Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Flick: The Hunger Games

The Peeps: Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jack Quaid (yep, Dennis' son), Donald Sutherland, etc.

The Dealio: Read the first in the series. Not a huge fan. Went to see the movie to see what 'they' did with the material. For those who never read the book, briefly, 74 years ago, as punishment for an devastating uprising, once a year, every district in Panam is required to participate in The Reaping, when one boy and one girl (garnered from those between the ages of 12 and 18) are selected to enter the Hunger Games. These are a series of increasingly violent encounters between the tributes from each district. There can be only one survivor. That survivor wins a lifetime of luxury and indulgence for him/her self and some sort of benefit to their district, as well. The heroine of this story is Katniss Everdene, a tough, resilient and resourceful girl who has been the mainstay of her family since her father died and her mother took a leave of absence from her responsibilities in keeping the family in food, shelter and something to trade to obtain what is needed. In this daily struggle, Katniss is assisted by Gale, another experienced-beyond-his-years teenager, who offers her advice and support and accompanies her on her outings to locate and capture something for them to eat and barter. Gale approaches the idea of the Reaping with philosophical acceptance: he has put his name in so many times (42 times this year alone) to obtain food for his own family, that he knows he will be chosen. Katniss worries about her younger sister, Primrose, who, at 12, is set to experience her first Reaping. When Prim is selected in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to stand in for her. Then Peeta, a baker's son, who has nourished a long-standing crush on Katniss, is chosen as the male tribute from District 12. Aaaand, they are off to The Capitol to prep for and participate in the Hunger Games.

The Grading Session: 3.41 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is too long (stop me if you've heard this from me before). The casting was cracker-jack and everyone did extremely well with their roles. Question: Does Donald Sutherland ever play a nice guy, or even a semi-okay guy, any more? I did notice that, ahem, some of the more seasoned actors seemed to rush their lines a bit- very distracting. However, when I compare this film with the Twilight ones, I must say that I prefer the strong and feisty Katniss as a young female role-model over the simpering, I-am-nothing-without-my man(er, vampire), Bella Swan. Pul-eez.
I also found the musical selections quite intriguing. I saw Lawrence in Winter Bone (fabulous, harrowing. Another hard-scrabble role, so you know the girl can definitely bring it), which was set in the Appalachians. The sound track for THG had a definite, apt and sinuous Appalachian tang to it as well. Which I loved.
Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Well, here's a big and revealing one: apparently, defying common sense and science, CG and holographic conjurings CAN hurt you. In fact, they can pretty thoroughly kill you. And I don't mean by scaring you to death. Apparently, the laws of physics and reason cease to exist in the Arena. Also, this: it seems that the court (or at least the style of the court) of Louis XVI is alive and well in Panam.

Notable Quotables: 'Happy Hunger Games!' 'May the odds be ever in your favor!'

Saturday, March 10, 2012


The Book: Maphead: Charting The Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

The Writer: Ken Jennings (Yep, that Ken Jennings. The one who lasted over 6 months on Jeopardy!)

The Dealio: Ken Jennings is a maphead, and he not only doesn't care who knows it, he is proud to be so labeled. Whether you care about maps and geography (My name is Susan and I am a maphead married to a maphead) or not, this book pulls you into the incredibly secretive, intriguingly complex world of the cartophiliac. My own mapheadedness takes a peculiarly mild form: I love maps, love looking at maps, admiring especially beautiful maps, no matter the subject. But, be so ill-advised as to put a Thomas's guide in my hand and ask me to navigate to the nearest park...and forget it. Might as well ask a one year old for driving directions. One famous statement my husband still trots out from time to time is my instruction to him to 'Turn up! We're going north, so turn up.' He actually had to pull the car over so he could regain control of the steering wheel, his laughter was so volcanic. None-the-less, I dove into this book with great zeal. Starting with the National Geographic Bee (hosted by none other than Alex Trebek), and moving swiftly, almost seamlessly, through the history of maps, map trading, geo-caching and the evolution and widespread use of GPS, this is a wonderful, well, road trip book. Chock full of personal anecdotes, history and science, but rendered in a smoothly engaging way, this is more than a dry throwback to elementary school. It is a celebration of all things map-related. And you will be surprised, I think, by just how many things actually ARE map-related.

The Grading Session: 4.61 pengies out of 5. A few debits for too many "NOTE:" entries. I have both the audio version and the text version (well, you would, wouldn't you, in a product called Maphead? Gotta see those map-ages). My one quibble with the audio version is that the reader- who, overall , is pretty good- mispronounces a number of fairly common words. But, as I said, this is a quibble- and a minor one at that.

Lessons Learned: Geography is not just maps. It encompasses things as diverse as politics, war, science, agriculture, history, seasons, astronomy, finance, religion, art and even music. Who knew? Oh. Right. Geographers.


The Book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

The Writer: Laura Hillenbrand

The Dealio: This true-life tale of Louis Zamperini reads like fiction: as a boy, Louie was the scourge of the neighborhood, scrapping, stealing, smoking and roving the area like an orphaned bear-cub. But an inspired idea from his older brother- running- changed all that, and Louis, forever. As a young man, he represented the US at the Berlin Olympics, signed on for the US Air Force as a bomber, was shot down, survived life on a raft for the longest period of time then recorded only to become a POW at a series of ever worsening facilities and endured being the subject of the particular attentions of a sadistic camp commander. Yet, through all of this, Zamerini remained defiantly unbroken. And still remains so to this day. At the age of 93, Louie continues to live his life with zest, grit and spirit. Now, thanks to Hillenbrand's book- which reads, at times, like a fictional thriller- you can get to meet Louie Zamperini, too.

The Grading Session: 4.99 pengies out of 5. A wildly readable book, at times there seemed a bit too much repetition and detail attached to some scenes. A totally unnecessary gilding of this particular lily, as Louie's story stands strong and proud on its own. I found that I simply could not put this book down. Every time I tried, it kept beaming me signals to just give in and read a few more pages. I so love this in a book!

Lessons Learned: One really big one: the human spirit is an unreasonably, improbably unsquashable thing. Then, too, this one: do not judge a book by its cover, or a person by their physical size: there is just as much room for courage, bravery and defiant spirit in a physically tiny person as in a muscle-bound giant. Lastly this: the desire for respect and dignity can drive a person to endure against all odds, once everything else has been stripped away. It is the hunger for those two things which gives us that extra strength to carry on.