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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games book series is an extremely popular series with today's teens and tweens. It falls in the category of Teen Literature or Young Adult Fiction. It came to my attention because I kept seeing articles in entertainment magazines and websites that heralded The Hunger Games as the next Twilight series, as in the next teen fiction book series that would make millions of dollars as a series of movies. I did some research and found it at the top of teen fiction charts everywhere. When I learned the premise of the stories it sounded so compelling that I had to check it out, partly because I wanted to be ready when the movies hit and my young girls started begging me to read the books, and partly because the story sounded like the kind of story I'd love to read.
At the point of this writing, I've read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the first two books in this three part series. I plan to read the third book, Mockingjay very soon. As soon as I can get my hands on a copy I'll be diving in to see how this incredible series ends. As you can already tell, I'm enjoying the series immensely. I say that from the point of view of an adult who enjoys a good science fiction thriller/human drama. When I switch to my parent hat, I'm a little concerned about a couple of big issues. I'll get to those in a moment.
PLOT SUMMARY - The story is set in the not too distant future when the United States has been divided into 12 sectors that are ruled with an iron fist by the powerful and wealthy Capitol. In order to keep the weaker sectors in line the Capitol forces each sector to send two tributes, or teen agers (one boy and one girl), to an annual event called the Hunger Games. The best way to describe it is to think of our Survivor reality show and imagine the contestants having to kill each other to be declared the winner. Our hero for the whole series is a 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen. When her younger sister is chosen to go to the games, she volunteers to take her place. From there we follow Katniss into the games and see the whole gruesome experience through her eyes. It's appropriate to compare the Hunger Games to Survivor because the actual games are played out like an extreme reality t.v. show. Viewers throughout the country are forced to watch every minute, recorded live on hidden cameras inside the games. I'll stop there because I don't want to give too much away.
MY TAKE - The premise of this series is intriguing. The very thought of a young, innocent girl being forced to participate in a game where she has to fight to her death is one of those things that's too sick to think about, but given the chance to see it, I wouldn't be able to take my eyes off of it. That's what happened when I started reading The Hunger Games. Author, Suzanne Collins is so good at putting us inside the head of Katniss Everdeen that we instantly begin to care about her and feel her pain. We also realize early on that Katniss is no ordinary girl. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, are different than the other tributes that we meet. They're both pure at heart in their own way. They have no lust for power or fame or fortune. They want simply to survive and protect their loved ones. This purity, especially in Katniss, becomes more and more important as the story goes on. The well written characters are the star of the show here as it should be in any great story. The games are simply the setting (and what an incredible setting it is) for the inner conflicts that Katniss is forced to experience. I was glad to see that the violence of the games wasn't played up for shock value in any way. Instead, the violence is shown more as an example of how unjust and evil The Capitol is for forcing these young people to participate.
IS IT FOR KIDS? - I'm more concerned about the violence when I think of my young kids reading the books. There are a few scenes where people get killed in particularly gruesome ways.
The premise of the series alone is a problem for young readers, in my opinion. The thought of my kids wrapping their little minds around the idea of innocent teenagers having to kill each other to survive makes me feel a little queezy. I would not want my kids contemplating these themes. So, I would say no to younger kids. Maybe when they're in their teens. I'd have to play that one by ear.
The other issue that a parent should consider is the matter of the two main characters sharing a bed at times. It should be noted that no one in these first two books has had sex with each other. Katniss and Peeta end up sleeping together for comfort. It actually makes sense considering the horror of what they're having to go through. Nevertheless, I wouldn't want my young ones reading this and coming away thinking it's ok to spend the night with a member of the opposite sex as long as nothing happens. Call me old fashion, but I've got to draw a line somewhere. 
MY BOTTOM LINE  - I highly recommend the Hunger Games series for adults and teens, but it's definitely not for younger minds. I also can't wait for the movies. Get ready Moms and Dads. If your kids don't already know about the Hunger Games, they will this time next year.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rango Review

Rango is an off-beat, funny, eye-popping movie. It's not your average CGI movie. In fact it breaks new ground for the genre with clever writing, quirky characters and extremely life-like animation.

Plot Summary: A directionless lizard, who spends his days pretending to have an exciting life with the objects in his lizard tank, ends up stuck in the desert, in a dusty old town that looks like it was pulled straight out of an old Clint Eastwood movie. In fact, every character in Rango reminded me of stereo-typical western characters from the classic movies. In order to stay alive, the lizard uses his only skill of pretending, or acting like someone else. In this case, he becomes a gunslinger named Rango. Before he knows it he's the sheriff of the town and all the odd townspeople, or towns-small-animals, are expecting him to solve all of their problems. The plot thickens and Rango's lies get thicker too. Before he knows it, he finds himself in a heep of hilarious trouble.

What I Liked About Rango: My favorite thing about this movie was the colorful characters throughout, starting with Rango, voiced by Johnny Depp who did a fine job bringing the colorful lizard to life. His characterization brought back shades of Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. The numerous supporting characters were a smorgasbord of kooky western characters played by rodents, reptiles, amphibians and other weird critters. I liked most of the writing in Rango. Dialogue was more subtle and more intelligent than what we get in the majority of today's CGI movies. You had to listen a little harder to keep up but I found that quite refreshing. I liked the realistic style of computer animation, so real that most of it looked like film. Only the stylized animal characters gave it away. In fact, the real factor was so strong that most of the towns folk were down right disgusting looking. No cute animated toys or fluffy monsters here.

What I Did Not Like About Rango: There was some spiritual talk about "the spirit of the west" that almost ruined it for me. Keep in mind I had my 8 and 6 year old sitting next to me in the theatre. In one scene the characters said a solemn prayer to this spirit asking it for help. There was another scene where one of the bad guys goes into a southern preacher routine as he deceives the crowd by promising a miracle that doesn't happen. Neither scene went far enough to offend me but I felt they were very unnecessary. There were also several minor cuss words thrown in that I wish my kids hadn't had to listen to.

Who Should See It?: Rango is barely a kids movie. In fact, I say it's meant for older kids and adults who are still young at heart. Many of the jokes and lines will go over the heads of young kids. Several of the characters are scary looking and some scenes are intense and could frighten younger kids. My two told me they enjoyed the movie, but I'm sure they didn't get alot of it and I'm a little worried that my youngest will end up having nightmares after seeing it.

Rango is not a perfect movie by any means. It is, however, fun and very original. If you're old enough to remember the classic westerns you'll get an extra kick out of Rango. There's just enough craziness and silly happenings to keep the kids interested but don't bring the younger ones.