“Toy Story 4” Review!

I had a lot of trouble deciding what to say about this movie in a non-spoiler review – I was left completely speechless after the film ended, and for about twenty minutes I still had virtually no words to describe what I had just seen. I was tempted to say that the experience was surreal: watching a franchise that is a dearly beloved part of my childhood…come to an end. But, while it certainly felt surreal at times (how is this happening? This can’t be happening? I’m not actually watching this happen onscreen in front of my eyes? Those were some of the thoughts running through my head while watching), I’ve decided that what was actually most shocking was that this movie, the final chapter in more than twenty years of Toy Stories, didn’t feel entirely final.

Don’t get me wrong: the movie is a very satisfying conclusion to the stories of our protagonists, especially Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who are given the fullest character arcs – for an ornament attached to a lamp, Bo certainly manages to make up for lost time in this movie: somehow, despite the fact that she’s only gotten a handful of lines and a few minutes of screentime in all three previous Toy Story movies combined, she doesn’t feel like a new character; even though, when you think about it, she really ought to. Woody’s story is definitely concluded here as well – the movie’s ending is appropriately poignant and tear-jerking, but it’s fair. It allows you to cry while also reminding you why you should be happy: even if it is hard to feel at all happy.

But what I’m trying to say is that, even as we say goodbye to the individual toys, the Toy Story feels like it’s still going strong – a little more than halfway through the movie, the realization hit me hard: there are a billion topics and themes that could be explored through the eyes of any one of these characters. I can’t even explain exactly how or why this light-bulb went off inside my head, but it completely changed the way I was watching the film: it no longer felt like I was waiting for the inevitable sob-fest and emotional farewells at the end – it felt more like I was watching a new beginning. I think that feeling will wear off as the realization dawns that this is indeed the final chapter, but at least for these blissful moments it’s enough to keep me from crying my eyes out.

All this is not to say that Toy Story 4 feels inconclusive or unfinished: the movie, in fact, is probably one of my favorites in the franchise – still a little behind Toy Story 2. It’s definitely the saddest and funniest installment. There are gut-wrenching emotional scenes (as in, the very first scene of the movie), and there are hysterically funny jokes and running gags. I’m just having a very hard time explaining: and maybe it’s because these movies mean so much to me, on a personal level. I love all of them – except Toy Story 3 – and I love all the toys. All I really needed from this movie were real, satisfying endings to the stories of our main characters: namely Woody, Bo Peep, Jessie (Joan Cusack), and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).

I got half of that.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that Jessie and Buzz don’t really get the endings I had in mind for them: their stories don’t end badly or anything, just not as well as I’d hoped. And I think that’s probably just my own opinion – but I feel like both characters could have gotten more screentime, more attention, than they received in this movie: Buzz was a huge onscreen presence in the first film, and Jessie’s character arc was a major focal point of the second. But Toy Story 4 really has no time for either of them. They have their funny moments, of course, and Buzz even has the beginnings of what looks like an entire subplot, but it just ends up leading right back to Woody and Bo Peep.

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My biggest fear going in, though, was that new characters like Forky (Tony Hale), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and the comedic plushy-duo Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) would hog the spotlight and distract from our main cast of regulars. Having seen the film, I’m just sorry that all these new faces come in too late to be part of that main cast: all four are wonderful, creative and hilarious additions to the franchise. Peele and Key especially get some fantastic moments, when they parody Peele’s own horror movies in a family-friendly, laugh-out-loud manner. Reeves actually has surprisingly little screentime, but just enough to make his character feel worthwhile rather than obnoxious – compare and contrast that with Toy Story 3, in which all the new toys seemed to be constantly stealing valuable moments away from our actual heroes (looking at you, Ken). Sadly, the characters we knew from the first three movies were clearly never going to get that much screentime at all – Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, and the Potato Heads do basically nothing at all: I don’t think Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris) even got a single line of dialogue. Even the new toys from the third movie only get a few good moments: specifically, Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal). One random character who turned out to be incredibly annoying was Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) who acts sweet on the surface, but is really bossy and not at all empathetic with Woody’s own metaphysical crisis.

As always with the Toy Story films, the villain is superb: Toy Story 4 showcases the series’ first female antagonist, defective antique doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has made it her mission to kidnap Woody and steal his working voice-box for herself, so she can finally make it out of the dark, dusty store in which she lives. I could sympathize with her pain: the cobwebs in that place were horrifying, even if animated.

The animation is reason enough to see this movie on the big screen: there are times in the film when you think you’re watching a live-action film – especially in the first scene, when it’s raining, and a certain toy is stuck in a gutter, about to be washed away into oblivion; and also for one brief moment, glimpsed in the trailers, where the antique store owner’s cat is stretching in the sunlight – that cat looked eerily real.

That’s pretty much all that I feel comfortable discussing in a non-spoiler review. Obviously, a lot of stuff happens in this movie, and there were a couple of really exciting plot-twists that had me at the edge of my seat (there was also one shocking moment when Bo Peep’s sheep drop to the floor that I felt needed to be mentioned: if you don’t gasp out loud in the theater when you see it, you’re cruel and heartless). I think the movie is really a fantastic film, pushing the limits of what can be done with animation, and I’m pretty confident it will win Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars. I’m just not entirely sure how I feel about it as an ending to the franchise yet, because, as I said before, I’m satisfied but I’m not…well, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m still expecting something more, and I don’t know what. A Toy Story 5 isn’t happening. I know there will be a Bo Peep miniseries on the Disney Plus streaming platform, alongside a series focused on Forky, but those aren’t really piquing my interest yet: I feel like, if anyone was cheated in this movie, it was Jessie and Buzz. I want a Disney Plus series about them, not the spork! (No offense, Forky).

Well, that’s all for now, at least until I start writing my spoiler review: hopefully my feelings and emotions are clearer by then. But for now…so long, partner.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Tales Of The City” SPOILER Review!

I feel absurdly late to this party – the first Tales of the City series came out in 1993, and even this 2019 modernized reboot debuted weeks ago: but because it’s still Pride Month and I only just got around to watching the show, I’m going to trust my instincts, just as Anna Madrigal would say, and try to live by the “better late than never” mantra.

Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD! If, like me, you haven’t watched Tales of the City yet (stop judging me), then beware! Back away! Avert your eyes!

And for those of you who finished the series ages ago, come on in! Let’s take a leisurely stroll up to 28 Barbary Lane and discuss what happened in a season full of twists, turns, surprises and shocking secrets. And, near the end of our little conversation here, allow me to explain why I think there should be a sequel.

Firstly, let’s talk in-depth about our main leads, specifically Shawna Hawkins (Ellen Page), Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) and Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett). All of them had some great moments, and some genuinely cringeworthy ones, but only Brian and Mary Ann got to fill out a complete character arc, in my opinion, and that’s why they’re my favorites of the show’s leads – excluding Anna, we’ll get to her later. Brian was honestly my least-favorite after the first episode, where he proved himself to be a hypocritical and jealous lowlife who still held a grudge against his ex-wife Mary Ann, after she left San Francisco twenty years prior to start a business. I could even have understood his point of view, had he not been as aggressive as he was, and so over-zealously protective of his and Mary Ann’s daughter, Shawna. Mary Ann, on the other hand, was sympathetic but incredibly irritating; naive, exuberant, ever optimistic (even when the wheels snapped off her luggage carrier), and perpetually unable to sympathize or even understand anyone else’s opinions. The two characters have romantic tension, but their meeting leads to constant bickering and relentless melodrama – which is only exacerbated when Mary Ann discovers that Shawna doesn’t know she’s adopted. One thing leads to another, and before you know it Brian and Mary Ann are back together. That would have been lame and annoying had not the writers and actors done such a good job of portraying the changes in their characters: somehow, by the last few episodes, I found myself waiting for Brian to make jokes rather than start fights (and make jokes he did, providing some of the best comic relief).

Michael Tolliver, the more-than-slightly stereotypical “gay best friend”, takes up a lot of screentime but does basically nothing to move the plot forward, making his story something of a chore to get through. The episodes around the midpoint of the show try especially hard to focus on him for no reason whatsoever, probably only because the last part of the show barely even touches on his subplot. The series’ focus was far too wide in scope, as I mentioned in my non-spoiler review: with two main plots already going on, the subplots generally suffered from a lack of purpose. Tolliver was the most notable example since his story, unlike that of Jake and Margot (more on them later), didn’t even really touch on any of the show’s themes.

Then we come to Shawna. Shawna is undeniably meant to be the series’ heroine, its protagonist, our eyes into this new and beautiful world of LGBTQ+ culture – she doesn’t fit the bill, unfortunately. While Ellen Page is a good actress, her subdued, low-energy approach to the character only served to make Shawna unlikable and, frankly, boring. There were rare moments of levity, usually when Shawna had brief, frantic reunions with her mother, and the two would team up to do something bizarre and hilarious. And then Shawna would randomly turn on her mother, storm off, and descend into a brooding mope. This problem only became worse when Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet) entered the picture and the two started dating – why these two actresses felt it was necessary to make what should have been the show’s central relationship into slow, angsty staring contests, I have no idea. Every time Shawna and Claire ran into each other, all semblance of energy and liveliness drained away from their already pretty lifeless characters: they would stare at each other, mumble, shuffle around with their hands in their pockets, and then Claire would say something that was clearly meant to be philosophical in an artsy way, but only came off as absurd.

Which is why Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) became very quickly the heroine of the show, at least for me. She starts off as the centerpiece of the entire story: the other characters might hate each other, but they all love her. The main leads all live at her apartment complex, 28 Barbary Lane. They all come together to celebrate her 90th birthday, which causes the chaos and confusion that follows. She’s not exactly an active character, but then none of the leads are, except in their own subplots – Anna seems even passive at first, when she is blackmailed into selling Barbary Lane: an action which has major ramifications on the plot, sending the others into a frenzy to find new housing. When we learn the truth of Anna’s past, and how she took money stolen from the LGBTQ+ community and used it to pay for surgery, a house, her entire existence – even there, she’s the passive character, as the money was all but forced on her by her distraught partner, Tommy. As a transgender woman in the 1960s, Anna survived only by isolating herself from the people who needed her most, refusing to speak up and take action against violence and oppression. Her entire story is built on her passivity – and she’s not proud of it. She is shamed and consumed with guilt: her arc is all about finding forgiveness, and she is finally allowed that peace when the LGBTQ+ community of San Francisco rallies to save Barbary Lane from demolition in the most heartwarming and powerful scene of the series. Anna passes away in her sleep not long after that: “Anna didn’t believe in coincidence,” Mary Ann says after her death, “so neither shall we.” The emotional sentiment is also used to explain how this diverse, dissimilar cast of characters all ended up under Anna’s protection.

The diverse supporting cast are, without a doubt, the highlight of the entire show. The most relevant are Jake (Garcia) and Margot Park (May Hong), a young couple who live at Barbary Lane and deal with serious issues when the show begins – Jake was a lesbian woman who transitioned into a man, and is now realizing he is gay: Margot was Jake’s girlfriend before he transitioned but is still a lesbian, and doesn’t love Jake in his new body. Eventually, even though both Jake and Margot get forgotten for a good long while in the middle of the show, their storyline is sorted out: they break up peacefully, Margot finds a new girlfriend in DeDe Day (Barbara Garrick), and Jake decides to hold off on being in a relationship. The friendship between these two characters after they split is much more powerful than their romantic bond ever was, and it gives me hope that they’ll both be all right. Other highlights are Mateo (Dickie Hearts), DeDe’s exasperated butler; Ida (Caldwell Tidicue), the nightclub owner who shows up to help save Barbary Lane in the final episode; transgender actresses Jen Richards and Daniela Vega as a young Anna Madrigal and her nemesis Ysela, respectively; and Michelle Buteau as Brian’s sports-loving best friend Wrenita. These diverse characters have to work overtime to sell the premise and theme of the entire show, and each of them does it and, in the aforementioned instances, bring a little extra to the table too.

The show does have an issue with its plot, specifically towards the end when all the family-drama about Shawna’s parents and Michael’s relationship suddenly just goes away, allowing us to finally focus on the real story about Anna’s past and the person currently blackmailing and manipulating her: what started as a feel-good story about coming home to San Francisco takes an abrupt turn when Mary Ann and Shawna have to don disguises to follow a suspicious man, who turns out to be completely harmless and in fact helps the family on their hunt to find the real culprit: suspicion falls on Ysela, who’s still around and helping the homeless, but she proves innocent as well. Only after a bunch of misdirects involving a lot of random art do we finally reach the shocking conclusion that Claire Duncan, Shawna’s boring girlfriend, is actually the one behind all this. The grand finale, when Claire is wrestled into some pink feather-boa handcuffs after trying to demolish Barbary Lane and capture the event on film for her documentary about hypocrisy is…conflicting, to be sure. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun, especially when Claire makes the mistake of telling the LGBTQ+ protesters that she’ll just edit them out of the footage, which provokes a chant of “We will not be erased!”. On the other hand, she’s like, what, a twenty-something year old living on the streets, and she somehow managed to convince an entire construction crew to help her demolish a building – and her motivation is…what, exactly? I also have to admit that, even though I loathed her character, I didn’t like the fact that she had to go back to her parents in the end, since they pretty obviously despised her with a passion. It’ll only lead to more trouble, is my guess.

Which leads us to our final topic: is there anything in the future for Tales of the City? Well, at the moment, no – with Anna Madrigal gone, the show has lost its most important character, and Barbary Lane has lost the one thing that really held all its occupants together. Without her, there’s not really a story to be told about Barbary Lane: but that doesn’t exclude other topics from being explored. Jake’s unresolved story, Michael and Ben’s on-and-off relationship, Shawna’s adventures beyond San Francisco, Claire’s future, DeDe’s butler, Twintertainment – there’s some stuff there that could be used to craft some pretty interesting stories, or even just a comedic miniseries or two. Garcia has already said he’d up for a spinoff about Jake and Margot.

What do you think? Would you like to see more Tales of the City, or do you think this is the definitive final chapter? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Tales Of The City” Review!

As Pride Month draws to a close, you have just enough time still to binge-watch Netflix’s modernized reboot of the 1993 soap opera Tales of the City, which is in turn based off the 1978 novel by Armistead Maupin. But even if you don’t know the original series (I didn’t), this show somehow manages to perfectly convey the feeling of coming home – to the house on the hill at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. That’s especially due to cast, social commentary and atmosphere, all of which intertwine in an almost intoxicating blend of nostalgia.

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The cast includes series regulars Laura Linney and Paul Gross, along with the show’s main attraction, Olympia Dukakis, reprising her groundbreaking role as Anna Madrigal, the beloved elderly transgender landlady of Barbary Lane – this time around, she comes loaded with a dark backstory and a few scandalous secrets, not unlike the diverse group of characters, young and old, who live in her apartment complex. There’s Shawna (Ellen Page), supposedly the show’s protagonist, but whose story tends to get lost among all the intersecting threads and character arcs – or maybe it’s just because every time Shawna shares the screen with her girlfriend Claire Duncan (Zosia Mamet), the energy and vitality of the show grinds to a halt, while the two stare blankly at each other and mumble. Paul Gross returns as Shawna’s adoptive father, Brian Hawkins, while Linney is once again the naive, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton – but unlike in other iterations of the show, Barbary Lane is only temporarily seen from Mary Ann’s POV. Instead, the focus has wisely been shifted on the real, down-to-earth residents of San Francisco: interracial gay couple Michael Tolliver (Murray Bartlett) and Ben Marshall (Charlie Barnett); Asian-American twins and Instagram influencers Ani and Jonathan Winter (Ashley Park and Christopher Larkin); Hispanic transgender/genderqueer nurse Jake Rodriguez (Garcia) and his lesbian girlfriend Margot Park (May Hong); and especially black cross-dressing nightclub owner Ida Best (Caldwell Tidicue), who has one absolutely awesome scene in Episode 9, donning a silver wig and high heels while leading a troop of Rainbow Warriors into battle against injustice. It’s really not that surprising that Ellen Page gets swallowed up by this rich, diverse cast – her performance is good, but far too low-energy to make her stand out in the crowds of witty drag queens, nursing home troublemakers, and nasty dinner guests.

These people are the products of a brilliant, flamboyant, free-spirited society in the streets of San Francisco: not only its beautiful vistas, sunsets, parks, high-rises or even its oases like Barbary Lane, but also its darker, grittier side. This is made especially clear in Episode 8, an extended flashback to Anna Madrigal’s early life in the city soon after her transition: here, Madrigal attempts to navigate her dangerous new existence as a transgender woman in 1966, and finds herself having to do anything possible to survive. Her “house on the hill” wasn’t built by goodwill and fortune-cookie wisdom alone, as it turns out. The show has an interesting, thoughtful commentary on the history and progression of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, from Anna’s flashback to one intensely awkward conversation about the privileges of gay men who survived the AIDS crisis. Characters like Ysela (Daniela Vega) and the everyday struggles we see briefly through her eyes as she protects the city’s homeless, show us that no matter how far we’ve come, we have to keep going. And Anna, when she is interviewed, sums it up best when she explains that the city hasn’t changed very much at all since the 1960s – people still make mistakes, and they still have to deal with the consequences and try to make things better.

This commentary would make for one pretty grim show if it weren’t for the fact that Tales of the City actually has a really hard time balancing its two main narratives – the show tries as best as it can to give equal screentime to the family-drama and the LGBT crime thriller that make up its plot: considering that both of these stories literally operate out of the same house, this should have been much more seamless than it ended up being. But if I have one complaint about the show, it would be that – not only is the story lopsided, it can’t even figure out which way it wants to…lop (is lop a word? What is a lopside?) at any given time: one of the most bizarre examples is when a humorous but suspenseful car-chase abruptly turns into a mother/daughter quarrel. Throughout the middle of the show, there are interminable arguments about relationships, parenting, interactive art, etc, etc, and the show begins to get lost – along with many of its characters, who either randomly disappear around the midpoint, or just wander around in the background to give the illusion that they’re doing something relevant as the family-drama plot increasingly narrows in on Mary Ann, Brian and Shawna, while also trying to spare just enough time on Michael and Ben to still give a gay viewpoint on the story.

And then, in the last three episodes of the show, the family-drama stuff basically gets thrown out the window, in place of the crime story – which, honestly, is much more interesting. The finale neatly wraps up that storyline, in a weirdly cartoonish but still entertaining fashion – literally, in fact. Many of the storylines explored in the family-drama plot, however, are left open to interpretation.

Which brings me to a sentiment I expressed early today in an Instagram post, where I said that I need more Tales of the City content. There is ample opportunity for spinoffs and sequels about these characters: I think this show maybe bit off more than it could chew, but a smaller-scale, more intimate series about one of the show’s supporting cast could be very satisfying – for goodness sake, I’d be willing to watch an entire show about DeDe Day’s butler!

I don’t know if I’ll write a Spoiler Review for this show, but there is definitely a lot to talk about regarding the series – so leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Season Rating: 7.9/10

First Look At Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”!

Greta Gerwig, visionary director of the 2017 critical darling Lady Bird, is teaming up again with her Academy Award-nominated star, Saoirse Ronan – but now they’re heading all the way back to the 19th Century for a romantic historical-fiction romp. And this time, Gerwig’s status has allowed her to muster an impressive cast alongside Ronan, including Beauty & The Beast‘s Emma Watson, screen legend Meryl Streep, actress and director Laura Dern, Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet (also from Lady Bird), and rising star Florence Pugh. The ensemble of stars will be donning petticoats, sunbonnets and dainty pastel outfits for their outing in Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, a book that has been adapted to the big screen precisely ten-thousand times – fine, seven, but that’s still too many.

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Even though the first photos released today have all the misty-eyed stares and tidy drawing-rooms that are stereotypical of all adaptations of 19th Century romances (literally, every adaptation of a Jane Austen novel ever), don’t expect the movie to be as blatantly prim and pristine as it appears on the surface: Gerwig has made it clear that, during her research on Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, she became deeply interested in the period’s gender norms and views on feminism, especially – issues that were also close to Alcott’s own heart, and which naturally appear in the film, in the form of subtle social commentary: Gerwig even seemed to imply that Ronan and Chalamet’s androgynous appearances made them perfect for the kind of story she’s telling, one in which her protagonists will throw out the restrictions of their heteronormative lifestyle in favor of a more relaxed semi-platonic relationship and free love. All that is fine, but when Gerwig described the main characters as an “intellectual hippie family”, I’ll admit that’s what truly perplexed me, and got me thinking: who wants a Little Women adaptation when we could have Little Women Go To Woodstock?

Ronan will portray the novel’s heroine, Josephine “Jo” March, in the film: March’s rebellious spirit and relentless determination made her one of literature’s earliest great female role models, and I can’t think of a better fit for the role than the equally inspiring Irish actress. Emma Watson, on the other hand, will be perhaps trapped in the role of Meg March, whom critics have often derided for being an introverted and unambitious character who steadfastly remains devoted to her home and husband. Hopefully Watson can get past those criticisms with a stellar performance. Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh are the young sisters, Beth and Amy respectively, who are nearly identical when the story opens: Beth, shy, diplomatic and gentle-tempered; Amy, artistic, delicate and pampered.

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And of course we can expect Meryl Streep to be the powerhouse that she is, in the role of Aunt Josephine (not to be confused with the Aunt Josephine of A Series of Unfortunate Events). The cranky and discouraging widow with a heart of gold, her archetypal character will probably have a large number of scene-stealing moments – thankfully, the rest of the cast ensures (or should ensure, at least) that Streep doesn’t end up stealing the entire movie.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Little Women? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

So…A “Hunger Games” Prequel Is Happening…

Ever since the Hunger Games franchise left theaters back in 2015, Lionsgate Studios has been trying to find a replacement for what was, along with the Twilight Saga, their largest film property: their top three highest-grossing movies are still The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and The Hunger Games. Sadly, the studio has not had much luck doing that: stand-alone films such as Robin Hood (remember that? No?) flopped, and the Divergent series fizzled out. John Wick has recently begun to fill the role that Hunger Games once held, thanks to the sudden frenzy of interest surrounding star Keanu Reeves, but now it looks like Lionsgate doesn’t need to move on from its young-adult dystopian thriller roots at all.

That’s right: today, accompanying news that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins will be releasing a prequel to her best-selling book series in May 2020, Lionsgate Studios wasted no time announcing that they are communicating with Collins  about “the movie”. Apparently there’s not even any doubt or hesitation about this project – there will be a movie prequel to The Hunger Games, whether you want it or not.

Don’t expect Jennifer Lawrence to be reprising the role of Katniss, however, and don’t expect many (or possibly any) familiar faces. The prequel novel will be set 64 years before the first book in the original trilogy, and will probably explore the origins or early days of the Games themselves, in a time when the world of Panem was still recovering from the scars of war; what Collins calls “the Dark Days”. Setting it so long ago in her world’s past will presumably give the prequel some freedom to breathe: traditionally, with prequels, they’re set in the time period directly before their successors, so that they can include hundreds of unnecessary cameos from, for instance, the parents of our original protagonists, or the backstories of recognizable antagonists. This is almost always a bad idea: rather than selling us on the premise of the novel that we’re currently reading, these types of prequels instead get bogged down while trying to remind us that we’re actually not getting the full story – to understand that, you’d have to stop by your local Barnes & Noble and pick up an expensive hardcover copy of the book you should be reading.

This, of course, extends to movies as well: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy fell into this trap, by wasting time on tie-ins and unsubtle nods to his original Lord of the Rings trilogy (for instance, making The Hobbit into a trilogy to begin with, and then throwing in Legolas, and trying to make the characters at his disposal into carbon-copies of existing ones from Lord of the Rings).

Now, simply setting it 64 years in the past doesn’t necessarily mean the Hunger Games prequel won’t do the same thing: The Hobbit was set 60 years before the Lord of the Rings (though, that particular story also deals with extremely long-lived and in some cases immortal characters, so I’ll let that slide). J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts prequels to the modern world of Harry Potter, however, while great movies (yeah, I said it), are set in the 1920s and still manage to include an inordinate amount of inexplicable cameos from characters who really shouldn’t be alive yet in her timeline, most notably Professor McGonagall. Let’s not even get started on that, though.

Anyway, we will be getting both a novel and a movie set long before Hunger Games, and presumably Lionsgate will try to turn this into a huge franchise, just as it was back in 2013, when Catching Fire grossed 865 million dollars worldwide and became the 18th highest-grossing movie of all time in North America. Will they be able to do it? More importantly, will they be able to do it and also make a good movie in the process? They have it in them: all four of the movies in the franchise received Fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with the first two even reaching Certified Fresh status. Setting the prequel long before the events of the original trilogy also helps, since we can assume (for now) that it will have its own distinct atmosphere and story, rather than leaning too heavily on the books that came before.

Let the Games begin.