“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” Review

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Dir: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland

Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler as always*

 

I’ll admit, I didn’t like The Hunger Games and I read the book (yes I know, “the book is always better” blah blah blah).  I had nothing against anybody in the movie but the movie to me was a bit on the boring side and some of the changes they made were a bit iffy to me.  But, that is the nature of Hollywood adaptations.  So saying Catching Fire is better than The Hunger Games for me isn’t really saying that much.  However, it is a better movie than the first and the performances this time around better too.

The movie starts off showing Katniss (Lawrence) hasn’t forgotten her time during The Games right before President Snow (Sutherland) shows up at her house and asks her if she’s ready to be in a real war and ready to lose everyone she cares about die.  Snow knows that Katniss risking her life to save her and Peeta (Hutcherson) lives has started a revolution that he doesn’t want.  Snow then puts forth The Quarter Quell.  The Quarter Quell puts all past victors from past Hunger Games into the games. Snow sees this as an opportunity to not only get rid of the other victors but also squash a rebellion, and even get rid of Katniss.

The first half sets up our past characters in Katniss, Peeta, Gale (Hemsworth), Haymitch (Harrelson), even Effie (Banks) and Cinna (Kravitz) although their characters have very small roles compared to the newcomers.  Speaking of them, our main new characters include the Capital’s favorite Finnick Odair (Claflin), Johanna Manson (Malone), and Beetee (Wright).  All have their moments but Claflin and Malone stick out and are the better of the new additions that also include the new Games Maker, Plutarch Heavensbee played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Hoffman nearly steals the show next to the always reliable Stanley Tucci playing energetic TV host Caesar Flickerman.

The movie does have a different feel to it and it’s because of the director change from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence.  Lawrence’s world is cold and hopeless which fits how everyone from Katniss to the other victors feel about the situation.  However, one of the things that Lawrence keeps, that isn’t for the better, is the certain beat the movie has before it gets to the area.  It is structured that way in the book but the way Katniss and Peeta scope out the new competitors in the training session and their individual tests does feel like a “been there done that” feel.

Once we get to the area, that’s where things start to gear up.  The action starts right away (and shaky cam free in case you were wondering) and a bit more violent than then first movie but again it does make sense since the stakes are bigger this time around and it’s no longer “a game.” Even when the action is at a standstill the characters are being developed so we can care about them, which I know sounds weird but considering this is a movie about people killing each other left and right this kind of stuff matters.

Acting wise, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of the show.  Her performance ranges all over the place from heroic to vulnerable to scared and proves that his role is hers and hers alone.  Hutcherson has more to do this time around bringing empathy and being the mouth-piece in a sense. Sutherland’s President Snow is a little more menacing this time around.  He’s still the man behind the curtain but he does everything he can to make sure Katniss doesn’t survive.

All in all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a better outing from the first movie along with the acting and action.  The set up for the next two movies, Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2, should get fans of the book and non-fans excited.  But again, for me, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first movie but this was an improvement.

 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

3.5 out of 5

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‘Thor: The Dark World’ Review

Dir: Alan Taylor

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins

Synopsis: Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler review as always.  But I will say this, as with every Marvel movie, STAY FOR THE CREDITS! There will be a mid-credits and after credits scene.  Also if you watch the movie in 3D, you will get to see a 5 minutes preview of Captain America: The Winter Soldier*

 

Thor was probably the biggest question mark as to whether fans would understand the character enough to sit and watch a movie based on him.  Some were surprised when they saw the movie on how good it was (or bad for others) but once every one knew what the character was about and saw him team up with their other heroes they embraced him with open arms.  This continues most of the new found love for the character and changes things up.

The film kicks off with a prologue that finds Thor’s grandfather doing battle with an army of Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston), an angry elf who is hellbent on plunging the world into darkness with a powerful weapon called The Aether.  Thor’s grandfather ends up getting the Aether and hides it causing Malekith and a small portion of his army to hide.  Fast forward to present day, and Thor (Hemsworth) with Sif (Alexander) and The Warriors Three; Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi, who replaces Josh Dallas) are busy cleaning up chaos in the nine realms.  Even though Thor is winning the adoration of his people and being groomed to be the new king, his heart is still with Jane Foster (Portman).

Speaking of Jane, she’s in London dealing with the fact that Thor hasn’t been around to see her since the events of the first movie.  She and Darcy (Dennings) find some weird going-ons and eventually leads to Malekith being awaken.  Of course while all that is going on, Loki (Hiddleston) is being held prisoner in the dungeons of Asgard for his crimes in Thor and The Avengers by Odin (Hopkins).

Bringing in Alan Taylor as the new director does give the movie a whole new look.  Not to knock on Kenneth Branagh but Taylor brings in that Game of Thrones style that works since the movie does go into the city life of Asgard, something the first movie didn’t do.  The movie’s battle scenes also have a different feel that really work for this movie.

The first half of Thor: The Dark World, is really all about the production design.  It’s an interesting blend of medieval style and futuristic space weapons that surprisingly works.  It also gives us the focal point of the movie about the Convergence, an event that has all the nine realms aligning and where the Aether is the strongest for Malekith to use.

The second half is where all the stakes are raised and where most of the pay offs are.  Thor has no choice but to free Loki and work with him to stop Malekith from using the Aether.  Of course seeing Thor and Loki together are the best scenes in the movie.  We’ve already seen their relationship develop in two movies now and when they come together it instantly clicks and makes sense.  However, we see some of the strains and some acceptances in their relationship that kind of make you wish they put them together sooner.

The movie does have its flaws. Some scenes probably over stay their welcomes just a tad long and there seemed to be a set up for a love triangle that doesn’t really play out in the end that well (if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll know it when you see it).  I’m pretty sure people will be a bit disappointed that there isn’t enough Loki in the movie but lets remember, this is a Thor movie and not a Loki movie.  Don’t get me wrong I love what Hiddleston has done with Loki and I love how he plays the character he’s not the focal point in the movie.

As for Hemsworth, he has truly made Thor his own.  Hemsworth gives Thor the perfect balance of arrogance – without being cocky – humility and maturely.  He knows what he wants and who he loves and will do anything to protect them even if it means he has to sacrifice himself.  Thor is a man of action and here he proves it.

In connection with that some of the supporting characters don’t really get to do much.  The Warriors Three become the Warriors Two with Fandral and Volstagg getting more screen time.  Sif shows off more her badassery this time but other than that she almost does nothing else as does Idris Elba as Heimdall, he actually gets to do some action this time around.  Stellan Skarsgard takes an interesting turn with his Dr. Erik Selvig character.  Rene Russo as Thor and Loki’s mother Frigga gets some cool moments that I would have loved to see more of and Hopkins as Odin this time around really just walks and sits around and doesn’t capture the powerful ruler he was in the first movie.

On the villain side, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays Algrim/Kurse is intense and a bit terrifying at times and is the right hand man of Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith.  Eccleston is under some heavy makeup and at times can come off as terrifying and a real threat but other times he’s just an obstacle in the way.

One of the things that really took me by surprise is the humor in the movie.  Don’t let this surprise you since Marvel has been injecting more humor in their movies as of late.  However, the humor doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the movie.  There are many big dramatic moments in the movie that make this movie really work along side the humor.

All in all, Thor: The Dark World is a fun, humor, and action filled sequel that, although its small flaws, does make me want to see more Thor adventures in the future.

 

Thor: The Dark World

4 out of 5

‘Ender’s Game’ Review

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Dir: Gavin Hood

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Haille Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, and Harrison Ford

Synopsis: The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack. Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler review as always.*

Based on the popular Orson Scott Card 1985 sci-fi novel of the same name the movie takes place 50 years after earth suffered an attack from the ‘Formics’ – insect-like aliens. Their efforts failed, but millions died during the invasion, and the planet has been awaiting the Formics’ return ever since.  The government decides that children are our best chance of survival, training them to take charge of the planet’s International Fleet. The reason is because kids “don’t think the way we think,” they operate at a higher speed, and can handle technology and deal with tremendous amounts of information without getting burnt out.

This is where we see Ender (Butterfield), who has vast intelligence and maturity but he’s also a very troubled boy. From being bullied for being a Third, at this time families are limited to two children, by school mates and his older brother and having both selfless and selfish. Ender, according to Colonel Graff (Ford), is the last and only hope to save the Earth from a possible future attack from the Formics. Graff then gets Ender to practice to become the leader he thinks Ender can be and sends him to Battle School.

The Battle School, a huge space station that orbits the planet, has our young cast, or Launchies as their called, raised on war games and taught the laws of engagement to prepare for the war.  The school’s commander, Graff, along with Major Anderson (Davis) see Ender’s true potential and leads some back and forth between the two on how far they are pushing him and if he’s truly the one to stop the war.

It’s at the school where we see Graff do whatever he think is necessary to make sure the students, especially Ender, are ready for the war. Even if it means treating them like they’re not children and that’s where Graff and Anderson bump heads and ultimately shows us how different they view the war.

The big highlight of the Battle School section of the movie is the Battle Room. A giant glass sphere where war simulations are played out in zero-gravity and where the children divided up into teams to wage war against each other.   Through these games Ender and his fellow cadets learn tactics and strategy and again learn to become leaders and killers. The zero-gravity scenes look a bit cheesy at first especially when it’s only one of two people but once we see the room filled with everyone flying around and battling it they become great scenes to see.

Unlike my other reviews, I don’t be talking about the final act of the movie to save you from nothing anything. Needless to say, it will make question everything you’ve seen.

As far as the acting goes, this is Asa Butterfield’s show. He does a great job of balancing the emotions and the intensity of Ender as he’s put through the ringer with all the tests and showing how effective he can be as a leader. Harrison Ford’s Graff is a puppet master of sorts, coming off as caring but then completely changes once the stakes get raised. Butterfield and Ford, next to Davis, have the strongest performances in the movie and leads to a great scene between the two at the very end.

The rest of the cast does okay with their roles but nothing really great. Hailee Steinfield’s sharp-shooting cadet Petra has more to do in the movie than she does in the book and Moises Arias miss-cast as bully Bonzo kind of fits but really does nothing. Ben Kingsley as former war hero Mazer Rackham really does nothing for the movie when he pops up in the third act.  Abigail Breslin, who plays Ender’s sister Valentine, probably does the best job of the supporting cast (next to Davis and Ford of course). Her compassion for her brother plays a factor on who Ender by the end.

You may have noticed I’ve only about one reference to the book. I do believe you shouldn’t compare the movie to the book too much. The movie does make changes from the book. Valentine and Peter (Ender’s older brother played by Jimmy Pinchak) are very downplayed, with Peter only getting two scenes and Valentine have a handful. That being said the ending is different. There are some minor changes and things that are not even mentioned; Thirds, the governments, the aliens are given a name, the Mind Game (which doesn’t really work) and more importantly the ages of the characters. I personally didn’t mind so much of the changes but I know some fans will.

All in all, Ender’s Game is a pretty descent adaptation. Despite its changes from the book it still manages to work in the end. The effects are great and acting by Butterfield and Ford makes the message at the end mean more.

Ender’s Game

4 out of 5