Tuesday, June 12, 2012

review: The Hunger Games (books)

So I've already talked about Hunger Games the movie  - this is the book the movie was based on. And although this book (and movie) were classified as a young adult (or PG-13) there are many adult themes and it is intensely violent. So if you've got young ones and aren't sure if this is the book for them, here's my rule: if you can't enter the games (age 12) you can't read about them either. Although a lot of parent obviously ignored this warning for the movie (stupid crying children). I will also trying to be more plot/character heavy on this review, rather than film/acting/musically focused.

This is my second read through of this trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It consists of: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. All three are written in first person point of view which is, upon the second reading, actually quite refreshing. Instead of feeling like someone is a telling you a story, Collins uses the first person which makes you feel more like you're there despite the out-of-this-world situation.

The Hunger Games takes place in the distant but not unbelievable post-apocalyptic future in what was once the United States. Now called Panem, and ruled by the high-tech and fashion obsessed and bored populace of the Capitol, is comprised as twelve districts (well, once thirteen, but the thirteenth rebelled and was quickly put down), each one responsible for different goods/services (coal, agriculture, tech, etc). Each year to remember the day of the uprising, the Capitol requires two tributes from each district, one male and one female. These tributes chosen in "The Reaping", are forced to compete in a battle to the death in "The Hunger Games".

Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year-old girl from district twelve. She lives with her mother and younger sister - her father died in the coal mining accident when she was eleven. She is well....  stubborn, quiet, rebellious but all without drawing attention to herself (or so she believes). She spends her time taking care of her sister, mother (who spiraled into a deep depression after her husband's death) and hunting with her best friend Gale (male - not female). Anyways, due to some horrible luck, her little sister Prim gets chosen as tribute and instead of letting her go to her death, Katniss volunteers as tribute. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son. They are whisked away to the Capitol where they are beautified and judged as they prepare for the 74th annual Hunger Games.

In the Capitol the tributes are subjected to the whims of the populace and their odd fashions. The games and its contestants are constantly scrutinized and judge both by the populace, game masters, and politicians. These perverted games are Collins' way of reflecting her disgust of reality television and intense scrutiny of the media.Collins' said she was inspired by the Japanese movie Battle Royale, footage from the Iraq invasion and a reality tv show she saw while flipping channels. The use of media through the movie is twisted - from needing sponsors for the games, televised interviews of the champions and the publicly mandated viewing of the intense violence of the games.

One of the things I really liked about this movie was Katniss' insistence on finding herself and doing what feels or is right for her. And although she allows herself to be swayed on a few issues - she does not adamantly deny or refuse them. More focus on establishing self. Doing what's best for herself, figuring out what she wants and who she wants. She doesn't want to be pushed or pulled by people (slight problem seeing as how the Capitol runs their lives). Whether this be how she trains, who she falls for, or how she wins - Katniss wants to do it on her own terms.

In comparison to movie there's a lot more development of Katniss' feelings for Peeta. the movie makes it kinda seem like she's just playing a long but in the book there are real moments where she feels connected to him and where she even starts having feelings about him right back. There's more time spent with Prim and her mother and more history there (which is nice sense the absence of this background was one of my pet peeves in the movie).

In the movie there also only one or two moments of joy or laughter. The book offers many more examples, adding levity and charm to what could have been such a dour book. Many of these moments are with Peeta (granted she is with him for the majority of the book....) where they tease and joke with each other even in the face of the looming games. These moments made Katniss feel more real and highlighted her youth which could be lost at moments in the movie.

I did really like this book - in fact it's my favorite out of the trilogy. I give The Hunger Games (the book) 4 out of 5 stars! How did you think it compared to the movie?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

review: Cabin in the Woods (movie)

Cabin in the Woods is the newest creation from the team of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. Whedon is hugely popular in the nerd circles as he is responsible for a lot of TV cult classics including: Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dollhouse. And such movies as: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Toy Story and one of my personal favorites: Titan A.E. Needless to say, Whedon's got movie/TV cred.

First scene is not exactly terrifying. Two technicians (Richard Jenkins and Steve Hadley - both acting veterans and so great for their sarcastic humor) are walking down in all white corridor in some office/factory building prepping for the night's special operation. Suddenly - flash! - evil music and dark red words: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS appears on screen. Bum bum ba!!!!! If the quick switch doesn't make you laugh, this is not the movie for you.

We switch focus now to out young heroes. They are walking cliches, well - modern versions of them. "The athlete" has become a jock; "the fool", a stoner; "the scholar", a nerd; and "the virgin".... whatever passes for virginity in this day and age. "The whore" doesn't really change - after all, it is the world's oldest profession. These five head into the woods - a cabin in the woods - for a long weekend away from school. Along the way they are warned about the woods by a creepy gas station attendant. If this sound cliche - it is. But don't worry, the clicheness it awesome. And the cliche continues: once they get to the house they notice some creepy things - a 2-way mirror in the bedroom, disturbing paintings, weird feelings but they commence with the drinking and of course: the get-to-know-you game, truth or dare. However, midway through the game a cellar door opens abruptly and in true horror movie form, they file on down. Each person is drawn to a different object: a diary, a locket, a picture, a toy, or a globe. Each object triggers a different monster.

Now this is really where the two technicians shine. They are watching everything - even triggering the cellar door to open. And when the virgin, Dana, reads some Latin our of an old diary, the technicians release "[their] zombified, pain worshiping, backwards, idiot, rednecks". Needless to say, there's lots of pain and death with lots of surprises thrown in. The twists and turns between the college kids trying to escape and the technicians trying to have the zombies kill them are hilarious and cliche. But worry not! Almost everything gets explained as the story ends but it doesn't get wrapped in a neat little bow. Which is perfect!

To make this really short - I loved everything about this movie. I don't think I've laughed this hard and so much in a movie in.... well, ever. 5 out of 5 stars. Easily. Go see it.

Check out the trailer here!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

review: The Fall & Eternal Night (The Strain Trilogy vol. 2 &3) (books)


So this is a combined review because I read these two in such quick succession. I'll try not to give away many spoilers however - seeing as it is the last 2/3 of a trilogy and it was awesome... well, I'll try. No guarantees thou. 

A refresher - these books are volumes 2 and 3 of The Strain trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It is a modern day vampire/horror story. 

Let's start with vol 2 - The Fall (as I deem this the most logical course). This is my favorite out of the three. There's less of a OMG-are-those-vampires? and more of a OMG-vampires-how-do-we-kill-them? attitude. The characters are also really well developed at this stage so you can easily see which ones you'll like and which ones you won't by the time the series ends. 

And although there's a lot of character and plot development, my FAVORITE PART OF THIS ENTIRE SERIES is the mythology that was developed. As mentioned in the end of vol 1. The Strain there is a book of great importance to both the humans and Ancient vampires call The Lumen (literally: the light) in which there's a detailed history of the creation of the vampire species and possibly a key to how they can be defeated. Much of the book is spent trying to achieve The Lumen either through duplicity, alliances or strength of arms. The mythology within The Lumen is what makes this story amazing... arg! I really want to share all of this with you but I don't want to give you spoilers! GO READ IT and then we can talk about it!

Another thing I like about The Fall is the non-traditional hero arc for almost all the characters. Well, on some accounts it's very traditional - mainly in the death department (I'll let you discover who and how for yourself.) But the journey of self-discovery that has to be made is a little different from most other characters in fiction primarily due to the huge role religion ends up playing through the last two books. It's not a preachy book but more of a spiritual and physical importance in the series.

Anyways, book 2 The Fall ends excellently, with the Master (and evil) pulling ahead of Eph (and good). Book 3, The Night Eternal, begins 2 years after the events of The Fall. Eph is rather estranged from his companions through his self medication (*SPOILERS* to blunt the absence of his son who gets kidnapped by the Master at the end of book 2 *END SPOILERS*) and alcoholism. Fet and Nora have grown closer but have yet to really move any closer physically due to Fet and Nora's guilt over "betraying" Eph for each other. 

I really can't tell you much about The Night Eternal without giving away major spoilers.... so I guess the second half of this review is kinda bust. I will say that I go back and forth between liking and really disliking the ending. On one hand I understand why they did it, on the other I think it's a total cop-out. 

I give Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain Trilogy (on the whole) 4 out of 5 stars for an excellent interpretation of vampires. Now - go read it so I can talk to you about it!