Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2

Image via ComingSoon.net

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Well…where do I start? Ever since I finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mockingjay on screen. My initial enthusiasm for this bandwagon has unfortunately faded into begrudging acceptance of the end.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the film’s production. I’ve enjoyed “The Hunger Games” cast, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, both of whom did not have near enough screen time in this finale. Instead, all the attention is turned towards Katniss and her crew’s mission to assassinate President Snow.

Collins’ magic was in the arenas, and without them, all that’s left is a sub-par dystopian tale in which no one really learns their lesson. I wrote a major rant about this book, so naturally I went into the theater with low expectations.

On the plus side, the film was very well done, and I enjoyed the trek to the Capitol as the rebels dodged all the various booby traps. One of the aspects that frustrated me about the novel is that Katniss’ point-of-view is very limited. However, once you’re out of her head, you can be more engaged with the other characters and the action-packed plot in front of them.

Despite the thrills and suspense, I felt pretty meh about this movie. Not surprising to the fans of the books, the ending of this film was depressing as hell. Beloved characters were lost, gone in the blink of an eye. Although the bad guys get their just desserts, you don’t walk away feeling accomplished. And just like in the novel, the story’s epilogue seemed artificial and forced.

I’m glad to put this series behind me, and I can only hope that Hollywood has had its fill of dystopias, at least for a while. Of course, this is doubtful, given the vast fortune that’s at stake. Lionsgate entertainment vice chairman Michael Burns revealed that he’s interested in making Hunger Games prequels featuring previous years in the arena. As much as I’d like to see a young Haymitch become a victor, I agree with Forbes:

If Lionsgate is indeed determined to give the fans what they want, what they risk doing is basically turning the franchise into an annual (or bi-annual) fictionalized version of the Hunger Games for multiplex consumption. They will have turned the franchise into a fictionalized “to the death” version of American Gladiators, which would basically complete the transformation from “explicit critique of bread-and-circuses” to “prime example of bread-and-circuses.”

As a fan who went from excitement to disillusionment, I just want to put this story to bed and move on with my life. Instead, I’ll have to submit to watching this cash cow get turned into one of Collins’ mutts: a zombie-like, demented version of itself.

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My Most Anticipated Movie Adaptations of 2015

In my last blog, I shared the most anticipated books of 2015, and today I wanted to extend the discussion to film adaptations. There may be few original ideas in Hollywood, but as long as there are good books out there, we’ll always have good movies!

Here are the films that I cannot wait to blog about this year:

Image via io9

1. “Victor Frankenstein,” release date October 2. Two of the UK’s biggest heartthrobs are set to star in this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. Directed by Paul McGuigan, James McAvoy plays Victor Von Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe plays his assistant Igor. This movie will act as a prequel from Igor’s perspective about how he met Frankenstein when he was just a medical student. I have to admit that I have not read this classic monster tale, but I’m intrigued by how these actors will bring this story to life!

Image via Hunger-Games.net

2. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2,” release date November 20. Finally, The Hunger Games saga comes to an end; it’s just too bad that I hated the ending. Despite that, I’ve been impressed so far by the films, and I look forward to seeing Panem’s rebellion on the Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth have done an excellent job playing Katniss, Peeta, and Gale respectively, and I’m sure fans around the world will be breaking box office records when this finale hits theaters.

Image via Heavy

3. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” release date February 13. Okay, I’m not saying that this will be a good movie. But hear me out: since the book was so crappy, isn’t there no way to go but up? Even if Jamie Dornan looks more creepy than cool, and there were rumors of lackluster on-screen chemistry, I still can’t peel my eyes away from a train wreck waiting to happen. It won’t be nearly erotic enough for fans with its “R” rating, but at least we can look forward to Beyonce’s sexy rendition of “Crazy in Love!”

Well, that’s a diverse selection of movie adaptations! Which ones will you see or skip?

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1

Image via ComingSoon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Over Thanksgiving break I watched “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1” more out of obligation than anticipation. I’ve been vocal about how much I despised the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy, so this movie is just one step before the major letdown.

That being said, I enjoyed the film more than I thought that I would. Even though it stops short after Peeta’s rescue mission, it was engaging enough during the buildup to keep things interesting.

I also liked the casting of the new characters: Alma Coin, president of District 13 (played by Julianne Moore), and the district’s Roman-inspired squad consisting of Cressida, Messalla, Castor, and Pollux. I’ve always loved Natalie Dormer (of “Game of Thrones” and “The Tudors” fame), and I look forward to her role as Cressida growing in “Pt. 2.”

Similar to “Gone Girl,” this movie emphasizes how media can influence events by spreading certain messages via mass communication. The emerging rebellion on the Capitol is not nearly as important as the cat-and-mouse game that Katniss is forced to play with President Snow through her various propaganda videos and the district’s hacking into the Capitol’s telecom system.

As for Katniss herself, I much preferred her character on-screen than in the book, because readers of Mockingjay are limited to her point-of-view–which, let’s be honest, totally sucks because she’s a crazed, drugged-up trauma survivor suffering from PTSD. She’s still that same person, but fortunately she must share screen time with all the other characters who are actually getting things done.

And despite his infrequent appearances, I give major props to Josh Hutcherson for deftly expressing Peeta’s torturous mental and physical decline. Buzzfeed insightfully reported that “Mockingjay: Pt. 1” challenges Hollywood stereotypes by inverting the “damsel in distress” trope. Here, Peeta is the vulnerable victim and Katniss is the action hero who must save him.

In fact, I would argue that all the characters in this saga are more nuanced and multi-dimensional than the plot as a whole. I may hate the way that Suzanne Collins ends this chess game of hers, but damn do I love the pawns. I can only hope that these amazing actors can evolve in such a way that transcends the fate that awaits them in the final installment.

Quick December Check-In!

Especially after a very long weekend!

Hi everyone!

Just wanted to check-in and reassure you that I’m still here! It’s been a busy Thanksgiving break, but I’m looking forward to the dust settling and getting back into the swing of things! I’ve missed blogging!

Now that November is over, I can finally put NaNoWriMo behind me. My final word count barely topped 19,000 words, so it’s pretty obvious that 2014 just wasn’t my year. However, I learned a ton, and I still made progress on my novel! Hoping that I can gain some momentum, keeping the creative juices flowing this month and into the new year!

As for my book quota, I’ve been much more successful at reading than writing. I’ve completed the audiobook version of Yes Please by Amy Poehler and will post my review later this week. In the meantime, I’m working my way through my 20th book of 2014: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Looks like I’m ahead of the game of finishing my reading goal for this year!

I also watched “Mockingjay: Part 1″ and “Gone Girl” over the holiday, so be on the lookout for my movie reviews this month! This fall has been an excellent season for film adaptations of books, and 2014 will end with a bang with the final installment of “The Hobbit” trilogy! Can’t wait!

So while I try to find the time for all these blog posts, let me know how you’re doing! Read any good books or see any fun movies? And what are your plans for December? It’s been forever, so catch me up!

Book Review: Reached

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Good lord, am I glad that I’m finally finished with this series. Ally Condie’s dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached) started off great, but I seriously have no idea why the finale is rating an average of four stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

The reason why it took me almost six weeks to complete this novel was that it was 512 pages of booorrrriiiinnnnnnggggg. I can summarize the entire saga like this: Protagonist Cassia Reyes, who lives in a totalitarian state where the Society decides everything for you–including who you marry and when you die, joins a rebellion called the Rising with her two love interests Ky and Xander. In the end, after a catastrophic plague, they realize that the Rising is just the Society with a different name and eventually learn how to rebuild their lives and make decisions for themselves.

Does this sound original at all to you?! Condie couldn’t even give her factions unique names! Unfortunately, The Hunger Games has unleashed the floodgates of mediocre young-adult dystopian fiction, and the Matched series is right up there with that of Divergent for being utterly disappointing. At least Mockingjay elicited anger out of me! Reached definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

And don’t get me started on the so-called love triangle. I have never witnessed a duller character than Xander. The poor boy never had a chance, and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably one of those girls who can manufacture an entire pseudo-relationship with a crush with whom she’s had only one conversation.

In fact, all three of Condie’s main characters are total squares. They’re so bland that when I was reading each chapter, I often couldn’t tell whose point-of-view it was.That’s one of the top sins of writing: if a reader can’t even differentiate between your characters’ perspectives, then you need to go back to your sub-par MFA program and demand your money back.

I know that I’m harsh, but I’m just sick and tired of these dystopian books gaining a bunch of unwarranted hype. The problem is that it feels like a bait and switch: the debut novels start off just strong enough to get a bandwagon going, so even if the sequels are lackluster and the finales are absolute crap, well too bad because you’re already too invested in the stories and feel obligated to finish them.

I think that another reason why Condie particularly rubbed me the wrong way was that it was obvious that she was trying SO hard to be deep. In the beginning, I appreciated the allusions to poetry, especially since I love Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But I honestly lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes trudging through this saccharine prose.

Instead of being subtle, the symbolism hits you so hard in the face it gives you whiplash. The navel-gazing over the “morals” of the story just came off simplistic and self-righteous: the way Condie tells you what to think rather than letting you interpret the message for yourself makes her almost a meta-Society official taking away your autonomy.

More importantly, it means that she still has a long way to go before becoming a renowned novelist. Given how she’d yammer on about the loss of culture and the destruction of the environment, I thought it was only a matter of time before she burst out of the pages screaming, “But what about the children?!”

So let’s do ourselves a favor and let this genre take a breather. Dystopian literature has reached full saturation, and now it’s all starting to suck. If you can’t get enough of big governments doing bad things, go read 1984 and Orwell will show you how’s it’s done!

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!

Book Review: One Day

Cover of "One Day"

Image via Amazon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I read One Day by David Nicholls a year ago, after reading a stellar review in People magazine. This book, it claimed, was the next buzzworthy thing. And now that the film version starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess will be released tomorrow, the buzz has been building once again.

The story’s design is its best attribute. The novel follows the relationship of Emma and Dexter, two Brits who graduated from Edinburgh University on July 15, 1988. Each chapter takes place on that very day, for twenty years, so you learn about their lives in only a handful of moments.

Emma’s career builds slowly, moving from waitressing to teaching to writing novels, whereas Dexter skyrockets as a famous TV host, but then loses popularity and slips down the entertainment social ladder. He also suffers from drug and alcohol abuse, and Emma grows weary of picking up his pieces.

Nicholls is a wonderful writer, and although Emma is much more likable, you find yourself yearning for their re-connection. Beware though, this is not a happily-ever-after story. The couple spends most of their years apart, with other people, and the ending is abruptly tragic. I was not as dissatisfied with the end as I was with Mockingjay, probably because you get more attached after three books than one. Also, Nicholls never makes life overly hopeful or optimistic, just true to reality. And reality is full of unhappy relationships, emotional baggage, and bad timing.

I was glad to hear that the author was also in charge of writing the film’s screenplay. I hate that they cast Anne Hathaway (even though she is excellent in her own right), because her attempt at a British accent is horrible. I’ll still see the film eventually, but I know that I better bring my tissues because this one ought to be a cry-fest.

If you’d like a unique love story and don’t mind a sad, literally-hit-you-out-of-nowhere ending, then pick up this book. And if you see the movie, tell me what you thought!