Movie review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Before you read this post, there’s a spoiler warning: I discuss scenes from the book and the movie, including the ending. These scenes are discussed in detail. If you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now! But if you’ve read the book and/or you don’t mind spoilers, read on….


In true movie franchise style, the adaptation of the final Hunger Games book was split into two movies: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Mockingjay – Part 2. I finally got round to seeing Part 2 last week, and it was almost exactly as I had expected. While I’ve been a fan of the series since I read the books in 2011, the last book is arguably the weakest and splitting it into two movies was a mistake. In my opinion, Mockingjay – Part 2 lacked the suspense, grittiness and plot strength (including the political symbolism) of the first two movies.

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Weekend link love

Here’s a selection of links to things I’ve read and watched during the past few days, in between my hectic study schedule. Winter break starts in a week; it’s the first Sunday of Advent today and December starts tomorrow….where has the year gone?! Although I will still be busy working on my sociolinguistic project that is due at the beginning of January, it will be great to have a break from driving to campus every day!

Homes of the River Gods: The History of American Mansions: a short piece from JSTOR Daily. As I have an interest in country homes, à la Jane Austen, I was intrigued to learn a little about the history of mansions in America. On a side note, I use JSTOR a lot for sourcing academic papers and the JSTOR Daily section is a pleasant place to browse during a study break, with lots of fascinating short articles!

Tenure, She Wrote: this post, The strange duality of being a pregnant professor, was featured on Freshly Pressed a couple of days ago. As I am an aspiring academic, I’m always interested to hear about women’s experiences in academia.

A Bad Lip Reading of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This is very silly, but rather clever, and it made me giggle this weekend! Bad Lip Reading is a YouTube channel that produces spoof videos of popular movies and TV shows with dubbed speech that ‘matches’ the vocal movements of the actors; hence, a bad lip reading. The videos are addictive and entertaining! They just released the Catching Fire video and I hope they do a Mockingjay one soon.

NPR – How Dogs Understand What We Say: we already know that canines are incredibly intelligent and can do many amazing things, such as sniffing out drugs and explosives and assisting people who are hearing-impaired or disabled. But a new study suggests that dogs understand more of human language than we think. Research conducted at the University of Sussex shows that dogs process both meaning and emotion in human speech and that “dogs are able to differentiate between meaningful and meaningless sound sequences”. As a student linguist, this kind of study is fascinating, but I imagine there are many difficulties in designing experiments for canine subjects and probably as many complexities in interpreting the results.

Pretty Stella

Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup: this soup is so tasty and quick to make. I changed the recipe slightly (I used vegetable stock and omitted the half and half) and it is an excellent winter meal!

What have you been reading, watching and listening to on the internet this weekend? Share some link love in the comments!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – part 1

I took some time out of my busy schedule this weekend to go and see the latest installment in The Hunger Games movies: Mockingjay (part 1). Before you read this post, there’s a spoiler warning: I discuss scenes from the book and the movie, so if you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now! But if you’ve read the book and don’t mind a few spoilers, read on….

Firstly, I think that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence has become one of my favourite actresses, thanks to her powerful performances on screen. In The Hunger Games series, she portrays the many facets of Katniss’s character with great expressiveness: her devotion to her mother and sister, her courage and the way she becomes a reluctant heroine, warily playing along with the story of the star-crossed lovers to please Capitol audiences, before realizing that she is in love with Peeta for real.

One of the reasons why I like The Hunger Games is because of the strong female protagonist. Although Katniss values the friendship of Gale, she is fiercely independent and doesn’t need a male sidekick to help her out. Mockingjay: Part 1 does play on the Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle, but then so does the book. Katniss is less independent and less of her own person: she is being molded to be the poster-girl of the rebellion. There are a few moments of comic relief, notably when she is instructed to act for the propos: Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job of acting as though she is a person who cannot act!

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

The majority of the movie takes place in District 13, with occasional forays to District 12 (Katniss returns to see the devastation wrought by the Capitol bombs), other districts and the Capitol. The claustrophobia of living underground in District 13 is vividly portrayed; as a viewer, I found myself searching for greenery and fresh air, the same way Katniss does. Unlike the first two movies, there are hardly any scenes outside in nature, apart from a peaceful scene where Katniss and Gale go hunting above ground and another scene when Katniss sings The Hanging Tree.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has attracted criticism for being low on action and high on talking and strategizing. Many people, including myself, feel that Mockingjay is the weakest book in the series. Even if it means being more faithful to the books, I do think it was unnecessary to break it into two movies. This has become a habit of major movie franchises habit: breaking the last book in a series into two movies, e.g., Harry Potter and The Hobbit, which has split one book into not one, not two, but three separate movies. It is such a blatant way of bringing in more money to the box office. That being said, I enjoyed the movie and it was suspenseful enough for me; I’m not a huge fan of action-packed movies. Part 1 ends shortly after the captured tributes, Peeta, Johanna and Annie, have been rescued from the Capitol. There’s a jolting moment when Peeta and Katniss are reunited that makes viewers jump, even though I knew what was coming. It made me jump when I read the scene in the book!

I’m light-headed with giddiness […] Peeta’s awake already, sitting on the other side of the bed,looking bewildered as a trio of doctors reassure him, flash lights in his eyes, check his pulse. I’m disappointed that mine was not the first face he saw when he woke, but he sees it now. His features register disbelief and something more intense that I can’t quite place. Desire? Desperation? Surely both, for he sweeps the doctors aside, leaps to his feet and moves towards me […] My lips are just forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat (Mockingjay, 2010, p. 206)

Despite a few criticisms, I’m looking forward to the finale of Mockingjay in November 2015. I read the last few pages of the book in feverish anticipation and the ending in the Capitol truly shocked me. You’d better take a packet of Kleenex to the movies next year!

Did you go to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (to give it its full title!) this weekend? What do you think of it?

The problem with feminist characters

During the past few days, I have read at least two or three separate articles on why Katniss Everdeen is such a great female role model. Katniss is the lead protagonist of The Hunger Games series of books and films. She is a very human character with flaws and vulnerabilities. She is also determined, strong and she does things on her own terms. In her fictional dystopian universe, a futuristic imagining of the United States, inequalities between social classes are a bigger problem than inequalities between gender.

The most recent movie, adapted from the book, focuses partly on revolutions and uprisings in the twelve districts which are controlled by the totalitarian regime of the Capitol. And Katniss’s refusal to define herself by relationships with men, unlike some other mainstream franchise characters (Bella Swan, I’m looking at you), has led to her character being acclaimed as a pop culture feminist role model.

Photo credit: © 2013 - Lionsgate Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

Photo credit: © 2013 – Lionsgate
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

The issue of gender discrimination in film is nothing new. The Bechdel test was developed in 1985 and it scores movies and other works of fiction based on the criteria that “it has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man” (Bechdel Test). Recently, a few independent Swedish cinemas have started rating the movies they show and giving them a grade based on whether they pass the Bechdel test. I think there are flaws with this: a movie can still be sexist or demonstrate gender inequalities even if it contains two female characters who talk about something other than relationships. But it does highlight the fact that a lot of movies are based on models of gender bias which do not fit the feminist ideology of equality. Perhaps needless to say, The Hunger Games passes the Bechdel Test with an A grade.

However, the fact that we need to make a point out of having strong female characters demonstrates that we have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great to have feminist characters, especially in mainstream franchises. But I think the fact that we have to make such a big deal out of it is representative of a wider problem: of inequalities which still linger. It highlights the issue, at least in my eyes, that it is necessary to define characters by feminist and non-feminist. By all means, we still need to work towards equality but I hope that it will become standard for women to be represented in all forms of media without gender discrimination. Only then will we know that true and meaningful progress has been made.

Funny and random search terms people have used to find my blog

"Search" Public domain image by Kosta Kostov: source

“Search”
Public domain image by Kosta Kostov.

I recently looked through the search terms which people have typed into Google and then come up with my blog as the result. Some of them are pretty random. And yes, some of them are simply the result of typing errors but I still think they (and the images they conjure up) are amusing. Perhaps you will too.

If you’re a WordPress blogger you can find the search terms for your blog by going to your blog stats page, scrolling down to the section “Search Engine Terms” and clicking on Summaries.

spanish deserts without an oven – those Spanish deserts are simply full of pesky ovens. Seriously, can’t they just clear off? I’m hot enough in a desert without needing an oven.

is my house clapboard – I don’t know. I don’t live in your house. And reading my blog is probably not the best way to diagnose the building materials of your house.

beetroot hummus with peeta bread – somebody has been reading too much of The Hunger Games (Peeta is one of the main characters and he also happens to be a baker).

Pita/pitta bread! Whatever way you choose to spell it, it is delicious! Photo credit: jeffreyw at Flickr. Photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Pita bread!
Photo credit: jeffreyw at Flickr. Photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Greg Getten – who’s he? Whoever he is, you won’t find him on this blog. Sorry to disappoint you.

sinister snow globes – I always knew Santa was up to something suspicious.

labradors are actors – Oh, really? Well, that’s news to me.

Expect to see this pup at a Golden Globes ceremony very soon! Public domain image by Alice Birkin.

Expect to see this pup at a Golden Globes ceremony very soon!
Public domain image by Alice Birkin.

Do you have a list of amusing search terms with which people have found your blog? Share them in the comments!

Cultural Life turns two!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life! Public domain image - Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life!
Public domain image – Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

My WordPress blogging journey began two years ago today. I have enjoyed every minute of blogging so far and I am glad to be a member of the WordPress blogging community. In the past year, a lot has happened in my blogging life: my number of followers has grown significantly from a mere 60 this time last year to 619 (and counting!) at the time of writing this post. And I was Freshly Pressed in February! That was a wonderful experience and getting a personal email from the editor of WordPress made me feel very honored.

To mark my second blog anniversary, here are a few highlights from the past two years of Cultural Life:

Reasons why I want to move to Maine – this post, with wonderful Maine photos courtesy of Karen at Back Road Journal, is one of my most popular posts. It seems that a lot of people Google “reasons to move to Maine”!

Saying Goodbye – This is my Freshly Pressed post, about the emotions I felt when saying goodbye to my mother before she was wheeled into an operating room for lifesaving surgery.

Valencia Orange Cake – a delicious recipe with no flour, making it perfect for gluten-free diets. The cake is simply amazing, especially when served with cream.

Photo Challenge day 1: Resolution – I took this photo on the first day of this year; it’s a pretty view from outside my home.

Thoughts on reading The Hunger Games – when I first read The Hunger Games in November and December 2011, I became hooked on the series. When I was going through a stressful time last year, I re-read the series a couple of times. I find that I take inspiration from Katniss’s grit and determination.

Thank you to my readers for supporting my blog and here’s to the next two years – and more! – of Cultural Life.

News for fans of The Hunger Games

There’s a lot of excitement going on in the world of Hunger Games fans (of which I am one) at the moment. The first full-length trailer for Catching Fire was released yesterday at the MTV Movie Awards! I don’t know about you but if you’re a fan, I’m sure this trailer has more than whetted your appetite for the movie. Let me know your thoughts on the trailer by leaving a comment below.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire release date – November 22, 2013 (I am so impatient!)

Photo challenge day 25: Heat

I didn’t have time to post for days 23 and 24 of the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge. And I wasn’t feeling very motivated: I haven’t really liked many of the photos I have taken and posted so far. Some are embarrassingly bad but oh well, such is life!

Here’s day 25 on the theme of heat.

The spark that caught alight and started a rebellion....Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The spark that caught alight and started a rebellion….Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

In the spirit of the season…

…here is a list of 2012’s best movies (IMHO). It’s the end of another year and it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without umpteen lists everywhere you look, reviewing and recapping the year’s news, politics, mindless gaffes by D-list celebrities etc. So here is my list of my top 5 movies of 2012! Happy New Year’s Eve.

#5 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – a thematic choice, considering the world was supposed to end in 2012 (but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t end after all).

#4 – Anna Karenina – I didn’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Anna but this movie deserves to win awards for its beautiful costume design and spectacular jewels.

#3 – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – humorous and ultimately very moving. And the cast of actors is fantastic: talent personified.

#2 – Silver Linings Playbook – Talking of talent, this movie isn’t running low on it either. I went to see it a week ago (you can read my review of it here) and it is one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is so much better than the trailer makes it look. In fact, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t! Just go see the movie. Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully directed piece of cinema and it deserves to win all four of its Golden Globe nominations.

#1 – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster - all rights remain with original owner(s).

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster – all rights remain with original owner(s).


I am a fan of the books and, for the most part, the movie did not disappoint. For a detailed critique, see my review of it here.

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell: a review

My copy of Once Upon a River

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book called Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. At first glance, Once Upon a River has an old-fashioned, archaic kind of feel to it. The ‘once upon a…’ title reminds me of legends and fairy tales and the cover picture makes me think of settlers in the old American West: I came to this book expecting a Wild West type of story. When I skimmed the synopsis on Amazon, I thought it was going to be a tale set in the wilderness in the nineteenth century. It was only when I started reading the book itself that I realized it is in fact set in the late twentieth century. Nevertheless, the lifestyle of the teenage protagonist, Margaret Louise Crane, who hunts animals and gathers plant in order to eat, and the settings of rural southern Michigan lend the book a much older feeling.

When Margo’s father is killed, a death “in which she [Margo] is complicit”, she sets off on a journey down the Stark River, a fictional tributary of the Kalamazoo, in an attempt to find the mother who abandoned her. Her journey on the river becomes “one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices” (quotes from the back cover of Once Upon a River).

Part of the blurb on Amazon for the book says it will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and that caught my attention. But Once Upon a River is not just for Hunger Games fans and Once Upon a River is mostly very different than the tales of Katniss Everdeen. The most obvious difference is the fact that The Hunger Games is a science-fiction story which takes place in a futuristic dystopian North America whereas Once Upon a River is not. However, the key similarity between THG and Once Upon a River, if the two must be compared, is the nature of the principal female character in each book. Katniss and Margaret (aka Margo, as she is called in most of the book) are both strong, independent girls in their mid to late teens. Both of them hunt, fish and gather in order to live and they each have a gutsy, gritty streak in their character that serves to carry them through hard times.

I did not want to reach the end of this book. Although I think Campbell concluded the book in a satisfactory way for the reader, I still wanted the last few chapters to be a bit thicker! I was absolutely gripped and read it cover-to-cover in little more than 24 hours. Campbell’s style is eloquent, especially in terms of the descriptions of her native Michigan, and it is absolutely compelling. Before I read this novel, I had not heard of the author but I will certainly be seeking out more of her work in the near future. A link to her website is below:

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s website

The author, Bonnie Jo Campbell — photo © John Campbell