Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

I am not an avid science fiction reader. Not to say that I don’t like science fiction books, but I just don’t read it a lot and I don’t love a lot of it. One exception though is the 2008 novel, The Hunger Games. This best-selling Suzanne Collins novel turned out to be very popular with young adults. So much so was that it was on the New York Times list for over 100 consecutive weeks and even spawned two sequels and who could blame them? The novel was bloody, gripping, tense, and complex. It is definitely in my Top 10 favorite books. So, when Hollywood announced a movie was being made based on this book, fans waited eagerly in anticipation and then, on March 23, those loyal fans rushed to see what is probably the most highly anticipated film of 2012. Does it live up to the hype?

Let me start with the plot of the book. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which North America once existed, but has now been separated into the country of Panem that is separated by twelve districts. During the early times of Panem, there was a rebellion against the Capitol, which holds total power over the nation, and a 13th district was destroyed. Now, Panem is more peaceful, but due to this past rebellion, one boy and one girl from each district between 12 and 18 years old are chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, where they will fight each other until one remains.

The story revolves around a 16 year old named Katniss Everdeen, who resides in District 12 with her sister, Primrose, and her mother, while her father has been killed in a mining accident. During the Reaping, which is the ceremony where the Hunger Games participants are chosen, Katniss’ sister is chosen, but Katniss volunteers to replace her and fight in the Hunger Games along with the male tribute, Peeta Mellark, where complexity and violence ensues. The reason why I told you the overall synopsis of the novel (and I hope I got it right, because if I didn’t, there will be thousands of fans and a few of my friends at my doorstep, greeting me with torches and pitchforks) is because that’s the same plot of the film, as well.

When I saw the trailers for this film, I thought it was going to be good and satisfying to people who love the book, but not anything special. Surprisingly, it is much better than that. The plot, while a tad bit predictable, is engaging and complex like the book. I perceive this story as a comment on our society and how sadistic we can be. We watch violence on television and movies all the time for our own entertainment. This movie takes that ideal to the extreme when the production crew behind these games throws in things that horrify the contestants, but magnetize the audience.

The action sequences and scenes in the Arena, where the Games take place, are exhilarating and director Gary Ross, whose previous films Pleasantville and Seabiscuit have a completely different mood, doesn’t shy away from showing you grisly images. While it doesn’t get too extreme, since the film is rated PG-13, it still gets pretty bloody and graphic. However, unlike other films, the action is plot-driven and the violence is not just people getting killed. It is about survival, fear, and persistence.

The overall look of the film is great. Special effects have been used to great effect here, especially an authentic and amazing-looking Capitol. The set design is massive and phenomenal, especially the room where Caesar Flickerman interviews the tributes that has electronic screens that look that they came right out of Times Square. Some are the sets are props are overly exaggerated, but unlike Happily N’Ever After, they are creative and eye pleasing. They’re like those surreal statues you see at an art museum. Even the costumes are well done. Those training suits look awesome and, for some reason, remind me of something you would see in Tron: Legacy or something. Sometimes, the costumes are just so bizarre and flamboyant that you can’t help to be absorbed by them. The cinematography is very good, as well. Cinematographer Tom Stern finds a way to create various tones that range from bright and lively to dark and bleak.

The cast is uniformly great. Jennifer Lawrence is, of course, the standout of the film. She came off her Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone and is proving herself as an up-and-coming actress to look out for. When I first heard the idea for a Hunger Games film, I thought they should’ve gotten Saoirse Ronan from City of Ember and Atonement to play Katniss, but am I glad Jennifer Lawrence was picked. She is strong, powerful, and convincing in her role. Josh Hutcherson, proving he is not a child actor anymore, also is convincing as Peeta. He is good as portraying a character that is just as strong, sly, and smart as Katniss, but doesn’t quite believe it himself and the two of them share a romance that is convincing and complex. How much of it does she feel? How much of it does he feel? Is it all an act or real? Also, Liam Hemsworth is, surprisingly, strong in his role as Gale. While I didn’t feel like they gave him enough development, he is still convincing in his role.

However, the supporting cast is, also, great. Professionals like Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and even Lenny Kravitz play their parts very well, especially Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the mentor for Katniss and Peeta, does a great job, not just finding a great balance of being generous and being a jerk, but also at portraying an alcoholic who is funny and yet seems like he has a deep menace that he desperately wants to reveal. Also, Donald Sutherland as President Snow is a lot more laid-back in the movie that I would’ve pictured him. I think that was the right choice, so that his character could maybe go further and become more of a menace in the following movies.

Also, newcomers Willow Shields as Prim and Amandla Stenberg, as Rue, a tribute who forms an alliance with Katniss, are very strong and, once again, convincing and I hope they receive more work. Furthermore, the tributes are all portrayed well, especially Alexander Ludwig as Cato, a bloodthirsty tribute who becomes even deeply disturbed toward the end, and Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh, a tribute in the same district as Rue who really gets to show off his acting abilities in one particular scene.

Finally, since I mentioned that I read the book, I’m sure all of you are asking the same question: how was the movie compared to the book? It’s a close call, but I have to say that the book is better. However, I will say that the movie is about 88% faithful to the book. There are some small changes and some larger ones, some of which kind of rubbed me the wrong way. 

For example, there are dogs that come in near the end of the book and movie and the movie didn’t explain them as well as the book did. Also, an Avox girl who had her tongue snipped off who was present in the book has no scenes in the movie. While I guess it was cut for time, it is rather important to show what happens when people tried to flee the government. 

I’d tell you more changes, but I don’t want to spoil anything. In fact, the only major gripe I have with the film is the shaky cam. There are several sequences where the camera is shaking way too much, to the point where I could barely see what was going on. I understand when action happens, the camera shakes a little, but it shakes so much I am surprised a drunken Michael J. Fox wasn’t shooting those scenes. Regardless, however, this is a satisfying film for any fan of the book and much more, as well. I was engaged for all 2 hours and 22 minutes of The Hunger Games and can’t wait for Catching Fire.

RATING: A high three-and-a-half stars out of four!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doogal (2006)

There are three different kinds of films based on television series. 1) the type of movie that is so good that it encourages you to watch the show (South Park:  Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, The Simpsons Movie, etc.), 2) the type of movie that is so god-awful that you are almost timid in watching the show and 3) the type of movie that is not that good, but may encourage you to watch the show anyway. Even though I don’t know many films in that last category, I definitely know that one of those examples is 2006’s Doogal.

Doogal is based on the long-running 1960s French/British television show, The Magic Roundabout. The film revolves around a dog named Doogal and his friends in a world that includes The Magic Roundabout, a magical carousel. One day, Doogal accidentally releases the evil ZeeBad (yes, that’s his real name), an evil sorcerer who, like Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, uses ice as his weapon of choice (just don’t expect ZeeBad to sing “I’m Mr. White Christmas, I’m Mister Snow”). The good sorcerer, Zebedee, sends Doogal and his friends, Dylan, the rabbit, Ermintrude, the cow, and Brian, the snail, on a quest to collect three diamonds that will save the world, unless in the hands of ZeeBad, who will use them to freeze the sun and thus, the world.

My interest in watching this movie became provoked when I saw that the film website, Rotten Tomatoes, named Doogal the 83rd worst reviewed movie of the 2000s. Plus, my friend, Ryan, at a point in his life named it as his least favorite movie (I don’t know if he still sticks by it today). So, I was all geared up to hate it, too. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s not anywhere near good.

The story is unengaging and, at some points, doesn’t even make sense. I can’t reveal those details, but sometimes, mostly near the end, things are there that feel forced, clichéd, or unnecessary. Plus, there is this weird subplot about the snail being in love with the cow. OK, maybe I can understand Gloria and Melman in Madagascar 2, but here, it is not only weird, but it is not cleverly developed or interesting.

Also, the voice acting is pretty dull. This film was actually an American version of the 2005 British film, coincidentally called The Magic Roundabout. So, in the American version, they just took out a lot, but not all, of the old voices and put big name actors in their place. The voice actors include Daniel Tay, who voices Doogal, Jimmy Fallon, Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, Kevin Smith as a moose (who talks in this movie, but never talked in the 2005 film), and Chevy Chase as a train that accompanies the animals. 

Not only is the decision to change the voice actors utterly cynical as if the person who chose to alter the voices knew that they were trashing someone else’s creation, but they would still get money for it, but the voice actors are lethargic and bland, especially Daniel Tay, who is particularly wooden. They all sounded like they were just in it for the paycheck. Even in some of the dramatic moments, there is barely any dramatic interest in their voices. 

However, there is one exception of someone who is actually trying, besides Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, whose voices were spared (I didn’t mention Kylie Minogue, whose voice they kept, too, because she was bland as well), and that person was Jon Stewart, who is the villain. However, while he is a great comedian and he’s doing his best, it’s so sad and embarrassing, especially his delivery, which I found completely unnecessary and distracting. He speeds through his dialogue a lot, as if he's giving it all and yet doesn’t want to be there. Also, you will definitely know who voices who because, in the credits, they show the voice actors acting out their parts, which makes it all the more sad.

Making matters worse, the English dub idea truly is a bad idea. I mean, I understand for foreign language films when you don’t want to use subtitles, but I truly don’t find the British language very complex. Instead of re-telling it, they should’ve just released the original British cut of the film to a wider audience. Dubbing over British dialect is not only a bad idea, but it makes the poor lip movements stand out that much worse.

Even worse, this movie has a very mediocre script. The script, along with the poor voice work, makes the characters very bland, particularly Doogal. He is not only bland, but is also annoying. He is a screw-up, he barely contributes to anything, he can’t save himself, and yet he still boasts about being the leader. Even if you want to argue that he was being sarcastic, it’s still annoying. Yet he’s our main character, although the script treats him like an almost secondary character, but not quite because his name and his face take up half of the freaking poster. We’re supposed to identify with him and root for him, but we don’t and when he does finally contribute, it’s so simplistic. Since the story is so predictable, there is especially no rooting interest in any of the characters. 

Not to mention, the script is filled with unfunny jokes, bad puns, and loads of pop culture references. They reference anything from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even CSI. Why? Because I guess we needed to Americanize it somehow, so how about references so blatant and unfunny that your five-year-old will groan. 

And the thing I cannot forgive this movie for is that I counted ten uses of the fart joke, eight of those involved the moose and the other two involved the train. Not only were the fart jokes OR the pop culture references for that matter not even in the original British cut, but the fart joke is probably the worst cliché in a movie. I hate that cliché. It is a cliché used out of desperation for a cheap laugh and I wish Hollywood would stop using it.

However, on the bright side, the animation is the best thing about the movie. It is vivid, whimsical, and surprisingly intricate. The backgrounds and things like trees, rocks, or lava look very realistic. The characters, surprisingly, even look good. They kind of remind me of the characters in the Christmas special, Yes, Virginia. Also, they were a few funny moments and a couple of scenes, like the characters struggling to not fall in the lava pit or a cool train chase scene, that not only kept my interest, but it also gave me a sense like I was there. 

Overall, though, it’s just a bland, average movie. I haven’t seen the TV series or the 2005 British film, but I would like to think that even for a fan of that show or a regular filmgoer, it would still be pretty disappointing. I guess this is just another case of style over substance or *insert bad pun here*.

RATING: A low two stars out of four!

Temple Grandin (2010)

If you had told me about a year and a half ago that my favorite film of all time would be an HBO television film, I don’t think I would’ve entirely believed you. Then, I saw the whimsical, magical, and heartbreaking film, Temple Grandin, and I believe.

This is a biopic about the life of Temple Grandin.  She doesn’t like to be touched, she can only eat pudding, yogurt, or Jell-O, she didn’t speak until she was four, and she has panic attacks, but she is super smart and is fascinated, and yet confused, by the world around her. “I don’t understand people,” Temple claims.  Her mother, Eustacia, is blamed for Temple’s condition, claiming that she had a lack of bonding with Temple.  However, she knows there’s something more to it than that. Temple spends one summer with her Aunt Anne that changes her life as she seeks out to pursue a career in animal husbandry.

Now, I have to be honest with you. The first couple minutes or so, I wasn’t really getting into it. I didn’t think it was bad or anything, but I just didn’t love it yet. Then, it gripped me and never let me go. I’ve never seen great filmmaking like this.  It is lovely to witness. The director, Mick Jackson, has an interesting track record. He directed L.A. Story and the science-fiction film, Volcano. I haven’t seen those films, but I am, now, tempted to. It’s not your average “disease-of-the-week movie.” It’s much, much more than that. It relies on pure emotion and beauty and not sappy clichés.

Also, Christopher Monger wrote a brilliant script. Of course, there is back-story about her childhood, as all biopics have. However, the back-story doesn’t come in to play until about 20 minutes after the beginning when you really know this character. He, also, has found a way to mix sad scenes with whimsical visuals and authentic humor. Sketchbook-type drawings are a big key used to show us her mind. However, it works coherently with the story and is not forced or tacked on. 

Also, the performances are strong. The best I have ever seen in a movie. Claire Danes is simply fantastic in the title role. It is the best female performance in a film I have seen since Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. It is astounding how much she resembles Temple Grandin. It is not a performance. It is pure embodiment.  Besides that, she proves to us that she is one of our most underrated actresses in Hollywood that hopefully will have a good long career. We feel her joy, her sadness, and her stress and we root for her all the way. 

Julia Ormond is fantastic as Temple’s mom. Once again, we feel her pain, her satisfaction, and her frustration. Also, Catherine O’Hara as Temple’s aunt and David Strathairn as Dr. Carlock, a teacher of Temple’s, play their parts extraordinarily as well.

On a scale of zero to four stars, Temple Grandin gets four stars! It is the best film I have ever seen and deserved all seven Emmys it received and them some.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Hey, folks. It's me again! As I mentioned before, I will be posting reviews on this site. I, also, feel that it is important to mention that the reviews will be posted between every 1-2 weeks, depending on the month. However, I would love to hear from you! So, in this post will be the place where you can ask questions about me. If you have an interesting question, I will take that question and answer it in a future post. Also, I would love to know what you would like to see me review. I mean, like I said before, mainly the reviews will come from my reviews on the Completely Charming Facebook page, but if there is any movie that you think I should check out, let me know and I will gladly do so. It may not be right away, but I will definitely do my damndest to try and get my hands on the movie. Since I don't go to the movie theatre very often, I just review whatever I can. Also, I would love to hear any input or advice on any of my posts. Well, take care everybody! Later!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Hey, everybody! I feel like I should take some time to introduce myself. My name is Stephen Banks. I live in New York, but was raised in California. I was born on May 27, 1996. I would love to be a singer, actor, and movie director when I grow up. However, my second job choice would be film criticism. From a young age, I loved movies. I could tell somebody, not just the name of a movie, but who acted in it, when it came out, or even who directed it. That is why I created this blog. To expand my film criticism portfolio. I am already reviewing movies on a Facebook page called "Completely Charming." I'll put the link to it in this post. This is just another site for me to put those reviews and maybe even more. Well, I think that pretty much sums it up! Be on the look out for more reviews coming soon. Later!

Completely Charming: