In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
UPDATE: In addition to the assembled Avengers on the Entertainment Weekly cover, EW has also released a few photos from the upcoming film. Click the below picture of Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) to see more images from the The Avengers set (and read on for today's earlier news!).
EARLIER: What exactly is the connective tissue that binds together a spider, a Norse god, a man comprised of (or in some other way representing) a 26-proton metal in the first transition series, the ocular organ of a bird of prey, the personification of a federal constitutional republic superpower and an unfit seacraft renovated for use as a warehouse or penitentiary (that's actually what a Hulk is)?
We may never know what inspired this team's creators to link these heroes together. But we could have some of our questions answered in Marvel's The Avengers, coming to theaters May 4, 2012.
Pictured below on the cover of the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly is the team, clockwise from top: Black Widow a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk a.k.a. Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America a.k.a. Brooklyn's own Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Hawkeye a.k.a. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.)...all ready to avenge something.
Entertainment Weekly's meeting with the cast and crew, including director Joss Whedon, has revealed that although the Avengers are a team of superheroes, they are not immune to rivalries, jealousies, and just-plain-hating-each-other-ies. We can expect to see as much antagonism coming from within the group as from outside. It will be wildly entertaining to see a group of near-invincible warriors at each other's throats all the while shouldering the responsibility of saving the world every so often.
And until then, we have images the EW cover, the team poster, this dense-with-property-damage image and a bonus clip from the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray to satisfy our cravengers.
Source: EW, EW via Comingsoon
As I expect every one of you is a Pixar fan (being otherwise is a sign of sociopathy), you might have noticed a similarity in the voices of characters like Toy Story’s Hamm, WALL-E’s John and Mack from Cars and its upcoming sequel, Cars 2. That’s because they, and six other characters spanning eleven movies and counting, are all voiced by John Ratzenberger. He might be the only performer to have held such consistency with this particular company, but he is not unique in being an actor who repeatedly works with the same people. In fact, we've come up with a list of nine other proverbial Ratzenberger's and their respective Pixar's:
MICHAEL CAINE & CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
Michael Caine is one of those rare immortal actors who is completely untouchable. I’ve never heard even the most contrarian of my hipster friends say that Michael Caine is overrated. As such, it’s no surprise why rising powerhouse Christopher Nolan has opted to stick him in his last four (and upcoming fifth) directing pursuits. Caine’s roles do not vary much between these films—he’s always wise, good-natured and the only person the much younger hero can trust. He’s always someplace between the movie and the audience. And he’s always got at least one scene-stealing quip at the protagonist’s expense. But can you really take issue with this repetitiveness? With a resume like The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception and the unhealthily anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, how can you blame this dynamic duo for sticking with a formula that works?
STEVE BUSCEMI & THE COEN BROTHERS
The Coen Brothers. They’ve made some gold. They’ve made some silver. Throughout the 1990s, the Coen Brothers made five movies, and Steve Buscemi was in each one, as well as their short film part of a collaborative anthology, Paris Je T’Aime, in 2006. Buscemi had bit parts in Miller’s Crossing and The Hudsucker Proxy, a slightly larger one in Barton Fink, and was the second male lead to William H. Macy in Fargo. But, like everyone who went to college, I favor, of course, The Big Lebowski, and cherish every second Buscemi was onscreen as Theodore Donald Kirobatsos. He really tied the movie together.
J.K. SIMMONS & JASON REITMAN
If I may just start out by saying something entirely uncontroversial: J.K. Simmons is awesome. He is as typecast as you can get, and it seems that neither he nor we seem to have any problem with this. Jason Reitman: also awesome. Juno was awesome. I don’t care what you say, everyone I’ve ever met. I loved that movie.
Reitman is still relatively new to filmmaking. Aside from Juno, his feature resume up to this point consists only of Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air. Coming out later this year is Young Adult: a drama about a young woman seeking romance after a divorce. This film, as well, will include Simmons among the cast (playing gruff-but-lovable, no doubt), and is written by Diablo Cody—who also wrote the screenplay for Juno. Which was awesome.
JOHNNY DEPP & TIM BURTON
Not all of these friendships produce good material. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, both individually and as a pair, have indeed given us some memorable pieces of cinema. Some of the better projects on which they’ve collaborated include Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Ed Wood. I’ll even throw Corpse Bride into the Pros list. But as time went on, they began making a career out of defaming timeless works of art with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. Also, Sweeney Todd happened. But they’re not done yet. Coming up for 2012 is Dark Shadows: a horroresque film directed by Burton, about the adventures of a vampire (played by Depp) who encounters a slew of other mythological creatures. Nice change of pace, guys.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON & QUENTIN TARANTINO
Samuel L. Jackson is an interesting case. He has appeared in four of six of the feature films over which Tarantino played director, but in two instances, he was never seen. Those two are Kill Bill: Volume 2, in which he played a bit part as Rufus, the pianist at the church wherein Uma Thurman’s character intended to be married, and who existed to the audience only as a silhouette with a cigarette (that’s a pretty good band name).
His second faceless performance was in Inglourious Basterds, when Jackson performed a single voice-over segment to introduce Til Schweiger’s character, Hugo Stiglitz. Aside from these, Jackson has played Ordelle Robbie in Tarantino’s oft forgotten Jackie Brown, and (do I even need to mention?) the career-defining Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction. Jackson is also set to play a major role in Tarantino’s upcoming Django Unchained.
RUSSELL CROWE & RIDLEY SCOTT
Crowe and Scott pair together quite naturally. Both are responsible for some fantastic pieces of cinema, and neither would you be entirely comfortable inviting into your home. Since their initial collaboration on the 2000 Best Picture Gladiator, Crowe and Scott have paired up on four additional films—earning praise for American Gangster, dissatisfaction with Robin Hood, and… Did anyone see Body of Lies? Or the other one? I think it was about a house, or a garden…
OWEN WILSON (OR BILL MURRAY) & WES ANDERSON
Owen Wilson is undoubtedly more famous for his roles with the proverbial Frat Pack, especially frequent collaborator Ben Stiller. But the actor with the agonizingly mellow voice has appeared in almost every feature film directed by Wes Anderson, a college friend of Wilson’s, to date.
Anderson, a favorite director of all the people who think they're better than you, has created Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums, both of which Wilson co-wrote. In addition to these, Wilson had major roles in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and the director’s first animated movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wilson also co-wrote Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore, which (along with each of the above movies with the exception of Bottle Rocket) included Bill Murray as a member of the cast. Both Murray and Wilson are rumored to appear in Anderson’s next film, Moonrise Kingdom, about two parents’ efforts to recover their runaway daughter.
LEOBERT DeNIPRIO & MARTIN SCORSESE
For the better part of his career—and I mean that in every way—De Niro was Scorsese’s key player. Starting with 1973’s Mean Streets, the duo forged a working relationship that lasted twenty-two years. Their most recent collaboration was Casino, in 1995. However, Scorsese and De Niro have been in talks to develop a new project called The Irishman and, if you can believe (or stomach the idea of) this, a sequel to Taxi Driver.
For the time being, it seems as though Scorsese has replaced De Niro with a younger, sparkier, ruffled good-guy: Leonardo DiCaprio. Since 2002, DiCaprio has starred in four Scorsese films. Scorsese is even going as far as to cast his new muse, whom everyone I know seems to either love or hate, in a role sure to earn him a great sum of scrutiny: in a developing biopic called Sinatra, as the Chairman of the Board himself.
EVERYONE IN THE HAPPY MADISON UNIVERSE
Adam Sandler has a greater reputation of working with his friends than anyone in the business. His production company, Happy Madison, has developed fifteen films starring Sandler since its first film and half of its namesake, Happy Gilmore. Three of Sandler’s major starring roles, Billy Madison, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer, were produced independently from Happy Madison. Over the course of his career, Sandler has wavered from accusing his girlfriend of adultery with fictitious penguins. He has played romantic leads, PTSD-sufferers, and cancer survivors. One consistency throughout his years onscreen, however, is in his supporting casts. Sandler's confidants, rivals, and comic reliefs are often actors who have played similar roles in other Happy Madison films. Included in the recurring clan of Sandler's screen partners are Rob Schneider, Allen Covert, and--the guy you probably never noticed--Jonathan Loughran, who have each played behind the man in nine different films. Although none reach this level of dedication, other impressive numbers belong to Peter Dante with eight films, once again to Steve Buscemi, with six (this is clearly a loyal guy), to Kevin Nealon with five, and to Henry Winkler and Kevin James, with four movies each. And these are just the Sandler-starring films. There are dozens of other Happy Madison Productions that include these and other recurring actors.
The results of Michael Jackson's autopsy have been delayed, after the Los Angeles County coroner's office admitted that compiling the complete report is taking longer than expected.
The L.A. coroner's office initially expected the results of the King of Pop's autopsy to be ready to release at the end of this week.
But assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter has explained it could take up to another two weeks for the report to be completed, insisting it is taking much longer than the office first thought.
The results of the autopsy, especially the toxicology report, will play an integral part in the police investigation into Jackson's death, as it will determine which drugs were in the singer's system at the time of his death on June 25.
Once it is known which drugs were in his body, police can then decide whether or not criminal charges will be brought against the people involved in prescribing the medication.
It has been heavily speculated that an addiction to strong prescription drugs was the reason behind the "Thriller" star's fatal cardiac arrest.
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MORE NEWS: Barton Suffered Meltdown -- Reports
Top Story: Who's "Fun and Fearless"?
Matthew Perry and Alicia Silverstone, that's who. Cosmopolitan magazine has chosen the two as the Fun, Fearless Male and Female for 2004, The Associated Press reports. Cosmo's editor in chief, Kate White, described the star of NBC's Friends as "the epitome of a hot Cosmo male," adding he is "handsome, charming and incredibly talented. Plus, he's retained his optimism and sense of humor through difficult personal relationships." White described Silverstone, the 27-year-old star of NBC's Miss Match, as gutsy and talented, and said she lives life "with a vengeance." "I really respect how committed she is to her beliefs and how she works to improve the world around her," White said. Others on Cosmo's February list include Sofia Coppola, Ashanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Sue Wong, Lucy Liu, Holly Hunter, Parminder Nagra, Lisa Scottoline, Mischa Barton and Diane Lane.
Keaton Gets AFI Honor
Diane Keaton, nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Something's Gotta Give, is being honored by the American Film Institute, AP reports, receiving AFI's Star Award at the 10th Annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival next month. Previous Star Award recipients include Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal.
Carnivale Gets Cinematography Nod
Carnivale, HBO's supernatural Dust Bowl-era series, leads the American Society of Cinematographer Awards with two nominations. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the recognition given to HBO's offbeat series marks the first time in the 18-year history of the ASC Awards that a woman has been nominated in any of its film or TV award categories. Tami Reiker, whose feature credits include last year's Pieces of April, was nominated for her work as director of photography on the Carnivale pilot. Other TV shows in competition include HBO's Angel in America, FX's The Pentagon Papers, Showtime's Out of Ashes and Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. The awards will be handed out Feb. 8 in Los Angeles.
Walker, Texas Ranger Actor Dies
Noble Willingham, a character actor for the last 30 years and best known for his role on Walker, Texas Ranger, died Saturday of natural causes in Palm Springs, Calif., AP reports. He was 72. Willingham also dabbled in politics, running on the Republican congressional ticket for eastern Texas. He lost to Democrat Max Sandlin.
Janet Jackson Releases New Album
Pop diva Janet Jackson will release her latest, yet-to-be titled album Mar. 30, Billboard reports. The new album is the follow-up to 2001's All for You, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and has sold more than 3 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jackson will also be performing at the Super Bowl XXXVIII festivities in Houston on Feb. 1, although it is unknown if she will preview material from the upcoming release. P. Diddy, Kid Rock and Nelly are also scheduled to appear.
Idol Duet Hits the Road
American Idol sweethearts Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson are teaming up for a concert tour to kick off Feb. 24 in Charlotte, N.C., AP reports. The Grammy-nominated Clarkson, who won the Idol title in 2002, released her debut album Thankful in May 2003 and has sold more than 1 million copies, while 2003 runner-up Aiken's Sept. debut, Measure of a Man, hit No. 1 and went double-platinum.
Role Call: Hoffman Takes on Focker
Dustin Hoffman will play Ben Stiller's father in Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents, which starred Stiller, Teri Polo, Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the other actors are also reprising their roles in Focker, which revolves around Greg (Stiller) and his fiancée, Pam Byrnes (Polo), who thinks everything is hunky-dory now that Greg has won over his soon-to-be in-laws, Jack (De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Danner)--until, that is, Pam's parents meet Greg's parents, the Fockers. The hyper-easygoing Fockers and the tightly wound Byrneses are mismatched from the start.