Reviews


Gary Ross’s film adaptation of the popular Suzanne Collins novel “The Hunger Games” is a faithful adaptation that should appeal to purists as well as casual fans. The film follows the saga of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the bow-hunting heroine from downtrodden District 12 who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the “Hunger Games”, a contest pitting 24 youths against each other in a battle to the death.

In this dystopian view of the future, the nation of Panem is comprised of an all-powerful Capitol and 12 Districts that are ruled with an iron fist. To remind the citizens of the Districts who is really in charge, each year the Capitol requires that a boy and girl tribute from each district compete in the brutal “Hunger Games” from which only one tribute can emerge alive as the victor. The Games are preceded by pomp and circumstance, interviews, and judging much like many of today’s reality television shows.

Katniss and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are thrust into this aided the mentoring of sole surviving District 12 victor, the alcoholic Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the annoying protocol advice from Capitol reprentative Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and the fashion stylings of Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).

Over the course of the film, we meet some of the other tributes, find out a bit more about how the Games are architected by Game Maker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and hear from the ominous President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The film is well cast and the performances of Lawrence, Hutcherson, and Sutherland are particularly good.

The action in the Arena is fast-paced and few scenes and details from the novel are left out. The violence is not portrayed in a particularly exploitive fashion, but it is also obvious that the tributes are killing each other in bloody combat. Some of the more subtle aspects of the book are difficult to translate to the screen with the limited time, such as Rue’s (Amandla Stenberg) relationship with Katniss and Katniss’s bond with her fellow District 12 hunting mate, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). However, I think that a viewer unfamiliar with the novel will not miss this material. What might be bit confusing to a newcomer is why all of this is going on in the first place. The explanation of the history of Panem and how the Capitol rules everything is glossed over pretty quickly, and despite a few scenes with President Snow, the underlying reasons that will drive the plot of the sequels is left fairly obfuscated.

Overall, though, the film delivers an entertaining romp through Suzanne Collins’ world. I highly recommend the movie to both “Hunger Games” aficionados and to those that just want to find out what all the hype has been about.

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Click here for more “Hunger Games” sketches.

For the price, the ASUS Play Air HDP-R3 Wireless-N Media Player is excellent. I had it up and running on our wireless network in minutes (I choose not to attach any local storage) and connected to our plasma TV using HDMI. We have a large video library stored on external USB drives that are mounted on both Windows and Linux hosts. The HDP-R3 was able to see these “folders” and effortlessly play the media without any jitter. It plays the media more smoothly than a PC on the network in some cases.

One small drawback — connecting to the wireless network takes a minute or two. Initially, it took so long, I thought that I manually had to connect every time the unit was powered up, but it just takes a few minutes. If you leave the unit on, it stays connected for the most part, but every user is going to have to learn how to check the wireless connection and perhaps re-connect the system.

I had hesitated to buy a wireless media player because the units were 3 to 4 times the prices of this one and many had hacked wireless capability as and add-on USB adapter. This product, with its built-in wireless adapter, is the perfect solution for those who have video libraries they want to access via their wireless network.

Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith in

It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Elisabeth Sladen on April 19, 2011. In 1978 or thereabouts, I was surfing through the channels looking for something interesting and came upon Ontario’s public network, TVO, at 7PM on a Saturday night. This strange theme music started and my interest was piqued as I realized this was some sort of science fiction show. The opening scenes featured a spaceship crashing in medieval England and an alien using time-travel technology to kidnap scientists from the future to help him repair his craft. The show was, of course, Doctor Who and the first episode I ever saw was part 1 of the “The Time Warrior” featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had stumbled upon a time of transition in the programme as the Doctor’s previous companion, Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning), had left and was replaced by the perky journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen.

The cliffhanger scene at the end of part 1 was the alien being removing his helmet and revealing his ugly countenance. At the time, I didn’t know this was a staple of the show and I was totally hooked. I tuned back in weekly for much of the next decade. As Tom Baker took over the role of the Doctor, Sarah Jane remained a constant and I joined them as they battled Daleks, Cybermen, and the Loch Ness Monster. It seemed it would go on forever, but at the end of “The Hand of Fear”, Sarah Jane had had enough of scaly monsters, narrow escapes, and galaxy-threatening pepper pots. The Doctor dropped her off in South Croydon in her Andy Pandy jumper, with Sarah only realizing shortly thereafter that while she might have been in London, but the Doctor had missed South Croydon by a sizable margin.

I taped a large number of Doctor Who episodes from the re-runs on YTV in the 80’s, but serials such as “The Time Warrior”, “Genesis of the Daleks”, and “Terror of Zygons” were singled out for repeated viewings. It was a special time in the history of Doctor Who and Elisabeth Sladen was a big part of it.

Doctor Who left the airwaves in 1989, was revived in a TV movie in 1996, and finally came back on a regular basis in 2005. In what can only be described as a goosebump-generating moment, Sarah Jane returned to be reunited with the Doctor (now brilliantly portrayed by David Tennant) in the 2006 episode “School Reunion”, looking none the worse for wear 30 years later. So great was the popularity of Sladen’s character that the BBC spun her off in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Unfortunately, Elisabeth Sladen lost her battle with cancer but I will always remember her portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith with tremendous fondness. I just hope she realized how much enjoyment she brought to Doctor Who fans all of these years.

Jack Tatum passed away on July 27, 2010 at the age of 61. His reputation as the hardest hitting player of his era was well deserved as several of his hits on opposing receivers and running backs are still talked about today. About what other player, with the possible exception of Lawrence Taylor, can this be said?

The hit on Sammy White in the Superbowl sent White’s helmet flying upfield in such a manner that a woman sitting next to Al Davis exclaimed, “He’s lost his head!” The oft-rerun hit on Earl Campbell at the goal line when both players were basically knocked out on the play. The hit on Riley Odom in which witnesses swore Odom’s eyes rolled back into his head. And finally, the infamous Darryl Stingley hit that broke two of Stingley’s vertebrae and paralyzed him for life.

Tatum wrote one of the first football memoirs I ever read, They Call Me Assassin.
I was fascinated by the inside look at pro football and, even today, Tatum’s no-holds-barred evaluations of his fellow NFL players stands alone for his willingness to be blunt and honest. He reserves a great deal of scorn for the Raiders’ bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Franco Harris is characterized as a big wimp, Jack Lambert overrated, and Lynn Swann a faker of head injuries. You won’t see any recent football books making these kinds of observations as players today are far too afraid of offending others in the “fraternity”.

Stingley never forgave Tatum for not coming to see him in the hospital and wrote about his bitterness at length in his book Happy To Be Alive. Tatum expresses regret over what happened to Stingley, but attributes much of the blame to the rules of the game that encourage the kinds of hits that caused Stingley’s injury. Tatum goes over many of the rules of the time (1978) and suggests changes such as outlawing pump faking and the quick slant. Much has been done since that fateful play to protect NFL players, so much that some people complain that the game is no longer violent enough. Due to these changes and the changes in the attitude of today’s players, we will never again see the like of Jack “The Assassin” Tatum.

Click on the drawing for a larger version.

“The Smart Money” is a fascinating voyage through the world of big time sports betting. This is not the average fan betting $10 or even a $100 or a $1000 dollars on a football game, but a little-known subculture where $10,000, $20,000 and even $100,000 is wagered on the outcome of a sporting event and where gains and losses of half a million dollars over a weekend is commonplace. The author was drawn in to an exclusive club, the “Brain Trust”, who used inside knowledge of the teams, highly paid handicappers, and computers to determine what contests to bet on and how to beat the bookies at their own game.

Though it does not go into too much technical detail of the wagering process (i.e. the actual algorithms that the Brain Trust used to beat the system), this is a well written account of the author’s years working as an agent for a large betting cabal. His main responsibility was to find a way to place enough bets of high enough value to make it worthwhile which involved weekly trips to Las Vegas, hidden identities, and large bags containing bricks of cash. Once someone starts winning in Las Vegas, however, the casinos are no longer interested in taking your business. Yet, the Brain Trust was not to be denied, moving their action to offshore organizations where the seediness factor increases significantly.

Truly an inside look at a level of sports betting that the average fan never sees, “The Smart Money” weaves its way through the largely hidden labyrinth of how point spreads for football games are set and, more importantly, the mysterious forces that change these critical values during the week before the game and sometimes only minutes before kickoff.

After reading the first third of this book, which covered his first foray to Vegas to make bets, I doubted that the author could fill the rest of book with similar stories and keep the reader riveted. While the following seasons of betting and the move to using offshore accounts pretty much mirrors the action early in the book, it is told in such a style that it kept my interest right to the end. The author manages to realistically convey the tension and anxiety of large sums of money riding on a meaningless touchdown by a team that is hopelessly behind or the shock of watching an interception being returned for a score knowing that $50,000 was lost in that instant. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in learning more about how sports betting actually works.

Click on the cover to go to Amazon.ca.

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