Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

There was no hunger in The Hunger Games, but it’s still worth the wait.

Non-spoiler Synopsis
Panem, a world built on top of former North America, is governed by The Capitol. Its governance easily translates to tyranny. With the oppression of the 13 districts, District 13 led a rebellion aiming to overthrow the seat of power. The rebellion failed.

Thus, District 13 was incinerated and the Hunger Games was put into play.

Every year, two randomly selected tributes, a boy and a girl from each district, are shoved off into the televised Hunger Games. With the brutality of the games, the districts have become divided, and unwilling to ignite another rebellion despite the Capitol’s blatant injustice.

Praying not to be chosen as tribute, Katniss Everdeen of District 12 took on the job of bringing food on their table despite her young age, right after her father died in a mine accident. Her mom spent the days wallowing in grief, bereaving the death of her husband. Her younger sister, Prim, starving, Katniss had no choice but to be the head of the family.

The 74th Hunger Games changed everything as Prim’s name, against all odds, was unfavorably handpicked as one of District 12’s tributes, Katniss had to volunteer, pitting herself against 23 other tributes who will fight to the death since the Games allowed only one sole survivor, the victor.

The Hunger
The Hunger Games movie is good, not great, certainly not epic, but it’s worth the wait. In spite of this, I can’t shake off the feeling that it lacked the plot’s backbone—hunger. I’ve read the book, but after years of watching epic chapters being truncated to 2 hours of footage, I’ve been reasonable with my expectations on paper-to-screen transitions and I highly hoped, with the movie title having “Hunger” on it, that the film would not fall short in depicting the cause, the purpose, and the mechanism that Suzanne Collins has driven the book on. Though the movie did show the lavish lifestyle of the Capitol, and is still a satisfying visit to the cinema, it failed to reflect the famine experienced by its protagonist which is her motivation to survive.


The Cons

The Lack of Hunger or the Oppression:

-          Gale gives a bread to Katniss. Katniss did show a lot of interest on the bread that Gale gave her, this was very good but it’s like a picture frame without a stand because the rest of the film did not support this scene. Add Katniss’s flashback of Peeta throwing bread to her, and it made bread as if it’s the most luxurious food in District 12.

-          Katniss and Peeta’s appetite. In the film, Katniss and Peeta ate like they were used to food, pampered with their poise and manners despite the abundance of food, when they were supposedly trying to stop their selves from using their hands to devour every edible and succulent dish in sight.

Other film insufficiencies and unfaithful transitions:

-          Madge is nonexistent. This is very forgivable though Madge’s inclusion in the Hunger Games as a possible tribute is chained to the fact that even the District Mayor’s daughter isn’t exempted from the Hunger Games.

-          No goosebumps when Katniss volunteered. Maybe the lack of background music, the camera angle, or the framing of the scene failed to trigger a sigh. This scene felt rushed.

-          The Avoxes. This is also forgivable. Avoxes are people considered as traitors by the Capitol who are enslaved and whose tongues were cut. They are a living proof of the Capitol’s brand of justice. In the film, they're the ones wearing red either standing in a corner or waiting on the Tributes and their posse.

-          No bread from District 11 after Rue died. This was the first sign of hope for a unity between the districts so I felt that it was crucial point. Though the film brought us a glimpse of book two, Catching Fire, to substitute this scene. It lacked the message that the crisp bread delivered, the appreciation of District 11.

-          No hardship before finding a source of water. This showed Katniss’s ability as a hunter, that she can survive in the woods. I understand that the film had to trim this down, but it failed to compromise this cut by showing her survivor skills except for tree-climbing and her shooting.

-          There were notes from Haymitch. Katniss’s brilliance includes how she worked out a system of communicating with Haymitch, their mentor, through the receipt, and non-receipt, of gifts. Since this all went through her head, and the Games were televised, they can’t have Katniss speaking her mind so I guess the notes were the way to go.

-          Katniss did not say, “Let the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games begin Cato. Let them begin for real”. Katniss did not say it in the book but this would’ve been a good dialogue, as a definite and defiant sign that Katniss and Rue was taking the offense.

-          Seneca Crane was influenced by Haymitch, The scene where Haymitch advised Seneca to milk the romance between Peeta and Katniss made it seem like Haymitch had an indirect hand in Seneca’s death. This scene never happened in the book.

-          Clove died without a dent on her skull. Completely forgivable, but definitely one of the things I was looking forward to.

-          The Muttations weren’t emphasized that they looked like fallen tributes. Also forgivable, the film did still expound the Capitol’s iron hand. I only included this because it depicts how ruthless and inhumane the Hunger Games can be.

-          The parting of Peeta and Katniss was too bland. It was a very emotional moment for Peeta, finding out that Katniss had to pretend during the Games and trying to compute how much of her kisses were make-believe.

The Pros

As I’ve said, I still enjoyed the film. Films inspired by books can’t remain faithful to every detail and still produce a reasonable movie-length. But this is how the creativity, intelligent workarounds and strategic displacement of book elements, of film makers is tested.

-          Casting. First off is casting, I think casting was perfect especially for Haymitch. Perfect portrayal for Cinna. Followed by Katniss, Rue and Effie. Gale was a good choice and Peeta, though I still feel that Josh Hutcherson’s height compared to Jennifer Lawrence’s should’ve been considered, but I did not feel this was of great importance when watching the film. Cato was perfect. Okay, a bit biased but to be fair, his acting was fluid when he was on the Cornucopia and about to kill Peeta.

-          Capitol People. Aside from the breathtaking, Star Wars-like, design of The Capitol, its people were exactly how the book described them.

-          The Chariot scene. It could’ve been improved but it was enough. Though there was no Cinna suggesting to hold hands, symbolizing an alliance, I have no misgivings on this scene, Katniss is still the girl on fire.

-          Haymitch’s anger. Haymitch was angry while watching a Capitol kid pretending to attack her sister with a sword. The use of the kid playing around suggests the immensity that the Capitol do not see the tributes as people anymore and that they have lived with The Hunger Games for too long to care what it does to the tributes, their families and their districts.

-          Rue’s death. Rue’s death was epic, in terms of its tear-jerking capability. It triggered the same emotion in the film as it did in the book. Amandla Stenberg’s acting was notable.

-          One-on-ones of gamemaker, Seneca Crane, and Capitol leader, President Snow. The film interjected scenes where Seneca Crane was speaking with President Snow. Though this was an obvious way to compromise the transition of book to film, used as an excuse to tell the tale of implied concepts, these scenes were well-placed and well-made exhibiting a good use of foreshadowing.

-          Peeta is not a loser. The book made it seem as if Peeta is helpless and useless in hand-to-hand combat. Setting aside his strength of throwing a bag of flour, he never really used it to prove his strength in a fight. But during the fight scene with Cato, the film supported Peeta’s character in general, as a person who will fight and can fight when needed.

-          Overrated romance. The film did not include the ridiculous part where Katniss was too in love with Peeta in the interview with Caesar Flickerman, which I think is out of character despite her quandary when I was reading the book.

-          The suggestive part two. We all know that The Hunger Games is a trilogy and the film ended with an implication of something bigger is coming.

All in all, it is as expected that the film will not suffice the thirst of the story’s readers. However this may be, we always need to remind ourselves that we are an audience when we enter the theater, not a reader. I’m not saying that this is a hopeless and given case for book-to-film transitions, there’re still film makers who can surprise readers.

It is a good film. We should always be generous with our praises as much as we are with our critiques, that the experience was an exciting watch. But we cannot deny the decrepit backbone in portraying the hunger experienced by the districts, a healthy underpinning would’ve made an audience, who hasn’t read the book, easily understand where Katniss is coming from—a life of struggle, of poverty, of hunger. They should learn this from the film and not from their friend who read the book.

After all, Katniss, and the rest of the districts, has lived with a voracious appetite not only for food, but also for justice.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Fairytale Reviews, Part 1

It’s difficult not to revisit my childhood with two fairytale remakes released consecutively, Red Riding Hood and Beastly. The predisposed challenge for any remake is to innovate while preserving the core of a well-loved classic. 

I’m not a necromancer of classics such as directors, authors, recording artists and the like, but as a viewer, the core, the essence of a classic is a volatile material to which no definite effective method of tampering can be formulated.

There are those who would only dare to graze its surface by retelling or re-mastering, which could mean the audience applauding out of satisfying nostalgia or groping for the purpose as to why bother remaking if there’s nothing new.

In similar sense, those who are bold and courageous enough to paint over a Mona Lisa may receive the ridicule of purists or praises from nonpurists for such audacity. Either way, attempting a remake means painstakingly trudging on precarious ground.

Though there are numerous titles to discuss, my focus would be Ever After, Red Riding Hood and Beastly. It is inevitable to compare the three yet one should be aware that each film’s premise and execution is sufficiently distinguishable.

Ever After
Ever After is a retelling of the famous Cinderella story. Its storyline is built on what the film claims as the true story behind the well-known bedtime story of rags to riches. The movie was released in 1998 and starred by no less than Drew Barrymore.

It starts with the Grimm brothers, writers of most of the fairytales we grew up with, as royal guests of the Queen of France. With the success of their ‘once-upon-a-times’, the Grimm brothers become privy to the existence of the most indispensable item in the story, the glass slipper, as evidence of the life led by Nicole D’Barbarac, note that the last syllable of her last name is spoken as if there’s a fish bone stuck at the back of your throat—which you should not attempt if you have a sore throat.

The story is set in France during a time of castles, horses, and forced marriage between kingdoms, which is wholly similar with the fairytale’s setting. Such attribute and the removal of a fairy godmother, a fashionable gown with a 12 midnight curfew and a sweet pumpkin ride gives Cinderalla a sense of reality, and more of a historical approach.

Perhaps the more appropriate term to use is ‘substitution’ and not ‘removal’ of various elements which nonchalantly reminds us of Cinderella. For example, the mice friends of Cinderella were servants in the film, the fairy godmother is, surprisingly, the genius Leonardo Da Vinci, and the gown with a curfew is merely a metaphor.

These substitutions are minimal and most of the essentials of Cinderella remain intact and untouched. Which I believe is done on purpose, to leave a message that ‘happily ever after’ is not found in fairytales but drawn from anonymous reality. 

Movie poster from


Friday, October 22, 2010

A Gay Kid in the 90s

Seeing a gay kid pretend he isn’t gay amusingly reminds me of my own childhood. Not that I celebrate in someone else’s misery but it’s just nostalgic. I also tried to deny the irrevocable truth, so I understand how difficult it is. And it took quite a long time before I hit my head and realized I was fighting a losing battle. But I was in denial not merely for the sake of conformity but for fear of the unknown. Back then, I had no idea what it meant to be gay. But I do know what I enjoyed.

Volleyball. Surprisingly, basketball was my first sport. I remember enjoying the feeling of getting the ball through the hoop, until I played with three other kids—a 2-on-2 game. While people would think gays enjoy basketball because you get the ‘chance’ to brush up on a baller’s.. well.. physique, that's not the case for me, honestly (cue scowls and doubts ‘weh ‘di nga?!?). I didn’t like it because of the sweat. Your shirtless opponent is practically drying himself on your shirt. I felt like a towel, and remember going straight to the shower after that game. I was an idiot for not knowing what ‘contact’ sport means. And I remember having the ring stripped down from the coconut tree—permanently. So I shifted to Volleyball, which is less of a contact sport than Basketball.

The Unicorn Club. It was around the same time when bikes and rollerblades were popular in our village when I became a member of the Unicorn Club. I never had rollerblades, but I did own a red bike (yes red, not pink). And we would sort of patrol the village, all members of the said club, in single file. Most readers around early twenties, would know or have read the Sweet Valley High (SVH) series by Francine Pascal. The twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of SVH, are members of The Unicorn Club and we decided to bring it out of the book’s pages. Each of us also owned a Coca-Cola card signifying our membership.

This is exactly the star shaped
Polly Pocket I used to borrow
Polly Pocket. Barbie is a staple toy for most girls. I never shared the fanaticism. I liked Ken more. But I never played with a Ken, maybe because my ‘gaydar’ was already up and running in its early stages. Ken is so gay. I mean, no straight guy would have such a collection of outrageous clothes, not to mention his freaking hairdo. I played Polly Pocket instead. I go to a friend’s house every afternoon to play with her Polly Pockets. She has enough to share. Not that I can’t buy one, but I didn’t dare ask, come on (what a scene that would be?!). She would always lend me her star-shaped Polly Pocket, then we would set up other Polly Pockets with our other friends, usually her cousin and another neighbor. And tada we have a Polly Pocket village. But don't get me wrong, my favorite toy would still be, forevermore, Lego.

Ten-Twenty and Chinese Garter. I excelled in the Tinikling stage of Ten-Twenty, and occasional winner in Chinese Garter. Every girl my age would own a garter, looped and ready for street garter action. Yes, I also had one, but I rarely use it. My garter was a backup. Sure I also played other street games like Agawan Base, Tag, or Bente-Uno, which is a modified version of Tag, I was a favorite teammate for Patintero, and the famous Langit-Lupa (I still remember the lyrics to its chant). But nothing beats playing Ten-Twenty because it gives you a sense of completion when you reach the latter stages—that only the best of the best competes in (ehem!).

From Left to Right. Sporty Spice, Ginger Spice, Posh Spice, Baby Spice and Scary Spice 
The Spice Girls. The Spice Up Your Life album is my first album purchase. CDs were still considered high end then, but was gaining popularity fast, and cassette tapes were standard. I still remember the dance steps to Stop’s chorus, and I know I’m not alone in this. My favorite Spice Girls song is Wannabe, next is Mama, Viva Forever, Goodbye My Friend, and the carrier single Spice Up Your Life. I think I’ve spilled enough to depict how devastated I was when the group split up. Still, we had Steps and their boot scootin’ songs to dance to, and eventually the boy bands and Britney Spears.

Mara Clara. Who doesn’t know Mara and Clara? I believe Mara Clara is the prototype of most Philippine drama series. Judy Ann Santos played Mara who is the ultimate protagonist in the Filipino sense, Mara has no bad side and angelic in every way. Gladys Reyes’ portrayal of the ultimate antagonist Clara, is commendable. I really hated her before. Mara Clara can be summed up with, ‘Ang bida mabait, ang kontrabida masama’ (The protagonist is good, the antagonist is evil), period. Then, Marimar led the Mexican invasion of Philippine TV.

Sailormoon. Yes I am Sailor Mars, Rei in the famous animation that every girl and gay kid loved at the time. It aired in ABC5 and I remember hurrying home to catch each episode. And yes I had a short crush on Tuxedo Mask, Mamuro. Well, there’s no other guy in the series, except for the other Alibaba-inspired version of Tuxedo Mask.  I forgot who he is or if he is also Mamuro in a different costume. Anyway, I stopped watching the series after Sailor Jupiter joined. If anything else, Sailormoon did inspire me to study the Milky Way Galaxy in Science class (not my best subject).

The Bullying. Most, if not all, gay kids would’ve experienced bullying at some degree. I was asked, “What are you?” numerous times, and, like a moron, I answered 'kalahati' (half-boy, half-girl) to others' enjoyment. With mature hindsight, laughing at my own idiocy, I realized how much of a laughingstock I made myself of. Regardless, I do remember how the perception affected me. I was always guarded, scared to let anyone get too close enough to inflict serious damage to my self-esteem. But I took it all in positively. I was the gay kid determined to prove himself in everything he does, mainly to avoid ridicule, and eventually to gain respect.

Being a gay kid is usually tougher than being a typical boy or girl. I do not mean to minimize the struggles of others, but any bullying in childhood, can make or break any kid. So that goes for all. And let’s not mention puberty..(whew!)

But all I’m saying is, gay kids are usually easy targets, maybe because of our awkwardness in trying to reconcile the two sides of our persona, and when bullies try to reconcile two sides of their persona; what society thinks as acceptable and what they personally believe as acceptable.

I think I'm going to listen to Spice Up Your Life now. 


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