The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

And the Lord spake, saying, “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.

One of my favourite quotes of all time. Too long for Twitter, too random for Facebook, too good to not put somewhere, now that I’ve been reminded of it.

So… I watched ‘The Hunger Games’

Since my last post was kicked off by how bad my viewing experience of The Hunger Games was, I figured I should probably slam in a review here… It’s mostly poached from my work review, but I’ve made some tweaks.

One of my friends pointed out that on the cover of the novel of The Hunger Games, Twilight Saga Stephenie Meyer was one of the people chosen for a “Wow-this-is-awesome-blurb”. Comparisons have regularly been drawn between The Hunger Games and Twilight, which is pretty much the most unfair thing you could do. To Twilight.

See, while it is definitely the next massive book-to-movie franchise and is kicking ass and taking names at the box office, The Hunger Games is a whole differernt kettle of fish. Stop the comparisons to Twilight and Harry Potter. But do go see the film.

You know the story by now. The ruling Capitol requires two teenage “tributes” from each of the 12 outlying districts to fight to the death in a televised battle known as The Hunger Games. Katinss Everdeen jumps in as a volunteer to stop her 12-year-old sister from being taken in as tribute from District 12 and – along with the baker’s son, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) – is shipped off to the Capitol to be poked, prodded and preened for competition against other, highly trained competitors from the rest of the country. There they go into the arena to fight until only one survives.

The only help they have is in the form of their “support” team: their mentor, drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson); the shrill and prim Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) and their stylist, the calm and brilliant Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Once they get into the arena, all relationships have to be pushed aside as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) tries to fulfil her promise to her sister to win the Hunger Games and come home to District 12.

The script was co-written by the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins, and so is largely faithful to the book, which should delight existing fans and bring in legions of new supporters. Sure, some of it is different – there was uproar when it was revealed that it is Prim that gives Katniss her mockingjay pin, for example – but the cuts make it cleaner, and the source material has been stripped down to ensure maximum action in its 164-minute running time.

A nice departure from the novel’s first-person view means that we get a chance at behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Games’ control room – where the arena is manipulated to ensure optimum bloodshed – and a look at the other viewers of the games, from the gaudily clad citizens of the Capitol to the ragged inhabitants of the remaining Districts, providing moments of brutal self-reflection in our voyeurism of the Games. However, to the film’s detriment, the script strips out much of the spark of rebellion and utter distaste for the Games that provides the impetus for the next two novels. There are halfhearted attempts at being like “Boo, this is bad” – but it never feels positively horrifying. [And more on that later!]

Jennifer Lawrence (I’m unashamed to say she is one of my girl-crushes) stars as Katniss and provides an incredible performance in a film that rests squarely on her shoulders. As Katniss, Lawrence is steady, focused and calm – while at the same time being vulnerable and completely unworldly.

She is ably supported by a cracking cast of actors – Hutcherson is amiable as Peeta, and the leading duo have an awkward chemistry that seems natural and delightfully adolescent. Completing the much-lauded “love triangle” of Katniss, Peeta and fellow District 12 citizen Gale is hunk-du-jour Liam Hemsworth, who in the novels is a beacon of morality and rebellion but in the film has little to do but smoulder – though, smoulder he does well.

Harrelson executes his role as drunken Haymitch nimbly – although tragically, some of Haymitch’s best moments from the book and his utter disgust at the Capitol have been excised from the script. Instead, Haymitch largely becomes a grumpy parody – although his transformation into an able mentor to his tributes is beautiful in its subtlety. Rounding out the crowd from the Capitol are the ever-delightful Stanley Tucci as the Games’ MC Caesar Flickman – all smiles and electric blue hair, likeable enough but still part of the “machine”; Elizabeth Banks in a scene-stealing role as Effie and Lenny Kravitz as the calm-in-the-storm Cinna. And, in the arena itself, mention must be made of the beautiful, wide-eyed Amandla Steinburg as Rue – whose moments on screen with Lawrence provided some of the most incredible moments of the film.

One of the film’s greatest challenges was to bring to the screen the gruesome deaths of a large group of teenagers in a way that would still keep the age rating low enough to include a record-breaking audience (in the US The Hunger Games carries a PG-13 age rating).

Ross makes liberal use of quick cuts and careful edits to hint at the characters’ gruesome deaths – and gruesome deaths there are by the bucket-load: wasps, bricks, spears, arrows, hand-to-hand. It provides what Vulture’s David Edelstein describes as a “slaughterfest for the whole family”. However, these edits mean that somehow the impact of the deaths of these children – for children they are – is often lost. With one or two exceptions, we’re never left reeling at the sheer brutality of the Games. It’s not that I want to see a 12-year-old’s guts spread across the screen – but it falls prey to the old adage of “out-of-sight”.

Ross and his director of photography, Tom Stern, employ a combination of largely hand-held shots to maximise the first-person view and create a sense of disorientation, which may be unpleasant for some, and incredibly tense, lingering close-ups at pivotal moments of the film. The forest arena of the Games – where the latter half of the film is set – is absolutely beautiful, the scenery at odds with the horror it serves as a backdrop for. Added to that are some incredible make-up and costumes – in particular, Katniss and Peeta’s outfits for the tributes’ parade – and a powerful score that often lapses into long periods of silence.

In short: I loved it. I’d go see it again. And no, for the last bloody time, it’s not “Just like Twilight“!

Cinema Etiquette

Cinema

Cinema by M4tik (flickr.com)

After months and months of waiting, I finally got to the press screening of The Hunger Games here in Cape Town. While the movie was absolutely freaking incredible and all I could have wanted in a big-budget, big-studio, PG-version of the books, I spent most of it trying not to shriek at the audience… other so-called film reviewers and entertainment journalists.

I was appalled at the behaviour of these people – arriving 15 minutes late (why did you bother, then?!), checking their cellphones, talking to the person sitting next to them…. WTF?! Anyway, this got me on to a topic I’m extremely passionate about (strangely) – cinema etiquette.

Going to the cinema is as close to a religious/churchy experience as I suspect I’ll ever get. It’s a sacred time for me, and I have my own set of “rituals” that I adhere to. All I ask of other people is that they don’t be a damned asshole.

And – behold! Tips on how not to be an asshole at the cinema.

Don’t talk through the movie

One of my favourite lines from Firefly – and from television of all time, I guess – comes in Our Mrs Reynolds. Shepherd Book tells Mal that if he takes advantage of his new “wife” “Saffron”, that Mal will “burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater”.

That’s pretty much my level of feeling for people who natter through a film. Damnit, if you want to chat – why are you watching a movie? And then, if you want to discuss the film while it’s playing (I hope that’s what you’re talking about, by the way) then just download the thing off The Pirate Bay or something and chat at home in front of your laptop where you can stop/start/rewind to your heart’s content. If you must talk, then whisper. Sparingly.

Don’t fiddle with your phone

This includes but is not limited to: Checking the time, making or taking a phone call, responding to or composing a text message or – and yes, I’ve actually seen this – playing Angry Birds.

See, while texting itself is relatively quiet, and I’m sure that you can turn the volume down on Angry Birds, it’s that damned light off your super-phone that  can also serve as the Bat Signal that is the problem. There is nothing more irritating than somebody’s flashing phone light in front of you in a darkened cinema.

And if common decency isn’t enough to put you off texting in the cinema, maybe this will: We can, and I will, read what you’re texting.

If you must take the call, leave the cinema as quickly as possible. Don’t sit in your seat and chat away. Seriously.

Arrive on time

Look, I get it. Sometimes traffic sucks. Or the line to get your popcorn and slushie is quite long. Or you need the bathroom and there’s only one working stall. It happens. In fact, it happened to me – twenty minutes ago, when I arrived in time to catch all the trailers and the start of the movie! (I know it must be a weird thought, but filmmakers actually do have a “beginning” of the film). You don’t have to be seated for the trailers – that’s a personal choice – but you had better be sitting as the movie starts. It’s disruptive for the rest of us – especially if you arrive 15 minutes late as we’re getting into it.

Sit in the seats assigned to you

Those little numbers on your ticket aren’t just for decoration, you know. In fact, there’s actually a meaning to them! Okay, I know this might be hard to follow so I’m going to go slowly. Right. Look at your ticket. See how there is the letter “C” and then the numbers “4-5”? Right, you see – no, move your thumb – there! Right, now look down the aisle. See, along the aisle, there are those little letters? “A, B, C, D…?” Right, go to “C”. Now, if you look on the seats themselves there are little numbers? “1, 2, 3, 4” – see, that’s you! and “5”! That’s you too!” Now, sit. Stay. Don’t move.

If the cinema has unreserved seating, it’s relatively empty, and there’s a blonde woman in glasses sitting near the end of the row, don’t sit next to her. That’s me. I will growl at you. There’s plenty of space, why do you need to sit on my lap? If the cinema fills up, I’ll happily sit next to somebody else – but only then.

Keep noisy eating to a minimum

Look, I love my movie sweets. The tip is simple – open the packet before the movie starts (see why it can be helpful to arrive on time?!) or wait for a super noisy part to open it. Hint: While the main character’s love interest is dying is not an appropriate time.

Think smart with your luggage

I am known for my giant handbags. It’s a thing. They need to be able to cart books around, you see. So if I can keep my luggage under control, so can you. Either keep your bag on your lap, on the empty seat next to you or under your chair. Not in the aisle, not in front of your feet where other cinemagoers can trip over it when they need the bathroom or have to take an (urgent) call.

Extra bonus tips, suggestions and pointers!

Kick my seat and die.
If your child can’t sit through an episode of Barney, they’re not going to make it through two-and-a-half hours of film. Don’t bring her. (Oh, and if your child is so young that the noise and lights in the cinema make her cry and you have to leave to change her nappy, then you have Failed at Parenting. Another true story)
Don’t sing. I’m very pleased you know the song. Just don’t sing.
Oh, and try and refrain from throwing food around the cinema. That’s just common.

I hate April Fools’ Day

But particularly, April Fools’ Day in the media.

Now, I realise that this is going to make me sounds like a pretentious, snobby, stuck-up bitch. Frankly, I don’t care. I’ve been called those names more times than I care to count. Once extremely publicly.

But wow. I hate April Fools’ Day. The jokes are pretty much entirely transparent, and the originality is diluted tenfold when posting in the social media space. I only saw two half-way decent attempts today. Most people post a variation of the “OMG! I’m pregnant!”/”Sarah is now listed as In a Relationship”/”Bob is no longer listed as Engaged” blah blah blah. It’s almost always lame. So I ignore everything that goes on Facebook the whole of 1 April.

But what ticks me off more than unoriginal crap on Twitter is April Fools’ attempts in the mass media. I work in the media and I steadfastly refuse to get involved in the fuckery. Why? A number of reasons.

1) As the media – and yes, maybe I’m still super-idealistic, but you know what, I don’t care – we have a responsibility to make sure that what we are is accurate and trustworthy. Playing a “prank” does not fall into that mandate. People are stupid, they largely believe what you tell them.

2) It dilutes the credibility of the rest of your content. That’s a non-brainer, really.

3) The world is getting smaller. Content is shared more easily. Your April Fools’ prank can go “viral” – and that’s not a good thing. Especially if it’s picked up by another media outlet (who yes, should be checking everything, but sometimes that’s not possible). Once that’s happened, are you one hundred percent sure your funny (for now) story is going to be revealed as a prank? Once the content’s out there, you’ve got no control over where it goes. And what if you’re Google?

4) It makes my life – as a wannabe-credible-producer-of-news-yes-even-celebrity-news-shuddup-I’ll-change-the-world-one-day – a living bloody hell. Why? Because I spend all day researching everything in case some wise-ass has decided to slip an April Fools’ Day joke in somewhere. Thankfully I’m pretty good at spotting them a mile away.

All of this hatred, of course, could stem from an April Fools’ Day joke some idiot kids played on me when I was younger. They tried to tell me I was adopted – which would have worked better if my mum hadn’t told me my birth story pretty much from the time I was five.

*I realise this is very rant-y. I’m tired and grumpy and pretty much everything is putting me in a bad mood this weekend.