Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guest Review: The Hunger Games (movie)

The Hunger Games movie has been released.  Has it satisfied its intended audience?  To find out, I've asked teenager heartthrob and LEGO maniac, G. A. Nightstalker to present this review...

The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America. Personally, I have assumed that this was a zombie apocalypse which started in North America, then moved to some other continent. Then the survivors created Panem (Latin or somethin’ for bread), with the Capitol, which controlled the area, and its thirteen districts. Just remember that a zombie apocalypse is not actually part of the storyline, that’s just an assumption on my part.

After a while, the districts rebelled against the Capitol. The rebellion was put down, District 13 destroyed; and to remind the districts that the Capitol was in control, the tradition of the Hunger Games began, where they would take a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the 12 districts. These teenagers, known as tributes, would face off against each other in an arena, until there was only one survivor out of the 24.

I read The Hunger Games a few years ago, around the time when it came out, and so I was really hyped up about the movie. The trailer was amazing, and everyone got tickets for the midnight showing. A few kids at my school expected it to be a letdown, which brought my spirits down a bit, but I was still excited.

Then I went to the midnight showing and saw the movie.

The acting was simply stunning, better than most in movies I’ve seen. Each person got their act right. Effie Trinket was hilarious, always getting upset about the most trivial things. “Hey! That’s mahogany!” Haymitch was funny, too, and his personality was exactly as I’d imagined him while reading the book. Katniss was serious and didn’t talk much, which was perfect, and Peeta really was good at getting people to like him.

Unlike some other movies (Percy Jackson, The Last Airbender, etc.) this movie didn’t stray from its origins, the book written by Suzanne Collins. When I heard that Collins would be working on set and writing the script, that just made me even more excited. Getting Collins to help with the movie was a very smart move.

Now the editing is where it could have been done a bit better. While the shaky camera filming captured the way everything was all over the place and complex, sometimes things were a bit too shaky. At points, it was hard to see exactly what was going on, and it seemed like someone trying to throw the camera at the actors. Never throw a camera at actors, by the way. They don’t like that.

The way that suspense built up throughout certain parts was perfect, and though some parts were left out of the book, I think that this movie was really good.  It makes you feel empathy with the characters and sympathy for them; it’ll make you laugh. It replaces The Dark Knight and Inception as my favorite movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it now!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review - The Hunger Games (the book)

You know a book is good when its name is much more known than the author.  I suppose that's every author's dream--to write a book that stands on its own and becomes a standard household name.  So popular, this book will be released as a movie later this week.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins follows Katniss Everdeen as she enters the games.  She lives in District 12, the lowest of twelve.  Every year, each district must provide two tributes: one male, one female to compete to the death.  The last one standing wins his or her district a year of increased food rations.  So all Katniss has to do is outlive twenty-three opponents.  Sound easy enough?

The story is exciting.  The characters are all different and fun.  These two aspects alone give this book its uncommon success.  The writing itself is just average.  You won't find many quotables beyond what the characters say.  The writing mostly does a good job of staying out of the way so the reader can enjoy the story (a technique I'm good at, myself).

Yet the book does have its slow parts.  Most notably, the first few pages.  Many incomplete sentences.  Even some character's quotes.  When I first picked up the book, I fell asleep around page 4.  If I didn't already know what a smashing success the book was, I might have stopped.  When I asked my kids and friends about it, they replied, "Yeah, all three books start out really slow, but then they pick up quickly."  What's funny is that when the action picks up, the incomplete sentences disappear.  And when the action wanes and we see a little respite, the incomplete sentences come back en masse.  I found myself wishing Collins had done just one more round of editing to smooth some of these out and improve the flow.

And I think back to the advice we aspiring writers are given: Grab your readers on the first page.  Perhaps this is easily overcome by an awesome story that everyone wants to read.

Collins chooses to write in first person present, which means you see the action exactly as it's occurring from Katniss's point of view.  This also means that you don't know if she's going to die or not.  You know it's possible for the book to end this way: "I'm dying.  They won.  Those jerks!"  It's takes a while to get used to this, but then you don't notice it anymore.  The most challenging part of this technique is dealing with the passage of time, and Collins does well.

This is a YA book, so go ahead and let your kids read it.  The book is graphic without going into every last gory detail.  The dialogue is contentious without resorting to vulgar language.  The book concentrates mainly on the story and how people react, as all good books should.

I enjoyed reading this book (after getting past the first chapter), and I'm looking forward to the movie that comes out later this week.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Postmortem: The Firm and Terra Nova

Last week, FOX announced its intentions to drop Terra Nova.  And last month, NBC semi-canceled The Firm.  Yet, for both shows, the end has not yet come.

Terra Nova is likely to be picked up either by another network or by Netflix.  I'll never understand why a network would choose to cancel a profitable show, but should we expect less from FOX, the network that screwed over several good shows such as Firefly?  I would love to see another entity make money off of Terra Nova and show FOX how it's done.

Granted, Terra Nova wasn't perfect.  It had inconsistent delivery.  It's only awesome episode was the very first one.  The rest of the episodes held my attention, and the finale left me wanting for more.  But with most of the energy spent in building the world, shows like this don't become great until the later seasons when the world has already been established.

This show targeted the family crowd.  This guaranteed no cool gruesome dino-deaths (except for what happened off the screen).  But it also guaranteed the writers would spend more time in developing story.

The science was questionable.  For example, one episode had this animal being attracted by an inaudible 32.8 Hertz sound.  Any amateur scientist/musician (at least one who's studied how to tune) knows this is the lowest C on the piano - easily heard by the human ear.  I think they meant 32.8 megaHertz.  If they do continue the show, I hope they'll do more research and stop bombarding us with bad science.

Then again, the science is just icing on the cake--something to help make everything look cool.  Once or twice, they used science to drive the plot (such as their iPads needing a very rare expensive battery, which caused the kids to get into interesting situations), but on the most part the characters drove the plot, and that's what I liked about the show.

Whoever picks up Terra Nova: I'll keep watching.  This show has potential, and it would be great to see where Season 2 leads.  Buy the show!

The Firm, on the other hand has no chance at all in being renewed anywhere.  Or at least it shouldn't have another chance.  The show is practically cancelled by NBC, but since it was sold so cheaply they may still show all 22 episodes (now showing on Saturday).  Though, it's not being shown this coming Saturday as NBC experiments with seeing if it can get higher numbers with a different show.  We may not get to see the remaining twelve episodes.

I only made it through "Chapter Eight" and I couldn't take it any more.  When I wrote my review of the first episode, I had high hopes, but my main concern came to fruition.  Each episode continued the bipolar plot device: one part chasing/guns/conspiracy and one part "case of the week."  I suppose this device is fine when used properly, but when one part sucks, the whole device fails.

The first episode began six weeks in the future showing Mitch McDeere on the run.  Each successive "chapter" brought us one week closer.  Every week, Mitch had a different yet totally unrelated case (which could be hit or miss on the interesting scale).  Each "chapter" gave us another piece of the puzzle as to what pushed Mitch to run.  "Chapter Eight" brought us to the present, and the revelations helped me to realize that the chasing/guns/conspiracy story basically sucks.

Why did Mitch run and think that people were out to kill him?  Because he saw a couple of suspicious looking characters and his imagination (serendipitously) went away with it.  And when his partner sprung him out of jail, Mitch decided people really aren't trying to kill him?  And things went back to normal?  Yeah--right!

Plus, did Helfer and her gang really think (as competent lawyers) that McDeere would believe that idiotic drug addiction cover-up story?  Did they really not think McDeere might have made a copy of those numbers?  And would McDeere and company really have gone that long without realizing those 9-digit numbers might be employer identification numbers?

With "Chapter Eight" bringing us to present, I expected an episode entirely devoted to the chasing/guns/conspiracy, but they still had to get in their "case of the week."  Then I realized, that's what the show is really about--those "cases of the week."  All that stuff we loved in the decades-old book and movie is nothing but glue to take us from one episode to the next.

I loved all the acting by McDeere and his team.  They actually had some good chemistry going.  But I still can't stand Helfer's attempt of acting.  I can't stand the idiotic setup of the chasing/guns/conspiracy story.  It moves too slowly and relies too heavily on competent people making idiotic decisions and missing simple solutions.  If I had time to watch more episodes, I would, but I don't.  I figure someone can tell me how it ends.

Update 7/16/2012: Evidently The Firm has garnered a sizable following, and several are checking to see if anyone else will pick up the show.  I know I reamed it above, but I sympathize with you guys.  I know what it's like to lose a favorite show.  And like I said above, Team McDeere is full of some fine actors.  But unfortunately, as of today, there is no news that this show will be saved by anyone.  I wish you luck, though.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Write 1 Sub 1 - January and February

A belated bragging report here...

Since July 2011, I've been trying to meet this Write 1 Sub 1 challenge, which is to write one story and submit one story each month.  I've had mixed success over the past few months.  Overall, it's been a boon in helping me get some stories finished and out to the editors.  When my depression bout hit in November, I stopped writing altogether, so I missed a couple of months.  These last two months, I met the challenge, but have been slow in bragging.  I'm almost back up to 100%!

In January, I wrote "The Rainbow Flush" and submitted "The Depths of Inner Space."

In February, I wrote "The Jesse Flag" and submitted "When Time Flows West."