Far Far Away

Shrek 2 is the first of many DreamWorks Animation sequels. After a minor slump of poorly performing traditionally animated movies, Shrek 2 became the highest grossing animated movie at the time. With a nearly billion dollar box-office gross. Ensuring the studios exclusive focus on computer animation for years to come. If Shrek is the Toy Story of DreamWorks, then Shrek 2 is their Toy Story 2. Even after 3 years, Shrek 2 managed to be a rare sequel that matched or even surpassed the original. Ogre mania was in full effect once again in 2004. The only major Shrek media at the time was the Universal attraction Shrek 4-D.

Which took place immediately after the first movie with the ghost of Lord Farquaad haunting the cast. With that plot thread out of the way, Shrek 2 made an effort to do something different. While at the same time polishing its computer animation. So they did a fairy tale take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Sensing a hit, the three main stars Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy all requested a raise. Shrek 2 doubled the Disney parodies, pop culture references, and songs on its contemporary soundtrack. While remaining sincere enough to earn another Best Animated Feature nomination. They lost to Pixar again, but that doesn’t make Shrek 2 any less of an accomplishment…

4. Shrek 2

Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona travel to Far Far Away

Shrek 2 was every bit the childhood favorite Shrek was. It was just a prominent edition in my DVD collection instead of VHS collection. Since 3 years passed, I was 8 years old when my dad took my brother and I to see Shrek 2 in theaters. I remember the experience a lot better since there was a couple of chatty old ladies in the audience. That didn’t take away from the absolutely hilarious sequel. It helped that I was older and able to pick up on pop culture references a lot better. This time there’s way more than just friendly jabs at Disney. Once upon a time, Princess Fiona was cursed by a witch to become an ogre every night. What we don’t know is that her parents made a deal with a Fairy Godmother to have Prince Charming rescue her. Right off the bat I recognized Rupert Everett’s devilishly charming voice as Prince Charming. Like Fiona, Charming is another direct critique of Disney Princes. Since Charming is a pompous airhead who only cares about his looks. He’s a little late in saving Fiona when he discovers the Big Bad Wolf in her place.

Shrek and Fiona are already well into their honeymoon at the Witch’s gingerbread house. Shrek farts his way back into our hearts with a romantically gross honeymoon with appearances from Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Mermaid, fairies, dwarfs, and parodies of The Lord of Rings and Spider-Man. It’s a delightfully cynical sequence set to the catchy tune of Best Original Song nominee “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows. Unlike most fairy tales, Shrek 2 takes place after happily ever after. Shrek and Fiona are happily married, but face relationship problems when they receive a royal invitation from the King and Queen of Far Far Away. Of course Donkey is still around to talk everyone’s ear off. Shrek reluctantly takes the far far away trip in their onion carriage to see the In-laws. It’s just as awkward as you’d expect. Adding to the already perfect cast are the respectable John Cleese and Julie Andrews as King Harold and Queen Lillian.

They’re admittedly shocked to see Fiona married to an ogre, but the Queen isn’t dismissive like the King. Their royal feast is a hilarious comedy of errors made better by Donkey’s presence. Unfortunately, it’s not what Fiona was hoping for. So she unintentionally contacts her Fairy Godmother with a tear. The Fairy Godmother is quite the character. She’s showy with a demanding attitude and treats her job like a business. I’m not too familiar with Jennifer Saunders, but she was perfectly cast as the normally good fairy with an ulterior motive. Turns out the Fairy Godmother is Prince Charming’s mom who made a deal with the King in exchange for his own happily ever after. The King reluctantly honors their deal by hiring a sleazy hitman to wack Shrek. He enters the Poison Apple full of fairy tale villains like Captain Hook, enchanted trees, the Headless Horseman, and one of the ugly stepsisters. Doris is made funnier by her masculine appearance and Larry King voice.

The King hires a shadowy figure with a Spanish accent and has Shrek meet him in the forest. Shrek tries to make an effort with Fiona’s parents after reading her diary full of “Mrs. Fiona Charming” passages. Shrek and Donkey instead come face to face with the biggest scene stealer in Shrek 2. Puss in Boots is an existing fairy tale character who actually faced an ogre in his story. Antonio Banderas turned him into an adorable orange swashbuckling latin lover cat with a feathered hat, sword, and cute little boots. Puss is by far the best new character since the original trio. He humorously attacks Shrek, but melts his heart with his signature cat eyes. Donkey is understandably threatened by another talking animal companion. Fortunately Puss was just what their duo needed. Shrek is willing to do anything for Fiona, so he uses Donkey’s tear to contact the Fairy Godmother.

They travel to her potion factory with hopes of making Shrek the man of Fiona’s dreams, but the Fairy Godmother is definitely the villain of the story. Instead they break into her potion stash and Puss obtains “Happily Ever After” potion. A potion that’ll make you and your true love beautiful. Shrek and Donkey take the potion with gassy results. “Better out than in I always say.” I’ll never forget my shock when they both wake up the next day. Shrek is turned into a handsome human and Donkey is turned into a majestic stallion for the remainder of the movie. Fairy tale lasses faun over Shrek and he’s finally accepted by villagers. The spell was also an opportunity to get Fiona back to human form. Unfortunately, Prince Charming got to her before Shrek did. Fairy Godmother manipulates Shrek into leaving and wallowing in the Poison Apple. However, things change when they discover Godmother’s plan to force Fiona to fall in love with Charming using a love potion.

The royal ball is a star studded affair hosted by Joan Rivers herself with the likes of Hansel & Gretel, Tom Thumb, Thumbelina, and Sleeping Beauty as guests. Meanwhile, Gingy, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, Big Bad Wolf, and Three Blind Mice are all at the swamp watching the show on the Magic Mirror. They turn to a hilarious parody of Cops called Knights where Shrek, Donkey, and Puss are maced by a pepper grater and sent to the dungeon. One Mission: Impossible parody later, the fairy tale posse frees the trio with the help of Pinocchio’s lady’s underwear. The next plan is to use Gingy’s relation to the Muffin Man to bake a giant gingerbread man named Mongo. The action packed climax is full of great jokes like the Starbucks gag and Mongo’s Godzilla roar, but it’s made better by the best rendition of “I Need a Hero” ever recorded. Every fairy tale creature uses their skills to get the Fairy Godmother’s wand. It seems like it’s too late when Charming kisses Fiona, but luckily the King made the right decision. He sacrifices himself to deflect Fairy Godmother’s magic onto her and he’s revealed to have been the Frog Prince all along.

The Queen still accepts him for who he is and so does Fiona. Shrek and Fiona turn back into ogres, but Donkey doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s still a fiesta though, so Puss and Donkey team up to deliver another infectious final party number of “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” And they once again lived happily ever after. Until a mid-credit scene cameo for Dragon that reveals why she was absent. Turns out Donkey and Dragon somehow managed to have mutant dragon-donkey babies. The weirdness doesn’t stop there. The DVD also came with a bizarre American Idol parody short called Far Far Away Idol. Where Simon Cowell himself has you vote on performance’s done by the movie’s fairy tale contestants. Shrek 2 can’t touch the original, but it is a major improvement. The computer animation is so much better with a much larger cast of humans. Existing characters like human Fiona are polished a bit with a more refined appearance. Hair, clothing, and Puss in Boots’ fur were given the most attention to detail. Far Far Away is a great new location that sets up an even more epic conclusion. Shrek 2 accidentally became the most successful computer animated DreamWorks movie ever made.

5. Shrek 2

Shrek travels with Donkey and Puss in Boots

Preceded by: Shrek & Followed by: Shrek the Third

What are You Doing in My Swamp?!

Shrek is the greatest subversion of fairy tales I’ve ever seen. Although it’s technically their fifth production and second computer animated film, Shrek will always be the poster ogre for DreamWorks Animation. Since Shrek was the first animated movie to win the much needed Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Making them genuine competition for Disney and Pixar. I may have grown up loving all things Disney, but DreamWorks was never far behind. Despite the obvious heated rivalry between the studios. Shrek! was originally a crudely drawn children’s book by William Steig.

Steven Spielberg himself bought the rights with the intention of making it a traditionally animated movie. Former disgruntled Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg promptly acquired the rights to Shrek and intended to make a computer animated movie with Chris Farley as the ogre. When Farly passed away, the role was recast instead. So fellow SNL star Mike Myers took over and the rest is history. The humorous spin on fairy tales may take several jabs at Disney, but Shrek works because they never forget to tell a sincere story with a genuinely lovable unlikely hero. We have Shrek to thank for popularizing innuendos in kids movies, pop culture references, and upbeat pop music soundtracks for animation…

2. Shrek

Shrek explains layers to Donkey

Shrek was a very prominent edition in my VHS collection growing up. The tape included a fun karaoke short film. I was 5 when Shrek came out in 2001, but I remember every detail of seeing it. My dad took my brother and I to see it in theaters and we’ve been watching it non-stop ever since. We bought Shrek toys, merchandise, and I frequently quoted the movie around the school yard. Shrek is practically the animated movie of my generation. Since its inspired countless memes and a large internet presence. DreamWorks really knew what they were doing when they created Shrek. Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess trapped in a castle guarded by a dragon awaiting true love’s kiss. At least that’s how it would start if Shrek wasn’t the one reading the fairy tale.

With a flush of a toilet we’re given one of the greatest animated character entrances of all time. As Shrek goes about his gross morning routine to the tune of “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Shrek is the most iconic ogre of all time. He’s a fantasy creature that hasn’t gotten much attention in the past. Shrek is large with distinctly green skin, trademark horn ears, a snazzy fairy tale outfit, and is far less hideous than his book counterpart. Although Chris Farley gave it his all, Mike Myers will always be Shrek. Using his signature Scottish accent was a stroke of genius that made Shrek an even bigger icon worthy of imitating. Like most ogres, Shrek spreads fear and just wants to be left alone in his swamp home. Until fairy tale creatures end up on his doorstep.

All well known fairy tale creatures are outlawed by the kingdom. There’s the Seven Dwarfs, Tinkerbell, the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, and even Gepetto giving away a lying Pinocchio. I love Disney, but I can’t resist a good joke at their expense. The most out of place creature is a certain talking jackass named Donkey. Eddie Murphy is no stranger to voicing animated comic relief, but his comedy stylings are perfectly suited for the adult edge of DreamWorks. When Shrek and Donkey literally run into each other, it starts one of the funniest buddy duos in animation history. Their initial meeting is so quotable that Shrek was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. A rare Oscar acknowledgment for animation. Shrek sees Donkey as just another annoyance at first, but they’re forced to be together when his swamp fills up with even more fairy tale creatures. Including the Three Blind Mice, the Big Bad Wolf, the Good Fairies, and so much more.

They’re all thrown out of the kingdom by the villainous Lord Farquaad. A not so subtle jab at current Disney chairman Michael Eisner. Farquaad is a diminutive little creep who hates fairy tale creatures and wants to be king. John Lithgow makes him all the more hilarious with his torture of poor Gingerbread Man Gingy. Their “Muffin Man” exchange is comedy gold. Farquaad uses the Magic Mirror to find a princess à la The Dating Game. His choices are Cinderella, Snow White, and the original Princess Fiona. His scene stealing minion Thelonious helps him make the obvious choice. Farquaad’s kingdom is a further jab at Disneyland complete with mascot and an annoyingly catchy “It’s a Small World” parody. Shrek starts to win over the crowd when he and Donkey beat a bunch of Farquaad’s knights pro wrestling style.

Although his only intention was getting his swamp back, Shrek is instead sent on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona. Shrek and Donkey eventually make it to the dark and spooky castle. The Dragon seems like a major threat, but all that changes when Donkey discovers she’s a girl dragon. Starting one of the weirdest interspecies relationships in movie history. Shrek makes it to the tallest tower, but an ogre wasn’t exactly what Fiona was expecting. Of course the most Disney jokes come from Princess Fiona. Whether she’s exploding a bird with her singing or awaiting true love’s kiss. However, Fiona is a tough sassy princess with a red braid and signature green dress. Cameron Diaz rounds out the early 2000’s cast with some of her best work yet. Fiona judges Shrek for being an ogre until she overhears him talking to Donkey at night. Shrek has layers just like an onion and only wants to be accepted.

So Shrek and Fiona start to bond over their shared grossness. Gross out gags work really well when the lead character is an ogre. Fiona shows another side of her when a French Robin Hood tries to sweep her off her feet, then sings his impromptu theme song. One Matrix parody later, Fiona shows off her unexpected fighting skills. They may be an ogre and a human, but Shrek and Fiona’s unconventional budding romance is genuinely sweet. Until sundown ruins it for the both of them. Since it turns out Fiona secretly becomes an ogre every night. A misunderstanding keeps them apart, but Donkey talks some sense into Shrek, and Dragon helps them stop the wedding. Farquaad is finally defeated when Dragon eats him and the spell is broken with true love’s kiss.

Except the twist is Fiona remaining an ogre and both of them accepting each other for who they are. A big fairy tale party breaks out as Shrek and Fiona are married to the infectious tune of “I’m a Believer” and they lived happily ever after. Shrek has a strong story, hilarious jokes, and an awesome soundtrack, but none of it would’ve mattered without equally amazing animation. The computer animation has aged surprisingly well since 2001. The Pacific Data Images animation used by DreamWorks was pretty much on par with Pixar. The difference was how realistic they tried to make hair, fur, clothing, and skin. Although humans can be a bit rough at times, they make up for it with several well rendered fairy tale backgrounds and locations. Shrek is a pop culture phenomenon that put DreamWorks on the map.

3. Shrek

Shrek bonds with Princess Fiona

Followed by: Shrek 2

May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is the epic finale that made me more relieved than excited. Any excitement I had was lost when they forcibly split Mockingjay into 2 parts. My brother and I were still prepared to finish it, but the conclusion wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Despite Part 2 bringing back the much needed action, it’s still a lot of wandering and barely any actual rebellion. Which is mostly thanks to how Suzanne Collins wrote the final book in her trilogy. It’s not a straightforward final battle like most YA franchises. Katniss Everdeen is recovering from her injuries, but ready to kill President Snow once and for all. After being declared dead one of several times in the movie. It’s during Finnick and Annie’s wedding that Katniss says goodbye to Prim and has Johanna cover for her.

Except that everyone was expecting Katniss to go off on her own. So she’s joined by Boggs, Gale, Finnick, her “propo” film crew, and a whole cast of disposable soldiers. The Capitol is pretty much deserted, apart from hourly messages from Ceasar and/or Snow. The Capitol is configured like a Hunger Games arena with pods unleashing a different hazzard onto the rebels. It’s made worse by the sort of deprogrammed Peeta coming to fight with them. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and the rest of the primary cast continue to give fine performances, but they do seem to be relieved that it’s over. SPOILER ALERT! They make it past gun turrets, oil, and pale zombie Mutts, but sadly Boggs, Finnick, and every disposable soldier is killed. A tiger lady helps them get closer to Snow’s house, but it’s once again not what I was expecting. Katniss and Gale hide amidst the Capitol and peacekeepers, but most of them are bombed by sponsor parachutes.

Although it’s probably more impactful in the book, Prim’s death seems to come out of nowhere. It’s not until Katniss yells at her cat Buttercup that I felt genuinely sad. The final confrontation between Katniss and the dying Snow is just a conversation in his flower garden. There’s still an execution, but Katniss fires her bow & arrow on Coin instead. Since she was secretly more like Snow than she let on. Their deaths finally bring peace back to Panem. Haymitch reads a letter from Plutarch to Katniss due to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing and they both say goodbye to Effie. They return to live in District 12 where a mostly cured Peeta reconnects with Katniss. And just like every other YA franchise, Katniss and Peeta’s story ends with them having children of their own. Mockingjay – Part 2 may have lost some of its impact, but I suppose there are worse games to play. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

5. Mockingjay Part 2

Katniss takes aim

Preceded by: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

The Hanging Tree

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is proof that splitting a final book into 2 parts is a bad idea. It worked for The Deathly Hallows and sort of worked for Breaking Dawn, but Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay is only a 390 page book. The breaking point they chose means an almost complete lack of action in Part 1. Katniss Everdeen fires precisely one arrow in the entire 2 hour movie. My brother and I were still on board for the “finale,” but this is when I started to question the franchise as a whole. At least director Francis Lawrence and the stellar cast continue to make it watchable. Mockingjay – Part 1 has no Hunger Games just like the book. Instead the focus is on the much needed rebellion against the Capitol. The only action you’re gonna see. President Snow and his peacekeepers threaten all of Panem, so the once thought destroyed District 13 mounts an offensive.

Pretty much nothing happens other than Katniss refusing to be the Mockingjay and complaining about Peeta every chance she gets. Peeta, Johanna, and Annie are all prisoners of the Capitol. So Katniss is most concerned with their rescue. Even though Peeta is being used for propaganda interviews with Caesar. Since Josh Hutcherson is mostly relegated to looking more and more sickly, Liam Hemsworth steps up as the primary leading man. Giving Gale and Katniss more reason to get together. Mahershala Ali is also a trusted ally as Katniss’ bodyguard Boggs. Katniss’ main obstacle is District 13 President Alma Coin played by the series last veteran actress Julianne Moore. Most of her scenes are with Plutarch, who needed a few minor rewrites due to Philip Seymour Hoffman passing away. Although Beetee supplies Katniss with an explosive bow & arrow, the only thing they want her for is to make propaganda videos.

So she’s joined by Natalia Dormer as “propo” director Cressida and her futuristic film crew including silent avox Pollux. A sober Haymitch shows up to help make the “propos” more natural along with Effie. She’s not in this part of the book, but the filmmakers liked the idea of her in the drab District 13. The only minor action Katniss sees is in the devastated District 8. The only thing Part 1 has going for it is the music. There’s a catchy song from Lorde, but most importantly Jennifer Lawrence struggles to sing “The Hanging Tree” in the ruins of District 12. The rebellion heats up when the Capitol bombs District 13 and Katniss has to save Prim (who foolishly went to save their cat Buttercup). After more nothing, Katniss contacts Snow in an attempt to block out their rescue attempt. Finnick reunites with Annie and Johanna is in bad shape, but Peeta is easily worse off. Since he was brainwashed by the Capitol into attacking Katniss. Mockingjay – Part 1 is a first act masquerading as a full movie. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

4. Mockingjay Part 1

Katniss leads a revolution

Preceded by: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Followed by: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

The Girl on Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves on the games in every way. A big reason being the change in directors that meant no more shaky cam and a stronger focus on emotion. Francis Lawrence brought Suzanne Collins’ world of Panem back to life in a way I wasn’t expecting. I was already on board with The Hunger Games, but now my brother joined me for the sequels. Catching Fire deepens the trauma felt by Victors Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. While at the same time addressing the love triangle between her and loyal District 12 friend Gale. A relationship made more complicated by the constant lense put on the “Star-crossed lovers.” Jennifer Lawrence just won an Oscar, but she’s still fully dedicated to the “Girl on Fire.” Her hair is appropriately darkened and Buttercup is actually an orange cat this time. Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson both make the choice between romantic leads a lot more convincing. Unfortunately, Katniss’ problems are just beginning when President Snow drops by for a visit. They share their first of many honest conversations with thinly veiled threats. Katniss, Prim, their mother, and Peeta are now staying in a nicer part of District 12 where Haymitch also lives. He continues to mentor them when their “Victory Tour” comes up. Effie also returns to coach them on how to speak to each District, but they both go off script.

Catching Fire increases the threat of the so-called peacekeepers by making them a much more evil faceless presence. They control the citizens and execute anyone who steps out of line. The tour does bring Katniss and Peeta closer together due to their shared experiences. It finally ends in the Capitol where they meet the first of many new characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman is another respected actor more than up to the task of mysterious new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee. He convinces Snow to make life worse for the Districts while at the same time giving attention to Katniss’ wedding. Until an incident with a peacekeeper ignites the rebellion even more. Since the 75th Hunger Games are coming up, that means the use of a Quarter Quill. A change in games that occurs every 25 years. This year all Tributes are selected from a pool of past Victors. All in an effort to kill Katniss and stop the uprising. She can’t even say goodbye to Prim before being whisked off to very familiar places. There’s still the chariot ceremony with Cinna’s patented fire outfits, but now the special effects look so much better. The problem this time is the legion of experienced killers they’re up against. Haymitch runs through most of them, but only a few of them are worth remembering. Sam Claflin makes the strongest impression as handsome trident equipped secret keeper Finnick Odair. Same with Jena Malone as the unhinged and outspoken Johanna Mason. Other crucial Tributes are the scientifically proficient Wiress and Beetee played by Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer. Their beloved status in the Capitol makes the rule change especially controversial when Caesar’s interviews come around. Katniss makes the strongest impression by burning her wedding dress to reveal a Mockingjay underneath.

Something that cause the first death of a major character outside of the games. SPOILER ALERT! Cinna is killed right in front of Katniss as she prepares to enter the new jungle themed arena. Tributes must swim to the island Cornucopia. Katniss and Peeta form an unlikely alliance with Finnick and his elderly fellow Tribute Mags. They encounter a much more lethal Hunger Games with a lot less cutting back to the outside world. Peeta is nearly killed by the force field, poison gas kills Mags, and they’re all attacked by vicious mandrill Mutts. They do at least obtain a water spigot from a sponsor and Johanna joins them along with Wiress & Beetee. They’re tortured by a flock of loved one imitating jabberjays, but they do formulate a plan that tests each of their loyalty. They survive using the clock configuration of the arena and use the perfectly timed lightning bolt to their advantage. Katniss questions her teammates, but ultimately makes the right decision to electrify the force field with a shot from her bow & arrow. Causing her to be picked up by the book accurate hovercraft. It turns out Haymitch, Heavensbee, and Finnick were all in on a rebellion that lead to Peeta being captured along with Johanna and Finnick’s lover Annie. As well as the dramatic destruction of District 12. Catching Fire may mostly be a set up for the sequel, but its vastly improved presentation is well worth it. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

3. Catching Fire

Katniss and Peeta in the Hunger Games

Preceded by: The Hunger Games & Followed by: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

I Volunteer as Tribute!

The Hunger Games presents a future with a disturbing amount of plausibility. Author Suzanne Collins originally envisioned the dystopian world of The Hunger Games after channel surfing. She blended the idea of America’s current war with reality TV and included parallels to Greek mythology. Specifically the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. The intense YA themes of the 2008 book made it a must read among my generation. The Hunger Games was actually on my summer reading list for my Junior year, but I was still a lazy reader at the time. So I went to see the movie by myself instead.

2012 was the year of the bow & arrow and knew I couldn’t miss another budding YA franchise. Like most living authors of a popular book series, Collins had a lot of input in the Lionsgate adaptation. An all-star cast of acclaimed and/or rising actors were chosen and well-regarded director Gary Ross took over production. The Hunger Games had a difficult task of depicting children killing each other on-screen and still retaining a PG-13 rating. Although the over reliant shaky cam was a bad decision, it did open up a larger audience for the intense competition. The Hunger Games did justice to its source material without compromising its message…

1. The Hunger Games

Katniss salutes

The Hunger Games became a phenomenon exactly how I imagined it would. I may not have read the book, but I could tell it was a very faithful adaptation with the usual amount missing or added. The Hunger Games was exactly what young adults needed. Especially after Twilight ended. Unlike Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen was a great role model in a story that anyone could envision. Although she intended to stick with small productions, Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly cast as Katniss. X-Men: First Class was already a push towards blockbuster film and she was about to win an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook anyway. Lawrence may have been older than 16 and definitely not starving, but she dyed her hair brown and pulled off Katniss’ maturity and strength of character. While at the same time managing her cleverness with a bow & arrow.

The Hunger Games is set in the futuristic dystopia of Panem. North America is separated into 12 (formally 13) Districts that supply goods for the wealthy totalitarian Capitol. District 1 (Luxury), District 2 (Masonry and defense), District 3 (Technology), District 4 (Fishing), District 5 (Power), District 6 (Transportation), District 7 (Lumber), District 8 (Textiles), District 9 (Grain), District 10 (Livestock), District 11 (Agriculture), and District 12 (Coal). District 13 (Nuclear Weaponry) was destroyed during the first rebellion and the Hunger Games was established 74 years ago. Katniss lives in the impoverished District 12 along with a whole cast of unusually named characters. District 12 was shot in a real abandoned shanty town. They captured the poverty and Katniss’ need to hunt, but they couldn’t get something as simple as the breed of their cat right. Turning Buttercup from an orange cat to a black cat. At least the rest of the cast is pitch perfect.

The hunky Liam Hemsworth nabbed his first long-term role as Gale Hawthorne. Gale is a close friend of Katniss who helps the Everdeen family anyway that he can. Although he’d be an obvious love interest, Twilight unfortunately needed to force another unnecessary love triangle. With her father deceased and her mother out of it, Katniss cares for her 12 year old sister Primrose. She gifts her with the all important symbol of the Mockingjay, but it’s not enough to protect her from the Reaping. Every year a boy and girl from the 12 Districts are chosen by random to compete in the Hunger Games. Elizabeth Banks makes an impression as the purple clad Effie Trinket. Her outrageous style reflects the Lady Gaga-esque look of the Capitol. Effie is an escort who calls the names and takes her Tributes to their game related appointments.

Prim’s name is called, but Katniss utters her iconic line “I volunteer as tribute!” Taking her sisters place in the games. Peeta Mellark isn’t quite so lucky. Josh Hutcherson may be really short, but he captures Peeta’s charm and strong build. Their departure is signaled by the famous three finger salute. As they board the train, Katniss and Peeta are greeted by the only surviving Victor and mentor of District 12. Haymitch Abernathy is sort of a drunken embarrassment, but he’s the only person who tells it like it is. The role only boosted Woody Harrelson’s popularity. You’d think getting to the Hunger Games would be a quick process, but there’s a whole lot of work that needs to be done. Some of which needed to be expanded from the book. Donald Sutherland was inspired casting as the evil President Coriolanus Snow. The ruthless way he views the games are presented with the equally fleshed out Seneca Crane. Wes Bentley puts the pointy beard Gamemaker in positions Katniss never witnessed in the book.

What Katniss does experience is a beautification done by the stylists of the Capitol. Katniss is pretty standoffish, but she does make friends with her personal stylist Cinna. Someone only a rockstar like Lenny Kravitz can pull off. He helps Katniss and Peeta make an impression at the traditional chariot ceremony. Katniss becomes the “Girl on Fire” when their outfits catch fire and impress the crowd. Then each tribute trains with and/or intimidates their competition. Until they’re each individually evaluated on their individual skill set. Katniss’ archery goes by unnoticed, so she shoots an apple from the conference room instead. Katniss accidentally gains further appreciation that she uses in her personal interview with the very eccentric Caesar Flickerman. Effectively played by Stanley Tucci. Katniss stands out more with her flaming dress, but Peeta steals the show with his declaration of love. Something they both have to use in order to survive and gain life saving sponsors in the competition.

Tributes are finally given a tracker, arena appropriate outfits, and sent up a tube with a farewell from their stylist. The control room is given explicit detail along with how the Districts view the games on a projector. A final ominus countdown appears and a horn signals the start of the 74th Hunger Games. Since every game understandably starts with a bloodbath, the entire scene is made to look as disoritating as possible. All weapons and important supplies are deeper into the central Cornucopia that Tributes either run towards or away from. Katniss barely makes off with supplies like a rope and cantina. The forest arena is fraught with danger that makes it even more difficult to survive. When killed, Tributes receive a cannon and are memorialized at the end of each night. Although it seems implausible in a life or death game, alliances are always formed as well. Usually between the more bloodthirsty career Tributes of District 1 & 2.

Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jack Quaid, and Leven Rambin are plenty remorseless as Cato, Clove, Marvel, and Glimmer, but they’re all a victim of circumstance. So it’s difficult to celebrate any of their deaths. Peeta gains their acceptance, but most of his survival is thanks to his ridiculously implausible camouflage painting skills. Katniss gains an advantage (and a bow) when she drops a tracker jacker hive on the careers. Another interesting part of the games are the scientifically bred animals made by the Capitol. Muttations range from deadly to non-lethal. The hallucinatory tracker jackers knock Katniss out, but she’s quickly saved by District 11’s 12 year old Rue. Amandla Stenberg is so convincing that I knew her inevitable death would be tough to get through. They bond and communicate with the signature Mockingjay whistle. Katniss gains a further advantage by blowing up the remaining food, but Rue is lost when Marvel attacks. Rue’s death sparks a riot throughout District 11 that ignites an uprising.

When Crane has Snow agree to a rule change, Katniss and Peeta are given a chance to survive. Peeta is in bad shape, but her mostly unconvincing romance helps him survive a bit longer. Until she’s forced to travel to the Cornucopia for a feast. District 11’s Thresh kills Clove for Katniss and she in turn saves Peeta. Leaving Thresh, Cato, and the very clever Foxface as the remaining Tributes. Poison nightlock berries outsmart Foxface and dog-like Mutts take out Thresh. Leading to the big finale where Katniss and Peeta are forced to battle Cato atop the Cornucopia. The victory is bittersweet, but it’s made more complicated when the 2 Victor rule is revoked. They try to eat the berries Romeo & Juliet style until both are declared the winner instead. They may have won the battle, but the true consequences of the game have just begun. The Hunger Games may have drawn comparison to Battle Royale, but there’s really nothing else like it. There’s no way I’d ever want to be in a situation like this. Society’s obsession with violence and reality TV are why it seems so plausible. The Hunger Game made an entertaining spectacle out of a horrific reality. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

2. The Hunger Games

Katniss takes aim

Followed by: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Prom Tonight!

Not Another Teen Movie is the answer to the non-stop teen movies made around 1999. Since I absolutely love cheesy cliché filled teen movies, I knew I needed to see Not Another Teen Movie. Even though modern parody movies are usually terrible. It’s a guilty pleasure that’s better if you marathon all the major teen movies being spoofed like I did. They cleverly call out clichés and assign a different teen stereotype to each character. While at the same time relying on raunchy jokes and toilet humor. Similar to Scary Movie before it. The main parody is She’s All That. Chyler Leigh is Janey, the clearly attractive uniquely rebellious girl who wears glasses and a ponytail. Chris Evans is Jake, the popular jock dealing with football problems.

That’s where Varsity Blues comes in. With Billy Bob himself spoofing his own character. Jake’s other friends are the blonde jerk and token black guy who spouts catchphrases. Janey’s father is a poor alcoholic like in Pretty in Pink and her brother Mitch mostly parodies American Pie with his friends. Since they’re all trying to lose their virginity before prom. Mitch’s crush parodies Can’t Hardly Wait complete with house party. Janey’s desperate weirdo friend parodies 10 Things I Hate About You. Jake’s sexually charged blood related sister parodies Cruel Intentions. Jake’s ex is a mean girl cheerleader that parodies Bring it On. Complete with more obviously stolen dance moves.

A much older woman parodies Never Been Kissed. Along with a more disgusting parody of the Cruel Intentions kiss. The raunchiest joke is the sexy foreign exchange student being completely naked. The most memorable joke will always be Chris Evans doing a gender swapped parody of the whipped cream scene from Varsity Blues. Future Captain America everybody. The strongest part of Not Another Teen Movie are the unexpected cameos. Including Paul Gleason doing a humorous recreation of The Breakfast Club and “Teen Queen” Molly Ringwald calling out her own clichés in an airport. I can do without the gross out gags, but the rest of Not Another Teen Movie really understands ridiculous teen movies.

Not Another Teen Movie

Jake attempts to seduce Janey

Gangsta Bot

Chappie is director Neill Blomkamp’s obvious attempt to rekindle the success he had with District 9. Unlike Elysium, Chappie is once again based on a short film, set in Johannesburg, South Africa, and stars Sharlto Copley. All that wasn’t enough to keep Chappie from being a complete embarrassment. Now Blomkamp’s excessively cynical directing style (that I was already on the fence with) was clear to everyone else. I was interested in the robot story and thought it might have warranted a PG-13 rating, but Chappie is just as gratuitously R rated as Blomkamp’s other movies.

In another alternated future, robot scouts built by Tetravaal aid police during a crime wave. The only Hollywood actors are Hugh Jackman as the militarized engineer of a heavily weaponized robot, Sigourney Weaver as the company’s CEO, and Dev Patel as the programmer who achieves artificial intelligence. The CGI used on the robots is impressive, but I don’t think I could take them seriously with their friendly faces and bunny ears. Copley is hidden under the artificially intelligent robot affectionately named Chappie. His childlike development might have worked better with literally any other director.

Instead Blomkamp and Copley turn Chappie into a foul mouthed robot taught to be gangster by a band of South African criminals. They seriously turn Ninja and Yolandi of the hip hop group Die Antwoord into primary characters in the movie. Their acting isn’t awful, but their presence is more surreal than a gangsta robot covered in chains. I’m really not sure what the deeper theme was supposed to be other than maybe the effect of law enforcement on society. With no new projects made since 2015 and that Alien sequel failing to materialize, Chappie really feels like Blomkamp lost his spark for thought-provoking science fiction.


Chappie packs heat

The Space Border

Elysium is way more on the nose than District 9. Its sociological themes mixed with sci-fi elements aren’t nearly as creative as they could’ve been. Elysium is way more Hollywood than District 9 and director Neill Blomkamp himself didn’t like the final product. Elysium is actually the first R rated movie my brother and I saw by ourselves in theaters. I’ve been regretting it ever since, because any problem I had with Blomkamp’s harsh directing style is much worse in Elysium. In the year 2154, humanity is divided between the wealthy elite and the impoverished.

Elysium is a space station floating above Earth where the wealthy have unlimited access to Med-Bays that cure all diseases. The rest of humanity lives on a desolate Earth policed by robots. The most desperate humans risk their lives just to cross the invisible border into Elysium. The immigration and health care themes are obvious, making the choice of lead actor even more confusing. Blomkamp wanted to go with unconventional “actors” like Eminem or Ninja (more on him later), but instead he went with Matt Damon. Another Hollywood presence is Jodie Foster putting on a truly terrible undefinable accent as one of the heads of Elysium.

The only Spanish presence is Alice Braga trying to bring her character’s sick daughter to Elysium. Damon’s character Max is given 5 days to live after being exposed to radiation on the job. So he’s implanted with an advanced exoskeleton in order to break into Elysium himself. The only trace of Blomkamp’s South African roots is Sharlto Copley as the villain Kruger. An overly sadistic agent who guards Elysium with the rest of his drones. The constant danger involving children was a big reason why I couldn’t get into the story. Elysium has impressive futuristic technology, but that’s not enough to win me over with its execution.


Max locks and loads

No Humans Allowed

District 9 puts a science fiction spin on “illegal aliens.” Based on the short film Alive in Joburg, first time director Neill Blomkamp sought to make an alien invasion as realistic as possible. By using themes of xenophobia and segregation. Along with parallels to South African Apartheid. Although Peter Jackson produced District 9, his original intention was to make a Halo movie. When that didn’t work out, weapons were recycled and Blomkamp decided to expand on his short film instead. District 9 has a very unique portrayal of aliens landing on Earth.

Instead of America, Prawns land in Johannesburg with the sole intention of seeking refuge. So they receive it in the Prawn only slums of District 9. The cast of unknowns and documentary style is so convincing, you’d swear Prawns were real. Prawns are unsightly cockroach-like aliens that love cat food and speak in clicks that humans are somehow able to understand. Although humanity is meant to fear them, the Prawns are more sympathetic than any human in the movie. Blomkamp’s buddy Sharlto Copley plays MNU alien affairs agent Wikus. He’s mostly indifferent to the Prawn struggle, but all that changes when he’s exposed to alien goo.

Wikus has a very unexpected mutation that makes him the target of cannibalistic Nigerian gangs and rogue mercenaries in District 9. Wikus is still kind of a jerk, so I connected with Prawn scientist Christopher Johnson and his son a lot more. Christopher’s primary goal is to fly up to his spaceship and save his people, but he does promise to cure Wikus (in 3 years!). The Prawn weapons are impressive and lead to an explosive conclusion that I’m still waiting to see a sequel for. While District 9 was definitely worthy of a Best Picture nomination and underrated compared to other 2009 alien movie Avatar, the rough South African style can get really uncomfortable. Exactly what makes District 9 so effective.

District 9

Wilkus evicts a prawn