Movie Chat

Choosing A Heartbreaker For If I Stay

by sarahenni on January 25, 2013

It has been quite a long time since I had a good old-fashioned casting post at this here blog, and that is certainly not for lack of exciting happenings. But Gayle Forman’s announcement about the If I Stay movie yesterday unleashed a floodgate of feels, so Imma break it down.

The If I Stay movie has been floating around with Summit for a while, briefly with the flawless Dakota Fanning attached. Though I’m sad Dakota’s Mia will never come to be, I gotta say that I think Chloe Moretz is a truly fantastic choice.

And with Mia cast so impeccably, cue my heart attack over who will be bringing punk-rock boyfriend Adam to life. It’s a big deal to me personally, because the Adam from the book is a heart-wringing amalgamation of every dude I dated in high school (the dramz!). And a big deal for the franchise because, if the film version of If I Stay manages to capture the dagger-to-the-heart beauty of the book, I’ll be standing in line like an insomniac Twilight fan at Comic Con for a film of Where She Went to be green-lit. Does anything sound better right now than a YA version of Before Sunrise on the streets of New York? Absolutely freaking not.

I turned to Jessica BS, Casting Correspondent for this here blog, for a comprehensive breakdown of what Adam needs to be, and who might be perfect for the role.

Since Jessica and I were kinda-sorta the exact same person(ish) in high school, we quickly realized we had both envisioned the same person while reading about Adam in both If I Stay and Where She Went. My indie cred is going to take a serious hit here, but the visual we agreed was perfect for Adam is based on Chris Carrabba, of Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever. 1

You can’t out-emo this guy. Don’t even consider trying.

So that’s where we began our search. We also agreed that Adam shouldn’t look too very young, and we told ourselves that was not just to keep us from max creepage when we inevitably salivate over the movie poster. Plus: whoever plays Adam needs to have chops. This role had better include some concert footage of fledgling Shooting Star, and there should be a Joaquin Phoenix-in-Walk-The-Line vibe, no cheesy lip-syncing allowed.

With that, here are some standout candidates!

Darren Criss

Wait, did I mention something earlier about indie cred? Well screw that. Darren Criss has been the only thing giving Glee oxygen for ages, and it’s obvious from his role there that dude can crush a vocal solo. And this role would give Darren the chance to step out of tailored Warbler suit jackets and Hogwarts school uniforms—grow the hair out, find some ratty old slouchy hat, and maybe add a fake tattoo here and there and you’d have a perfect Portland punk. Yeah, pretty into that choice, at least from a visual standpoint (ahem).

Freddie Stroma (a.k.a. Cormac McLaggen)

Yeah, he’s good.

Christopher Abbott

Currently playing spineless pushover Charlie in Girls, I think Chris Abbott would be fairly easy to age down (without any scruff he could definitely pass for a high school senior in Movieland). And we already know from Girls that he can play guitar and sing, so he’d have the talent portion locked down. Best of all, he’s handled the navel-gazing angst of Girls with charm and a slight undertone of kicked puppy, which, let’s face it, is kind of essential to Adam. RESISTING SPOILERY TALK.

Zach Gilford

Gayle Forman herself mentioned this familiar face, and UGH. It hurts so bad to have to admit that he’s WAY too old to be Adam. Even though he has a babyface and could (still) be aged down quite a bit, I think we’ve seen Friday Night Lights take all his “plausibly playing a high-schooler” years. (Not that I regret a single minute of FNL. I DO NOT.) Sigh. Too bad, because as Matt Saracen this guy broke my heart a thousand times, which is an essential prerequisite for every role in If I Stay, but especially Adam. I don’t even care if he can carry a tune. TEXAS FOREVER, SEVEN.

I am so dating myself guys. I just couldn’t get with any of the other actual-YA-aged go-tos (the guys from Perks aren’t quite right, Alex Pettyfer has been evicted from nearly every YA heart, Ron Weasley is too British). So what do you think?? Who is up to the task of ripping our hearts into the tiniest bits?

  1. This led to an entire side conversation about how holy hell did you hear Further Seems Forever is touring?! And did anyone honestly feel the need to listen to anything besides The Moon Is Down, most specifically “Snowbirds and Townies“?


The Hunger Games: A Peeta/Gale Retrospective

by sarahenni on March 30, 2012

So, I wrote about my feelings on most of The Hunger Games movie yesterday, but of course I left out one of, if not the, most important parts of the movie: Peeta and Katniss, and Peeta and Gale, and how the movie showed us Katniss’ emotional journey through their relationships.

First, I’d like to give the floor to Bestie Danielle, the Team Gale beat reporter for this here blog, for her analysis of how the movie did, or didn’t do right by Mr. Hawthorne.


As a hardcore member of Team Gale, I thought it was hilarious when the castings were first announced:

I mean really.

But then I saw the movie. Unfortunately, Movie Gale let this gal down pretty hard. For anyone still on the fence about this love triangle, please do not let Movie Gale sway you towards Peeta. Book Gale is way, way better than Movie Gale.

Book Gale is a rugged, manly, hunter. He and Katniss lost their dads in the same accident, and both turned to illegal hunting to provide for their families. Book Gale understands Katniss because their lives and hardships have been so similar. Meanwhile, Movie Gale talks about his feelings and follows Katniss around while she acts like a badass. Movie Gale doesn’t hunt. He is Katniss’ hunting poodle who is afraid to ruin his manicure, let alone kill something.

Book Gale is angry. In a totally hot way! Both Book Gale and Movie Gale complain about the Capitol a lot. Book Gale complained in an angry, ranting way. Movie Gale mopes in a field, painting his nails, and ponders whether or not vests have become too mainstream.

Gale is sad.

It’s always interesting to see a first person narrative be transferred to film. But unfortunately, the way we got to see Gale’s heartbreak was a montage of mopey, forlorn looks.

Book Gale was super hot. Let’s face it: part of Gale’s appeal is that he is smokin’ hot. He’s literally tall, dark, and handsome. In Mockingjay, Johanna takes one look at Gale and is like, “hot DAMN!” He’s an athletic, tough-as-nails mountain man hunter who all the girls in school have a crush on. Unfortunately for Movie Gale, he has a much hotter older brother, Thor. A much hotter brother that we all got to meet first (in Thor and the Snow White and the Huntsman preview.) Movie Gale is kind of like the Eli to Thor’s Peyton Manning.

I also think I would have been far more attracted to Movie Gale if he wasn’t such a mouth breather.

Seriously. Look at that. There is nothing hot about a mouth breather.
On a positive note, the most important part about the Katniss-Gale relationship is that she trusts him, and she trusts him with the most important thing to her – Prim’s life. This translated well in the movie anytime we saw Movie Gale interact with Prim. Movie Gale grabbing a distraught Prim at the reaping was pretty perfect, and Prim sitting on Movie Gale’s shoulders at the end was a great visual representation of what Gale means to Katniss.

As another positive thing, I am down with the fact that they didn’t touch too much on the romantic possibilities between Katniss and Gale. I think it’s important (like Erin said in her guest post on love trianges) that viewers understand that this trilogy is not about a love triangle, and Katniss doesn’t really give a shit about what boys are in love with her. Since Book Gale plays a more active role the second and third books, hopefully Movie Gale mans up a bit and gets way more awesome in the next two movies!

And hopefully, he closes his mouth more.

(Thanks Danielle! And I solemnly swear I did not alter or misrepresent Danielle’s feelings in any way. She really, really doesn’t like mouth breathers.)

Okay, now it’s my turn!


Dreaminess factor: achieved

Alright, Let’s discuss Peeta. Poor handsome, wildly-talented Josh Hutcherson has been put up to an impossible fangirl standard with this role. I get that. I do. And overall, I’d say he really got it. I like him as Peeta—but I felt that movie Peeta was softened from the complex character in the books. One of my YA Highway cohorts described Josh, and the Katniss-Peeta ro(faux?)mance as “dopey”—and in some ways I agree.

It isn’t Josh’s fault, at least not entirely; the script stole some of the best, most defining Peeta moments from him. For example, instead of showing Peeta slapping a Bloody Mary out of Haymitch’s hand the first day on the train, the movie cut right to Katniss’ table-knifing. Shortly after, Peeta is shown waving giddily to the Capitol crowd gathered around their train. Not a cunning line on Josh’s slightly doughy (I COULD NOT RESIST) face, with only Haymitch to suggest, “He really gets it.” In the book, when the crowds have gone, we get to see Peeta himself reveal that there’s a cynic (and a serious Game strategist) within:

He sees me staring at him and shrugs. “Who knows?” he says. “One of them may be rich.”
(The Hunger Games, p.60)

Peeta is playing the game. Not only is he playing it, he pulls into the lead the minute he tells the Capitol audience, “she came here with me.” In the movie, Peeta does establish the star-crossed lover ruse, but they slowly flatten him out in the arena until it’s impossible to tell that he’s still a clever competitor. It starts out well (how interesting was it to learn that Peeta bypassed any Cornucopia supplies and headed right for the woods? That was a nice benefit of not being restricted to Katniss’ perspective) with Peeta clearly uneasy in the pack of careers. But after he shoos Katniss off to recover safely from her tracker jacker stings, there’s nary a hint of Peeta being self-aware of their love game, or of their Panem audience. Conversely, in the book, after Katniss finds Peeta camouflaged by the river and she begins to move him to the cave:

“Lean down a minute first,” he says. “Need to tell you something.” I lean over and put my good ear to his lips, which tickle as he whispers. “Remember, we’re madly in love, so it’s all right to kiss me anytime you feel like it.”

Clever and cheeky and completely “Team”-worthy. The movie, in my opinion, fails to show that Peeta remains aware of and savvy about the gamesmanship in the arena in and after the cave scene. The audience sees Katniss get helpful Haymitch notes (“You call that a kiss?”) so we know she had tactics on the mind when she leans in for her “shut up and go to sleep so I can get your medicine” lip-lock. But we get no hint, physically or verbally, not even so much as a wink, to suggest Peeta (though no doubt harboring real feelings for Katniss) is interested in hyping up and selling their romance, too.

Art by Noelle Stevenson – click for source

The reason that bothers me so much is, I thought the movie did a decent job of condensing the lovey dovey bits  (there wasn’t exactly room in this 2.5-hour sprint to spend three days lounging in a cave) and making the extent of Katniss and Peeta’s genuine feelings for one another clear. When Katniss returns from retrieving Peeta’s medicine at the Cornucopia, they shared a very real moment. Forget the kiss—that moment of charged lingering was exactly perfect. That was so necessary, because having such a brief, honest moment put the constructed, calculated world of the games in relief.

And besides the brilliantly-done interview with Caesar (God love Stanley Tucci, he was perfection on toast), Josh rarely got the chance to show that Peeta really does have a self-deprecating sense of humor. (Okay, the “I’ll take the arrow. … Just kidding!” moment was pretty good, too.) Peeta’s brains and Seth Cohen-like sense of humor are the entire reason for Team Peeta. But it isn’t only the quips that I missed, it was how they showed that Peeta and Katniss were equals. Because in the books, Peeta’s jokes are often sarcastic comments on things that Katniss does. He has genuine feelings for her, which grow into love, but Peeta does not think Katniss is perfect. Far from it. For instance, we missed out on this little gem from training, when Peeta gets all camouflage-artistic and credits his years of frosting cakes (RESISTING JOKE SO HARD):

“It’s lovely. If only you could frost someone to death,” I say.

“Don’t be so superior. You can never tell what you’ll find in the arena. Say it’s actually a giant cake—” begins Peeta.

“Say we move on,” I break in.

(The Hunger Games, p. 96)

It disappointed me because I had hoped since the movie was a break from Katniss’ point of view, it would take advantage of it to show Peeta as a more well-rounded character overall, not simply the object of Katniss’ schizophrenic love/hate. But, by flattening Peeta’s complexity toward the end of the movie, our final impression of Peeta is that he’s a love-addled victor whose next big challenge is prying Katniss away from Gale.

It’s only a flesh wound

Finally, a HUGE part of my critique on Peeta’s loss of complexity has to do with the decision to magically heal his leg wound in the cave. For those of you who don’t remember, in the book Peeta’s leg gets better, but only enough for him to run from the muttations. By the time Cato’s slowly dying and the problem of the berries presents itself, Peeta’s losing blood and doesn’t have much time left. When K & P are lifted into the hovercraft, the book gives us one of its compelling, and telling, moments: Katniss, feral and desperate, banging her fists against the glass wall separating her from Peeta and the swarm of doctors who restart his heart, twice. Not only does Peeta’s Magical Leg-Healing Moment rob us of additional tension at the end of the movie, and a glimpse into how Katniss truly feels for him, it also takes away a pivotal mark of how the Games have a lasting affect on his character. For more on that subject I want to direct you to this excellent article on the topic from Tiger Beatdown. An excerpt:

Peeta, like other characters, is scarred by the world he lives in, and he bears a visible mark of the cruelty and brutality of Panem, but more importantly, he’s another person trying to survive and build a better world. By neatly cutting that entire plotline away, the filmmakers avoided some tangled and thorny issues.

S. E. Smith, So, How About Those Hunger Games

And if there’s anything you can count on The Hunger Games books for—especially as the series progress—is tangled and thorny issues. I’m interested to see how the films address (or don’t) that in the future.

WELL! I have been exceedingly long-winded, and I apologize for that. But I want to know what you think!! Did the movie live up to your expectations for Peeta/Gale? Disappoint? What do you hope they show in the next two movies?


The Hunger Games Review

by sarahenni on March 29, 2012

Holy crap. Two years after reading the book, one full year of following news about the movie, and weeks of watching The Hunger Games grow into a simmering worldwide phenomenon, opening weekend finally happened. Let’s just say I was A BIT excited. And of course you know I had Thoughts and Feelings after watching the movie.

I’ll be honest: my immediate reaction was… mixed.

It’s the Harry Potter problem, you know? How can one movie 1) successfully translate such a beloved book, and 2) live up to such intense, prolonged hype? There’s almost no way it can deliver on the first viewing. At the time of this review, I’ve seen the film twice, and I liked it much more the second time, but some critique remains.

SPOILERS START HERE! For The Hunger Games and all subsequent books in the series. You’ve been warned!

District 12 and the Reaping were perfection. No problems there, except my inappropriate urge to giggle at Gale’s gaping mouth. Effie was glorious, and little Prim about ripped my heart out with her screams after Katniss volunteered. Haymitch was divine—on second viewing I can really appreciate how they gradually showed his transformation from drunken escapist to gaming-the-Games mastermind.

But then, just about everything that happens at the Capitol leading up to the games was troublesome for me. The Capitol itself was incredible—so richly realized, and the costumes! My problems had to do with the camera, and the goal—or goals—director Gary Ross set out to achieve by using a shaky, hand-held effect.

I really hate the hand-held thing. And that’s just from a grouchy, “it gives me a headache!” 94-year old woman within perspective. So it made me annoyed (and really glad I wasn’t watching in IMAX) when there was so much herky-jerky motion, with a lot of the action slightly cut-off and unclear. HOWEVER. I fully understand his reasoning:

It’s a very urgent first-person narrative. I tried to put you in Katniss’s shoes the way Suzanne Collins put you in Katniss’s shoes. I wanted to take you through the world using this kind of serpentine tunnel vision that Katniss has. I want to destabilize you the way Suzanne has and I want you to experience the world through Katniss’s eyes, and that requires a very subjective cinematic style, to be kind of urgently in her point of view, so that’s why I shot it that way.

—Gary Ross, interview with Vulture

In theory, I agree that without the raw feeling evoked by the shaky, uneven shots, the audience is at risk of becoming too separated from Katniss’ point of view, relegated to mere observers. Aloof, without personal stake in the outcome of the Games or Katniss’ fate. And Ross uses that to fine effect for the short beginning segment of the movie, spent in a bleak District Twelve. It’s also pivotal to understanding Katniss’ nervousness and fear in some Capitol scenes leading up to the onset of the Games, like when she’s walking on-stage for her interview with Caesar Flickerman, or clinging to Cinna as the seconds until Gametime slip away.

But the reasoning slips a bit for me when the film shifts to the Capitol. Because while Ross is attempting to give the movie-goer as much of Katniss’ perspective as possible through frenetic hand-held shots, he is simultaneously trying for another, contradictory effect: to make the correlation between Capitol audience and Regal-Cinema-18 audience.

This begins with the opening ceremonies, where sweeping shots of the Roman-esque parade route are anything but shaky: they’re sleek, beautiful, romanticized in glitz.

We literally zoom in on the Tributes’ chariots by looking through a Capitol citizens’ futuristic opera glass. We watch the Tributes circle round through a camera perched on President Snow’s shoulder. The goal could not be more blatant: behold the spectacle! This is for you. The opening credits for Caesar Flickerman’s tribute interviews play through as though Panem National TV was piping right into my living room. We were cast as Capitol citizens, right from the moment we bought our tickets.

Ross’ work to turn the film into a self-referential pretzel, a meta reflection on the watchers of the Games, and the watchers of The Hunger Games, was important. My lingering sense of unease with the movie afterward was due, in no small part, to being put squarely in my place as a citizen of the Capitol, implicit and culpable for all the evil I was witnessing. (And—considering I was nice and cozy in a cushy movie-theater seat with buttery popcorn and a massive soda, still slightly buzzed from pre-movie drinks, wearing my Hunger Games T-shirt and nail polish—the reminder of my own hypocrisy was apt.)

But in the arena, those two desired effects (giving the audience Katniss’ perspective, and giving the audience a reminder of its true Bread-and-Circus status) tried to co-exist somewhat, to uneven success.

The hand-held camera was convenient for cutting away from the brunt of child-on-child violence during the Cornucopia. I could not have handled much more of that, so I’m not complaining about that decision at all. And in following Katniss’ running, jumping, arrow-slinging fight for survival the hand-held definitely had my heart racing along with hers.

But then Flickerman and his Games co-host Claudius Templesmith stared dead into the camera, explaining directly to me what tracker-jackers were. No cuts to Capitol audience reaction, no visual reference to any audience besides me, and everyone alongside me in the theater. So then I found myself wondering if the jerky camera was supposed to represent the imperfect angles of the Gamemakers’ hidden cameras, or if we were still in Kantniss’ head. My perspective confusion made following the “real or not real?” development of Katniss and Peeta’s ro(faux)mance even more difficult, and left me wondering how anyone who has not read the books was following any of the Tributes’ in-the-arena Gamesmanship at all.

So, all told, I’m not certain how I feel about that decision, though I understand the reasoning behind it.

Where my Cinna at?

I was disappointed by what I felt was lack of development in the relationships, most particularly between Katniss and Cinna, and Katniss and Peeta. Lenny Kravitz was an impeccable Cinna, but the chemistry and trust that develops between he and Katniss felt unconvincing because it was so rushed. And, though Cinna immediately distinguishes himself from the rest of the Capitol citizens by telling Katniss, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” I missed the line that really solidified his personality in the books:

“Yes, this is my first year in the games,” says Cinna.

“So they gave you District Twelve,” I say. Newcomers generally end up with us, the least desirable district.

“I asked for District Twelve,” he says without further explanation.

(The Hunger Games, p. 64)

However, given that the movie was 2.5 hours long and still had to leave so much out, I understand that some things required trimming. And the scene with Katniss and Cinna before she’s lifted up into the arena…

Jennifer Lawrence blew me away there, completely. Her intensity was frightening, which lifted the countdown and subsequent Cornucopia scene to exactly the emotional level they needed to be at: basically Threat Level Fuscia. That’s also when Kravitz truly shone as Cinna, Katniss’ rock-steady touchstone through the entire Capitol experience. (And it reminded me of the scene from Catching Fire where I WILL COMPLETELY LOSE IT.)

Standout performances also to:

Seneca Crane and his epic facescape. I’m so glad you’re back, Wes Bentley, and I’m so pissed that I forgot Seneca Crane bites it. The memory of your beard will live on, sir.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow. I’ve heard some people critique his performance, but I have to say I found him eerie as hell. Listen, this guy lives in a world where innocents are slaughtered for the momentary delight of millions. And in that world, he’s in the most cutthroat field: politics. And such is dude’s sociopathic capacity for manipulation that he earned the top spot—he’s the freaking PRESIDENT. So you try telling him he can’t hold whispered life-or-death discussions in his rose garden. Go on. Tell him.

Another decision I found fascinating was the subtle hints that Cato and Glimmer were an item.

It served as a stark contrast to Katniss and Peeta: warm and natural where Katniss and Peeta were stilted and uneven; flying under the radar where Katniss and Peeta were given celebrity status; egalitarian, each striving to be seen, and to win, on their own merits where Katniss was receiving one selfless advantage after another from Peeta before they even stepped off the train. No one in the Capitol seemed particularly interested in the budding romance of a couple of gunners, trained from birth to succeed. They wanted the underdogs as much as the Districts, exactly as Snow knew they would.

So, overall, I thought it was a good movie, and one that I have no doubt will grow on me as time goes on (and I watch it eight million more times). The adaptation was absolutely true to the spirit of the books, which was the absolute, most important thing.

But wait! you say, What about Peeta?! Ohhhhhhh I have not forgotten him. NO INDEED. As you might expect, I have SO MANY Thoughts and Feelings about Peeta, and Gale, and Katniss’ overall emotional state as mostly reflected through her interactions with aforementioned boys. Too many for this post, because it’s already crazy butt-long. SO. I will be posting again tomorrow, focusing on that part of the movie.

BUT! What did you think?? Did you see the movie? Did you like it? Did the hand-held camera action make you feel dizzy? Did you read this without having seen the movie because you don’t care about spoilers? If so, WHY??