Saturday, November 30, 2013

This Girl is on Fire

She's just a girl, and she's on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway
She's living in a world, and it's on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away
If it wasn't for the fact that R&B diva Alicia Keys' album 'Girl on Fire' came out a full year to the day before 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' was released in theatres, its title track would have been the perfect anthem to this second installment of the popular Suzanne Collins YA trilogy, in which the lovely and talented Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as the Diana-esque archer Katniss Everdeen competing in the popular bloodsport known as 'The Hunger Games' held each year in the bleak and dystopian future world of Panem.
Just one year after co-winning the 74th annual 'Hunger Games' with her male counterpart and 'lover' Peeta Mellark representing District 12, Katniss and Peeta find themselves imperiled again when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) held the third 'Quarter Quell,' a once-in-25-years event when the powers-that-be can break tradition in the games and do whatever they want to "quell" the rebellious districts.  Oh, curse the gods that they just had to be winners of the 74th games!  At least Katniss and Peeta were more dignified and accepted their misfortune with a bit more tact than the District 7 tribute, Johanna Mason, portrayed with comedic effect by Jena Malone.
'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' is another crowd-pleaser packed with action and melodrama, even if not all of it came across entirely convincingly.  The contrived love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta "deepens," no doubt for the sake of swooning teenage hearts, and this second installment had more to do with surviving the deadly artificial environments and dangers thrown in by new Gamemaker Plutarch Heaventree (Philip Seymour Hoffman) than trying to kill each other for the entertainment of the masses.  There's more cooperation and teamwork in 'Catching Fire' among the various tributes than in the first film, as Katniss slowly realizes her true destiny, which becomes clear at the movie's abrupt and unresolved ending, to be concluded in the third and final installment  'Mockingjay.'
What makes this YA trilogy so appealing is that it's a timeless story of good versus evil, much like 'Star Wars' and 'The Lord of the Rings.'  The world of 'The Hunger Games' is contrasted in stark black and white with no moral ambiguity.  Katniss Everdeen is not only a symbol against tyranny and oppression, a beacon of hope in a world of despair for many, but also represents the archetypal post-modern heroine, one who wields her bow and arrows with as much dexterity, skill and efficiency as Buffy with her signature wooden stake.

Grade: A

For my take on the first installment, here it is:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thor: The Dark Elf World

Of all the Marvel superheroes I've known reading comic books as a kid, Thor is probably one of my least favorite.  He's like a cheesy, badly dressed Viking wannabe with a big stupid hammer.  I mean, what's up with that?  So what if he's a Norse god?  He has little personality and always seems stiff.  Lame.  I'll take Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, Daredevil, and even Hulk over him any day.
Well, all I can say is that the two Thor movies have totally changed my views on the Son of Odin.  Thor is noble, tough, principled, strong willed, and romantic, with all the knightly virtues of King Arthur's court.  In 'Thor: The Dark World,' Thor's home world Asgard faces its gravest threat as the banished Dark Elf king Malekith returns to wreak vengeance and to destroy the Nine Worlds with the power of the Aether during the once-in-five millennia cosmic event known as the Convergence.
Never mind that I still have trouble seeing Natalie Portman as a brilliant Astrophysicist, even though she is one of the brightest actresses in Hollywood, or that Kat Dennings with her street-smart sarcasm as her intern can give an exposition on dark matter for that matter, because 'Thor: The Dark World' is another entertaining thrill-ride from Marvel Studios.  And somehow, strangely, the Thor movies managed to smoothly and effortlessly bring two disparate and seemingly incompatible genres, Fantasy and Science Fiction, into perfect 'Convergence.'  Imagine Lucas and Jackson collaborate on something called 'Star Wars of the Rings,' if you will.

Grade: A-

Ender's Endgame

Humanity's very survival is at stake in the big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card's thought-provoking  1985 tale about kids trained and programmed to become military strategists and cold-hearted killers.  While the book poses the question: "Is it right to lose our humanity in order to save humanity?" the movie makes no such philosophical pretenses, aiming to simply give us a thrilling sci-fi crowd-pleaser centered around its angst-ridden but likeable protagonist, Andrew 'Ender' Wiggins.
Played by Asa Butterfield, the willowy Ender is portrayed as a vulnerable and conflicted young man who feels the weight of saving the world on his tiny shoulders.   Of course, that is precisely because this is what he and his fellow cadets were told by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), the commanding officer of the Battle School in which Ender and many others are enrolled.  Ender soon outshines all the rest as he proves to be not only a prodigy in the Art of War but also deceptively adept at personal survival against the predations of bullies and jealous classmates.
As Ender feels increasingly out-of-touch with his own emotions in his rigid military surroundings, he thinks of his dear sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) to get back on track, demanding that he be able to send messages to her.  Because in 'Ender's Game,' genocidal war is no more than a virtual symphony depicted on glitzy neon screens of a massive multi-player video game with Ender as the conductor.  In fact, you can't tell what is simulation and what is real.  And therein lies the kicker.
Grade: B