Movie Review: Catching Fire

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Apologies for the delay, but I’m finally recovering after suffering a cold for the past couple days. But I’m back and ready to share my thoughts on November’s biggest film!

I may anger a lot of fans by beginning my post this way, but here it goes: I know that The Hunger Games gets compared to Twilight simply for being blockbuster series with teenage love triangles, but a part of me now understands the comparison.

Point taken, but I still went there!

Hear me out!

The similarity has mostly to do with my opinion of each story’s ending rather than anything serious, like female autonomy and benevolent sexism. It’s just that at this stage in my life, I’m watching these movies just to go through the motions because I’m dreading how it all will conclude.

Those who have been reading Book Club Babe know how much I despised Mockingjay, so it makes sense that I was only moderately excited about seeing “Catching Fire.” (If you want to see me ecstatic, join me at the “The Desolation of Smaug” premiere!)

One more week until the gratuitous inclusion of Legolas! #SorryNotSorry

But just like “Breaking Dawn” was so horrendous that I haven’t even gotten around to finishing the final film, I’m feeling lukewarm about this dystopia. To me, the genre needs a well-deserved break because this bandwagon feels two years old.

(Speaking of outdated, here’s another inflammatory opinion: “Divergent” sounds like a cheap knockoff riding the dystopian wave, and watching the trailer before “Catching Fire” only reinforced my belief that I’m so ready for something new).

That being said, I’m not here to judge a movie based on its inevitable sequel. I actually have little negative to say about “Catching Fire,” like so many other viewers.

All the actors in the film did a great job, from Jennifer Lawrence suffering nightmares as Katniss to Stanley Tucci as the sickeningly sycophantic Caesar Flickerman. I was simultaneously admiring and scorning the Capitol’s display of weath, with their flamboyant costumes and ostentatious parties.

In fact, it was interesting to watch this movie with both my parents this time, since my dad and I are the only ones in my immediate family who have read the book. My mom hadn’t even seen “The Hunger Games,” so all she knew was the quick explanation we gave her on the way to the theater.

Ever filled with kindness, my mom found it difficult to stomach the story, and I don’t blame her. The unnecessary violence and disparity in socioeconomic power is disgusting and infuriating. I can only hope that people desire the same change in our own society as they want for Panem.

They didn’t call it “panem et circenses” for nothing!

All in all, watching “Catching Fire” was timely during Thanksgiving, reminding me to grateful for all that I have. And even though this whole splitting the finale into two films is another trend that won’t die, I’m just thankful that such a disappointing ending will be recreated by an amazing cast and crew.

Now move over dystopias, and make way for the hobbits!

Belated Book-Related News

Another week has gone by, and now it’s finally starting to feel like fall here in California. I know that I’m spoiled living in the Golden State, so I won’t complain too much, but I always get so upset when I have to put away the shorts and bring out the sweaters.

Autumn and I don’t get along very well. Even though it doesn’t snow where I live, I absolutely loathe being cold. Especially when I have to get out of my cozy, warm bed! I hate layering clothes, dealing with dry skin, and smelling or tasting anything pumpkin-flavored.

You can keep your stupid lattes, Starbucks!

Thus, I’m trying to remind myself of what I do enjoy about this time of year: drinking hot cocoa, dressing up for Halloween parties, eating so much delicious food at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and having extra time to spend with family and friends during the holidays.

That, and awesome movies based on books! We’ve got tons to choose from, so here’s a list to remind you:

  • Romeo and Juliet, Oct. 11 – Ed Westwick as Tybalt? I am so there!
  • Kill Your Darlings, Oct. 18 – Daniel Radcliffe plays Beat poet Allen Ginsberg–yet another British actor who pulls off an American accent!
  • Ender’s Game, Nov. 1 – Despite all the controversy surrounding author Orson Scott Card’s homophobia, I hope this movie is just as great as the book.
  • The Book Thief, Nov. 8 – Didn’t read this bestseller, but so many readers are looking forward to seeing this WWII tale on screen.
  • Great Expectations, Nov. 8 – If anyone could get me to enjoy this story, it’s Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Nov. 22 –  You already know about how I feel about the end of this trilogy, and now we’re just one movie closer to it. Sigh.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,  Dec.13 – People may wonder why another trilogy was warranted for this book, but I’m just ecstatic for even more time in Middle Earth!

What else is going on this fall? Well, by now you’ve probably heard that Canadian short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature! As an 82-year-old who was first published at 37, she’s an inspiration to writers everywhere!

And I’d say she’s lived a pretty full life so far! Congrats!

I would love to read more of her work in the future (Alison over at Hardcovers and Heroines found a great list of short stories of Munro’s which you can read for free!), and I highly recommend “How I Met My Husband,” which is part of her collection Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.

And speaking of reading (which is pretty much all I speak of on this blog!), The Huffington Post conducted a survey of 1,000 American adults and found that 41% had not read a single book of fiction this past year! How utterly sad!

To combat this, HuffPo released a list yesterday of some of the benefits of reading: it decreases stress, keeps your brain sharp, helps you sleep, and eases depression! Good, because it looks like I need to read to overcome my depression after reading those poll results!

I’m currently 100 pages into my 14th book of the year, Awaken by Meg Cabot, so be on the lookout for my review in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Book Review: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

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Image via Goodreads

WARNING: If you have not read The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, do NOT read this review. SPOILER ALERT!

Rating: 3 out of 5 (the ending itself: 1 out of 5)

If you’re like me, you rushed right into Mockingjay because Catching Fire left on such a cliffhanger. Katniss destroyed the arena by shooting a weak spot in the force-field, and then was rescued by Haymitch and the District 13 rebels.

Unfortunately, Peeta was captured by the Capitol, and District 12 was obliterated in retaliation. Now the finale documents Katniss’ journey to rally the districts together, save Peeta, and kill President Snow. Sounds hard enough, until she starts doubting the rebels’ motives and questioning whether she’s being manipulated yet again.

It was extremely difficult for me to process this novel. I couldn’t sleep last night, because my mind was whirring with reflection. I decided that I have two opinions, one for the majority of the book and the other for the ending (the last 50 pages or so).

First, I enjoyed most of Mockingjay. Like the previous two in the series, I was riveted to the story. I had to be dragged away from it. I cared about the characters and wanted the best for all of them. The fear over what was happening to Peeta drove me just as crazy as Katniss, and I was equally as impatient to end the war and breath a well-deserved sigh of victory.

Well, that sigh of victory never came. As soon as the rebels I loved started dying off (especially Finnick), I knew that something was wrong. And when Prim was killed, I felt that any hope for poetic justice was also burnt to a crisp. This whole time I waited for Katniss to find her courage and bring Panem into a golden age, but I was sorely disappointed.

And before you start arguing that that was Collins’ whole point, that war destroys happy endings, that life isn’t fair, JUST STOP. I don’t want to hear it. I never said I needed a cliche happy ending, but I did need a sense of closure. Collins dangled hope in our faces, and then cruelly jerked it away at the end. I get it, war sucks, but there are books out there that address that message and still manage to leave the reader satisfied.

Case in point, Harry Potter. Imagine if the entire series built up to this epic battle between Harry and Voldemort, and then instead of destroying the villain from the inside out via Horcrux, Harry becomes hospitalized while Voldemort dies from choking on his own laugh. Harry misses the entire climax of the war, and when he wakes up, Ron’s dead, all his friends are shipped off to different countries, and he hooks up with Ginny not out of true love but because there’s nothing else better to do. Oh, and then he’s coerced into reproducing, bringing his children into a world that you feel hasn’t quite learned its lesson.

THAT’S HOW THE HUNGER GAMES ENDED.

If you’re not pissed, then either you enjoy feeling like a Dementor just sucked all the happiness out of your life or you don’t require enough from an author. I’ve loved every minute of the series, but just because Collins decided to take the “Sorry, life’s not rainbows and butterflies” escape route, I regret recommending this series to everyone around me. I would never wish that depression and frustration on anybody, but if you’ve already started reading the trilogy, hurry up and finish it so you can move on with your life.

I’ve read reviews by other hurt readers, and I agree with their points. Katniss was a total weakling in this novel: where was the girl on fire who defied the Capitol in her first games? Instead we get a girl who’s medicated and out of the loop most of the time. Sure, she’s only 17, but she had absolutely no agency whatsoever. In the end, she’s shoved back to District 12 while more corrupted adults tell her what to do, even who to choose–since Gale’s shipped off so unceremoniously to District 2 you don’t have to time to react.

I know that Katniss would pick Peeta regardless, after Gale most likely murdered her sister due to his obsession with violence. But it’s a default choice, like all the others she makes in Mockingjay. I understand that nobody would ever be the same after experiences like hers, but then you pull a Frodo and travel to a place where your pain won’t affect others, where you can live in true peace. Could you imagine Frodo marrying some hobbit and having kids like someone normal, after all he’s been through? (And yes, this argument also applies to Harry Potter, as I didn’t particularly like the Epilogue in Deathly Hallows either. But at least there will never be another Voldemort…I can’t say another President Snow or Coin wouldn’t rise again in Panem).

I also agree with readers who say that this series should have never been written in first person. Katniss is a pretty boring character in Mockingjay, and I would’ve appreciated insight into Peeta, Gale, even Prim, Johanna, or Finnick. I missed out on the end of the war because Katniss got herself turned into a fire-mutt–a rather lousy attempt to wrap things up. I couldn’t even cry over characters’ deaths, because the story wasn’t emotional enough to draw out my sympathy.

Overall, Mockingjay had redeeming qualities, unlike Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, but I felt extremely cheated anyway. I went to bed in a deep depression, but woke up angry. How dare Collins do this to her fanbase! In fact, I actually wouldn’t mind if the movie producers went in a completely different direction with this novel, because I know I would.

If you want a story about a corrupt alternate universe with characters that pull at your heart-strings and a story that changes your life in a sorrowful, but satisfying way, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro expresses true human emotion without sugarcoating it like Meyer or hacking it to pieces like Collins, and because of that, he is one of the authors whom I admire the most.

I’ll continue to look forward to The Hunger Games film, but with less excitement than before, because now I know how it will all end. I know I’ve ranted quite a bit, but I’d love to hear what you all think, whether you agree with me or not. Just don’t tell me to give it a second chance, because I promise you I won’t be reading this series again.

Book Review: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

Cover of "Catching Fire (The Second Book ...

Cover via Amazon

WARNING: If you have not read The Hunger Games, do NOT read this review. SPOILER ALERT!

Rating: 4 out of 5

When The Hunger Games ended, Katniss and Peeta had been spared in the Games after attempting to commit a double suicide when they were told that only one victor would survive, instead of the Gamemakers’ previous decision to make an exception that year and crown two victors.

Catching Fire picks up about six months later, as the two former tributes are preparing for their Victory Tour across the districts. Super awkward considering that they have to give speeches to the very families of the kids they killed. But even more awkward is the fact that they still have to pretend to be in love with each other, despite Katniss’ budding relationship with Gale back home. President Snow is not pleased with Katniss’ rebellions, both in the Games and afterwards, and he warns her that if she doesn’t start behaving, the consequences will be dire.

Of course, Snow only wants Katniss dead, especially when districts start uprising against the Capitol–using her and her mockingjay pin as the symbols of their resistance. So since this year will hold the Quarter Quell, an especially brutal Games celebrating another 25 years of oppression, Snow has just the plan in mind to keep the districts down: choose the tributes from the existing pool of victors–forcing Katniss and Peeta to enter the arena yet again.

I had been told that this sequel was not as good as the original, and although that’s true, it’s still an excellent book. Everything was new and exciting in The Hunger Games, but now we’re familiar with the world and are growing just as tired with the Capitol as the districts are. The pacing is not perfect, starting off a little too slow, then revving up as Katniss and Peeta compete once again. It’s a race to the finish, and although it took me awhile to complete the book, I read the last 130 pages in one sitting because I wanted so badly to find out who would win.

The ending is a definite cliffhanger, and I was left with so many questions. Of course, so does Katniss, and I appreciate Collins’ strategy to keep the reader in the dark with the characters–even though I’m just as frustrated to learn what’s going to happen!  All in all, it was a thrilling read, if just a pit stop on the way to the finale. I can’t wait to jump into Mockingjay!

Book Review: The Hunger Games

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

I know that I may be late on the bandwagon, given that Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was published in 2008, but since the film isn’t going to be released until March 23, 2012, I figured better late than never, right?

And boy, I was not disappointed. Usually, I can sense a bestseller right away: I read the Twilight saga over four years ago after hearing all the buzz, and I recommended it to my friends way before the first movie came out. Now, I’m not here to compare the two series in depth, because I haven’t read Collins’ sequels yet, but looking at the first novels of each series, I would say that The Hunger Games trumps Twilight in terms of writing prowess and originality, but Twilight still wins in the romance department (since Gale wasn’t physically present in The Hunger Games to make a true love triangle). But unless the next two books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, suck as hard as Breaking Dawn, I tentatively award The Hunger Games trilogy the winner of recent YA bestsellers.

But enough of vampires and werewolves. Time to talk about Panem, the post-apocalyptic North America that is broken up into 12 districts (the 13th being completely destroyed during a past uprising). In order to keep the common folk down, the Capitol has created the Hunger Games, an annual event which requires a boy and girl (ages 12-18) from each of the 12 districts to fight to the death on live television. The protagonist, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take her 12-year-old sister Prim’s place as the tribute from District 12. The baker’s son Peeta Mellark is also chosen, and the novel follows their struggle to stay alive in an arena where if the other children don’t kill you, starvation, killer wasps, and other surprises will.

Greek myth lovers will notice the resemblance to the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, which inspired Collins–as well as the author’s channel-surfing between a reality competition and footage of the Iraq War. Both inspirations are highlighted, as fantasy, rivalry, and violence merge. I was as grossly captivated by the Games as the citizens of Panem were, and I felt the same mixed feelings of victory and guilt as Katniss did whenever another tribute died. The writing is suspenseful, the scenes action-packed, and the message powerful and haunting.

I have very few complaints, other than the pacing was slow at times and some of the tributes’ deaths were anti-climatic. Overall, though, it was an excellent read and worthy of all its fame. Now I’m like every other fan and putting a lot of faith in the movie, which as of now, the cast and alleged PG-13 rating are making me nervous. The kids were dirty and emaciated, and the fights were brutal, and I would hate it if a bunch of Hollywood heart-throbs watered down this gritty story.

It’s called the “Hunger Games” for a reason, guys! (IMAGE CREDIT: JEFF RIEDEL AND EW)

I’d love to start reading Catching Fire right now, but I have to pack for a much-needed beach vacation! I won’t be blogging over the weekend, but if you’ve read The Hunger Games, let me know what you thought of it, and you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, it’s not too late! With Harry Potter finished and Twilight coming to an end, this series will be the next big thing–trust me!