Movies I've Seen

May the odds be ever in your favor . . .

So yeah, I made it out to see The Hunger Games. And it was awesome.

Before I get too far into this, let’s just all agree that there will be spoilers in this post, both about the movie and about the book. You have been warned.

I don’t even know how to talk about it. Several people I know, both online and off, have said that it’s probably the best book-to-film adaptation they’ve ever seen and I have to agree. In most films that are based on my favorite books (the Harry Potter films come to mind), I always come away enjoying them, but feeling as if something was missing, something was lacking. Not this time.

I’ll start off with the (very few) complaints I had, although they are extremely minor. I went to the movie with my husband, who has not read the book. I needed someone who was going in with no expectations, not really knowing much about the story, except for what you get to see in the trailer. He had some complaints, mostly saying that there seemed to be a lot of backstory that was missing. And that is true. The greater backstory was one of the things that had to be sacrificed. We are given just enough to know what’s going on and that’s about it. Also left out were some of the more brutal, disturbing parts of the games, particularly the huge beasts created from the remains of the fallen tributes. The beasts are there, but they are basically just big dogs. Still scary as hell, but not as twisted as the version in the book.

There was also a lot of relying on the shaky hand-held camera to soften some of the violence, or at least make it harder to see clearly. Because there is definitely violence. A lot of it. I think they just barely got the PG-13 rating. The shaky camera is incredibly hard to watch at times because it is incredibly disorienting. This is not a bad thing in smaller doses, since we are supposed to feel disoriented and scared through the Games, but I think it was overused just a bit.

Now the good stuff. I’ll start with the casting. In a word – AWESOME! Jennifer Lawrence was perfect as Katniss. She seemed to just get it. You could see how emotionally invested she was in the part with every movement, every glance, every word. Also good was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. He was sweet and adorable, but had also had a gravity to him. You could see how much he cared about Katniss and how desperate their situation was. I thought the two of them together worked very well. Other standouts: Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. I wish we had seen more of them. I also loved Stanley Tucci as the game show host Cesar Flickerman and Amandla Stenberg as sweet little Rue.

The movie was visually stunning as well. It was easy to see and feel the grittiness of District 12, contrasted with the luxurious, sleek and colorful Capitol. Another thing that was nice was that we got to see outside the Games, which was impossible in the book since we stay in Katniss’ head the whole time. We got to see the Gameroom, which was just amazing. It was a bit chilling to see how technical the whole thing was to those people. When they initiate a wall of fire in order to either kill Katniss or, at least, chase her back to the other Tributes, the Head Gamemaker simply says, “Get ready for another cannon.” (For anyone who hasn’t read the book, they fire a cannon shot every time someone dies.) He was so matter-of-fact about it. We also got to see some of the reactions of the people in the Districts, the beginnings of the revolution that Katniss will find herself in the middle of.

The terrors of the games themselves had to be more understated than in the book, but it was very, very close to what I pictured. Because of this, the movie was very hard to watch at times. I spent most of the time very tense, because even though I knew what was coming, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I knew that the swarm of tracker-jackers was going to attack (and I have a bee phobia, which was fun). I knew Rue was going to die and she was so adorable, I didn’t want to watch it. I will be seeing the movie again this weekend, and it will be easier now because I know how these things were handled.

So overall, I would definitely recommend this movie to both fans of the book and people who haven’t read the book yet. My husband also enjoyed the movie and will be going to see it with me again this weekend. He has also agreed to read the book, although my copy now has a waiting list (my mother, her housemate, another friend, then maybe my husband).

Books I've Read

Ready Player One

I first heard of this book on the “Books on the Nightstand” podcast (an excellent show, by the way). The hosts, both of whom work in the publishing industry, were raving about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I knew it was only a matter of time until I got my hands on it.

For some reason, lately I’ve been getting into these dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories. Ready Player One certainly fits into this category. What makes it slightly terrifying is that not only does the story take place in the not too distant future (late 2030’s to early 2040’s), it is a future that is horrifically possible.

Massive worldwide climate change. Almost complete depletion of the world’s energy resources. I think one of the images that will stick in my head for a long time is the main character’s living situation. Wade is an eighteen year old boy who lives in a double wide trailer with his aunt and her boyfriend . . . and twelve other people! And that’s not the worst part. This place is called “the stacks” because, due to the numbers of people flocking to the large cities because they can’t afford to live anywhere else, they have taken to stacking these mobile homes on top of one another, some of them twenty high! The whole thing is held up by scaffolding, but it can collapse at any moment. Every aspect of life is precarious. Frightening.

So here’s the premise: in this dystopian future, there is a virtual reality system called the OASIS. It’s huge. This is more than the Internet, more than any RPG. The OASIS is made up of thousands of worlds. It has become the “place” where children go to school, where people go to church, where there is access to every book, movie, television show and video game ever made. Because the real world is so bleak, most people spend nearly all their time in the OASIS. Once inside, you can create your own reality and become whoever you want to be.

With the way people already do this on the Internet, do you see why I said this future was frighteningly plausible?

The creator of this virtual paradise, James Halliday, has died. He has no heirs, no family. He has left behind a video explaining that he has hidden a secret somewhere in the OASIS, and the person who finds it will inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune and control over the OASIS itself. Enter our main character. Wade stumbles upon the first “key” and, from then on, his life changes forever. With such a valuable prize on the line, you can imagine the intensity involved in not only tracking down more clues, but tracking down the people who were able to piece together parts of the mystery. A large corporation, IOI, is determined to win the contest so that they can gain control of the OASIS and monetize the hell out of it. They are willing to do anything to get their hands on it, from blackmail to murder.

There were so many interesting concepts in this book. The wonders of technology, certainly – using it for good and for evil. The concept of making good friends online, without ever meeting them in person. And then, the 80’s references. Halliday was obsessed with that decade and, as such, all the clues are pieces of 80’s movies, music, and of course, classic video games. It was so much fun to read and think, “Hey! I remember that!”

I really enjoyed this book. From the middle on, it was almost impossible to put down. Go read it! Now!

Books I've Read

What should I read next?

This doesn’t usually happen to me, but at the moment, I am completely stumped as to what to read next. And so, I’d like to turn that decision over to you lovely people who read my blog. Here are your choices:

1. Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey – This is the sequel to Kushiel’s Dart, which I read earlier this year. Here’s the back of the book blurb:  The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber–and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren’t far off the mark. The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre’s brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown… and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.

2. The Shining Ones by David Eddings – This is the sequel to Domes of Fire, which I also read earlier this year. The blurb: Years ago, the Child-Goddess Aphrael had hidden Bhelliom, the Stone of Power, at the bottom of the sea. Yet now it is needed again to stop a malign force from spreading evil and destruction across the lands. Sparhawk, Queen’s champion, sets out to retrieve the Stone. But others seek the gem for their own diabolical ends. Most fearsome of these are the Shining Ones, whose mere touch melts human flesh from bone. Now Sparhawk finds himself stalked by these creatures out of myth . . . whose touch is all too real.

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – This is not the sequel to anything I’ve read yet. Here’s the blurb: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

So there you have it. Let me know what you think in comments. In the meantime, I need to write up reviews on the last two books I read.


Movies I've Seen

WWDSS – What Would Dr. Seuss Say?

So yesterday, my kiddos and I went to see The Lorax. I have to admit, I was hesitant about seeing it. I am very protective of my Dr. Seuss. The newest adaptations of his classic stories have been hit-and-miss. The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers was atrocious. The Grinch with Jim Carey was slightly better, but still not great. Once they switched back to cartoons, with Horton Hears a Who, things improved drastically.

These stories are hard to turn into full-length feature films. They have to add a lot of filler, and that’s usually where they go wrong. The Lorax does the same thing, of course, but I thought they actually did a pretty decent job with it. The story focuses more on Ted, the boy who goes to seek out the Onceler in the book. He lives in Theedville, a utopia where everything is artificial, plastic or concrete, and even the fresh air needs to be purchased. Ted has a crush on Audrey, who has a fascination with real trees, which neither of the kids have ever seen.

This leads Ted to go seek out the Onceler, who knows the truth about where all the trees have gone. We travel back in time to where the valley was filled with Trufula trees, brown Barbaloots, Humming Fish and Swoumee Swans. The visuals are beautiful and it’s easy to see why the Onceler is so taken by the place. Also, the Barbaloots are ADORABLE!!! I want one!!!

Here’s a thing that was weird for me – we get to see the Onceler’s face. In the book, he was always so mysterious, living up in his tower, his face always hidden behind the window shutters. In this movie, you see him all over the place. The show gets points, though, for casting Danny DeVito as the Lorax and Betty White as Ted’s grandmother. They are both hillarious.

The Lorax is watching.

The environmental message is a bit heavy-handed, but it wasn’t particularly subtle in the book either. Still, I thought it was fairly well done. The kids loved it and it was enjoyable for adults to. What more can you ask from a cartoon?

But Hollywood, I’m only going to say this once – you’d better leave the Sneeches alone.

Books I've Read

Don’t you see how much nicer it would be if it was a secret?

Sorry for the absence. My entire family was hit with the dreaded norovirus that’s going around. We’re all mostly on the mend, thank goodness.

My next book on the list is the children’s classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I had never read this book as a kid, but loved the 1993 movie version. Since I always worry whether a movie can ever do a book justice, I decided to give this a read. The fact that it is a free download for my Kindle was an added bonus.

The story is centered around a young British girl, Mary Lennox, brought up in India who is orphaned and brought to live with her uncle in England. She has always been very isolated and, because of this, is a bit of a brat. She was always surrounded by servants, virtually ignored by her parents, and has a very hard time adapting to her new life. Her uncle, Lord Craven, is always travelling, but Mary is not alone. She is helped by a number of kind servants, particularly Mrs. Medlock and Martha. As she is exploring her uncle’s estate, she hears rumors of a garden that once belonged to her uncle’s wife, who is now deceased, that has been locked up and hidden. Mary finds the garden and, together with Martha’s brother Dickon, tries to help it grow again. But the house holds other mysteries as well. One night, Mary hears a child crying and finds that she has a cousin named Colin, an invalid who never leaves his room. Mary convinces her Colin to try going outside and, slowly but surely, he starts to gain strength.

One theme that is constantly woven throughout this book is that of magic. Colin  was a sickly baby and, since his mother died in childbirth, everyone was terrified that he would die as well. It is possible that Colin only became an invalid because that’s how he was treated. He was never given the chance to run and grow up like a normal child. Even so, there is something miraculous about how he is able to overcome his physical and emotional limitations. He loves his father, but hates him at the same time for ignoring him, when the truth is that his father is terrified of loving the boy only to loose him. Once Colin has regained his strength and wishes for his father to come home, something inspires Craven to head home at once, even though he usually tries to avoid the place. Is this magic? A coincidence? That’s for us to decide.

It’s a beautiful book that I would definitely recommend. While we’re at it, I’ll recommend the movie as well. They really did a wonderful job with it, and it also stars the fabulous Maggie Smith.