Worthless Movie Reviews: The Hunger Games

I had the chance to see the The Hunger Games last night. (Which, by the way, is the right way to do it. Instead of the crazy crowds I imagine were at the theatres this past weekend, there were maybe 20-25 people in the huge theatre I saw it in. On a Tuesday night. Just two days after the hordes. So much better than crowd fighting and line waiting.) I have to say, I really liked it. I had some trepidation about seeing it since I enjoyed reading the books so much, and I’m always reluctant to see something that has the potential to supersede the images I created while reading – after all, I like my ideas better – but that turned out not to be a problem. Overall, I thought it was a very good movie and a very good book adaptation. Story was clear, easily understood, and the dialogue, for the most part, was crisp and authentic, although, I attribute a lot of that to Suzanne Collins being a screenwriter by trade and participating in the adaptation. That always helps the cause.

But I really liked the edgy feel and appearance to it, particularly the close-ups and the use of the handheld camera. I thought it fit well with the tone of the story. I thought Jennifer Lawrence did a really good job, too. And I liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. And to their credit, somewhat ironically, I liked that I didn’t feel much chemistry between them, except at the rare, intended moments. My sister, who hasn’t read the books, went with me and also noted that she did feel much chemistry between them but still wanted them to end up together, and I thought to myself, ‘They nailed it!’

There were a couple things I didn’t think they nailed, just to throw in my hat amongst all the critics. I’ll try to stick to the film aspect because I know I could easily comment about the things that were changed or added to the movie, but those are common in book adaptations. Things change. It’s just part of the game. I will say, briefly that I do wish the movie didn’t glaze over a few key moments: Rue’ relationship with Katniss (it made her death less impactful for me), Katniss and Peeta’s time in the cave, and their decision to eat the nightlock. I wish they had spent more time on those, but, hey the movie was already 2.5 hours long. They couldn’t add too much more. And as far as additions, which probably took away from the above moments, I didn’t mind the inclusion of the riot scene and the expanded version of Seneca. Including the riot speaks to the progression of the story and creates an interest in seeing the next film, and the use of Seneca as a conduit for backstory and exposition was effective, I thought. He was able to convey necessary information nicely woven into the story in an interesting way.

As for the film, I think, naturally, a lot of people will compare it to Harry Potter. If I do that, then, for me, it lacked what I can only describe as a shot-in-the-woods/reeds-specialness-quality. (And I think that’s an official term.) My favorite scene in all the Harry Potter films, from a purely artistic stand point, is the scene in HP 5 when they’re running through the weeds outside the Burrow fighting the Death Eaters. The editing is exceptional, in my humble opinion, as is the editing throughout most of that movie. It brings such a sharp urgency to the scene, and I felt the look of The Hunger Games overall lacked that polished, yet frenzied fine-tuned quality, if that makes sense.

The only other thing that didn’t work for me in the movie was the love triangle. That probably has something to do with the fact that it isn’t my favorite part of the books. But, watching the movie, I was reminded how hard love can be to recreate in art. It’s such an intimate, unique experience for people that I think it’s hard to represent in a way that speaks to a broad audience without coming off as corny or cheesy, which the “love” scenes in this movie did to me. And to bring up HP again, it reminded me how I always appreciated that J.K left the love story to the subplot. I realize I’m probably alone in this, as the love story seems to draw in many, many readers, but, for me, the movie was more effective when it was dealing with other emotions, such as the concept of hope vs. fear.

So, to sum up – it’s really good movie in my opinion, and an even better book-to-movie adaptation. I highly recommend.

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Happy 60th Charlotte’s Web!

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle isn’t the only children’s novel celebrating an anniversary this year. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is as well. And that’s not all they have in common. Both also happen to be among my favorite books. As Wrinkle turns 50, Charlotte’s turns 60, and it is certainly worthy of a grand celebration.

My relationship with Charlotte’s Web is quite different, though, from A Wrinkle in Time. With Wrinkle, I read the book first when I was in fifth grade. And, I’ll be honest, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t really get it at first. I had to read it a few more times to truly understand it, as I suspect is true for most people. And I still understand more and more with each read.

But with Charlotte’s Web, I didn’t actually read it until later in life, not until I was in college and taking a class on children’s literature. I always meant to read it sooner but never got around too. However, I was already very familiar with the story thanks to the animated adaptation done in 1973. And while I’ve never liked watching a movie adaptation before reading the book because I prefer to create the images myself, watching this movie first, in hindsight, may not have been so bad. It freed me up to really read the words, to appreciate the language and White’s narrative decisions. Since I already knew the story, I could read the novel like a writer.

And whenever I describe Charlotte’s Web, I always start by saying it has a beautiful simplicity, particularly in terms of language. The kind of simplicity that can be deceiving and make you overlook the artistry. There’s also a comforting rhythm to the pacing. And it forces a full spectrum of emotion without making the reader feel they’ve been manipulated. It has one of the best opening lines ever, across all genres and ages. And it always makes me cry, despite knowing well in advance what’s coming, and it always makes me laugh.

I do wonder what it would have been like to read as a child, with a more youthful perception, but I think it would be fairly similar. Effortless, yet challenging. No matter how old you are when you first read it, it’s certainly no mistake that it’s the bestselling children’s novel ever and continues to be regarded as the best in children’s literature. And to celebrate the 60th anniversary, I think I shall read it again.

Worthless Reviews: Wuthering Heights

I finally finished Wuthering Heights. You know, the classic by Emily Bronte. And I enjoyed it…but, if I’m honest, and I might as well be since this is my blog – I didn’t get it. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry to all those superiorly intelligent people who think I’m misguided, but – I didn’t get it.

Not all of it, at least. What I did get was the beautiful writing. There were many, many beautiful sentences in this novel, sentences I could never dream of constructing. Some of my favorites were:

“I have neither a fear, nor a presentiment, nor a hope of death.”

“He might as well plant an oak in a flowerpot, and expect it to thrive as imagine he can restore to her vigor in
the soil of his shallow cares!”

“He’s not a rough diamond – a pearl – containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.”

I also felt each character was flawlessly constructed. Each was unique, truly individual, a task that is not always easy to accomplish in fiction writing. Too often characters are cliché or don’t have a strong, distinctive voice. I never lacked for a clear image of each character in my mind as I moved through this story. I had a strong sense of who these people were at their core.

But, while I applaud the construction of the characters, I don’t applaud the actual characters. And this really begins the disconnect for me and this novel. The main problem was: I didn’t like any of the characters. I didn’t root for a single one. I found them all to be too flawed (Ms. Dean the exception) to want their circumstance to improve. I didn’t care if Heathcliff and Catherine got together because they both struck me as selfish, immature, and haughty. Now, I do believe characters should have flaws. Flaws make them realistic. But I believe their positive qualities need to outweigh the negative in order for me to like them. Or at least their positive deeds. Check that – they can be negative (or do negative) throughout the story if their positive, or redeeming, epiphany/action makes up for it at the end.  I didn’t get that from a single character in Wuthering Heights. Maybe a little from Catherine the Second, as I don’t hold her entirely responsible for her spiteful acts towards Hareton. After all, they’re brought on by a mixture of love, hate, and grief. But my first impression of her character is that she’s a spoiled child, and as I barely see her redeemed or changed at the end, I found it hard to draw a connection to her. And, perhaps, Hareton isn’t deserving of much scorn because of his childhood circumstances impacting his adulthood. But the rest of the characters are just terrible through and through, from beginning to end. Or at least they were to me. And, even with their backstories, unnecessarily so.

The second, grand problem I had was the believability of the crucial story arc of the novel: the doomed love affair between Heathcliff and Catherine. I never felt the mad, passionate love they apparently had for one another. I never yearned for them to be together. I never felt devastated when they were separated. I never longed for them to get back together. Simply, I didn’t feel they loved each other. I don’t know if it was as simple as word choice, or that, for a long novel, the passages about their love were too brief. They go from children playing together to young adults separated in two chapters of a 34 chapter novel. And while the actions of Heathcliff to seek revenge on the lover who spurned him were quite grand, the actions meant to display their love felt insufficient. Or if they were there, I didn’t read them that way. For example, after Catherine’s death, I got the impression Heathcliff wasn’t as much mournful as angry and annoyed by her passing. How could she inconvenience him like that? he seemed to say. Grief was described, but like many things in their affair, it felt too brief.

The same was true with the parallel “love” affair with Catherine and Linton. It was lost on me what Catherine could ever see in him, as he was so thoroughly weak and childish. Why she would even jokingly entertain his affections, miniscule as they were, never made sense to me.

So, basically, I was left with a story about a bunch of characters I didn’t like, wasn’t pulling for, and two love stories that didn’t interest me.

I’m saddened by this because I really did enjoy the way – style, word choice, sentence construction – the story was written. And I usually love classics like this. Loved Jane Eyre, for instance. But this one never grabbed me. Again, my sincerest apologies to those who loved it and don’t get me.

Replay it again (and again), Sam

It struck me recently that I haven’t blogged yet about sports, which is one of my favorite topics. The love goes back to childhood when I used baseball to begin the ever-important dialogue between girl and father. Then, as I grew up, the love sprouted like a weed. So, when the following topic occurred to me, I thought I’d go with it.

This weekend, an English soccer player named Fabrice Muamba collapsed during a match due to cardiac arrest. He was rushed to a hospital, where his heart was successfully restarted and, thankfully, the latest news is that he is now breathing on his own and is no longer in critical condition.

What struck me about this story wasn’t the actual incident. It was the way the televised broadcast handled it. There’s a video on YouTube (which I’m choosing not to link to) of the minutes immediately following his collapse. You initially see Muamba on the ground, but once it became apparent to the broadcast’s director that something extremely serious was happening, he chose to cut away and only show shots of the crowd for the duration of the incident, which lasted about seven minutes. Now, that’s a lot of crowd shots – and a few of the referee and Muamba’s teammates. Yet, the director never went back to the injured player. The announcers, as well, also refrained from saying too much, offering only occasional information based on what they were watching happen on the field. They even acknowledged that, at a time like this, it was best they not say too much.

As I was watching this, it made me think about how an American broadcaster would handle it. In fact, when I first clicked on the video to watch it, I was anticipating seeing something much more harrowing, such as dozens of replays of him collapsing and even shots of the medical staff trying to resuscitate him. That is, after all, what I’m used to seeing during American sporting events. I’ve seen, on numerous occasions, a football player suffer an injury from a tackle that could potentially leave him paralyzed, yet the broadcasters are never shy about showing the hit over and over and over again, or the player being strapped to a stretcher and wheeled off. It doesn’t seem to bother them that the player’s family and friends are likely watching, worried beyond measure. And when less serious injuries occur, perhaps just a twisted ankle, the announcers will often applaud the tackler on a strong hit. It seems they’re more concerned with entertaining their audience and giving them what they presume they want. (Although, I’m not sure it’s what we want or just what we expect now.)

I realize the two situations are not entirely similar. I honestly don’t know if US television would show a player being resuscitated. But I know I was pleased to find that what I expected to see in the video of Muamba’s collapse was not there. The way it was handled by the English broadcast, I felt, contained respect and acknowledgement of Muamba’s humanity. It was a terrible moment, yet one they chose to fill with as much dignity as possible – not ratings or entertainment.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on American sports television. But there are certainly times, particularly when watching (American) football, I wish we handled players injuries with more dignity. After all, this is a human being whose career might be over, and all that brings for him and his family. Is a replay really necessary?

Perseverance and the Spider, a short story

Here’s a quick story I wrote. Probably would work best as a picture book, which aren’t really my forte, but when I got the idea, I just went with it. Definitely sprang from all the unease I’m going through as I pursue my crazy dream of becoming a published author. Friends will probably recognize the inspiration from the spider I let live in my doorway for a few months. After all, who was I to knock it down? Not the Wind, that’s for sure. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

On a clear, warm night, a spider found a tree to spin his web in. He worked all night to spin a big, strong web. The next morning, when it was time for him to sleep – for this spider liked to sleep during the day and come out at night – he went to bed happy, knowing he had spun the best web he could. While he slept, he dreamed of the feast his web would catch for him.

But when he woke up that night, he saw his web had been torn to pieces. The wind had blown so strongly during the day that his web was almost completely blown away. Now the spider had nothing to eat. As he was looking at his torn web, the wind came blowing by. The spider asked the wind, “Wind, why did you blow down my web?” The wind responded with two words, “You’ll see,” then went on his way.

The spider set back to work. He worked all night, making sure his web was twice as big and twice as strong. This way it would have a better chance of not being blown away. So when the sun came up and the spider went to bed – a little hungry, for he had not been able to find much food – he was still happy because he knew he had spun the best web he could.

But when he woke up the next night, his web was in pieces. The wind had blown it away again. Later that night, the wind came rushing by. The spider asked him, “Wind, this time I spun my web even stronger, and you still blew it away. Why did you blow away my web?” The wind responded with two words, “You’ll see,” then went on his way.

The spider once again got back to work – and he was very hungry this time. But he made the web even bigger and even stronger, stretching it across many branches in the tree. Surely the wind could not blow this one away. Surely his feast the next night would be grand. That morning, the spider went to bed knowing he had spun the best web he could.

But the following night, the spider saw it had happened again! The web that he had spent hours spinning – the biggest, strongest web he had ever made – was now only strings. The wind had blown it down again. When the wind came blowing by, the spider became angry and shouted, “Wind, I spun the biggest and strongest web I could! I spent hours working on it, and still you blew it down. Now I have no breakfast and am starving. Why, Wind, why did you blow down my web?” The wind responded with two words, “You’ll see,” then went on his way.

With an empty belly and tears in his eyes, the frustrated spider stared at his torn web. What would he do? Would he spin it again? Yes, he would. For there was nothing else he could do but keep spinning. All night long he worked harder than he ever had before. He made the places where his web anchored to the tree as thick as the branches. He spun until his web covered the entire tree. He worked until the sun was up, and when he was finished, he had made the biggest web he had ever seen. Surely the wind cannot blow this one away. That night, the spider went to bed knowing for sure he had spun the best web he could.

When he woke up that night, he was overjoyed. His web had completely made it! It was just as he had left it when he went to sleep. And it held for him the greatest feast he had ever seen! The spider had never felt so proud of himself.

Later that night, the wind came by again. The spider said to him, “Wind, thank you for not blowing down my web.” The wind replied, “You’re welcome. I’m sorry that I blew down your webs, but you see, if I had not blown them down, you would never have built this magnificent web. You would never have known how strong you truly are.”

And with that, the wind blew softly away, and the spider enjoyed his feast.

Authors, Social Media, and Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen Hates Twitter

I heard about Jonathan Franzen’s recent comments regarding Twitter, and they made me0 think about writers’ relationships with social media and what is expected of us now – and how uncomfortable it can be.

I first heard about his comments from – surprise! – Twitter, so you can imagine the tweets running through my feed about them. They weren’t exactly sympathetic. I suppose Tweeters don’t take well to being called ‘unspeakably irritating.’  Now, I admittedly have my own issues with Franzen and his writing, (Why so depressed on the cover of Time? You’re on the cover of Time!) but, if I’m honest, his comments didn’t bother me. My first thought was, simply, it’s not his thing. And I’m willing to bet for many authors, it’s not their thing, either.

I read something once (and, apologies, I can’t seem to find a link to it) that people who were actively engaged in social media already had very active social lives. Makes sense, to me at least. I think it takes a bit of courage, self-confidence, the ability to be personable, and a good sense of the social norms that govern human interaction in order to share your life through social media with the world. In other words, you’re probably pretty comfortable with yourself. That doesn’t sound like many writers I know. Not to enforce a cliché, because it’s certainly not true of every writer, but I think there is truth to the notion of an author preferring to sit alone in a room and talk to him/herself (or the voices in his/her head) while piecing together a story. For many of us, we feel more alive interacting with our thoughts and keyboards while we create and play with our fictitious worlds than we do interacting with real humans. And if I share a bit of those worlds through Facebook? Well, you probably won’t understand, and you’ll just think I’m weird. That’s my fear, at least. And I suspect it is the same for other writers.

That being said, not-yet-established writers like me don’t have the option to ignore social media. For the vast majority of us, it is one of the best tools we have to find readers for our work. Franzen, however, can ignore it. He had his audience, his fans. I still have to find mine.

However, I don’t think I necessarily have to find them on Twitter. It doesn’t have to be ‘my thing.’ Another social media avenue might fit me better. The best advice on this subject I’ve received so far was from an editor at a conference I attended recently. She said that authors need to find what they’re good at when it comes to social media and focus on that. If you like blogging, blog. If you find Facebook tedious, don’t do it. Or if you think Twitter is ‘irresponsible,’ don’t tweet. Find what fits you, what suits you, what you will shine at, and do that. After all, if you don’t like Twitter, I imagine your tweets won’t be that interesting to follow, and what will you have accomplished in the goal of increasing your notoriety?

For me, I’m still figuring out what I’m best at. And for me, unlike Mr. Franzen it seems, I’m going to find out by doing. So I tweet and blog and update my status routinely. And if I find I enjoy one over the other, or receive a better response from one over the other, I’ll focus on that. Then I will have found ‘my thing.’

So, maybe, all his comments mean is that Franzen needs to try something else in the social media world. How ‘bout a blog?