Catching Fire (Film Review)

Catching Fire (Film Review)

Out of the three books in The Hunger Games trilogy, my favorite one was Catching Fire. Usually, the second book or film in a trilogy is nothing special, since it really has no beginning, and definitely has no end, but I thought that the book was the more action-packed of the three, and had the most exciting version of the Games. 

The film version of Catching Fire, however, left a lot to be desired in my mind. 

The majority of this film serves as a build up to the 75th version of The Hunger Games, or the third Quarter Quell, which is a special event to mark every 25th anniversary since the Capital put down the revolution many years ago. With President Snow aware that what Katniss and Peeta did at the end of the first movie/book was an act of defiance towards the Capital, and aware that the people of the 12 districts are becoming restless and craving a revolution, he knows that Katniss must die. But she cannot simply be killed, as she has already become a symbol of hope for the people. 

So they come up with a fancier plan to have her eliminated. 

fire2They decide that this quarter quell will be a battle between the victors of previous games, meaning that as the only female winner from District 12, Katniss will have no choice but to participate once again. 

The best part of the book was the second battle ground, in which the contestants must not only face one another, but the grounds themselves, which provide dangers in the form of a ticking clock, where every hour another calamity is released in a specific region of the map (I won’t bother stating how this is another mild rip off from Battle Royale, the far superior, and more original version of The Hunger Games). 

The problem with this movie is that too much time is spent building up to the second games that we know are coming. We are treated to too much repeating from the first film. There is the trip to the Capital, the training, the interviews, the parades, the fancy costumes. I get it, that all of these things should still be included, but for the duration of it, I felt that it could have gone by faster. We know how it all goes. Throw it into a montage or something, and get to the killing. 

Or perhaps, even elaborate on some of the other characters a little bit. 

We are treated to a new cast of people that will stand in the way of Katniss living or dying, but we know very little about them, turning them into very one-dimensional characters. This is too bad, as it would have been good to know a little bit more about the character played by Jena Malone (one of the highlights of the film). Instead, all we know is that she is a little bit crazy. Also, the game felt a little too predictable. Yes, we know Katniss is going to live, because this is not the final installment of the films. There are more to come, therefore, we know she is going to live. But it still felt pretty over-simplified, and I feel like they should have used more time to build up some tension in the arena. As it stands, there is very little of it. 

As expected, everything is set up nicely for the two part finale of the series, what will be Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 (as the weakest of the books, I don’t like how they have split these up, but this is the popular thing to do, so so be it, I guess). 

The acting is pretty wooden in the film, which is odd, considering there is a pretty strong cast here. Jennifer Lawrence, who I love, is actually fairly wooden, and doesn’t really present much depth to Katniss in this installment. She sheds the occasional tear, and will sometimes scream, but there doesn’t seem to be much behind it. Too bad. As I mentioned, the inclusion of Jena Malone in the cast is great, but she is underused, and her character is paper thin to begin with, not providing the talented actress much to work with.

As with the first film, there are some good special effects, and some pretty cheesy ones. While the mist looks pretty cool, the flaming clothing again looks pretty B grade, and it is surprising that a trilogy that will rake in such massive amounts of cash isn’t able to generate a bigger budget to make its effects look really great. 

In the end, Catching Fire plays out like most second books do: kind of disappointing. There are long parts that are dull, and the best part of the book felt skimmed over too much in the film. There is depth to this story, but it is lacking in this adaptation. While the movie made tons of money and received generally positive reviews, I think fans of the book can only hope that the adaptation of Mockingjay provides us with a little more depth, a little more suspense, and a little more fun than Catching Fire has to offer. 

Retooling the Red Sox

Retooling the Red Sox

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

I had never before been to River Ridge Golf & Country Club, in the Windermere area of Edmonton, Alberta, and now that I have, I wonder why.

Tucked along the beautiful North Saskatchewan River, the course offers 18 beautiful and isolated holes, away from the city noise, without being far away from the city. I booked here because the pictures looked nice, and the price was absolutely right, at $55 for 18 holes that included a power cart (it would be advisable to have a cart on this course, as there are some long journeys between some of the holes, and a walk would actually take a while).

The course is wonderfully laid out, some of the holes being right alongside Edmonton’s main river, offering great views for your entire round. With the river, and frequent water hazards, and trees on pretty much every hole, River Ridge is a pretty challenging course for the average golfer. Many holes are heavily dog legged, and being straight off the tee is paramount in many cases. The greens, and the whole course, were in tremendous shape, and many of them offered challenging, but not ridiculous, lies. You won’t have to be putting straight all day here, you will get the chance to read the greens and try and execute some cool, bending putts.

river2The course even offers some wildlife, as there were plenty of ducks and geese along some of the water holes, although they weren’t a disruption to the game. There was even a deer on the 10th hole that decided to wander around the green for a little while.

I managed to pull of a decent first nine, despite my drivers and putter completely abandoning me. Having a solid iron game on the front saved me from what could have been a terrible score. I saved my terrible score for the back nine. It was still a nice course, and a great day to golf.

The marshall comes by often, and is quite friendly. He will give advice on holes, tell you about the course, ask you how your day is going, even chase a goose away for you. The beer cart girl is your typical beer cart girl, but she didn’t come by as often as I would have liked, especially since it was a very hot day outside, and more beverages could have been consumed. But, she was quite cool with us, given that she did bust us with some outside drinks that we brought in.

The pro shop is solid, with a quick and knowledgeable staff inside, and a good selection of clothing and items in case you need to stock up your bag before hitting the course. Upstairs, the clubhouse offered great views of the course, had some pretty good food, and some reasonable prices to go along with it. They could use some umbrellas on their outdoor tables, especially for days when it is 30 degrees and cooking outside, but besides that, there is nothing to complain about.

River Ridge is a great little escape within the city limits. Normally, you wouldn’t expect such isolation from a city course, but River Ridge is definitely the best place I have golfed this summer, and at the prices, will be well worth it to go back.

Now I just need to find my golf game in order to compete with the tougher course.