The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games was a good book, and a decent movie. It had one really good trick – teenagers being forced to fight and die in the wild for public amusement, reality show styles – and it did it beautifully. Combine that with an interesting future world and tons of opportunities for catharsis, empathy, sympathy and for mood-swingy teenagers everywhere, and it’s easy to see why “I volunteer as tribute!” Became the “Yer a wizard, Harry!” of a new generation.

Compared to its overachieving older brother Harry Potter, though, the moody younger sister of the Hunger Games series isn’t nearly as good, for one very important reason: In the former, the narration was third-person limited. We could identify with Harry, but we got a healthy amount of distance that came in handy whenever he got too angry, too lovestruck or too stupidly focused on his hero complex.

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Thor: The Dark World

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Thor was bad because so much of it was what Douglas Adams termed “a beautiful void” (speaking of Adams, the movie is also one of the better adaptations of his works); very good looking, but with almost nothing in the way of character development or plot. Sure, people are talking and moving around with haste, but for long stretches of the movie it’s never clear what they plan to accomplish.

Thor: The Dark World recognizes this problem in its predecessor, and addresses it by giving it an even thinner, less interesting plot that only serves as an excuse for a veritable toy box of a film – a combination of loosely connected performances, set pieces, scenes, locales and pithy lines that exist mostly for their own sake rather than to combine into any kind of story.

As such, this review will be on its terms, not mine, presenting a binary judgement of each of these items in chronological order, with minimal connective explanation from yours truly.

Rest assured, the fact that I’ve got my hands so full this month with Catching Fire, Frozen and Day of the Doctor all in five days has nothing at all to do with this.

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THUMBS UP: It’s correct – Thor is the main character in the movie, and the Dark World is a crucial location

THUMBS DOWN: Even worse than Star Trek Into Darkness when it comes to the endless parade of “dark” titles – Knight, Shadows, Of the Moon…uh, City, Crystal, Star…Souls… Read the full post »

Ender’s Game

Note: This review will contain no discussion of Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card. I already have plenty of things to grouch about with this, adding the largely unrelated views of a one-hit-wonder author would make this way too long.

That's one big X-Wing.

That’s one big X-Wing.

Ender’s Game is – let’s be clear here – a classic of our times. Aside from being a deeply affecting and surprisingly prophetic sci-fi story, it’s the premier work of the age on the complicated mix of duty, pride, loneliness and angst felt by students and children the world over. Seriously – Adrian Mole? Tom Brown? Arthur Read? Freakin’ Harry Potter? They have nothing on Ender Wiggin.

The problem with this is that no one seems to realize it, least of all author Orson Scott Card. Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide – the sequels to the story – are much more traditional cosmic sci-fi stories, to the extent that the latter has the exact same plot as Halo 4 – and again, I’m being completely serious. All you console gamers who like Halo? Have you played the decently-received video game Halo 4, and paid attention to the story? Great, now you don’t need to read the award winning novel Xenocide.

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Batman: Arkham Origins

It’s scarily easy to make Batman look pathetic.

What’s this fall’s most-anticipated new TV show directed exclusively at nerds? Well, probably the new The Flash show, thanks to its devotion to comic-book style storytelling and reliance on sexy young men as major characters.

But that’s sort of irrelevant right now, since in a clear second place, we get Gotham, another DC universe adaptation, although how much of an adaptation it really is is sort of in doubt. Originally it was supposed to be a cop show based around increasingly more outlandish and supernormal criminals, who would of course be cadet Batman villains, but then it became apparent that this wouldn’t have wide enough appeal, and it became straight up Smallville with Batman instead of Superman.

I mention Gotham because it’s only the second Batman prequel to come out in a year – the other is highly successful video game and Grand Theft Auto V’s lone, audacious competitor, Batman: Arkham Oranges.

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Gravity

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I’m sorta in two minds about popular sci-fi filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (full name ‘Alfonso Ka…koo…how do you say it?’). One the one hand, his two American-released movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, were among my favorites as a child and adult respectively.

But on the other hand, no one likes admitting that he’s a sci-fi filmmaker. I mean, quite aside from the movie about time-traveling teenage wizards, or the feature-length Twilight Zone episode, there’s his latest movie, the space-action blockbuster Gravity. Critics up to and including the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, who has the unparalleled honor of having his reviews at the top of every Rotten Tomatoes page he’s on, try to avoid the guy’s genre-movie roots.

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Agents of SHIELD: Pilot

Well, you try thinking of a better acronym.

Yeah, I like the Marvel movies.

But yeah, I also don’t like quite a few things they represent – like how commercialized they are, the ouroboros storytelling method that means the movies won’t stop even if everyone wants them to, and so on – but the fact remains that the actual movies are still in a golden age because of their post-modern storytelling sensibilities and an imaginative visual style coupled with archetypal storytelling…man, those were long words.

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Futurama

You might have heard about the just completed quote-unquote “television event” on one of the Fox Network’s unruly children, where every single one of the 550-plus episodes of The Simpsons was shown in broadcast order.

I really don’t feel anything particular about it. I’m blessed to live near a wonderful relative who has every single Simpsons DVD there is, so I still treat myself to a classic episode every now and again. Seriously, I was struck a couple months ago with an urge to watch “King-Size Homer”, and I just…did. I felt like a god, I don’t mind saying.

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Elysium

District 9, the turtleneck and shades-wearing alternative to the Yankees cap and cargo shorts of Avatar, was a good movie. But let’s be honest here: it wouldn’t have been called “The best sci-fi movie of the decade” without the well-known Cinderella story of its creation.

That story is one of Afrikaner and film geek Neill Blomkamp, who made a short special-effects reel with his friends that impressed overgrown nerd Peter Jackson so much that he signed Blomkamp on to help make his planned movie of the Halo games.

Now, a quick side note: A Halo movie, even done by these guys with undeniable passion for the series, would have been dumb and bad. In fact, now that they’ve got Ridley Scott signed on instead, it’s looking to be equally dumb and bad as the last sci-fi movie he made – seriously, check out that fake Idris Elba – but at least it looks to be more harmless than that other movie he’s been threatening everyone with. So yeah, one of the many reasons District 9 is so good is that it prevented another, much worse movie from being made.

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Pacific Rim

Whatever I have to say to praise or criticize it, I have to admit that Guillermo del Toro’s Sino-American nerd-pleaser Pacific Rim is no Star Wars. Star Wars was just the biggest thing on the planet for months, whereas Pacific Rim never even cracked the #1 spot in the box-office rankings. [Yes, I’m still sour, whyever do you ask?]

And anyway, Star Wars’ gigantic success was due to a dozen unrepeatable factors, not the least of which was that there was jack-all else in theaters at the time – the #2 spot at the box office in 1977 went Smokey and the Bandit. A decent movie, I guess, and one which definitely had some cultural impact, but definitely not anything close to George Lucas’ genre-defying and genre-defining space opera.

But in many respects, Pacific Rim is cut from the same cloth as the third-most popular film of all time (numbers one and two should be obvious). Both are very personal and childlike pieces, almost autobiographical in their obvious inspiration from the writer-director’s childhood favorites from Japanese and American entertainment. They both have a simple and direct narrative arc, with a minimum of plot or character development, and an emphasis on relationships between the characters driving the action.

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Deus Ex: The Fall

A bit more of a conventional review today, folks…insofar as that term can be applied to several pages of discourse on a glorified expansion pack for a cult video game, prepared eleven months after anyone anywhere cared.

That said, let’s talk about that cult video game. Deus Ex, a 2000 RPG game, is the Gone With The Wind of video games. For ages it’s been frequently cited as one of the capital-letter Best Ever, and it features broad entertainment in perennial genres mixed with some seriously deep ruminations and excellent character development. For all that, though, it isn’t popular with modern audiences at all because of how mired it is in the bygone age when it was made.

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