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I'm a certifiable culture junkie. I enjoy reading, writing, music, movies, and television.

I'm an aspiring member of the bourgeoisie.

I enjoy a good argument. I enjoy beer. I often enjoy the two together.

I value knowledge, friendship, and an unfaltering commitment to making the world a better place.

The Best Movies of 2013

I’m going to try and avoid weighing in on on the assertion that 2013 has been an exceptional year for film, largely because I often find I can’t have a suitable perspective on the year until the next year has nearly concluded. I often find that there are so many great films which fly under the radar and go unseen by me until many months after I’ve compiled this list. As of the time of publication, I have yet to see one of the films often cited as one of the year’s best- Spike Jonze’s, “Her.” I have also missed many foreign films and very small independent films. I also often find myself making a separate list for documentaries, as I judge them by a separate rubric.

Also, I’ve made another decision to arbitrarily choose 15 films as my favorites with an unordered  list of honorable mentions. I’m not sure why I’ve chosen to do it this way and have little intellectual justification for doing so.

Despite it’s posturing and prosaic nature, I still find it necessary for me to weigh in on the year’s best films, albums, tv shows, etc. It’s a fun exercise for me and I love highlighting the year’s best work. So, without further ado:

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6 months ago
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Thoughts on “The Hunger Games” Series

As someone who regularly writes about movies and film news, I was getting a little worn out by all the casting news which had been coming out about The Hunger Games. I couldn’t believe how many people were being cast in this movie, especially when you consider the names who are now involved in the project (Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci). So, naturally, I decided to pick up the series and read what was becoming a national sensation.

What follows are my thoughts and criticisms of the books. It should go without saying that there are heavy spoilers for all three books. My criticism of the book, sans summaries, will be posted in a separate piece as well as at the end of this post. 

The Hunger Games


Of course, the major plot point in this book involves Primrose Everdeen being selected as the tribute from District 12 despite the fact that the odds were in her favor. As such, Katniss, Prim’s older sister and the protagonist of the series, steps in to take her place. She is sent to The Hunger Games, an annual event where two children from each of the twelve districts are forced to fight to the death in a televised arena. The other tribute from District 12 is Peeta, who throws a wrench into the system when he professes his undying love for Katniss.

These events span the first half of the book while the actual Hunger Games dominate the latter half. I will say that the book moves with the narrative pace of a bullet train, often at the expense of character development and world building. In fact, we’re thrust into this arena of action and decapitation without spending much time with the characters in the book. We’re given little time to explore Peeta’s character, which isn’t too awful considering much of his appeal is the mystery behind his motives and actions. However, we’re given little about Katniss as a character except what the first person narration delivers. Rather than having her action speak for her, or even her own words, we’re left to settle for whatever she thinks- a cop out in any narrative art form.

However, the level of action in this book is certainly suited for a film adaptation. Though the book itself is rather short, especially on crucial dialogue, the violence that will undoubtedly appear on screen should keep viewers relatively riveted. Further, the simple fact that Katniss’ weapon of choice is a bow and arrow brings a certain archaic aesthetic to this dystopian future.

The final chapters of the book bring with it allusions to future conflicts, something that the book handles quite well.

Catching Fire

Surprisingly, the middle novel turned out to be a surprisingly well done sophomore slump. It’s obviously the least plot driven of the two, which reminds me a lot of THE BOURNE SUPREMACY film compared to it’s earlier and later counterparts- THE BOURNE IDENTITY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM respectively. The novel focuses much more on character and because of this is actually superior to the first novel as a whole.

We’re also fully introduced to the main villain of the series, President Snow, who spent the first book in the shadows. He visits Katniss early in the second book, an encounter which begins a conflict that engulfs the second novel. He reveals the growing tension throughout the districts because of Katniss’ Romeo and Juliet inspired threat of suicide that the conclusion of the Hunger Games.

Because of Katniss’ tour throughout the other districts, we’re exposed to more of Panem. This is where the world building really takes off, with a greater political structure being exposed. The one thing that the books failed to expand upon was the relative distance between the locales. Travel time is reduced to almost nothing, or at least it seems so, throughout all of the books. Further, one of the only traits we are given of each district is its economic specialization. Again, we can infer quite a bit from these small facts but it doesn’t truly aid in creating a cohesive future that we’re supposed to reside in for the duration of the story.

When I first read the integral plot twist of Catching Fire, I had believed that the series had jumped the shark in it’s second book. It was too contrived, too ‘reality tv’ for me to buy it. And then, the obvious trope emerged and the thematic element of entertainment culture began to rear it’s head. The idea of a Hunger Games with previous victors seemed too familiar, and it finally hit me: it’s a commonplace occurence on reality tv competitions- Survivor, Big Brother, etc. Brilliant? Not really, but definitely interesting.

However, the book’s biggest flaw, again, lies in its shoddy writing and first person narration. The book’s final pages explain monumental events in the course of a paragraph. Never mind the fact that the entire geo-political landscape has changed, we’ll just read about it over the course of several sentences.

Mockingjay

Speaking of geo-political landscapes, this book delves right into them. With the reveal that District 13 is alive and well, the entire element of the all powerful Capitol is questioned. In fact, the primary conflict in the first half of the novel pits Katniss against herself- does she become the Mockingjay, the symbol of a revolution, or does she settle for surviving? This conflict represents a pivotal moment in her development as a character, primarily because it contradicts many of her past actions.

The latter half of the book will, much like the first book, make for an excellent film as most of it contains fast paced action and urban combat. In many ways, this piece reads like a video game with a squad of characters having to combat a series of pods, each of which have unique challenges, in order to reach the center of the city.

The finale of the entire series, which ends with Katniss’ little sister dying at the hands of, presumably, President Coin and Katniss assassinating Coin as further revenge, is extremely interesting. As is the concept of exacting revenge on the Capitol by forcing them to participate in their own Hunger Games. However, Katniss’ character here becomes completely unbearable. Her distress at the loss of Prim may be real, but it is near impossible for a reader to sympathize because we’ve spent very little time with her. The extent to which the reader cares about Prim as a character exists because they’re told to care about her.

Criticisms

Ultimately, my criticisms of the novels lead me to conclude that these novels are sub-par at best. A sparse few of my disparaging thoughts can be relegated to mere aesthetic or surface level complaints. For example, in what conceivable universe would anyone in their right mind name a character Peeta? Or Katniss? I can’t think of a book I’ve ever read with worse character names, labels which are so corny and laughable as to elicit eye rolls on every page. Even though this may seem a trite criticism, it’s really hard to take a character seriously when his name could be used in My Little Pony.

A more serious complaint arrises when the medium of the narrative disregards any semblance of character development. Katniss’ narration of these events never gives actual depth to her character. Her defining characteristic is coldness; the only degree of real compassion she shows is toward her younger sister, and even then such compassion occurs so sparsely throughout the novel that the reader is simply forced to assume why and how much she cares. To say that a lead character cannot be cold and unfeeling is not my point. Instead, the driving force of the novel’s narrative is the degree of passion she feels for protecting her younger sister. However, the reader is given such a short period of time with Primrose (one of the only decent names, which is then shortened to the abysmal ‘Prim’), that we are forced to simply assume compassion is present rather than draw conclusions from actions or dialogue. Essentially, the reader is told how to feel, rather than actually feeling it. 

However, the most atrocious element of the book is it’s derivative themes which insult the memory of Orwell and Kafka. To claim that The Hunger Games deserves entry into the cannon of literature read by young adults disregards the countless novels which more adequately explore the themes which are merely hinted at in this series. The only extent to which Collins actually explores the dystopian world she has built derives from the simple fact that the characters exist there. The novels spend only brief amounts of time exploring the world in which they exist; there’s no institutions constructed, no look at the hierarchy of power, and the only examination of the social disparity is simply explained out loud. Subtlety is completely lost, as Collins simply spells out exactly what the reader needs- nothing more. 

I read these books for the same reason I watched Jersey Shore, saw Transformers, or listen to Ke$ha. It’s important to keep up, and constantly criticize, pop culture. As an entry into the pop-literature genre, these books are acceptable for grammar school students. To insist that these books be entered into high school curricula affronts the intelligence of high school aged children. At that age, kids should be reading Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Dostoevsky and not wasting critical time on children’s books such as these. 

When it comes down to it, The Hunger Games is a mediocre entry into the realm of literature. The life of a child is a zero-sum game; there exists a finite amount of time available for any sort of activity. Reading competes for an ever smaller portion of the “Recreation” portion of that pie as television, film, music, and the internet make significant inroads into this area. Why then are we encouraging children to read sub-par novels which fail to explore the complex themes already built in other novels such as Animal Farm, The Giver, or Ender’s Game? To say that these books aren’t deserving of criticism which draws issue with the book’s thematic elements is mortgaging the minds of children in favor of solipsism, trash-culture, and, in this case, a hamfisted attempt at an Orwellian young adult novel. 

2 years ago
0 notes
Humpday, 2009

Humpday, 2009

4 years ago
0 notes
This CGI bullshit is the death knell of cinema. If I’d wanted all that computer game bullshit, I’d have stuck my dick in a Nintendo.
Quentin Tarantino
4 years ago
0 notes

Criticisms of The Hunger Games Series

This piece is a spoiler-free criticism of The Hunger Games series. It is the end of a larger post which details several spoilers for the book. If you’re curious about  my thoughts on the series, but haven’t read the books- start here. If you’ve read the books and would like to offer criticism of my criticism, look here for the full post. 

Ultimately, my criticisms of the novels lead me to conclude that these novels are sub-par at best. A sparse few of my disparaging thoughts can be relegated to mere aesthetic or surface level complaints. For example, in what conceivable universe would anyone in their right mind name a character Peeta? Or Katniss? I can’t think of a book I’ve ever read with worse character names, labels which are so corny and laughable as to elicit eye rolls on every page. Even though this may seem a trite criticism, it’s really hard to take a character seriously when his name could be used in My Little Pony.

A more serious complaint arrises when the medium of the narrative disregards any semblance of character development. Katniss’ narration of these events never gives actual depth to her character. Her defining characteristic is coldness; the only degree of real compassion she shows is toward her younger sister, and even then such compassion occurs so sparsely throughout the novel that the reader is simply forced to assume why and how much she cares. To say that a lead character cannot be cold and unfeeling is not my point. Instead, the driving force of the novel’s narrative is the degree of passion she feels for protecting her younger sister. However, the reader is given such a short period of time with Primrose (one of the only decent names, which is then shortened to the abysmal ‘Prim’), that we are forced to simply assume compassion is present rather than draw conclusions from actions or dialogue. Essentially, the reader is told how to feel, rather than actually feeling it. 

However, the most atrocious element of the book is it’s derivative themes which insult the memory of Orwell and Kafka. To claim that The Hunger Games deserves entry into the cannon of literature read by young adults disregards the countless novels which more adequately explore the themes which are merely hinted at in this series. The only extent to which Collins actually explores the dystopian world she has built derives from the simple fact that the characters exist there. The novels spend only brief amounts of time exploring the world in which they exist; there’s no institutions constructed, no look at the hierarchy of power, and the only examination of the social disparity is simply explained out loud. Subtlety is completely lost, as Collins simply spells out exactly what the reader needs- nothing more. 

I read these books for the same reason I watched Jersey Shore, sawTransformers, or listen to Ke$ha. It’s important to keep up, and constantly criticize, pop culture. As an entry into the pop-literature genre, these books are acceptable for grammar school students. To insist that these books be entered into high school curricula affronts the intelligence of high school aged children. At that age, kids should be reading Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Dostoevsky and not wasting critical time on children’s books such as these. 

When it comes down to it, The Hunger Games is a mediocre entry into the realm of literature. The life of a child is a zero-sum game; there exists a finite amount of time available for any sort of activity. Reading competes for an ever smaller portion of the “Recreation” portion of that pie as television, film, music, and the internet make significant inroads into this area. Why then are we encouraging children to read sub-par novels which fail to explore the complex themes already built in other novels such as Animal FarmThe Giver, orEnder’s Game? To say that these books aren’t deserving of criticism which draws issue with the book’s thematic elements is mortgaging the minds of children in favor of solipsism, trash-culture, and, in this case, a hamfisted attempt at an Orwellian young adult novel. 

2 years ago
0 notes

7 Days as a Cinephile: Week 1

1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

  • Directed by Wes Anderson
  • Starring George Clooney, Merryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
  • 5th Viewing

This film holds up incredibly well. After my first viewing, I wasn’t exactly sure where I stood. Looking back, I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. I walked out of the theater sort of bewildered, trying to figure out who the intended audience was for this movie. It certainly wasn’t children, as it’s major theme is that of a Fox going through a mid life crisis. And though I’m not going through a mid-life crisis myself, nor am I a vulpes-vulpes, I can’t find anything to dislike about this movie. 

There are a few scenes that I don’t quite comprehend. While I fully admit that I don’t understand them, I’d argue til my dying breath that they have a purpose. I’m specifically referring to the scene near the end of the film with the wolf, which still puzzles me. It’s both poignant and comic, which makes it one of the most interesting in the movie. I’ve shared this movie with new friends each time and I’ve yet to find someone that doesn’t love it. Endlessly quotable, always relatable, and a damn fine time with friends.

2. LOST: Episode 16, Season 6

  • Directed by Paul Edwards
  • Starring Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lily
  • Original Airdate: May 18, 2010
  • First Viewing

Well, the penultimate episode of LOST has come and gone. This series has been one hell of a ride, and I will definitely be writing up a series recap (potential podcast as well) after the series finale on Sunday. However, this episode resonated with me for several reasons.

LOST SPOILERS FOR SEASON 6!

First of all, we’re beginning to get closure. Jacob’s explanation basically just laid out what we’d been guessing at for the entire season. Jacob needs someone to take over for him as the island’s protector and he’s spent his entire life searching for someone. He had his lighthouse where he sought out these individuals and gradually crossed off their names in a cave as they deemed themselves unworthy or died off. 

Second, Jack stepped up. From the beginning of the show, Jack has been a central focus. Now, this is first and foremost an ensemble show. You’ve had a large cast of critical characters, each playing their important roles. However, Jack has always been the fulcrum, the catalyst. We began the series with him, with his eye, opening in the jungle. Season 2 was a battle between him and John Locke between science and faith. Season 3 was him coping with the threat of the Others. Season 4 dealt with the decisions of the freighter folk and leaving the island. Season 5 was returning to the Island and undoing everything that had ever been done. And Season 6 has been spent returning Jack to his rightful place- protector, fixer, leader.

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

  • Directed by Banksy
  • Documentary
  • First Viewing

This years has already been replete with thought provoking films. DOGTOOTH currently sits atop my best of the year, mostly due to its intellectual stimulation. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT shop kept me thinking in the same way; it brought up questions regarding the nature of art itself. Our society currently exists in a world based on consumption, which drastically alters the purpose, reception, and creation of art.

This movie hasn’t left my mind, so expect a long post about it later.

4. Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

  • Directed by Alex Gibney
  • Documentary
  • First Viewing

A pretty standard documentary. I did a double feature of this and the aforementioned EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, which probably lessened the impact of CASINO JACK. However, it’s a pretty strong documentary. It tells, in depth, the story of Jack Abramoff. Abramoff was America’s most infamous lobbyist, whose ties ranged from Indian tribes to the President of the United States. However, he fell from grace after a massive scandal involving embezzlement and fraud. 

If you aren’t too familiar with Abramoff and his story, there are large parts of this that might be over your head. There a lot of names, a lot of dates, and a large cast of players that are given in rapid fire fashion which could easily fly by with little comprehension from the unaware viewer. Just like that last sentence, I suppose.

However, I really liked it in the end. It appealed to my insatiable hunger for political controversy.  

5. LOST Series Finale

  • Directed by Jack Bender
  • Starring Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lily
  • Original Airdate: May 23, 2010
  • First Viewing

I couldn’t possibly compress my thoughts into something worth reading here. Definitely a longer post about it later. The TL;DR version?

I liked it, with reservations. 

4 years ago
0 notes
Film lovers are sick people.
Francois Truffaut
4 years ago
Notes