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.
The actress' dad Eduardo Cruz, Sr. and his second wife Carmen Moreno became parents to daughter Salma last Friday (24Feb12), according to Hola! magazine.
Cruz, Sr. is also the father of Penelope's younger siblings, Monica and Eduardo Jr.
Little Salma already has a playmate - the Vicky Cristina Barcelona star gave birth to a son named Leo, her first child with husband Javier Bardem, last January (11).
Eduardo Cruz, Sr. and his partner Carmen Moreno have announced they are due to become parents in the spring (12), according to Hola.com.
The 59 year old is also the father of Penelope's younger siblings, Monica and Eduardo Jr.
The Vicky Cristina Barcelona star gave birth to a son named Leo, her first child with husband Javier Bardem, in January (11).
Mimi Farina, a singer and social activist, died of cancer Wednesday at her home in Marin County, Calif., at the age of 56. Like sister and fellow singer Joan Baez, Farina was a member of "folk royalty" in the 1960s, but she left her music career to devote herself to charitable work.
Actress Katharine Hepburn was admitted to a hospital in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday, Reuters reports. James Battaglio, a hospital spokesman, said Hepburn is in stable condition and seems quite comfortable, but did not say what the actress was being treated for. The 94-year-old actress has won four Academy Awards in a career that has spanned five decades.
Singer Janet Jackson has postponed yet another date in her problem-plagued tour. Just hours before showtime in Milwaukee, concert promoters told disappointed fans at the downtown Bradley Center that Jackson was postponing the concert because she had suffered an injury that required emergency dental surgery, The Associated Press reported. The accident occurred sometime Wednesday afternoon. Promoters told concertgoers to keep their tickets in the hopes that the concert could be rescheduled.
The Deftones have canceled Friday's performance at the San Diego Sports arena because lead singer Chino Moreno is suffering lingering effects of a vocal chord injury, Launch.com reports. The group also canceled Wednesday's show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, Calif. This will be the fourth cancellation due to Moreno's injury. The doctor treating Moreno said the singer was under "strict vocal arrest".
British politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer was jailed for four years Thursday after he was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice over a 1987 libel case that centered around allegations he had sex with a prostitute, Reuters reports. He was acquitted of one of the perjury charges. The prosecution said Archer faked two diaries that he presented during the trial to back up some false alibis. Archer, whose best selling novels include Kane and Abel and Honor Among Thieves, was forced to withdraw from the 1999 London mayoral race and was suspended from the Conservative Party for five years, putting a dent in his political career.
Escaped convict Kevin Jerome Pullum spent his first weekend of freedom with his girlfriend in downtown Los Angeles, just blocks from the county jail that he had fled. As sheriff's deputies were conducting seven wristband counts and six jailhouse searches before finally announcing on July 9 that he had escaped, Pullum was enjoying a romantic stay with his girlfriend, Carmen Ford, who said she was unaware he was on the lam, the Los Angeles Times reported. Pullum, a so-called third-strike convict, faces up to life in prison. He reportedly escaped by making a fake identification card using a picture of Eddie Murphy from Dr. Dolittle 2. Pullum continues to elude authorities, despite a large-scale manhunt.
Two officers from the Australian police have flown to Los Angeles, California to interview management and members of Limp Bizkit about the death of a 15-year-old, who was crushed at their concert in Sydney, Reuters reports. The interviews were part of a coroner's investigation into the death of Jessica Michalik, who is believed to have suffered a heart attack after getting caught in a concert crowd surge. Several other fans were injured at the concert and organizers accused the band of having a cavalier attitude toward fan safety.
Robin Williams is praising U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong for winning the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Reuters reports. Armstrong hinted that after his victory that he had bluffed his opponents into thinking he was hurt. Williams, who is a fan and a friend of Armstrong, suggested the cyclist should receive an Oscar for his performance. The actor also said he has no doubts that Armstrong will rack up his third consecutive Tour victory this year.
Revolution Studios have made a deal that will pair Jet Li and Jackie Chan in a film together for the first time. A script is now being written by Robert Mark Kamen, Luc Besson and Li, who will also co-executive produce the project with Chan.
Actor Richard Dreyfuss is declaring neutrality in the upcoming Screen Actors Guild elections, Variety reports. The retiring president William Daniels said last week that Dreyfuss endorsed Valerie Harper. Apparently there was a misunderstanding. Dreyfuss said he does not endorse any candidate, but does support common sense, civility and the membership of the guild. Harper and Melissa Gilbert announced their candidacy last week, as well as Eugene Boggs.