Hunger Games Book Review

http://www.badreputation.org.uk/2011/03/25/the-girl-who-was-on-fire-reviewing-the-hunger-games/

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In light of the upcoming release of the movie adaption of the Hunger Games, I thought that it would be an appropriate time to review the source material.  The novel, by Suzanne  Collins, was first released in 2008 and in the wake of Twilight and Harry Potter has become something of phenomena since.  It’s one of those books that when you mention it to the right crowd of people (ages  15-20ish), you are immediately mobbed by questions like “Have you read it yet?!?” and pleas to check it out because, “it’s so good that I read it in one night!” (ehm, Stephanie Meyer).

While the first book is fun and enjoyable, some of the hype can be attributed to the fact, as a keen internet poster noted, that the books are something of a ”rebound” series for many heartbroken fans, filling the gaping hole caused by the conclusion of the beloved Twilight and Potter books.

A little context and analysis: if you don’t like any spoilers (I’m talking to you, people who avoid reading the back cover!), then stop reading this and start reading the book!

If you are out-of-the-loop book is set in a “post-apocalyptic” America, where only a few cities (known as districts) exist, all of which are controlled by the cruel and vengeful Capitol. The protagonist and narrator is Katniss Everdeen, a young woman hardened by a tough life, and who will do whatever it takes to care for those she loves.  One of the ways the Capitol control the districts is though the Hunger Games, where teenagers are selected from each district to battle to the death in a large arena, while the residents of the Capitol watch the mayhem on television.  As you would expect, Katniss is a participant in the games and the second half of the book is what happens to her in the arena.

The story hearkens William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, with adolescents chasing each other through forests and killing each other without any sensible adults to stop the violence. Unlike Golding’s story however, there isn’t a whole lot of depth here; the story is exciting and the killing can be jarring, but when I finished it, it just felt like a fun ride.  There were some creative images and details that added to the story, like the interview with Caesar Flickerman and Katniss’ relationship with her stylist.

Some parts of the story seemed a little ridiculous to me, like the teen romance-drama that occurred in the arena, but what bothered me more than anything was that the author never seemed to address what I thought was the elephant in the room: would Katniss commit a terrible act in order to guarantee her survival? Instead, the author completely sidestepped the issue, with Katniss only attacking those who attacked her first and other participants getting conveniently knocked out. At the end, Katniss seemed to cruise through the games without having to face that terrible choice. To me, this is either just laziness or, by forcing uncomfortable situations to not occur, authorial cowardice.

I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature, so it was really fun to read this book and I will eventually finish up the series (I am currently about halfway done with the final book, Mockingjay). If you want a quick and easy read with a fun plot, then check out the book, just don’t expect much more than that.

The Muppets (2011) Review

Rating: A

After many years away, the much-loved Muppet crew has returned.

Growing up, the Muppets were not huge in my family, so watching the movie have any sort of nostalgic effect on me- but it didn’t need to, the movie was hilariously great in its own right.

It’s a laugh-a-minute enjoyable ride.  The plot is straightforward and predictable, as it should be for a muppet movie) and serves as a way of reuniting the Muppets, who have been apart for many years. The songs and choreography are great and the cinematography looks pleasant and bright- much like the film itself.

The cast is led by Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the film), Amy Adams, and Chris Cooper. While Amy Adams role seems like mostly an afterthought, Segel does an excellent job, especially during the “Am I a man, or am I a Muppet?” scene. It’s fun to see Chris Cooper as the Muppet-dream-killer baddie.

At times, the 104 minute film seemed to drag on a little too long, and the non-stop zany humor was a little exhausting, but I can’t think of a better way for Disney to reintroduce these characters to a new generation of families.

Doublet #3: From Amnesiac

Could have picked any number of songs from this incredible band. Enjoy these two, from one of Radiohead’s lesser-known albums.

Great Free (Legal) Ways to Listen to Music

From the phonograph, to the Walkman, to the internet, the way we listen to music is constantly changing. Below are some of my favorite free ways to experience it.

Pandora

While most people are already familiar with internet radio, Pandora is still one of the best ways to listen to and experience new music. The service is based on the Music Genome Project, that finds music based on the characteristics of the song or album that you searched for. Its cool stuff that has helped me find new music and is a staple app on my IPhone.

Spotify

Spotify is like Grooveshark, except legal, actually organized, and far, far better. I have used the free version for a few months now and I can say that it has changed the way I listen to music. No longer do you have to wonder if you will like an album before buying it, because you can listen to the entire things absolutely for free. Yes, every six songs or so, there is a short one minute ad, but the disruption is minimal and the unlimited freeness too great to not check this out.

Turntable

I haven’t used this service too much, but it is an interesting idea. The site has a bunch of virtual “rooms” where people take turns DJing music for a virtual crowd of people. Depending on the room, if enough people don’t like your selections, they can boot you. It is the most interactive site of the bunch and a new way of sharing music online.

No Line On The Horizon Review

Rating: ****

This album is weird… and I like it.

It sounds different from U2′s previous work, but not in the overt way that Achtung Baby was. Longtime producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois return to work with the band again, but this time as collaborators: they receive co-writing credits on 6/11 of the album’s tracks. While the album achieved huge sales in comparison to nearly any other band, it didn’t produce a strong radio single and was U2′s least selling album since 1997′s Pop. 

Part of the reason for the low sales could be that the beauty of No Line is subtle. It isn’t the hard-rocking stadium-sized parts that are best (in fact they might be the worst), but the quieter, more intimate parts. On “Moment of Surrender,” it takes a full minute before Bono sings a note and another minute and a half before the chorus kicks in.

While there are some great tracks on No Line, it is not consistently good throughout. The best songs are the collaborations with Eno and Lanois. Disconcertingly, its the  tracks in the middle, where U2 decided to strike it out on their own, that are the weakest. It’s as if they felt the need to balance the experimentation with a couple standard rock tunes. Shame.

No bother though: as a whole, the album is largely a success. It’s a grower for sure, but hopefully the band aren’t too bothered by it only selling  few million copies, and can expand this sound on their next album.

Mylo Xyloto Review

Rating:  **

Coldplay have jumped the shark

Or the gun, or something.

With Mylo Xyloto, their transformation from acoustic indie darling to super monstrous pop-rock machine is complete.

Change is normally a good thing in music, but in Coldplay’s case, their change might be better described as devolution. Need proof? Check out 1999’s Blue Room E.P. or the b-sides recorded during the Rush of Blood to the Head sessions. This early music is far better than just about every song on Mylo, and most of it was never released on an actual album. Yep.

So what is the deal? After 2008’s excellent Viva la Vida, Coldplay seemed primed to make some truly great music. Granted, I was a little worried after hearing the first single “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” but it seemed like no matter after they released “Moving to Mars,” which harkened David Bowie and didn’t rely on overused pop hooks.

That song was not on the record however, and for good reason: there is no place for it in this pop monolith. Instead, Mylo plays like an extended  version of “Every Teardrop” intermixed with a few boring acoustic songs.

While the record is supposed to be a concept album about “ young lovers (“Mylo” and “Xyloto”) in revolt against an uncaring establishment,” it is better just to ignore all that, since those themes, if they exist, are so subtle as to add nothing to the record.

The best song, “Charlie Brown,” manages to stand out a little from the bunch. However, frustratingly, the studio version loses a lot of the live version’s raw energy and angst. “Us Against the World,” one of the slower acoustic ballads, isn’t nearly as good some of their old music. Instead, they could have just re-recorded the unreleased “See You Soon,” which has the emotional power of 10 “Us against the World[s]”

Disappointed? Yes.

Unexpected? Perhaps not.

While Coldplay rose to the occasion with Viva, it’s hard to see them recovering after this big a misfire. Chris Martin is notorious for hinting that every album might be the band’s last; for the sake of their legacy, perhaps they should actually call it quits this time. After all, life as a solo artist has its perks and perhaps it might prod that creative spark back to life again.

What are your thoughts? Voice your opinion in the comments section below!

Bottom of the Barrel: Falling Skies and The Last Airbender

Perhaps Newton’s third law applies to movies as well as motion: for every good movie or show, there is (at least) one equal and opposite bad one. Falling Skies, a TNT show now entering its second season and the M. Night Shayamalan adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender, both definitely fall into the latter category.

First out of the bin: Falling Skies.

Quick plot summary: it’s about survivors of an alien invasion in a post-apocalyptic Boston fighting for their survival.

I get why some people like this show- it has the whole “sci-fi adventure” thing going, with a big story, lots of characters and generally an all-around epic feel. But, that’s about it, everything else is pretty shoddy. The dialogue and characterization is cringe worthy- similar to the cut scenes from a well-made video game, like Halo for instance. Cowboy-esque characters shoot from the hip and produce testosterone-filled speeches. There is just enough emotional depth and interpersonal development  to get your toes wet and keep some people interested… but barely. The last scene of the finale sealed the deal for me. It was like watching a mock remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here is how it played out….

*Tom approaches alien spaceship and friend calls out to him as he goes*

“Tom. Tom! Tom?”

Cue big horns and fade to black

Yep.

Instead of watching this, check out the new Battlestar Galactica which is excellent and deserves it’s own review in the near future.

Now compared to The Last Airbender, Falling Skies is like a work of art. I mean, at least its creators had the dignity to keep the series a self-contained mess and not mess up someone else’s source material. On the other hand, Shayamalan’s The Last Airbender was not only one of the worst movies I have ever seen, but it desecrated a beloved T.V. series, perhaps ruining its chances of being adapted into a good film series forever. Think I am being mellow dramatic? Because there is definitely more.

I really have nothing positive to say about this movie, literally nothing. Not about the graphics, or the music, or the costumes, or the sets, or the cinematography, or the acting, or the lighting, or the dialogue, or the casting. Nothing. It is worth watching only as an example of how not to make a film. Put another way, only watch this movie if you want to learn how to make millions of people angry and decimate the tattered remains of respect you had in the film industry (I’m talking about you M. Night!). It is that bad.

For those who don’t know, Avatar: The Last Airbender was originally an anime- inspired cartoon that debuted on Nickelodeon a few years ago. I was hesitant to watch it but ended up getting hooked on the series within a few episodes. The world that the series is set in, the characters that inhabit it, and the adventures they have captivated me in a way that I hadn’t been by a series in a long time (and this is a children’s cartoon you say?). It pretty much blows the new Star Wars movies out of the water. Needless to say, it found a committed audience and became a cult phenomenon.

Then “Mr. Sixth Sense” man had to stick his nose in it and spoil the party.

Some of the ways he ruined the movie below:

Graphics/ FX: From the first second of the first scene, things were already going downhill in the film. The first thing I noticed was how fake the graphics look. Out of all the things they could have gotten wrong, I definitely would have thought that this would be an easy one to get right. Strike one.

Dialogue, acting, and casting: This movie is primarily a kids movie about kids. They really needed to get it right when choosing who played these roles. In the original show, the personality of the characters and the interactions between them was a huge reason why it was so successful. Imagine if Macaulay Culkin had played Harry Potter and the kid from Star Wars Episode 1 had played Ron… that is the equivalent of what happened here. Strike two.

Turning a magical world into a boring, dull, and lifeless one: Making a live action movie based on a cartoon was sure to be a challenge, but if done right, it could have shown viewers a new perspective on the world of Avatar. Given the 100 million dollar budget, the opportunities were endless.  Instead of converting this opportunity, they failed miserably and turned what could have been on screen magic into a shade of gray (was it slate-gray or taupe… I’m not sure?). Strike 3.

Do yourself a favor: skip the movie and watch the show instead.

Much more could be said, but it doesn’t really need to be, so I am going to be finished.

Oh and…

To be upfront, I didn’t waste my time watching the entirety of both of these; I only watched the season finale of Falling Skies and the first and last part of The Last Airbender. For some things, it’s important not to judge too hastily, as I pointed out in my “Why Critics”  article, but these dregs of film and t.v. didn’t deserve any more of my (or anyone else’s) attention. It seems like their creators didn’t care too much, so why should I?

The End of R.E.M.

R.E.M. decided to call it quits this week. While long past their prime (I didn’t listen to their new album besides a few singles), I always hoped they might make some sort of comeback. Alas, it was not to be and really not to be expected, as it has been a nearly 20 years since they were making some of their best music. However, at their best, R.E.M. made some amazing albums and shaped the sound of the 90’s in the process.  Below are a couple of songs off of 1991′s Out of Time and 1992′s Automatic for the People.

Doublet #2: From (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory

Oasis is a band you either love or love to hate. They emerged at the forefront of the Britpop movement during the early 1990’s and reached the pinnacle of their fame with 1995’s excellent (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory. While still beloved in Britain, they never really reinvented themselves and were criticized by some for spending the next decade living off of Glory.

But man, if you are going to live off one album, what an album to do it off of!

Well now the band is broken up and I thought it a good time to reflect back on this Britpop goodness.

Below are tracks 3 and 4 of Morning Glory:

Say what you will about Oasis spawning a whole fleet of suger-coated pop band wannabees, but the truth is, no one can “out Britpop” Oasis. So roll the windows down, crank up the volume and don’t look back in anger.

Plus this is just an amazing performance: “feel free to join in the chorus…” more like the whole song haha.

Paradise

Coldplay just released another new single off of their upcoming album Mylo Xloto. Simple hooks, great sonic texture, and a catchy beat-its a great pop song.  If insubstantial sugary desert isn’t your thing, then pass it up. As for me, I’m getting a second piece!

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