Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Hunger Games"

The Hunger Games

I remember seeing the movie Grease with some friends from school during the summer of 1978 — I was 15 years old. This now iconic movie told an engaging story of teenage love, set during the late 1950s. The prim and proper Sandy Olsson, played by then-pop star Olivia Newton-John, meets local delinquent, Danny Zuko, played by then-upcoming mega star, John Travolta. The odds certainly didn't seem in their favor. Yet despite the disapproval of Sandy's friends, The Pink Ladies, and Danny's "greaser" buddies, it was their destiny to be together. Ah, true teenage love prevailed.

Writer and director John Hughes mined pure box office gold throughout the 1980s. He attracted countless movie-goers, eager to plunk down big bucks  to see his string of such quirky and romantic high school-themed blockbusters as The Breakfast ClubSixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink — making actress Molly Ringwald THE universally recognized "girl next door." And for Ringwald's numerous onscreen characters in the '80s, true teenage love always prevailed.

In the 1990s there were less compelling and less memorable films such as Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and Can't Hardly Wait that also were aimed toward high school audiences. Yet despite the diminishing likable qualities of some of the main characters portrayed in these more recent efforts, the underlying message remained the same — true teenage love prevails.

But even the '90s were a long time ago. And given the influence of current music-types, glorifying a lifestyle of blastin' caps in bee-atches asses while gitin' a 'drank on' all up in 'da club, graphically violent video games, TV shows promoting the awesomeness of teenage pregnancy (Aw, mom —  Ashley, Jasmine and Megan got to have babies — why can't I? You NEVER let me have ANY fun!) and the deep, complex storylines of the seemingly endless slew of Vampire-related epic sagas on book shelves and the big screen, today's younger audience is simply too intellectually advanced to accept the corny teen flicks from the past. They demand more sophisticated stories.

Published in 2008, Suzanne Collins' novel, The Hunger Games, has generated enormous international sales. And according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the much-anticipated film adaptation of the book took in an astounding $155 million during its March 2012 opening weekend.

Amazon Reader Book Review
"The setting of a dystopian society wherein
children are pitted against one another to the
death in an annual melee absolutely begs for a
strong moral message. A message of humanity,
hope, compassion, the darkness AND the
lightness in each person, forgiveness, sacrifice,
redemption. The call is completely unanswered.
There is no moral message that comes through,
not for the characters and not for the readers."
-Dana Leigh

An 11-year-old friend of mine was elated to purchase a print copy of The Hunger Games at a recent school book fair, as it has become a recommended, sophisticated read for elementary school-age kids. "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show," she reported enthusiastically upon bringing the book home from school. Hmm.

Ironically, the movie version of The Hunger Games arrived in theaters just two weeks later. All I knew for certain was that the film was receiving rave pre-release reviews and the book maintained an impressive Five-Star Amazon review. Given her passion for this story, I offered to take my young friend to see the film on opening weekend.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the perceived heroine, Katniss, along with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Katniss' teenage love interest and fellow rival in this televised, real-life, fight-to-the-death competition. The support cast includes Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, an alcoholic Kurt Cobain look-alike mentor and former Hunger Games champion, Lenny Kravitz as the RuPaul-meets-O.J. Simpson-looking trainer, Cinna (pronounced, Sin-ah), Elizabeth Banks as the talent scout / PR agent, Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the go-to guy behind-the-scenes, Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the "Ryan Seacrest" of the Hunger Games show, and Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow, the dastardly president of the Rocky Horror-meets-Whoville nation of Panem (also referred to as "The Capitol"). It's a stellar ensemble to be sure.

Anonymous web post:
"The citizens of the Capitol are Lady Gaga's
little monster wanabes, as all the people
wear outfits that are crazy and over-the-top:
loud colours, extreme make up, body
modifications and skin coloring. Basically
picture a city full of Lady Gagas walking
down the street and you get an idea."

The perceived heroine, Katniss, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister who was initially chosen in the annual lottery to represent Panem's District 12 in the 74th Hunger Games competition. Given her brave and selfless sacrifice, some  have come to view the book / film as possessing a (very) deep Christ-like message. However, I believe that my friend quite accurately and succinctly summed up the story days earlier when she told me, "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show."

Following the necessary contestant grooming and training process, the grand and glorious competition ensues in an American Idol-meets-Survivor at The Super Bowl atmosphere.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Cobain
Now, help me out. Exactly who am I supposed to be cheering for? Is it one of those  teens who oddly are vilified for brutally murdering other teens in their fight for survival, or is it one (or both) of the two kids who also are brutally murdering other kids, but who are being portrayed sympathetically because they're just two wacky teenagers in love?

It's bad enough that teenage bullying and school shootings have risen to epidemic proportions in recent years. Now we have a super groovy and sexy saga to further inspire teen violence. Yeah, I know — I'm just the out-of-touch "old guy" who lacks the sophistication required to grasp such a complex message. But I already can see the headlines... Dateline: Anytown, USA — Four teens brutally beaten and savagely murdered in Hunger Games-style attack.

Hey kids - you too can duplicate the flava of
your fave Hunger Games murder accomplices!

And I further agree with Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion that the film ran much too long. In fact, an hour or more of this epic easily could have ended up on the cutting room floor without compromising the complex storyline. Heck, after sitting for nearly two and a half hours, even my young friend was complaining that her "butt had gone numb!"

In sum: The Hunger Games — Well-written? Yep. Well-cast? Certainly. Well-marketed? Absolutely. Rock solid performances? Of course. Visually appealing? To be sure. So, what's the problem?

As we were leaving the theater, my young friend inquired immediately, "Well, what did you think?" I replied, "Uh, what did you think?" "I know it's only about kids killing innocent kids, but I just love it!" she confessed enthusiastically. "I don't know why I love it. I just do!" Hmm, out of the mouths of babes. Well, at least true teenage love still prevailed. "May the odds be forever in our favor."

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)



C'MON! -

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CLASSIC CAR SHOW - Melbourne, FL (3.17.12)

Melbourne, FL - 3.17.12

They converged upon a huge,
wide open field near the 
airport in Melbourne, Florida
— hundreds of collectors and
enthusiasts alike. On a day
when so many others would
be gorging themselves with
corned beef and cabbage and
guzzling barrels of green beer,
these folks came together for
different type of celebration. 

I'll be honest, I couldn't tell you the difference between a spark plug and a piston if my life depended on it. However, I do have a personal passion for the art and craftsmanship of classic cars as well as the fascinating history that they represent. And on this warm, sunny spring day, there was no shortage of amazing, vintage vehicles or owners, thrilled to share their stories as well as the history behind their prized autos.

Although I'm certainly not qualified to school anyone in this area, I am a true fan — a fan with a phone-cam, eager to report a little of what I saw. Here are just a few of the classics that caught my eye:

Simply put, this 1969
Pontiac was just too cool!

My 14-year-old buddy,
Michael Wilson, fell in
love with this 1970 Plymouth.

In the early '70s, Buicks were just
about the baddest ride around.
(This 1971 Boattail Coupe proves it.)
And it's still the sexiest
rear-end I've ever seen!

You had to admire this 1934 Roadster.

This 1964 Corvair is the crowning jewel of
Chuck Long's multi-classic car collection.
(It took top honors in the Junior II category)

Made of 18,000 tons of solid steel,
this 1957 Cadillac is a real "man's" car!

I could have sworn that the interior of this
1965 Fleetwood was original. According
to owner Ray Anderson, I was right!

This 1968 Cadillac convertible
was in impeccable condition.

An immaculate 1970 Cadillac convertible.
If I could have driven off in the car of my
choice, THIS would have been the one!

Another beauty.
(1972 Cadillac convertible)

The Brady Bunch never
had a wagon like this!
(1976 Cadillac)

Sure, they look great, but it's the
personal stories behind these classics
that I found particularly fascinating.
The aforementioned 1967
Mustang convertible.

For me, 1969 marked the end
of the "classic" Mustang era.

The 1957 Roadster (above) as well as the
1958 model (below) were both breathtaking.

"Back in Black"
This 1962 Vette was a real beauty.

This 1963 Vette is just
about as cool as it gets.


A meticulously restored 1911 Ford.

A wonderfully UN-restored 1912 Franklin.

See 1924 Ford (below).
Get the scoop (below)

Although they say, "seeing is believing,"
this 1957 Isetta is simply UN-believable!

This 1958 Bubble Car reminded me
of a motorized sidecar — amazing!

It's a car...
It's a boat...
It's a 1966 Amphicar!

As a kid, the 1949 Willys
was Chuck Long's dream car.
(In the 2000s he finally owned one!)

Kudos to the Antique Automobile Club of Cape Canaveral for staging such an incredible event.

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)



C'MON! -

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: The Moody Blues (3.14.12)

The Moody Blues
King Center / Melbourne, FL

As a music fan turning 50 later
this year, I'm old enough to have
lived during the Summer of Love.
And fortunately, I was young
enough at the time to have an
"unclouded" memory of the era.

An estimated 100,000  hippies converged on San Francisco for "The Summer of Love" while The Six Day War ensued and the Vietnam War escalated. The Johnson administration was ramping down and the Nixon era was revving up. Groundbreaking TV shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Newlywed Game and Spider-Man all made their debut in 1967. At the movies, Dustin Hoffman became a household name with his starring breakout role in The Graduate, and Sidney Poitier scored two box office hits with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, with Love. BTW, my personal cinematic fave, The Jungle Book, also arrived in theaters in 1967. Musical boundaries were being erased and un-chartered waters were being explored in 1967 as The Beatles dropped Sgt. Pepper, The Who "sold out," Jimi Hendrix got "experienced" and a 20-year-old kid from London quietly released his debut record to little fanfare — however, within just a couple of years, David Bowie would become a true rock icon.

And it was in 1967 when a struggling, mid-level British rock combo called The Moody Blues released its sophomore LP. After experiencing a near total personnel overhaul, the fledgling band was moving away from its R&B roots in 1967 and developing a more unique and experimental sound — incorporating an orchestra into its increasingly intricate arrangements. The end result was the now legendary concept record, Days of Future Passed. And in 2012, The Moody Blues have embarked on a world tour to commemorate the 45th anniversary of this groundbreaking achievement.

With original keyboardist Mike Pinder having left the band under dubious circumstances in the late '70s and flautist Ray Thomas' retirement in 2002, remaining semi-original guitarist Justin Hayward  and bassist John Lodge along with founding drummer Graeme Edge have continued to carry the torch, keeping the Moody Blues grand musical tradition alive (and well) for the last decade.

The predominantly 50-60-something King Center audience cheered like tweenagers at a Bieber meet-and-greet as Hayward, Lodge and Edge took the stage at approximately 8:10PM.

Kicking off the show with "Gemini Dream" and "The Voice" — a double dose from the 1981, chart-topping Long Distance Voyager record, the band delivered a high-energy, two-hour performance featuring such signature "must play" biggies as "Your Wildest Dreams," "Isn't Life Strange," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)," and "Question" as well as "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights in White Satin"  — a pair from the aforementioned Days of Future Passed.

Photo: MoodyBluesToday.com
Whereas every great rock band needs a "Roger Daltrey," a "John Entwistle" is equally important. While Hayward presents a (very) laid back, Perry Como-meets-rock and roll onstage persona (I saw him blink, twice), Lodge remains full of rock star swagger and energy — exuding charisma as he worked the stage — winking and wiggling, dancing and prancing, much to the delight of his adoring fans. And although Edge's onstage role initially appeared limited to merely that of a second-chair drummer, he miraculously sprung to life following the intermission when he commandeered the mic, center-stage, and led the band through an outrageously fun and quite spirited version of the 1969 fan favorite, "Higher and Higher." The Moody Blues concert seemingly had become "The Graeme Edge Show" — and it was awesome!

Make no mistake, despite their ages (Hayward - 65,  Lodge - 66 and Edge - 70) and the fact that their music has been around longer than some of their fans have been alive, this was no lounge-type presentation. In fact, with their state-of-the-art concert lighting, humongous, rear-stage HD-like video screen and generous use of obligatory rock and roll fog / smoke machines, this show looked as impressive as probably any arena headliner currently on the road. As for the audio, simply put, the band sounded studio-perfect. And given that the show took place at such a world-class venue as The King Center, only further enhanced the experience.

But these days the touring version of the band includes seven onstage musicians. And therein lies the delightful bonus of The Moody Blues' live show — the impeccable musicianship, energy and charm of the support cast. Drummer Gordon Marshall has assumed first-chair duty with the band for a couple of lengthy runs during the last 20 years, and as a newcomer, acknowledged session player / producer Alan Hewitt makes for a perfect fit on keyboards. But there's nothing like the tried and true chick factor to make a rock show sizzle, and keyboardist / guitarist / vocalist Julie Ragins and flautist / vocalist Norda Mullen both proved to be true shining stars in their own right as well as complementing the ensemble.

Outstanding job, kids! Let's get together and do it again sometime — SOON!

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)



C'MON! -