Movie Review: The Hunger Games – Why can’t reality TV be this good?

I feel bad for anyone who happened by Rave Motion pictures at 2:30 this morning. They were probably surprised to see the deluge of traffic such that they might expect at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Tonight was the premiere of the Hunger Games and unless you’ve been fasting from all forms of media for lent, you’ve probably heard something about this ‘next big thing’ movie-based-on-a-book-series.

If you’re ‘Oh crap not another ‘Twilight’ antenna just went up, don’t worry. This book series is actually excellently written. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Stephen King is actually quoted on the book jacket, talking about how great it is. I think it’s important to note that Stephen King also said, “Harry Potter is about overcoming adversity – twilight is about the importance of having a boyfriend.” Comparing this book to twilight is like comparing apples and some fruit that is only interesting to pubescent girls with bad taste in books. The first twilight movie made $7 million at it’s midnight showing whereas Hunger Games grossed over $19 Million. This movie has legs and it’s going places.

The Hunger games is an especially violent and tragic series of stories that center around Katniss Everdeen who lives in a dystopian future where the US has deteriorated into a country called “Panem” which consists of twelve districts and an enormous capitol that looks like it was an architectural design collaboration of Cosmo S. Spacely and Senator Palpatine.

Panem suffered civil war wherein the districts rebelled some 74 years ago. Now as a reminder of who’s in charge, the Capitol requires that each of the twelve districts supply two teenagers – a boy and a girl – to participate in the titular Hunger Games. There’s really only one rule to the game: be the last one left alive and you gain fame and fortune. It’s basically a futuristic gladiator arena, but with teenagers. We see up close what happens when a society becomes more obsessed with entertainment and comfort than the sacredness of human life. Some conservative reviewers missed the boat and don’t seem to realize that neither the author, fans nor filmmakers are endorsing this world – they are as appalled by it as you should be, that’s the point – they want to see this world brought down. The movie shows this perfectly. (In case you don’t get it the title of this review is similarly ironic.)

Ultimately the movie is a win. There’s no doubt that Lionsgate has found their Harry Potter. But how does it compare to its epic source material? When a popular book is adapted for film I put the changes made from the book to the movie into one of four categories: changes for time or budget reasons, changes to make the film more appealing a larger audience, additions that work on film but wouldn’t have in a book, and stupid changes that no one likes. While there were some very noticeable differences between the film and the book, the changes are almost all positive.

The book is written from Katniss’ point of view so you’re going to see some immediate differences when you realize that the movie has no trouble leaving Katniss and showing us what’s going on elsewhere.

The first scene of the movie is an interview with the head Game Maker Seneca Crane. In the book Crane doesn’t have a speaking role. In fact, we really don’t find out his name until the second book. In the movie he’s a principle character. Crane’s struggle to maintain control of the games and satisfy president Snow is a lovely subplot that gives a window into what the next two movies will be like. It also gave us Wes Bentley (a Methodist pastor’s son btw) for more than just a cameo role.

Donald Sutherland plays the conniving president Snow who has ruled over Panem since before the rebellion (making him probably more than 100 years old, though he doesn’t look a day over 90.) We don’t hear from him until the second book, but in this movie we get him for several brief scenes that establish him as the major antagonist of the series.

The only place where I wish they could’ve remained more true to the books would’ve been the interviews with the tributes. I would’ve like to have seen the full interview with Katniss as it was described in the book. I would’ve liked to see the interview with Rue.

The acting in this movie is spot on. Jennifer Laurence shows us why she was nominated for an Oscar two years ago. I was most impressed with the scene before Katniss is sent into the arena. She looked like I would expect someone to look if they were knowingly headed toward a gruesome death.

Stanley Tucci plays a perfect Ceaser Flickerman. Elizabeth Banks was born to play Effie Trinket. Josh Hutcherson is a great, albeit less broad-shouldered Peeta than described in the books. Cato, Clove, Glimmer, Foxface et all are pretty much perfect. Woody Harrelson plays a fabulous Haymitch; even despite the terrible wig they had him wearing.  My only beef was with Liam Hemsworth as Gale. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s the only non-American in the main cast, perhaps it’s that I never liked the character of Gale or maybe it’s just that he’s taller and much better looking than me – I can’t be sure. I think it’s just that he botched most of the ten-or-so lines that he was given.

On the continuum of movies based on books the Hunger Games is closer to Lord of the Rings than Twilight. It is shot with more artistry and told with more poise than you might expect from a ‘teenie bopper.’ If you’re a fan of establishing shots prepare to hate this movie. Any wide shots last less than three seconds and all other shots are as close as they can get. Also if you get motion sickness I’d recommend heading to the back of the theater – Gary Ross didn’t bring his Stedicam to set.

In addition to staying close to the action (a daring but effective choice) the biggest difference between this and similar movies is the use of silence. During several moments of the film instead of announcing to the audience that they should be sad by throwing in some over-powering score, the director chose to keep it silent. There is a fantastic score during many scenes, but a few key moments are left without any music – allowing the audience to feel what they might feel if this really happened. The blow is not softened by music. Perhaps the best example of this is during the reaping, when Katniss’ kid sister Prim is randomly selected to participate in the games and Katniss volunteers to take her place. You really feel the pain, the awkwardness, the horror of what the characters are going through.

What is perhaps most impressive about the movie and book are the complex themes. Dehumanization in an increasingly consumer driven and mechanistic society is perhaps the primary theme. These aren’t topics that most teenagers are discussing these days so it’s a great way to ask questions regarding what the limit on entertainment is. I personally see parallels betweens The Capitol and the Districts and the US’s relationship with developing countries. I’m hoping fans of the book might do the same.

Someone asked the questions ‘why do we praise teenagers killing each other.’ I should specify that the book and the movie do not praise killing. The society depicted in the books does, but they are depicted as self-centered and desensitized, not totally unlike our own. It’s actually a very powerful allegory. The watcher walks away asking the question ‘have we become like this society?’ The point is similar to that of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Swift wasn’t actually suggesting that people kill children either – his point was how society has moved toward an amoral, godless society that doesn’t value life.

I would not recommend this one for the kids. It is a very violent movie, with characters dying of spears through the stomach, a snapped neck, arrows to the chest and being torn apart by wolves. So I’d say anyone much younger than 15 would probably be pretty disturbed by the violent deaths of several teenagers throughout the movie.

All in all it’s a very impressive film. It manages to question society in some poignant ways wile telling an entertaining story. I’d really recommend going to see this one. Try to catch it this weekend and if the tickets are almost sold out, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Haiti Trip days 5&6

There’s a story in Haiti – we’re not sure it’s true, but it seems likely – that in 1804 the Voodoo leaders of the Haitian people sold Haiti to the Devil for 200 years. They were at war with France for their independence and it seemed like they had no way of winning since they were a tiny country in the Caribbean and France was a large military force, so the only way that their leaders knew to help was to make a deal with the Devil – to sell their nation to him to 200 years in exchange for victory against the French. Well, it worked. The French agreed to make a settlement and sell their financial interest in the land to the nation of Haiti.

If you’re not familiar with what happened in Haiti from 1804-2004 it is a bloody and horrific history. Scanning the wikipedia article on Haiti’s history will tell you there were multiple coups – resulting in the death of thousands of Haitians in pointless political power grabs. It ended in 2004 as the US assisted the Haitian president Aristide escape the country. By that time the Haitian people had been in a cycle characterized by a Miami School of Law Study as ‘a disturbing pattern.’ At that time the UN, with all it’s faults, came in and began to keep the peace in Haiti. A rumor began at this time that the Voodoo leaders were meeting again. They they were thinking about renewing their lease with the Devil – to save their nation from it’s unrest. Christian missionaries gathered and prayed – praying that they would not do this again and somehow they never did. Weather it was the obvious fact that they had been no better off with the Devil’s help or it was truly just the influence of the Holy Spirit, they did not hand Haiti back over to the Evil One. So for the first time in 200 years Haiti had the option of freeing itself from the tyranny of Satan.

However, men love darkness because their deeds are evil. The violence continued essentially until the infamous earthquake in 2010. The death toll is impossible to ascertain; numbers range from 50,000 – 300,000. In Haiti’s checkered history never has one event effected the nation to it’s core like this event did. As terrible as it was, it served as a wakeup call to the remaining Haitian people. Since then, they have elected a new president and over the past year he seems to have been working toward improving the living conditions of his people. It seems the healing of the Haitian people can finally begin. I see the earthquake as a natural evil that Satan would have used for ill, but God is using it for good. It is awesome, encouraging and humbling to think that we’re on the leading edge of an effort to take back the nation of Haiti for the glory of God.

Now, to return you to this trip to Haiti.

Friday morning we headed out to the Leveque deaf community one last time. The whole day was bittersweet since we knew we all had to leave the following morning. After meeting up with Mackenson, Kyle had some phone calls to make and we still had a few small details to finish on the house we were painting. DC and Woody worked on the house while Keri and Elizabeth met and talked with Bertheed, one of the deaf leaders, the only woman on the leadership council in the community.

I took the opportunity to walk around the new community taking pictures and video and relating to the members of the deaf community. Everyone I met recognized me from past trips and smiled and hugged me, asking if I was well. In turn I greeted them warmly and asked them if they knew that Jesus loved them. Many of them said “Thank you.” or a simple “Yes.”

After a few moments I realized I had no idea where the girls had gotten to, but it didn’t take long to find them. I just had to listen for the only house where there was talking – it was easy to find. When I got there, Keri and Elizabeth were talking to Bertheed about the Earthquake. She was expressing how much she didn’t understand the earthquake. She asked if God was angry with Haiti. Elizabeth and Keri assured her that God wasn’t angry at them, but that he was able to use the tragedy of the earthquake to bring them closer. She seemed relieved that we didn’t think God was angry with Haiti.

After the girls spent some time discussing life with Bertheed we walked over to where DC and woody were putting the final touches on the house we had been painting that week. Once they were finished we came back and spent the rest of the day fellowshipping in Mackenson’s house.

As we sat and talked, one of the deaf leaders commented that Kyle looked like he was sitting on throne. We looked over and Kyle laughed. He was sitting in a plastic deck chair. He instantly sat up and made a funny face. I signed “King Kyle” He signed “I am King Kyle! I am now in change Mackenson is out!” The deaf leaders were laughing really hard as he went on this comedic rant for a few moments. Kyle continued “I will make new rules!” Mackenson laughed and said “Just make those rules fair!” It wasn’t until Kyle said that he was going to take Mackenson’s dog, Luke, that Mackenson said “Woah – hold on there. You don’t get my dog.” apparently taking the Dog was just too far.

It’s funny to note that Mackenson’s Dog, Luke was not responsive to us whenever we tried to call him. He just sat there. Once when we were leaving the community and Mackenson was in the back of the truck with us luke came running after the truck. Mackenson simply held out his hand and after a moment Luke stopped and sat. The dog didn’t understand us because his master signs to him. I couldn’t help but have an ‘awww’ moment when I realized that the dog did recognize his master’s voice, it was just his hands through which that voice spoke.

We stopped at the same restaurant where we’d eaten all week. As we were trying to figure out who would pray (always a bit of a discussion before a meal on a mission trip) I just started signing a prayer. “God, thanks for this food. Amen.” Everybody signed ‘Amen.’ And kyle congratulated me on my first sign language prayer.

In the afternoon we walked up the hill to where the new church is going to be built soon. On the way there we got stopped by Kyle’s Haitian ‘mom.’ If you ever visit our Haitian deaf community – she is one that you’ll have to be sure to meet, she has such a sweet spirit and she vocalizes everything she says so loudly. She’s older, especially for a Haitian woman and spends much of her time giggling gleefully. Kyle told us that she was recently reunited with her sister who lives in the house next door. Her sister can hear and doesn’t know ASL, but they manage to communicate using home signs and lip reading. They’re both older and it was very sweet to hear that they are getting to spend their golden years together in such a beautiful community.

As we climbed the hill overlooking Leveque the team was filled with mixed emotion. None of us wanted the day to end, but when we reached the top it was time for one last prayer with the deaf leaders.

We had one more awesome time of prayer. Where we all prayed silently – those who knew sign language prayed ‘aloud.’ It’s so moving to see the expressive nature with which these deaf leaders pray. Seeing their fervor is stirring.

After the prayer there was a long period where we took photos. Photos of everyone with everyone else. Each deaf leader with each member of the team and then the deaf leaders and then the team and then the team with a few of the deaf leaders. Then the girls with Mackenson and William. Then the girls with just William. And a partridge in a pear tree. But it became evident we couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time to leave.

We headed back into Port Au Prince and arrived at New Life just before dark. Dinner was waiting for us – a delicious sort of meatballs and pasta. A few other teams were arriving to begin their trips even as we were preparing to leave. It was fun exchanging pleasantries and finding out what kind of work they were doing.

I had a conversation with a man named David who’s been working with an organization in Haiti for several decades. He was really impressed with the work we were doing. He affirmed the importance of moving the Haitian people toward sustainability. Moving them toward self-sufficience. He was impressed with how we were adamant that our ministry be to the leaders who in tern would minister to the rest of the community. It was encouraging to hear how impressed he was. David mentioned that there were many organizations who didn’t understand this principle. These NGOs do more harm than good as they just give handouts rather than woking to equip the people with the knowledge to elevate themselves for a lifetime. The affirmation was very encouraging.

Our team time in the evening was brief as we were all very tired, but we all were up and ready to go by 6:30 the next morning. As we waited for the truck to come and pick us up one last time Kyle went around the table and affirmed every member of the team – encouraging each one of us and talking about the areas in which he had seen us all grow during the week. We hopped on the truck and took our final ride to the airport. The ride was full of laughter. We were remembering all the good times we’d had that week.

When we got to the airport I had to separate from the group for most of the day as I was flying back by American Airlines while they flew back via Spirit Airlines. I’m told that they had some pretty fun times traversing the Caribbean, connecting in Ft. Lauderdale and finally landing in Atlanta. I had a few adventures of my own. My Miami layover was only an hour and a half long – which meant I had to go through passport control, baggage claim, customs, rechecking, security, and find my gate in a very short time. Remarkably I made it with time to spare. Ironically, despite my efforts to get to my connecting flight, the plane had a mechanical issue that took over an hour to resolve, so we didn’t end up flying out until almost 3:00.

On my flight from Miami I sat next to a Spanish woman. Not a Hispanic woman, but a woman who was actually from Spain. She only spoke spanish so naturally after being in Haiti all week I was delighted to finally have someone to talk to who I could really understand. I made conversation with her as best I could. She was very friendly and I even help the flight attendants understand what she wanted. When I got to Atlanta I originally had planned on picking up dinner, gassing up the car and picking up the others, but by the time I got out to the car I got a text from DC that they had just landed. So I locked the car and just walked back inside where I met the others as they entered the terminal.

Keri honored us with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem as we stepped outside. I’ve never been a part of a team that didn’t immediately all fall asleep as soon as they hit the car on the way back from the airport. No one fell asleep. We stopped for dinner and were undoubtedly the most obnoxiously loud group there. The last leg of the trip was spent singing, joking and laughing all the way back home to Montgomery. When we pulled up to the back parking lot of Frazer there was a group waiting for us and we were still laughing and singing and enjoying the camaraderie. DC closed us out with one last prayer and we called it a night. The trip was done.I’ve never been a part of a mission team that got as close as this one. It was nothing short of awesome.

I want to close with this: If you are a part of the Frazer family and if you are at all capable, you need to visit Haiti. I ran into someone this morning who I told needed to visit Haiti. He told me he wasn’t called there. I told him he needed to go regardless. I didn’t feel ‘called’ the first time I went. But that trip was enough to give the Holy Spirit a vocabulary in my life such that I was back three more times in less than a year. If I hadn’t gone that first time the help-portrait trip would never have happened in November and neither would the december trip where we brought them the photos.

If you have the desire and it feels impossible, God will make it possible. If you know you can do it and you’re not sure if you’re called. This is the call. You didn’t read this on accident. We have trips almost every month this year. In the meantime be praying. Pray for the deaf leaders. Pray for Kyle, our Missionary on the ground there. Pray for God’s will to be done in the nation of Haiti. Pray that what we’re doing today will have a ripple effect that will effect the whole world.

Mackenson in his house in the new Deaf Community.


Haiti Trip Days 3&4

On wonderful wednesday morning after our devotional and breakfast at new life. Breakfast was an especially awesome rendition of french toast. I guess it was actually Creole toast. Creole toast is like french toast except you don’t conjugate the eggs. There was also an oatmeal that was easily the best tasting oatmeal I’ve ever had. I’d try to describe it, but it’s indescribable.


After breakfast we headed out to Leveque. The whole day was spent finishing painting the house that we started on our second day. We had to paint the first coat on one room and put the 2nd coat on the others. DC Cole, the trip’s leader was especially eager to finish the job we started. We not only put the first coat on the room we hadn’t started but at the end of the day we managed to put a second coat. As with the previous day we got to interact a great deal with the community.

One of the things that we’re seeing is that living among Haitians who can hear will be an adjustment for the deaf community. DC spoke with one of the Leveque residents who was baffled that we were talking with Mackenson and Alexis. This unfortunately is a common attitude, we’re hoping that we can help the members of the deaf community at Leveque elevate themselves in their society such that the others realize that they are equally capable. If they can do it there, we’re hopeful that they can do it across the entire nation of Haiti.


For lunch we headed to the same creole restaurant we went to in Cabaret the day before. This time as we walked in I noticed a chicken was walking around under our table. Later I would comment that I supposed he must be for lunch tomorrow. At least we know its fresh. I made the mistake of trying the hot sauce this time. It was as if my sinuses were a crowded theater and someone shouted ‘fire!’  But I accomplished what I wanted and that was to make my meal more of a challenge than it was the day before.


Wednesday I also tried put together a few sign phrases that I hadn’t before. After lunch when we were riding back to Leveque, Mackinson was asking some of us if we new deaf people before we got involved with the community in Haiti. We admitted that none of us had grown up around people who are deaf. I managed to sign to him, “But now, we have a big deaf family in Haiti.” And he smiled and signed ‘cool.’ When we got back later on William, the guy who sang-signed for us yesterday, showed up I told him that I want him to come to Frazer one day and sign for everyone there. He told me that I should learn to sing.

We painted until we ran out of paint. We had to stop for the day when they told us that they wouldn’t have more paint for us until friday. We had to leave one room half finished and stop for the day. We headed back to New Life for the evening.


After dinner, we engaged in a lengthy discussion on some future developments in the community. One of the recent changes was that the design of the church at Leveque has been adjusted by a leading architect who specializes in optimizing spaces for the people who are deaf. This means that the sight lines will be improved such that the members of the deaf community should be able to see their interpreter from almost anywhere in their new church home. The discussion was a great opportunity for the members of the team to get clarification on Frazer’s role and the hope that one day we’ll no longer be involved with the deaf community in Leveque, but rather we’ll be able to expand our scope here in Haiti and move onto other projects. After many great conversations we all headed to bed.

I should mention that Woody apparently talks in his sleep at that night DC caught him shouting angrily, “But I’m trying to serve God!” to someone in his dreams. Woody doesn’t remember what he was dreaming so we have no clue with whom he was arguing. But it was a funny event.

Thursday was a really cool day. We started off by visiting our friends at Rebuild Globally – an organization that is working to employ Haitians through creative means. They pay Haitians fair wages to make sandals out of trash – old tires and clothes. The sandals are actually excellent and we were able to see their efforts regarding planting a garden and starting a tilapia farm. It’s always cool and encouraging to see other groups and organizations succeeding at helping people move toward sustainability. It also is great because it gives us ideas as to ways we can help move our community (and future communities) toward sustainability as well.

Panoramic view from atop the MOH guest house

After that we headed to Mission of Hope’s compound for a bit to drop some things off at Kyle’s new apartment. It gave us a chance to see their campus – not all of the team has yet and it’s a pretty cool place. Frazer hopes to learn as much as we can from MOH and organizations like them so that one day we might be able to do something similar. Kyle got to have a chat with a few MOH leaders while the rest of us looked around. In the afternoon we stopped by Wahoo bay partially to take a little break partially to celebrate Kyle’s birthday. Wahoo is a resort which has a restaurant and beach access. We all took a few moments to hop in the water which was as clear as if it had come out of the tap. The scene was absolutely stunning. Clear water, mountains and a beautiful afternoon sun setting just above us.

We headed back to town before the sun set and came back to New Life. The truck ride back was the longest contiguous ride yet. I took some footage of us riding back as we came into town.

We gave kyle a few more gifts and had some cupcakes (which I had managed to bring in my suitcase all the way from Montgomery’s Publix.) We made our plans for the next day – which were mainly to try and make an effort to just relate to the community members and really speak the gospel into their lives.

So as we go out today, I ask for prayers – prayers that we will be bold, clear and have the Holy Spirit’s words. I pray that the language barriers would not be a problem even as we speak to the hearing people in the community. Please pray that our last day with them would be mightily effective.