Movie Review: Catching Fire

So this is the second Monday that I’ve done a movie review. As much as I’d love to make Movie Mondays a thing, I just don’t see movies all that much. Oh well. Maybe someday?  If I start watching more movies?

On to the review.

Catching Fire Movie

I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this movie. I loved how they did The Hunger Games (you can see my review for the first movie here) and thought it was probably the best book-to-movie adaptation I had ever seen. Could they pull that off twice?

Yes. Yes they can.

Really, there is only one slightly negative thing I can say about this movie, and it really isn’t a complaint as much as just a comment. In the first movie, I had a hard time remembering that they cut anything. It felt completely seamless. In Catching Fire, I could feel that there were a few things missing. A few places felt a little bit rushed. But really, that was the only thing. They still told the story very well and edited down the manuscript into a well written screenplay that still conveyed the same tension and drama as the book. In short, I got the same feeling watching the movie as I did reading the book, which is always the best compliment that I can give a movie like this.

The acting was amazing, just like last time. Jennifer Lawrence. Oh my goodness. She was BORN to play Katniss. She just gets it! She gives Katniss so much depth, with strength and toughness, but also with vulnerability. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth also did well, but my favorite casting will always and forever be Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. They were wonderful and steal every scene they are in.

On the Capitol side, we have Donald Southerland as President Snow, who is suitably sinister in every way, and Stanley Tucci as Cesar Flickerman, who is hilarious in his over-the-top-ness. Seriously, how does he smile like that!

The new Tributes were likewise wonderful. Sam Claflin was a great choice as Finnick. Jena Malone kicked butt as Joanna. Lynn Cohen will BREAK YOUR HEART as Mags.

If you are a fan of the books, and you were a fan of the first movie, you need to go and see this movie right now. It is absolutely wonderful, so wonderful that I saw it twice opening weekend. Get thee to the theater! Now!

Movie Review: Ender’s Game

This weekend, my husband and I decided to go to the movies. I mentioned a while back that I had some misgivings about going to see Ender’s Game. I still feel conflicted, due to Orson Scott Card’s recent (and not so recent) inflamatory comments, but in the end, I decided to go see it.

enders_game_ver11_xlgI’ve been a fan of this book ever since I was in middle school, so not seeing the movie felt wrong too. Between these mixed feelings, and the nervousness I always get when one of my favorite books gets turned into a movie, AND the fact that I ended up sitting way too close to the screen and that always gives me a little bit of motion sickness . . . I was a bit of a mess.

But anyway, on with the review. I will start off with my complaints, ending with the good stuff. I’m also writing this assuming that you have read the book, so there might be a few minor spoilers

Bad Stuff

1. Ender Wiggin is huge. Not huge in the sense that he’s a big kid (he’s actually quite scrawny), but he’s really tall in the movie. In the book, he was always portrayed as one of the youngest kids to ever be made commander, so he’s always smaller than the other kids. It’s a big deal. Everyone else towers over Ender, especially as he quickly moves through the ranks. In the movie, Ender is taller than most of the kids around. Not a big criticism, but still, it was a bit strange.

2. Ender Wiggin is old. Hard to say this when you’re talking about an actor who is only sixteen (and probably only looks about fourteen or so), but when the character is only ages five through ten years old in the book, then fourteen looks old. Granted, in the book, Ender doesn’t act like a ten year old. He always sounds much older, so seeing him as a teenager wasn’t too much of a stretch. Again, a minor complaint, but still. He should have been a kid, not a teenager.

3. Slight romantic leanings. It was very slight, but enough that it got on my nerves a little bit. There were a few scenes where it seemed like they were pushing for Ender and Petra to have some sort of relationship. In the book they are friends and that’s it, mostly because Ender is quite a bit younger than Petra is. Also, in the book, again, Ender is a small child. Girls should still be icky.

4. Bean as a launchy. This bothered me more than it probably should, but in the movie, Bean is part of Ender’s launch group. They are peers before they are ever commander/soldier. I don’t know why this bothered me, because it did give Bean more screen time. But it felt wrong.

And . . . those are really my only complaints. None of them are really that distracting. On to the good stuff.

Good Stuff

1. Battle School. Holy crap, did it look awesome! Every time they showed it floating in orbit over the Earth, I got chills, with it’s circular spinning rings, the battle room at the center.

Actually, I should just say that all the special effects were pretty spectacular.

2. The Battle Room. It was stunning. The way they did the special effects with the zero gravity battles was amazing. I have no idea how they did it, but they did it well. I did not expect the walls of the battle room to be transparent. I always pictured them as being opaque, since they were able to control the light during battles to change the set up and the challenges presented. With the Earth right there below them, it is always illuminated. But whatever, it still looked really cool.

3. Casting. Let’s do this one by one, because I didn’t have any complaints here at all.

  • Asa Butterfield – While I thought he was too old and too tall, otherwise he was the perfect Ender. Strong, yet vulnerable. He was really good at showing Ender’s mental state, which is always shaky given the pressure he’s under, and yet always keeping that resolve to go on. He doesn’t look like a hero, but he’s exactly what they needed.
  • Harrison Ford – I was excited about this from the first time I heard about it. He was great as Graff. This is a difficult character. You know he is purposefully putting Ender in more and more difficult situations, and yet you know that he is also trying to do what is best for humanity. You may not like Graff, but you can’t hate him. Harrison Ford pulls off this balance perfectly.
  • Viola Davis and Nonso Anozie – Playing Anderson and Dap respectively, they were both not what I expected, but both brilliant. Dap was much more aggressive in the movie than he is in the book, but you could also see that he cared about these kids. I did not expect Anderson to be played by a woman – I always pictured the character as a man – but the book never specifies. Viola Davis is a great counterpoint to Harrison Ford as a more compassionate voice for Ender, even though she gets overruled.
  • Moises Arias – This was a standout performance to me. They combined Ender’s time Salamander and Rat Army, and also combined the characters of Bonzo Madrid and Rose the Nose into a Bonzo who is competitive to the point of madness and has a cruel, ruthless streak that shows the extreme of what the IF is doing to these kids.
  • All the other Battle School kids – Aramis Knight as Bean, Hailee Steinfeld as Petra, Suraj Partha as Alai, Conor Carroll as Bernard, Khylin Rhambo as Dink – they were all really good. I may not have liked the changes they made with Petra or Bean (or the fact that they completely minimized Dink’s role), the kids themselves were wonderful. And Bean was adorable, the smart aleck he is.

4. The Command School simulations. These were nothing like I expected at all. They were even better. I always pictured Ender looking at a large screen while directing the others in battle. I did not expect the entire room to be a 3D projection of the battle, with ships moving all around them. It was absolutely amazing, and easy to see how a commander could be overwhelmed and come close to the breaking point.

5. The Ending. I will not give away the ending. I will just say this. They kept the integrity of the ending of the book in the movie. I wish I knew someone who hadn’t read the book who will go see the movie so I can see if it’s as shocking in the movie when you aren’t expecting it. Hey, if you go see the movie and you haven’t read the book, let me know what you thought about the ending! Everyone I know has read the book, so they can’t help me here.

So overall, the movie was really, really good. Sure, they had to shorten things and combine things to fit the book into movie parameters, but they did it well. They kept the original heart of the story, and that’s always the main thing I care about when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. The question is still there – did the end justify the means? Did the fact that Graff helped save mankind justify what he did to Ender and the rest of the kids at Battle School? The book, and by extension the movie, doesn’t answer that, but it does make you think. If you are a fan of the book, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed, since we have been waiting decades for this. They did a good job.

Movie Review – The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

I will start off this review by saying that there will be MAJOR spoilers, both for the book and the movie in this review. Consider yourself warned.

The_Mortal_Instruments_-_City_of_Bones_PosterI went to see the movie this past weekend with my mom, since she’s the one who got me to read these books in the first place. I was mostly optimistic – even though I’m pretty critical with movie adaptations, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I had pretty high expectations for this one – I am a big fan of the books- but the movie fell pretty far short of them. For the sake of trying to end on a high note, I will start off with my complaints and end with what I thought they did well.

The Bad

  • As far as changes between the book and the movie, there were way too many of them. I accept that there has to be changes, but some of them made absolutely no sense. There was a new element added where Clary starts drawing this symbol over and over again to illustrate that the spell that repressed her memories of the Shadowhunters is weakening. I guess they did it to have some sort of visual representation of the fact, but it just came across as being a little weird. Also, when Clary and Simon enter the Pandemonium club, it’s the first time they had ever been there, whereas in the book, it was some place they went all the time. Clary was drawn to that place because there was usually Downworlder activity going on there.
  • Magnus Bane. I love me some Magnus Bane, but the portrayal in this movie was only so-so. Which is unfortunate, since he’s such an important and interesting character in the books. He really fell flat, and I don’t know whether it was because of the actor or because of the direction. He was way too serious. Magnus in the books is always joking at the Shadowhunters’ expense. He had very little personality in the movie, which was very disappointing.
  • Isabelle was way, way too nice. In the books, she is contemptuous of pretty much everyone except for the Shadowhunters. In the movie, she is encouraging Simon to come with her and help her with things. Huh? She’s supposed to look down on him because he is a Mundane and therefore useless in her eyes.
  • The dialogue. I know Cassandra Clare didn’t have the opportunity to write the screenplay, and I have no idea if she was even interested in doing so. But one of the things that make her books so much fun is that the serious action is cut with this clever, quippy, snarky dialogue. There were a couple of tiny flashes of it here and there in the movie, but not much. No where near enough.
  • Valentine’s. Usually I’m not too concerned if you change a character’s appearance. So what if movie Harry Potter had blue eyes instead of green? Big deal. But with Valentine, it was a really bad choice. In the book, Valentine has blond hair and looks very angelic. He is very cultured and urbane and has a way of sounding very reasonable even when he’s suggesting the most atrocious things. I pictured someone similar to Lucius Malfoy (in face Jason Issacs would have been perfect for this role). Instead, the movie gave us this dark, creepy biker looking guy with braids in his hair who snarled everything he said. Bleh.
  • The “Jace and Clary are siblings” plot line was absolutely destroyed. I don’t know why they did this. In the book, Valentine tells Jace that he is his father, which makes it so much worse when you find out that he’s Clary’s father as well. Jace and Clary are in love (although they don’t fully realize it) and hearing that they are actually siblings is devastating. You spend a good portion of the series thinking that they are doomed. In the movie, the audience finds out straight away that this story is a lie. Even though Jace and Clary still don’t know, it takes that added layer of tension and strips it off completely. Again, no reason to do this.

The Good

  • For the most part, I liked the casting (with the exception of Magnus, Valentine and Hodge). I thought Lily Collins did a wonderful job as Clary. Lena Headly and Aidan Turner also did well as Jocelyn and Luke. I didn’t completely buy Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace, but I think part of that was because his usually snarky dialogue had been gutted. Movie Jace didn’t have a lot of personality, and that definitely wasn’t Jamie’s fault. He wasn’t given enough to work with. He and Lily had really nice chemistry, so I can forgive the rest. I especially liked Robert Sheehan as Simon – one of my favorite characters in the books and he did it quite well.
  • I liked the fact that you got to see a little bit of Clary’s life with her mother before her mother is kidnapped. In the books, you don’t get to see what happened when she was taken, but you do in the movie. (Was it just me, or did anyone else think of the Disney movie Tangled during her fight scene? She did great, but all I could think of was, “Frying pans! Who knew, right!”)
  • The CGI was pretty spectacular. The demons in particular were disgusting and scary and perfect. The scene where Clary has to fight the one in her apartment after her mom disappeared was very good, as was the one possessing Madame Dorthea. I also liked the look of the portal (although they messed up how they were used) and the effect of when the Mortal Cup was removed from the Tarot Card.
  • I want to go to the Institute. Or rather, I just want to go into the Institute’s library. Holy cow, that was awesome!
  • The journey into the City of Bones was pretty scary. I liked the Silent Brothers, although I thought their voices were a little too heavy. The ritual where they tried to tap into Clary’s memories was chilling and very well done.
  • The scene in the greenhouse was beautiful. The flowers were just right and it lent just the right atmosphere for Jace and Clary’s romantic scene.
  • The fight scenes were very well choreographed. I particularly liked how Isabelle’s whip looked on film.

I will probably go see this movie again, just to try and absorb more of it. There was a lot to see. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, but I did leave the theater feeling like they had really missed some opportunities. The movie could have been a lot better, but I guess it could have been worse.

And for anyone interested, on Sunday, Bibliophiles Anonymous will also upload our review. You think I was critical? You have no idea. Be sure to check it out!

I’m not a hero . . .

the-hobbit-movie-poster-bilbo-jackson

I’m going on an adventure!

After many years of waiting, of fan petitions, of hysteria, The Hobbit is here, folks!

I will start off by saying that I was a little concerned when I heard they were making three movies. I loved Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and it made sense that it was made into three separate films. They were three separate books, with a very deep, rich storyline. The Hobbit is only one book, and a much simpler one at that. Splitting it into three movies sounded crazy, even though they are bringing in more material from other books and fleshing out things that only get mentioned in a sentence or two. As I settled into my chair in the theater and the familiar Howard Shore music swept over me, all concerns faded away. It didn’t matter if the movies were perfect. We were headed back to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth again. It was like visiting an old friend.

The movie begins with two actors from the original trilogy, Ian Holm as older Bilbo Baggins and Elijah Wood as Frodo. It warmed my heart just to see those two! It is just before Bilbo’s big party and Bilbo is writing his book about his adventures. I had to chuckle just a little when Frodo says he’s going to go read in the woods and wait for Gandalf, since of course, that’s how Fellowship of the Ring opens. Bilbo tells the story of Erebor, the dwarf kingdom that was taken over by Smaug the Terrible, a large dragon. This shows one of Peter Jackson’s strengths – balancing the sweeping epic story with smaller, more personal scenes. It’s a necessary skill for this story and he is a master at it.

Then we go back in time to when Bilbo was a younger, more carefree hobbit. Gandalf shows up and asks if he’s interested in coming on an adventure. Bilbo doesn’t think anyone in the Shire is interested in adventures, least of all him. And then the dwarves show up. Dwalin, Balin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifor, Bofor, Bombar, Nori, Dori, and Ori. And of course, Thorin Oakenshield, grandson of the last King of Erebor. Here’s where I think the movie improves on the book. When I first read The Hobbit, I didn’t care for it. The story seemed silly. I didn’t care about a bunch of dwarves who just want to get their gold back. Who cares if they get their gold back? But Jackson has changed it slightly. Getting the gold back is just a side benefit. What these dwarves want is to reclaim their homeland of Erebor. Suddenly, the stakes seem much higher.

Casting – let’s start with the obvious – Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. What perfect casting! Freeman plays perfectly this everyday man who is thrown into extraordinary events. He is self-deprecating, yet stands up for what he believes in. Returning actors from the first trilogy all sparkle, most notably Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Hugo Weaving as Elrond. My new fictional crush, however, is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. He is dark and brooding and everything you’d expect of a young prince trying to take his people home.

The-Hobbit-Movie-Poster-Thorin-the-hobbit-33042342-649-960

What’s not to like?

The movie was fun, if a bit long. They could have edited a bit more, but truthfully, I didn’t care. It was so much fun visiting Middle Earth again. So even if you are skeptical of this movie, go see it. Don’t get caught up in any of the hype or criticism. Just enjoy a rollicking romp through fantasy.

Do you hear the people sing?

les-mis-poster-244I had mentioned in a previous post that I was really excited to see the movie version of Les Miserables, which opened on Christmas eve. I should have been more specific – I was nervous as all get out. They were taking something that I love, and have loved since I was twelve years old, and adapting it to the big screen. Hollywood has been hit and miss with major musical adaptations, and I was terrified that they were going to mess this up. After all, even if there is a remake, it wouldn’t be for decades. They have one shot and this was it.

They didn’t disappoint. Or at least, they didn’t disappoint much.

Spoilers abound, so read with caution if you haven’t seen this yet. And if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for!

The Good (which was most everything):

  • Hugh Jackman – Holy Moses, what a performance! I knew he could sing and had major Broadway theater cred, but he was even better than I expected him to be. The transformation from bitter convict to loving father was believable and beautiful to see. I had a minor complaint about his rendition of “Bring Him Home,” but I think it was because they pitched the song too high. If they had brought it down a few keys, I think it would have been better. But I’ve also been spoiled, hearing such phenoms like Colm Wilkinson and Alfie Boe. While Jackman’s vocal chops aren’t quite up to theirs, he was still pretty damn good. “Bring Him Home” was the absolute only criticism I had of him.
  • Speaking of Colm Wilkinson – how awesome was it that they honored the original Jean Valjean by casting him as the Bishop who helps save Valjean’s soul! Even though I knew he was going to be there, I still got a huge smile on my face as soon as he was on screen.
  • Anne Hathaway and the entire Fantine storyline – Wow. Just wow. I thought they might go easy on this one. Fantine’s story is horrific and I do think that sometimes it is softened a bit in the stage play. Not so here. The injustice of her being thrown out of the factory and all the things she has to do later (selling everything she has, including her hair and teeth) was nothing compared to how they portrayed her becoming a prostitute. And moving the song “I Dreamed A Dream” to the point after the first time she has to sell her body is like a visceral punch in the gut. Anne Hathaway will break your heart. She is that good.
  • Other casting triumphs – let’s start with the kids. Everyone has seen Isabelle Allen on the posters as little Cosette. She is perfect in the movie. “Castle on a Cloud” is both adorable and heartbreaking, as it should be. Daniel Huttlestone is also well cast as the impish Gavroche. Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter made excellent Thenardiers, as I expected them too. They were actually even better than I thought they would be and brought much needed comedy relief. And how happy was I to see Samantha Barks knock it out of the park as Eponine! I knew she could sing it, since she was in the 25th anniversary concert, but this really showed off her acting abilities, which were phenomenal.
  • Singing live – they made a big deal out of this during all the press leading up to the movie release. The actors would be singing live. Not recording the songs on a sound stage somewhere and then throwing them into the finished product. They were all mic’d up and recorded as they were acting, just like it would be done if it were the stage show. I wasn’t sure how this would work, since it’s never been done this way before, but the difference is astounding. I hope they do all movie musicals like this from now on.
  • The cinematography was incredible. I loved how they shot this thing.
  • Bit parts – it was nice to see veterans from the London and Broadway stage cropping up in bit parts throughout the movie, most notably Hadley Fraser, Frances Ruffelle, and Killian Donnelly. I’m sure there were more, but I’ll have to go see it again to find all of them. Oh darn. 🙂

The Not-So-Good:

  • Russell Crowe – Sigh. I knew I would be disappointed in this one and I was. I’ve never really cared for Russell Crowe as an actor, but I at least recognized his talent. He didn’t seem to be doing much acting here. I didn’t see the intensity that Javert usually has, which made the intense conflict he has at the end (which leads to his suicide) seem lackluster at best. And his singing just wasn’t there. Again, I’ve been spoiled, listening to such amazing Javerts as Philip Quast and Norm Lewis. It made me a little bit irritated (or a lot) that Hadley Fraser, who has played Javert in London brilliantly, had to be relegated to a bit part when he would have been a million times better as Javert in this film. I know they cast Russell Crowe for the name recognition, but still. It made me sad.
  • Amanda Seyfried – I thought she was okay as Cosette acting-wise, but her singing was all over the place, with weird, forced sounding vibrato. It made me glad that Cosette doesn’t have as much to sing as other characters do, but at least she had the range to hit the high notes.

So yeah, a bunch of things I loved about this and really only two complaints. Not too bad, Hollywood. Not too bad. If you are a fan of the stage musical, or heck, even if you aren’t, go see Les Miserables. It was done really well. Definitely given the treatment it deserves.

Bad Guys vs. Good Guys

So one of the best things about having kids is getting to go to kid movies without looking out of place. I saw this preview when we went to see Brave and, since I have always enjoyed video games, I thought it looked like fun. I am speaking of the movie Wreck-It Ralph.

The movie had me from the first scene, which is an overview of Ralph’s life. He is the bad guy in the video game “Fix-It Felix” and as such, he spends every day trying to destroy the building that was built over his old home. The residents of the building are all terrified of him and hero worship Felix, the good guy of the game who fixes everything the Ralph destroys. But this isn’t the first scene. The scene is Ralph telling his story to an AA style support group called Bad Anon. All of our favorite villains are there – Bowser, Zombies, Satan (“it’s pronounced ‘Say-teen'” – that made me laugh so hard!), Robotnik, and even the Pac-Man ghosts.

Ralph is tired of being the bad guy and decides to try and win a hero medal to prove himself to the residents of the “Fix-It Felix” game. I loved how the characters could travel to different games in the arcade through a train system that meets at “Game Central Station,” conveniently located in a power strip. Several things will make any classic gamer laugh. Like having Sonic the Hedgehog giving safety ads. Seeing the cast of Q-Bert sitting off to the side with a sign that says, “Game unplugged. Homeless. Please help.” This is another place where I laughed out loud. How often do you get a Q-Bert reference?

So Ralph ends up in a game called “Hero’s Duty” and tries to win. It’s one of those violent shoot-em-up games and stars Jane Lynch as the superior officer who leads the player through the battle. She is hilarious as always. Ralph gets his medal, but then looses it when he accidentally ends up in a game called “Sugar Rush,” a racing game through a candy filled world. There he meets Vanellope, a young girl who wants to race but can’t because she’s a glitch and could ruin the game. All of the racers, including King Candy, do everything possible to keep her out. She and Ralph become friends and agree to help each other, but Ralph accidentally brought one of the evil bug robots from “Hero’s Duty” with him, and it threatens the whole arcade.

I thought this movie was a lot of fun and really clever. Lots of action, maybe a few too many potty jokes, but over all enjoyable. The kids really liked it as well. Here’s the trailer for it:

Writing Challenge Update (almost there!):

28692 / 30000
(95.64%)

Everything today is thoroughly modern . . .

This weekend, I was bopping around YouTube (as I often do) in search of clips from my favorite musicals. I came across a user who had the entire movie version of a show that I haven’t seen in years – Thoroughly Modern Millie. The movie version stars Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing (just to name a few) and it is just so adorable! I challenge anyone to watch it and not grin the whole time.

The story follows Millie, a young woman in the 1920’s. She has come to New York to become a modern woman. Her ultimate goal? To find a job working for a good looking, single boss and marry him. I guess that was modern thinking for women back then. Along the way, she meets Jimmy, a young man who she almost immediately falls for, Miss Dorothy, a young lady fresh off the train who is even more naive than Millie is, and Muzzy, a wealthy woman who lives her life to the fullest.

These characters are wrapped around a slight mystery about girls from the hotel where Millie lives disappearing suddenly with no word. The show is very politically INcorrect (sorry to any Chinese-Americans who watch it – they’re the very stereotypical bad guys in this), but the goofiness of the rest of the show is worth it. It’s a whole lot of fun.

A few years ago, there was a revival of the show on Broadway. Here’s a video of their performance on the Tony Awards, featuring Sutton Foster (who I adore) in the title role. Enjoy!