Movie Review: The Hunger Games

I’ve read the Hunger Games books and I thought they were really good.  When I heard that they were making a movie based on the book I was like, meh, I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD.  Then I saw who they cast as Katniss: Jennifer Lawrence.  If you’ve ever seen Winter’s Bone, then you know Jennifer can pull off Katniss Everdeen.  That moved the Hunger Games movie right up into the “must see” category.

Warning: spoilers ahead.  I don’t give away anything, but I do mention certain scenes.

Last Saturday night my wife Michelle and I headed out to the theatre to watch The Hunger Games.  I had already read a review of the movie that said it was good, but I also heard/read that a lot of people didn’t like the whole shaky cam effect.  My wife loathes the shaky cam.  I think she nearly tossed her biscuits when we watched Cloverfield.  I don’t mind the shaky cam too much, as long as it isn’t distracting.  15 minutes into the movie and the shaky cam thing was definitely becoming a problem.  The camera is bouncing all over the place even when there is no action happening.  Thankfully the camera does calm down a bit as the movie progresses.

The first 45 minutes of the movie are spent providing back story to the games and developing the characters.  The first thing that struck me as strange is how District 12 is so much more realistic than what I imagined while reading the books, realistic as in “normal”, not science-fictiony like I thought it would be.  I imagined that the city of District 12 was enclosed by this huge wall and that you’d see peacekeepers dressed in black with visors covering their eyes.  If you’ve ever played Half Life 2…that’s what I imagined.  When you see the movie it seems more like a regular ol’ run down city surrounded by a regular ol’ electric fence with peacekeepers in really white outfits just standing around.  I think the movie could have done a better job of portraying a city that has endured many, many years of persecution and struggles.  That being said, Katniss is believable as the older sister trying to keep her family alive in a city that is closely monitored and controlled by the government.

One of my favorite scenes early on is the reaping where all the citizens of District 12 have to gather to watch the tributes from their district be selected.  Everyone is dressed in their finest clothes with their hair neatly done, as if they were actually looking forward to the occasion (which of course they are not).  The reaping does seem rushed, but I’m sure it seemed rushed to those who have read the book.  Those who hadn’t read the book are probably wondering when the heck the games are going to start.

Following the reaping the tributes from District 12 are whisked off to the capital.  On the way we meet Haymitch played by Woody Harrelson.  I had a hard time picturing Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, but I have to admit that he played the part really well.  We also meet Effie Trinket played by Elizabeth Banks.  She did well, but I think it would have been cool to see someone like Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter movies) play the part.  The interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) were great.  They got his smile just right :-).  The lead up to the games was actually really well done and for the most part stayed true to the book.

The Hunger Games event itself was interesting.  The movie review I had read complained that the fight scenes were nearly removed from the movie in order to keep the rating at PG-13.  There were a couple somewhat graphic scenes, but you really didn’t see much blood and definitely no gore.  What was really annoying was how the fight scenes were super blurry and zoomed in.  Most of the time you couldn’t tell what was happening during the close-ups.

There is a pretty involved love story in The Hunger Games books that was likely very hard to adapt for the movie.  The movie hints at what is going on, but I imagine that the second movie is going to go into the whole love story much more.

Overall the movie was very well done.  The pacing felt a bit fast…I kind of wish there was another 30 minutes to the movie.  Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely fantastic and the rest of the cast was very good as well.  I assume they’ll make movies around the other 2 books as well…as long as Jennifer stays on as Katniss, they’ll be on my “must watch” list.

Movie Review: Criminal

I am fascinated by John C. Reilly.  I don’t know why, but I’m drawn to every movie he does, and he does a lot.  Most of his stuff is quirky and different, which is exactly what I like.  Have you seen Cyrus?  That’s the kind of movie I like him in.  I checked out Criminal hoping it would be one of his more interesting movies, but sadly it fell a bit short for me.

Criminal is a movie about two con artists who team up for a big score.  The story was plausible, but just not believable.  There are some twists in the movie that you might not see coming simply because it’s hard to keep track of who’s conning who half the time.

In addition to Reilly, the film stars Diego Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  They both did a great job, Gyllenhaal in particular was very believable playing her character.  I’d love to see more movies with Maggie in them, I really liked her in Stranger Than Fiction.

The YouTube trailer explains the whole plot pretty well:

Worth watching, but not something I’d watch again and I’ll probably completely forget about  this movie within the next two seconds…aaaaaand….done.

First Look: Letterboxd.com

UPDATE: I’m all out of invites :(

UPDATE 2: I have more invites!  Leave a comment if you want one.

Ever since Netflix decided to eliminate the ability to share and compare movie ratings with other members I’ve been on the lookout for a site that filled the void.  I’ve been patient and I think my patience is finally about to pay off.  A new site is due out soon called Letterboxd which allows you to rate and review movies, create movie lists, create a watch list, and follow your friends movie activity.

The design of the site is exceptional.  Nice dark background to contrast with the movie cover art.  Great use of fonts, great layout, just a really clean site.  The only part I don’t really like is that the default search is “add a film” instead of just a search…you have to toggle on the search box to do a basic search for a film or actor if you want to get to that item’s page.

I’ve started going through and rating all the movies I’ve seen and overall it’s pretty quick and easy. I think it’s strange that you can select “I like this movie” and then also apply a star rating…I’m wondering what the point is of the “I like this movie” button.  I found that there was a “Link to Netflix” button that used to say something about importing your ratings from Netflix, but when I got the button to work, all it did was allow me to jump over to Netflix from within a movie listing.  They’re still working on this feature, so I’m holding off on rating everything until I can try out that button again since I’ve rated so many movies on Netflix.

The lists are really useful…you can see lists like “Reddit top 150 films” or “IMDB top 250″.  This I think is the primary movie discovery feature.  What this site is really lacking is what Netflix has, a recommendation engine.  Some people like to work their way through the top 250 on IMDB, but I’m more interested in those hidden gems that never made it to the top the charts.  Netflix has an uncanny way of finding stuff I’m into and I would love to see that make it’s way over to Letterboxd.

The site also has a “People” section which lets you see what movies other people have reviewed.  It reminds me of that little section in the VHS rental place where the local critic would share their picks o’ the week.  If you happen to share their taste, you can follow that person and find new movies that way.  I’m currently following my friend Dan and I can see his recent reviews and ratings.  If I dig in a bit, I can look at all his ratings and sort by number of stars which is really nice.  Currently there is no way to recommend a movie to a friend or see what movies you might like that they’ve rated (like Netflix used to do), but some of that is on the development road map.

Overall the site seems really promising.  The biggest missing piece is the recommendation engine, but I’m sure that is not a simple task considering Netflix offered up a $1M prize to improve their recommendation algorithm.

Last but not least, I have a couple of invites to the site I’m all out of invites I have more invites!.  If you happen across my blog and want an invitation, just post a comment with your e-mail address.  I’ll updated this post when the 2 invites are gone.