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Book Review: Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  spoilers for all three books ahead.  It might also help you appreciate this critique to know my thoughts on the rest of the trilogy:

Review:  The Hunger Games
Review:  Catching Fire

And so we come to an end on this, my journey into the much hyped and loved trilogy set to replace Twilight and Harry Potter as the youth franchise.  I am glad to have finally read the books, if only because I hate being spoilered for things and the internet was becoming a mine field in that regard.  That said, I don’t anticipate ever reading these books again, nor would I recommend them.  This will set me apart from the vast majority, but then again, there are millions of Twilight fans, so make of that what you will.

I had high hopes for Mockingjay after the improvement in Collins’ work in Catching Fire.  I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but I did expect something enjoyable to pass the time while battling a cold.  Instead, I was delivered an increasingly implausible trainwreck that lost any semblance of its humanity and message, opting instead for shock value until the final twenty pages or so, at which point Collins seems to have went, “Oops!  Better wrap this up!” and jammed a conclusion in.

Mockingjay clarifies the ending events of Catching Fire for us:  namely, there was a vast allyship hidden from Peeta and Katniss, the goal of which was to yank a core group of Victors free from the Quell and begin the all-out rebellion against the Capitol.  Peeta is left behind, and has become the puppet of President Snow, urging for a ceasefire in official televised interviews, earning him the label of traitor.

Katniss, who is now “mentally disorganized”, lives with the survivors of the Quell and her decimated District in the “Surprise! Still here!” District 13, the key movers and shakers behind the rebellion.  To them, Katniss is a Propaganda Barbie for their video spots beaming throughout the Districts, a means of motivating the masses.  Katniss is much more fond of wallowing in self-pity and pining for Peeta (who she now gives a shit about), while toying further with Gale, who is gung-ho for the rebellion.  However, she spies a means of preventing Peeta from being executed for treason by District 13’s President Coin (Really, Collins? Coin?) and agrees to be their little Mockingjay to spare him.

The next half of the book is literally blah blah blah:  let’s film Katniss visiting people in hospitals and…. oh wait, an attack where she can shoot down hovercrafts!  Let’s take her to District 2 to chill while the Capitol stronghold there is seized and, oh wait, Katniss steps out into battle to be a star again.  Gale loves her, but she doesn’t seem to love anyone.  Instead, she loves being cared for and babied.  Some heroine.

Things get more ridiculous when Peeta is rescued and of course, he’s been brainwashed to want to murder Katniss.  This is Collins’ heavy-handed attempt to make the reader feel for Katniss, perhaps because she’s realized her heroine is indecisive, naive and has the personality of paste.  All it made me do was feel for Peeta, who is luckily brought around to his old self.

The one bright shining development for Katniss is her finally understanding what a cold, manipulative person she is, via overhearing an exchange between Peeta and Gale as to who she’ll choose to be with.  Between their agreeing that her choice will be based on who can keep her alive – not who has her love – and Peeta calling her out for being a cold bitch for her actions post-Games, it’s satisfying for her to feel bad for her behaviour.

Plot-wise, Collins is as predictable as ever, and just spends her time slaughtering as many characters as possible in order to wring sympathy for Katniss from us.  I’m wagering she believes she’s depicting the travesties and agonies of war, but it all comes off as overkill, particularly when she constantly “fades to black” mid-action and then quickly recaps the rest in the next chapter.  Things conveniently work out to ensure maximum bloodshed and as, usual, everyone just loves Katniss and wants to protect her.  Leading 8 people to certain death by lying about a mission?  These honey badgers don’t care, and it’s a good thing, since most of them die before Katniss ultimately fails anyway. Absolutely nothing surprised me, plot-wise:  it was the pessimism show, with non-stop dreary events and unhappy endings, couched in more blind devotion to protecting precious Katniss-Sue.

In fact, Katniss never has to make a decision on its own merits; she is always driven to one choice by default.  She can’t allow Peeta to die after saving her ass several times and breaking his heart, so she must choose to be the Mockingjay.  She really should know better than to help Coin seize power; that’s okay, she finds out Coin has royally betrayed her and killed her loved ones, the only thing that seems to trigger a human response from her – a move that requires massive suspension of disbelief when the key casualty is revealed.  Pick between the two evil Presidents?  Don’t bother; both will magically die.  Murderer?  No matter; some doctor will lie for you and get you off the hook.  As for her love life?  Gale turns cold, betrays her along with Coin, and Peeta is the only one who sticks around, anyway.

Speaking of her ending, it is the most rushed affair ever.  Collins literally ran out of pages and rammed everything in quickly.  The so-called epilogue is the coldest thing ever, as children are merely referred to as “the boy and girl”.  Did you run out of cute names?  How about Moughin and Kupkayke?

In the end, my gut instinct?  Collins blew her wad in Catching Fire and frankly, aside from the death of the Capitol, didn’t have the faintest clue of what she was doing with Mockingjay.  Weak, choppy plot, poor character development and deus ex machina out the wazoo sums up this final installment.

Rating:  2/5 stars

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Book Review: Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  heavy spoilers ahead, although I haven’t spoiled the final ending details.

Despite my lukewarm feelings about the first book of the trilogy, I’ve pushed ahead and am mostly glad for it.  Catching Fire is somewhat better paced than The Hunger Games in the front end, for starters.  The front half is a lot of talking and Katniss wavering in her feelings for her two suitors, but it is peppered with actual suspense and moments of dread, helping to buoy the tale along.  The Quell sequence is somehow not as action-packed as I’d expected, which is a bit of a downside, but is still more enjoyable than the Games for reasons I’ll elaborate on.  Overall, it serves as a good transition book, although it is still plagued by problems.

The book opens post-Games, with Katniss bemoaning her dreadful life.  Sure, she survived the Games with little actual blood on her hands.  Sure, she and her family now live in the Victors’ Village, wealthier than they’ve ever been.  She still hunts for the enjoyment of it, has Cinna covering her ass for the talent she should be developing in her plentiful spare time, and is generous to the people of her district.  But woe is Katniss, because she and Peeta barely talk (after she rejected him) and Gale’s busy being worked to death per customary Capitol oppression 6 days per week and is bitter about her macking on Peeta on TV.  Katniss is a foolish, oblivious young girl when it comes to matters of the heart, and it still detracts from and demolishes the “strong heroine” label people wish to thrust upon her.  Collins still doesn’t sell it well, and I’m still not buying it.

The Victory Tour – wherein the winner of the Games is paraded around like a show pony – begins with an ominous visit from the Capitol’s President, who basically calls Katniss out on her bullshit, tells her she was rebellious in her berry-actions that spared both her and Peeta, and says, “Convince me you love him or I kill you and all your loved ones.  Ta-ta!”  In true good and perfect Katniss form, she has been oblivious to how her manipulation at the end of the Games was a great big FU to the Capitol, sighing about only wanting to spare Peeta.

Katniss soon wakes up on tour as she begins to understand the rebellion that is beginning, of which she is a symbol, and it is here that we finally begin to see signs of the heroine she’s been trumpeted to be.  In celebrating boldly in the face of President Snow despite the message that she has failed to convince him and stop the rebellion, she demonstrates a comfort – a sense that being the enemy of Snow is far preferable than being the puppet that pleases him.  As rules become stricter within the Districts, Katniss starts fighting back in her own ways.  She is finally a girl on fire.

As for her love life…. Ugh.  Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with Haymitch when he says she could never deserve Peeta.  She doesn’t, nor does she deserve Gale.  Let’s look at it thus:  Gale has spent years as her companion, so blatantly in love with her it hurts, yet Katniss has been so blind, she cannot see it, nor does she truly grasp why Gale might be annoyed with her PG-13 TV relationship until he points out that hello, he loves her…. to which she says, “I know.”  Wow, Katniss!  Peeta, having bared his heart on TV and bought into the Katniss act during the Games, is understandably pissed when he realizes she feels very different.  And yet, when Katniss is under duress on the tour, who’s sleeping beside her to soothe her?  Peeta, the ever faithful and loyal.  Once again, his genuine feelings and desires are manipulated into an act for the Capitol – and Katniss’ selfish benefit.

But it grows worse:  Gale is badly injured, and so she spends the night kissing him and realizing that gosh, I love this guy!  I do!  But mere days later, she begs Peeta to hold her until she sleeps, because she misses the contact.  She vows to die to save him in the Quell.  Katniss cannot make up her damn mind.  She has no idea what true love is, even at the end of this book.  It’s tiresome and grating, and she’s such a selfish prat that I can’t empathize with her.  Instead, I want to crawl into Peeta’s head.

Once again, everything works out perfectly for Katniss, without her lifting a real finger, because she is special and good and needed alive.  Blech.  Everyone risks everything for her, and she is incapable of the proper loving thanks, so why does anyone bother?  I call Mary Sue again on this character.  She’s tiresome, and were the plot and supporting characters not so fun and the books not so short, I couldn’t be arsed to finish the trilogy.

Speaking of the Quell…  I only half-bought that plot device.  It seemed far too convenient.  Far too dramatic and truly a “must top myself” moment.  I went with it, but spent the entire time rolling my eyes at the device.  It seemed counter-intuitive to the Capitol’s goals to suppress and silence all rumblings of rebellion in the Districts, and I think that is what bothered me most: it handed the Districts a reason to fight, ever so conveniently.  On the flip-side, the sequence didn’t drone on and on about Katniss kissing Peeta and BS’ing a relationship, and focused more on actual action and strategy, so that was a huge plus this time around.  I also liked the other contestants far more, given my ability to get to know most of them via the narrative.

Oh, and the pregnancy BS?  Really?  I simultaneously loved Peeta for it, and hate Collins, because it was so easily disproven. The Capitol easily could have done a blood test on her but oh ho, they don’t, just so they can get away with it… for now…

In spite of all these issues, I still rank this book pretty highly.  It’s snappy, breezy and does bring great action and drama.  The key is to take it as it is:  YA fiction meant to set-up a final book while appealing to teenagers.  Embrace it as a fun vacation/transit read, and it’s worth the time.

Rating:  4/5 stars

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Book Review: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  review contains some spoilers, albeit mostly minor/well-known in media

As with several “it” series/books, I’ve jumped in rather late in the game with this one. It may be partly due to tremendous hype, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by The Hunger Games. The overall plot was enjoyable, albeit very much a copy of Battle Royale, and the characters likable to a degree.

However, the writing is only above par for YA fiction – nothing stellar like JK Rowling‘s work, and the plot veers into unbelievably convenient territory that feels a bit Mary Sue to me.The first 100-something pages are dull and drag, don’t fully engage the reader and don’t enthrall.  The prose is too sparse, Katniss’ narration too repetitive and simplistic to really care about her.  The book picks up once the games begin, but even then, it’s a problematic novel.

Essentially, The Hunger Games is Battle Royale meets a more intelligent Twilight, with a main character that is superficially strong, but immature beneath. Granted yes, Katniss is a teenager thrust into a terrifying reality, but she is also one who has been the true parent of her home for years now, and the contradictory maturity expressed in her opening scenes and the immaturity with which she handles her ridiculous love triangle clashes horridly.

I found Katniss as a narrator to be grating and verging on a Mary Sue.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue in fanfiction or writing is a character that is usually a self-insert of the author.  Said character is perfect, adored, saves the day and infallibly gets the hot guy as well.  Although uncommon in published fiction, it certainly happens:  see Bella, of Twilight.  While I don’t believe Katniss is Collins, she is unbelievable as a character.  How noble of her to save her family from starvation!  How incredible of her to offer to take her sister’s place!

Had it stopped here, I would have bought into her as a strong woman. But no:  Katniss is also loved by two different guys, who she remains oblivious to in true eye-batting fashion, is uninterested in dressing up for the pre-games interviews yet is adored! and beautiful!  and memorable! in her pretty, pretty dress.  Tee hee, she almost enjoys it!  There’s also the fact that at least twice, Katniss is conveniently spared during a “kill or be killed” scenario, and why? Because she is so GOOD and KIND and PERFECT that people give her a pass or want to be her ally. I just couldn’t buy it. I also couldn’t fathom why, if Katniss is meant to be a strong female – a truly strong female – that she needed to be “spared” to survive. Why couldn’t she just kick ass, fire arrows and claim lives?

The only character I truly loved was Rue, and well… she doesn’t make it. A shame. Peeta is manipulative and grating, and I haven’t seen enough of Gale to care. Haymitch is a subtle misogynist. Oh, wait: I liked Cinna a hell of a lot. Two characters, then.

It was all rather disappointing, and the sexual exploitation by men disturbing. A kiss equals a pot of broth? Is that the going rate for child escorts in Panem? Why is it up to Katniss to put out or die? Also, did Collins have to shove it down our throats constantly?  We get it, alright?

The ending also felt ridiculous, as if Collins wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to make the final showdown happen. She played Gamemaker and went for the absurd. I rolled my eyes and frankly, pictured the wolves of Twilight. Not a positive.

Is it better than Twilight? Absolutely, but that’s not a stunning achievement. Harry Potter spins circles around The Hunger Games, though, and it too is a tale of children and teens coping with things far beyond their maturity. The difference is in the realistic characters. Harry is fallible. His friends are fallible. They suffer for their mistakes. Katniss gets by on a smile and simply because it’s convenient for Collins to write a trilogy.

Katniss is no Buffy Summers, that’s for sure, and it’s a shame, because in the right author’s hands, she could have been.

Rating:  3.5/5 stars

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Book Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

I’ll be slowly bringing over all of my Goodreads reviews to this blog, past and present.  Enjoy! 

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.  I honestly feel I’m doing you a huge solid here by saving you the trouble of reading this, but there it is.

The hype surrounding Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is enormous, what with the film and all, so I obviously jumped in to see if it was worth the fuss.  Plus, I’m a stickler for the most part about reading a book before viewing the film.  The plot sounded intriguing on the covers: Eva Khatchadourian is struggling to cope with the school shooting her son is responsible for, and the fact that it ultimately never should have surprised her.  In reading other reviews on Goodreads, the opinions seem divided between “powerful and intense” and “this is bull; no mother would feel this way about a child”.

In the end, I call BS on Shriver, but not for the typical reasons.

I can absolutely believe that a mother could not love her child, could sense that something was wrong, could resent his very existence, even.  I never once found myself questioning Eva’s feelings, nor Kevin’s evolution into school shooter; anyone familiar with the literature on sociopaths is aware that there are cerebral differences that are perhaps hardwired at birth, much the same with pedophilia.  Eva is foolish enough to embark on motherhood as some sort of adventure slash means of pleasing her husband, and like many women who have children for the wrong reasons, the bond is simply not there as one might expect.  I know this to be true because my own mother had me as a lark, a means to ensnare my father into marriage and further, in that Maury Povich way, imagined that I might be a cute little doll to dress up.  When the permanence and full scope of the parenting role became apparent, she resented my every breath, piling on the psychological abuse until I moved out at seventeen.

No, I do not find myself disbelieving the plot; in fact, it’s pretty solid for the most part, aside from the utter predictability of (SPOILER) these letters to Franklin being pointless exercises, what with him being dead by Kevin’s hands and all.  Saw that coming from the first page.

What really ticks me off about this book is the writing style.  I consider myself an articulate woman with an expansive vocabulary, an intelligent and astute woman like Eva.  Thus, I speak from a lived understanding when I say this:  no one, especially a grieving woman, talks like Eva!  No one.  The entire novel, but most notably the first two thirds, reads like a first-year Creative Writing student abusing a thesaurus, determined to drop as many fifty cent words as possible to impress the professor and somehow demonstrate genius.  All it demonstrates, in my opinion, is an incredible failure to establish a genuine character voice.  Her narration is unnecessarily obtuse and snooty, almost as if Shriver is determined to have the reader walk away feeling inferior.  “I am the master of words!” Shriver declares with every contrived sentence and endless pseudo-sociopolitical tirade Eva launches into.

This book desperately needed an editor willing to say, “Stop being such a pretentious twit.  Oh, and cut this book down by fifty pages, because the pacing blows in the first half.”  By the time the story truly picks up the pace, one is already unsympathetic to Eva due to the aloofness created through Shriver’s tone.  One might argue that we are meant to be detached from her, meant not to relate, but that would render the book useless, in my opinion; the apparent point is for us to understand what, on the surface, seems foreign (a mother who believes her child evil from birth).  Perhaps herein lies the reason why so many reviewers hate Eva and find her cold and unbelievable: the labyrinth of words constructed in an obsession with synonyms constructs a wall far too high to climb, with far too little to be gained for the effort.

Undoubtedly, Shriver believes this commentary on school shootings to be brilliant and timely; in the end, it’s pure cliche and only serves to suggest that the Orange Prize is awarded purely for the number of unique words used within a novel.  It’s a shame; this book held such promise for its story.  In the end, it’s weighed down and sunk by Shriver’s need to show off.

Congratulations; I too can use a thesaurus.  Colour me unimpressed.  Sometimes, the greatest writing is plain on the surface, but utterly poignant.  Consider that next time.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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DVD Blog-entary: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – The Virgin Viewing

Project Intro/First Film
Second Film

We’ve reached the last of the films I’ve actually seen any part of, which is kind of exciting.  It means the next five are all absolutely fresh.  That said, I barely remember any of this one, because at the time, I had no interest in the franchise and didn’t know the backstory, so nothing made much sense.

The book was sorta meh for me; I enjoyed it mostly, but again, like the first, it began a little slow for me.  We’ll see how the movie fares now, in the third installment of the Blog-entary of Harry Potter.  Snacks prepared… Accio movie!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Blog-entary

  • Um, isn’t it illegal for Harry to cast spells back home?  Why is he making light?
  • Aw, Harry is no longer a Baby! so I can no longer tag him as such.
  • Float away, you ignorant cow!  Bwahahaha!  Dudley got owned by a button.
  • Um… Harry, did you leave Hedwig?! WTF?  You prick!
  • What’s with the Rasta bus ghost thingie? LOL
  • There’s Hedwig! Now I’m okay again.  I was enraged for a few minutes.
  • What’s with all the Beatles hairdos on the Weasley boys?  *facepalm*
  • There’s a chill in my bones…. oh shit, it’s a Dementor!  Don’t just stare, Harry… Oh, er, oops.
  • Okay, what the hell?  Lame ass choir, GTFO.  I want my food porn and Dumbledore 2.0.  Speaking of, I like him way better.  The first one was too kindly and docile.  Dumbledore always struck me as the Gandalf for the series.
  • Trelawney is a total ROFLcopter…  I couldn’t take this bitch seriously, either Hermione.
  • “You’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.”  Oh, Ron. You’re still the best.
  • Draco got a wankery haircut too!  What the hell?  Was this the precursor to Bieber bowls?
  • “You’re supposed to stroke it.”  That’s what she said.
  • Oh, Hagrid! You’re so bloody naive… Like a big, hairy child.
  • “I’m the king of the worlllllllllllllllllllllld!”
  • Malfoy is a goddamn idiot… but we all knew that.
  • On a cinematography note, I am so glad to be rid of Columbus.  He’s done great work before (Rent) but this is a vast improvement.
  • You know, they know how awful the Dursleys are. They are BARELY guardians. Why couldn’t they sign off on his form?
  • Snape so has a boner for Hermione.  Jerk off.
  • Seriously, Harry?  NOT the time to dream up shapes in the clouds storming by.
  • Mischief managed!
  • Ugh, stupid singers!  Knock them down, Harry!
  • God Harry, your anorexia is going to kill you.  EAT! ;)
  • Buckbeak :(
  • Why does Harry not question the fact that Lupin a) knows how to use the map and b) even knows it’s a map?
  • Bam! Bitch went down! Bam! Hermione, super bitch!
  • BUCKBEAK :(!!!!!
  • “Why don’t you run along and play with your Chemistry set?”
  • Puppy!
  • BUCKBEAK :D!
  • Expecto motherfucking Patronum!
  • O hai Sirius! Here to save you, LOLZ.
  • Harry breaks his brooms almost as often as his bloody glasses.  #random

Final thoughts:  One bitch:  the constant fade to black, fade back in device got extremely tired.  Very one trick pony.  The creatures continued to be rendered in awesome ways.  NOT ENOUGH NEVILLE.  I know shit has to be cut, but bloody hell! I’d happily take another ten minutes to have a few more moments with the Weasleys or Neville.  I also miss the parts where Hermione would be dying from homework and such, and it would have been nice to see them faking their charts for Trelawney.

Next:  my favourite book, Goblet of Fire! Whee!

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DVD Blog-entary: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – The Virgin Viewing

For a run-down on this little project, and my blog-entary on the first film, click me.

Unlike the first film, I have seen maybe five minutes of this one – the still above being from those five minutes, actually. This will be very virginal, indeed, although Goblet of Fire will be the first film I haven’t watched ANY part of. This was one of my favourite books, so if they do it wrong, RAGE! Ready, set…. Accio movie!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Blog-entary

  • Ahh! Baby!Harry’s voice is changing. This is seriously weird, still. I am kind of wishing I’d watched as they were released, so my mind wouldn’t be wrestling with the whole nudity deal. It’s just ODD. It’s not like Kate Winslet did movies as a tween, only to screw with my head with Titanic or The Reader or… Man, she gets naked a lot. I approve of this, but I digress. Baby!Harry and Hedwig!
  • Oh lord… Dobby’s voice… Is he the Jar Jar of the fandom? He was so cute in the books, but ick… Nails on chalk board…
  • I love that the Dursleys are stupid enough to think bars and nails can stop magical people from entering or leaving. Fail.
  • Baby!Ron’s voice is also changing… Ahh!
  • The Weasleys’ house is way nicer than the books make it out to be. They practically make it sound like a shack or something, or at least rundown. It’s really cozy and bright!
  • How do you mispronounce words you’ve just heard, Harry? Yeesh!
  • Lockhart: just as slimey and game show host-ish as I predicted.
  • Baby!Draco grew the most between movies. He looks…. ick. How did Emma crush on him? Lucius is so trying to be Jeremy Irons, but not as cool.
  • Is it bad that my biggest concern during the flying car debacle was poor Hedwig?
  • Ha ha Snape, Dumbledore owns you.
  • Finally! Plants! Poor Baby!Neville; no one cares about him. He fainted? Whatevs. Leave his body on the floor.
  • ROTFLMFAO at the Howler.
  • Aww, Mrs. Norris :( Kitty. Even if she is a fucking evil kitty, it still makes me cringe to see her hung up like that.
  • Okay, Hogwarts is run by wizards. How can they NOT tell that someone has bewitched a broom or whatever, realize cheating is going on, AND STOP THE GODDAMN GAME? It’s pissed me off the entire series.
  • “Who cares?” Indeed, Baby!Ron. No one gives a shit about Lockhart’s safety. And I thought so long before finishing this book.
  • Stupid children. If Harry was going to sic the snake on anyone, it would be Draco.
  • Harry really should have learned from first year not to wander the castle at night. It NEVER does him any good.
  • *shudder* I so would not drink hair for any reason…
  • Myrtle doesn’t really moan…. She just squeals. And I still don’t like how they show the ghosts or the lack of Peeves mischief
  • Petrified Hermione is creeeeeeepy
  • Aww, Baby!Ron’s voice cracks so badly when he freaks out.
  • As much as I hate Snape, his pwnage of Lockhart is awesome.
  • Riddle is so annoying… arrgh… Smug little fucker.
  • I want a pet Phoenix. ZOMG cuteness!
  • Ha ha, Lucius… Go cry, emo blonde. Baby!Harry just glared your ass down….
  • … and then, Dobby owned you. *snicker*
  • Awww…. I love Hagrid… He’s so sweet and cuddly….

Final thoughts: Needs more Hedwig! I’m also missing the moments of Hermione scolding the boys over not doing their work or paying attention, little scenes from the books. It’s like her character suddenly lost that attribute in the second film, and while she definitely became less of an annoying bint over the course of the books, she never lost that bit of nagging. Better than the first film, though; the pacing was much better.

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DVD Blog-entary: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – The Virgin Viewing

True facts: I was never a part of the Harry Potter phenomenon. First of all, I have a huge bias against anything that explodes, because generally, it’s not a good experience for me. Case example: Avatar. I even avoided Lord of the Rings because, again, no one would shut the hell up about it. Back in 2002, I moved in with my dad to help fix my finances. Little brother was big time in love with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Being as he watched the first films of each non-freaking-stop, I eventually caved and watched The Fellowship. Aside from annoyance at the ending (it should have ended where the book did), I really enjoyed it. And I so do not dig fantasy, as a rule. Now buoyed by little brother being right, I watched the first Harry Potter film. Or tried to. I got bored 40 minutes in and wandered away. Two or three years later, my ex rented Prisoner of Azkaban, and again I tried to watch. The problem this time was that I had no idea what the hell was going on half the time, due to not knowing the canon established in the first two. I tuned out because I was mad. When late 2010 hit, I got an ereader, and also decided to try and read all of the most challenged books in the US (out of spite at censorship, of course). At the behest of two friends and having them on the list, I read the first book, promising to try and stay with it for the first three. With a few misses along the way (do NOT dig Order of the Phoenix; didn’t care for the first book; Deathly Hallows ended way too conveniently for me), I enjoyed the books. My favourite was Goblet of Fire, by the way, with Chamber of Secrets right behind it. Now, the ending of the films is upon us… and here, she arrives at the point: I’ve still never seen an entire film of the series. It strikes me that I should TRY to watch them again, although frankly, I’m afraid that having seen Radcliffe’s grown-up junk via Equus, that Baby!Harry will be a strange sight. I’m in no rush; I’m sure the fans have sold out every showing for the next two weeks for the final one. But I will give them a go and when I do, I’ll be blogging my thoughts as I watch. Will I notice every difference from the books? Unlikely, from one reading. My brother tells me that the first film is one of the worst in his opinion, so my aim is to soldier through the first two at minimum before being allowed to give up. But maybe, being such a total newbie, I’ll see the films in a different light from those who grew up living and breathing Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Stay tuned… and you best believe Imma go all Expecto Patronum if you don’t like what I have to say…

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: The Blog-entary

  • Accio movie! Let’s talk casting: McGonagall is older than I expected, but this isn’t a bad thing. Hagrid is EXACTLY how I saw him. Dumbledore… well, I’ve seen a lot of clips with the second Dumbledore, and I have to say, Dumbledore #2 is the one closer to who I saw. I also pictured Dudley as looking… more evil?
  • Random: I suddenly thought of the epic fail fanfic of all time, My Immortal. Dumbleydore! LOL.
  • Owl-palooza chez Dursley!
  • The look on Daniel’s face when the first two wands trash Olivander’s is priceless. Bwahahaha.
  • HEDWIG!! Okay, I care way more all of a sudden. I’m such a suck for animals.
  • Baby!Ron! All ginger-riffic. Seeing them so young is really jarring, to be honest.
  • Baby!Hermione is a total bitch. I’m just sayin’. I know she is supposed to be an annoying know-it-all, but she’s REALLY annoying out the gate.
  • 40 minutes to just get on the damn boats to Hogwarts. I remember now why I got bored out of my mind… I had no emotional investment and started watching after Hagrid takes Harry away. Shopping and boats. Not quite endearing for a doubter.
  • LOLZ at Baby!Neville. Totally adorable. And Baby!Draco is perfect. Douche-tastic as expected.
  • KITTY! Yup, still animal-obsessed.
  • Sorting Hat time… dum da dum! Baby!Ron is by far my favourite of the kids thus far. The hat is freaking creepy…. I wanna call Chris Hansen on it. It’s so…. clingy to their heads…
  • Ghost special effects? Kinda lame. Typical of Chris Columbus, though… too cutesy. I want my ghosts creepy and mischevious.
  • Snape was also perfectly cast… creepy right down to the serial killer greasy hair.
  • Obvious green screen is obvious during flying lessons.
  • Puppy! Well, sort of a puppy…
  • “She needs to sort out her priorities!” One of the best lines in the whole damn series.
  • All of the feast scenes are serious food porn… Om nomm nomm!
  • Professor McGonagall: hot bitch in charge! Huzzah!
  • Horrible joke about balls in mouth here… er, Snitch…
  • I still really don’t like the way they’ve portrayed the ghosts… and there’s no Peeves. Fail. Although, Mrs. Weasley’s jumpers are as hideous as I would have imagined. *shudder*
  • Also, I expected Lily Potter to be a knock-out, you know? Not a supermodel or plastic pretty, but girl next door “holy hell!” pretty. She just looks like a slim soccer mom. Not how I thought of her at all. It’s really disappointing to me. She’s probably the worst casting so far, in my eyes.
  • Aww! Norbert is so cute! You know, except for the part where he sets people on fire.
  • Is it just me or does Baby!Daniel not play scared well enough? He never really seems sufficiently upset by things like, oh, VOLDEMORT? He seems too steady for a kid having one fuck of a year.
  • Fluffy drool….. UGH!
  • I’m realizing we never saw any fun lessons in Herbology… Hmm. Boo. I always enjoyed Neville having that one talent.
  • The chess game was bad-ass… I’m pretty sure I would have peed myself and turned back.
  • Okay, dude. Voldemort’s little ‘eyes in the back Quirrell’s head’ bit is seriously disturbing.
  • Ah, the house cup…. such a way to make students want to attack each other… What a bad idea for a school of wizards, huh?
  • Hahaha, Baby!Draco’s about to cry. *points and laughs*
  • I love Hagrid. Way more than Dumbledore. Somehow, it seems this means the films have failed, to a degree, since Dumbledore is intended to be beloved, the father Harry never got to be raised by.

Final conclusion: not enough time with the secondary characters. Some weren’t even introduced! Not enough fun with the ghosts of Hogwarts. The movie begins too slowly, only to rush through other parts of the story. Daniel’s green as an actor, but it’s slight and forgivable. Hermione’s TOO annoying for the first half – it’s almost a caricature, it’s so over the top. Baby!Ron is the best of the trio, the end. Next up: Chamber of Secrets. Stay tuned…

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2011 Pop Culture Challenge: Status Update

Back in November, 2010, spurred by my decision to read the most banned books in the States (as listed for Banned Books Week), I challenged myself to finally get off my lazy ass and ‘catch up’ on all of the pop culture and reading I always ‘meant to’ finish.  This is the first major status update.

So, four months into a thirteen-month series of challenges, I figured it was time to reflect on my progress, and also, on the recently enjoyed items on my lists.  For those interested in the full extent of the challenge, list items and the original posts, click the 2011 Pop Culture Challenge tab in the header.

We’ll take this by categories, for simplicity.

Literature
Progress:  2 new items crossed off on American list, 1 on Canadian

For all of the reading I’ve done as of late, I confess much of it was pleasure reading done without the list as a guide.  That said, one item I’ve crossed off both lists was really 7 books, so I deserve some credit.

I’ve polished off Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which was not remotely a book that should be banned.  It wasn’t graphic, and it was appropriate for YA readers.  I personally found it a bit dull, truth be told, but a worthwhile read.

My other checklist completion was finally reading the Harry Potter books, and, with a few exceptions, they were really well done.  I don’t know that I would endlessly reread them or anything, but I enjoyed the journey, for the most part, and liked the end (even if it felt a little too easily achieved).  My favourite of the series was Goblet of Fire, followed closely by Chamber of Secrets.  I’m glad I got off my ass and gave them a go, and much thanks to my little brother, who never lends anyone his books… but lent me the first four.

Television
Progress:  1 new series tried; 2 caught up; others in progress

This is where I’ve made most of my headway; it’s easiest for me to find time and the attention span to watch an episode or two and then scurry off.  TV shows are also easier to find to watch than 150 movies, know what I mean?

Fiance and I finally tried out The Walking Dead and being zombie nuts, we loved it.  We knew we would, but we were so lazy about watching it.  Not having cable is a massive hindrance.  I was a little mixed about the ending of the season, but overall very satisfied and ready for the next.  This show really needs to be seen, because it is about more than zombies; it`s about humanity itself, in any crisis.  It`s what I wished 28 Days Later had been (the ending’s always irked me, because I wanted to know what happened!).

We also finally caught up on Dexter (three seasons plus!) and I have loved them, with the exception of season 3, which just pissed me off.  I think season 2 is the best overall, followed closely by 4.  I wish the Trinity Killer had been used to greater potential; I feel the reveal was way too soon, and we needed more suspense.  I loved Lithgow, though.  The Lumen story in 5 was patchy and hit or miss, but overall good.  Such a fucking good show.

I also finally watched all of South Park… This show really has aged well, far better than I even predicted.  LOVE.  It sometimes misses, but given how many episodes there are, whatever.

I’m currently in progress with Heroes (loved season 3, mixed on season 4 so far) and Robot Chicken (pure genius!).  Now that we have Netflix, this is even easier for me.  Whee!

Films
Progress:  7 new films seen

I’ve begun attacking the films list more thoroughly lately, being as it is so long and I have so many other obligations.  Part of the issue lies in tracking all of them down, of course, particularly older or more obscure films.  That aside, of the films I’ve seen, I’ve been quite happy about doing so.

The most recent one, M, is fantastic, and I never woud have even heard of this 80 or so year-old film without taking this challenge on.  It’s in German with subtitles, which I know aggravates some people, but it’s an insightful look at serial killers and how their crimes affect the public, society on the whole, and the killer himself.  Slumdog Millionaire was a long overdue viewing, as was The Wrestler; both should be seen by film afficionados.  The JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek was pretty bad-ass, and unlike my Trekkie fiance, I rather enjoy Zachary Quinto as Spock.  Kick-Ass?  I’ve already REWATCHED that one.  The Departed?  It’s what Lock, Stock… wishes it was, even if the ending irked me.

But The Social Network is my big one, thus far, because it, by all rights, shouldn’t work on paper.  And yet, the casting, the score (fuck yeah, Trent!), the way it’s shot and paced…  I love it.  It’s truly one of the best films I’ve seen in years because, in so many ways, it’s subtle to pitch-perfection, and in your face in others.  Jesse Eisenberg’s performance makes it, and it was totally robbed for the Oscar.

I know that ahead lies a bunch of movies I have zero interest in (wtf, IMDB voters, with all the mobster and sci-fi action shit?), but for now, it’s been a blast.

See you in a few months… and hopefully, with a much more diligent progress report…

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Goals For 2011: Literature

I posted over on my fanfiction blog about Banned Books Week and the list released of the 100 most challenged books in the United States in schools etc.  I decided, out of spite, to try and read as many of them as possible for fun.  Transferring that list here to keep my goals tidy, may I present the list of most challenged books of the last decade.

Books I’ve read are in bold.

The Top 100 Banned Books of 2000-2009

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry

76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

This list and its progress will also be tracked via a page on the upper header of the blog.  Join me, if you’re so inclined!  Fuck censorship!

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