Friday, August 26, 2011

The Hunger Games: Apparently I Like to Read Books That Get Turned Into Movies

For the first time I read The Hunger Games, the newest young adult sensation in fiction novels. Like many others out there the first thing that came to mind was Battle Royale. There have been a whole slew of comparisons all over the internet, from accusations of plagiarism to defending the books’ differences to the death (no pun intended). As I have only seen the movie Battle Royale and not read the novel, I am choosing not to throw in my own two cents on this topic (even though I'm really tempted to!). Instead, I will focus on my thoughts on The Hunger Games as a unique entity. That said, for those of you that haven't read it (or plan to see the movie without reading it), beware of spoilers!! You have officially been warned.

The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America, where the nation of Panem has risen out of its ashes. A tyrannical and overly wealthy Capitol reigns over 12 districts, all known for a certain industry and all suffering from various levels of poverty. There were once 13 districts, but when District 13 rebelled against the Capitol it was obliterated. As a punishment for the insubordination of District 13 and a reminder to the remaining 12 districts of their inferiority, the Capitol enforces an annual event called the Hunger Games. In each district all children between the ages of 12 and 18 are entered into a drawing, and one boy and one girl are selected at random from each district. The 24 “tributes” are taken to an undisclosed arena where they must fight to the death, until one victor is left standing. By law every citizen must watch the televised proceedings, and the Capitol portrays the event as a combination of a reality show and a sporting event. There are opening ceremonies, interviews, training scores, and cameras that follow their every move in the arena, which is rigged with traps that are implemented by the Game Makers when things get dull.

The story follows Katniss, a young girl from District 12 who has experienced the deepest trenches of poverty, has taught herself how to survive, and acts as the primary breadwinner for her mother and little sister. When her 12-year-old sister is selected as the female tribute for District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Hunger Games. I think that's all the background you really need (no, I will not spoil you spoiler-lovers by giving away the end!). Now on to my thoughts and opinions (which is what you're all here for, right?)!

While some may say Suzanne Collins is a story-stealer, I instead believe she took a concept that has been visited many times before, put her own unique spin on it, and layered it with a well-crafted back story, bizarre characters and creatures, and thought-provoking insights into a bleak future that is sometimes horrifyingly comparable to certain aspects of society today. She chooses to write the story from a survivalist point of view rather than the horror-based gorefest it could have been, which makes sense to me since the whole point of the game is to survive. The novel is sometimes slow-paced as we follow Katniss hunting and hiding in trees, and I don't think Collins does this because she wants to bore you or avoid going from one bloody murder to the next. I believe she does it to build feelings of suspense, fear, and reality within the reader, thus mirroring the intention the Games have for the citizens of Panem. It was for that reason that I pushed through the duller moments and ended up reading the entire book in one day.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that it takes two been-there-done-that motifs and spins them together into the perfect marriage of disturbing. It's the combination of being forced to fight to the death and the way it is depicted as a twist on a modern-day reality show, topped with just a dash of 1984 "Big Brother is watching you" that sends shivers down my spine. The tactics used to up entertainment value are very similar to what you see in a reality show today- twists in the game, viewers getting the opportunity to affect what happens in the game (in this case by sponsoring to send gifts to the players), cameras capturing their every move. The Capitol turns it into a spectator sport and forces its citizens to watch, and even worse many of them enjoy it and place bets on who will die and who will be victorious. With all the negative drama people already love to watch on reality shows (who doesn't love a good bitch fight on Jersey Shore?), after reading this book I can't help but wonder: how far are we willing to go to be entertained, and where will we draw the line?

My final comment on the Hunger Games is that Suzanne Collins could have been WAY more obnoxious about the love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta, but she wasn't, and I thank her for that. I think she plays it just right and doesn't overdo it, so it adds a good dynamic to the story but doesn't take away from it. The love story is not the point, it's just a factor. Maybe I'm speaking to soon and she's going to go all Twilight on my ass in the next two books, but I sincerely hope not. In fact, I'm going to go knock on some wood now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Help Hits the Big Screen

Last week, for the first time, I saw The Help in theaters. I read the book a couple of months ago, unaware they were making a movie until after I had already started it. I was excited that upon finishing the novel I would get the instant gratification of seeing it on the big screen without a long wait (Unlike my traumatizing experience with the Harry Potter movies- so much wait time between reading and watching- woe is me!)

The co-worker I saw it with had some strong reservations about the movie. She argued that some of the relationships were not developed as well as they were in the novel and that some of the scenes were cheesy. My counter-argument is as follows: "well duh, it's a movie."  In a novel you can go on for pages and pages about the intricacies of a relationship between characters, including paragraphs upon paragraphs of inner thoughts that simply can't be portrayed to their full extent in film. As for the moments of cheesiness, it’s a Disney/Dreamworks film and is therefore to be expected. The truth of the matter is when you watch a movie adaptation of any book you love, you have to be willing to settle or you will have a bad experience.

That said, I really enjoyed the film and was pleased with how true it stayed to the book. I thought the cast was fantastic, I appreciated that they didn’t focus on the romance between Skeeter and Stuart, and I laughed and cried at the appropriate moments (I will say I’m kind of an easy target though..). If you haven’t seen it yet, see it. But more importantly, READ THE BOOK!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No, I did not brush my teeth with Jack Daniels to pregame.. or did I?

On Sunday night I went to a Ke$ha concert for the first time. First I want to note that when I said those exact words to one of my co-workers, his response was: "What's a Ke$ha?" Alright, moving on.

I was originally meant to go with my best friend Katiri, but her task force's mission in the Middle East was extended. My friend Gio, Katiri's boyfriend, stepped up to the plate and offered to go with me, though he had no intention of getting glitter/hipsterized and dancing all night like Katiri would have. I did try to pressure him once or twice into wearing a shade of purple glitter that would have gone great with his dark complexion, but to no avail. Honestly, I just appreciate that he was willing to be a good sport so I wouldn't miss the concert. So I modestly glittered myself (I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but TRUST me there could have been more glitter involved), just my eye shadow, nails, and a sparkly shirt, and off we went.

She performed at the George Mason University Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA, which is their ginormous basketball arena. The crowd was surprisingly tame, just lots of glitter, lots of slutty 14 year olds (seriously, how are parents letting them out in these outfits??), and lots of people who didn't dress up at all. I was expecting a little more craziness, but maybe part of it was the fact that it was a Sunday night. The crowd wasn't just tame in appearance, but I'll get to that later.

LMFAO was the opener, and we waltzed in about halfway through their set (is the correct term still a "set" when I'd rather call it "catchy auto-tuned synthesized repetition" than actual music?). I will say they had a great energy and the crowd was eating up their many shenanigans, including a dancing panda and the removal of many pairs of pants (don't worry Mom and Dad, they were all wearing boxers). While I did rock out to the couple of songs I knew (okay.. by a couple I mean one), I honestly spent more time being entertained by the life-size blow-up zebra that was bouncing and gyrating its way through the crowd below. I was for the most part unimpressed, that is until Ke$ha began, and then I quickly realized I wanted LMFAO back.

As soon as Ke$ha started her first song of the night (Sleazy, also the name of her tour), I could immediately tell something didn't sound right. A couple songs in, my concerns were affirmed when Gio leaned over to me and said, "does her voice sound really high-pitched to you?" He went on to theorize that the mic was either poorly or incorrectly autotuned, and I have to agree because it almost sounded as if she had just inhaled helium. Now one of Ke$ha's main appeals is that large portions of her songs are a sexy/sleazy/bitchy-party-girl style of talking rather than actual singing, but that whole aspect is lost when her mic makes her sound like a chipmunk.

My other main complaint was that I was unexpectedly and dissapontedly bored at times. This could have resulted from a number of personal factors: it was a Sunday night, lack of Katiri meant I wasn't rocking out as hard, I wasn't wearing enough glitter.. Actually, scratch all that, I'm pretty certain it was Ke$ha. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was kind of expecting people dressed as unicorns to come on stage and get shot with rainbow beams (if you don't get that reference, go here). And if not that, I at least expected Ke$ha to do something more entertaining than a few slutty dance moves and a glitter gun. And before you say "Now Kaytee, you're just projecting your much too high expectations as a biased reflection of how she actually did," I should mention that I was not alone in this sentient. The majority of my section and the sections around me were sitting through much of her performance. Yes, sitting! Sitting during songs where no one should be sitting! It was actually quite nice because it allowed us to sit and still be able to see. But the point is I shouldn't have wanted to sit.

That said, I actually did have a good time overall. The highlight of the performance was when she brought an adorable gay boy from the audience on stage, had him tied to a chair with Saran wrap and duct tape, and used him as a prop during "Grow a Pear." I also had fun dancing with Gio (yes, he even danced a little bit!) and playing with the cute sparkly Ke$ha tiger he bought for Katiri!

I'll leave you with this fun fact about Ke$ha: she got a perfect score on her SATs. Mull over that for a while.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sleepless in Seattle (well, we slept a little bit..)

Last week, for the first time, I went to Seattle. My best friend Marissa lives there and I finally landed on the perfect opportunity to visit (I was already out on the west coast with work). Luckily, I brought the Orange County weather with me (according to Marissa, the first good weather of the summer). Unluckily, I also brought with me a very sensitive stomach, making it impossible to try the lobster chowder at Duke's Chowder House or the amazing donuts from the stand at the Pike Place market. Regardless, there was much fun to be had- and it was just nice to see Marissa and see where she lives (I'm kind of obsessed with and insanely jealous of her apartment). The first real highlight of the trip was surprising Marissa with the arrival of our best friend Katiri, who also lives in DC. I worked in cohorts with Marissa's boyfriend to get the three of us to Serious Pie for lunch the next day (DELICIOUS pizza, though considering said stomach issues I probably shouldn't have eaten it). I was strategically positioned to see when Katiri entered the restaurant and quickly raised my phone to take a picture of Marissa and Chris. Katiri proceeded to jump in the picture between the two of them and I captured Marissa's shock and surprise:


And thus, with our surprise plus one, our journey began. Here are some of the other highlights:

Pike Place Market. It's true that I didn't get to try the donuts, but that didn't take any of the fun and excitement out of this humongous farmers market located on the waterfront. This place was perfect for any chef seeking fresh ingredients, and lucky for me we had a chef in our midst- Marissa's boyfriend Chris. Needless to say I took advantage of his skills and the opportunity to eat fresh swordfish, one of my top five favorite foods. But the best part of the market was watching the merchants throw fish across the room to each other:

The Locks. Watching boats transfer between Lakes Washington and Union (fresh water) and the Pugent sound (salt water) via the Ballard Locks is strangely fascinating. You can look down as boats of all shapes and sizes squeeze into a chamber with high walls on either side. Then they secure the vessels to the sides of the chamber, some highly complex mechanics that I won't begin to pretend to understand are maneuvered, and the chamber fills with water until the boats are level with the body of water on the other side. You can also see tons of salmon swimming around, and we even spotted two seals!

The Seattle Art Museum. Thursday is free day at the Seattle Art Museum, and I'm not complaining! This museum had a little bit of everything, from modern structures to gorgeous landscape paintings and unique exhibits like a makeshift artistic workspace. One of the more eye-catching pieces was a giant suit of armor comprised of thousands of fake dog tags.

The Seattle Public Library.  I could seriously live at the Seattle Public Library, and not just because it's so huge that I could probably get away with it. It is by far the most impressive facility I have ever seen with bountiful resources both in books and electronic, a fabulously sleek and modern design, and plenty of open, comfortable space to snuggle up with a book. I would spend a ridiculous amount of time there.

Outdoor Cinema in the Park. On our last evening, we went to Cal Anderson park to sit under the stars and enjoy a movie from their "Rock & Roll Fantasy" series. That evening's choice was The Labyrinth, which obviously made for a fun crowd. We had a great time signing along and, as Katiri so accurately described, staring at David Bowie's package for two hours.

These are only a few of the activities we partook in during our all too short visit (we also drank, bargain shopped, and climbed trolls, but I'll save that for another day), and we had a great time doing all of it! I give Seattle two big thumbs up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm back (at least that's what I'm telling myself)

So remember when I pledged to blog more often and totally dropped the ball (was it once or twice, I don't remember anymore..)? Well, to quote every woman who has ever gone back on a diet for the twentieth time: "This time I REALLY mean it!"

Forgive me in advance for making lame excuses, but aside from the obvious laziness I found my main roadblock was actually the title of my blog (I warned you it would be lame). It was implicit within the title "Today, for the first time.." that I write about the new thing I did on the same day I had done it. This combined with aforementioned laziness equalled lack of blogging from Kaytee. So I have a theory: if I change my blog title to simply "For the first time..", thereby revoking my strict time constraints, I will feel more comfortable blogging a week after the fact, which therefore increases my chances of blogging at all.

Let's just hope this isn't like a woman saying "THIS time I'm not gonna eat carbs and it's totally going to work forever!" And if it is, then sorry in advance again. But at least for now, expect to hear more from me!