Games" works so well - in the emotional, gut-wrenching punch of the premise.  And they go for it right from the start.

I'm not going to give a play-by-play account of the movie, but that opening scene struck me very hard.  Maybe it's because I have younger sisters and a niece now, but the entire sequence in the lead-up to the actual Reaping was something I won't soon forget.  It was so simple in the storytelling - just showing the humble people of District 12 trying to get by with what they have, with a special focus on Katniss and Prim.  It makes the moment when Effie Trinket draws Prim's name out of the Reaping bowl so much more. Because we love Prim and we know that Katniss loves Prim and we see how much Prim depends on Katniss for physical needs and emotional support and this is not going to be an easy movie to sit through.

Keep in mind - almost no background music in about the first twenty minutes of this movie.  It doesn't need it. At all.

I want to say a few things about the casting of this movie.  First of all - whoever got Donald Sutherland to play President Snow needs a bonus.  In the books, President Snow is the creepiest, freakiest guy ever (and with all the creepy, freaky stuff in the Capitol, that is saying something) and Sutherland plays him to the hilt.  There is a little bit of an attempt at being the kindly grandfather of the Capitol, relishing the festivities surrounding the Games, but underneath that exterior is something cold and menacing - especially toward anyone who mucks about with the Games.  You know how Alan Rickman totally owned the role of Professor Snape? Donald Sutherland does the same thing for President Snow.

I also enjoyed the addition of the scenes between Snow and Seneca Crane where Snow berates Crane for certain things that happen in the Games (mostly things that Katniss does  out of sheer human decency).  Those things didn't happen in the books because the books are 100% told from Katniss' POV, but the movie pulled them off well.

Speaking of additions to the movie - the scene where Haymitch is in the Capitol and sees a boy chasing a girl with a toy sword was wonderful.  Because there's a boy in the Hunger Games arena who has a real sword and uses it to cut down other Tributes (even gets Peeta with it at one point).  So many things in this movie hearken to a line in the book, after Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place.  Speaking of the people of District 12 - "They take the boldest form of dissent they can manage.  Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone.  All of this is wrong." (The Hunger Games, chapter 2, page 21, Nook version).  The Districts may have to take part in the Games, but they don't have to like it.  Many of them wish for another way.

Oh yeah - I was talking about casting.  Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was absolutely fantastic.  Of course, Katniss carries the story (being as it is her POV most of the time) and Lawrence is certainly able to do that.  She comforts Prim, she stands up to her mother, she mourns Rue (I'll come to that in a minute), and she is certainly a strong person.  I've seen her described as a strong female character, which is true, but I don't see the need to denote her gender in this case.  If Katniss was a male character, but with similar experiences and personality, I don't think the story would be one bit different.  One of my favorite parts was during Katniss' interview - this whole time Katniss is shown as a strong, capable young woman.  She's good with a bow and arrow and she doesn't take anyone's crap if she doesn't want to.  But she has some little slip-up in the interview where she doesn't hear what Caesar Flickerman asks her and she goes "What?" and the Capitol audience laughs.  I loved how that showed that Katniss was still nervous and scared and very unsure of herself, in spite of all the skills she has.  That is a realistic character - male or female.

The rest of the cast was good as well, though I was a little miffed that Gale got so little screentime, yet he was one of the top-billed characters in the marketing (again, lame love-triangle - got to put butts in the seats, I guess).  Good grief, Rue got more screentime and was a much more memorable character.  Granted, Gale will probably have more to do in "Catching Fire," so I can't get too upset.  Though, I'm not entirely sure about Peeta yet.  Although, this may have more to do with the fact that, at this point in the books, Katniss isn't sure about him either (and by extension, neither is the reader).  I did think the cave scenes were done very well, though.

I was going to talk about Rue and her death (yeah, the cute little girl who climbs trees and whistles to mockingjays dies. Sorry).  That scene - holy cow, THAT SCENE. If you haven't seen the fan-created film of this scene, go watch it now and come back. I'll wait (yes, yes - Rue in the YouTube video is white when she should be black. Let's all whine, carp and complain about a fan-made clip).  While I was seeing the scene in the movie, I did have that video in my head and, truly, I started to cry.  Like, actually shaking and sobbing in the movie theater.  I knew it was coming, but it still kicked me in the face.  And the fact that there was no music in the movie version almost made it worse.  Because, let's face it, real life doesn't have a grandiose soundtrack.  This was really like watching someone in the real world mourn the death of another person (and Katniss' near-hysterical breakdown a few scenes later did nothing to stop me crying).  I also loved that they showed District 11 in riots after Rue's death and Katniss' reaction because it helps to set up what's coming in "Catching Fire."  Even though in the book, District 11 thanks Katniss for honoring Rue by sending her bread into the arena and that's one of my favorite scenes from the book, this is a change for the movie that I am okay with.

Few more things:
- It's a good thing I went to a matinee showing and there weren't a whole lot of people in the theater.  Because I screamed a rather loud swearword when the muttations came leaping out of the forest at Katniss and Peeta.  Then again, I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one.
- I've seen a few articles about how parents aren't sure about taking their young children to see this movie and how it's too violent.  Well, if you're going to take your seven-year-old, what kind of freaky weirdo are you?  Seriously, it's got a PG-13 rating for a reason.  The books themselves are marketed to teenagers, for crying out loud! That being said, the violence was portrayed in a way that I found to be very tasteful, given the circumstances.  Anytime characters get into a fight and die, the movement is so fast that you don't see it.  It's like one big blur and then it's over.  You do see the Tribute lying dead on the ground and there is quite a bit of blood, but it's not gratuitous (this isn't Braveheart, folks).
- With all the viral marketing and what-have-you, something very vital is missing - why isn't anyone selling mockingjay pins?  I have combed the stores and the internet and all I can find are half-assed homemade things  on Etsy that really aren't worth it.  I don't want a pink wig or a skin dye job like those nutty Capitol people - I just want a freaking little pin!

Bottom Line: Books and movies are two different mediums.  What works in one will not do so well in the other.  "The Hunger Games" movie kept to the spirit of the book while still telling one of the most compelling stories for young adults I've read in a long time.  In fact, when I got home I started reading Catching Fire and I actually saw the actors in the movie in the scenes from the book.  I seriously cannot wait to see how the next one turns out.

Bottom-Bottom Line: Book-to-Movie Adaptation: You're Doing It Right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Now Joining Team TARDIS...

... is Jenna-Louise Coleman!!

The news broke earlier today (or may have been yesterday - I was away from the computer for a substantial amount of time).  And, really, that's all we know about her.  She's been in "Captain America," which is I recognized her from, though I couldn't recall her character (it was just a bit-part).  Here's video of her being interviewed by Lizo Mzimba of the BBC -

Personally, I think she's adorable.  She's evidently got good chemistry with Matt Smith.  If Steven Moffat is excited about her, then that's good enough for me. (Tangentially - HOORAY FOR "DOCTOR WHO" NEWS!!!!)

A quick word - As with many announcements concerning "Doctor Who," this change-up has been met with, shall we say, immaturity, hatred and blatant stupidity.  People, we don't even know the new companion's name, let alone what kind of character she is, how she's being written, her backstory - hell, we don't even know what planet the girl's from!  So, everyone who's getting their G-strings in a knot and carping about how she's going to be horrible for Reasons X, Y and Z, may I respectfully request that you bug off?  If you're upset about how the Moff has hinted that Amy and Rory are going to depart, that's one thing (Spoilers: It doesn't look good for Team Pond - but that could be Moffat messing with our heads. Again).  But don't take it out on the lady that's coming in after them before she's even filmed a single scene!

For a laugh - here's something someone put together a while ago in response to people bemoaning how various changes had "killed" Doctor Who in the past.  I think we're going to be okay.

Bottom Line: Jenna Coleman's excited, Moffat's excited, I'm excited.  Autumn can't come soon enough!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Preemptive Critic - Snow White Times Two

Back when I was doing my undergrad at Utah State University, I wrote a bi-weekly column for The Utah Statesman (it wasn't anything too special - social commentary on current events.  Kind of boring).  A small group of my colleagues also wrote a column to go in the Entertainment section called "The Preemptive Critics."  This column reviewed movies on the basis of having only seen the trailers, TV spots, posters and other advertising - but without having actually seen the movies or any other kind of reviews.  It was touted as a purely knee-jerk reaction to the movie, but it was a clever (and cheap) way to provide content for the newspaper.

Now, you've probably noticed how anemic my postings have been of late.  In my defense, I'm too broke to go see movies in the theaters (and I have zero time), there are no TV shows worth reviewing (wait - this just in - Doctor Who is still not on) and I'm not delving into politics here (nope, none of those shenanigans, thank you).  But I've had a couple of ideas lately and bringing back "The Preemptive Critic" is one of them (just the one Critic, mind you.  This blog has always been a one-girl operation).  I have a few other ideas, but I will go into them another time.  So, for today, I present

The Preemptive Critic: Snow White and the Huntsman

<a href='' target='_new' title='Snow White And The Huntsman: exclusive full-length trailer' >Video: Snow White And The Huntsman: exclusive full-length trailer</a>

Okay, so my initial reaction to hearing that Kristen "Bella the Emotionless Sea Cucumber" Stewart was in this movie put me off of ever seeing it.  However, in this trailer she actually came off as being invested in her character and I'm actually willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in this case (in her performance in "Twilight," it could be a case of the original source material being complete and utter crap).  Plus, I have a fondness for classic fairy tale retellings and I think "Snow White" could pull off the Epic Badass Action Fantasy schtick much better than "Alice in Wonderland" did (though why the costume department insists on putting a female action hero in plate armor is anyone's guess.  Maybe it's to appease the militant feminists or something, but I think it looks stupid. She's a princess, for cripes' sake!  They didn't shove Susan and Lucy Pevensie into armor and they went into battle just fine).

Oh, and Chris Hemsworth's in this movie. YES, PLEASE!

I am preemptively intrigued by this movie and will likely see it at the dollar theater.  If I have nothing better to do with myself.

With that said - there is another "Snow White" retelling being released this year (how 'bout that?), so it makes sense to also bring you

The Preemptive Critic: Mirror Mirror

By definition, Julia Roberts is annoying.  And she's never the character she's playing.  She's always Julia Roberts in some fancy get-up playing alongside a bunch of people who are actually in-character.  While this tries to put Snow White into the action girl hero-mode, but whenever you have to explicitly state "I'm not a typical fairy-tale princess because I'm not going to wait around for a prince to save me," you've pulled me out of the story and into some After-School Special Message and I really hate that.  If you really are the lady-action-hero, don't sit around and lecture me about it - GO DO SOMETHING! (argh!)  Oh and the slapstick takes away from any kind of serious credibility I was willing to lend to your story.  "The Princess Bride" and "Shrek" can do fairy tale comedy - but those are original stories taking elements of fairy tales and putting them into a comedy.  Making an already-established fairy tale funny just doesn't work.  Sorry.

I preemptively hate this movie.

(Huh, I favor the movie with the Emotionless Sea Cucumber over the movie with the Established Beautiful Person Who Happens to Be An Actress That Everyone Loves. Go figure.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Something Cheerful to Brighten Your Day

Now, I'm no licensed professional (re: people who majored in music and drama in college and who have been in cat food commercials since they were in diapers and Who Know Everything There Is To Know About Performing Arts And Their Expertise Must Not Be Questioned By The Unwashed Rabble), but since I found Tiffany Alvord on YouTube, I've made it a point to seek out the rest of her stuff.  One reason is that when I was in high school, I dabbled in music a bit and took voice lessons.  Now, I wasn't as good as those people who were musically inclined from the womb, but I did all right.  But I remember one thing my voice teacher told me - I could not practice a song that was originally sung by a male singer because of octaves and pitch and something else that I don't remember.

My problem with that - most female singers sing songs about romantic mush-crap or about breaking up and killing the guy that broke their heart.  That may be fine for a while, but it gets old. Fast. Plus, the songs I like tend to be things like OneRepublic and Coldplay and The Killers - alternative music that has some pretty unique lyrics and are just fun to sing.  Take "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay - it's about the monarchies of the past (mainly European) becoming obsolete because historical events have made them so.  "Human" by The Killers is about taking off from what you've known all your life and deciding what kind of person you're going to be.  The the second verse is actually quite profound (and the music video has so much pretty in it - pretty kitties, pretty Monument Valley, pretty Brandon Flowers...) Those are just a few examples of songs that I like to sing and it'd be cool to see a female singer or group do something like that.  Tiffany Alvord's starting to do that with her covers of various artists and I like it and I hope she keeps doing it.  Maybe she'll get her own record deal and do original songs. You never know.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tribute to Andrew Breitbart - Relentless and Brave

The big news today is that Andrew Breitbart has passed away.  To say this was unexpected is an understatement - it took me all day to finally process the news enough to post about it.

In true Andrew Breitbart fashion, here's his CPAC speech from last month.  I know it's going to tweak off the leftists out there and that's why I'm posting it.  And in a way, his experiences are very similar to mine. Enjoy.

Breitbart showed us conservatives that we don't have to put up with the crap some on the left throw at us (and it gets thrown a lot - believe me).  We don't have to stand back and be ~*~nice~*~ while the other side can call us names and attack our beliefs.  We can go on the offensive and call them out on their BS (about time, too).  He was a pitbull when it came to uncovering corruption and double-standards and it was an honor to have him on our side.  My prayers go out to his family, friends and associates.