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Used under CC License, WeeLittlePiggy 2013

**WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND**

The Hunger Games has made that fabled and increasingly impossible jump from book series to cultural and blockbuster phenomenon. Given the gargantuan success of the first film and the increasingly positive word of mouth preceding the sequel film adaptation, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, the real question on the minds of Games’ fans and Capitol citizens alike is unanimous: what the hell is Francis Lawrence and Lionsgate going to do with Mockingjay?

It is no secret that the Hunger Games series fully experienced the law of diminishing returns as each successive sequel book premiered. Even before the first film wowed most of the world (although still disappointed some fans, despite being widely hailed as one of the more faithful adaptations in existence) the final book and end to the story of the Capitol and the Games, Mockingjay, was met with a resounding sigh of disappointment from fans and critics alike. The final installment is not only long, but it dismantles many of the relationships and fan-favorite ideas that have been built over the course of the series in lieu of psychological discourse, gore-filled blood baths (saying this in the context of the already super violent Hunger Games universe, mind you), character expulsions, cheap death scenes and beating it over the heads of the readers that war is bad and good vs. evil is not always black and white (points most readers already fully grasped by the end of book 2.) The result is a mess that would make Effie Trinket vomit; a bloated, boring, insensitive misfire that seems as though author Suzanne Collins either suddenly got sick of writing her characters or simply sunk a knife into the beautiful mahogany of her own series.

Given the nature of the publishing industry and how fiercely protective they are of their franchises, I was actually quite shocked that Mockingjay ever made it to print. For the longest time, too, I said nothing to fellow readers as I was almost certain of the response I would get. Boy was I wrong. Not only was my opinion shared, but some other fans of the series were far, far more upset by Mockingjay than I was. This criticism was not of the superfan, super-illogical drivel that is so common in beloved series, but actual, fervent issues that seemed to be decently unilateral among readers. Length, absence of characters, poor story flow and construction, mishandled character deaths, conflicting themes, the list goes on. This creates an interesting problem, or perhaps opportunity, given your perspective, for the film adapters. Mockingjay simply cannot be translated directly into a two-part film without making some extremely serious changes. The mass public simply won’t buy it and even though readers are usually quite adamant about faithfulness in translation, most of the ones I spoke to agreed that while the first two installments were great material for mass-film translations, a point I wholeheartedly agree with, Mockingjay needs some help before it can go to the silver screen.

I took some time via simple conversations with fans of the both the film and book series and while not everyone agreed (which is largely impossible given the nature of the beast), there were many areas where their opinions, as well as some of my own, overlapped. Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as writer Danny Strong, already announced some changes to Catching Fire and heavily insinuated that some drastic changes would be made to Mockingjay. Some of the Catching Fire changes listed are as follows:

  1. Peeta is “manned up” a bit and swims, instead of needing rescuing, at the beginning of the Quarter Quell.
  2. Effie Trinket’s character and conscience are expanded and she is more dynamic than static (like she was largely in the books.) Her screen time has also been heavily increased compared to the novel.
  3. Twill and Bonnie are excised from the story and District 13 is revealed in a more “interesting” way, according to Jennifer Lawrence.
  4. The game center from the first film will appear once again, a dimension widely viewed as an inspired addition to the series.

These are relatively small changes, but they reflect a positive point amongst the filmmakers: bringing the essence of a story to life sometimes requires changes. Given these changes and the general disappointment concerning Mockingjay in literary form, here are some of the changes I have heard that fans, as well as a few of my own, would like to see incorporated into the two-part epic that will be Mockingjay:

  1. Effie Trinket’s character needs to be present, in some form, during the revolution and her dissent from the Capitol, as well as support of Katniss and change of character/conscience, made a larger plot point. Given that Effie, via the films, has become an even more beloved character, I think we are already seeing this happen in the second film and will see it continue. This, in my estimation, may end up being the biggest change to the third film. I expect her character may have an entirely different story altogether in the 3rd and 4th films.
  2. Peeta’s brainwashed stupor needs to be present, but heavily reduced and he needs to be “there” during the revolution, not relegated to a flimsy romantic side character. Some even suggested replacing this story line completely, which honestly, I would be more than okay with.
  3. Individual district revolutions, and the connections to the fallen victors, needs to be expanded upon and actually shown, not just talked about. (Already hinted at in the Catching Fire trailer footage.)
  4. Katniss’ love triangle with Peeta and Gale needs to be resolved in a louder, more revelatory manner. Additionally, Katniss needs to actually express genuine love towards Peeta, not the simple apathy present in the books. (Of all the points, this was the most agreed upon.) Again, we have already seen this start in the film adaptation of book one where it is no question that Katniss is truly falling for Peeta, a change I am hugely glad they made.
  5. Katniss’ fall from grace after shooting Alma Coin and being sent back to District 12 as a lunatic is probably the single biggest disappointment of the entire series for readers. Katniss needs an entirely different, more proactive and heroic ending.
  6. District 13 needs to be streamlined and the story there intensified with almost everyone qualifying that this was the longest and most arduous part of the story. The best suggestion I heard? “Instead of just mulling about in a bunker, the film should take the post-apocalyptic setting of District 13 to tell the story of how Panem came to be.”

And finally, the single most controversial of all the changes, but one that I have completely fallen in love with upon reflection. Take a breath, here we go…

  1. Gale needs to die…and by Katniss’ hand. Gale is heavily inferred to have been the source of the plan that killed Primrose as well as swaths of innocent people at the hands of Alma Coin, with his fire and passion for seeing the Capitol fall blinding him to the costs at which it will come. This needs to happen at a climatic moment wherein the frustrations both romantically and the continually expanding rift between Katniss and Gale is fully expressed. If done correctly, this could be wildly dramatic, cathartic and heartbreaking. I see a grand moment where Katniss makes the decision but goes to Gale’s side after she plants a bow in his chest, a crumbling Capitol behind him as he sees his dream finally come to life as he leaves this life. I would sob, absolutely sob. It’s the kind of death that is full of gray area, hard to watch, heartbreaking for the fans, but also a welcome departure and moment of closure for this character (closure that is inexplicably absent in the book, wherein there is almost no resolution with Gale at all, which is just not going to fly for a film audience.)

These are merely thoughts from critically-thinking readers and fans who want nothing but the best for this overall amazing franchise. Not everyone agrees on these ideas and indeed a few don’t think anything needs to change at all, but It seems the filmmakers and actors have already picked up on and started making some of these changes, so only time will tell if Mockingjay will be the story fans deserve instead of the one the one they got. I, for one, think that change is a good thing.

What are your thoughts on the series? Should Mockingjay be changed? What else would you like to see different in the final two films?

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Movies are visual creations. Whether or not a movie is any good relies heavily on the visuals that help convey the story at hand, in other words, if the CGI, costumes, production design, etc. suck, then in all likelihood, so will the movie. Now the dialogue, editing, direction skill and everything else that goes into any one film has to be top notch as well for it to be watchable, but that is another blog entirely…these are the most visually stunning films of the past 50 years. Some are considered classics, others…not so much. But one thing is certain: they are fun to look at!

(No Particular Order)

1. Moulin Rouge
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Production Designer: Catherine Martin

Courtesy of IMDB

This 2000 film was the third film outing for visual powerhouse director Baz Luhrmann and his production designer wife Catherine Martin. The costumes, over 1000 different pieces in total, are cause alone for this musical menagerie to make the list. Add to it Luhrmann’s  distinctive quick editing and sets so intricate they are overwhelming to behold (especially in the sensory-bombastic finale) and you have a recipe for visual greatness. This one has the added boot of being considered one of the best movies of the last decade, insuring that its visuals will be enjoyed for years to come. The best part? Almost all of the visuals are accompanied with insane special effects, editing and thrill ride-like filming that transports the viewer at a furious pace through the dark, wonder-filled tragedy of the denizens of the Moulin Rouge. Be warned, Moulin Rouge is as much liked for its visuals as it is hated, with some claiming that seizures, motion sickness and even migraines resulted from the occasionally frenetic action. Just like a true thrill ride, if you are prone to these conditions, then please don’t get on. If not, then brace yourselves for one of the most immersive, thrilling and moving films ever made.

3 Scenes to Watch

Spectacular, Spectacular! (The Finale to Moulin Rouge)

Elephant Love Medley

The Can-Can!

Lara in the Temple of Light

2. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Director: Simon West

Production Desinger: Kirk M. Petrucelli

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a 2001 cult-favorite by director Simon West and Paramount Pictures. Based on the best selling video game series of the same name, Tomb Raider debuted with a lead attached who was unmatched at that point in the form of Angelina Jolie, a relatively new actress to the action world, having specialized in dramas and independent pieces up to that point. The film was unfairly panned by people who, for the most part, did not really understand its point: pure, unadultered fun. Since its release in 2001, the film is one of the rare exceptions in the film industry in which the film has actually gained popularity in its maturity, with most, including revered film critic Roger Ebert remarking in retrospect that in 2001, it was “ahead of its time” and paved the way for more successful films like Iron Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Batman Begins. Visuals are the film’s strongest point, still holding records for two of the largest sets ever constructed (the Temple of Light and Croft Manor) and some of the most intricate designs for working set pieces to date (see the Lot in the Temple of Light and the Orrery in the Temple of Time).  Mix in the still insanely covetous Croft Manor and the bungee ballet scene and you have a recipe for a visual good time. Even if you don’t like the story,  just pay attention to the art contained within, I still have yet to see an adventure film that matches Tomb Raider in visual eye candy.

3 Scenes to Watch

Orrery, Temple of Time (Siberia Sequence-Finale).

Temple of Light (Cambodia Sequence)

Bungee Ballet (Croft Manor)

Pictures are courtesy of Tombraiderchronicles.com and Allmoviephoto.com, Moulin Rouge! is property of 20th Century Fox and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is property of Paramount Pictures.

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Poster Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ah, Summer.

The sun, the warmth, the flowers, the fun, and of course…the movies.

Every year I find myself dizzy with anticipation as the summer grows closer for two reasons, one: I love warm weather, even excessively warm weather is good, and two: I love summer blockbusters. Now, every single one of the last eighteen years of my life has served a generous, but perfectly portioned amount of Hollywood entertainment during the months of May through August. However, the year 2008 has not been so pleasant, as we, the American public have encountered a tragic epidemic: Blockbuster-itis.

Blockbuster-Itis:(Noun) A profound illness with symptoms of entertainment apathy and boredom due to an unhealthy inundation of expensive, exciting, and flashy filmmaking resulting in skewed reviews, angry patrons and empty wallets. Avoid at all costs.

I classify a “Blockbuster” as any film costing more than 50 million dollars to make with hopes of generating at least 50 million or more in box office returns. This is normally a GREAT thing. During the Spring and Fall we all feel the lag in quality film as Hollywood spews out its “buffer” films (i.e. the romantic comedies, low-budget horrors, off-beat animated, parody comedies and ‘artistic’, independent films). That is why summer is so great, because beyond the short window of the Thanksgiving-Christmas movie showdown period, summer is the only time when we actually get some worth-while fare. And, in truth, Summer 2008 has been full of said fare. So what is the problem? Here it is: THERE ARE TOO MANY MOVIES. Yes, I said it. And no, I am not the only one. Hollywood is already feeling the financial pressures of the cinematic flood as the American and International public cannot keep up with demand from the studios to see their films. In May ALONE, we had the following:

Posters Courtesy of Comingsoon.Net

Iron Man-May 2nd, Speed Racer-May 9th, Narnia: Caspian-May 16th, Indy Jones: Skull-May 22nd, Sex and the City-May 30th.

That is one MAJOR Blockbuster EACH and EVERY weekend!! No wonder we can’t keep up! With nationwide gasoline topping $4 dollars a gallon and movie ticket prices sky-rocketing to offset cinema expenditures, the Global movie market is simply unable to comply. Let me illustrate this. Look at the schedule above, now using even trace amounts of logic, listen to this:

Opening Weekend goals: Iron Man- $50 million, Speed Racer- $35 million, Narnia- $75 million (no joke), Indy Jones- $100 million, Sex and the City- $30 million.

Now guess how many actually met those? Only 3. Iron Man exceeded all expectations, Indy made money but tanked critically (I loved it), and Sex and the City had the highest rated-R opening ever, only to make next to nothing in week two.

The real Loser here: Speed Racer.

I don’t include Narnia because quite frankly it was not very good and Disney knew better than to release it in such close proximity to other films. Shame on you Disney. But Speed Racer is a true gem that simply fell through the cracks. Plagued by Iron Man pandemonium, this wonderful and artistically nuts family delight with great morals and some of the most entertaining moments I’ve seen on film in years went largely unseen by the public. But how can you blame them?

That’s just it. You can’t.

Most of the movie going public are lower-middle to upper-middle class citizens ages 10-40. And yet, this is exactly the demographic most negatively impacted by the rising cost of living in today’s world. It makes me wonder just how out of touch the critics, as well as the entirety of Hollywood, are with the very people who pay their salaries. If I had been the studios, I would have aimed to only have a one major movie come out every other weekend ( I do realize this would greatly decrease the volume of films, which is the point). And yes, they do fight like cats and dogs over release dates, so the studios knew exactly what they were doing when they assigned them this close together. Secondly, I would have moved Caspian to Christmas 2008, and Speed Racer to August 15th to end the summer with an upbeat and exciting bang.

Needless to say Hollywood is panicked. New Line Cinema just recently went belly-up and Warner Brothers has since liquidated two of their studios (Picturehouse and WB Independent). How could they expect a recession-ridden economy to be able to support these films? And, better yet, how did they believe the critics could tolerate so much crammed into so little time only to be slammed by them purely out of desperation?

With the summer still young and more of the same inundation to come it makes me wonder: What was Hollywood thinking?

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