Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Squee Or Not To Squee

I try to be optimistic. And I try to be skeptical. Every year brings breathless, exciting new info about all the awesome, epic, sparkly stuff that’s brewing in the entertainment industry! And I always have to remind myself to take all the hype with a grain of salt. Hype is the very definition of subjective reality. Take Duke Nukem Forever, which has finally wheezed and panted its way into the light to a chorus of “Meh” from critics and a slightly more enthusiastic “Meh” from Duke fans. In honor of its arrival, let me list a few things that I’m really looking forward to...and really dubious about. I call it...


Silent Hill: Downpour
WHAT IT IS: The forthcoming eighth installment in the infamous survival horror franchise, in which assorted rubes run around a foggy, abandoned tourist town, haunted by the physical manifestation of their own emotional torment. This one stars an escaped convict named Murphy, with a supporting cast that includes a female cop, a mailman, a nun, a suicidal hillbilly, and Danny Trejo. Plot and character details remain sparse. There’s also lots of rain, hence the title.
WHY I’M EXCITED: The Silent Hill series is my favorite of all, and they have yet to make a entry I didn’t like. For Downpour, Konami turned their creation over to Czech company Vatra Games, which intrigues me; the last three were made by Americans and new perspectives are always welcome. The trailer certainly looks promising, with a blend of classic Silent Hill imagery and new, what-the-hell-was-that-thing moments of horror. Also, this one may actually avoid fan pandering! No sexy nurses! No Pyramid Head standing around looking bored! Woooo!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: The gameplay and aesthetics remind me a lot of Silent Hill: Homecoming, which is the weakest entry in the series due to the aforementioned fan pandering. I really want another SH game that’s subtle, that relies more on dread and suspense than action and gore. I fear Downpour is not that game; it looks very noisy and macho, and certain shots from the trailer invoke Alan Wake, a far inferior horror game. Also, our hero Murphy looks about as sympathetic as a brick wall with googly eyes stuck to it. Why do game designers always assume that all tough guys have to have tiny, crammed-together facial features? Oh, well...unless they really, REALLY fuck this up, it should be at least somewhat awesome.

UPDATE: I played it! Read my reaction here.

WHAT IT IS: A new TV series conceived by a guy you may have heard of: J.J. Abrams. Yeah, that guy. Alcatraz is a mystery drama about two investigators, played by Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia, poking around the legendary island prison after some folks who disappeared fifty years ago resurface. Wormholes? Aliens? Immortality? A giant hoax? Spooooooky!
WHY I’M EXCITED: Well, let’s see. It’s a J.J. Abrams project. Set on a mysterious island. With trappings of sci-fi and/or horror. Possible strange experiments conducted decades ago. And the loveable Jorge Garcia. Holy shite, are we looking at Lost version 2.0?? That would make me one happy puppy, since I absolutely loved Lost and would salivate over a worthy successor. Abrams tends to strike creative gold more often than not (see also: Alias, Fringe, Star Trek, and Super 8), so you can bet I breathlessly follow his every project. And this one looks geeky-cool. Oh, yes, it does.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Don’t worry, my fanboy spasms don’t impair my judgment. Abrams is not Jesus; he can also give us forgettable crap (Mission: Impossible III, Undercovers) or noble failures (Cloverfield). And the possibility of a spiritual sequel to Lost could also indicate that he’s starting to repeat himself. Lest we forget, the final product won’t depend on Abrams, but on the producers and creative team who take on Alcatraz once he inevitably heads off to his next project. Also, given that the starting gate for new TV dramas is also a guillotine, I’ll wait to watch Alcatraz until I’m sure it’s even going to last beyond one season. Fingers crossed!

UPDATE: Well, I have bad news. Alcatraz was canceled after one season, a season I haven't seen and probably never will. My cautious enthusiasm went downhill fast when I learned that the show's mythology would be mere window dressing for a case-of-the-week procedural, i.e., a TV genre that I have absolutely zero interest in. I might still have gotten to it if it had succeeded, but now, I feel like watching its sole season will just leave me unfulfilled and teased by mysteries that will never be solved. squee here.

Muppets 2011
WHAT IT IS: The exhumation of dusty old property from our childhoods -- aka, the first new feature film about the Muppets since 1999’s horrible, tragic, god-awful Muppets from Space. This time around, Jason Segel and Amy Adams play the token humans who make surprised faces while the titular plastic-and-felt gang cavort, wisecrack, and break the fourth wall. There’s also like a plot and stuff; whatever.
WHY I’M EXCITED: It’s the Muppets! Who doesn’t love them? I was born a little late to catch The Muppet Show but was totally into their movies as a child, and I’ve often had cause to mourn their apparent decline. Now they’re back to entertain a whole new generation! And the trailers are pretty funny, with that kind of knowing, wink-to-the-audience humor at which they excel. It’s like they never left...or is it?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Gnawing at my soul is the dread that this isn’t really a Muppet movie; it’s a Jason Segel movie that happens to include Muppets. Segel has gushed long and hard about being a huge Muppet fan, and the thing is, fan-made properties tend to suck horribly because the fans can’t get over their own relationship with the thing they love. I fear this may be 100 minutes or so of Jason Segel patting himself on the back for getting a new Muppet movie made, coupled with a lot of humor that meticulously recreates the original Muppet flair but leaves out the heart and soul. Why? Because THAT’S WHAT ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPENS, ESPECIALLY WHEN FILM COMEDIANS AND THEIR GIANT EGOS GET INVOLVED. I really, truly want this to be awesome, but it’s drenched in foreboding. Forebode forebode forebode.

UPDATE: I watched it! Read my reaction here.

Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar
WHAT IT IS: The next book cycle from one of my all-time favorite authors of fantasy and sci-fi. Tad Williams has already given us Tailchaser’s Song, Memory Sorrow & Thorn, Otherland, War of the Flowers, and Shadowmarch. His next series will be an urban noir fantasy about a fallen angel who reinvents himself as a hardboiled detective tracking lost souls.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Tad Williams could write a treatise on different types of linoleum and I’d probably still read it. His specialty is epic tomes with huge, vivid casts of characters, and he cheerfully hops from genre to genre. I’ve really enjoyed all his work thus far, I’m always recommending him to people, and I’ll be interested to see his take on urban noir fantasy...
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: ...but on the other hand, I’ve never been a huge fan of urban noir fantasy, and Bobby Dollar sounds woefully unoriginal. Sorry, Tad, but dozens of other authors have already combined the trappings of film noir, fantasy, and the Old Testament -- and it all runs together in my mind. I’m sure he’ll write it as well as ever, but I was hoping he’d try something that hasn’t been done to death already, especially after his last series, Shadowmarch, turned out to be yet another predictable foray into the J.R.R. Tolkien idea dumpster. Write something else, Tad, anything else! Why not hard sci-fi? Or horror? Or steampunk? Or anything other than more freakin’ angels in trenchcoats?

UPDATE: I read it! Read my reaction here.

And speaking of Tad Williams...

The Otherland MMOG
WHAT IT IS: An online multiplayer extravaganza based on Tad Williams’ Otherland series, which is set primarily in a limitless virtual reality network. In the game (the real one, that is), players will begin in a glittery, futuristic social hub from which they can explore a series of different VR worlds and presumably become embroiled in the events of the books. Kind of like Second Life and WoW combined, with elements of just about every other MMOG thrown in.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I love Otherland. It might possibly be my all-time favorite science fiction series. And it is SO BLOODY COOL that they’re making an actual game based on it. So far, the screenshots I’ve seen look amazing, depicting both the neon-lit Lambda Mall hub and a dusty, 1920s-style Martian landscape. Williams himself is excitedly reporting on the game from his website, which is a good sign indeed. Might this be the MMOG that actually causes me to stop hating MMOGs? Have they finally captured me?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: It’s ambitious. Alarmingly ambitious. What if no one gets it? I worry that the online gaming crowd will scratch their heads, declare the game unclassifiable, and ooze off to collect more kobold spleens in the Slime Caverns of Deadly Doom or whatever. WoW tends to steamroll its competitors if they don’t make a good first impression, and the Otherland game has already been in development for an age. Magnum opus of online gaming....or noble failure? Or just flat-out turkey?

WHAT IT IS: The forthcoming...let’s call it a “release”...from Finnish epic metal band Nightwish. Slated for 2012, Imaginarium will manifest itself in two parts: an operatic studio album and a feature film. Together, they will tell the tale of an aging composer’s journey through dream, nightmare, and fantasy.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Most Nightwish fans, myself included, will never get over the loss of original female vocalist Tarja Turunen. However, I must commit sacrilege by admitting that the band has gotten better since. They’ve begun to broaden their sound and experiment with the “epic” half of epic metal, and the sheer audacity of Imaginarium makes me drool a bit. They’ve cited Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Salvador DalĂ­ as their main inspirations, and I love all three of those guys. As a fan of bombast, all this is relevant to my interests. Also, bagpipes!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Like other entries on this list, Imaginarium bears the mark of hubris. Are Nightwish biting off more than they can chew? I’m not too worried because this sort of over-the-top spectacle has always been a staple of rock music and they’ve gotta keep their epic cred. I just hope that the band doesn’t become so infatuated with the spectacle that they forget about the music. Y’know, those sounds that come out of the instruments when you wail on them? Don’t lose the vision, guys!

UPDATE: I listened to it! Read my reaction here.

The Rest of Clive Barker’s Abarat Series
WHAT IT IS: Awhile back, horror and fantasy author Clive Barker began Abarat, an epic series for young adults, set on a mystical archipelago where each island is frozen at a specific hour of the day. The first two novels (each one lavishly illustrated by Barker himself) are out; there are supposedly three more to come. Book Three is slated for late this year.
WHY I’M EXCITED: This is another favorite author of mine (you do not know horror fiction until you’ve read his Books of Blood), and I became deeply immersed in Abarat, which is one helluva world for one mind to create! Strange visions, vivid characters, unexpected twists, all brought to life by Barker’s dreamlike oil paintings. I could wait forever for more Abarat.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: It kinda seems like I already have waited forever. The second book came out seven years ago. That’s a damn long time to depend upon the nonexistent attention spans of tweens. I love Barker, but I sometimes want to slap him for taking on too much; look the man up and you’ll see he has five or six major writing projects, plus art, plus producing movies and video games and the like. I fear he’ll die of old age before he finishes Abarat -- or, perhaps just as bad, his target audience will forget the series even exists. After having its release date pushed back a zillion times, can the third book (which he claims is over 1,000 pages) recapture the wonder? Or will Abarat burn out at around the same time Barker does?

UPDATE: I say lots of very mean things about the first three books here!

Bioshock Infinite
WHAT IT IS: The continuation of the immensely popular steampunk video game series that injected the FPS genre with a dose of philosophy and cool. Unlike the rushed and predictable Bioshock 2, the third entry in the franchise completely reboots the concept: it’s set in the skybound city of Columbia, which drifts ominously over 1910s America, held up by airships and torn by civil war. The trappings of Bioshock are still there (psychic powers, killer robots, alternate history), but this is not a sequel or prequel, more of a sidewise companion.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I admit that I haven’t played Bioshock yet; it is reserved for the theoretical time in the future when I’m willing to cough up for a PS3. But I loved the idea of the first game and I REALLY love that its threequel is taking things in an entirely new direction. It’s like Bioshock 2 never happened! The early footage from Infinite looks stunning, the story holds a lot of mystery and subtext, and it’s even been teased that the hero will be hopping through wormholes to other alternate histories. After hearing that every single bland, boring, dirt-colored FPS franchise is chugging along dutifully (thanks for nothing, E3), I feel energized by this sole burst of unique color.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Never, ever trust video game studios. There’s always a catch. If the game looks great, the gameplay may be buggy as shit. If they toss a Big Concept in your face, there’s a chance the final product will just be pretentious. I’m hardwired to be optimistic about cool-looking games, but I understand that the studios are terrified of too much innovation, lest it frighten away the hordes of fragile Halo-heads. What if there’s nothing under Infinite’s gaudy surface? What if it seems to be a raging stallion of a game, but a closer look reveals nothing but a big surgical scar where its mighty balls used to be? I’ll definitely check the reviews first, especially the snarky ones. Snark has its uses; it warns and it heals!

So, will I enjoy all these things to some degree? Most likely! Will some of them fall flat on their faces? Quite possibly! Am I excited anyway? FUCK, YES! What can I say; I’m a whore for hype. We all are, even when it bites us in the ass. Time will tell!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Top 10 Least Favorite Video Game Levels

I’ve always been baffled by games where you don’t need to visit every area. Why the heck wouldn’t you, unless you don’t like the game, in which case, why the heck are you even playing it? However, I will admit that there are some places in video games that I really, really would have liked to skip. I’ve given you my favorite levels, worlds, and areas in gaming. Now here’s my shit list. The following levels didn’t merely bore me, they made me snarl and swear and wonder why anyone thought they were a good idea. Were the game makers just dumb, or knowingly sadistic? You decide!


Cows and Bears (Katamari Damacy & We Love Katamari, PS2)
To begin with, an idea that probably seemed inspired at the time, but should have been buried deep and never spoken of again. The whole premise of the Katamari games involves rolling stuff up to make as big a ball as you can. Fun! Until partway through the first game, when you’re ordered to roll up everything except cows (or, in another level, bears). The level ends the minute you capture a milk-producing bovine (or a fish-loving bruin), so the challenge is to get your Katamari as big as possible before this happens. The problem is, YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU’RE ROLLING UP MOST OF THE TIME. I mean, I get how the idea of avoiding one particular object might be fun, but it becomes utterly impossible when you don’t even NOTICE the fucking thing until the King of the Cosmos is yelling at you for being an utter failure at life. Then the sequel compounded the suck by putting the cows and the bears into the same level. Fuck you, cows and bears.

Crystal Caves (Donkey Kong 64, N64)
Doesn’t the name of this level sound lovely? Crystal Caves! Sadly, I know what you’re probably picturing (a more colorful version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, right?) and you won’t find it in DK64, which apparently forgot to leave anything in the budget for crystals. Seriously, the level just has a handful of bluish rocks here and there, and otherwise you’re trudging around a bland, boring cavern the color of old tires and poop. The lack of landmarks make the caves a confusing bitch to navigate, too. But Donkey and his simian sidekicks can’t fully appreciate the awfulness of Crystal Caves until giant fucking stalactites start falling from the ceiling and murdering them. This happens every thirty seconds or so and there’s nowhere to hide. You can stop it from happening, but not until Tiny Kong learns a new ability and finds a certain warp pad and blah blah fucking blah. This level is custom-tailored to make you feel like there is no joy or beauty in the world.

The End of the World (World of Goo, PC/Mac)
This one really bothers me, because I absolutely adore World of Goo. Love it. Worship it. But, Jesus, did their funding run out or something? The first four worlds knock your socks off with one new innovation after another, and then comes the final world, which is A) painfully short, B) boring, and C) insanely difficult. Four measly levels in which you must guide the goo balls between tiny, tippy little platforms above a vast abyss while the laws of physics repeatedly rape you in every orifice. No new ideas. Nothing the game didn’t already make you do before. Just a skyrocketing difficulty curve and an ending which teases a sequel that will probably never, ever be made. Basically, the End of the World level is an unpleasant epilogue, nothing more. They blew their chance to end a great game on a spectacular note. They blew it to smithereens, leaving only the cold, unforgiving void into which your beloved goo balls will plummet, over and over, while you weep.

Hallways, Hallways, and Also Some Hallways (Whiplash, PS2)
Sigh...the things I put up with to fuel my fetish for cartoony platformers. Whiplash is an obscure and rather by-the-book entry with a fun premise (two lab animals must sabotage an evil corporation while handcuffed together), but I can’t quite recommend it. Why? Because you spend about half the game running down long hallways. And when I say long hallways, I mean Pentagon-length. I mean hallways that make Final Fantasy XIII look open and expansive. Long, boring, identical hallways with maybe some security lasers or robot spiders sprinkled here and there. Good...fucking...God. Were the graphics so cutting-edge that they had to hide massive load times? (No. No, they weren’t.) Did they realize that their game would be less than two hours long without retarded amounts of padding? Whatever the reason, it killed Whiplash’s momentum and made it a chore to play through. Oh, but you didn’t always have to trudge down hallways. Sometimes you had to take long elevator rides, too. FAIL.

It’s War! (Conker’s Bad Fur Day, N64)
To be fair, parts of this level are fun. Other parts are shriekingly not fun. The reason I hate the war sequence in Conker’s BFD is that it lasts FOREVER. For. Ever. On and on it goes, slogging through an increasingly tedious spoof of Saving Private Ryan populated by evil teddy bears. Basically, the game turns into an FPS and forgets it’s a platformer. After about thirty-nine hours, you get to fight an epic boss, and it finally ends. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t. After the boss battle comes the worst sequence in the entire game, in which you have four minutes to wade through a maze of security lasers that would make Leon Kennedy shit his pants, then navigate a beachful of enemies armed with insta-killing bazookas. Oh, but it’s so CLEVER, you see, because they’re PARODYING WAR MOVIES, HERP A DERP. Sorry, but it’s possible to take satire way, way, way too far. This is the one area in Conker’s world that overstays its welcome and sucks out all the awesomeness. The turd in the chocolate box.

Jabu Jabu’s Belly (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, N64)
Oh, wow, listen to all the whiny little voices. “Mweh mweh mweh, everyone knows the Water Temple sucks more, mweh!” Not to me, it doesn’t. To me, the low point of this excellent game comes when you dive down the throat of a giant whale/fish/shark thing with the oddest digestive system evolution could provide. An awesome idea in theory, ruined by the fact that everything in this dungeon (including the walls) hates Link and wants to cause him pain, usually by hard-to-avoid electrocution. Also, it’s one of those dungeons where you can fall through a hole and undo the past hour of exploration. Whoops! Better start climbing again, Link! To top it all off, why are you experiencing such misery in a monster’s bowels? To rescue a spoiled, whiny, arrogant, ungrateful CUNT of a fishperson princess who insists that you literally carry her everywhere, making it impossible to climb or fight. Has anyone made a mod where you can toss Ruto into painful electrical death? Anyone? I’ll pay money for it! GOD, I FUCKING HATE RUTO, JABU JABU CAN HAVE HER AND MAY SHE DISSOLVE IN HIS COLON. Honestly, it makes the Water Temple seem tolerable. To me, anyway.

Meat Circus (Psychonauts, PS2/Xbox)
The weird difficulty curve of Psychonauts is somewhat infamous (I mentioned it in my list of worst bosses), and here’s why. I actually like the game’s later levels quite a bit, despite the challenge. But then you get whacked over the head by the Meat Circus, a messed-up mental amalgamation of two different characters’ daddy issues -- literally, a circus made out of raw meat. Again, great idea, but a bitch to conquer. You have to frantically chase an annoying little kid and protect him from harm, then fight a giant bloke with dual meat cleavers, then complete one of those god-awful sequences where you must rush through some really difficult platforming and if you’re too slow, you fall victim to rising, inexorable death. I know a game’s final level is supposed to be hard, but the Meat Circus is just painful. Torturous. Excruciating. Plus it makes my PS2 crash half the time. And as I’ve previously said, the final boss battle is so easy and lame that it’s like the game is just laughing at you. Just because you can, Tim Schafer, doesn’t mean you should.

Moonhaven (Super Monkey Ball Adventure, PS2)
Most of the entries on this list are here because they’re shitty levels in an otherwise good game. Moonhaven, on the other hand, makes me weep in fury because it’s a great level languishing in a really, really awful game. Super Monkey Ball Adventure was a horrendously misguided attempt to turn a puzzle game into a platformer -- a buggy, frustrating mess where you spend about 95% of gameplay falling off things. Somewhere along the way, you encounter Moonhaven, a gorgeous and uniquely designed steampunk sky-city that deserved much better. Sadly, the lush visuals cannot be appreciated due to the most grating, horrific, awkward, infuriating gameplay I’ve ever slogged through. When you aren’t plunging into the blue abyss over and over, you’re trying in vain to figure out what you’re actually supposed to be DOING. JESUS IN HEAVEN, THIS GAME IS BAD. SO, SO, SO, SO BAD. Which makes the promise of Moonhaven all the more bitter. To my joy, it seems Bioshock 3 will be set in floating steampunk paradise, so Moonhaven will live on in a game that isn’t a flaming turd! Sort of.

Rusty Bucket Bay (Banjo-Kazooie, N64)
Hooo boy. Rusty Bucket Bay. Where do we start? This level is fucking infamous among Banjo-Kazooie fans. I give it points for being original -- it’s set in an greasy industrial harbor where a huge cargo ship is docked -- but that does not excuse the fact that everything about this level was designed to make you sob. Narrow, difficult pathways. Oily, polluted water that asphyxiated you even when you weren’t submerged. Exhaust ports that came to life and ate you. A confusing layout that made item collecting a bitch. And then...there was the machinery challenge. You had to navigate through some incredibly difficult moving gears and propellers with an insta-kill drop below and pound some switches. Then you had to run back through the machine, climb a huge smokestack, jump into the lethal water, swim to the aft of the ship, and grab the 65 seconds. This cannot be done. Literally. If you believe you did it, I assure you, it was a hallucination brought about from inhaling toxic waste fumes that were somehow leaking from your TV set because Rusty Bucket Bay was THAT FUCKING MALEVOLENT. I think this level can actually cause cancer.

Tower of Dawn (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, PS2)
Let us end with a textbook example of the “Dick Swerve” level -- that which is intended to throw a brick wall in your face by changing the core gameplay you have come to take for granted. Prince of Persia is an awesome game, largely because you have the power to reverse time, undoing your own mistakes and deaths. That IS, until late in the game when the prince loses the Dagger of Time. Oh, but he gets it back quickly...with its fuel gauge on E. No problem, just kill some bad guys and harvest more sand! Oh, look, it’s a new sword...that cancels out the sand-harvesting. Now that I’ve crippled you (says the game), here’s the Tower of Dawn, a very difficult endgame sequence with very unhelpful camera angles in which you must perform many complex parkour moves...and you can’t use the Dagger. At all. For the entire remainder of the game. If you die, you’re dead, and you have to start the area from the beginning. This is your reward for spending hours playing this game: you lose the thing that makes it fun to play and are tossed to the proverbial wolves. You’re welcome, faithful gamer! You are fucking welcome. The Tower of Dawn made me grind my teeth into a fine powder which I then snorted in an attempt to forget the betrayal from an otherwise wonderful game. But I’ll never forget...or forgive.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Hunger Games" Casting Mania! (part nine)

Welcome to the last journal about casting for The Hunger Games. I hope that anyone who reads this (hello? Anyone?) enjoyed my breathless and ofttimes ditzy coverage. Overall, I am quite pleased with the folks they’ve cast and am greatly looking forward to seeing them embody their characters! This should be a wild ride, assuming they don’t crush it too hard beneath the PG-13 stamp. But I’m trusting they won’t, because author Suzanne Collins (who has screenwriting experience) is onboard. Fingers crossed! And here’s the final major casting news:

The Role: President Coriolanus Snow, leader of the nation of Panem (formerly the USA), evil dictator, all-around horrible person. At the start of things, Snow seems like a mere evil figurehead (his role in The Hunger Games is actually quite small), but once she pisses him off, Katniss learns that Snow is intelligent, insidious, and deeply sadistic. Swathed in makeup and opulent robes, Snow sits like a spider at the center of the plot, which is an apt metaphor, as he poisoned his way to the presidency. His cloying, rose-scented perfume masks the stench of blood and rot from his own body. He is utterly disgusting and a great villain, especially in the last book, Mockingjay. Shan’t spoil it. It’s horrific.

The Actor: Donald Sutherland! A true class act, ladies and gentlemen! Seems like he’s been around forever, entertaining us with his long, mournful face and X-ray eyes. Despite his age, he’s been acting pretty much steadily, though most of his best roles are from bygone eras: MASH, Ordinary People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Animal House, JFK, and the criminally obscure Don’t Look Now, which features possibly the hottest sex scene in movie history, between Sutherland and Julie Christie. Yes, those were the days when someone who looked like Donald Sutherland could be a sex symbol. Oh, and he’s Jack Bauer’s dad.

My Approval Rating: 8.5 out of 10. Can’t really go wrong with Donald Sutherland. I knew that they’d be picking a true capital-T Thespian for the role of Snow; how could they not? Venerable actors of a certain age tend to flip over juicy villain roles, and Sutherland is even more interesting a choice because he doesn’t play baddies that often. I do have some reservations about his looks, especially his considerable height; Snow is supposed to be a small and weak-looking man who connived his way to power. But Sutherland will bring his own twist to the character, and I’m all over that.

Who I Would Have Picked: All those thespians I mentioned? I tagged a whole bunch of them as potential Snows. Amazing, really, how many actors I could picture playing him, each for separate reasons. I think my biggest contenders, those at the top of my mental list, were Malcolm McDowell (snarly and theatrical), Frank Langella (waxy and ominous), Timothy Spall (small and conniving), or Tim Curry again (most of the above). Any one of these guys would have made a good Snow. But that just makes it better, that so many actors could have pulled this off in a way that we all loved to hate! Not any actor, though. Entertainment Weekly suggested Steve Martin. Jesus. I love Steve Martin, but what the fuck. Of course, Entertainment Weekly also suggested that Taylor Swift should be in the movie. I wish I was kidding. Why do I read Entertainment Weekly again?

So...time to wrap up Hunger Games Casting Mania. For now, anyway. Sometime down the road, they’ll be casting for the sequels, and there are several crucial characters who will need to be considered: Finnick Odair, Johanna Mason, Alma Coin, Beetee and Wiress...and so forth. Of course you know who all these people are, because if you’ve read this much, you’re into The Hunger Games and are eagerly looking forward to these movies, as I am. See you at the premiere!