Film Chat: The Hunger Games

By Hannah Lee

“The Hunger Games” opened this weekend to robust ticket sales, taking in a record $155 million in North America, according to The New York Times. The film and the book of the same name is about a dystopian future society, Panem, that arose after North America had been destroyed. Panem is governed autocratically from the Capitol, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. After a failed revolt some 74 years ago, the remaining 12 outlying districts are controlled by starvation rations and a cruel annual selection — the reaping — of one boy and one girl from each district to compete for their life in a televised survival competition called the Hunger Games. Beyond natural selection, they are subjected to man-made disasters — fire, creatures engineered to be more lethal, and artificially altered weather — as well as armed violence from the other contenders, the tributes, until only one survivor remains.

The movie was thoughtfully done, but fans would notice some omissions and telescoping. The author, Suzanne Collins, was listed as a producer, so it was with her approval. Still, it would be hard to understand everything if one had not read the book. For instance, the first interaction of the protagonists, the two tributes assigned to represent District 12, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, was supposed to be when they were 11 — five years ago — and her family was starving after the death of her father and while her mother was subsumed by grief. A baker’s son, Peeta, intentionally burnt some loaves of bread and he was angrily instructed to throw them out to the pigs. He threw them to Katniss, whom he knew was hiding by the pen. The flashback was quick (as were all of them) and the viewer would not know the debt that Katniss felt she owed to Peeta, for giving her hope, especially since she then spied the first dandelion of the season and she realized she can forage for her family, and later hunt for them. A nice added touch in the movie was when Peeta later told Katniss that he regretted throwing the bread, instead of walking outside in the heavy rain to give them to her personally (but we knew he was in trouble with his mother already). The two young lead actors were superb in their roles — Jennifer Lawrence as the flinty Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as the sensitive Peeta.

The movie added some foreshadowing from the second book, Catching Fire, such as a rebellion in reaction to Katniss’s tender farewell to the dying Rue of District 11 (who reminded her of her younger sister, Primrose — whom Katniss had volunteered to replace in an unprecedented act of self-sacrifice — but this allusion was left out of the movie). A clever addition was the punishment for the Gamemaster, Seneca Crane, in which he was escorted to a locked room in which he finds a bowlful of the poisonous berries that were recognized as Katniss’s rebellion.

Fans of the books may denounce parts of the movie, such as Katniss appearing beautiful and well-kept, so the transformation in the Capitol did not make sense. They may deplore the contrast of Katniss in a sleek leather jacket (it was her father’s in the book) and well-made boots to her neighbors in District 12 who were dowdily dressed in Depression-era garb. I would argue that it was a testament to her skill as a hunter that she did not look starved. Her Games costumes at the Capitol, designed by Judianna Makovsky (who also designed for “The Last Airbender” and  ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) were delightful and artfully impressed the Panem audience as the “Girl on Fire, ” an unusual and colorful representation of her coal-mining district.

Another caveat is the decision of the director, Gary Ross, to soften Katniss’s character, making her less obstinate and cynical, more likeable but less unique. Coming on the heels of the culmination of the Harry Potter series, Katniss is a fierce heroine who stands apart from the intellectual Hermione Granger. Before serving as tribute for her district, Katniss had to fight for her family’s survival. Starvation is a lonely, quiet battle, but probably no less terrifying than the adrenaline-inducing attacks by tributes wielding sharp weapons.

The Capitol denizens were depicted as ridiculous (with gaudy colorations and body decorations) and morally tone-deaf to the life-and-death situation of the Hunger Games, which they enjoy as entertainment and which they accept as rightful public policy to suppress future rebellion. A shout-out to the spot-on performance by Stanley Tucci as Games host, Caesar Flickerman, one of the two Capitol residents with kind words for Katniss (and broadcast to the entire country!). The other character, Cinna, alas, was reduced to being a less frivolous leader of her styling team.

“The Hunger Games” is a fine dramatization of the first book of Collins’ trilogy (four films are planned). The PG-13 rating meant that some violence was omitted and what is left is mostly obliquely shown or in blurry detail. Younger fans of the book could be taken along, if their parents accompany them in attendance. However, I would not advise bringing younger siblings who have not read the books.

Cookbooks to Whet Reading

By Hannah Lee

My younger child was a reluctant reader, so I tried different strategies to get her to read.  Her sister was willing to read anything I put in front of her, but she was choosy.  I got a boxful of books from the library each week but they were not engaging her.  However, she did gravitate towards my cookbook collection, especially the ones written for children and the themed ones based on beloved children’s books, such as Babe, Little House on the Prairie, and the Boxcar Children.  So, I started with cookbooks and expanded to books about geography, culture, and religion.

According to Jill Ross, proprietor of The Cookbook Stall at the Reading Terminal Market, children’s cookbooks have become more popular than ever and there is now a boom in cookbooks marketed to teens.  She recommends the series by Meghan and Jill Carle, sisters who wrote their first cookbook when they were still in high school.  Readers followed them through college and their newest title is The First Real Kitchen Cookbook: 100 Recipes and Tips for New Cooks.  Another author she recommends for teens is Rozanne Gold, an award-winning chef who made her reputation with the general public with her pioneering three-ingredient cookbooks.  Her teen title, Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs was given a rave review by the New York Times when it was published in 2009.

I’ve mourned daily the closure of Borders, as there is not another general-interest bookstore in my neighborhood.  Ross, however, says that her direct competitor is not Borders, but Amazon, when people come to browse in her stop but then order through the Internet instead.

The trend in cookbook sales, according to Ross, is the farm-to-table concept.  People are more interested in where their food comes from.  Local produce is the new catchword.  Some of her customers are members of a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture)  and they want to learn  how to prepare the unusual vegetables they receive through their share.

Ross’s personal favorite titles are books by Heidi Swanson (whose newest title is: Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen) because she’s a vegetarian.  However, she also loves the River Cottage cookbooks by the British chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, because they’re so lovingly written and they’ve helped her learn how to prepare meat for others.  She also adores the reference books by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, whose newest title is The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine.

The Cookbook Stall is open at the Reading Terminal Market from Monday to Saturday from 10 – 5 and Sundays from 11 – 3.  If you have a particular title in mind, you may contact the proprietor at or 215-923-3170.  Discounted parking is available for up to 2 hours for just $4.00 in the 12th & Filbert Street garage.