Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mapping Redheads on the Globe

About a month ago, I discovered a wonderful website from Britain called Ginger Parrot -- it's all about redheads, or "gingers", as they say across the pond. Frankly, I like that descriptor better.

In November, Ginger Parrot shared this map, published from an interesting article by Irishman James McInerny, highlighting the areas of northern Europe with the highest population of gingers. The article has some interesting genomic microbiology details about the chromosomes of redheaded people. Not surprisingly there's a large concentration in the UK but, contrary to popular imagination, Scotland has a higher percentage than Ireland: 13% to the Irish 10%. I certainly saw far more gingers in Scotland than in Ireland. But what's with that big spot in Russia?


Monday, June 17, 2013

Trends for 2013 - A Bit Belated

Now that we’re half way through 2013, I’m finishing up that blog I started in January on forecasted trends for this year. We’ll analyze how much of them we’ve seen come to pass...or at least I’ll provide my inspired commentary.

I’m always fascinated with projections of what will our culture will widely embrace (and what marketers desperately hope will take off.)  Let’s start with the most significant, life-affecting subject that informs our world view and daily living:

The “It” color for 2013 (here’s a hint): “Ha, ha, ha -- ho ho, ho, and a couple of tra la las..."  Yes, emerald. The experts at have declared that green is “magical” and represents clarity, historical insight, prosperity, balance and harmony. The Pantone Goddesses bade farewell to 2012’s Tangerine  Tango, “which provided the energy boost we needed to recharge and move forward” and welcomed Emerald,”a vivid,verdant greent that enhance oursense of well-being further by inspiring insight as well as promoting balance and harmony”. On their home page you can see a bright, shiny emerald colored beetle. Maybe I should stop taking vitamins and going to therapy, and instead invest in more colors for my well-being. Quite frankly, while New York and L.A. might look like the Land of Oz, Atlanta is still a year behind; I’m seeing Tangerine all over the place on women. But you're stuck with "The Merry Old Land of Oz" song in your head.

Other fashion trends? Color blocking in black and white, flat shoes for comfort (hallelujah!), and all-over lace casual -- not like a wedding though, thank God. The bright colors of last year are moving to more subtle (again b&w), and tailored. For men, “meggings” with a long shirt. I can say with surety that this fashion trend for men will only work in Midtown. Atlantans know what I mean.

Makeup? Glitz. More bold, red lips, eye details (like rhinestones on lashes) and nails. So apparently the theatrics of Kim Kardashian as well as country music and reality tv stars are working their way into fashion. My prediction? Never will go mainstream here in the South, at least for those over 22. Unless you regularly attend events like the MTV Awards. 

Okay on to less exciting but considerably more vital topics:

Economy and Technology

The Sharing or Peer Economy Triple Pundit describes these phrases as business built on the sharing of resources – allowing customers to access goods when needed. We’ve seen lots of websites spring up in the last five years allowing participants to share household goods, apparel and accessories (, recycle no-longer-needed items (freecycle), coops for fresh foods, photos (flikr), etc.. Now the concept of sharing has been adopted as a business model. The cool business terms are peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, collaborative consumption, and the access economy. Toss these terms around in business conversation.  

Wearable cameras – NSFP also predicts these will go mainstream. “As a slow economy continues to put a dent in pleasure travel and lifelogging technologies like wearable cameras , new platforms for travelers to catalogue and share their experiences with ‘armchair explorerers’ will emerge”. You can attach these to bicycle handle bars, belt buckle, helmet, or for that special Star Trek Borg look, attach one to your ear. There are even camera glasses. This goes beyond mere convenience and moves into the world of surveillance gear. So be aware and behave in public people - you may be on Candid Camera.

Continuity across devices – IT Business Edge has the last word on these next few examples. The website discusses the communal desire to have the ability to pick up the session on a different device in exactly the same place you left off. “Innovation will … provide a continuous experience for users across call logs, text messages, notes and activities as they move from laptop to desktop, from tablet to mobiles. The ‘app-ification’ (new term for moi) of curated media by innovative firms like Netflix and SnagFilms across devices such as Rokus, Boxees and tablets will further drive content delivery beyond traditional TV.”  

More efficient government data management -- This one was humorous: “With the adoption of sustainable standards, private enterprises and governments alike will be able to tap into a trove of valuable data to create exciting and technology-forward public services.” Guess the NSA’s cornered the market on that one.

The “cloud” will become more intelligent  -- The Futurist predicts the cloud will not be merely a place to store data but will transition into “becoming an active resource in our daily lives, providing analysis and contextual advice…(such as) designing your family’s weekly menu based on everyone’s health profiles, fitness goals, and taste preferences.” I’m still waiting to become intelligent enough to use the “cloud”. (Or trust the cloud with my personal data.)

Game technology:  Take your game or show from big screen to iPad to travel to another room in house. It’s the “Get media where I want it” concept. Yeah, we’re more evolved. It’s still all about getting what I want when I want it.  

The economy may become increasingly jobless, but there will be plenty of work --  So says The Futurist. “Rather than worry about unemployment, tomorrow’s workers will focus on developing a variety of skills that could keep them working productively and continuously, whether they have jobs or not. It’ll be about finding out what other people need done, and doing it.” Uh, is't this what you call...freelancing?

Science, Medicine and Healthcare
Many jobs will be created in healthcare IT: This has been widely forecasted by numerous sources. From patient portals to telemedicine to mobile apps to technology-enhanced diagnosis to electronic medical records and billing systems.

Medical supply and equipment costs are abating under market pressure, says Price Waterhouse research. That’s good. The other side of the coin is “medical cost trends will move upward next year (wow, what a surprise) due to the uptick in patient utilization rising as the economy strengthens and medical advances are driving growth in high-cost care and catastrophic claims.” But you know, none of us really knows what healthcare and medicine will look like until Obamacare unfolds itself starting in 2014

Neuroscientists may be able to predict what you’ll do before you do it. Talk about predictions. Again The Futurist has an eagle eye on fascinating ideas. “The intention to do something, such as grasp a cup, produces blood flow to specific areas of the brain, so studying blood-flow patterns through neuroimaging could give researchers a better idea of what people have in mind.”

Okay, this is really where it’s at for 2013:
Mac and cheese with twist/spin (comfort foods) – what does this mean? Serve with pork ringlets, fried mac and cheese with flatbread and bleu cheese, Mediterranean mac and cheese…the variations are endless. If you eat Kraft boxed mac and cheese with the distinctive neon orange color, don’t tell anyone.

Gourmet-flavored donuts (bacon, kimchee, flan – I’m sorry, disgusting) and popcorn (in ice cream, candy, gourmet food).  

Duck eggs. Yes, duck eggs. Bon Appetit says chefs will choose duck eggs over chicken eggs for their larger and tastier flavor. "There's an ultimate richness to the duck egg that's just so much better," says Matthew Gaudet, chef at West Bridge Restaurant in Cambridge, MA. Apparently available at farmers' markets, some Whole Foods Markets, and

Homemade yogurt. I was happy with store bought Greek yogurt though I’m intrigued since one of my friends from northern Africa said she makes her own and loves it. Now that I have a recipe, I may try it.

The Ikarian Diet (from the Greek Island of Ikaria) -- whole grains, locally-grown produce, red wine, fish, yogurt, goat-milk products, slow-paced lifestyle. Mother Jones has an interesting piece on this. Find an even longer one in the New York Times.

Another subject that’s near and dear to my heart is -


Brass -- According to bloggers as reported by House Beautiful, brass and other shiny metals are in as well as grass cloth wallpaper, and camouflage. ‘Scuse me -- camouflage? That’s for little boy’s bedspreads. Apparently it’s not just in traditional green and olive colors but with unusual twists like reds, orange and yellows (see the chair cover in slideshow #2). The grass cloth reflects eco-friendly focus on using organic, sustainable materials. Budget Blinds recommends woven wood shades made from bamboo, grasses, jute, reeds, rattan and other natural renewable resources for honest, simple beauty. Brings the outdoors in.

Informal garden design as an alternative to a more “trimmed and controlled” standard. The formal aspect that seems to hang on though is “architecture of green” (hedges and shaped shrubs – so very British).

Twentieth century furniture. "A revolution has hit the world of antiques, art, and collecting, and rooms will never look the same," Diane Dorrans Saeks of The Style Saloniste says. "Designers are putting a new spin on interiors, blurring the lines between furniture and art, and embracing bold, new materials."

The Chevron: a bold, dramatic, V-shaped pattern. Also geometrics and other graphic, colorful shapes like the tribal ikat ( swirls and diamonds reminiscent of but way cooler than tie-dye) and Moroccan motifs.

Bolder color trends. Monaco Blue, Poppy Red, Nectarine and Emerald (the latter consistent with the big fashion color). Thank you House Beautiful.

White kitchens are coming back! Yay! I’ve always loved light kitchens whether contemporary Euro-looking kitchen with the frameless laminate cabinetry or white painted wood cabinets. I never warmed up to the natural dark wood cabinet that’s so popular. I can't get depressed in the dark when creating food. And of course “multi-tasking appliances, hands-free faucets, and increased smartphone and tablet functionality,” says Jamie Gold, a certified kitchen/bath designer in CA (NDSM Observer). “Value-oriented remodels will remain popular,” she predicts, “with homeowners incorporating existing flooring, fixtures, cabinets and/or appliances into their design plans to save money and retain favorite design elements.”


Rise of the Nones – This was especially interesting to me as I’m always curious about spirituality. A new “non-religious” or not tradition-specific spiritual movement will take hold, capturing the growing number of new atheists and millennial “nones” who do not follow any religion. A recent Gallup poll debunked the large growth prediction but the jury’s still out on this. Currently it's estimated that the "nones" represent almost 18% of the  U.S. adult population. Life in the Post Modern age.

Media and Entertainment

Professional video gaming competitions – PR News Wire says these are poised to become mainstream phenomenon. Major League gaming is a driving force in this movement drawing as much as 15,000 attendees and online viewing. 

Consumers make entertainment decisions based on social media – Consumers are increasingly turning to their favorite bloggers and social media networks to decide how to spend their limited entertainment time and money.” Sure, I see what other friends are doing for entertainment on Facebook, maybe take a survey and then make a more informed decision. That’s how I figured out what stage play and tourist attractions to take my 16-year old son to for our trip to New York City. And of course, there's Groupon.

There you have it – the 2013 Prophecy and Analysis Report.

I’m going to go have some gourmet mac and cheese… 







Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mixed Reflections from a Mama at the Beach

Funny how getting away changes one’s perspective, whether it’s a family reunion or visit, a mission trip, a true vacation alone or with one’s spouse or immediate family, or simple day trip away.  Not to demean “Staycations” – sometimes those are wonderful, especially when the budget demands it. For me, the key to a modified outlook is getting away of my house, detached from daily reminders of responsibilities, projects and other unfinished business. Wresting control from the temptation to do, do, do is usually accomplished not (sadly) from personal discipline in my space, but removing myself from it.

Nothing like a beach trip to do that. The hustle-bustle of urban/suburban life where we city folk live is an illusion of control, one we work hard to nurture. Technology, plastic money, and instant everything has provided us with that ability to enable that fantasy. We can tap into world news, converse with friends, purchase items, manage investments, monitor accounts, and a myriad of other tasks all from our little smart phones. And that’s just the technology. We can also build a house complete with full landscape including trees in a matter of weeks and tear another one down a house in one hour.  Yet the crashing waves of an ocean, as my brother insightfully noted, looks the same now as it did 5,000 years ago. Ain’t nothin’ we can do to move the ocean. It’s easy to absorb either the party atmosphere or the relaxation aspects of the beach culture, but either way each is a big change from daily life at home. For us moms of younger kids, life at a beach house isn’t always a total vacation as meals still need to be made, dishes washed, general clean-up, parenting. It’s always on the radar.

As I sat at the kitchen table making a shopping list for meals looking up to see the view of the sea through the glass doors on this lovely beachfront property, I fantasized about a vacation away in which I could actually lie on the sofa and read for three hours – or just daydream -- and not be on the clock.

One of the greatest joys is seeing the cousins connect on different levels. One cousin teaching another a new game, then the favor is returned with teaching a different game. New jokes and humorous narratives created to be laughed at for years to come. Memories built and shared that helps weave the tapestry of our heritage and communal lives. Wish we lived closer.

As the week came to a close, Matthew returned home a day early to prepare for a mission trip with our church to Honduras. His first time out of the country. To go to a remote village – I f you could even call it a village; it’s basically a bunch of houses on a hill – and connect with the people. This mission team has gone each year since Hurricane Mitch’s devastation in 1998, built substantial housing, installed a system of clean water, and provided some spiritual direction especially for the kids with Vacation Bible School. This is a place where the kids don’t have $150 sneakers and the latest iPhones.

But back to my baby far away. As he prepared to leave the beach, excited about his impending adventure, I found I couldn’t conjure up the same excitement – and I’m a big fan of international travel. Despite my oldest boy being a reasonably responsible 15-year old who was surely ready to handle such a trip, all I could feel was the heartrending emotion of having one’s child plucked from her arms. So many things I’d not said or done, too many criticisms and not enough affirmations. Would this be the year of the tragic plane crash that would make the papers? Could he contract some horrible illness and go down before they could medevac him home? Oh the insane places my brain can go.

As I hugged him goodbye, feebly telling him to take good care of himself, restraining myself from clinging to him, he flashed his big smile at me that said “Love ya Mom, I’m good,” and shut the car door. After they drove off, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling and proceeded to sob in my room for 30 minutes. As I’m not much of a crier, I felt washed out the rest of the day. Whether it was primal Mother Bear instincts or my anxiety, tendency-to-catastrophize brain hardwiring or a goulash of premenstrual hormones, I was just a mess that day.

However, thankfully my trip home with one of my other sons was restful and positive as he is such a joy to be with. And the blog entries from the mission trip displayed wonderful photos and narrative about the week’s activities which helped me feel encouraged and free from most anxiety. Matthew looked happy and engaged in the pictures. And not only did he come home safely, he enjoyed it so much he didn't want to come back!

Matthew, Yosimar, Emma, Anna, and Cecelia


Friday, June 8, 2012

I'll Take An Enormous Order of Kudzu Please

Today, my three boys and I went over to Chastain Park to take part in a most unusual event for a city of 6 million people: Breakfast With The Sheep. Co-sponsored by Trees Atlanta and the Chastain Park Conservancy, this event is part of a larger initiative to help rid the land of the notorious and invasive plant Kudzu, a ubiquitous climbing, coiling, trailing vine that was introduced to the U.S. as far back as 1876.

A herd of sheep have basically been parachuted down (okay transported) into the park to accomplish this goal in a sustainable way. And funny too. This plant, as you can see at below, is a monster that grows all over the highways and into people’s space. More on its history later.

This was the kick-off of Trees Atlanta’s Have You Herd summer program of invasive-plant-eating around Atlanta. A local land management firm named Ewe-niversally Green hired over 100 hungry, four-foot ovines to be a “low-impact solution for controlling invasive plants on sites that do not contain sensitive or endangered plants, as well as on steeply sloped properties.”

And this is the amazing part: “Each sheep can eat up to 150 square feet of kudzu per day, so we expect the sheep to clear this site in fourteen days or less.” Evidently, kudzu is highly palatable to livestock so the buffet is always open and the customers are happy. They only need a shepherd, an electric fence and guard dogs for their short-term contract work.

So, in a brilliant move, these two nonprofit organizations collaborated with the Ritz Carlton who provided tasty treats and coffee, and other local vendors who prepared arts and crafts and environmental education tables, and made a free event out of it for the public! Pretty savvy cross-promotional marketing. Television news stations and newspaper photographers were on hand to capture the story, which will, for once, be a positive news piece that should lift people’s moral. Beats the near-daily bludgeoning of journalistic fare consisting of apartment fires, shootings and education scandals.

I was so jazzed by the community response; the line of cars just went on and on. People came in droves and of course the little kids were practically hanging over the fence roping to feed the woolies kudzu and branches of some green shrub which of course the sheep were happy to eat. Full-grown sheep, mostly closely shorn, as well as little lambs and a few goats and kids moved around the pen in their typical style of leaderless herd behavior. Occasionally you could hear one of them “baaaa”. Photographers and videographers were in the pen shooting up close and filming in-your-face footage with the cameras literally on the ground. Can’t wait to see the news this evening.
For the nonAtlantans, Chastain Park is a wonderful green space and the largest city park in Atlanta, totaling 268 acres. The local community is very involved in the management of different aspects of the park which include a golf course, tennis courts, a very large pool, playground, amphitheatre that hosts a summer concert series, sports fields, a basketball court, grill and picnic area, hilltop field, walking/biking trails, and a creek running bisecting it.
Now for kudzu. This plant, like cockroaches, may have its place… but it ain’t here. Unfortunately in the
19th century it was viewed as an ornamental plant. By the 1930’s, agricultural experts encouraged farmers to grow it as a forage plant since it could grow in poor soil. It was shipped out all over the South and planted, and by 1945, about half million acres had kudzu was growing on farmlands. It apparently hadn’t yet had time to show how damaging it can be. Finally in the 1950’s people started to figure out kudzu’s true nature, noticing how it grew upward or outward. That bad boy can grow nearly a foot a day and 60 to 100 feet a season! It will crawl over almost any fixed object including cars and will kill other vegetation by smothering them and blocking sunlight. This has become the stuff of Southern folklore and humor (i.e. “the plant that ate the South”).
With present environmental awareness, folks don’t want toxic chemicals sprayed on the vegetation killing the very plants they hope to save, not to mention poisoning the soil, and are wisely are looking back to their agrarian ancestors’ way of life, employing God’s sweet and simple ruminants to do the job cleanly.
            Unfortunately, though the boys and I arrived only 25 minutes into the event, there were no pastries left on the 18-foot table, just juice and coffee. However, there was a cute sculpture of Shaun the Sheep (a character from the hugely popular children’s videos and feature films “Wallace and Gromit”). Here's my new friend, sustainability writer Pattie Baker, creator of Foodshed Planet, and author of Food for My Daughters. Visit her blog!

My guys were incredibly disappointed to miss the gourmet food. So I bought them some gelato that was being sold at the scene.

Once the sheepies munch their way through the Buckhead terrain, they will mow down more kudzu in other green spaces, helping improve Atlanta’s collective urban forest. Despite missing out on the gourmet food, we had a good time and it was an uplifting event. We look forward to spotting the sheep in the next two weeks while they make one of city parks their home for a fortnight.  
Editors: email me at if you think I would be a good fit for your publication. For public relations and writing services, see my website at and LinkedIn profile at

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Break and Holy Week

We spent a relatively quiet and au naturel spring break as a family at a comfortable lake house. With a lakefront view, canoes, fishing poles, books, board games, books, (homework), and the smell of wildflowers, we were set to enjoy the beauty of spring. The only downer was the intensive tree pollen for Matthew, who’s terribly allergic, and this year’s pollen counts were off the charts. Perhaps it was due to Mother Nature deleting the “winter program” this year and fast-forwarding to spring. For the rest of us, the air was just perfect: cool and low humidity. Since my oven is in bad shape, thanks to a grease fire that now leaves the kitchen smelling awful any time it’s used, I haven’t baked anything and only cooked on the stovetop. So having a functioning oven at this house in which I could roast a pork loin was wonderful!

It was Holy Week and we began the vacation on Saturday before Palm Sunday. I can’t remember a time when I’ve missed a Palm Sunday service; even Nicholas said he missed folding the branches into the shape of a cross. But though we weren’t at church, it was possible to feel God’s presence all around us in nature. Hard to look at a natural setting with blooming plants and not be conscious of a Creator. And Wesley and I finished reading a pictorial of Pilgrim’s Progress that we’d been working through during the Lenten season.

As much as I love my home, it was good to be away from that environment and all the reminders of unfinished projects and our tiresome routines (“Boys, clean up this hurricane zone that is your room” and “Get back to the piano and finish your practice”)  Instead we spent a lot of time in nature.
 Hiking on a woodland trail, we found an animal skull

learned how to spot poison ivy, and found possible animal caves under exposed tree roots. Good stuff.

The weather couldn’t have been better. It’s been a while since I’ve lain in the grass and just looked up at the sky. Being still is hard for me, even when I purposely sit down to meditate; within 5 minutes, I’m moving around again to either stretch or do something that seems pressing before I make myself get still again.

We built good memories as a family too –

it wasn’t an expensive and glamorous trip to Disney World

or Italy, like some of the boys’ other friends

but it was simple, fun and enjoyable.

And though we weren't in church much, I think we were aware of God's presence in His creation.

On Good Friday, I attended a service that was mostly chanted in a monastic style, another wonderful way to break free of the fast-paced, high-tech world in which we rush around and get overstimulated. Walking through Jesus' trial and crucifixion made the Paschal Triduum (the last three days of Lent meant for prayer) gave a more contemplative sense to the weekend, leading to Easter Sunday's rejoicing in the gift of salvation and grace.

Upon returning we found the eggs in a bird's nest, built in one of the shelves of our garage, had tiny chicks that had poked their way out while we were away. Little beaks straining upward, opening wide at any sound, hoping it was food.

And just this week, a mere 10 days later, they've opened their eyes and grown big enough to fly the coop. I found this little guy hanging out in the garage -- check out the eyebrows.

I'm already missing our little family. But life moves on and the juveniles are now flitting about in the yard, encouraged by their parents who fly around them, behind to nudge them forward and ahead for them to follow.

Onward and upward

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review (and Spoiler Alert) for “The Hunger Games”

For those of you who haven’t read the numerous reviews of the new blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games” by professional film critics -- and even for those of you who have – here’s the word from the street.

My kids and I are big fans of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and had been itching for this movie to be made since reading the book three years ago. Let’s just say after following the entire production process from financing to hiring the director to casting to filming, I was quite excited to obtain passes to a screening from my friend Marci, founder of the movie club and website Cinemoms. So my two older sons (and a friend) and I headed off to stand in line for an hour with a few hundred other rabid fans, anxious we’d be turned away due to possible overbooking by the promoters. Thankfully, it was a large theatre and much of the press didn’t show up for their reserved seats.

So, how was the movie? Was it true to the book? Did the actors live up to the strength of their characters? Was it too Hollywood? Did it leave all the good parts on the cutting room floor? Was Jennifer Lawrence able to carry the entire film and truly embody Katniss Everdeen? Could the producers and director effectively make the leap from page to screen?

My simple answer, from only one viewing – and I plan to see it again – is, it was good…good enough to see a second time in the theatre. Not without flaws but at least they didn’t bring the story down. I was surprised at how well the actors fit their roles – the only real disappointments for me were 1) how short Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark) was, and 2) the cast from the poor districts looked too well-fed and not miserable enough. Oh well, it’s a long shot to starve the actors for real.
For the two or three of you left in this country who still aren’t familiar with the plot, here’s a quick summary: North America is now a post-apocalyptic nation called Panem with a ruling, prosperous Capitol surrounded by 12 impoverished districts that serve it. In their past, rebels tried to overthrow the government and were subdued. In order to quell any future rebellions, the leaders have created a brutal annual tradition as a grim reminder of who's in charge. The Hunger Games is a competitive, televised event, a gladiator-style fight-to-the-death between teenagers, or “tributes”, who are randomly chosen in a Reaping. There is only one winner. It’s basically a combination of ancient Rome’s throwing Christians to the lions and “Survivor”. And an incredible commentary on totalitarianism and Reality TV.

The film opens with a brief scene introducing the heroine Katniss and her fragile little sister Prim, showing the audience their tender relationship. Jennifer Lawrence “takes the stage” from the start, showing her spunky, gritty personality (much like her rough-around-the-edges character in “Winter’s Bone”). For a 20-year old actress, Lawrence believably played a youthful yet vigilant 16-year old. When she goes to hunt outside the electric fence boundary in the open woods of the Appalachians, we get a glimpse of District 12, shot in the mountains of western North Carolina. It looked like a Walker Evans photograph from the Depression. Snappy shots of world-weary people on porches of their dilapidated homes in drab-colored clothing, quickly and wordlessly illustrate the backdrop of Katniss’ dingy coal-mining village.

Gale, her hunting buddy, played by hunky Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, playfully interrupts her (to muffled squeals of young female audience members) and we immediately see their bond as fellow food providers living on the edge. Hemsworth totally looks the part though his character isn’t well developed in this movie. Gale’s growing rebelliousness and desire to escape soon become apparent. By the Reaping scene, the energy drawn from his long-suppressed anger emerges as he channels it into advising Katniss.

We meet Peeta (even more screeches), the baker’s son, at the Reaping and straight away we see his innocence and sweetness. Josh Hutcherson has the perfect personality for Peeta – though a little short, he’s good-natured, likeable, earnest, tough yet tender.

Effie Trinket (Katniss' "handler" from the Capitol) is fabulously and irritatingly played by Elizabeth Banks. Her giddy but intense character, outrageously dressed, gives the first real insight into the shocking disparity between the lifestyles of the Capitol and that of the districts. It’s basically Tim Burton-esque, garish, surreal decadence vs. 1930’s-like browbeaten masses. Retro and futuristic all in one weird world.

Woody Harrelson, whom I couldn’t have imagined playing Haymitch Abernathy, the only District 12 winner and mentor of all tributes from his area, was surprisingly engaging. The book portrayed him as a raving drunk, perpetually soaked not only with liquor but with winner guilt, grief, and cynicism. The film highlights only the latter but also shows both his frustration with and mounting investment in Katniss and her unexpected success despite her defiance toward the Game Makers. He develops as an ally, though not a warm and cuddly one.

Donald Sutherland was not who I imagined in the role of the insidious President Snow (I pictured the bent, scrawny, oily Mr. Burns from “the Simpsons” rather than the bearded, filled-out Sutherland). The film doesn’t explain what the book does about Snow being sickly from drinking small amounts of poison to divert suspicion from his method of eliminating his enemies. Anyhow, over the course of the movie, Sutherland’s face reveals his menacing, evil persona, making him increasingly scarier.

As the tributes prepare, we all too quickly catch sight of who Katniss is up against, some more gentle (Rue) and other “Careers”, those who’ve trained all their lives for the Games, more vicious (Cato, Clove and Glimmer). Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg, is just adorable and just right.

The Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane is built up in the film (barely mentioned in the book) but played brilliantly by Wes Bentley with a wickedly shaped beard. He nails the character’s twisted ambition to create the coolest chess game, despite human collateral damage. He appears without much explanation in the very beginning, interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (the wonderful Stanley Tucci), host of the Games.

Lenny Kravitz was a perfect Cinna, Katniss’ Games stylist. Everything about him felt right – cool and soothing, handsomely stylish but not gaudy. Though a Capitol resident who works for the games, one senses early on that he’s an ally and not entirely “one of them”. Katniss clearly feels safe with him. And no, it’s not clear what his sexual orientation is though fans have concluded from the book that he’s gay – it’s not even relevant.

The fight scenes in the wooded arena? Unfortunately, between our close-up seats and the super fast, uneven handheld camera techniques, many of the action scenes became a blur. One film critic on, called it “frustratingly claustrophobic”. That cinematic method however contributed to the nightmarish sense of chaos and felt less like typical Hollywood stylized fight scenes and more like primal survivalism.

I suppose due to the time limitations, some scenes had to be raced through, like the total body makeovers to prep for the pre-Games presentation.

I didn’t totally feel a chemistry between Katniss and Peeta though I’m hopeful for a better one in the sequel “Catching Fire”.  They work well together strategizing to stay alive.
To whet your appetite --
Cool scenes:
  • The Reaping – very reminiscent of Nazi Germany when people were rounded up for concentration camps
  • Tribute training
  • Images of the Capitol – terribly futuristic, grotesque costume
  • The wall of fire – very effective
  • Katniss blowing up the supply pile
  • The Tracker Jacker swarm --  genetically engineered bees in the arena
  • Awesome scenes of the Gamemakers at work with their virtual roundtable, creating digitized realities (reminded me of “Minority Report”)

For the purist, here is a spoiler alert to emotionally prepare you for --
Significant deletions or alterations:
  • Not enough time spent in District 12
  • No drunken entry for Haymitch during the Reaping
  • Mockingjay pin wasn’t given by the Mayor’s daughter; it ended up being found in the Hob
  • No explanation of the Avox servants (the mutes whose tongues were cut out as punishment)
  • Underplayed poverty and suffering even in the arena
  • The wolf-like mutts didn’t’ have the eyes of the dead tributes
  • Didn’t see the hover craft retrieving the dead tributes
  • Peeta’s leg injury and resulting prosthetic leg was left out
  • No post-games makeover or body enhancements

Overall, I think Director Gary Ross did a good job with this film especially since they apparently didn’t have an enormous budget. Screenwriters and directors will always take creative license to make alterations and not only to truncate storylines to fit show time limitations but to make their mark. This however was a reasonably made film, changes and all. The screenplay was infinitely truer to the book, thanks to having Suzanne Collins co-write it, than “Twilight” screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg who butchered Stephenie Myers’ work.

I think the book’s themes of power, totalitarianism, perseverance, suffering, excess, and good trumping evil were illustrated nicely. It’s definitely and edge-of-your-seat kind of flick. And of course, the final scene with President Snow’s angry, vengeful face and turning to walk away as the screen blacks out lets us know… it ain’t over. Stay tuned for the sequel in November 2013. But go see "The Hunger Games" now!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Attention Fans of "The Hunger Games"!

Had a fun experience as a member of the press doing red carpet interviews of some of the cast members of "The Hunger Games" here in Atlanta at a fan event to promote the upcoming film. Matthew joined me as my photographer and even asked interview questions too.

Read the article and see lots more photos over here on my friend Marci Miller's fun movie website Cinemoms which supports her movie club. And join up if you like.