Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Hunger Games" Casting Mania! (part eight)

I know that I’m really late with this. I was waiting to see if any more of the major characters would be cast...and they were! So this post is gonna be particularly long. I’ll try not to babble excessively.

The Role: Cinna. Ahhh, Cinna. Beloved by all. Cinna is the assigned personal stylist for Katniss, designing the outfits she wears during her public appearances prior to and following the Hunger Games. (Oh, uh, spoiler alert that she survives.) While most Capitol residents are gaudy, shallow, and clueless, Cinna is wise and quietly, calmly subversive. He and Katniss hit it off right away, and he reveals himself to have strong anti-Capitol sensibilities, which he works into his costume designs, transforming our heroine into a walking symbol of rebellion. More I will not say, except to note that Cinna’s total story arc in the series is both awesome and heartbreaking. Sniff.

The Actor: Lenny Kravitz! Didn’t see that coming, did you? This man has been a familiar name in the music industry for a long time, with his contributions to soul and reggae and his smooth good looks. More recently, he was in Precious, a movie that gained major accolades for all involved -- even Mariah Carey, for fuck’s sake. So that answers the question of whether he can act.

My Approval Rating: 7.5 out of 10. He’s an unexpected choice, and I like it when they push the envelope. It’s funny...I always pictured Cinna as a white guy in his late twenties, which just shows how sparingly (in a good way) the character was described in the books. Kravitz is black and 46. However, he’s a cool customer who should be able to project Cinna’s kind wisdom, not to mention make us all swoon. I’m a little leery of his age, but this makes him a little more of a father figure to Katniss. Sounds good!

Who I Would have Picked: I agree with a lot of people that Cillian Murphy would have been an awesome choice, with his porcelain features and quiet, dreamy acting style. Also -- and I know this is so totally gay of me -- Adam Lambert looks just about like I pictured Cinna to look. Can he act? I have no idea. But he’s got the same level of charm. Plus, Cinna is probably gay. I mean, Suzanne Collins never came out and said he was, but the implication was definitely there. So, yeah. Gay singer playing gay stylist. I think this paragraph is getting awkward. Next character!

The Roles: Cato and Clove, the District Two Tributes. These are the leaders of the so-called “Career Tributes,” rich brats backed by richer sponsors who generally clean up in the games. And make no mistake, they’re eeeeeeeevil. Cato is the main antagonist, such a nasty piece of work that he volunteered for the Hunger Games purely out of bloodlust. He uses his size and strength to brutally take names and shed blood. Clove isn’t much nicer, a vicious murderess who’s deadly with a throwing knife. With assorted toadies at their beck and call, they’re determined to rid the world of people like Katniss and Peeta, whom they see as backwater trash. Both of them meet appropriately awful deaths, don’t worry.

The Actors: Alexander Ludwig and Isabelle Fuhrman. Ludwig is one of those generic hot young actors of the moment; he was in Race to Witch Mountain and that god-awful, shit-all-over-a-beloved-children’s-classic travesty that was The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. As for Fuhrman, well...if you’ve seen the movie Orphan, you’re probably screaming and flinging yourself away from your computer screen right now. If you haven’t, let’s just say that she perfectly represents the next generation of Evil Little Horror Movie Children. And now she’s all grown up!

My Approval Rating: For Ludwig, 4 out of 10. I admit to being personally biased against him for his involvement in The Seeker, but all that aside, he’s too damn blonde and pretty to play Cato. People are gonna be whining that he should have been Peeta. No, he shouldn’t have, but he’s gonna have to work hard to convince me he can be a brutal, murderous sociopath who snaps little kids’ necks. Fuhrman, on the other hand, gets a 9 out of 10! I was totally blown away by the casting choice; what an awesome surprise! She really was skin-crawlingly effective in Orphan and I think she’s just right to play a knife-throwing bitch. Kudos! (I’m sure she’s sweet in person...)

Who I Would Have Picked: Call me a hypocrite, but I would’ve picked Alex Pettyfer for Cato. Yeah, I was dumping on him earlier, but that was in regards to him being cast as Peeta or Gale. I’d have no problem with watching that icky pretty boy play the evil Cato, and would cheer heartily when (SPOILER ALERT) he got slowly torn apart by mutant werewolves. Schadenfreude! As for Clove, I’m rather partial to Abbie Cornish, whose gigantic biceps were the most impressive thing in all of Sucker Punch. She’s 28, though, so maybe not. Isabelle Fuhrman is like the best possible choice, anyway. You’ll see.

The Role: Claudius Templesmith, the official Hunger Games announcer. Although he is never seen, his booming voice is often heard echoing through the arena as the Tributes fight for their lives. He keeps the players and viewers updated on kills, statistics, and rule updates, and generally plays up the tension and melodrama for all it’s worth. Not very important to the overall storyline, but the Games just wouldn’t be the same without his voice.

The Actor: Toby Jones, another one of Those Actors who you probably recognize from somewhere or other. He played Truman Capote in Infamous and Karl Rove in W., he was in The Mist and will be appearing in Captain America, and if nothing else, you’ve probably heard him as the voice of Dobby the elf in the Harry Potter movies. Dude doesn’t fill any particular niche, that’s for sure.

My Approval Rating: 8 out of 10. Sure, why not? Jones’s acting choices are all over the map, but he’s proven that he can step vividly into various identities, both real and fictional. It’s not too hard to play a bombastic sports announcer, but they still needed someone with a distinctive and riveting voice, and they could’ve done way, way worse than Jones. Funny how all the best voices belong to Brits; everyone wanted Jeremy Irons for Templesmith. I, on the other hand, favored...

Who I Would Have Picked: Tim Curry. Mmmmm, that voice. Smooth as honey, rough as granite, sleazy and wicked and yet impossible to stop listening to. Whether he’s an evil clown, a pirate captain, a sentient cloud of smog, or a sweet transvestite in a stupid and hideously overrated cult film, Curry’s voice rises above even the silliest material. Plus he’s done, like, more voiceover work than anyone else in the entire bloody world. Plus he’s Tim Curry. Come on.

Phew! That about does it for major Hunger Games roles. There’s still some minor characters to be cast, but I don’t think I need to follow breathlessly. The one remaining major role is that of the vile President Snow, who doesn’t appear much in The Hunger Games but will play a far more prominent role in its two sequels. I’m excited to see who they get, and I’ll be sharing the news with you here. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Brief Banjo-Kazooie Retrospective (old)

PROLOGUE: I feel like this blog needs a short break from Hunger Games casting news. Just to add some variety, here's a little thing I wrote up three years ago or thereabouts, about the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. It was written before Nuts & Bolts came out, which is why I refer to that god-awful turd of a taint of a game in future tense. Enjoy!


Seeing the trailer for the new Banjo-Kazooie game really made me nostalgic. This is only the third official B-K game to be released, and since A) the franchise utterly skipped 6th-generation consoles, and B) the new game appears to have designed by people from Planet Retard, I feel like looking back at the games and why I loved (and still love) them so much. Let’s take a trip down memory lane!

Many of you probably enjoyed Banjo-Kazooie on the N64 back when we were all tots. If not, I will briefly summarize it. Banjo is a bear in tight yellow shorts. Kazooie is a cranky bird who rides around in his backpack and acts as BFF/sidekick/playful antagonist/devil’s advocate. Banjo’s little sister is kidnapped by an evil witch named Gruntilda who wants to steal her beauty, and our heroes set out to get her back. For some strange reason, they literally live right underneath Grunty’s lair; I would have moved a long time ago, but whatever. You spend the game exploring the evil witch’s massive network of caverns and finding your way to various other worlds while collecting golden jigsaw pieces, musical notes, eggs you can shoot, etc. In other words, it’s your basic platform/scavenger hunt gameplay that Rareware has excelled at. Where B-K succeeded was in its quirky, tongue-in-cheek attitude and general oddness. I mean, how can you hate a game where you get to change into a bouncing pumpkin, kill snowmen by Kamikazee-bombing them, and explore the innards of a ginormous robot fish with indigestion? Plus, the game was actually REALLY DAMN HARD in places, so you felt like it was a serious gaming experience. If your guts still twist into a knot when you hear the words “Rusty Bucket Bay,” then you know exactly what I’m talking about. The game’s awesome rule-breaking mentality made up for its flaws (annoying gibberish in place of recorded dialogue, no boss battles, too many unkillable monsters) and rocked the house, all in all.

Then along came the sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which kept a lot of the awesomeness and added some even more awesome stuff (boss battles!), but felt like a step down. They tried for a more epic feel with bigger worlds, more characters, and more shit to do, and the game felt overstuffed. The scavenger hunt format was dumbed down, some challenges were downright impossible, and you learned so many new moves that you were still learning them on the final level. What good’s a new move when you only get to use it twice? I still liked the game a lot, though, largely because Banjo and Kazooie, previously glued together, could now separate and explore on their own. This led to some nifty puzzle-solving elements, including several that involved moving between worlds without returning to the overworld, which was pretty shocking for a platform game at the time. The plot was lame, though: Grunty, now a skeleton, joins forces with her two sisters (who talk like Yoda) and hatches some vague scheme to suck the life out of the world. Sadly, the game yanks Grunty offscreen most of the time (in the first game, she’s a constant, freaky presence lurking on the sidelines), and her impact as a villain suffers greatly. And though the game makes the ballsy move of actually killing characters off, they all come back at the end. Of course. Banjo-Tooie was fun, but lacked the originality of Banjo-Kazooie and was too big for its shoes. Oh, well.

Now comes Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, which is coming out on the 360 as Rareware switched alliances. A lot of people have already expressed their dismay with how it looks, but I’m adding my voice. WHAT THE FUCK. Game franchises are allowed to make design changes, but that doesn’t mean you should shit all over the original design! B-K:N&B takes place in a bizarre, vaguely Neo-Cubist world that looks like a cross between Animal Crossing and more fucking Animal Crossing. The characters have been mutated beyond recognition....why the hell is Banjo’s nose cube-shaped?! “Best” of all is the fact that gameplay now revolves around building vehicles. Yeah, building vehicles. Which was all well and good for freakin’ Gizmos and Gadgets, but this is a Banjo-Kazooie game! It is supposed to feature a bear and bird running around, engaging in vaguely inappropriate combat, and doing a silly little dance whenever they find a big golden puzzle piece! It is NOT supposed to involve laying waste to the land with the Bear-Copter, the Bear-ATV, the Bear-Warthog, the Bearplane, the Bear-Dildo-Launcher, and whatever else they’ve come up with. I see what happened here: Microsoft wanted no association with the previous Nintendo games, so they grabbed some designers who were toddlers when the first Banjo-Kazooie games were released, locked them in a room with a single blurry screenshot from the first game, and let them go hog wild. At least, that’s what I’m assuming happened.

If anyone plays Nuts & Bolts and confirms that it’s actually good, great. Maybe it’s an awesome game. But my mind cannot process it as a Banjo-Kazooie game. There were two, they came out years ago, and I loved them as a child. That is all.

EPILOGUE: So much for that trip down memory lane. As we now know, Nuts & Bolts did okay and was generally deemed a decent game, if you pretended it wasn't a threequel. However, actual B-K fans were understandably pissed at the utter mutilation of their childhood memories, not to mention insulted by the game's rather nasty implication that the old Banjo and Kazooie were lame dinosaurs who somehow needed retconning. I've read one or two reviews from dickbags who were actually glad that Nuts & Bolts didn't follow the "inferior" originals. I am glad to report that these cockdribbles, for their crimes, will be going to the seventh circle of Video Game Hell, where the only available console is the Philips CD-i and the dog from Duck Hunt clings to your back, laughing and sticking his dick in your ear.

Sigh. Long live Banjo and Kazooie. The way they were, my friends...the way they were. Never forget.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Hunger Games" Casting Mania! (part seven)

Exciting news! They’ve FINALLY burned their way through all the expendable children and are returning to the big, meaty roles! Even better, they’re aiming high when it comes to talent. I was praying they’d look for actors and actresses with serious cred, and my prayers (and those of many other HG fans, I’m sure) have been answered! Check these dudes out!

The Role: Haymitch Abernathy, arguably the most important non-teenager in the series. As the only District 12 inhabitant to win the Hunger Games (so far), Haymitch is a local celebrity. He’s also one damaged, messed-up sonofabitch and has sunk into the peaceful oblivion of rampant alcoholism. When he’s called upon to mentor Katniss and Peeta, Haymitch seems useless, but turns out to be one shrewd manipulator with some radical ideas for keeping them alive. I shan’t reveal more, but let’s just say he’s an epic asshole in all the best of ways.

The Actor: Woody Harrelson! Woody freaking Harrelson, guys! WOOOO! Seriously, this is awesome. If you haven’t seen him perform his extra-special, unique brand of crazy in Natural Born Killers, Wag the Dog, Zombieland, No Country for Old Men, 2012, and many, many other titles, then you will never be able to appreciate the bug-eyed, giant-cheekboned beauty of this man.

My Approval Rating: 9.5 out of 10. I love me some Woody Harrelson and I can easily see him as Haymitch. And his southern-fried psycho persona fits right in among the starving folk of District 12 in the former Appalachians. I’m psyched. If I have one tiny qualm, it’s that I always pictured Haymitch as a bit overweight. He should at least have a beer gut. But true method actors know how to prepare for the role, and I’m confident that Woody will make us forget all about his flawless abs in Natural Born Killers. If you haven’t noticed, I have a crush.

Who I Would Have Picked: Everyone wanted Robert Downey Jr. or Hugh Laurie. I wanted neither; the former is too conventionally hunky, while the latter is too gaunt. I would have picked John C. Reilly, who’s shown an interesting acting range and fits my mental image of a formerly strong man who’s been utterly blitzkrieged by booze. Am I complaining? Not when it’s Woody hallelujahing Harrelson!

The Role: Caesar Flickerman, a major TV personality and interviewer who’s like a nightmarish mash-up of Richard Simmons, Lady Gaga, and a circus clown. Known for dying his hair, lips, and eyelids a different color each year, Flickerman is responsible for questioning and schmoozing with all the doomed Tributes while the crowd oohs and aahs. He wears a suit covered in lightbulbs and has had more plastic surgery than Heidi “Demonface” Montag. All in all, he’s a putz. But his interviews with Katniss are important to the plot, and she and her allies use them to royally mess with everyone’s emotions and deliver various FUCK YOUs to the evil Capitol.

The Actor: Stanley Tucci. Do I really have to list off his filmography, people? There is a one hundred percent chance that you have seen at least one movie with Stanley Tucci in it; he’s one of our most prolific and versatile character actors. If you’re a film snob, you’re thinking of him in Big Night; if you’re a normal person, you’re probably remembering him in The Devil Wears Prada or Julie & Julia; and if you’re completely fucking insane, you’re rhapsodizing over him in Burlesque. Ewwwww.

My Approval Rating: 9 out of 10. Everyone loves Stanley Tucci, right? I know I do; I have never not been entertained by one of his performances. He seems a rather random choice for the flashy, fey Caesar Flickerman, but then, I’m pretty sure Tucci can play any damn role he wants. He could put on a long dark wig and play Katniss, and he’d do just fine. Since Flickerman hides his true self behind makeup and surgery, we need a character actor who can hide himself behind Flickerman. And Tucci can. Oh, yes, he can.

Who I Would Have Picked: As with Woody Harrelson, I am quite satisfied and wouldn’t trade Tucci for anyone. But if it couldn’t be him, I would go with Dan Aykroyd. Annoying yet endearing? Check! Hyper and larger-than-life? Check! An older guy trying to look younger? Well, maybe not, but he could play one. Also, imagine Aykroyd’s Woody Woodpecker hair died power blue. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Though I’m pretty excited to see what Tucci’s toupee will look like.

The Wall of Doomed Children 3:
Still no Cato and Clove, but we finally have the complete list of non-important Tributes, many of whom will be horribly murdered by Cato and Clove! So that's something!

Take a deep breath, and...Samuel Tan and Mackenzie Lintz are District Eight! Annie Thurman and Imanol Yepez-Frias are District Nine! Jeremy Marinas is the District Ten boy (somewhat notable for having a gimpy foot) while Dakota Hood is his female counterpart! Pant pant pant! Well, there you have it...all the boys and girls who will be dying for the televised enjoyment of millions of proud Americans! The future, ladies and gentlemen! Won’t it be all sunshine and rainbow-scented puppies! So, all in all, we’ve got a cool batch of kids, multi-ethnic and photogenic and versed in cool fight choreography. Congrats to all the Tributes on being cast in The Hunger Games!

On a final note, Wes Bentley (American Beauty) has been cast as Seneca Crane, the head gamemaker who designs the Hunger Games and all its hazards. I’m not doing a full feature on this because, honestly, it’s not that big a role. We hear about Crane and Katniss makes him shit his pants at one point, but he doesn’t really do much. He’s only in like one scene, I think. And...well, let’s just say you won’t be seeing him in the sequels. So I never really thought about the casting of Crane. Still, congrats to Bentley, who is rather attractive.

PS: Holy hell, I think they just cast Cato and Clove while I was typing this! And...HOLY BALLS, look who they picked to play them! WHOA! TO BE CONTINUED!!!

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Hunger Games" Casting Mania! (part six)

Hoo boy, the fans are getting restless. We want Haymitch! Or Cinna! Or at least Greasy Sae! Instead, they’re blazing their way through all the Tributes, one district at a time. “Who cares?” roar the fans. “Half these characters don’t even make it past the Cornucopia!” (If you don’t know what the Cornucopia is, you haven’t read Hunger Games and are missing out hugely. And I’m not gonna explain everything to you. Sorry.) Since my last post, only one sort-of-major character has been cast. That’d be...

The Role: Foxface! This sly, sneaky, and extremely resourceful girl from District Five gains her nickname due to her red hair and cunning visage. Her real name is unknown and she’s never heard to speak, but she becomes a major contender in the games by playing smarter, not harder. She hides and snoops, letting all the more violent kids do each other in, stealing food and committing sabotage. Not a bad way to win! But it doesn’t work forever. I won’t give away her manner of death, but it’s both anticlimactic and oddly hilarious.

The Actress: Her name is Jacqueline “Jackie” Emerson. She has one credit on IMDB. That would be providing the voice of a donkey on 2004’s Father of the Pride, a TV cartoon about Siegfried and Roy’s tigers, which sank like a stone due to being shit. Also, y’know, that whole IRL mauling thing. Yep. That’s it. Ms. Emerson’s audition must have been interesting.

My Approval Rating: 4 out of 10. What do I have to go by? Nathing. But her face isn’t right for the part. She’s Foxface! She should be lean and mean! Emerson looks too sweet and well-fed. Yeah, she can slim down, but I just can’t mentally transplant her into the role. I know, I know, Benefit of the Bloody Doubt and all. I’ll try to be nice, but I want to see her in action before I warm to her.

Who I Would Have Picked: Dakota Blue Richards. Not only does she have a way more awesome name, but she was great in The Golden Compass, even if the movie itself was a wince-inducing pile of fail. She knows how to play scrappy, unfriendly, and resourceful. She’s got the mane of hair and the narrower, more knife-edged face. The Foxface. Hell, yeah. Give this girl a film career!

The Wall of Doomed Children 2:
Despite having to play nameless fodder, I bet all these young folks are kicking up their heels that they get to be in The Hunger Games. I know I would be! A lot of these people have done stunt work, which is pretty awesome, as it suggests some truly epic smackdowns are on the way. Specifically, the Cornucopia battle, where many of the Tributes die horrible deaths right off the bat. Wonder how they’ll pull it off in PG-13 land.

So, let’s see...Chris Mark is playing the dude from District Five, and let me just say that any kid who poses like this for photos is fucking awesome in every way. Then we have Ashton Moio and Kara Peterson as the kids from District Six, while Sam Ly and Leigha Hancock are representing District Seven. Is that pronounced “Lee-a” or “Lay-a”? And isn’t it amusing that every action movie these days has to include badass Asians in the background?

Guess we can soon look forward to the casting of Districts Eight through Ten. And THEN can we please get someone more interesting?!