Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.

At Worlds End is a 2007 swashbuckler fantasy film, and the last movie in the original Pirates trilogy, and an immediate sequel to Dead Man's Chest. If you remember the ending to that movie, then you should know that they killed the most popular character in the series and brought back the most definitely dead villain from Curse of the Black Pearl. Given what Hollywood has stooped to in the past to continue a series, this isn't the worst possible way to keep something going. Especially since they had a decent amount of foreshadowing to the twists.
Since Jack is dead and the Pearl has been sunk, the menace of Davy Jones has been running around the seas exterminating pirates. And apparently Jack is a member of the nine pirate lords, along with Barbossa. Barbossa brings in another of the pirate lords, Sao Feng to help find the entrance to Davy Jone's locker, where Jones keeps the people he's killed.
This raises the question as to why Jack and Barbossa are two of the nine pirate lords. Granted, you could just say they were in the right place at the right time, but that's just too much coincidence for two people to be named successors to two dying pirate lords, and also leads you to wonder why Jack didn't take Barbossa's piece of eight when he killed him in Curse of the Black Pearl. Unless this all happened between Curse and Chest. Knowing Disney it probably did and it was in a game or a novel that I didn't even know existed. Or I could just be trying to read too much into something that's trying to frame up more sweet action scenes for me to enjoy.
As far as the plot goes, it never really lost me anywhere. It got really contrived at points, but it's not like it took away from my enjoyment of the swashbuckling action and the humor of it all. I know that a massively complicated plot in a series like this essentially comes straight from nowhere, and I can see why a lot of people might not like that. It kind of muddled things for me, but I kind of liked it.
I know that plot points essentially come straight from nowhere and act like they've been there forever. Like the whole Pirate Lord thing, or the Brethren Council. Or for that matter, Barbossa being alive, why Tia Dalma, the random voodoo woman who happens to be an old friend of Jack is the woman that the Brethren Court imprisoned however many centuries before the events of any of the movies, Calypso. WHY is she Calypso? I guess it makes for a decently tight plot, and I've seen bigger coincidences in film history I suppose. Things that I haven't even addressed, and that get dismissed for the sake of the rest of the movie. Like A New Hope, or the first Pirates movie. There are many more, but I don't want to just fill space.
While At Worlds End's plot is so grandiose you'd think it was put together by George Lucas, it still doesn't take a lot away from the action and comedy. It's still heavy with all that makes it a good movie. Personally it's not how I would have handled it, but it still makes for a satisfying conclusion to the first trilogy. After the first two movies it makes for an extremely satisfying finisher to an epic series. While it's a little confusing, I'd still recommend watching it. It makes for an epic conclusion to the stories of Will and Elisabeth, and makes for a good continuation into the fourth movie.
And I guess you could say that it's similar to Return of the Jedi. It goes all out on everything. Special effects, the music, the action, the everything. I love it. It's still really great to watch and it holds up against a lot of movies that were made more recently with worse special effects and less cohesive plots. Not necessarily all in one movie, obviously. I haven't come across many like that in my film watching, but they exist.
All in all, I liked it. It's not as good as Curse, but it's still entertaining. I give it a 6.9* rating
Check back next week for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest came out in 2006 and is the sequel to 2003's hit, Curse of the Black Pearl. The cast of the last movie returns, with a few additions in the roles of Davy Jones and his crew.
Considering the fact that Disney made an entire sub-studio to release Tron under, the level of dark imagery contained within is surprising, due to the fact that they value their family friendly image so much.
But they did give us The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Snow White, three movies which are even now, still unsettling to me.
So maybe it's not a big surprise that it contains a man with an octopus instead of a face and his crew of men-turned sea-monsters (Which are still some of the most bizarre looking animals in existence) as well as cannibals, a cancerous and herniated heart, and a kraken that makes all classical depictions look like plush Cthulu's.
So the plot is as follows: Jack, following the events of the first movie has gone missing, and even though Will Turner and Elisabeth Swann were cleared of all charges at the end of the first movie, a greedy member of the East India Trading Company, Lord Cutler Beckett blackmails them into stealing Jack's compass. The compass points to what you most wish to have, and everyone knows how valuable that would be, even these days. So Will, noble as he is decides to risk his life to save his lady love and get the compass.
He runs into Jack and the crew of the Black Pearl on an island inhabited with cannibals, who think that Jack is a god.
So far, I liked it. It's still intriguing, it's still funny and still has entertaining action. Jack is still as goofy and unpredictable as ever, Will is still too noble for his own good and Elisabeth still holds her own against the world.
The new character, Davy Jones, does his job of being the most intimidating entity in the entire movie very well.
Despite the title, the quest for the chest in question doesn't start for a while, and the way they switch tracks is masterfully executed. I have to say, the special effects are still as astounding as they were in the first movie. From beginning to end in fact. While the movie does end on a massive cliffhanger, it's still pretty cool to watch, and it left me wondering what was going to happen in the next movie.
Despite Davy Jones being completely CGI, I would have sworn that it was a great makeup job enhance by CG. It's astounding how realistic the effects looked in it even in 2006. Which makes it all the more intolerable when movies these days have horrible CGI compared to that of, for instance, the first Pirates movie. Considering how a lot of movies special effects don't hold up over time, this is a good example of how to put your effects together. Now, the plot is again something you could almost ignore entirely. The thing is, I didn't. I actually really enjoyed it. For some reason I found Dead Man's Chests' plot compelling enough that there wasn't a single moment of the movie that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Same as with Curse of the Black Pearl. There's a strange air about the Pirates movies that makes them so easy to enjoy everything that they are. I doubt I've had this much fun watching any other series of movies. Never once did it seem like a bloated mess, nor did it seem a chore to watch. It's just as good as the first movie, and in some ways may even be better. The villains are fun to hate, the heroes are fun to love and Jack is still as ambiguous a character as ever. He's essentially the definition of Chaotic Neutral and embodies that with everything he does. The fact that he's self-serving and greedy makes him a good counterpoint to Will Turner, an upstanding and noble man who dares to challenge everything corrupt and evil that crosses his path. For that matter, Jack also makes a good counterpart to Elisabeth, someone who is just as brave as Will is, but is completely willing to use subterfuge to her advantage. So we have Will, who is lawful good. Elisabeth, who is Chaotic Good, Jack, who is Chaotic Neutral, and a cast of villains whose personalities tend to border on Chaotic Evil, but whose actions can range from Lawful Evil to Neutral Good, which leads to an interesting story.
All in all, I really liked watching it and I loved writing about it. It was so much fun to remember it all, and I'm looking forward to writing up the next two. I give Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest an 8.7* rating.
If you want, you can check out my review of Curse of the Black Pearl.
Check out for my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Hunger Games: The Movie.

I haven't been very subtle about how I consider 2012 a really great year for movies, nor have I held anything back about how much I liked The Hunger Games, so it was only inevitable that I would write about the movies.
I'm gonna be discussing spoilers here, so if you care you can go read the books, then watch the movie, and then come back. Don't worry, I'll still be here.
First impressions were that they skipped a lot. Be ready for me to go on at length about the cuts they made.
I actually wound up recording a commentary track with my family, because we'd all read the book and we were running on at length about the changes they'd made. For a two hour, twenty minute movie it seems like it moved really fast. A little too fast. They hacked out all of the things that made the world come alive within the first twenty minutes of the movie. It starts off with some text that tells you sort of why The Games happen, but that's pretty much it. What I really hated about the first twenty minutes was the shaky-cam. It's not repeated throughout the rest of the movie, so it leads to a tone of inconsistency that's spread throughout the whole film.
Again, within the first twenty minutes there was a lot of world-building that got sliced. At the market, they cut out the Mayors daughter and just had a merchant giving Katniss the pin. That cuts out a whole character, and makes zero sense in the context of the world. Why would you just give away a solid-gold pin when you could probably get several meals out of it? And Gale is made out to be a jerk in a way that completely compromises his character. Although, there were a few scenes in the beginning that were close to the book. Unfortunately, they cut out Katniss's inner monologue and that removes most of the dialogue that fleshes the reality of the situation out. Some things can be explained through showing, not telling, but they didn't bother showing a lot of the things that got cut out. The fact that they cut out the mayor and his daughter means that the end of Catching Fire is going to have a lot less impact. The Harry Potter movies had this same problem, where they just started cutting things out irrespective of their relation to the plot. Considering this movie came out two whole years after Mockingjay hit the shelves that's just outright inexcusable.
A good example of a great adaptation is The Hobbit. They knew they couldn't fit it all into one movie, so they didn't bother to compress the plot any, and so far it's been much better for it. THIS IS FROM THE SAME COMPANY. Lionsgate made this movie, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. What is wrong with this picture? No seriously, I want to know what happened during the creation of this movie to make it come out so anemic? Were they trying to hook people on for Catching Fire and Mockingjay? If so, they didn't do a good job of it. If I'd paid money to see it I'd have been disappointed. It's not a bad movie by any means. It's got a strong soundtrack, great visual effects, and some decent acting in it. It's the direction and editing I have a problem with. The chariot scene was completely focused on Katniss and Peeta, and while that worked in the book, we're not seeing things from Katniss's perspective any more. They should have taken time to pan over every chariot and every contender in the Hunger Games. They had a great opportunity to show off some amazing costume design and the only time that we ever see any of the other contenders is a far-off shot where everyone looks like ants and a glace at the Careers after the scene was over, barely giving us a look at their Romanesque garb. Something else I need to mention is that the culture shock that Katniss and Peeta experience is reduced to one scene. I hear that they expanded upon that in the second movie, but that's a flimsy excuse. The culture shock was a major part of the plot, and by cutting it out they also cut out a fairly important character, and with her some crucial development for Katniss.
Not to mention that the film is padded up with pointless scenes that either ruin massive plot-points, or just waste time. How can a movie that's way too short be padded that much?
My dad said after we were done watching the movie that they could have easily just made a film about Katniss's life up until the reaping, and I'm heavily inclined to agree. They cut out so much in the beginning that they skimmed over why Katniss knew Peeta, relegating it to a pair of flashbacks that don't do much in the way of explaining what was going on, and also do a poor job of making them look like they're eleven. That's how old they were when Peeta gave Katniss, who was almost on the verge of starving to death several loaves of bread that he'd purposefully let fall into the fire so his mother would tell him to get rid of them.
Cutting out so much of Katniss's life means she comes off as kind of flat at times. It leaves us without knowledge of her motivations, and without context for a lot of actions. For instance, they didn't even mention that Katniss's mother went catatonic after her father's death, nor did they show that Peeta giving her the bread happened a while later. There's so much disconnect in the timeline that for all we know this could have taken place a week ago! Her mothers' mental breakdown is talked about once, in a throwaway line that makes no sense without knowing that her mother was catatonic for years on end when Katniss is talking to her mother and Prim before she and Peeta go off to Capitol. And they also cut out Peeta's father giving Katniss freshly baked cookies, and all of the scenes where she's questioning his motivations, although since this was all internal that's pretty much par for the course. There's a lot of things that could have been fixed by having Jennifer Lawrence do some kind of voice-over.
Speaking of removing context, Cinna had most of his screen-time cut, and what little he did get was left without Katniss thinking about what his motivations might be. He comes off as a nice enough guy, but not someone we should care about, which is inevitably going to lead to issues in the second movie. I've said this several times before, but removing Katniss's train of thought leads to her actions seeming a bit random at times. Again, Harry Potter had this same problem in the later movies. During the actual Games, they cut down the amount of time spent on survival and foraging, as well as quite a few of the action scenes as well, but to a lesser extent for the latter. Something I noticed throughout was that they all looked a little too well-fed for people who'd been starving for the better part of a week. It's not like a little bit of CGI and some makeup wouldn't have fixed that.
Now, the Reaping. It's taken me a while to get to it, but The Reaping is one of the most important scenes in the entire series, since it sets the whole story in motion. And they botched it. It didn't have the dense, surreal effect that the same scene in the book had. Some music and audio distortion could have fixed that. Or just straight-up audio distortion.
The time spent in the arena appears to have been cut down immensely as well. It would seem that less than a week had passed by the end of it all, when I'd have reckoned that it was at least two or three weeks in the book. A lot of that was character development between Katniss and Rue. That led to less sympathy for her character. Everything that showed us that she was a real person, with a life back at home and a loving family waiting for her was sliced out. And that made her death all the less sad. It was still a sad, shocking moment, but it wasn't as heart-shatteringly, tear-yankingly painful as it was in the book. They almost made up for it with Katniss's memorial to her, but them cutting out the hovercraft coming to pick up the body wasn't exactly called for.
Something I haven't mentioned is that throughout The Games, they spliced in segments of the people in the control-room doing stuff nobody cares about, and this breaks flow rather jarringly. And they do this over and over again! It serves to replace Katniss's narration, and it does so rather poorly. It either ruins the twists, or it just doesn't fit.
Other things that got added that just fill screen-time are scenes that show people watching The Games. Her mother and sister, Gale, people from the other districts, etc. Showing their reactions is something that ruins the uncertainty of Katniss's separation from them. Not to mention the fact that they added in a segment from Catching Fire and removed a (Again, rather important) scene in its place. While we're on that subject, they also show Gale watching as Katniss kisses Peeta. The thing that made the books so interesting was that we didn't know where they had cameras and microphones, who was watching when, or what their reactions were. Depending on each individuals interpretation, Gale could either be shaking in rage, completely nonplussed, or he could have guessed that it was an act designed to keep them both alive and well until the end of the games.
And when Katniss finds Peeta, they spend a lot of time in the cave. Unfortunately, (Say it with me) they cut out most of the development between them and also cut out the life-threatening nature of Peeta's leg-wound. It's appears to be a rather shallow cut. Some creative editing could have made it seem worse. They cut out the infection, they cut out Katniss telling him stories about her life, they cut out her having to put on some kind of romance with him to keep him alive, and they cut out her getting the sleep-syrup from Haymitch and using it to keep Peeta asleep while she went to get the medicine needed to keep his blood-poisoning from killing him.
Now, you remember how I said that they inter-cut scenes inside the control room and with the announcers? Well they gave Seneca Crane a huge ton of screen-time, and yet we never even learned his name. Not once. The didn't mention it in the entire film except for the credits. They also show the method by which he was executed, which just ruins that. What is real can never live up to what's imagined, and saying that they killed Crane by poisoning him with Nightlock berries is symbolic, certainly, but us knowing how he died takes away from the potential imagined horror of what happened to him. For all we know, they could have shot him, left him to rot in a prison cell far below the Capitol, or left him with no clothes and no food in the middle of nowhere so he could die of exposure.
Another thing, in the book it was customary for the Tributes to have a token from their respective districts, and they make it out like Cinna was breaking some kind of rule by letting Katniss have the Mockingjay pin.
Moving onto the interview. The interview scenes were massively cut down as well (Although by now that's not much of a surprise) and while they could have spent time with each of the Tributes, getting to know them, their motivations etc (Not the greatest approach), or they could have just spent a chunk of time on Peeta and Katniss's interviews, the way it went in the book. The interviews revealed far too much about the characters that weren't Peeta and Katniss, even though they were only a few seconds long. The interviews were part of the culture shock, and removing a massive chunk of them removed a lot of character development on the part of Katniss as well as Peeta.
Now, onto President Snow. Snow was barely mentioned in the first book, and they focus way too much on him in this. His presence takes screen-time away from The Hunger Games itself. Also, nothing against Donald Sutherland, but I was picturing Malcom Mcdowell as Snow throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
Haymitch, Haymitch, Haymitch, Haymitch.... Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch, and for a character that had his screen-time cut at the beginning of the movie, they sure made up for it with pointless scenes between him and sponsors and him and Crane. More completely unnecessary things that took away from the action, character development, survival, and overall flow of the movie.
They also cut out a good deal at the very end. The post-game interview is a few seconds long, and they're not even sitting in the right kind of chair. And one very important thing. They cut out Peeta's amputation. Towards the end of the book, he was attacked by Mutt wolves and they had to put a tourniquet on his leg to keep him from bleeding out. While it was mentioned a grand total of two times in the next two books, I can't find a single reason why you would cut something like that out. It makes no sense. In addition, they cut out Katniss's partial deafness after she detonated the land-mines to destroy the Career's supplies, which is going to have an impact on the plot of the Catching Fire movie.
Speaking of which, cutting out her inner monologue ruined that scene entirely. How did they reactivate the mines? How'd they dig them up without killing themselves? These questions are answered in the book.
All in all, I'll bet you that in ten to twenty years they're gonna release a five hour extended edition for an outrageous amount of money. Or a prequel, detailing Katniss's life up until the Reaping.
Watching the credits, I found that Suzanne Collins was not only an Executive Producer, but also a contributor to the screenplay! Without being an insider on the production, there's no definitive way to know how much influence she had on the production of the film. I'd love to think that she had very little input because if she wrote the entire screenplay and micromanaged the film, that would mean that I'd have to put the quality of the books into question. Were they just flukes or am I misinterpreting their quality?
Personally, I say that if you want to experience the good bits of the movie, then just listen to the soundtrack while reading the books. That's actually something I did. I'll bet someone out there has a guide as to what track to play when. I've spent two and a half hours doing worse things than watching an anemic movie trying to be awesome and epic and shocking and sad and horrifying. Even after all of this, I'd still recommend watching it, because even though it's heavily abridged and shallower then the source material, it's still a good movie. Not as good as the book, but still pretty good. A more vindictive person might use this as an opportunity to say "I called it, it should have been a game" and shove it into everyone's faces and make an idiot about saying he was right. Not me. While I don't feel it transferred well to film, that was just mainly because of bad editing, rather than an inherent incompatibility with the medium of film. The same things that made this less enjoyable a film would have made a game based on this less enjoyable to play.
But then again, who am I to be talking about how this movie miss-stepped when it made back almost ten times its budget and it's been two years since it came out? A teenage boy with a blog, who's spent a lot of time yammering about how Hollywood ruined something he liked. Although I like to think I've got more credibility then that.
Check out my reviews of the books.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Mockingjay: The Final Book of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Mockingjay is the 2010 finale of The Hunger Games, it was released in eBook format before being released in physical format a few days later. It immediately follows up from the cliffhanger ending in Catching Fire, which was an ending that I was not expecting.
Mockingjay is an excellent and powerful, if somewhat disappointing conclusion to the Hunger Games. It could have ended better, but it certainly could have ended worse. There might have been better ways to end it, but I'm glad it's not as bad as the end to Pendragon was. I'd like to know what changes it went through in writing, because that would be interesting (To me at least).
Spoiler warning for those who care.

So the plot concerns the aftermath of the Capitol's carpet fire-bombing of District 12. Peeta's gone missing and Katniss and Gale have somewhat reluctantly teamed up with the rebels in District 13. As with the last two novels, Mockingjay captured my attention and fixed it until the end.
It was about this point in time that I started noticing something. The first book is a solid story, almost standalone. The second one was an amped up exploration of the universe with a strange climactic fight where the heroes are severely injured and a sudden cliffhanger strikes you out of the blue.
Notice anything here?
Star Wars. The Hunger Games is A New Hope, Catching Fire is Empire Strikes Back, and Mockingjay is Return of the Jedi. That's not an inherently bad thing, and that formula isn't exactly a new thing.
Mockingjay is a little slower paced than Catching Fire and The Hunger Games, but it picks up massively towards the end. The whole first part is dedicated to world-building, as it was in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. It concerns planning for the final attack on the capitol, and then proceeds to handle the ramifications of the fall of a massive empire. Something that Star Wars left for the expanded universe. The book shows a picture of someone who's mad at the world for what it's put them through. It paints a picture of a world that's created a breed of monsters that have risen up to fight other monsters, at the behest of what may or may not be different monsters. The ending is exhausting. And it feels like the characters are as exhausted as you are. And I love it for that. It's a fantastic climactic end to a massive project. There were one or two things here and there I didn't like, but it's not like they were introducing things straight out of nowhere like Harry Potter did in the last two books. Since The Hunger Games movie was so short compared to the book, I'll bet that Catching Fire was as well. And I'll also bet that Mockingjay will be the best one of the three, since it's being split into two movies the way the first two should have been.
All in all, I liked the trilogy and I might record a podcast of me and my parents talking about it someday.
I'll give Mockingjay a 7.4* rating.
Check out my review of The Hunger Games movie.