Saturday, March 24, 2012

Death Sports and THE HUNGER GAMES

So, The Hunger Games is the latest book to "catch fire" amongst teen readers and then spread into the must read territory for adults.  The movie is surely going to add to the fervor as well (to which movie theatres across the country are singing praises - I've never seen so many smiling faces of theatre employees in my life).  I've read the book and I've seen the movie.  Both are quite well done...but in the end they don't add anything new to the Death Sport category of science fiction.  Ok, The Hunger Games adds a Twilight-esque love triangle...but beyond that it's simple.  There's a government demanded game in which contestants kill other contestants and only the winner will survive.

My favorite book of all time is Stephen King's (writing as Richard Bachman) THE LONG WALK. It is an incredible work that plunges the reader into a harrowing death sport of long distance pace-walking. Sounds simple and dull and yet...the journey is so powerful that you can feel the agony of every bloody step and each deadly bullet right along with the 100 contestants who are forced to endure the sport of the nation. My original review on Amazon:

I find it ironic that perhaps Stephen King's greatest story is written under his pseudonym and also one of the books few people have heard about. It's arguably my favorite novel - ever - and also holds the distinction of the book I have read the most (and the only story that has made me physically ill).

The Long Walk is a superb sci-fi story that pits 100 teen boys against each other in a seemingly never-ending marathon death sport. How exciting can the act of walking be? VERY! King masterfully unfolds a story with three-dimensional characters and an intricate duality about the nature of death between the contestants and the audience who cheers every step on their march.

Fans of the genre may also like to read the Japanese cult novel BATTLE ROYALE which takes a distinctly different (and more extreme) take on child death sports. For anyone reading this novel for the first time, I'm envious...enjoy the walk.

King also mined the death sport genre for another book THE RUNNING MAN which took a similar stance of a mind-numbed society being controlled by the government's need for brutal sport.  This lead to the 1980's Schwarzennegger movie under the same title (and that's the only thing the two stories have in common).  The movie was hailed as pretty much the death of the 80's action genre, complete with an overindulgence of one liners when a villain was dispatched ("Ah, he was a real pain in the neck!").  Japanese author Koushun Takami's book BATTLE ROYALE is a take on death sports being played out amongst teenagers by a fascist government.  The novel is outstanding and delves deeply into the lives and backgrounds of the majority of teens forced to compete on a remote island.  If you haven't read or seen the movie both are now readily available in the US.  All three of the novels I mentioned stand high on the list of the deathsport genre and should be sought out by anyone who enjoys the premise of The Hunger Games.

Back to THE HUNGER GAMES, the story doesn't add anything new to the genre all of the familiar deathsport elements are present: fascist government, contestants forced to play, rules change, one survivor, violent deaths...checks all around.  I think one of the reasons the story has taken off is because for once a female has been planted into the lead role and Katniss Everdeen is a strong protagonist.  The story doesn't pull punches either...there is death...and Katniss plays a hand in the killing.  As with any book that pulls in young readers there is a camp of whiners out there jonesing to spoil the fun by chastising the violence and saying that it is not appropriate for teens.  These are the kind of "pro-readers" who only want you to read what they enjoy.  Ignore that camp!  While you won't find anything too original in the story, you will find a solid amount of entertainment.  As with all books, the novel is stronger and allows for a better overall development of situations.  The movie though comes in a close second and only has minor stumbles of pacing in the setup and in the finale, but it'll be a well earned blockbuster and I'm sure the sequel is right around the corner.

THE HUNGER GAMES (the novel) = A
THE HUNGER GAMES (the movie) = A-

Saturday, March 10, 2012

ASSEMBLE! (May 4 will be EPIC!)

The years from 1980-1987 were the pinnacle of my comic book collecting.  I'd first been exposed to comics through the 1960's era Spider-Man cartoons (heavily replayed on Channel 20 as a child) and then my mother would buy me comic books like Marvel Team-Up, The Invaders, and The Avengers as I grew.  I was flipping through comic books before I could even read.  The colors, costumes, and unique heroes and superpowers thoroughly captivated my imagination.

Through middle school and high school I would discuss with other friends the various "goings on" in the titles we read and the large scope of both the Marvel and DC Universes.  From 1980-1987 the only real superhero movies of note that genre enthusiasts could appreciate were Superman the Movie (on VHS) and the release of Superman II (in the theatres).  Any other offerings didn't solidly connect with the world of comic books.  Sure, Superman II came close with a battle between Kryptonians...but let's face it...Richard Lester's ham-handed humor ruined that movie - "Huh, Superman didn't even do nothing!", guy on roller-skates, guy talking on phone during Metropolis fall, ad infinitum.  Two years beyond my key bubble in collecting Tim Burton's Batman would be released (1989) and change things forever between comic books and the cinema.

During those eight years I remember debating if and when an Avengers movie would ever be made?  Frankly, it seemed more likely that I would stumble upon Thor's Uru Hammer than actually see the comic book versions of Marvel's top tier heroes on the big screen.  And yet, in 2012 that is exactly what will happen.  As a fan three books really have always cried out to be turned into movies.

1. X-Men...I've never been a fan (although First Class was a solid apology for the first three lackluster efforts)
2. Watchmen...the greatets superhero work ever created and a perfect movie!  I know it has haters, but for me, this is always going to be #1 from comic-to-film
3.  Avengers...dare to dream...

I'm an adult and I will admit that I have watched, rewatched, and analysed the preview for Avengers far too much (at times frame-by-frame).  It seems clear that the majority of the movie will borrow much of the material from Mark Millar's Ultimates Volume II (which is an awesome read).  That storyline focused on Loki and the Skrulls (both of whom seem to appear in the new movie).  From my dissection of the preview I see the envitable Iron-Man, Captain America, Thor doubt perpetrated by Loki.  I see a city battle which will most likely be the first half of the movies climax (I believe the actual climax is being hidden).  There's some sort of battle between Black Widow and Hawkeye (look for the shot of her's clearly the archer on the receiving end) which means one of them will be a Skrull for a time.  Plenty of drama with Loki and a nice verbal retort from Nick Fury "You have made me VERY desperate." And the Hulk gets to kick ass and save the team...more than once.  At the end we see some enormous spaceship (or as some fans have speculated the Midgard Dragon)...whatever it looks cool.  Then there's the money shot of arguably the 7 greatest heroes to ever work as Avengers encircled and preparing to do what they do the Earth!  Somewhere my childhood self is jumping for joy at the true "marvel" that is happening.  The Avengers will be on the big screen!

So basically 25 years after the peak of my collecting life, what may be viewed as the ultimate comic book movie is on the horizon.  I'm excited!  Most likely I'll be sharing some of my favorite Avengers moments in coming blogs to build up to this event.  But until then go read Ultimates Vol 1 and 2, watch the preview on my blog, and be prepared for an explosion of coolness. 

And then I'll see you at the theatres on May 4th!  AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

JOHN CARTER - An "I saw that" Review

This week I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of John Carter (formerly “of Mars” until Mars Needs Mom ruined the title).  It’s been ages since I managed to score attendance to any sort of early showing of a new movie.  The last two I can remember were Dawn of the Dead and Open Water.  One is one of my all time favorite horror movies and the other was a novel idea that resulted in a somewhat decent if overall bland movie.

As for John Carter…and I’ll keep this spoiler free…

I went into the movie knowing nothing of the character or the concept beyond the fact that the original stories were written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame) and centered around an Earth man who winds up on Mars.  The movie clocked in a tad over two hours and I can confidently report that I had a fun time and was treated to an original sci-fi outing.  There’s far more set-up than I was expecting as in the first fifteen minutes we planet-jump and time jump several times until we firmly begin on Earth in 1866.  Through an interesting (and not fully explained) concept a former Union soldier finds himself teleported to Mars, where thanks to the lesser gravity he is gifted with powerful limbs that allow him superior strength and the ability to leap vast distances in single bounds.  Quite quickly he finds himself mired in the war between various factions on Mars, some that look human and others that look…Martian.

The movie plays so loose with actual science that I doubt the Myth Busters will ever be called into question to disprove anything that is portrayed on screen.  While some may scoff, I find myself having a fun time and embracing the “pulpy” vibe that was unfolding in front of me.  The CGI and visuals do harken to the Star Wars prequel movies…but since the source material was written 80-100 years before Star Wars…who was paying homage to whom?  Still, John Carter has time on Mars to learn the language and customs, to attempt a return to Earth (or Vasoom), to save a princess (and she is an incredible hottie), to form alliances with an alien species, to acquire a pet, to battle giant monsters in an arena, and to play a role in some large scale sci-fi battles.

I had a fun time at the movie.  In fact, I enjoyed John Carter enough to immediately come home and purchase a collection of the stories on my Kindle.  There’s an appreciation I have for unique science fiction that isn’t grounded in reality.  Of course, not everyone shares that love.  The audience I saw the movie with seemed split.  Some were along for the ride and others had the look of, “Is this movie over yet?” and “Why am I here?”  So I can easily see John Carter failing at the box office.  Luckily, in my age, I know longer feel the need to have box office success or love of the masses to determine a good movie from a bad.  Disney certainly hasn’t helped matters with their atrocious marketing campaign so it’s easy to see John Carter eventually holding ranks on my DVD shelves next to Flash Gordon, fun under-appreciated neighbors that would make an excellent double feature!

If my blog were more heavily trafficked by the movie studios looking for quotes then mine would be...

"JOHN CARTER is MARSvelous!" -

Grade = A-