We’re Painted Red To Fit Right In

[Radioactive – Imagine Dragons]

This will be my review of Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games film series. Needless to say, this will be rife with spoilers, both plot- and theme-wise.

When I saw the first movie, the aptly titled The Hunger Games, I had just finished reading the entire trilogy within a week, so everything was fresh in my mind. It also meant that I was caught up in the whirlwind of comparing everything to the book, while still reliving the great feeling that I got from reading a dramatic and action-packed series.

Today, I saw the movie having not really come in contact with the fictional world at all for at least a year. I’ve had one night when I came across a trailer, and realizing that I forgot what that trailer was about, I went and had a small peek through the corresponding chapter of the book. But, for the most part, I was coming at the movie with a fresh eye. I mean, obviously I remember the major plot points and deaths, but I’d forgotten a lot of the small things.

Most importantly, I’d forgotten about the themes which Suzanne Collins was probably going for. So, instead of the usual review of a film on its visual and storytelling merits (which I will still do, albeit in a cursory manner), I’ll also talk a bit about the film’s success in drawing out the themes of the series. Note that I’ll be writing with the assumption that you know about the series, and so I’ll be minimally explaining the world.

First of all, I have to say, the film was extremely long. I didn’t exactly keep time, but it took what felt like at least 20 minutes before the ball drops – that Katniss has to go back into the arena. I suppose, though, that that particular ball wasn’t exactly dropping out of the blue, but say for argument’s sake that someone was going in without a single clue, and without having seen the previous film, nor the trailers, they would definitely be wondering if this film was going to go anywhere before they’re treated to the meat of the story. But, I guess that was to be expected, considering that Catching Fire is the transitory middle book/film, which was instrumental in moving the characters and their motives from the passive and oppressed Districts of the first book to the full-on, world-upending rebellion in the third. There is a lot of ground to cover for this – a lot of character development which had to happen to get the viewers up to emotional speed. I can’t remember well, but I’m sure they cut down on a lot of content, yet still had me leaving the theater with a sore bum from sitting for so long.

In Catching Fire, the results of Katniss’ actions in the first film became apparent. What she half intended to be a method or survival and half intended to be a middle-finger to the Capitol (more precisely, to President Snow), was interpreted as an act of rebellion, and encouraged everyone else to do so, too. The film was rather clear in portraying Katniss as a girl who was still stuck in the unwanted role in a publicity game that had become her life the moment she volunteered as Tribute. All she wanted to do in District 11 was to make people feel better, but it directly resulted in the execution of an old man. Katniss said it best when she cried that she didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, but the fact was, someone did get hurt because of her. Her actions, her body, her life, was no longer her own. This is a theme that will continue even stronger in the next film(s). The film’s end alluded to this, but perhaps in a muffled manner – on the plane, or whatever it is, Katniss wakes up to see that Haymitch, Finnick (who at that point she wasn’t sure whether to trust) and Plutarch (who she definitely didn’t trust) were in cahoots. She was mortified that Haymitch betrayed her, only to be told that they’d all planned ABOUT her, WITHOUT her. This was somewhat overshadowed by the first realization that Katniss had also just lost Peeta, and then the secondary news that District 12 has been destroyed.

The idea that Katniss was no longer her own property seemed to have been a hit-and-miss in both movies, so far. The first movie, whether through time constraints or oversight, heavily omitted any explanation or clarification that the Games was a televised show. That, despite the grim and gory situation placed before her, Katniss was ultimately aΒ contestant on screen, waiting for those watching her to love her and help her. In this movie, it became somewhat more detailed that everything she did, or had to do, was for the camera – that she was a symbol, not just a person. I think that Effie’s lines helped, always reminding Katniss that she had to smile, that she had to be in love, and that she had to convince people that it was all real. Katniss had a personal motive to pretend the love-story was real, but I think the film missed her intelligence in working everything out without having it spelled out to her, too.

And Peeta, let’s not forget that sweet boy who Katniss didn’t deserve. I suppose it’s too early for the film to really delve into it, but it is true that Katniss doesn’t deserve, nor in fact, want, Peeta. Katniss’ heart never went to him the way it went to Gale, but the fact was, Katniss needed Peeta, and ultimately (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) that trumps her heart. Perhaps it’s a comment that in war, what we want isn’t what we should have. Katniss ends up with someone who she needed – a boy who loved and cared for her, even when he (ANOTHER MAJOR SPOILER) lost his grasp on any other reality. You may say that Katniss settled, but that’s not the point – Katniss, at the end of Mockingjay,Β needed to settle into something safe. Gale would never provide that, but Peeta could, in abundance. Again, this is something which I expect them to delve into in the following two-part installments, but it was nice to see them lightly touch on the topic in this installment.

The idea of rebellion is an obvious theme in the films, yet the execution of such rebellion in different characters reached different levels of success. Putting side the overt riots in the Districts, I want to concentrate on the actions of two Capitol characters, Effie and Cinna.

Effie’s transformation from a self-centered publicity agent to a person who genuinely cared about Katniss and Peeta wasn’t aimed to be subtle. Elizabeth Banks did an excellent job during the reaping scene for the Quarter Quell – one has to realize that her character was in the midst of emotional turmoil; grieving, raging yet terrified (not for herself) at the same time, all while on camera – and in subsequent scenes. The way that she portrayed Effie really shone the character’s determination to let Katniss and Peeta know that she felt the indignation of the situation as strongly as they did, in her own little ways. Putting aside makeup, lighting, and camera angles (areas about which I’m not yet knowledgeable enough to comment), the writing of her character was simple, and the delivery succinct.

Cinna, on the other hand, disappointed me. The book Cinna was a crafty, intelligent and kind designer, whose pride and skill in his work outshone the tyranny of the reason for his creations. Katniss resisted and hated him at the start, only to be taught that Cinna did not do his job because he wanted to doll up the lambs for slaughter, but rather do anything he could to give them a fighting chance. Cinna wasn’t just some Capitol lapdog with a makeup brush in his hand – he was an artist who had his own ideas, his own feelings about the life that was being led around him. The Mockingjay wedding dress was the epitome of his artistry, his swan-song (if I may) of his thoughts. It was supposed to be an elegant, subtle and wildly dangerous message that Cinna sent in the best way he could. It was supposed to be a metaphor, for as the dress burned a bright beacon for the rebellion, so too did the dying embers signify the last remaining moments of Cinna’s life; as the snow white dress melted away, surely Cinna resigned himself to a painful doom. But the pain of that moment, when the camera fell on Cinna for his bow, was lost to me.

I feel that my problem was with the editing of this scene. The acting, the script and the camera was spot on, but the editing (or, I suppose, direction) drew attention away from the significance of the moment. Similarly, the sound editing drew significance away from a tragic irony later on in the film, upon Mags’ death. Not a few minutes before, Finnick said that the sound of the cannons was like music to his ears, because it meant one less person out there to kill him. But as the poison fog was rolling in, and Mags leaped into her death to save the others, the sound of her death cannon was drowned out by the music score and all the noise happening on screen. Then, with all the commotion happening later, one never really had the time to properly digest how horrifyingly ironic it was for Finnick to hear the cannon sound upon his mentor’s death. If anything, Finnick seemed more affected by the Jabberjay aftermath (which was a good subtle setup for later), telling Katniss almost indifferently that Mags was going to die, anyway. Perhaps I interpreted the scene wrongly, but his actions in caring about his elderly mentor should have suggested some more weight in his words when he dismissed Mags’ death.

(I want to take a separate moment to mention how great Mags was, especially in that short footage of her volunteering as tribute. When Finnick showed the smallest of weaknesses hugging Mags, she pointed fervently at the camera, reminding him that they were back under scrutiny – but more importantly, that his relief that Annie was saved was a danger to both himself and Annie. They’re the little things which I was grateful the writers had painstakingly put in.)

My take away of this review is that Catching Fire was rather temperamental when it came to its success in the portrayal of the themes. Where it triumphed in showing personal rebellion in Effie, it missed the mark with Cinna. Where it took note of the small tragedies and details of Finnick’s love for Annie, it neglected to do the same for his love for Mags.

Finally, and this is probably more nitpicking than anything: I hope for a better, more rounded portrayal of Prim and Gale for movies 3 and 4. Gale’s tendency for action and war was shown but not elaborated upon in this film, and the efforts to mature Prim to (EXTREME SPOILER ALERT) set her up to volunteer for and die as a medic in the final moments of the saga resulted in an overly aloof and distant girl. Obviously, this film was more of a focus on the gathering forces for a revolution, so little side-character developments aren’t of importance, but it would have been nice to see Prim act a little reckless as a foreshadowing of her seemingly forgetting Katniss’ first sacrifice.

(If you can’t tell, I’ve always viewed Prim as a supreme idiot by the time of her death. I mean, it was a beautiful stroke of irony on Collins’ part, but it made me so frustrated.)

When I have the time, I’m going to go back and re-read the books again. I think it would give me fresh perspectives on both the films and the books, and then maybe I can do a re-write of this review if I deem it necessary (which I know it never is, because no one reads these).

Alex.

My baby don’t mess around

[Hey Ya! – Outkast]

Today we went to escape the heat by going to Chadstone for the whole day. Mela arrive late and sad because she accidentally slept in, and then had to leave her new puppy Meg (which I met yesterday, and whose love I will slowly but surely earn).

We had some coffee and then curry for lunch, then she felt sleepy so she lied on my lap to nap. I felt bored so I took out my phone, opened up the eReader, and popped my amazingly light phone on her amazingly flat forehead and read Sherlock Holmes.

When the people started to congregate around the foodcourt, and it became apparent that the seats needed to be vacated, I woke Mela up with my tactful and accidental voice-command program which, on loudspeaker, screamed right into her left eyeball: WHAT WOULD Β YOU LIKE TO DO?

We walked around for ages shopping, as I always do when I’m with her. She ended up buying a very nice tank top and a dress which we both nicknames Woodland Creature because it looks like what they would wear. When she was trying on the tank top, she was a bit iffy because she was worried how her arms looked in them, so I said through the changing door “if you say that one more time I will come in there and punch you.” I didn’t know a store assistant was right behind me and she laughed.

We got tickets to see Tintin in 2D, and had to switch seats three times cos our original seats sucked. I also managed to whinge some popcorn out of Mela, but it was so salty that we ended up eating only half and then cuddling in the over-aircon’d theater. The movie, dare I say, is astounding, and somewhat pioneering in terms of animation. The sheer detail that they paid attention to, like the way the hair blows in the wind, the expressions in the character’s eyes, the physics, and yet the limits they managed to stretch the suspension of belief with the action and the drama…all at the same time staying as true as they could to a 1940s cartoon series as they could.

After Tintin we visited Cindy at work, and I laughed when I saw she kept the sticker on her cap. Then we had dinner at the sushi train near JB, then went to say bye to Cindy before going home. Now, she’s playing guitar and singing while on mute, refusing to let me hear, and I wonder how her dog is…

Alex.

I am human and I need to be loved

[How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths]

I am running a bad habit of writing things once a week and recapping.

Last Friday, we caught up with Cathy, Jalex and Sheina for karaoke, and I brought along Mela to showcase. They were all very accepting of her, and when Mela went to the bathroom, they said to me very seriously “you better hold onto her!” Afterwards we went to hotpot with Mela’s friends in Box Hill, and the guys ensured that we ate our $25 dollars worth.

On Sunday I had my dreadful 9 am shift, which meant that I had to get up at 6 to catch the first train into the city. I pumped myself full of sugar and caffeine, and faced my morning shift – which was VERY relaxing, just very early – with the charisma and energy of a squirrel on speed. Went back to the Glen to hang out at EB Games with Mela in the last hour of her shift, then had lunch before heading off home.

On Monday, I went to Knox, as I always do, before Mela’s shift. SHE BROUGHT MY N3DS! She was originally going to make me wait until Christmas to have it but, what a nice girl! We walked around, ate food, then sort of just hung out in the library and I read my instruction manual cover to cover.

On Tuesday, we went to Chadstone to hang out with Jen (not mine, hers), and saw New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t BAD, but comparing it to Love Actually, it had its pretty fall-through moments. The storylines weren’t really explored enough, that it felt rushed, and there wasn’t this nice sweet ending. I did like that Zac Efron didn’t get the hot girl, but this sweet cute middle aged woman, and I did enjoy that some of the big names were just side characters – with the exception of Abigail I-forgot-her-last-name-the-girl-from-Little-Miss-Sunshine, whose awesome acting skills were stifled by her rigidly stupid role as an impressionable teenager, caked in makeup so she’d look like her “mom”, SJP – who, course, had years shaved off her character, being paired up with Josh Duhamel.

And, today, I went to Mela’s house to watch Love Actually and cuddle, before going back to Glen for her work. I got Mario Kart 7 3DS and my hand started cramping from playing it so hardcore.

Tomorrow is a rare day off – because it’s so hot and I’m starting to become short on cash – and the 2 days after that I have work, then it’s Christmas! This year I totally forgot to watch Lovely Complex. I should dig out the disks that I burned it onto and watch it ASAP!

Can’t wait til our own NYE.

Alex.

Hippo with a hernia

Today Mela and I went to see the Lion King 3D, and to our delight, we were the only ones in the theater.

Mela ran up to the front and danced around.

Then we watched the movie, and sang along loudly to every song – especially The Circle Of Life, the starting part. We also recited all the bits we knew, and hugged each other for comfort when (spoiler!) Mufasa died.

The 3D effects were good in the sense that mostly they were not intrusive, and if anything some of the majestic scenery were made even more breathtaking by its realness.

I’m really glad we were the only ones in the theater because it was great to be able to enjoy the movie at the top of our lungs. It felt like we were watching the movie at home, but with a huge screen.

Alex.

Keep it in the family

Today Mela and I went to see Crazy, Stupid Love together. It was the first time we went to see a movie together in the cinemas.

The movie was fantastic – and what else would you expect from Steve Carell? In an interview, he said that Ryan Gosling stole the show, but I think Carell still kept it his own. His comedic timing and facial expressions were still as on point as always. Julianne Moore kept up her end of the deal, portraying the infidel but regretting wife opposite Carell, mirroring his amazing skills. I have to say, though, spouse-wise, the chemistry between Fey and Carell in Date Night was much better.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s storyline was brought in almost as an afterthought – or so it appears at the start. But a twist in the plot – nothing Sixth Sense, don’t worry – saw that it was still brought together in a neat little bundle. Still, I feel that the structure could have inserted Stone and Gosling’s storyline a lot sooner, but as it were, it wouldn’t have made sense to do so.

It was a sweet movie, with the obligatory heartstring tugging declaration of love. The difference to the usual rom-com is that the main declaration was done indirectly over the phone in a manner more fitting for a couple who’s been married for 25 years. Nonetheless, the second declaration was done in front of a huge crowd with the cheesy “I should have fought for you” idea – I suppose there has to be a cliche moment somewhere.

In all, it was a very enjoyable film where the subplots were all brought together in one big climax. I would highly recommend seeing it, although perhaps not on the Xtremescreen – it costs too much.

Alex.

At the end of the day…

I went to Mela’s house today, and we watched the HIMYM season premier and Treasure Planet. I very much enjoyed the shows/movie…and having someone to cuddle up with when watching it. Especially the loving aww-moments.

Whew, I am now a disgusting human being.

On the bus home, I was the only passenger, and the driver was talking to me, asking me what I did at uni. He asked me if it was my own motivation or my parents’. I said mine. We both agreed that all the prestige and title means nothing if you’re unhappy – at the end of the day, you want to be happy for yourself, not because you were trying to do it for someone else.

Alex.

I can see your heart…

Today I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1, obviously), so I will warn you, I WILL be talking about the movie in here, so don’t read on if you don’t want spoilers.

Seriously.

To start with, I was already aware of the scene where we see Hermione wipe her parents’ memories. The thing was, I felt that it was going to be really heart-wrenching when I first saw a few screen caps of the scene, but they placed the scene really early on the in the movie, and it wasn’t as filled out as I thought it would be. It was still pretty sad though, and for people who didn’t know about the scene, it would have been a pretty heart-string-tugging start to the movie.

The wedding scene was cut really short – Harry wasn’t in disguise, and Viktor Krum wasn’t there at all – but I supposed that had to be done for timing purposes. Also, because it was a movie, it wasn’t logically possible to show the entire piece that Doge wrote on Dumbledore, so if you hadn’t read the book, you’d have to assume half the things written about Dumbledore – and you didn’t know about the baby sister at all. Aberforth was mentioned once, very briefly.

Kreacher’s warming up towards Harry wasn’t really shown at all, which I found a bit of a pity because I rather liked the Kreacher arc. Grimmauld’s place was altogether a very short sequence, put in only to let Harry know that the real locket is somewhere else, and to be a segue to the Ministry story. I was really disappointed, because I sort of liked the homely belonging that Grimmauld’s place actually provided, however short.

The Ministry scenes were changed quite a lot, in the sense that little details were taken out. When I read the book, the Ministry scenes were REALLY tense and scary, but translated to film, the whole sequence was actually funny – minus the parts after they were discovered, of course. While it was nice to be able to laugh a little, seeing as the rest of the movie is pretty dark, I thought that it was a pity they had to give up such a tense situation for comic relief. I suppose really what I wanted was Grimmauld’s place to be put in more, and make that amusing and funny, and then have a really tense Ministry sequence.

Speaking of funny and amusing, every-time there was a Ron/Hermione moment – and there were quite a lot of them – there was a group of girls behind me that ‘aww’d. It was kind of annoying.

The Ron/Hermione scenes themselves were not annoying. The one thing great about film is that you can actually see all the cutesy little things they do. In the diner, Ron tenderly wiped away a bit of blood on Hermione’s face, and later on in the tent, Hermione was teaching Ron the piano, and the expression on Ron’s face when he watches Hermione play was adorable. While Rowling wrote these in very well, it was even better to see it enacted.

Translation of words to screen isn’t easy – I mean, we’ve seen the Harry Potter movies flounder a bit in the previous movies, by literally putting stuff in the books onto the screen. There are a lot of things that writing just couldn’t bring out, and Rowling stayed away from them. So the small dance-scene between Harry and Hermione, even though it was awkward dancing and kind of out of place, I think worked really well. It’s a really sad and depressing mood that Ron left when he first stormed out, and everyone was feeling a bit sad at the time because Ron and Harry had a fight – I know I was really uneasy when Ron was angry at Harry in GoF – so having a giggle at Daniel’s atrocious dancing skills actually put a smile on both Hermione and the audience’s face.

One other Harry/Hermione moment that made my jaw drop was the make-out that they had in the vision the locket showed Ron. Noticeably naked (or at least semi naked, smoke covered the rest), Harry and Hermione was shown in a tight embrace and…really going at it. In the story, we all know that Harry and Hermione didn’t kiss, because it was just a vision. But in order to film it, Daniel and Emma actually had to…go at it. And they were GOING AT IT. The cinema was in a bit of a stunned silence, privileged usually to a sudden sex scene.

The one problem I had with film representations of a book is that sudden visions and flashbacks or whatever, those get really hard to see. The first time round, you’d have to look really carefully for the clues and pictures, so if you miss stuff, you’ll have to wait til you can see it again. It makes sense for the flashes to be hard to be seen, obviously, because they’re flashes, but it’s hard on the audience to take in everything suddenly.

And, of course, the Dobby death scene. I was very aware that the scene was written and filmed with the audience knowing that Dobby will die in mind. The way that it is executed completely brings to attention the very moment when Dobby will be killed – from the comic relief he brings when he shows up at the Malfoy Mansion, all the way up to the slow motion blade flying towards the group and Dobby Apparating out.

I won’t lie, I still cried when Dobby died – and even a bit before that. But I didn’t cry as hard when Harry buried Dobby as I did in the book – I think the emotional hit was more in the moment up to Dobby’s death than the burial for the film, which is fine and all, but I would have liked the film burial to be as hard-hitting as the book’s.

In fact, I think I first teared up when George got his ear blown off, and Lupin pushed Harry to the wall to make sure he was the real deal. The panic and desperation in Lupin’s actions, and the anger and vast sadness in Harry’s face was enough to really nail home how dangerous their mission was.

It was disappointing when the credits started rolling – I sort of wanted just a bit more for Part 1. I’d always thought that Harry getting all the information out of Ollivander and the goblin would be the end – sort of like a cliffhanger for what Harry will do next – will be the end of Part 1. I wonder how they’ll tie up Harry getting information as the beginning of a film? There is no way they’d do something as cheesy as “Previously, on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows…”

And, of course, as always, there are people who don’t have a clue what is going on. When the lights came on, a girl sitting in front of me said out loud, “that was alright, except I didn’t like Dobby. I was rather glad he died.” The moment she said that, a dozen people around her gave her a look and Dani and I hissed, “SHUUUUUUUUN.”

So, my last word? Go see it.

Alex.

P.S. Can’t wait ’til July 2011! More Ginny/Neville/Luna scenes. And more tears, of course, because after that there really isn’t any more of the adventures.