Friday, March 30, 2012

Title:  The Hunger Games
Genre:  Dystopian/Science-fiction
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens

My rating:  A+ 

Synopsis (from  In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

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Thrilling, intelligent, and exceptionally filmed, I was completely impressed with The Hunger Games.  Having fallen in love with the book series, I was a little worried about whether I was going to be disappointed or happy when leaving the theater, but this movie was incredible, beginning to end.

First, the casting was perfect.  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks-- they all did an amazing job bringing their characters to life.  I still can't believe how many people thought Jennifer Lawrence shouldn't play Katniss because she was too curvy.  Who cares if she has hips if she can act?  I'd much rather have a curvy actress than some skinny girl who can barely change the tone of her voice, let alone act.  *cough* Kristen Stewart *cough*.  Hutcherson, as Peeta Mellark, also did a great job at portraying his character's openness and quiet strength.

The filmography was brilliantly done.  They decided to go with the shaky, handheld camera for many of the more intense and violent moments in the film, which added to the realism.  The filmmakers worked hard to achieve realism and believability during the film, and I think they were successful.  The sets and the costumes were neither too simple nor too ridiculous (except the Capitol citizens, but their clothing was supposed to be ridiculous).  I also loved the use of color throughout the film.  In District Twelve, everything is gray or tinged with gray, and the images are sharp and stark.  But as soon as Peeta & Katniss board the Capitol train, the color' s become vivid but overwhelmingly so, like it's oppressive.  When they finally enter the arena for the Games, the colors are lush, but everything seems to sharpen again.

The violence that was to be expected in a story about kids killing each other in a gladiator-like event is there but a little subdued.  The books were written for a younger audience after all, and they didn't want to alienate a large part of their audience.  It still doesn't mean that it wasn't intense, especially when you remember that you're not watching two adults fighting, but two kids.  It was especially hard to watch whenever it was a 12-year-old, because they're so little and young.

There were changes between the book and the movie of course, which I will discuss further in an upcoming Book Vs. Movie entry.  What I will say is that the changes weren't huge or plot-changing.  There was only one that really irked me, but I think it's because they're going to address it in the second movie.  So I'm definitely not disappointed with this adaptation.

Even if I'd never read the books, I would have enjoyed this movie.  It had all the right components for a great movie-- action, adventure, romance, interesting plots and subplots.  And because I didn't see it on opening weekend, I got to watch it without a lot of screaming tween fan-girls.  Major bonus.  A+

The Hunger Games trilogy

Series:  The Hunger Games
Author:  Suzanne Collins
Titles:  The Hunger Games (1), Catching Fire (2), Mockingjay (3)
Format:  Hardcover
Genre:  Dystopian/Science fiction

Rating:  A+++++

Background information (from Wikipedia):  The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of the current nations of North America, in a nation known as "Panem". Panem consists of a rich Capitol, located in what used to be Rocky Mountains, and twelve (formerly thirteen) surrounding, poorer districts which are under the hegemony of the Capitol. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol wherein twelve of the districts were defeated and the thirteenth destroyed, every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the "Hunger Games". The Games are a televised event where the participants, called "tributes", must fight to the death in a dangerous outdoor arena until only one remains. The winning tribute and his/her corresponding district is then rewarded handsomely with food and plenty, seeing as the lower districts are starving.

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 It is going to be so hard to write this review without giving anything away, but I will try.

First, let me start off by saying I LOVED THESE BOOKS!  Passionate, well-written, and thrilling, this trilogy had me hooked from the beginning.  As soon as I started reading it, I couldn't put it down.  I read The Hunger Games over a weekend.  Originally I had avoided the series simply because of the hype, but with the movie gaining even more attention, and my commitment to Read It 1st, I thought I'd give the books a try.  And now I'm so glad I did. 

The books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl from District Twelve who's chosen to be the female tribute during the 74th Hunger Games.  She's determined, somewhat hard, but also frightened and confused, emotional and loving.  Her inner monologues further develop her character and the reader's connection with her.  Her pain and turmoil are believable and real.  Collins did an amazing job with her character development throughout the series.

The descriptions of the Games themselves are harrowing and lifelike.  The suspense and tension kept me reading.  Warning- there's a lot of violence, and if reading about kids killing each other, sometimes brutally, upsets you... do NOT read these books.  Besides the violence, character development, and suspense, the books also contain romance.  In this case it's a love triangle.  Katniss is torn between her best friend Gale, a hardened coal miner who wishes to defy the Capitol but must support his widowed mother and his younger siblings, and the baker's son Peeta, a strong and artistic baker with a heart of gold who is chosen to be the male tribute for District 12.  Personally, I'm Team Peeta all the way, and in the end, Katniss picks... Well, you'll just have to read to find out.

It's so hard to really do justice to these books without including spoilers, so even though this review is kind of lame, please know that the books are definitely not.  If you love action, adventure, romance, suspense, science-fiction, dystopian literature, or David-versus-Goliath stories, you should absolutely read these books.  A+

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Vs. Movie: Something Borrowed

I honestly don't know why I bother with chick lit or romantic comedies anymore.  Maybe I just keep hoping that I will find another book like Austenland.  But nothing ever comes close.  Chick lit & rom-coms are almost always cliched, immoral, and annoying.  I decided to give this one a try anyway, simply because I think Ginnifer Goodwin is a great actress, and because other reviewers liked the book.  Next time I will follow my instincts and avoid books & movies like Something Borrowed.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin tells the story of Rachel, an average, hard-working 30-year-old woman whose beautiful, superficial best friend Darcy is getting married to the seemingly perfect guy Dex.  After a night of "partying" for her birthday, Rachel ends up taking a cab home with Dex, and they sleep together.  The rest of the book centers around Rachel and Dex figuring out how they feel about each other, while also showing the development of Darcy & Rachel's friendship over the years through flashbacks. 

I didn't even bother finishing the book.  Besides the whole cheating storyline turning me completely off, the characters were two-dimensional and stereotyped.  The main character would just not stop whining about how old and miserable and alone she was; her best friend was as superficial and shallow as you could make her; and the fiance Dex was spineless and wishy-washy.  Could someone please tell me when men stopped being... men?  There is nothing attractive about a man with no backbone.  Also, the flashbacks that are supposed to show us how Darcy & Rachel became and stayed friends throughout the years were unrealistic.  There's no way these two completely different people would have remained best friends, especially considering how badly Darcy treats Rachel.  I just can't take this book seriously at all.  Perhaps if the characters hadn't been SO cliched and transparent, or if Rachel had not been such a whiny doormat, or if the guilt she and Dex supposedly felt had seemed real at any point, I might have taken the time to finish the book.  Incomplete

Something Borrowed, the movie, follows almost the same storyline except for a few changes I noticed here and there.  For one thing, Dex and Rachel were actually really into each other during college; Darcy just swooped in and "stole" Dex away.  But the two of them never stopped loving each other, even after Dex proposed to Darcy.  I suppose the screenwriters thought that if Dex and Rachel had always been in love with each other, then we'd be more forgiving and accepting of their cheating.

Throughout the whole movie, I sympathized the most with Rachel's best friend Ethan.  He pretty much said it best when he yelled at Rachel for being a whiny pain-in-the-butt who brought these problems on herself.  And I can't stand that the movie is geared towards making you think it's okay that Dex and Rachel cheated because a) Darcy cheated too so "it's only fair", and b) they all ended up happy in the end anyway.  Rachel even says to Darcy, during a chance meeting months later, that she's sorry for hurting her, but not for sleeping with Dex.  And Darcy seems okay with it because she's happy with how her life is going (she's pregnant by the guy she cheated on Dex with).  So the moral of the story seems to be that as long as everyone gets to have a happily-ever-after, it doesn't matter how they were able to achieve it.  C-