25 June 2012

I Am Disappoint: Pixar's Botched BRAVE

     I adore Pixar. I've grown up with Pixar. My brother and I used to dress up as Buzz and Woody. We quoted Finding Nemo obsessively for months following its release. We collected Monsters, Inc. toys. So every part of me wanted BRAVE, Pixar's newest offering, to be a huge, soaring triumph. I'm sure you've read reviews that said that BRAVE is merely acceptable, that the story is predictable and the humor childish, and unfortunately, that's all true. It doesn't have the same crossover appeal as Pixar's other movies (I watched Monsters, Inc. this afternoon and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I watched it at age seven) or the heart. It's not only not a very good Pixar movie, it's not a very good kid's movie (and there are some seriously stinky kids' movies out there, let me tell you). 
     The heroine of BRAVE, a scottish princess named Merida, seems like Pixar's weak attempt at a Disney princess-- and indeed, she combines the worst traits of The Little Mermaid's rebellious Ariel and Mulan's titular heroine (as well as sharing her aversion to arranged marriages). The problem is, her character never really gets beyond this. She puts her own selfish desire for a "free" life above the good of the kingdom, refusing to marry one of the suitors from the other clans and putting her mother (who is also, mind you, the queen) in danger. Although in the end she makes a speech in which she comes close to apologizing for this narcissism and choosing a suitor, the crisis of any real sacrifice is quickly averted and she moves on, her character statically bratty.
      The view of mother-daughter relationships in BRAVE is also seriously concerning. Her mother is portrayed as bossy and ruthless because she-- I don't know, doesn't want weapons on the table? (Most of the movie, I was on the mother's side-- Merida needed a good spanking). However, if Merida's character remains immobile, the mother is the one who "grows" in this flick-- grows into a worse parent, that is. After Merida transforms her into (Spoiler Alert? I guess?) into a bear in a selfish attempt to "change her fate", Merida treats her like a large, dull pet, and the mother is so impressed by Merida's foraging abilities that she realizes she has been wrong to force Merida to be someone who she isn't and goes on to say that she should do "what her heart tells her to", which is probably the worst advice a mother could give to a daughter.
     BRAVE is really too uninspired to carry any seriously damaging message. There's some druid  magic and witchcraft, poorly explained, lots of crude jokes and naked bottoms the likes of which we're used to seeing from Dreamworks, not Pixar, and a whole hodgepodge of cliches such as "follow your heart" and "change your fate" and of course, "be brave", but none of them really mean anything-- they're just words that are meant to imbue the movie with heart or meaning (a purpose at which, I must say, the fail oftener than they succeed).
    The ultimate flaw of the movie, artistically and even morally, is the lack of development: it starts with Merida changing her own fate in what is, I presume and hope, meant to be an obviously selfish and repugnant way, and ends with her "fate" changing-- just the way she wanted it, with a lot of danger and inconvenience to her family and kingdom along the way. At the risk of sounding boorish, and yes, I know that this would make for a dull narrative, the truly BRAVE thing for Merida to have done would have been to marry one of the suitors, even if they didn't make butterflies tickle her tummy, you know, just for the tiny purpose of KEEPING THE KINGDOM FROM FALLING INTO WAR. But instead, she opts for a route that puts her mother, brothers, and eventually entire kingdom, in terrible danger. As it is, a more apt moniker for the movie would be SELFISH.
   I sincerely hope that Pixar's winning streak isn't over. Yes, BRAVE is predictable and crude, yes, Cars 2 wasn't good either, but Toy Story 3 was, and Up was, and the nine other movies before those were. So hopefully, this is just a slight hiccup, not the decline of a great movie studio. I'll be awaiting Monsters University most eagerly.

Also, regarding the title of this post: no, my grammar is not that terrible, it's a MEME, people. You have internets, you should know this.

06 June 2012

Leah's Musical Reveille

Yes, a reveille is "A signal sounded esp. on a bugle or drum to wake personnel in the armed forces". That really has nothing to do with this post itself, but hey, I promised, and when I promise, I deliver.
     We have all have things that we inexplicably like, without reason or defense. For me, it's things like the movie Stardust and Anne Hathaway and sunflower seeds. I couldn't explain to you why I like these things; I just do. The Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian is another of those things which I have deeply and passionately loved while heretofor being unable to articulate the reason why.
      Spiritually, they run the gamut--their lyrics range from vaguely pleasant spiritual expressions such as "Someone above has seen me do all right/ someone above is looking with a tender eye" (If She Wants Me) and "reading the Gospel to yourself is fine" (We Rule the School) to anti-religious reproaches such as "If you're feeling sinister / go up and see a minister / He'll try in vain to take away / the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever" (If You're Feeling Sinister). This, combined with the vaguely homosexual subtexts of many of their songs (frequent swapping of the pronouns "he" and "she", references to sexual orientation confusion in songs like "Expectations" and "Lord Anthony"), shows that the band has religious sympathy (the lead singer claims to be a Christian), while having no real concrete moral basis or strong belief.
     In a way, this lack of a moral compass leads to a sense of haunting searching (similar to Coldplay's mournful "Viva La Vida" or Death Cab for Cutie's "Into the Dark") that permeates many of their songs and adds an element of intense interest, even to the lighter songs that display where the band's hope is really found.  While Death Cab's Ben Gibbard finds his hope in romantic love and truly believes that such a thing exists, somewhere, Belle and Sebastian is at least self-aware enough to realize that they find theirs (its? I'm never sure with bands) in ideals, in fantasies about the way things should be. This is summed up nicely in "Wrapped Up in Books",  a song that chronicles a couple's imaginary relationship: "Our aspirations are wrapped up in books/ and our inclinations are hidden in looks". Salvation is found, not through what actually is, but through what could potentially be. Lord Anthony, "bullied at school" imagines a time when he'll be able to "leave them without a shadow of a care," but his eventual fate does not seem as ideal as he imagined -- "Tony, you're a bit of a mess...Anthony, it couldn't get worse". In "Write About Love", the dissatisfied character in the song escapes monotony through writing about an imaginary man who fits her ideals, rather than praying for a release from monotony ("Get on your skinny knees and pray/ maybe not today"). 
       So why are they worth listening to? As Christians, we know that things on this earth are not the way they are supposed to be-- we live in a fallen world, and can share with Belle and Sebastian a dissatisfaction with injustice and unpleasantness in the world around us.  But we also have a solid, concrete hope that things will one day be put right, rather than a vague wish that things could be different, that we could change the world bu writing about it. Belle and Sebastian's idealistic vision of the way the world should be is sometimes strikingly Biblical, sometimes flat-out sinful, but always interesting and enlightening. 
     Their lyrics are poetic and throught-provoking, more so than most modern songs and most modern (dare I say it...) Christian songs, which often repeat the things we've heard already over and over again in unimaginative and repetitive ways. Belle and Sebastian communicate in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and definitely not of the norm. (A note on the "aesthetically pleasing" part: Belle and Sebastian's folksy, unusual sound will not appeal to everyone. Just be warned. I've been accused of listening to "parody music"). It's not as if every one of their songs is worth listening to over and over againt-- a few of their songs deal with completely innapropriate themes and others certain foul language (however, due to their Scottish accents and lingo, it may take a while to realize exactly what a song is about!) However, it is important that we don't dismiss something out of hand just because it has some inappropriate content at times, especially when it is something as conducive to soul-searching as Belle and Sebastian's contemplative ballads.
     So take a listen. See what you think. Your inner hipster will thank you. Some of my favorites are "Piazza, New York Catcher", a song about travelling and everyday adventures), "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" (a song about writing songs that will appeal to anyone with a literary bent), "Funny Little Frog", which is, now that I think about i,t kind of a stalker song, but like, in a cute way, ya know? 

08 May 2012

Superhero Mega Appreciation: The Avengers

     The long-anticipated star-studded ensemble superhero extravaganza The Avengers entered theaters this weekend with a...vengeance. Teehee. See what I did there. It's already breaking records; it surpassed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 for biggest opening weekend, almost recouping its production budget in the first three days it was out. That doesn't necessarily mean that much; it seems like almost every new movie that comes out nowadays breaks some new record, and Avengers is really only the second big movie out this year. However, that's still a ton of money. And is it worth it?
    Yes. Yes, it is. I am so happy to be able to say that yes, it is. It's enjoyable, action-packed, character-driven, and smart. In fact, it's prime Joss Whedon ( and I'm not just fangirling. Okay, I kind of am. When his name came up at the end of the movie, I screamed and was greeted with blank stares from the rest of the theater. Oh well, it was worth it. I cheered again when his writing credit came up). Caution: Spoiler-y-ness may follow. 
     The most important thing that Avengers gets right is the characters. In a giant cast like this, it would be easy for most of the scenes to go to one or two characters while thee rest merely supported those stars, but each member of the Avengers (and even the villain) get plenty of screen time and development. Also, Avengers manages to keep the individual tones of each previous movie when dealing with a character (an example of this would be the soundtrack; a classical ballad plays at a concert and continues through a Captain America scene, but when Iron Man comes on it changes abruptly to one of the rock songs characteristic of the first two Iron Man movies), while still establishing a new tone for the group dynamic that is totally different.
See, like this kind of group dynamic. This was the scene where Captian America chaperoned Hawkeye and Black Widow's date. 

    Avengers also had some more overtly religious symbolism than the other Marvel movies; Whedon is by no stretch a Christian, but he certainly has an interest in faith and the supernatural, which he displays even in the vaguely occultic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Religous characters show up frequently in his work (spirits/demons/priests in Buffy, faithful Shepherd Book in Firefly who is rarely shown without his Bible), so it is no surprise that Whedon is willing to explore spiritual ramifications in Avengers. One interesting example of this occurs toward the middle of the movie when Loki (the main villain in Avengers and Thor's brother from Thor) commands a crowd of people to bow to him. He says something to the effect of, "You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel," and one old man stands up and says, "Not to men like you." The implication being that we were indeed made to kneel, but not just to anyone who thinks they can command us. One other scene that surprised me in its directness occured just after Thor's debut in the movie. Captain America, thinking he is a villain, is about to go after him, when someone tells him something like, "You'll never be able to catch up with him. He's a god." The Captain responds, "There's only one God, Ma'am. And I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." That line, simple and direct, got a rousing cheer from the audience in my theater, and it was heartening and surprising to see something like that in such a popular film. Black Widow's back story also had some interesting spiritual parallels-- while it's often hard to tell whether or not she is telling the truth, it seems at least clear that she has some sort of "red on her ledger" that she's desperately trying to absolve herself of. (Here's where I will display the sad truth that I am totally a complete nerd, yet I am an unsatisfactory nerd at that. I don't read comic books. So I have no idea what the back story between Black Widow and Hawkeye is.) Black Widow seems to think that the only way she can clear this from her record is through saving Hawkeye-- but Loki tells her something like, "do you think you can really make up for the thousands of deaths you've caused by saving one man?"  The Black Widow's tortured state as she tries to "justify" herself is clear...unless of course, she's lying about all that, too. One can never know with her.
Or maybe, when she says "ledger", she means "hair." That would also make sense. 
     The character development is really what sets Avengers apart from other summer popcorn flicks. None of the other movies have flopped (well...except for The Incredible Hulk), in part because they all have very strong characters and great actors. However, in Avengers, Whedon takes these characters that we are already familiar with and mixes them together, sometimes pitting them against one another and sometimes showing strong bonds between them. Each character has an individual struggle that gives them plenty of screen time: Iron Man dealing with arrogance and not wanting to play as "part of the team," Captain America seeking to re-adjust after being out of commission for 60+ years, Bruce Banner struggles with not letting the Hulk control him, Thor and Loki struggle with Loki's daddy issues, Black Widow struggles with her dark past, and Hawkeye, um...gets turned into a zombie or whatever I guess? So here's the character breakdown:
Hawkeye: I love Hawkeye to death, but he doesn't have a huge presence in this film. I mean, he's in it a lot, and he's heroic, and he has some really good scenes with the Black Widow. And his arrows are super cool. But he was one of the less compelling characters, at least on this go-around.
Plus, I thought cracking jokes during surgery was totally unprofessional.
Black Widow: was a pleasant, pleasant surprise. I don't remember her being all that memorable in Iron Man 2...I just remember sort of thinking, "Oh hey. Scar Jo. She can kill people and that's cool and whatever. Also she looks pretty which is why she's here." In Avengers, she's much more of a real presence and a real character-- from defeating a bunch of dudes while tied to a chair to squeezing key information out of Loki, she rocked. And while Black Widow's outfit is a skin-tight leather suit, I guess I can't really complain since that's basically what all the guys in this movie wear. And she never loses part of her costume during battle, she never kisses anyone, and she never gets kidnapped by the villain. So, cheers all around.
Thor: I like Thor. I think he's fantastically adorably awkward. I thought his movie could have been better, so I wasn't expecting much from him in Avengers. But I actually liked him in this way more! He has to deal with the villain being his own brother, along with the knowledge that his arrival on earth was what caused S.H.I.E.L.D. to create superweapons with the tesseract. And all the while he's so fantastically adorably awkward.
Hulk: The Hulk was amazing. Mark Ruffalo did a phenomenal job, and the character rehaul definitely worked-- Banner is likeable and compelling. There's a bit of a werewolf aspect to Hulk (which is why I've never been a huge fan. I dislike the whole werewolf mythos, since it says basically, "You are an animal and there is nothing you can do to control yourself," which is certainly interesting for a story but has some very dangerous implications), but it's definitely a pleasure to watch Banner take control of the Hulk and bring him to fight for his own ends (which is confusing since they're actually the same person but...ya know).
Of course, Joss is used to writing totally adorable werewolf-types. 
     IRON MAN AND CAPTAIN AMERICA: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Now, perhaps I'm being unfair here since the Captian is my favowite Avenger. But honestly, the dynamic between these two was so perfect. I had been wondering how it would work out when the snarky, arrogant Tony Stark encountered the earnest, serious Steve Rogers. And it's every bit as prickly as you would think it would be at first-- Stark mocks Rogers, and Rogers is disgusted by Stark. However, their interactions made for the most rewarding character development, as the Captain continually berates Iron Man for his bad attitude, and while IM (that's what I'm calling Iron Man from now on) retaliates with his trademark off-the-cuff wit, it becomes clear towards the end of the movie when {Spoiler Alert} he actually demonstrates the self-sacrifice of a hero, just as CA (that's Captain America, for those keeping track at home) encouraged him to do. Stark also realizes halfway through the movie that he is just like Loki when he says, "He wants an audience...he wants people watching...he wants monuments that reach into the sky and spell out his name..." realization dawns on Stark's face as the camera pans out to reveal the giant Stark Tower rising above New York City. This arc is completed at the close of the movie, when the camera once again pans back to show that rather than letters spelling out "STARK" on the tower, only the "A" (for Avengers!) remains. Sooooo sweeeeeet.
It's like this, but without the S, the T, the R, and the K.

    The plot really is driven by the characters, which means that it is not just another mindless action film-- although it does have some seriously fantastic action sequences! But the action sequences have a purpose, they're not just Michael Bay Random-Splosions. I was worried when I heard there were going to be aliens in it-- Indy 4, anyone--but the aliens really don't have a huge presence in the movie, and they come in at just the necessary time for a show-stopping fnale without bogging the film down.
   Joss Whedon did a great job making a film that not only meets but exceeds expectations-- and expectations on this one were huge. We can look forward to not only Captain America 2, Iron Man 3, The Avengers 2, and whatever other movies arise from this franchise, but hopefully to many more movies helmed by Whedon. And maybe. Just maybe. Another season of Firefly. (Hey, I can dream, right?)

P.S. Oh, and I guess Nick Fury was in it too. Every time he was offscreen I forgot he was a part of the movie. I guess he had to put the gazpacho on ice or whatever.

*Samuel L. Jackson Bonus Alert * *Samuel L. Jackson Bonus Alert *Samuel L. Jackson Bonus Alert*

17 April 2012

Some thoughts on Female Protagonists

   I promise that this is not merely another Hunger Games post. I realize that I've been prolifically posting on that particular subject lately, in fact, I've been bordering on fangirling (which is not something I normally do for anything other than Star Wars and Joss Whedon). The feminist movement, as I like to tell the imaginary hordes of people who want to hear what I have to say, was severely damaging to the family and society as a whole in many ways, but that being said, it really sort of had to happen.
This had to happen, too. I definitely support this.

    Please understand, I'm not supporting some sort of radical feminist movement here. I'm supporting something that God ordained from the very beginning-- that men and women are equal and both created in His image. Their roles are different, but they're equal. So yes, woot for us getting the vote and all that.Without going into too much detail, I just have to lay a little bit of that out in order for the rest of the post to follow (it's one of those fancy "sequences", like the board game Sequence. Which I never could figure out how to play. But hopefully you'll be able to follow this sequence. Anyway.) (And, also? Pictures again! I know how much you kiddos love pictures and have taken it into consideration).
    If you look at stories, you basically have two types of female protagonists: the wimps and the butch. Into the "wimps" category would fall all the Disney princesses created before 1970 (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White), Lucie Manette from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (seriously, she is the worst), and, I gather, though not, fortunately, through first-hand experience, that Bella person from those Twilight stories. The wimps don't really do much. They sit around a lot, and they faint, and they are nothing without a man. (again, reiterating, I am not arguing that there is anything wrong with marriage or the man's authority therein. I am arguing against women who are weak and/or dumb.)
I mean...she's clearly not really the proactive type.
      The butch overcompensate by acting just like men. These are all the tomboys and the hardened women-- think any police/detective on any crime show ever, Starbuck, possssibbly Mulan, since she, ya know, dressed as a dude. Not that there aren't enjoyable things about both of these types of characters, but they are both very obviously written for women-- in the first case, conforming to age old stereotypes of how women should behave, and in the second, consciously attempting to buck those same stereotypes.
You see that? That is the look of a man who is questioning his sexuality.

    And then there are women protagonists who are written as people. Of course, this is the way women should be written: not as women, but as people. And an example of this is, yes, Katniss from The Hunger Games-- a protagonist who behaves like a normal human would, not consciously basing her decisions at all times around her gender. Honestly, another example of this would be Jane Eyre, who does not conform to the standard proprietorial ways a woman should behave-- Jane is brutally honest and says exactly what is on her mind, which is one of her most intriguing qualities. E.M. Forster, despite his worldview flaws, wrote women extraordinarily well-- not ignoring their femininity, but merely including it as a part of who they are. Look at this sentence from Howard's End, wherein Margaret, his "toothy" and opinionated heroine is attempting to discern whether or not a man has feelings for her: "She put it to herself as indelicately as possible, in the hope that her brain would cry, 'Rubbish, you're a self-conscious fool!' But her brain only tingled a little and was silent." It is a sentence that rings true as the natural thing that a woman would think in such a situation; not merely because she is a woman, but because she is a woman in that situation. She needs to figure out how to deal with it. Like a regular person would.
It's obvious why Forster knew so much about women. The man was a stud.

    -- I feel I must mention this in passing before I conclude, and it is a confession which will, I fear, alienate almost everyone I know. I don't really care for Jane Austen's protagonists. I'm quite sure that Elizabeth Bennett is very charming and very forward-thinking, and I have an uncomfortably and unfortunately close kinship to Marianne Dashwood...I could just never take them seriously. No matter how shockingly impolitely they spoke, everything still seemed so confined to their miniscule societies that it was hard to feel the weight of any of it, if you know what I mean. I am confident that this lack of appreciation for Austen is a flaw on my part, as people who are far wiser than I am adore her. I just thought that her heroines merited mention, since she has written some of the most famous females in literature. Please don't hate me.
I mean...be honest...she's not exactly gonna survive the Hunger Games, ya know?

   I hope my hastily written and, in all probability, ill-thought out ideas make some sort of sense to you. But if they don't, a thousand pardons and please, feel free to tell me what you think of feminine protagonists: how ought authors to treat them? And etc. et. al.

23 March 2012

Let's Talk About...The Hunger Games.

    While I wouldn't necessarily self-identify as a cynic, I'm certainly not overly optimistic when it comes to book-to-movie adaptions. Years of movies like Prince Caspian, Alice in Wonderland, and Eragon have hardened me against the prospect of a good book becoming a good movie. So I was really, really prepared for The Hunger Games to disappoint.
    It didn't. Miracle of miracles, it turned out to be one of the best adaptions I've ever seen. Disclaimer: It's been two years since I last read the book cover-to-cover, so my recollection of minor details may not have been spot on. However, HG managed to stay true both to the spirit of the book I remember reading, and to all of the major details. That's not to say they didn't leave things out; of course, an adaption can't remain 100% the same from page to screen, but nothing necessary was ignored, nothing was changed to the point of serious deviance from the source material, and the small changes that they did make, for the most part, led to a stronger film.
Especially this guy. Every extra scene with him in it was like a gift from the gamemakers.
     I do want to address briefly something I've talked about ad nauseum previously, which is, of course, the subject matter of the story itself. The reactions to it from Christians have been across the board, from  those who wholeheartedly accept it to those who reject it without consideration-- I don't think either of these is the correct response. There is an argument that the entire setup is a false dilemma and displays situational ethics at their worst. (Doug Wilson wrote this article to coincide with the release of the movie, expanding it from a brief review he wrote while reading the book: http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Reviews/christians-and-the-hunger-games.html). It's definitely a legitimate concern, especially when it comes to the book, in which Katniss is willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
    And that, incidentally, is one of the best things that comes from its silver screen debut: a drastic change in the character of Katniss herself. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss was a lot softer than the Katniss of the book. (Of course-- she'd have to be-- we can't read her thoughts, so she has to be expressive and not completely stoic). We, as the audience, never get the impression that she would be willing to kill Rue, or Peeta, or any of the other "innocent" tributes if it came down to that. (In the book, it's a lot more iffy, and she's a lot more pragmatic). In the movie, she retains a moral high ground of a sort by only seriously fighting with those tributes from the first and second districts who are there for their own glory of their own free choice.
This is what a "strong female protagonist" looks like. Take notes, world. 
     The downside of the movie is the visual aspect. While it's one thing to read an account of a death, it's entirely different to see it played out in front of you. It was actually less violent than the hype made it sound, but still-- pretty uncomfortable, to say the least. I was impressed, however, with how non-glamorous they made the violence and how much was kept off-screen rather than shown. It definitely seemed as if the filmmakers were saying, "What is the minimum amount of actual violence we can show that will still establish the seriousness of the situation without glorifying in it?", an effort I appreciated.
  That was obviously a very brief and incomplete attempt to show both sides of some of the Hunger Games issues. You can check out the archives if you're interested in more worldview stuff relating to them. But now, on to the movie itself!!! Caution: Somewhat spoilery, but I'm pretty sure most of you who are going to see the movie have already seen it.
"I don't always not drink. But when I do, I'm pretty awesome."
    Things the movie got absolutely, spot on, perfectly right:
    Katniss. Katniss, Katniss, Katniss. Oh, my goodness, was Jennifer Lawrence perfect. She brought a great balance between softness and stoicism. She was far more likeable than the book's Katniss, and she has pretty much the best speaking voice ever. (As for singing, well, that's another story.)
    Haymitch was amazing, too-- even though I still wish in the dark recesses of my heart that he was played by Hugh Laurie. Woody Harrelson did a tremendous job of making his character believable and developed without a huge amount of actual on-screen time. (Seriously, did anyone else completely lose it when it showed him watching Katniss struggle with her burnt leg, and then going out to try and get her sponsors?? :')
     All of the secondary characters were amazing-- all the tributes, all the people in the Capitol, etc. The movie had a unique feel, some seriously awesome costumes and sets, and , as I said, a near-perfect capture of the spirit of the book. (It was, by the way, an even nearer-to-perfect adaptation than the Harry Potter movies, which had their work cut out for them trying to condense 600+ page books into two hours).
    My number one favorite thing: They totally, totally, completely downplayed the love story/love triangle as much as they possibly could. I was certain they would try to make a bigger deal out of it than even the book does. But, if possible, they focused on it even less, and they really only showed the "love" angle in the context of the Games and how it saves Katniss and Peeta. I was thankful for that one, because it would have been hard to take the movie seriously if it had focused too much on cave smoochies in contrast to the backdrop of children killing other children.
In other words, these disturbingly cult-like promo images were misleading. 
      Things it got...somewhat wrong: (And let me clarify: I'm not addressing moral/ethical flaws since I've done that above and in earlier blog posts. Also, I'm nitpicking here. The movie was, over all, really good. But like anything, if you look close enough you can find some flaws.  So, here they are.)
   Gale fell into the trap I was afraid he would. (Hahahaha, get it? 'Cuz Gale makes traps?? I didn't even mean to do that!)  He just sort of came across as sensitive and meh, but he was hardly in the movie anyway.  (I will say, his reaction shots during the Katniss/Peeta scenes might be the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen, though.)
    Lack of development-- the movie did a really good job overall, but there were a couple of things it just failed to explain: Cinna was awesome, but they never really show why he is so personally invested in Katniss or develop his character. They also didn't explain a lot of the backstory of the rebellion, so if you hadn't read the book you would have been confused by the three-finger salute, mockingjays, etc. Also, whatever they were trying to do with Cato's storyline didn't really work. It just came across as confusing.
     And, of course... Peeta. Peeta... was... not... that... impressive. I love Peeta in the books. But in the movie, he just comes across as ... wimpy. And helpless. Rather than being Katniss' moral compass, as he is in the book, he just ... doesn't really do anything.  Their chemistry was awkward, and the cave scene was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever seen.  But, again, the movie didn't focus on that overly much, so it wasn't distracting.)
     Oh, and his camouflage tactics were downright silly, if I do say so myself.
That is a face that only a mother could love. Because it is the face of a baby. 
      All right, and the one thing that almost ruined it for me was when the tributes from 1 and 2 (and Peeta)corner Katniss and chase her up a tree. In the book, the tree is 80 feet high, and there is no way they can climb that high or shoot her. In the movie, it's about 16 feet high; they take two half-hearted shots at her and then say, "Hey, dudes, let's wait until she starves or something.".Know something, guys? I'm pretty sure if you shot at her a couple more times, or tried alternate angles, you'd get her eventually. But, no, just let her sit up there and potentially find a way to kill your whole group. That's cool, too.
      But these were honestly my only beefs with the movie. I apologize for the incoherence of a lot of these thoughts; I'm operating on like 4 hours of sleep here, gosh!! Long story short: if you liked the book, you should like the movie. And it was really nice not to have an adaptation disappoint for once.

06 March 2012

5 Ways the Hunger Games Movie Could Get It Wrong

    The new Hunger Games movie comes out in less than a month, and man, is the world a-buzz. I feel pretty proud of myself, both for having boarded this bandwagon early (usually, I'm the last one to catch on to these things; I have only seen one Star Wars movie in theaters and two Harry Potters.), and for not fully boarding the bandwagon of craziness that is rocketing towards the stratosphere of teen fandom at a speed that puts TwiHards to shame (kind of like how the speed at which that metaphor got away from me puts me to shame). Although, yeah, I liked the books, I'm going to see the movie, and yes, I'm dressing up for the midnight premiere, I like to flatter myself that I can also see the numerous flaws in the books and maybe even predict some that will be in the movie. Here are a few things the filmmakers could do that would completely ruin the story:
     1) Glamorizing the violence. I'm almost certain this will be the case because, after all, this is supposed to be an edgy teen movie about people kicking butt and looking good doing it. While the main characters will probably dialogue endlessly about how pointless and horrible the violence is, I suspect that the footage we see will contradict everything they are saying. We will be encouraged to look at the violence, to cheer when Katniss kills someone, and to get excited over the battle scenes. That contradicts the very message of the book, and, in an ironic twist, transforms us into clones of the detached viewers from the Capital and the districts who watch the Hunger Games for entertainment. While the book showed that these people were desensitized to violence and took voyeuristic pleasure in watching horrible acts of brutality, the movie, I suspect, will encourage us to enjoy the same kind of thing. This is closely related to number two:
   2) Changing the entire mood of the books. Obviously, a movie can't really be done in 1st person present-- not well, at least. The movie is sure to give us a wider vision of Panem, since we will not always be confined to Katniss' viewpoint, but will be able to see what others are doing and thinking as well. While it could be a wonderful thing to see a fuller version of the Hunger Games universe, it could also wind up altering the feel and uniqueness of the book. For instance, the filmmakers might decide to spend a lot of time on the other tributes and the "bad guys" at the Capital during the games, a focus which might distract from the story and needlessly confuse people (like we saw in the second Narnia movie, or Prince Caspian and the Over-Exposition of Miraz and Everyone in His Army Who Speak With Thick, Inaudible Accents, as I like to call it). It also runs the risk of making Katniss mega unlikeable because, well, be honest, the only reason you even sort of liked her is because you could see what she was thinking. If you judged her by actions alone, you'd conclude she was a jerk.
    3) Messing up the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. Seriously, because the way this unfolds in the book, through flashback and then slowly throughout the games, is just perfect-- it's not supposed to be a rushed, love-at-first sight, giddy kind of love, but more of a slow and steady growth. It's going to be hard for the filmmakers to portray all the layers of wrong assumptions and deceptions that go on throughout their relationship, also (think: Peeta really loves Katniss; Katniss thinks he is only pretending to for the games; Katniss goes along; Katniss eventually loves him; she doesn't know if he truly loves her, etc. Exhausting, no? And it's hard enough when you can read thoughts; imagine the challenge of portraying that visually).
    4) Making it too modern. By this, I mean too much a product of the present day alone. I've been concerned about this ever since Taylor Swift's single, Safe and Sound,  for the soundtrack came out. It's a pretty song, and it's on my iPod, don't get me wrong, but it seems like such a teen-beckoning, 2012-y step that I'm legitimately afraid of just how dated this might already be. These fears have been further confirmed by some of the images in the trailer-- what is described in the book as a mysterious, structurally complex gown that can light on fire is pretty clearly just a strapless prom dress that can, presumably catch on fire. And the promo shots of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta, are very, very Twilight (that's not a good thing, kiddos, btw). Which brings me to my last point
     5) Ruining the characters. I know this is a really, really broad statement, so I'll try to focus just on the ways the filmmakers could ruin the characters of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. With Katniss, my biggest fear is actually that she'll come across as a cardboard jerk. Without her first-person view, without knowing the inner workings of her mind, it would be very easy for her to appear cold, unfeeling, and pretty rude.  I think the  cardboard thing is also the biggest threat to Peeta; he's just a downright good guy, and filmmakers tend to deal with that sort of character either by making him boring and flat, or giving him all kinds of flaws to compensate, either of which would ruin the character. Gale could be too soft and Peeta-like, judging from the trailer; he seems like he's very much the sensitive type, which isn't really how he is in the book-- he's a good friend and it's easy for Katniss to talk to him because they're so similar, but he's not a big cuddly bare-your-feelings teddy bear (that dates Miley Cyrus :/). I guess what I'm saying is, it's going to be hard for these characters not to be influenced by Twilight, and we might just end up with a cardboard girl, otherworldly guy, and sensitive best friend.

    So those are some of my fears about the new movie. Gotta stay positive, right? If you want to read more about the Hunger Games and you're not sick of me yet, you can see my thoughts and incoherent babbline about the worldview of the books here: http://leahrabe.blogspot.com/2010/04/hunger-games.html 
    And heck, if you want to see how the movie might have gone if Disney had made it, check this out: http://leahrabe.blogspot.com/2010/05/derangeder-and-derangeder.html

14 February 2012

For the Valentine's Day in Your Life

 This Valentine's Day, I'm thinking about Christ's perfect love.   Here's an amazing article by Regina Doman, Catholic author of several fairy-tale retellings (I love fairy tales, don't you? I also-- don't spit at me or anything-- love Catholic authors. Occasionally. They tend to be really good writers. Ever noticed that? well...that's another discussion for another time, then). Anyway, I tried to find this article online but the internets failed me, so here it is: straight out of the pages of The Chesterton Review Fantasy Literature Issue.  (Incidentally, I posted part of this on my old blog a forever ago, so if you read it there, then a)you get brownie points for being an awesome person and b) it's worth re-reading.) Anyway, here you go:
Author's Reconnaissance: Reflections on Snow White by Regina Doman
The Prince:
The Prince is the most maligned fairy tale element in the modern world today. Only the knight in shining armor garners more pot shots than he. Perhaps it's because of the unfortunate appellation, "Charming"-- a legacy of the Disney film. In my casual reading and viewing I make a point of seeking out modern retellings of fairy tales in the media. So far I have yet to find one truly good prince.
    William Goldman satirizes Prince Charming as "Prince Humperdink" in the movie The Princess Bride. In Stephen Sondheim's fairy tale musical Into the Woods, which puts together a half-dozen Grimm's taes into an ensemble musical, the two Princes are egocentric white males obsessed with the thrill of the chase and low on commitment, symbolized in their song "Out of Your Reach". The exceedingly turgid teen romance novel Just Ella, ... about Cinderella's later life, has Prince Charming turn out to be a flake only interested in his bride for her looks.
         Other examples of ingrained Prince-hatred are forthcoming. The crippled-beyond-repair miniseries, The 10th Kingdom, wavers frustratingly between presenting a real fairy tale world and becoming enamored with satire and sex instead. What gave the overlong miniseries its death blow, in my opinion, was the decision to drop the Prince (Prince Wendell) as the hero and instead raise up a werewolf into a human fit for the heroine to marry.
    In the attempted remake of the "real" Snow White tale, which turned out titled Snow White: A Tale of Terror, and was blocked from major release in the U.S. by the now omnipotent Disney Company, the filmmakers apparently tried hard to believe in the fairy tale, but could not believe in the prince. I have not yet seen the film, but I understand that in this version, Snow White marries one of the "dwarfs" (!). A prince exists in the film, but only as bait for the evil queen's seductions. Seeing these lists of examples, one might well ask: why is it that we no longer believe in princes?
        I think it's not accidental. In the allegorical reading of Snow White, the Prince represents Christ. It is he who rescues the princess from her own deadly choice. He restores her to life, and brings her into his father's kingdom. Unlike in "Sleeping Beauty", he does not wake her with a kiss, but when he vows his love for Snow White (In language that recalls wedding vows) before the dwarfs, they surrender her coffin to him.
    As the servants carry away her coffin, they stumble over a tree stump, and "with that shock, the piece of poisonous apple that Snow White had bitten came out of her throat". The coffin shatters. She awakes and cries out, "Oh heavens, where am I?" "You are with me," the king's son cries out joyfully. "I love you more than anything in the world. Come with me to my father's palace and you shall be my wife." And Snow White goes with him gladly. 
     “The modern female, girl or woman, is sadly unacquainted with Christ the lover. Without him, her only hope for solace is human male love. And the rites of modern courtship expect that she will surrenser her soul not to one man, but to several over the course of her lifetime. The first man or boy she kisses will not be the last. She will fall deeply in love with at least one other man before she marries, and the pain of that breakup, which in many cases will be intensified by the tearing apart of an extramarital sexual bond designed to last a lifetime, will damage her trust and ability to believe in a man significantly, if not irreparably. After losing that first boyfriend (or, sadly, husband) is it any wonder that girls and women begin to doubt that the Prince exists? If they can still believe, it is because of a miracle. But God, even in this modern age, is generous with miracles in His healing of hearts. But apart from healing, how can you believe in the Prince? A female writer or consumer may well have her difficulties, given her own personal knowledge of men. Inevitably, they discover the idea of the Prince coming to save them is too good to be true. He just doesn’t seem like any man they’ve ever met, so therefore, he must not be real.
     The Prince has a hard role, detailed in other fairy tales. In “Snow White”, he comes in at the end and rescues the princess from death. Bit one doesn’t get that kind of power lightly. The Prince in other tales defeats dragons, suffers trials, searches the world on quests, and gains wisdom. He may be born to privilege, but he takes his responsibility seriously. In “Snow White,” he is not drawn to the princess because of her royalty, but because of her distress, which he feels a responsibility to put right. He and his father take upon themselves the responsibility of punishing the evildoers--the witch—at the end of the tale. If we follow the extra-literary coda, he is also responsible for ensuring Snow White can indeed live happily ever after.
      That’s quite a lot to live up to, and it’s unsurprising that many a modern male, artist or consumer, feels uncomfortable when it’s suggested that this might be a real standard he might be expected to imitate. Christ has never been an exactly pleasant role model. It’s too obvious to the appraising man what the consequences of truing to be like Christ might be. Being crucified naked upon a tree doesn't fit into most men’s career goals.
       The anti-Christ culture in the modern world, as much as it hates and vilifies women, in the end, must spew its final venom on that Man. Not only can it not believe in His divinity, it can’t believe in any of His personas. It refuses to believe that there is such a thing as a good man. It refuses to believe in such a thing as a pure man. A strong man with a combination of those qualities lives only in the most insulated halls of myth. It dreads and fears the virility of Christ. Any man who dares to make himself a persona Christi, whether he be a priest, a good father, a youthful activist, or any man fulfilling his calling, must be shot down. 
     But there he is: the Prince. He makes the fairy tales. The fragile bubble of the eucastrophic world can’t exist without him.”

05 January 2012

New Year's. And Painting. And Lancelot.

    I apologize in advance for the odd connections, but that's just how my brain works. It'll hopefully make sense after a while. They do all sort of fit together. I promise.
    So, welcome to 2012!...although it's been 2012 for a while now. Almost an entire work week! This is going to be a really exciting year for me...I turn 18, graduate from High School, and head to college in the fall-- some of the biggest changes and choices that I've ever had to face.
    I'm terrified of new years. You know why? Well, in the second semester of last school year, we started painting in my art class. I had never really seriously painted before (I mean, I'd done watercolors when I was a wee child, and some acrylics when I was a slightly less wee child,but not serious adult paint-requires-an-oil-medium-type painting), so I was really excited to paint on canvas with oils and do grown-up painting. Well, when I started my first painting-- an apple-- I sketched the apple quite confidently and then went to paint it on the canvas. The underpainting went well, just large, brown shapes to indicate light and shadow. But then, when I started really trying to paint with colors, I immediately froze. There were so many options, so many different color combinations, brush strokes, tones that I could use that would change the painting in huge ways (or in little ways. the details can be even worse to work with). I was terrified that I would ruin the painting, there were innumerable ways I could mess it up, and there were so many variables I wasn't sure would work.
   I know I'm rambling here. But the point is, for me, a new year feels a lot like that painting. There are so many decisions to be made throughout a year, so many ways I could ruin it. And that's terrifying.
    But then again, I'm not the one painting my life.
     On New Year's Sunday, the pastor (of a little church close to my Grandma's out in the middle of Havana nowhere) preached on a passage which is pretty popular for the New Year, Philippians 3:12-14.
     "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
   So that's what I'm going to do this year. What I should do every year. Strive towards Christ and know that He has a perfect plan.  Forget things that would hold me back (as in, not let them hinder me in the present striving).
    But then that got me thinking, too...what about sin in all of this? I know God is the one who is ruling my life. But what about when I sin-- "ruin the painting"?
   Well, it doesn't ruin the painting, not the one God sees. God sees Christ when He looks at me, and His perfect righteousness. That doesn't mean I can mess up my painting as much as I want, because I want my painting to look as much like Christ's as possible. If I make a mistake in a painting, I don't give up on the painting (well....sometimes I do *sheepish grin* but for the sake of the illustration, let's say I don't). I fix it. It's always fixable.
   And that's when I started thinking about Lancelot (because I always do, eventually, start thinking about Lancelot).  I'm going to assume you already know the story of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, and if you don't...well then. I don't really have an insult quite strong enough for you (although that's probably good, since "insulting people less" really ought to be among my New Year's Resolutions). T.H. White's The Once and Future King is my favorite retelling of the story, especially because White pays such careful attention to Lancelot's character and motivation. Lancelot, as he is introduced, is strong, valiant, and godly (okay, and also a little rude). He's also a bit self-righteous and believes that he is so strong and even able to perform miracles because of how close he is to God.  But then, after his first sin with Guinevere, he just gives up-- he says, essentially, "I've sinned once. God won't want to use me now. I might as well just keep sinning". He tries to stop a couple times, but that's the ultimate conclusion to which he comes.
   (Aside: I can't believe the plebeian spelling lows I've sunk to for you all just now. Obviously it should be "Launcelot" and "Guenever".)
   We can't have that same mindset. (There's a whole essay in here, by the way, on how Lancelot's failure really reflects the failure of the Catholic Church, which was really the only church at that time. If salvation is found through works, then, obviously, damnation is found through falling, even once. I will write it some day, quite prosumbly). When we sin, we aren't supposed to give up the ghost, but to "forget what lies behind" and "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
     That's a freeing thought for the New Year. Happy 2012. Our God is amazing.