Archive | March, 2012

Holy Hunger Games, Batman! A Book VS Movie Review

24 Mar

May the odds be ever in your favor.

This phrase should be a familiar one to any of you out there who had the pleasure of reading Suzanne Collin’s book, The Hunger Games. And even more familiar to you non-readers out there who have been recently bombarded with advertisements for the new film based on the novel.  However, the odds will definitely not be in your favor, if you see this movie before first familiarizing yourself with the novel.

Though the movie got nothing but whining and mainly unpleasant reviews yesterday morning–my friends and I had our minds set on going. But once in the theater, lights dim and room packed with eager faces, I couldn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. Then–the camera had a seizure. The opening scene introduces Katniss Everdeen’s home in District 12. The problem was–that apparently the camera man was brand new, and had never heard of a Tripod. The opening scene, which should have been fairly calm, just setting the scene, was so jumpy and chopped-looking that I felt momentarily cross-eyed.

However, after a few moments, the overly bouncing camera style improved slightly, and presented to the audience a very, Schindler’s List, feeling moment: The Reaping. Filmed in a toned done color scheme, and with terrified children lined up according to age and height all in drab, almost unformed “best clothes”–I could only compare their small, frightened faces to images from Nazi Detention Camps. I loved this parallel. A lone oppressive government, crushing the spirit of it’s”underdogs” as Snow calls them later in the film, is very much reminiscent of the Nazi Regime.

Fast forward to the main event–the blood, tears and gore of the event known as, The Hunger Games. What is the Hunger Games you may ask? A brutal, fight to the death between 24 children. If that’s not enough to make you ask–WHAT?–then you have no feelings. Our journey continues to follow Katniss, who volunteered to save her little sister, Primrose from having to fight, as she tries to impress the public of Panam. Why? Because this sick and twisted “game” has Sponsors of course. Not only do these children have to worry about the other “tributes”, but also, how to survive a harsh and contrived wilderness environment and how to impress “Sponsors” that will pay to send them parachuted gifts in the wilderness that could ultimately save their life.

How does Katniss survive? By playing up the Romance card with fellow district 12 Tribute, Peeta Meelak of course. Now, here is around the time where things will get hazy for all of you non-readers out there. As the movie has a time limit, you are not given the amount of information needed to establish how emotionally torn and how difficult this whole thing is for our leading lady, Katniss. The relationship instead, feels flat and more inauthentic than I believe it should have felt. Any non-reader could have easily brushed aside most of the moments that should have been establishing relationships in this film, including the relationship between Gale and Katniss, which is shown in small reaction shots. As someone who read the books over a year ago, I laughed a little at these shots, because I knew how awful the whole thing was. Non-readers may not have understood why this was happening and found it generally funny due to awkwardness. In fact, the whole segment of the movie while Katniss tries to survive the games would feel confusing and almost in genuine or over-the-top if I hadn’t read the novel. The movie lacks the proper introduction or analysis of characters that you get in the novel, so the kids chasing each other around feels more like Lord of the Flies, than really intimidating.(Though still very much unnerving)

The finale is also a real miss-out for anyone who hadn’t read the book. Mutts or mutants, are never really explained, so the giant man-eating dog-creatures that chase Katniss and Peeta, and eat a few other players, are just not as impressive in the film. In the novel, it is brought to light that these creatures resemble fallen Tributes as if they were made from parts of them. Both grim and terrifying in the novel, these dog-creatures fall short in the film when they are supposed to be a strong finale.

All and all, I liked the movie. It wasn’t nearly as poorly done as all the critics seemed to imply, as long as you can get past the bad camera-angles. It helps too, I think, that I had read the novels. For once, I felt that this movie was geared toward the avid-reader, putting those out of the loop, out of favor.

Advertisements

An Outing for the History Books

13 Mar

Lame as it might sound, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Boston?

It might be the Commons:the expansive tree-lined gardens smack-dab in the heart of the city, or it might be the trains that run like a heartbeat beneath the streets–but for me–Harvard always comes to mind. That’s right. Harvard. The beautiful, old brick-lined hallowed halls of learning. I mean, they don’t ask Bostonians to say “Harvard yard” for nothing

Even though I know I’m nowhere near  a Harvard-level of schooling, there is something refreshing about strolling the school grounds this time of year. People mill about as a jumble of students, tourists and oddballs like me who just seem lost through the slowly greening yards. Professors looking scattered and hurried storm through crowds like angry rhinos, scattering people like terrified birds.

Harvard is a rare stop for me, making yesterday a particularly rare treat. An invitation from my boyfriend and his friend, Steve, to the Harvard Museum of Natural History was intriguing enough to draw me past my usual Park Street Station stop right after work. In the confusing rabble of Harvard station, they awaited me, and together we traveled through Harvard Square and into the inner courtyards of Harvard College.  Steve led the way, having visited this place before, and we were quickly at our destination.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is at 26 Oxford Street in Cambridge. It is a tall, pointed brick building (though short in comparison to most other buildings around it) with bold brass letters stating “Harvard Museum”. Upon entering, you are first greeted by two fossilized skeletons on either side in the foyer. Straight ahead are the desks to get in, and after paying $7 with our student Id’s: we were on our way to the third floor. A freakishly tall skeleton, bird in appearance ( reminding me immediately of Kevin from Up ) greets visitors as they reach the landing.The bird from Pixar's Up You appear to be in the gift shop first, making things feel a little backward. As the boys had a mission for their Bio class, I was given free reign to explore as I saw fit while they furiously scribbled answers on question sheets.

If you’re like me, and you’re fascinated by animals (living or dead) then this place is for you. If not, well–don’t bother.I was amazed at the range of animal specimens on display. Extinct and living, big and small–all were presented in tasteful and informative displays throughout the many halls.

If you are an animal rights activist–please do not visit this museum. It will horrify you.

Frankly, I was surprised by how not-bothered I was by the countless numbers of taxidermy and pickled animals on display once curiosity set in. Bats in all arrays of size and characteristics were pinned up to display species variations. Beside them, beautiful and colorful insects, jarred lizards and brightly colored birds. One entire room seemed to be more like a large hunting trophy room, filled with animals that almost still felt alive as their plastic eyes followed your from their glass cases. Their sizes ranged from sparrows and mice to elephants and even a towering male giraffe.

My favorite hall by far though, was filled with bones. Fossils to be exact. Not just of dinosaurs (though there were a few) as is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of fossils, but also of former mammals. A particularly large extinct sloth skeleton gave me chills, just from the sheer size of the creature. And I was in awe at their nearly complete skeleton of Kronosaurous, a whale-like dinosaur-ish creature. I was disappointed that we had come so late in the day, and I couldn’t take more time to go through the place. But all and all, I was pleased with the visit.

If you’re looking for a cheap, brain-building, quiet day out: I would definitely recommend the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s to die for! (har-har)

Movie Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

6 Mar

Little people, big worldWhen I was fifteen, I found myself in my parents basement, mouth-agape at the television screen as I witnessed my very first Miyazaki Movie. It was called Spirited Away, and I have yet to find a movie so aptly named since. The animation was smooth and classic-looking. Bright colors, vividly memorable and lovable characters. I laughed, I cried–I was in love.  Turning to my friend Ally at the time, I saw the same awe and wonder in her face as I felt must have been on mine.

Ever since that night, when I took a risk at Blockbuster in renting Spirited Away, I have been absolutely enamored with any Miyazaki movie I have had the chance to watch. Even now, in my small collection of DVDs I have collected titles like Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Sky. Along with lesser known titles like Whispers of the Heart and my most beloved, Spirited Away, I have absorbed each one and cherished it for all that it was worth. Each movie I had seen held a certain wonder for me that I can only compare to opening the cover of a new fiction novel and delving into the rich imagery only otherwise found in your imagination.

Naturally, when I caught wind of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli’s new movie, The Secret World of Arrietty–I knew I had to see it.  Dutifully, my boyfriend obliged me, and together this past weekend we held our breath in the dim of the theaters and prepared to be wowed. Approximately four minutes into the movie, I felt my boyfriend’s head nodding against my shoulder. He had fallen asleep. And, to my great despair: I found I couldn’t blame him.How had this all gone so wrong? And is it wrong to blame Disney?

The Secret World of Arrietty is a story based on the children’s book, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It’s a whimsical sort of fiction novel about the lives of tiny people who refer to themselves simply as “Borrowers”, due to the way in which they survive: Living by “Borrowing” from human “beans”. Little things like, a cube of sugar, could last a borrower months due to their size and humans wouldn’t even notice they’re missing. The key to this plot? Borrowers cannot be seen by the human “Beans” or else they have to move. Why? Because once a human “bean” is curious, it can’t be stopped.

This plot should be familiar enough to anyone in my generation. Recognize this movie poster? The Borrowers Featuring John Goodman Well you should. It came out in the 90’s and seemed to plague my childhood for years. Every time I turned on the television, John Goodman’s mustachioed face would be peering back at me as he searched for “the little people” who lived under the floor boards of his house. But, I had hoped, due to my high esteem for Miyazaki, that he would save this film-failure with his beautiful animation and charming characters. I was very disappointed to find it otherwise. In fact, the only thing that even really resembled what I love most about Studio Ghibli films was the animation style.

The film itself had an anti-climatic plot. Arrietty is spotted by the sickly human “bean” Shawn, who then attempts to befriend her. Really, all he does is eventually lead the crazy housekeeper, Hana, to their hiding place and force Arrietty and her parents to leave the house. Then, he proceeds to talk about death with a smile on his face. It was so grim that I recall looking around the theater to see if there were any actual children in our showing, curious as to how traumatic Shawn’s bizarre monologue had been on them.

Usually, humor is littered strategically throughout Miyazaki movies, but the only laughs I continually found in this film were due to the frantic antics of the crazy housekeeper, Hana. In fact, I think between Hana and Arrietty;s mother, they were the only interesting characters for me throughout the whole film. Hana is odd, with her constant mumblings to herself and her obsession with proving that the “little people” exist. She also has an epic battle with a crow and a slipper that I couldn’t help but enjoy. While Arrietty’s mother is a train wreck of a person. She’s constantly worried that her husband and daughter are going to be caught while Borrowing, and makes laughable little quips throughout the movie that made me glad she was there.

Arrietty’s character is pretty bland as far as heroines go. I had a hard time finding anything relate-able or admirable about her, and more often found myself annoyed that she was so predictable. Her character is pretty much the standard rebellious youth who doesn’t do exactly what her parents say and ultimately gets herself  and others into unpleasant situations. Like getting her mother trapped in a jar, for instance. There didn’t even seem to be any development for her for the entire film. She essentially was who she was from the get go.

Shawn was a little more interesting as he showed at least a smidgeon of development. He arrives sickly and grim and in the end finds a little ray of hope with the help of the tiny Borrowers. (As to how, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I was jabbing my boyfriend in the ribs for snoring at that pivotal moment.)

The other odd thing about this Miyazaki film, that I hadn’t much thought about until my boyfriend pointed it out, was the lack of driving music. Usually, Ghibli films are scored with beautiful music that drives your emotions accordingly. Joe Hisaishi, is the one who usually works on these sorts of films; filling the film with laughter or sorrow depending on a note change. Usually, these melodies are upbeat and memorable–as they should be. Music is a driving force behind a film, even if you don’t realize it. It helps direct the audience’s emotion in a film. With The Secret World of Arrietty, there only seemed to be a few moments of music, punctuated by long eerie silences. These silences were often filled with creepy house sounds in stereo. I suppose this was to help the audience feel smaller and more borrower-sized, but it was a poor choice.

Ultimately, I don’t recommend you waste your money on seeing this in theaters. In fact, if you don’t mind subtitles, there are definitely anime websites online that you can watch this movie on for free.

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

1 Mar

So, in spite of being somewhat stifled and inspiration-less on my trip to Marco Island–I did manage to get a fair amount of reading done. I had brought with me the third and final book in the Wicked Series–but never got around to finishing it. Instead, as I wandered the island with my younger sister one day, we came upon a bookstore called Sunshine Booksellers. Of course, I had to wander in to my sister’s great displeasure.

As I poked through some of the clearance fiction racks, and meandered meaninglessly through the locally made birthday cards–I spotted it. A bright yellow paperback, brand new and perched on the Best Seller’s rack as if it were awaiting my arrival. Eagerly, I made my purchase and spent the next three days pouring over Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help.

Now, I had already previously seen the movie. (And yes, I know. That goes entirely against the unwritten rules of books versus movies.) I hadn’t even realized (shamefully enough) that The Help was a novel until after the credits on the movie were rolling, and I was sniffling my way through a box of tissues.

Now, with the time and the means to read The Help, I buried myself in the folds of it’s new book smell and continue to be glad I did so. If I took nothing else away from this powerfully written read it’s this: Be true to what you feel is right, no matter the consequences.

The Help focuses on three main characters: Skeeter, Minny and the leading lady Aibileen. What I found most wonderful about this novel and the way in which it was written, was how distinct each voice is from one another. Though Stockett gives you the courtesy of labeling each section with who will be your guiding voice–she really didn’t have to. Aibileen has a distinctly written narration, reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn. Her narration is written  primarily phonetically, but not over done to the point of being offensive to the eye. Skeeter is written in a very standard sort of style, that is easy to follow, and easy to relate to. And Minny seems a wonderful combination of both, reflecting her straight-to-the point personality. I had little to no difficulty following each narrative as they smoothly transitioned from voice to voice and moment to moment.

The story draws the reader into the times of segregation in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen and Minny are both black maids working for white families, while Skeeter is a young white woman trying to land herself in a writing career. Skeeter had been raised by a black maid for much of her life, by a woman very similar in station to Aibileen and Minny. As if by fate, Skeeter is drawn to Aibileen for help with a cleaning article she manages to become hired for, for the local newspaper. However, this soon blossems into a much more dangerous friendship when Skeeter begins to ask questions not proper for the time. Such as, “Do you like being a maid?” Or” How do you feel about having your own bathroom?” and hoping for a serious answer.

With the help of Aibileen, Minny and later many other black maids, Skeeter begins crafting the most scandalous novel of her time. But, what they’re doing could get them fired–or worse, killed. You are lead very different paths with these three narrators and can experience multiple sides in this hard-to-put-down novel.

Aibileen’s story, I found, was especially heart-breaking. Living alone, she cares for white babies until they are no longer “color-blind.” Moving from job to job. Her own child suffered a terrible fate, and she constantly mourns him. We follow her in raising a little white girl called, Mae Mobley or Baby Girl. The bond between the two was enough to make me tear up on more than a few occasions, as you the reader watch her raise the little girl to try to be confident in herself in an otherwise cold-hearted household.

Minny’s story is full of children, but not white children. She has a considerable amount of her own, as well as an abusive husband. Minny is not compliant and soft-mannered as Aibileen, but outspoken and fiery. Her sarcastic narration was the source of many a laugh while reading this novel. She brings the light into the story, keeping it moving when the situation gets too heavy. Even when facing a terrible situation, such as her new boss suffering from an abortion while she is working, her narration proved somewhat humorous and always human.

Skeeter’s story is one of discovery. A college graduate; she dreams of becoming a writer. While the rest of her friends are already married and having children, Skeeter is working for the local magazine. Her mother, who is gravely ill, is constantly putting pressure on her to find a husband as is “proper” for a woman at the time. Skeeter begins the journey to discover who her parents really are as seen from others eyes,how the rest of the town sees her, what romance is and what it means to love and lose, and most importantly, what the relationship between The Help and their bosses are like.

I devoured this book is three days, and would find myself reading long into the night until my eyes stung. This novel was skillfully written, beautifully narrated and well-researched. I was on the edge of my seat, worried for these women while they worked on a novel that would reveal the horrors and beauty of the relationships between the Help and their bosses.The best and the worst. What was most moving to me, was that in spite of all the odds these women faced–they did not back down. A lesson, I think, anyone could take from.

Thank goodness for reading