Knee-jerk review: "The Hunger Games"

1. We liked the book. We also liked the movie. And we'll defend either with extreme prejudice.
2. True, lead actress Jennifer Lawrence is more woman than girl. But she brings the sort of dramatic gravitas that poor sourpuss Kristen Stewart can't ever really muster in Twilight.
3. And did you see what just happened? We already succumbed to the culture's rather sexist need to compare The Hunger Games with Twilight. Because all young-adult fiction geared to tween girls is the same, right?
4. So let's go with it. But whereas Twilight, at its heart, is about a girl who wants to be with the Bad Boy, The Hunger Games has much bigger thematic aspirations involving class and media and politics. In other words, we don't think Bella Swan would be the type to foster rebellion. (There are also those who say that Bella's pursuit of Edward involves Mormon issues about the dangers of sex, but that starts to get a little too Womens Studies for us.)
5. Our admiration for Woody Harrelson continues to grow. He is amazing. We recommend The Messenger.
6. There's no denying the "99%" element in the plot where the wealthy elite dine on delicacies, wear ridiculously fancy clothes, and do what they can to pretend that the working masses don't have it so bad. And may not be aware that they're about to face some real retribution, French Revolution-style.
7. We wonder why the producers couldn't have spent another $1 million or so to fix the awful special effects of the parade sequence. It's really bad. Like, SyFy bad. What should have been a triumphant moment of awe is instead rather silly and goofy-looking. This won't happen with the next movie, not with $262 million and counting pouring into the Lionsgate coffers.
8. "I volunteer as tribute." Powerful moment.
9. We love how the movie's boffo success at the box office surprised so many. Plenty of studios bigger than Lionsgate passed on the chance to make it, while too-cool-for-school bloggers loved to snark about the growing buzz. If you read the books, however, you had a sense of how big it could be. We suspect The Hunger Games will eventually pass Twilight and wind up second only to the Harry Potter franchise. This shows how out of touch Hollywood can be when it comes to grass-roots pop culture. "The Hunger Games" book gained popularity not because it was a comic book or some overhyped TV show fueled by millions in marketing dollars. Something called word-of-mouth made it catch fire, with able assists from Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer, both early fans of the book. If you read it, you got it. If you only read the logline "Kids fight to the death on live TV" then maybe you roll your eyes. In a way, this same thing happened with Twilight, which is how little indie studio Summit snapped up the rights and made a mint. Hollywood doesn't know what to do with outliers like this, properties that don't come from the A-listers.
10. Much was also made about the film's PG-13 rating. "How can they show the brutality of murder without an R?" Relax, people. The movie is plenty violent. The kid-on-kid bloodbath that begins the games is uncomfortable to watch. Plus, why would the producers be so dumb as to adapt a young-adult book and then earn a rating that cuts out young adults?
11. The arrow through the apple. Awesome. "Thank you for your consideration."
12. We're also sick of hearing it compared to Battle Royale and The Running Man. It's the sort of lazy, smug comment that invariably comes from someone unfamiliar with the details of The Hunger Games. For the record, Battle Royale is a deliciously crazy, over-the-top movie and The Running Man is a very dated, very lame 1980s satire. Read instead the Stephen King book.
13. Trackerjackers and mockingjays.
14. Still not big fans of the giant dog animals at the end, but we do appreciate that the movie omitted one dog-related detail from the book that was probably its most ridiculous element.
15. Proof that casting is king. What a strange story. But Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci... they can sell anything.
16. Poor Seneca Crane. He didn't contain it, did he?
17. Should we incorporate Katniss' three-finger kiss salute in our everyday life? That's not nerdy, is it?
18. Probably just shy of being a great movie, but definitely a very good movie. Worth your $8.


We don't want to hate "Dora the Explorer"

Li'l Fry loves "Dora the Explorer." We sometimes think she'd be happy watching six uninterrupted hours of back-to-back episodes. "Can I watch Dora?" But while we've learned to embrace the subtle charms of "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Team Umizoomi" and "Elmo's World" and, yes, even "Barney and Friends," we cannot keep from repeatedly rolling our eyes and making sour faces at "Dora the Explorer."

1. Her voice - The screechy, sing-song, uptalk voice of Dora is incredibly annoying and grows only moreso over time. "Can YOU help us FIND the singing GARDENS?" We're told small children respond well to this sort of speech pattern, but our response involves a desire to shove sharpened pencils into our ears.

2. Crude animation - Many contemporary children's shows involve sophisticated, slick animation. Not this one. It's like what you saw on Saturday morning cartoon back in 1982, but NBC's "The Smurfs" probably had more polish. The movements are jerky, the designs simple and dull, and the whole thing looks incredibly cheap, which is rather insulting given the goldmine this character has become. The producers clearly aren't putting their profits back into the show.

3. Unreality - We know it's not Ibsen, but we would like some sort of dramatic realism. It's like the producers don't even try to maintain any sort of internal story logic. Even "Sesame Street" creates a clear set of rules (puppets and people living in New York City) and sticks to them. But here Dora flies into outer space, turns into a mermaid, visits the Old West, talks to dinosaurs, goes on a medieval Arthurian quest, in addition to the usual silliness involving looking for wrecked ice cream trucks or returning lost frogs to their frog families. We don't think there's anything these people won't turn into an episode. It's like a preschool fever dream of bridge trolls and swimming bears and go-cart races. We'd probably have an easier time swallowing it all if we just had one question answered: are we supposed to think this is all really happening? The little cursor-arrow-clicks (also irritating) suggest this is all a video game, which could work. And there's also the possibility that this is happening in her imagination. But it's left very vague. The producers are seemingly too lazy to even clarify the show's basic premise. They'd rather make an entire episode about picking blueberries. And count their money.

4. Everything has a face - In Dora's world, there is not a single object - not one - that doesn't have a face and speak in that same childlike grating monotone.

5. The map - If you've seen him in action, you understand. Could he be more whiny?

6. The other characters - We like Boots. Really. There's a childlike innocence to him, but also an intelligence and a sense of fun. He rarely comes off as simple-minded and humorless as Dora. But the same cannot be said for the other animal characters* like Benny the Bull or that ridiculous squirrel who wears the rainbow serape. Each one is more annoying and dim-witted than the next. It really does seem like the producers think the only way to make a children's show is to dumb it down enough to make it completely unpalatable for adults. What a formula.

* Our favorite part of the show is the three-piece insect marachi band that plays the fanfare once each stage of Dora's journey is complete. Those guys need their own show. Just don't let "Dora's" producers make it.

7. Swiper the Fox - Every story needs a good villain, but Swiper is so inept and hopeless that he's practically a joke. Even Wile E. Coyote had an edge to him. If you don't know, Swiper is a a thief who can be thwarted by simply asking him to not steal. "Swiper no swiping!" We can appreciate the need for this kind of incantation. But the producers always cut it so close. Swiper is literally inches away from grabbing the item he wants (instead of waggling your fingers, Swiper, lunge in and grab it already!) when he suddenly understands that he's been told no and backs off. What kind of thief is this? Again, we want to accept this quirk because it's a stupid animated show for kids and life is too short, but we cannot accept it because it's just so completely implausible and illogical. Why does he care what people tell him? Surely there's another way, a more logical way, for Swiper to be repelled.

Adding to the irritation of the entire Swiper nonsense is that when told Swiper is close by, Dora and Boots freeze and stare into the camera rather than turn around and look for Swiper themselves. Yes yes, we know this is for the kids at home so they can be a part of the action. But even those kids must wonder in the back of their heads why Dora doesn't also exert some effort looking for Swiper. Why do the kids have to do all of the work?

8. The vines - There's a lot of Tarzan-style vine swinging in this show, but in keeping with the show's crude and lazy animation style, the laws of physics do not apply. Not even a little. In Dora's world, if you see a vine hanging down, just jump up and grab it and you'll be instantly catapulted sideways in a long graceful vine arc. Ridiculous.

9. Her shirt - Can't Dora's parents buy her a shirt that covers her belly? They seem to have money living in that fancy adobe-looking Spanish-revival-style house. Buy her a shirt!

Will there come a time when we look back on this era with wistful nostalgia and wish Li'l Fry still watched "Dora"? Unlikely.