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Monday, July 1, 2013 01:33 PM
(Last updated on Monday, July 1, 2013 01:54 PM)
On the Viewer - The Hunger Games
 by Fëanor

(UPDATE: Oops! I should have mentioned - spoilers!!!)

I finally got to watch this! Obviously it is not as good as the book, because movies never are (except that one time *cough* Blade Runner! *cough*), but it is still quite good. It captures the look of the world very well - the filthy, gray District 12; the excessively colorful and sleekly modern Capitol. I was curious how they would convey the essential information that the book conveys via Katniss' thoughts, and they find various clever methods of doing so, like cutting over to the Gamemakers - including Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) - manipulating things in the control room; accompanying the gifts that are sent by mentors and sponsors with written notes ("Call that a kiss?" Ha!); and letting us see some of the television broadcast, with on-air banter between Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones). We even get to see some secret conferences between Crane and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which are fascinating and reveal some of the politics going on behind the scenes. It's all quite brilliant and forward-thinking, as besides merely filling us in on important info, it also prepares us for what's to come in the future films. Later on we even get a glimpse of an uprising, which is something Katniss didn't even hear a whisper of until the second book in the series.

Speaking of Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the part - by turns angry, delicate, and dangerous. I only wish she was a slightly better singer, as that's a rather important characteristic of Katniss in the book. I also quite love the way they captured the outrageous, manners-obsessed Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, who is utterly unrecognizable). Casting Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy was a stroke of genius. I didn't love his introductory scene (why didn't he get to throw up on stage?), but his character gets stronger and more interesting as the movie goes on. I was a little disappointed in the casting of Peeta; for whatever reason, Josh Hutcherson didn't quite fit my vision of the character. But once I got used to him, I liked him okay, too.

One of my favorite scenes in the book - the one where Katniss shoots the apple out of the pig's mouth - is also one of my favorites in the movie. It's almost perfectly realized. I also found the Rue sequence just as powerful here as I did in the book, although I wish there could have been more scenes between her and Katniss, and I really missed the gift of the bread and Katniss giving thanks for it, as that was extremely moving and meaningful. I felt like Katniss talking to Rue and learning about life in her district was also very important, and that was missing.

An interesting added scene reveals that it's partly Haymitch's intervention that convinces Crane to change the rules and allow for two victors. I was a little disappointed we lost the scene where Katniss was forced to drug Peeta so she could get away to the banquet, but I can see why it was taken out. We're also missing one of the creepiest touches from the book - that the muttations at the end have the faces of the dead tributes. It seems like this would have been relatively easy to do with computer effects, but maybe they tried it and it looked goofy or something. I thought the ending of the film felt a bit rushed and poorly paced, with a sudden jump cut from the Cornucopia to the top of a building in the Capitol, and then mere minutes later, we're back in District 12. I did like the subtle way they closed off Seneca Crane's story, though, intercut with Haymitch warning Katniss about how seriously they take these things.

As I've mentioned already, a number of essential things have been changed or left out. Now Katniss just finds the Mockingjay pin randomly in a market, and actually gives it to Prim for luck, who then gives it back to her again before she leaves for the Games. I think I actually like this change, as it adds poignancy and a strong emotional connection to the pin. Anyway, they almost had to cut out Madge's character. One thing that I really miss, though, is the scene where Katniss reveals to Peeta that she was basically faking it for the cameras. This was a painful and important scene. But maybe they will put it into the opening of the second movie instead.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), The Hunger Games (Not)
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013 01:25 PM
Book Report - Mockingjay
 by Fëanor

I've finished The Hunger Games trilogy, and I think it's really great.

(I'm going to try to avoid any really big spoilers, but if you want to remain completely ignorant of what happens in these books, I'd say stop now and come back after you've read them.)

I was again interested to see how this third book would still be about the Hunger Games, as clearly another one couldn't be held now that the whole system had fallen part, but Katniss does indeed find herself pulled into another kind of Hunger Games when she's in the streets of the Capitol, moving from pod to pod, trying to stay alive. And really, in a way, her entire life from the first page of the first book, right up until the end of this one, has been a kind of Hunger Games - a terrible competition for survival, with nearly every moment of it filmed and watched and scrutinized, nearly every moment of it planned and performed. The characters play a game in this book called "Real or Not Real?" and I feel like it really gets at the heart of one of the trilogy's central themes: that living under constant surveillance is its own kind of oppressive torture. It can put you in a place where you feel you have to pretend to be someone else all the time, to the point where you no longer know who you really are inside anymore; you don't even know what's real and what's artifice; who you love and who you don't. This is where Katniss finds herself, and it takes her a long time to finally dig her way down to what's real and important.

I saw in the second book how important Katniss' choice between Peeta and Gale was, but it wasn't until the end of this book that I realized why it was so important, and what it meant. This choice ends up symbolizing the different paths to take in the face of tyranny and brutality. Do you turn it back on itself, fight violence with violence, turn hate into hate? Do you use your oppressor's playbook against him, designing traps as cruel as his own to defeat him? Fight an inhuman enemy with its own inhumanity? That's Gale's solution. Gale is all rage and vengeance. But there's another way: to face inhumanity and cruelty with dignity and refuse to lose your own humanity. To keep yourself, to not become a pawn in someone else's game. To believe in the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. That's Peeta's solution.

The vote at the end - choosing whether or not to condemn another generation to the Hunger Games - is an extremely important moment. Once you've lived through that, do you put your tormentors back into it, and let it continue? Or do you destroy it? Do you end the cycle? Katniss realizes then that President Coin is just going to take Snow's place, and continue the cycle, and it will just go on and on. Unless someone stands up and says enough.

The final sequence of this book is traumatic and brutal, but it also feels true and right and incredibly moving. Mockingjay pulls all the themes of the trilogy together, puts everything in focus, and brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. Collins says she was inspired to write these books while flipping back and forth between a reality competition show and coverage of the Iraq War on TV, and it's not hard to see the connection. It's a great series of books, and what it has to say about people and how awful and wonderful we can be really resonates.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), The Hunger Games (Not)
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Friday, May 10, 2013 12:07 PM
Book Report - Catching Fire
 by Fëanor

I don't have a lot to say about this book that I didn't already say about the first volume of The Hunger Games. It's again very well written, with many fascinating characters, moving passages, and shocking twists and turns. I was struck by how much the book focuses on which of Katniss' two male admirers she will give her heart to. It's a romantic triangle that the fate of the world depends upon. I was wondering what would happen in the next Hunger Games, if perhaps Prim would be called again during the Reaping, or Gale, but I was completely unprepared for what actually did happen. It's interesting how Collins continues to find new depths for the Game to plumb and new details to reveal about it, like the Quarter Quell and the little boy opening the box full of all the yellowing envelopes, each encasing some new, secret torture. The clock structure of the Games is quite brilliant, and some of the perils in there are wonderfully horrific, especially the Jabberjays and their screaming.

(Spoilers ahead.) A few things bug me a little about one scene, which at the time I found really intriguing, in which Plutarch Heavensbee shows his unique watch to Katniss. Why does she never even guess what the Mockingjay symbol there might mean, when it was obvious to me almost immediately? Collins is careful to point out that in the Capitol the symbol means something else, but still. And then there's the question of why Heavensbee does this. At this point he supposedly has no idea Katniss will return to the Games, so why would he feel the need to risk so much to give her a hint about its structure? How can either of them gain anything from this? Of course, if in the third book it's revealed that Heavensbee did know Katniss would go back to the Games, that perhaps he deliberately engineered it as part of the larger plan to transform her into a symbol for the rebellion, then I understand. But his explanation makes little sense, and I wonder why Katniss doesn't question it.

But despite these few lingering questions, I really enjoyed the book, and got a huge thrill out of the moment when Katniss stands and fires that last arrow, and then got a stab to the heart when the aftermath of that shot is revealed. I've already made good progress on the third entry in the series, Mockingjay, so I ought to have a review of that one up soon.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), The Hunger Games (Not)
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013 03:45 PM
(Last updated on Friday, May 10, 2013 11:47 AM)
Book Report Roundup
 by Fëanor

Recently I finally got around to trying out audio books, and it's been kind of a revelation for me. I have no idea why I never really used them in the past. It takes me forever to read physical books anymore because I rarely have the time or ability to carry them around with me and sit down and keep still long enough to read them. But I almost always have my iPod with me, and it's easy to pop it on for a bit when I'm walking or driving or sitting around doing some mindless task. So audio books are really a perfect way for me to "read" books, and they've increased my rate of consumption enormously. Plus, the format adds another layer of enjoyment, as the folks reading the books are very entertaining and their performances add to the drama and power of the words.

The Hunger Games
As usual, I'm well behind the times, and only just got around to reading this book (I'm referring here to the first volume, not the series as a whole). I don't know what finally convinced me to jump on the bandwagon, but I heard a lot of good things, and saw some intriguing ads for the movie adaptation, and also I thought I ought to read more contemporary YA sci-fi/fantasy, since I'm writing that right now. This book isn't just a thrilling sci-fi adventure story, it's also really well written and crafted, with deeply interesting characters and some great gender role reversals. Suzanne Collins manages to make you so emotionally attached to the characters in such a short period of time, that you'll be weeping over the fate of one you only met a chapter or two ago. Her main character, Katniss Everdeen, is not a bland narrator who's simply a pair of eyes through which to see the story that unfolds around her; she's a real person with many flaws and much complexity. You realize how damaged she is as a person when it takes her literally years to puzzle out that the good turn another character did her was motivated by simple kindness, and not out of some complex, selfish attempt to gain favor with her. Collins also does a fantastic job instantly grabbing your interest and never letting it go. She only slowly reveals the full nature of the horrific future world she's created, and the true depth of depravity that is the Hunger Games. Actress Carolyn McCormick reads the book, and is excellent, adding drama to the text and giving each character a unique voice.

Needless to say, I've already started the sequel.

Around the World in Eighty Days
Here's a book I was even more behind the times on than The Hunger Games! It's one of those classics of literature that I just never got around to. Now that I have, I see why it's still beloved after all these years. It's a fun, funny, rollicking adventure story with wonderful characters, great writing, and even an informative tour of the world thrown in, though admittedly the information is a bit out of date. The only disappointing thing is Jules Verne's sexist and occasionally racist point of view. There is only one woman character in the novel, and even she is barely a character herself; she's merely there to be saved and protected by the main character, and to adore him in her turn. And Verne's depictions of the various natives Fogg and friends encounter are sometimes pretty unflattering. But he's writing from the viewpoint of a privileged Western European at the end of the 19th century, and he really does make an effort to make most of the people they meet into human beings (with the glaring exception of the Native American "savages"), so it's hard to fault him too much. Besides, the story is just so much fun. The version of this I listened to was read by Jim Dale, who's an old hand at this whole book-reading thing and does his usual fantastic job. There's even some music and sound effects thrown in for atmosphere, which is nice.

The Night Circus
I read this one based entirely on having heard good buzz, and plus it was close at hand, as poppy had got it out of the library because Jim Dale is the reader. I had no idea what it was about. Turns out, a duel between magicians that revolves around a mysterious circus and turns into a star-crossed romance. The book veers towards the cheesy at times, it is so sappily romantic, but what the hell, I'm pretty sappy myself. It's a fantastic book, full of a deep appreciation for stories and beauty and wonder. It takes some surprising twists and turns, the kind that made me exclaim out loud while listening to it. Also, it features multiple women characters who are actually full-formed people! I highly recommend it.

Stranger in a Strange Land
Another classic I'd never gotten around to until now. I'd tried reading it ages ago in school, but at the time it didn't grab me. I got the sense it wasn't aimed at my age group and set it aside. I almost gave up on it again this time, as I found the tone and language odd and old-fashioned. But I stuck with it and came to like it quite a bit by the end. I'm going to quote my GoodReads review now: "It's funny and thoughtful and it often surprised me. For the first quarter or so, I thought it was going to be a vaguely straightforward sci-fi thriller about a bunch of good humans trying to protect a naive superman from being exploited by a bunch of bad humans. But that plot was quickly resolved and done away with and it turned into a philosophical exploration of gender, sexuality, humanity, religion, and even, to a lesser extent, art. There were a few thoughts put forward here about homosexuality, femininity, transgender people, and rape that I found disappointingly backwards and narrow-minded, especially for a book that was so wise in so many ways, and that was clearly trying so hard to be progressive about gender and sexuality. Also, it occasionally feels a bit dated. But overall, I really enjoyed it. Thou art God!"
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), The Hunger Games (Not)
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