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“!

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Rock of Ages looks…

Fucking awesome, man! Seriously! Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand… Doing classic ’80s rock? Sign me up!

Rock on!!!

[Written-but-not-published-until-now. Oops]

The Ard of Anthem Singing

As bad as I feel my week has been, I’m pretty sure it’s been worse for Ard Matthews.

In case you’d been abducted by aliens (and I’m currently reading Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher so it seems quite likely at this point) and missed the entire skandaal, Just Jinjer frontman had the most epic of brain farts during a live performance of the South African national anthem, which was part of the Springbok squad announcement for the World Cup.

Now, South Africans are truly, notoriously unforgiving. We set such high standards for ourselves and our heroes that one slip up is enough to see you totally slammed. That’s what’s happened to Ard. And the poor guy, professional that he is, has accepted all the blame, made no excuses and simply apologised and apologised and apologised – and will continue apologising until he runs out of ways in which he can apologise. But it’s not looking good – I ran a poll on my site and almost 88% of the voters said that they wouldn’t accept any of those apologies, saying that there’s no excuse.

The public slamming and humiliation has started to get out of control. Local chicken franchise Nando’s ran an ad within 24 hours of the performance, broadcasters SuperSport and the SA Rugby Union have been hauled into Parliament to (ahem) face the music and even the infamous fellow-anthem destroyer Ras Dumisani has thrown in his five cents’ worth, saying that he thinks Ard “can’t sing at all” and that it “looks like he can’t concentrate on singing and playing the guitar at the same time – he should have got someone to accompany him.” This is rich, of course, coming from the guy whose rendition of the anthem was so bad that it was cited among the reasons the Springboks lost a match to France.

In among all of this, Ard has made no excuses. Okay, he has since posted a YouTube video to prove that he does in fact know the anthem.

But his behaviour is more than the now much-quoted Ras has done – after his debacle he blamed everything from the backing track to the crowd.

But it’s now got out of hand. The hate directed at Ard – who has been nothing but one of South Africa’s golden boys until now – is shocking. At the end of the day, it was simply human error. There was nothing malicious about it. Sure, Supersport could have allowed Ard a teleprompter. Sure, he could have stopped and started the anthem again. Sure, Bok coach P Divvy could have joined in like the redhead from the FNB ad – but none of that happened.

Let’s respect his apology and move on – and most importantly, let’s stop spewing the hate. We can’t go back and change the past, as I so often have to remind myself, so let’s rally forward. Forgive, forget, let it slide.

 

The long-weekend wrap-up

Right – so I have neglected this blog for a week or so for a number of different reasons, largely:

  • I was working the 10-day weekend news shift. The weekend news shift turns my brain into mush and it’s largely damage control by the end of it, no time for awesome things like blogging.
  • A lot of Grown Up Stuff happened. Being a grown up sucks. But it was a major wake-up call. Things could always, always be worse.
  • After my 10-day shift I went on a four-day weekend. (Perk!) My weekend included catching Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite Live at the Grand Arena here in Cape Town (amazing!) and surviving my first-ever trail run. I tried to work as little as possible during my time off.

The great thing about taking a little time off is how much cool stuff awaits your return – especially in the entertainment world! In no particular order…

Blink-182 release their new single, Up All Night. It reminds me of being 13 again.

The first trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie drops. Robert Downey Jr rocks my socks off.

Rebecca Black’s new single lands. It’s slightly less terrible than Friday. Slightly.

The first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises has arrived. I squealed.

And, if you missed it, a clip from The Walking Dead Season 2.

Also – the big what.the.fuck moment of the week has come in the form of JLo’s separation from hubby Marc Anthony. But, it isn’t very surprising, if you think about it… And I’ll have more on that tomorrow. For now – research. For something pretty damn awesome.

Eminem ‘Space Bound’ in suicide video

For the most part – I love Eminem. It’s a conundrum, see, because I completely abhor his attitude to women and gays in general.

But I also find him to be a lyrical genius with a mastery of the language that is unparallelled in the world of hip hop. He’s a powerful voice and a powerful actor – and he also has a sense of drama that I find intoxicating.

Anyway, my fan-girl-ness aside… His new video for Space Bound is no exception to the rule. Much like with Love the Way You Lie (which is also directed by Joseph Khan) there’s a strong cinematic feel to the video. Violence, too, obviously – this is Eminem, after all, and the song is another cautionary tale of the line between love and domestic abuse.

The video starts with Eminem hitching a ride from the ridiculously beautiful former porn star Sasha Grey. In the car, Eminem splits into two versions of himself – a calmer one and an aggressive one (quite possibly a throw-back to his famous Slim Shady persona).

This continues through a scene in a diner – where Eminem check the lovely Sasha’s phone and discovers that she is, in fact, two-timing him – to a room where he attempts to choke Sasha to death, before she disappears in front of his eyes and he puts a gun to his chin. The entire story then plays itself backwards to show Em climbing into the car again.

Take what you will from it – he dreamed it, it’s a hallucination, it’s a cautionary tale, it all actually happened – it’s a powerful, powerful video.

Unsurprisingly, the watchdogs were up in arms – with anti-violence group Mothers Against Violence providing my favourite soundbyte: “Children are influenced by the things they see,” the group said. “If we feed violence, it becomes strong. Like an addiction.”

“It’s all about the money with these videos. Eminem isn’t thinking about the families affected. It’s selfish — it comes to a point when selfishness becomes evil.”

It’s shot largely in pallettes of dark hues and greys with some bright pops of colour – the neon sign, the condiments on the diner table, the door – and obviously the light that Em raps against . Khan uses intense close-ups – particularly of the actors’ faces and upper bodies – much as he did with Love the Way You Lie, which produces a sense of claustrophobia and that inescapable sense of being in-your-face that Eminem trades on. It’s gritty and intense – a great piece of directing.

Well, watch it below and see for yourself. I think it’s amazing. And that’s my Entertainment Ed voice talking, not my Eminem fan-girl voice.

Lady Gaga’s Judas video – A brief review

You know, there’s a fine line when artists/studios/labels balance when promoting a piece of work.

Too little publicity and your product will disappear among the masses, destined to either fade into obscurity or (if they’re very, very lucky) become a cult classic. Too much publicity and you over-stimulate your audience to the point where no matter how amazing your film/song/novel is, somebody else expected it to be better.

To me, this is what’s happened to Lady Gaga’s video for Judas. For weeks and weeks we’ve heard Gaga talk about how it was the most exciting artistic moment of her career. We’ve heard hype from her creative partner, seen leaked details splashed all over the media and then, of course, the controversy surrounding the track itself. And then, she premiered the video – which you can watch below. My 2c and the video itself after the jump…

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Miley Cyrus covers Nirvana. Seriously.

Just a little filler before you get a nice long post later today or early tomorrow. It’s golden.

Miley Cyrus covers Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit during a recent show in Ecuador.

Props to her for trying. She has a great, gravelly voice that works… up to a point. She’s no Kurt Cobain, but she didn’t completely bomb out.

Also, it’s great that she’s actually got a decent taste in music. You get +5 appreciation points, Miley. But -8 for the glittery pants.

Seriously. But it’s still Miley. Doing Nirvana. My mind exploded.