Book Reports & Movie Reviews

Hunger Games review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is scheduled for release this Friday. In preparation, I watched The Hunger Games again. I was reminded of a few points that I thought worked really well in the film adaptation and a few more that fell flat. Be forewarned that this review contains spoilers, so please stop reading now if you have not yet seen the first film.

First, a few things that didn’t work well:

1. The mockingjay pin

mockingjayI understand the need to streamline the number of characters for the movie adaptation. Axing Madge was one thing, but the new backstory of Katniss’ mockingjay pin is ludicrous: Katniss finds the pin at the marketplace and gives it to li’l sis Prim as a good luck charm to protect Prim from anything bad happening to her at the Hunger Games reaping. Prim is selected despite her name being entered only once in the pool. Katniss volunteers to take her place and when Prim comes to say goodbye, she gives the pin back to Katniss to protect her from anything bad happening. Really, Prim? Fifteen minutes ago the mockingjay pin proved itself to be an epic failure as a good luck charm and you are giving it back to Katniss? And Katniss, you are accepting it?

My suggestion: It would have worked better for Mrs. Everdeen to give Katniss the pin when she and Pris came to say goodbye. She could have told Katniss the story about it having belonged to a friend of hers who was a tribute years before and she hoped it would bring Katniss luck.

2. The bakery scene

peetabakeryIn the book, the scene where Peeta tossed a loaf of burnt bread to Katniss occurred shortly after the death of Katniss’ father more than five years earlier. Katniss is a little girl nearly starving to death. The scene does not make sense once Katniss is a young woman proficient at supporting herself and her family by hunting in the woods outside of District 12.

My suggestion: it would have worked better to cast a couple of younger actors to film this scene.

3. Tracker jacker hallucinations

hallucinateThe tracker jacker scene is critical to the story, but I did not care for the way it was executed. Seeing Katniss’ point of view as out of focus was all right, but having Caesar Flickerman walk into her hallucination with an explanation of the effects of tracker jacker venom was incongruous, and the explosion of her cabin just did not make sense.

My suggestion: Caesar Flickerman’s comments could have been handled as a quick cutaway to the Hunger Games program instead of part of the hallucination. Leave out the exploding room.

4. Mutts

muttsIn the book, the mutts sent to pursue the last few remaining players had facial characteristics of the dead tributes. The film version generic mutts were not nearly as menacing as the picture the book painted in my imagination.

My suggestion: Stepping up the CGI to make the mutts look more like the slain tributes could have been a truly terrifying scene.

Now, film elements that worked extremely well:

1. The control room

controlroomSince the book was written strictly from Katniss’ point of view, we did not know anything at all about the Hunger Games control room. The depiction of the control room technology in the movie, particularly in contract to the condition of life in District 12, was outstanding. I also liked the parachutes that delivered sponsor gifts (although I had always imagined them as silent – seems like the tinkling sound could attract the unwanted attention of other tributes).

2. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch

The Hunger Games: The Official Illustrated Movie CompanionWhen Woody Harrelson was cast as Haymitch, I remember thinking it was a particularly brilliant choice. And it was. Overall, I think the casting directors did an outstanding job bringing the novel characters to the screen.

3. The early introduction of President Snow

president-snowIn the books, President Snow does not make an appearance until Catching Fire. It worked very well to introduce him earlier on, particularly for the pre-game festivities.

4. The punishment of Seneca Crane

senecacraneThis is another scene that was not possible from Katniss’ first person narrative in the novel but was a splendid addition to the movie. Watching Seneca Crane approach a bowl of lethal nightlock berries in an otherwise empty yet opulent room – and realize its implications – sent chills down my spine.


Overall, I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job adapting the movie to film, and I am looking forward to seeing what they did with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

No Excuses

I’m not feeling well today, what with volatile end-of-winter weather and that pesky time change. I even took a nap this afternoon, which is out of character. Daisy liked that; she came in and snoozed with me.

I was all set to use my under-the-weatheredness as an excuse to skip posting today. Until I checked into Facebook this afternoon (funny how I had enough energy for that, but not enough for my weblog) and saw a friend post about this book:


The author, Susan Spencer-Wendel, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011. She was 44 at the time. She quit her job as a reporter with The Palm Beach Post and spent a year checking items off her bucket list. She traveled to see the Northern Lights, but they didn’t appear (I can commiserate with that). She took her teenaged daughter to buy a wedding dress she will not live to see worn. She swam with dolphins and adopted a new dog.

Then she wrote a book about the joys – yes joys – of her experience. On her iPhone. Using her right thumb, the only finger she still had use of.

I am both shamed and inspired. Other than a trifling cold, I am healthy. I have use of all my limbs and all ten digits.

Thanks for the reminder, Susan Spencer-Wendel. I’m looking forward to reading your book and living life to the fullest. No excuses.

200 Years of Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice was published January 28, 1813, two hundred years ago today. Austen is my favorite author, first because her dialog is brilliant; second because her characters are brilliant; third because her description is, well, brilliant. She does not squander time or words on description, yet I can picture every scene in my mind’s eye although I did not live in that time period nor have I visited Britain.

Austen’s characters, even minor ones, are well-developed and easy to identify with because each is, in one way or another, flawed. For example, Mrs. Bennet is shallow and silly, but Mr. Bennet responds with cynicism and more or less leaves his daughters to fend for themselves. At the same time, even unlikable characters have redeeming qualities. Mr. Collins, the consummate buffoon, has his heart in the right place wanting to marry into the family he will displace when he inherits Mr. Bennet’s estate. It truly is a “small world” in Pride and Prejudice, with varied and tangled relationships among the characters.

Pride and Prejudice Character Map (Wikipedia).

In P&P – indeed, in all of Austen’s novels – conflicts arise due to love, money, and societal expectations. Elizabeth Bennet, the female protagonist, is the personification of “prejudice,” often forming opinions without considering all sides of the story. And let’s face it: Mr. Darcy, the “pride” and male protagonist, is quite simply a jerk during the first part of the story.

Consider his marriage proposal to Elizabeth (as depicted in A&E’s 1995 miniseries):

Ouch. Fortunately Darcy and Lizzy are open-minded enough to allow for some major character development. Observe the smoldering gazes exchanged during a later encounter at Pemberley:

Ahhh, this is my favorite scene from the 1995 adaptation.

Each of Jane Austen’s novels ends with an engagement or wedding. Pride and Prejudice is no exception, and everybody – at least the deserving ones – lives happily every after.

Hell in the Head by David Douglas Shannon

Shortly after my surgery I was fortunate to find a second online support group. This one was for acoustic neuroma patients, but thanks to one of life’s little ironies there is actually a higher risk for facial paralysis during surgery on the eighth cranial (acoustic) nerve than on the seventh (facial). This forum had a section dedicated to post-surgical facial effects, and they were kind enough to let me join their group.

One of my newfound internet friends, “LADavid,” was an aspiring actor and author. You may have seen him in Reba, NCIS, Alias or Brothers & Sisters. If you saw Transformers, you surely noticed his red-stockinged feet as he asked a stewardess to round him up some Ding Dongs. He was a stand-in for the 2007 movies Slipstream and The Bucket List. That October he appeared in a TV Guide print ad for Cave Man. Then, in early December, David Shannon was blindsided by a triple whammy following acoustic neuroma surgery: hearing loss, facial palsy and impaired balance.

David’s combination of complications cut his acting career short, but he refocused his creative energy into writing. This summer, David’s memoir was published. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes humorous and always honest, Hell in the Head: My War with a Brain Tumor and Other Evil Things is a frank look at how, with the help of God, family and friends, the human spirit adapts to the unexpected.

In addition to his personal story, David has gathered a wealth of background information related to acoustic neuromas, treatment options and potential complications – information that he did not have going into his surgery. Hell in the Head is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble,

David’s next venture is a mystery suspense novel. He is also interested in developing screenplays.

I had the good fortune to meet David last New Year’s Eve during a layover at LAX on the way home from visiting Hanna in Vietnam. The flight had been turbulent (a story for another time) and Phil and I were both feeling the effects. Unfortunately I was not up to the long conversation about our writing careers that I had eagerly anticipated, but David was a godsend: kind, considerate and helpful in getting us to our next flight.

I’m not sure how to calculate David’s odds. The incidence of acoustic neuroma is roughly twice that of HFS, but he scored the triple threat of complications. Let’s just say he is definitely a member of the One in a Million Club.