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The Hunger Games – Beyond the Hype

March 26, 2012
Hunger Games - Bow + Arrow

The Hunger Games - Worth the hype?

With the amount of hype behind The Hunger Games, it was hard to fill its own shoes.  A unique story line goes a long way to making this movie worth watching.  Did it fill the shoes?  Depends on how much hype you read.

The movie was actually quite good if you managed to go into it with no expectations.  The characters are like-able, the premise is unique and the action scenes definitely draw you in.  I picture Suzanne Collins (the author) sitting down to think about what would happen if all the worlds reality TV shows were combined into one and run by Adolf Hitler (which, as it turns out, is almost true).  The premise definitely has a spark of contemporary TV in it, but they did a great job turning it into its own theme that succeeds at avoiding the copy-cat genre.

Do you remember the day in Jr. High English when you learned the word “denouement”?  Neither do the writers.  I haven’t read the book, but the movie ends in a way that just screams “We’re going to sell you the sequel!!”  Sell me the DVD.  Sell me the Video on Demand download.  Sell me the T-shirt.  But don’t sell me the next movie, while I’m trying to enjoy this one.  Without trying to give too much away, the ending really cheapened it for me.  They were a little too focused on generating revenue from the next revision and not focused enough on the post-climax of what was otherwise a good movie.

I hate it when I love a movie until the last 20 seconds.

Meteor – Mini-series or Harbinger of Future NBC Ratings?

July 21, 2009

NBC recently aired a mini-series about a cataclysmic meteor collision entitled, well, Meteor.  A meteor is headed toward earth — this sounds like science meets explosions.  How could I not enjoy this?  On top of that, it stars Christopher Lloyd and Jason Alexander.  Great cast.  Cool-enough premise.  I sat back ready to be awed, amazed and entertained.  Unfortunately, Meteor doesn’t exactly shower down entertainment.

In holding with DVDCorral-style reviews, I will try to avoid any spoilers while giving you as much information about the movie as possible.

Oh, there was plenty of awe.  I sat back in awe of what a colossal disaster Meteor was.  Amazement?  You bet — I’m amazed that something with a good cast could be such a terrible flop.  Alright, enough blasting Meteor.  Let’s discuss how it missed the mark so badly.

First, there is a premise in Scifi that some aspects of it must be believable.  This is why shows like Star Trek were able to hold viewers for decades and why we can’t even remember the names of movies that don’t make us believe.  One of my favorite examples of this was Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars book series (soon to be a movie).  The initial premise was that a man shows up on Mars and is able to breathe there.  After that, no more faith – just science.  John Carter has super-Martian abilities since he grew up in Earth’s (greater) gravity.  He can run faster, jump higher, etc.  You’ll have to take a leap on the first step, but after that everything not only makes logical sense, but is also believable.

This is the first premise where this movie fails.  In this one 3-hour mini-series, “the unlikely” merely becomes “the predictable”.  Meteor is not a world of SciFi/Action, it is a world where nothing but Murphy’s Law reigns supreme.  Once you realize that, all of the surprise is gone.  Every moment of possible suspense in this mini-series is as predictable as the death of each spurious red-shirted character on Star Trek — each of them fades away as quickly as they surfaced.

Next, imagine you’re watching the movie Armageddon and the creep from I Know What You Did Last Summer shows up.  It doesn’t really fit the plot (ok, sorry, that was an understatement — apparently I’m running out of hyperbole here).  It’s just strange, a little annoying, and definitely distracting.  At least it would be distracting if there were more of a plot to begin with.  Oh, thankfully they removed the hook so you can keep trying to figure out what movie this character has been extracted from.

Finally, we bring in the absolute worst element of Star Wars.  Let me clarify.  In the first episode of Star Wars, A New Hope, the rebels blow up the Death Star.  The Empire then does something very creative — they build another death star.  Every time we fix a problem, the exact same problem resurfaces with a new disguise.  I lost count of how many aborted count-downs there were.  Each time they are ready to blow up the meteor they come up with a new reason to wait at the last second.  Yawn.

Believe it or not, there were some redeeming qualities in a movie this bad.  There were some good actors who did exactly what we expect out of them.  Jason Alexander does a great job as an Astro-physicist and I never once thought I was watching Seinfeld.  Several of the lesser known actors also did a great job, so overall I was impressed with the acting.  The effects were also pretty good for a mini-series, though some scenes were a little dark watching it on Hulu.com.  It is possible that was just related to video quality, however, and not necessarily to production.

There is a human element that is sometimes forgotten in SciFi/Action movies, but it wasn’t lost here.  For each major event the fallout can be seen among people and their reactions.  In a real disaster, this is the magnifying effect that is really seen in people.  Those who are truly good people and think on their feet quickly become heroes.  There are always a few people who try to take advantage of the situation and cause a nightmare for everyone else.  Some even begin to react emotionally only to settle into their true selves as the need arises.  Meteor did a great job of adding this human element to an otherwise pending disaster reaching terminal velocity.

I often wonder how NBC’s ratings could be so bad.  They have good shows like Chuck… which got pushed out a year and a half.  NBC is certainly the late night leader with Jay Leno on the Tonight Sh– I’m sorry, I forgot they fired Jay and replaced him with Conan.  Now this?  Maybe Meteor is just another example of NBC’s ability to crater in the face of certain success.

Gran Torino Review

July 2, 2009
Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino

Eastwood in Gran Torino

The movie is over.  The credits are over.  I haven’t moved.  I can’t move.

Sometimes a movie hits you from an angle you didn’t see coming and you can’t do anything but stare… soaking it all in.  It wouldn’t be the first time a Clint Eastwood film struck hard.  Million Dollar Baby was an intense movie — lit with passion, but rushing with emotion.  There is certainly a different theme in the movie, but that same, well-developed plot carries the emotion high throughout the entire movie.

There is a certain passion that has been lacking in movies lately.  Some great special-effects movies have come out and even the occasional movie with a strong plot.  Gran Torino was a different kind of movie.  There is a constant building to the climax you are certain is coming.  Yet it is so elusive.  Small streams of thoughts and themes run through the movie, but you can’t quite put your finger on where it is going.  Yet each moment pulls you deeper into the character.  Not in the way you expected, not in a way that has become cliche… yet you are pulled in none the less.

Everything that had been setup in this movie is clearly pulled together in the ending.  It was like taking a trip down the Niagara River… blindfolded.  You know there’s a clear end coming and that it will be spectacular, you can even hear the rushing waters, but you’re not quite sure wher– and then it’s over.  The climax was everything I was expecting it to be and more and the denouement was perfect.  Somehow Eastwood managed to put magic in this movie that can usually only be found in a book.  It was truly breathtaking.

As usual, Eastwood was striking as an actor.  There were some other parts in the movie that could have been played better. There were also some issues with the audio.   I heard one viewer complaining that the sound track was too low, but personally I found it especially punchy.  It didn’t seem well mixed and it made the voices jump out too much which was occasionally a distraction from the movie itself.  I suppose if I didn’t listen in near-reference levels I may have found the same problem with the overall level not being loud enough.  I tend to listen to my music softly and my movies loud, however.

In all, the few technical issues with the movie were just minor distractions.  Those sensitive to language might want to know that it was rated “R” for some very strong language.  Other than that, I can’t find anything bad to say about the movie.  The plot was phenomenal, the directing was excellent, and finally — Wow.  When you see the movie, you’ll understand.

Gran Torino is now available from Amazon for Rent or Purchase.  I purchased this movie through Amazon and watched it on 100″ projection via Xbox360 and was very pleased with the quality of the Video on Demand.

Fireproof Review

June 1, 2009
Fireproof the Movie

Fireproof the Movie

This movie sat atop the Amazon best seller’s list for quite some time and I was curious to find out why. I have watched several of the “Left Behind” series and they were fine, but certainly not outstanding.  So, what made this movie so different that it was a best-seller.  In fact, it was produced on a budget of $500k and yet yielded over $33 Million at the box office.  Interested?  I was.

Since Sunday night is my time to stop working and watch a movie, I figured out what Online Movie to Watch with our browsing interface.  I found Fireproof and a few minutes later was watching it on my XBox / Home theatre gig.  As I kind of expected, the acting was a bit shoddy.  What I was really surpised by is how bad the directing was.  Finally, the script was sometimes tedious (to act/read), sometimes bulky and clunky, and sometimes so unnatural that it felt like the Anakin / Padme “Love Scene” in StarWars Episode II.  Despite all of that, I really enjoyed the movie.

I know, I know.  You’re not supposed to enjoy a movie with bad acting — especially for a former actor myself (nothing noteworthy).  Same goes for directing.  So what gives?  Honestly, the storyline in this movie was strong enough to carry it.  There have been a lot of plot-less movies coming out lately, and it was nice to finally watch something with a storyline that held my attention.

The movie centers around Caleb (Kirk Cameron) who is a firefighter in a failing marriage.  Cameron actually did a decent job in the movie, as did his character’s wife Catherine (Erin Bethea).  As you may have gathered from the press material, Fireproof draws a lot of similarities out of the firefighting career of Caleb and his marriage.  The process he takes to get there is what really draws you into the storyline.  Especially if you’re married, this movie has a good chance of hitting close to home.

While it wasn’t Ladder 49, it was definitely a movie that the whole family could safely enjoy.  Once you get past some of the finer points of producing a movie, the story line is enough to carry this one home.

The Reader Review – On Xbox via Amazon

May 4, 2009
The Reader Review

The Reader

With all the great reviews I had been hearing about The Reader, I thought it was time to watch for myself.  I try to keep Sunday nights chill and so I decided to buy a digital copy of the movie from Amazon.  Re-heating some Chinese food combined with a near-frozen bottle of IBC Rootbeer put me in the perfect place to watch The Reader, or so I thought.

It turns out, the best part of the whole night was watching an Amazon Digital Download from my Xbox360.  My primary PC is nowhere near my home theatre and I very much prefer to watch my movies in a room with over 1000 watts of Subwoofer and a 100″ screen.  That’s just me.  Thankfully after some simple instructions on the Amazon page, I was able to download it to my PC and stream it to my Xbox in the theatre.

Windows Media Player reports the file uses a resolution of 704×396, which seems a little odd since DVD quality is generally 720×480 (NTSC).  However, I watched the film without knowing this and judged it to be roughly DVD quality.  Given the resolution, it seems that was an accurate assessment.  For reference,  Star Trek VII: Generations which I also bought from Amazon, uses a resolution of 720×408.

As for the movie itself, it was somewhat of a deep movie, but with fewer twists and turns than I was expecting.  The timeline is what gives the movie intrigue.  It’s the first movie I know of that depicts Germany — from a simple citizen’s perspective — beginning pre-WWII and ending back in present time.

The character development was phenomenal and helped by the writing as well as the acting.  It is rare that a movie does such a good job of developing a character before revealing the intricacies of their role.  Developing the characters here was essential for the rest of the plot to unfold and to take the intended emotional grasp.  Unfortunately, the first 30 or 40 minutes of character development involved a lot of nudity.

That was probably the most disappointing part of the movie for me.  The movie was rated R by the MPAA “for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.”  It should have read “since everyone is naked for the first 45 minutes.”  Really, was that necessary?

It’s unfortunate, because it’s not every day that a movie has such solid character development with acting to go with it.  On top of that, it was set pre and post WWII and even tackled literacy as an issue.  Tackling big issues without being an after-school special is enough of a feat on its own these days.  The story did revolve around some bizarre character traits (I’ll use that to avoid any spoilers) and coupled with the nudity it really just detracted from the movie for me.

Overall, I’d have to give the movie a C-.  It’s too bad there were too many bits detracting from what otherwise could have been a great story.  If you’re looking for a family night flick, this is definitely not the one.

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