Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Hunger Games: A Sort-of Review

Originally, I didn’t want to write a review for this movie. I, like every other literate person in this country, read and became intensely involved with the book series. Suzanne Collins’ imaginative and somewhat unsettling way of showcasing the perversion of our society’s obsession with reality television and willingness to cheer the most debase behavior is astounding. I’m not implying that the book series solely comments on modern American society’s general lack of human decency, just that it’s there. There are also other not-so-hidden commentaries on the fear of a totalitarian/dictatorial government and extreme wealth gaps. Pretty heavy stuff for a “Young Adult” category. With my fierce love of the books, I felt that any opining I did on the movie would be biased.

However, I just read a series of reviews (few and far between among the overall praise) that were extremely shallow and completely missed the point of the plot and that makes me angry. I want to cancel out those idiots with another positive review that acknowledges the underlying layers and not just “another teenage love triangle”, however devoid this review may be of actual “film critique”.

For those who have been able to avoid the hype, “The Hunger Games” is the first in a 3-part series written by Suzanne Collins and adapted for the screen by writer/director Gary Ross (in smart collaboration with Collins). The movie is set in a futuristic dystopian North America called Panem which is divided into 12 districts and an ornate, all-powerful “Capitol”. Each district must compete in the annual Hunger Games. Two “tributes” from each district, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 are drawn by lottery and forced to compete in a televised battle royale, of which there is only one survivor. This annual “reaping” serves as a reminder that the Capitol is in control and an uprising of the districts will not be tolerated. It is also the main source of entertainment for the citizens of the “Capitol”, who view the tributes (and more importantly, the victors) as reality television celebrities.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are the chosen ones for District 12 after Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister, Prim. The movie follows their journey through the 74th Annual Hunger Games, from stylists to stabbing and back again. With a cast of supporting characters including Woody Harrelson as the ever-wasted Haymitch, a past victor from 12 who serves as reluctant mentor to the tributes and Elizabeth Banks as the delightfully clueless and aptly named publicist, Effie Trinket, there is no lull in this 2.5 hour movie. Lawrence is utterly believable as the arrow-wielding huntress from the slums but reads a bit more emotionally mature than Katniss’ printed counterpart. With a PG-13 rating, the movie relied on creative camera work to skirt the dirty realism issue of children murdering children that the books so graphically describe. The shock value is there, but the camera never lingers on a death scene, showing just enough to convey the sick reality of 24 children hell-bent on ending each other’s lives.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The often mentioned “love triangle” is barely evident in this movie, keeping romance on the back burner. Which I love. There are enough moments to make you wonder (or smirk knowingly if you’ve read the series) but the exhausting back and forth a la Twilight is absent. In fact, this series gets compared to Twilight often because of its “Young Adult” status, but I find it to be a completely different animal (no pun intended, team Jacob). Katniss Everdeen is a strong survivalist who can’t seem to be bothered with cute boys, unlike Bella Swan and her terrible example of a role model. And the question of “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale” is a non-issue (so far). Aside from the characters, Jennifer Lawrence is just exponentially better than Kristen Stewart. It was refreshing to see raw emotion when the story called for it, rather than scene after scene of stoic awkwardness. (I hate you, Kristen Stewart).

The action in “The Hunger Games” never falls short and is punctuated with moments of snark, delicious eye candy and pretty terrific costumes. My only issue is that the amount of suffering the tributes endure is glossed over in the movie vs. the book. But, as a friend of mine mentioned, watching someone slowly starve and dehydrate isn’t exactly blockbuster material if you’re not “Cast Away”.  My favorite part of the movie was Stanley Tucci as Ceasar Flickerman, the Master of Ceremonies for the Hunger Games. Tanned, capped (his teeth, that is) and topped with stunning blue hair, Tucci’s Ceasar is almost a parody of overly-primped hosts like Ryan Seacrest, preying on the pain and nerves of young people purely for entertainment.

Stanley Tucci as Ceasar Flickerman in an "Ad from the Capitol"

Overall, with laughter, tears, gasps and startles this movie is a winner.I look forward to the next two and will absolutely be at the midnight showing for each. I love a good crowd mentality.

Crack is Whack, But Effective

Since I have ignored my earlier claim to “start working out” up until now, I decided to join the weight-loss website that has helped me in the past: Sparkpeople.com. This site allows you to track your calories consumed and burned, as well as all other nutritional values you’d like to keep your eye on, while shaming you into losing weight by broadcasting your lack of progress via the “weight ticker”. It also provides weekly meal plans for those who are “planning-deficient” like myself. As I took a giant swig of Mountain Dew and clicked through my list of short-term goals (including cutting “soda” from my daily diet) I started to get a calming feeling of, “Hey. At least I have a plan—that I’ll start tomorrow.”

With a goal of hitting up the grocery store on my way home from work, I printed out the suggested “5-day grocery list” and nearly fell out of my chair. There are at least 75 items on my list, most of them fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m not sure who they think their demographic is, but it certainly isn’t fancy ladies with a disposable income and fourteen children to feed. If it was, they’d just cut their losses and hire a personal trainer and nutritionist. Or sell some of their superfluous children for food money. My aversion to piles of rotting food in my refrigerator and the existence of the bottom of my pockets will force me to make up my own healthy meals and hope I’m following the “rules”. Oy. Hello brown rice and steamed vegetables. Cooking meat scares me. I’d be a vegetarian but I’d rather not sound like I belong in my neighborhood. Fight the power!

Part of me thinks it would just be easier (and more cost-effective) to take up a drug habit and let the pounds (and the teeth) melt off. I hear crack works. And according to Whitney Housten, it’s for poor people. That’s all I need to know! I mean, it’s not uber-trendy like prescription drugs, but I’m just a normal gal from the midwest, after all. I’m no Heath Ledger. Too soon? Too soon.

All jokes aside (as if), I’ll do my best to not burn the salmon and to keep my snarky comments to myself whenever someone wafts greasy fumes past me. Unless someone presents me with cheesecake, in which case I’ll cut a bitch.

Yada Yada Yada…Holocaust

Friday night brought my first live comedy show in a couple of years and a renewed case of the “I’m Funnies” for me. There was a brief period in my life when I would set up shop at the local 24-hour diner and jot down observations in newspaper column-style rants. It wasn’t my best writing phase and it surely won’t be my worst. I have a general sense that I amuse others, but occasionally I have a fleeting thought about making people laugh professionally. Those thoughts crash and burn about as quickly as my cravings for writing novels, starting a fashion line and going to law school.

Back to the night at hand. Anthony Jeselnik did four sold-out shows this weekend, the first of which I was able to catch. The venue is no more than a mile or so from my apartment but it is cold outside and I’m lazy. My friend opted to meet me at home so we could pre-game while waiting for a cab. We called a local cab company and were assured someone would be picking us up within the next twenty minutes. One hour and a bottle of champagne later, we were huddled on the street corner like two out of shape prostitutes, muttering about the lack of decent cabs in our city. Thoughts of perhaps staying sober and driving downtown crossed our minds, but of course, we moved through that quickly and called to complain. Eventually a cab did sidle up to bring us downtown and we made it with plenty of time to spare, ending up in the second row of the venue. It was close enough for me to see his adorable face without my glasses and far enough away to stay out of the line of “audience interaction” fire. If you’ve seen Anthony on the Roast of Donald Trump or Charlie Sheen, you know his goal is to offend the audience and then make them feel uncool for being offended. Lucky for me, the more my peers groan, the harder I laugh. I almost peed my pants when he expertly steered a joke about women and shoe collections into a hilariously Holocaust climax. Between those Holocaust jokes and the many about AIDS, suicide, dead babies and rape, I should have seriously considered an adult diaper or at least a panty liner. Smiling Anthony said his goodbyes and moved offstage to set up for his next show of the evening. We walked past him and decided it would be silly to pass up the photo opportunity and give a nice scale by which strangers can gauge his height. My friend left him with a non-sarcastic “you were very funny” (she’s a teacher) and frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t pat him on the head.

I'm crouching, which is why I look awkward and poor Katie looks like an Amazon Woman.

After leaving the site of the comedy show we decided to head down to the go-to bar and visit our friend the bartender. She served us up some drinks and we struck up a conversation with an older lady about how one of the local nightclubs both terrifies and intrigues us. The older lady (who is probably only five years my senior) made a joke about going in with white pants, which I replied to by making an incredibly off-color joke about incorrectly using condoms as a precaution against dance-floor-herpes. This is where the “I’m Funnies” start to take effect. I made a few more crass jokes and then befriended a group of wayward Indiana boys who were in town for a brewery unveiling. That friendship was short-lived as they declined my invitation to join us at the gay bar for karaoke. Like, what?

When we got to the karaoke bar, I was slapped in the face with the realization that not everyone is pumped about mediocre singing on a Friday night. I set out to do some recruiting to fill the 5-person minimum they arbitrarily assign so that they don’t have to listen to me sing. I was successful and sang no less than 4 songs. All of them badly. Some of them straight up incorrectly. Between murdering the likes of “All Saints” and “Salt N Pepa” we made friends with a nice lesbian couple, at least one half of which tried to feel me up under the table. I’m not getting a big head about it, because about ten minutes later I found her vomiting in the bathroom. Following the grope-twins were two guys who insisted they were “just friends” until one of them left to get a drink and the twinkier of the two divulged that he was head over heels in love with the other. I took it upon myself to cupid them and suggested they make out because, “wouldn’t that be hilarious?!” They did, and it was. Shortly after that I ran into a girl whose face looked familiar. She said we went to the same high school and I asked her if she was “legit a lesbian”. My drunk self couldn’t figure out how to ask politely if she was the real deal or just a fan like myself. She gave me a look and returned to her group of friends while I slunk back to the bar.

This drunk bravado would come back as soon as my friend and I grabbed our last cab of the night. He greeted us with a thick Russian accent  and I made a comment (hilarious, I’m sure) about the ol’ Redcoats. Then he insisted that he was Asian, and not Eastern European at all. I asked him to prove it and he told me he was from Siberia. I’m no geography expert, but I was pretty sure we learned that Siberia is a region of Russia. Ignoring that this was the man’s own heritage, I argued his birthplace until he pulled up outside Yesterdog. It was hotdog time but I didn’t let that stop me from being culturally insensitive and borderline racist. He agreed to keep the meter running if we’d hurry. Once we got to the ordering line I realized it may take longer than we led Asian-Russian to believe so I passed the time by letting one of my line-mates know that he looked like Jay-Z. One of his friends told me it was racist of me to say that, so I let him know that if I was racist, I would have just closed my eyes, pointed randomly and yelled out, “Eddie Murphy!” He seemed to like that and decided I was “real”. Hotdogs in hand and street cred intact, we hopped back into the cab and called it a night.

Cue Theme Music

Have you ever had one of those days, or a sequence of days where your life plays out like a sitcom? My sitcom life started last night and carried over to today. It’s strange to stroll through life with inaudible theme music and deliver your lines. Definitely strange.

In real life, people don’t call out to each other on the street or strike up conversations with their delivery boy. They just don’t. In real life, people have iPods and no time for social interaction. Not today, my friends. Not today. Like I said, it started last night when I came home and couldn’t find my new cat. I adopted a two-year-old black cat, named him Cee Lo Green and brought him home on Wednesday night. As soon as the latch on the carrier was lifted, he bolted into hiding and I didn’t see him until late Thursday night. I searched everywhere for him when I got home from work and had myself convinced that he had somehow escaped my locked, second floor apartment. I put out a can of tuna and vowed to deal with the horrid smell until the cat came out to investigate. It worked. He made an appearance somewhere after 9pm last night and had a sudden burst of bravery, exploring every nook of my home.

This is Cee Lo. He's foxy.

I never got a chance to show him his food dish or litter box when I brought him home the previous night, and I assume he couldn’t find them because he hopped up on the couch to sit down, stared at me and peed. A lot. It’s a leather couch so the cleanup wasn’t terrible. Just icky. And I’m sure there are crevices I couldn’t reach, which is actually a recurring theme in my life (uncomfortable fat girl joke). So, my sitcom life started with my very disappointed utterance of “CEE LO GREEN!” with a complimentary “hands-on-hips” pose. And, cut to commercial.

For dinner, I ordered Jimmy Johns and waited happily for the “freaky fast” delivery. After about 20 minutes there was a knock on my door so I shuffled across the apartment in my giant blue sweatpants and giant blue t-shirt (wearing the same color head to toe is never acceptable, not even for pajamas. I must have been overcome with grief about my lost cat) boasting my status as an honorary member of my friend’s family and begging the question, “whereinthehellisroselake?” I pulled open the door to an overly cheerful “Hullo!” and a youngish, attractive delivery boy. I mumbled the requisite pleasantries and was about to close the door when he said, “I am really struggling today. I turned 21 last night and I’m feeling it!” I was taken aback. I honestly don’t know what made him think I cared how he was feeling and/or what the events of his birthday entailed. It was like someone wrote a script for a scene and didn’t give me the rewrite. I panicked and blurted something about “congratulations” (on…surviving?) shoved a tip in his hand and closed the door. Nobody talks to their delivery guys…I mean, short of leading them to believe someone else is in the apartment so they don’t think you ordered all that food for yourself. Which of course you did.

This morning I opted to wear a hat that I picked up in Chicago. I never wear hats so I expected to be made fun of at work. What I did not expect was the barrage of compliments, backhanded or otherwise. The minute I stepped into my office I was greeted by my co-worker with, “Hey Blossom, good morning.” Followed shortly by, “What’s up, Jon Cryer?” I’m assuming the latter was referring to Jon Cryer circa 1985 (Ducky). Our senior chemist asked me why I was decked out for St. Patty’s Day so early and one of the paint-mixers on the factory floor pulled me aside to discuss my apparent hipster-status. Not ok. I also received a few, “Hey! Nice hat!” as I walked through the plant, accompanied by a wave and a smile. These things may seem like mediocre blog-fodder but they all happened within the first hour of being at work. It played out like a bouncy small town dog-walking montage where all the neighbors stop and say hello along the way. At my job, friendliness among the staff is rare and punishable by incessant mocking. It’s like a men’s locker room but with less nudity and more body odor. 

This is the Blossom/Ducky/Hipster/Leprechaun hat

After that start to the day, the rest proves to be slightly less interesting. Until I leave this paint factory and head out into the real world once again. A real world sans cheerful, if not hungover, delivery guys and a cat that hopefully hasn’t peed on anything but the litterbox all day.

Out of the Loop (Chicago: Day Two)

Waking up on the top bunk of a rickety bunk bed is an interesting experience. While sleeping, I tend to forget about my surroundings and focus on, well, sleep. I was vaguely aware of air from a ceiling fan being way too close to my face, and the fact that every time I switched positions the entire bed swayed, no doubt disturbing the two sleeping ladies underneath me. However, I was still slightly alarmed when I woke up two feet from the ceiling in a twin bed. I overcame the post-snooze fog and the after-effects of too much cheap vodka and remembered where I was, if only long enough to decide I didn’t have to pee bad enough to attempt to scale down the side of the bed and avoid getting decapitated by the fan.

I was just drifting back to sleep when I heard one of my friends rouse and start to be productive at the preposterously early hour of 8ish. She didn’t directly tell the two of us to get up and get out, but her meticulous morning routine was insistent enough to get the point across. We eventually groaned to a sitting position and I rolled off the top bunk, grappling for anything I could hold on to on the way down. I made it safely and moved on to wiping off makeup from the night before, and adding more to create a sort of equidistant morning-after mess. Being unable to socialize at that hour in the morning, we all decided it would be best to skip the free breakfast offered by the hostel, and just get checked out and moving on our shopping excursion. The plan was to hop on the “L”, get to the Loop and marvel at the “Magnificent Mile” (or in other words, to find H&M and drool through the windows at the more upscale shops).

We did get to the “L” station, after walking in the wrong direction for a few blocks and stopping at every corner to peer at our map that may as well have been a gigantic neon sign that said, “TOURISTS!” We couldn’t seem to break the cycle of walking for blocks on end in the wrong direction and would end up doing that all over the Loop as well. We did manage to get our butts to the Brown Line train, transfer to the Red Line and stumble to Michigan Ave, eventually. I have this personality flaw that comes with a need to look cool at all times. I do not like looking like a lost tourist. With that in mind, I adopted a sort of “take charge” pace to at least seem as if I knew where I was going. As a result of keeping up that facade throughout the day, I have been working with quite a limp for the past few days.

The shopping was fruitful for me, but not so much for one of my lady friends who just couldn’t seem to get her mind right in the stores. If you’re having an “off” day, there isn’t much you can do about it. Even the most perfectly fitting pair of jeans look hideous if your brain is infected with “that-time-of-the-month-itis”. I felt for her, but my credit card didn’t. I just continued swiping like I make decent money and came away with quite a few treasures, including a hat and a few pairs of sunglasses that will make denying my “hipster-status” all that much more difficult. Once we had exhausted the few budget-friendly shopping experiences in the loop, we headed back to the train and back to Boystown for some dragalicious thrift-shopping.

By the time we made it back to the land of feather boas and sequins, our feet were screaming to just stop walking. I had accumulated a ridiculous amount of shopping bags and I just didn’t want to go on. We rummaged through racks of discount clothing and I found a few useful items (it’s hard not to when everything is $2). Everything, literally everything, is fabulous in the Boystown thrift stores. Beatnix, Ragstock and The Hollywood Mirror are amazing and I’d travel back to Chicago just to stop there. I didn’t get a chance to experience the retail wonders of Boystown the last time I was there, as the streets were clogged with half-nude bull dykes and glittery twinks in manties (which I still enjoy, but for different reasons). After our arms were full of our vintage finds and “Mag Mile” purchases I made an executive decision to take a cab back to where the car was parked. I was through with walking. The only trouble with taking a cab outside of the Loop is that the cab drivers have no idea where anything is. You better know the intersection or you’re never getting back to “Barleycorn”.

A Hostel Experience (Chicago: Day One)

Searching fruitlessly for an audition companion for Chicago’s open cattle call for “The Voice” resulted in a random, pointless trip to the city anyway. I was accompanied by two friends with whom I had never spent more than a few hours. They wanted to experience the city sans Pride Parade and throngs of rainbow-clad twinks jamming up the “L” and the sidewalks. We made plans on Thursday evening and after some frantic online booking, we headed out Saturday afternoon for a Chicago getaway. On a budget.

Since it was last-minute and we didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg, I booked a private room (with a toilet, even!) in a Lincoln Park Hostel called “The Chicago Getaway”. It came complete with bunk beds, internationals and luckily, no creepy Eastern European murderers (I’m from the YOU-kraine). I didn’t know what to expect from a hostel, save for what I’d seen in movies like “Eurotrip” and the aptly named, “Hostel”, but I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. It was very clean and teeming with young people who emitted an adventurous aura (ok, so they were all sitting at computers and shutting out the rest of us with headphones). I can imagine that in a pre-modern time a hostel would be a great social experience. Even more so if you’re brave enough to book one of the “dorm-style” rooms and get placed with randoms at arm’s length while you sleep (there were condoms in the vending machines in case “arm” isn’t the distance you wanted to maintain). This hostel was one of the only ones (self-acclaimed) to allow alcohol, and provided a nice alternative when the bars proved unsatisfactory. I’m getting ahead of myself.

After parking and walking several blocks in the freezing wind, we reached our hostel and cursed ourselves for not being more prepared for the weather. We checked in, dropped our stuff in the room and headed right back out again to secure some food and drinks. We figured, being next to Boystown, it should be no problem finding a surplus of fun, divey bars. We were wrong. There were definitely bars, but more than one of them had a giant group of men entering them, chanting something in unison. Quite frankly, I’m leery of men with group-mentality (see: Frat Guys and Military). We traipsed all over Lincoln Park, stopping at bar after bar, including one with an Irish bartender and another that was only suggested to us because of our physical appearances (it was called “Delilah’s”…). By around midnight, we had exhausted ourselves and our patience. We decided to give up, go to a liquor store and head back to the common area of the hostel.

Finding no liquor store, we tried a CVS that boasted “open late” in neon. Upon entering, the lady behind the register yelled, “THREE MINUTES! WE CLOSE IN THREE MINUTES!”. We ran to the liquor aisle, grabbing the first vodka we found and made a mad dash for the Solo cups and any sort of mixer. We scrambled to the cash register where we were rushed to the point of being flustered. The Russian (rushin’) lady kept yelling that we had only “ONE MINUTE TO BUY BOOZE! YOU HURRY NOW! CASH REGISTER STOP AUTOMATICALLY!” (Imagine the voice of Natasha from Bullwinkle and the face of your scary great-aunt.) In retrospect, she may have been the Eastern European I was fearing. Hostel strikes again!

Booze in shaking hands, we were shoved out of the convenience store and made our way back to the hostel. We collectively decided that wearing real pants was only necessary if you were really out, so we retired to the tiny room to try our hand at contortions, emerging somewhat intact and in sweatpants. Having vetoed shoes as well, the three of us padded into the common area in our socks and “jammy pants” and hoped to meet some interesting people.

Thankfully, after listening to the skinniest kid I’ve ever seen talk to a middle-aged man about the wonders of “big buildings” when you’re from a “really rural area”, we were treated to a mustached vision in acid-washed jeans. I can’t remember his name because I didn’t really listen when he told me, but I will refer to him as “Kentucky Hipster”. We offered him two beers that had been given to us and subsequently cast aside because of their IPA status (ick), he drawled what resembled a “thank you” and said he’d give them to his two friends. Once “90s Dave Grohl” and “Mustache Moby” entered, I knew we had made the right decision to retire to the hostel common area. It seems the trio had traveled from Kentucky to see a puppet show that was only playing that weekend. They were so passionate about the show, that when told it was sold out, they sent emails begging for seats and pleading the “but we drove all this way” case. It worked. They played us clips of the show online and it did seem pretty interesting. Somehow, in our conversation and shared liquor, the subject of a nearby “Super Mario Bros. Burlesque Show” came up, which resulted in more Youtube videos and of course, more giggling.

“Kentucky Hipster” refused to acknowledge that he was, indeed, a hipster. His mustache, vintage SF 49ers Football jacket and acid-washed jeans begged to differ. They were all very nice and very entertaining while helping me scold the younger two of my group for not enjoying 90s music. Eventually, their stomachs caught up to them and our trio of weirdos had to leave us to find some food. They were quickly replaced by what I assumed to be a gay couple, who were also wearing PJ pants. We drank more, started a rousing game of dominoes and discovered that they were both straight. One of them even had a “girlfriend” sleeping in their room to prove it. I’m still on the fence about them. They were very nice and fun, but they were from a city not too far from GR so I was a little disappointed when the night wound down and we went to bed without meeting any eccentric foreigners.

After climbing into my top-bunk bed and narrowly escaping the murderous ceiling fan, we went to sleep and dreamt of the shopping day that would follow.

Testing the weight limit on the bunk bed