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“The Hunger Games” by S. Collins: a quick reaction

“The Hunger Games” is a rare, unbalanced book for three big reasons:

1. The book is in three “acts”, as I assume each book might be. In this first installment, while starting slow in the first part, the second part is better, and the third part is great. While the editing job and breadth of vocabulary has room for improvement and expansion respectively, there is a great story here, complete with constant emotional climb that will likely have you wanting to read the next book a.s.a.p. — “Catching Fire.” I didn’t think I would wanna jump right into book two for nearly the whole time I read this, but I did once I got into part three “THE VICTOR.”

2. Me being picky about how it was marketed: — The novel, while being “young adult” is hardly for anybody under 16, and yet, given the gore and heavy subject matter, I’m surprised it didn’t go further. It was like some one really wanted this to be for kids just because there are kids in it (?), but that’s a weak reason. This artistic choice does a disservice to the potential of the series and it’s adult readers. Being edited “down” for teens (possibly), I’m left with is wanting more realism, blood, sex, and want questions answered (probably coming in book TWO). I felt like Katniss knew she was telling “us” a story and kept some of her emotions at bey. It’s one thing to keep her emotions from the other characters, and while she was honest with us, I wanted more. You cannot make this tale “children-friendly”, so why not market it as just a dark novel and have it aimed at everyone? There should have been sex in the cave scene, language all around, and more descriptive nightmares about what Katniss, the main character, has seen. We get a sense of these torments, but them seem “PG-13-ified.” Make it R-rated. Hell, make it X-rated.

3. There are some big set-ups in this book, and the unanswered questions the reader has at the end will make them curious to continue the series. As a stand alone book, it’s a solid start, but as part of a trilogy, this is only the beginning of (hopefully) a worthy series of all it’s insane buzz!!! While i respect the series right now, “Catching Fire” is going to be the “make it or break it” installment that needs to answer some questions and make me fall in love with Panem and the characters. The really interesting stuff is going to come after the games. I can tell. I just hope it’s written and edited well. Let’s get epic, please. Time to get political, and time to start that love triangle.

p.s. this is a visual story that can write itself as a movie. If you’re not a big reader, see the movie when it comes out. You’re not missing the book of the year or anything. If you like survival and paranoia and a bit of mystery, read this, but don’t expect Twilight or Harry Potter. This is neither.
My take on it: (7.9/10)



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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the installment that really made the film franchise and the book series winners — because of the great chance it took with its ending. Some didn’t really care for this book, but it was the necessary bridge to the conclusion where there was not any room for the back stories told here. J.K. Rowling was not afraid to take chances and make big things happen, which not only shook the fictional wizarding world, but shook the reader’s world as well. How in the hell are they going to succeed in their mission without Dumbledore? And what of all the unanswered questions? Epic.

In this “book-to-movie” comparison, there’s no doubt about this one – the book was better. That aside, I loved the tone and the style of this one. You could feel the end coming. This was my second favorite book which many people raise an eyebrow to when I tell them. I just loved learning about Snape’s role, going into the history of Tom Riddle, albeit, somewhat “boring” and expository, and discovering not so flattering things about Dumbledore’s ambitious and controlling nature that we never knew. As Harry realizes the imperfect painting of Dumbledore, we too have a hard time believing it. Why did Dumbledore do this? Why did he not do that? It was great discovering, page by page, that nobody, not even the most powerful wizard at Hogwarts, it without his demons and mistakes. He pays for it, and honestly, things could have really been different had Dumbledore done things differently. Think about it.

Killing off main characters is always a guarantee that fans will chatter about what they think is likely to come, and stirring the world up for the eager conclusion guaranteed both huge book sales for Deathly Hallows and record-breaking ticket sales in the theaters. We would continue learning about Dumbledore, and finally find out to which side Snape is truly loyal. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt. 1 and pt. 2)

The biggest bones to be picked seem to always come in the closing chapters of film adaptations. People want to go out on a high note and there are very high expectations for producers and director’s to deliver to the fans that have put so much money into their pockets. The pressure must be unreal. But, they did a good thing by breaking up the final book into two films – a choice that was met with trepidation years ago. Mainly, people wanted to know, well, where is the breaking point going to be? Regardless of how you feel about the selected point, it turns out that this was probably the only way they could have kept what was in the books in the film. If this was one movie – no way.

Deathly Hallows part one, as a film, seemed more balanced to me than part two. In part two they really went all out on the special affects and the battle sequences, and though there were some good moments, maybe you will agree, upon a second watch, things are a little bloated-feeling, and given that this final part encompassed only the last third of the book, there should have been real adherence to a page-by-page adaptation if possible.

A lot of dialogue in the books was changed, and though I would like to argue that the changes fit the film better because it is a different medium and some stuff in the books would feel awkward on screen, I cannot. Especially the final scene with Voldemort. I was disappointed with the radical cutbacks in their final discussion before Harry wins, and the visually striking final blow felt emotionless to me. Harry should have said more. Anyone would in that circumstance. Not a lot, but something. But in the absence of any additional dialogue, I don’t believe the scene carries the weight it did in the book, and that was a mistake easily rendered. Just think for two minutes, writer and director, is this what feels right? Is it like the book. In that regard, the final moments were not band, but were also not what they could have been. I also believe that Neville Longbottom’s character, while having a sweet decapitation, didn’t get his full appreciation.

Lastly, the duplicating cup scene fell short for me. Where is the burning skin, where was that dire drama and fear I felt in the book? Gone.

Part One had more balance between character growth, back story, pacing, drama, dialogue, heart break and action. Also, in Part Two,  what the hell happened to the great flashback between Lily and Snape as kid’s? Why was it so short and unclear and hazy and dreamy in the movie. More time should have been spent on that part for the good of the film and for the understanding of people who had not read the books. That was a scene I was heavily anticipating and what I got was a blurred, fast mess of montage and difficult to decipher, effected voice over. I really had to concentrate and that whole segment seems over-produced in an under-produced way. Man, oh, man. What it could have been. (B-)


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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 2)

The middle of the Harry Potter series features some of the strongest and weakest parts in the series. The center piece of the series includes moments that sucked in countless young readers into the Multicultural world of Hogwarts for the long haul. From Hermione’s time-turner and the introduction of Sirius Black in The Prisoner of Azkaban, to the strange new teacher and the arrival of Voldemort in Goblet of fire, and to the one where Harry’s friends, both close and acquaintance, must grow up and enter a darker world in Order of the Phoenix; there is never a question that the supporting cast, the families, and much-loved Dobby continued to develop and entertain.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is my personal favorite film. It is the highest rated of all the films on the website Rotten Tomatoes and as of September 2011, this film is the 33rd highest grossing film of all time. This is the film that decided for many who did not read the books whether or not they “got” the series and would continue to follow it. The book was a big technical step for Rowling and she took a lot of risks with the sequencing of the story that really paid off and was widely accepted as genius. Professor Lupin is introduced here, having an integral role in James Potter’s life the future success of the gang bringing down Voldemort and the death eaters. The introduction of Gary Oldman playing the character Sirius Black could not have been better. I clearly remember reading the book and when I got to the part about the psycho escaping and all of the horror stories floating around, I was truly frightened for our heroes and believed the legend of Sirius’s loyalties. I was astounded by the twist about his relationship to Harry and his intimate and trusting relationship that would blossom through Goblet and especially Order of the Phoenix. Bravo. The ending, the map, the back story, Wormtail’s escape, the implications for the next installment. I couldn’t wait! (Only the first three films were rated PG). (rating: A)

For all the misgivings in some of the scenes in Goblet of Fire that unfortunately pull you out of the films, mostly due to producers and sometimes performances, one cannot say that the magic was not there or that the highly anticipated ending and big reveal of Voldemort’s return was not done with great relish. What hurt Goblet of Fire and all of its long haired males (joke) was the Tri-Wizard Ball and the horrible song that the “Weird Sister” performed (ugh, watch it with subtitles), and the general stop-and-go faltering of its pace. This film introduced characters that made the world seem deeper and more believable, but we meet many characters that don’t really matter. Having said that, in its defense, it was great for the main characters in subtle ways and did build on Neville, the Weasley family, Luna Lovegood, and Harry’s relationship with his past. Goblet of Fire did show what that awkward stage of all teens’ lives can be, and though it wasn’t my cup of tea, a lot of people praise exactly what I am condemning. We shall agree to disagree. It hooked many by relating to the act of simply growing up. Rowling, you sneaky thing. This is my least favorite film. (rating: C +)

Order of the Phoenix was the point of no return. These characters where growing up. The story was going to keep getting darker. Shit hit the fan. The end is coming. Not only was crucial information revealed about Dumbledore and Snape, but the continued involvement of the Ministry of Magic made it seem that this was not just affecting some kids at Hogwarts. This was serious and would affect the world around them; including other wizards, witches, and muggles. Yes. Even them. Killing Sirius Black genuinely made me sad. By this point, everything was taken away from Harry. Any hint of a family he may have had was lost, and honestly, I really wish Rowling had writeen Sirius’s death in the sixth book, not the fifth one. Next to Dobby, I think the fans really love Sirius to a similar degree. If they had not yet gotten cute, this is the film where Rupert Grint and Emma Watson really matured and starting becoming heart-throbs to the adoring fans. The make-up, hair, and costuming played to their character’s personalities and appearances. Emma, call me. I also believe this was the film where all the actor’s finally got comfortable with their roles and finally performed with continuity. No longer kids, they honed their craft as actors. Thank god, because the three movies that followed could not be messed up by poor acting. (rating: B-)

David Yates directed Phoenix, and would continue to finish out the series with it’s epic and serious tones. He would direct Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows pt. 1 and pt. 2.

BTW — Alan Rickman kicks ass. Much love.


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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 1)


Worldwide – It was November of 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began a decade long shockwave in planetary pop culture. Though the first three books had been out since 1999 and before, the 2 hour and 22 minute film was everything a generation of kids had been waiting for; imagination, fantasy, and being a kid. A hero.

On Harry Potter’s eleventh birthday, Hagrid takes Harry to the opening gates of an adventure that no one expected and would last until he became a young adult. Once on Platform nine-and-three-quarters, through Diagon alley, Gringott’s bank, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and the Hogwarts express we go. Striking the near perfect blend of a family film while eventually taking a serious turn in the series, the books and the films set themselves up perfectly for rising conflicts within the story as well as rising profits in this commercially viable phenomenon. It had heart, it had friendship, it had a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and it had merchandising. Not to be cynical (and it was NOT all about money) but big stories and profits like these come around but once or twice per generation, arguable only three have been so memorable: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter series. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant, Muggle. HP is here to stay.

The first and second book of the series is where we will begin our journey. Both film adaptations were written by Steve Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus; titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (in the UK) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets respectively. By and large this series began innocently enough and that was understandable. The topics and themes available to the characters and the story this early one would have felt out of place to have been too heavy and too serious (as the series later became and was more than welcome.) What we are given in the beginning is the introduction of the characters and the jargon of the world. Masterfully did J.K. Rowling paint the reader a detailed world of magic, magic, and more magic. Everything from the names of people, to the incantations, to the robes and the common household items had a name unlike our own to give the world extraordinary depth and wonder. The first two books, while establishing a larger plot conflict to come later, mostly focused on learning how these characters operate within their world and with each other. Harry Potter; the boy who lived, somehow spared by “You-Know-You”. But why? How? Hermione Granger; the smarty pants over-achiever who saved the boys more times than she cares to remember. Brilliant girl. Ron Weasley; the awkward, red-headed goof who many can relate to and, surprisingly, at least once the films came out, became the idol of many teen girl’s affection.

Together, these three characters plus an equally dimensional and realized cast (including many wonderful and sometimes shady professors, Luna Lovegood, Lucius Malfoy, and Neville Longbottom, etc.) make these two books necessart for the true appreciation of what is to come. Especially in the third book.

But for me, now that I am in my mid-twenties, these books do feel young to me, as do the films, and will always have a place in my heart—however I will be returning to them rarely. I know the basics already, and that’s what these books and movies represent. They are the starting gate. The movies and books I will surely return to first if given the choice are the stories which come after this. If you are gripped in anyway by these first two tales, you are going to be falling in love with J.K.’s series with the tales to come. Get ready. (Harry Potter Series continues in an upcoming blog with even more depth and analysis…)


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