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.
S1E2: After the second installment of Lights Out, FX's new drama dives a little further into the world of Patrick "Lights" Leary. This week was pretty much just a set up episode of things to come, but it was done in a solid, straightforward way.
"I hear redemption is on hand." -Father Murane
Well, the cat's out of the bag. After last week's challenge of a rematch from Ray "Death Row" Reynolds, the entire world -- including Lights' priest -- is expecting Lights and Death Row to return to the ring one last time to settle, finally, the controversy over their previous fight with one final match. Lights plays coy and doesn't acknowledge Father's curiosity, but instead, gives him vague answers like "don't believe everything you hear."
But, the potential rematch is only on the surface of what everyone is curious about. Rumors are fluttering about Lights' involvement with the business he took care of last episode (you know, when he acted as a debt collector and busted that dentist's arm). The police show up as he's out for ice cream with his family, and take him away for questioning. But the cops are friendly with Lights. Clearly, he's been part of the Morristown community for a long time and they don't want to assume something that's not true, so they believe him when he denies his involvement, and set him free. But then, outside the police station, someone else is wanting to question him. This time? A pesky boxing reporter named Mike looking for a scoop -- on Lights' arrest, the potential rematch, or pretty much anything that will make a story.
"I don't have an alibi." -Lights
"No, you were with me. With me and your father." -Theresa
Here we are, not even 10 minutes into the episode, and Lights has already lied to his wife and his daughter. After fibbing to Daniella about why the police wanted to talk to him (he says he was supposed to meet with them but "forgot"), he tells half-truths to his wife. He truthfully explains why the police wanted to talk to him -- they suspect he was involved with breakin' that dentist's arm -- but denies the involvement, claiming that he was "running" and "didn't have an alibi." So what does his wife do, like any good wife would? Trusts her husband, and lies for him. "You were with me," she says. "With me and your father."
Honestly, I don't really think Lights understands the gravity of the situation he's found himself in. Genuinely, Lights does seem like a good guy. He wants to be a good father, a good husband, and a good man. But somehow, and we learned this last week, it's falling apart. He's lost all of his money and he really doesn't understand how, plus he has that whole dementia problem setting in (which, quite honestly could be contributing to his actions). With all of these factors working against one another, he doesn't know how to handle his life now, so he, pretty much, denies that anything is wrong and just hopes that, maybe, just maybe, things will work out. Is that a healthy way to live? No. But it seems to be the only way he knows how.
"I want my money." -Lights
"Sometimes direct is good, sometimes it shows desperation. Don't show desperation." -Hal Brennan
Lights Out really wants us to know that Lights has money problems. The show continues to emphasize this fact in, pretty much, every scene. For example, Lights shows up at the gym to learn that any of the money he deposits into his bank accounts is going to straight to the IRS, so they need to start operating on a cash only basis. On top of that, his wife's car is getting repossessed because of late payments (which he blames on having "money in the wrong account"). So pretty much, these money problems are constantly lingering over every on-screen action, which is a good decision by the show's creators. Because then, as the viewer, we think exactly like Lights. We understand and sympathize with him as he sits at the bar, scratching lottery tickets, hoping for something magical to happen and for all of his problems to just go away. We know how desperate he's getting and that's why when someone like Hal Brennan shows up, it carries such an impact.
Lots of credit goes to Bill Irwin as Brennan for making such a powerful scene between his character and Lights. When he came in to the picture, suddenly we understood that Lights' actions -- whether they're good or bad -- affect the world around him much more than we realized. And specifically, they drastically affect Brennan. Until this point, I hadn't really thought that Lights made poor decisions with the dentist. Sure, maybe he shouldn't have broken that dude's arm in front of a bunch of people, but I was under the same impression that Lights was -- he was just doing the job he was paid to do. But Brennan -- through Irwin's deliver of tough, poignant lines -- stresses to us that Lights affected his business, much more than he realized. Lights feels remorse, and luckily, Brennan gives him some of the cash he owes, but at the same time, gives him another job. Pick up a birthday cake (a.k.a. cold hard cash) and deliver it to a birthday party.
"I've got three beautiful daughters, more money than I can spend. Why would I risk that?" -Lights
Lights gets called down to the bar by his father because the boxing reporter won't leave him alone. And once again, Lights denies everything to the reporter but, again, I'm not quite sure if Lights understands the seriousness of his situation. Of course, he's going to deny his involvement with the dentist, but I am under the impression he actually believes what he's saying. Why? Maybe believing he wasn't involved makes it easier for him to deal with the onset of his life falling apart. Or maybe it's actual physical problems stemming from his dementia. But whatever the case, he's in denial. And denial never is a good state to be in.
Regardless of the state of his mind, "Cakewalk" did give us two instances of Lights being a badass fighter. Not only does he make the hot up-and-comer who's only a few matches away from the championship look like a fool at the gym, he fights off the two guys who tried to break into his car and steal the "cake." It's wise of Lights Out to show us that Lights still has it and really can be a fighter. Because ultimately, this is a show about a boxer. He may have financial problems and brain problems, but there is still something going right for him. He not only still can fight, but he's still good.
"How long have you known?" -Daniella
"Pugilistic dementia." -Daniella
I wanted to note quickly that Daniella is now the only other person who knows about Lights' dementia. She found out by looking through his computer. Does opening up this door give Lights an outlet for the rest of his problems? Eh, maybe. I doubt it though, considering Daniella is his daughter, and Lights doesn't seem like the type of character who would burden his daughter with any of his problems, let alone his financially related issues. But, if you're Lights, it has to feel good to have someone else know that you're going through something very difficult. Especially family.
"Captain wanted us to come down personally and inform you that the investigation has been dropped." -Police
So, it appears that the "cake" Lights dropped off at the birthday party -- which was shared with the D.A. -- worked. Lights is out of trouble. But, of course, this can't be the end of it. I have a feeling that breaking the dentist's arm is going to haunt Lights throughout the season. Let's look at the source of what "fixed" the problem. He picked up the cake from the Portuguese bakery, and afterwards, his car was broken into by the guy who sold it to him.
Right now, we don't know much about this "bakery" but what we do know is that's where Lights got all the money to make his problem go away. And, the worker who gave him that money tried to steal that money back. And then, that same worker who tried to steal that money was killed. Confused? Yes, me too. But this all was clearly setup of what's to come. Perhaps this is all much bigger than Lights initially thought (which seems to be the case, considering the DA potentially is involved).
Ultimately, it seems that Lights isn't aware of the effect he's having on the world around him. This episode laid the groundwork of the season to come, but right now, we're not quite sure what that will be.
Of all their collaborations I believe that Raging Bull is the crowning achievement of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Sure I enjoy the psychotic character study that is Taxi Driver and the epic scope of Goodfellas as much as the next guy. But Bull with its unique aesthetic tragic narrative and tour de force performances is a love letter to the art of film as well as a gripping tale of soaring victory and devastating loss.
Robbed of its awards glory by Robert Redford’s Ordinary People at the 1981 Oscars ceremony the picture has been studied fastidiously over the years by college students and contemporary filmmakers garnering more praise from each subsequent generation that discovers it. Now film buffs and die-hard fans can learn everything there is to know about the groundbreaking cinematic staple with this 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release. I was legitimately giddy to find this in the mail and the further I dug into the disc’s features the more I was immersed in the New York City of yesteryear and the storied period in which Raging Bull was produced.
Scorsese enthusiasts will treasure a bevy of brand new previously unreleased interviews with the filmmaker in featurettes like “Marty on Film” and “Marty and Bobby” which focus on the director’s love of the medium and the special relationship between him and his one-time muse respectively. There’s so much insight within these interviews you’ll feel like you’ve taken a class in 70s cinema and passed with flying colors by the time they’re completed. Additionally “Reflections on a Classic” and “Remembering Jake” feature interviews with the former fighters who were both friend and foe to the Bronx Bull himself Jake La Motta. In these nostalgic videos the boxers discuss the legacy of the film and its gritty realism in great detail reminiscing both about the hype around the picture itself and how it influenced many of them to get in the ring in the first place.
The commentaries are also very entertaining; with three separate tracks giving three different versions of the story. I found the track with Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who won an Oscar for cutting Bull) most engaging. Others may lean toward the Cast & Crew commentary with producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler actors John Turturro and Theresa Saldana cinematographer Michael Chapman and more equally informative; a third track features writers Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader and LaMotta and his nephew Jason Lustig. In total it’s a comprehensive collection of thoughts and opinions on this landmark feature.
But the goodies don’t end there. Even more provocative than the commentaries and featurettes is “Fight Night ” a four-part feature length documentary that chronicles the making of the film. This is one of the best behind-the-scenes documentaries I’ve ever seen partially because of the previously unreleased footage it contains including some De Niro screen test reels that are as ferocious as his filmed performance. If you’re a “special features” kind of guy you’re going to fall in love with “Fight Night.”
As if all that wasn’t enough to sate the appetite of the most well-versed viewer the disc comes with even more vintage footage from way back when including newsreels titled “La Motta Defends The Title” and “De Niro vs. La Motta ” a shot-by-shot comparison of the actor and fighter in the ring. You can also see Cathy Moriarty’s The Tonight Show appearance dated March 27th 1981 just to make you feel all warm inside. You’ll marvel at all the breadth of bonus content available to you with the release but most important is the film itself.
Raging Bull has never been seen in high definition and in this 1080p HD transfer (1.85:1) the stark black and white film stock comes alive right before your eyes. Having seen the film many times I can honestly say that it felt like I was watching it for the very first time when I popped in this Blu-ray. It’s just another compliment to the growing popularity and legitimacy of the format one that is on its way to becoming the standard for home entertainment.
If you’ve never seen Martin Scorsese’s violent opus now is the perfect time to introduce yourself to this classic cinematic experience. This is an anniversary collector’s item worthy of the film’s legacy. It will undoubtedly change the way you see motion pictures…and change is a good thing.
When retired U.S. Special Forces Soldier Chris Vaughn (Johnson) returns to Kipsat County Wash. it's only to find his hometown overrun with crime drugs and violence. The old mill where Chris's father (John Beasley) worked for most of his life is closed and the town's only thriving industry is the Wild Cherry casino. Even Chris' high school sweetie Deni (Ashley Scott) couldn't resist the Wild Cherry's lure; she's become a peepshow dancer to "pay the bills." But Chris really loses it when he discovers the casino's dealers are using loaded dice--and he starts a brawl that ends with the security team carving up his chest and abdomen with a rusty Exacto knife. Chris also learns that that his old high school rival the casino's owner Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) has transformed the mill into a crystal meth lab and is using the casino's menacing security staff to sell the drugs to innocent kids. Chris strikes back by running for sheriff firing the entire police department on his first day and with the help of a cedar two-by-four and his deputy and buddy Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville) restores peace to the Pacific Northwest.
Johnson looking buffer than ever is well cast in the role of Chris: He's a fearless and determined soldier with beyond-human fighting skills. But while the film takes advantage of Johnson's brawn it fails to take advantage of his brain. In last year's comedy The Rundown Johnson proved he was more than a muscle-bound action star; he oozed charm and was surprisingly witty. With Walking Tall he never gets a chance to flex his acting muscles; if anything they atrophy. The only skills Johnson gets to show off are his ability to swing a plank at someone's shins and his unique way of bashing skulls against slot machines. Johnson's sidekick Ray played by Knoxville of MTV's Jackass fame is an ex-junkie who after spending a couple of years in the slammer is content with living in a camper and doing odd jobs around town. With his scraggly appearance and klutzy demeanor Knoxville supplies the film with brief interludes of humor amid the slam fest including a scene in which he stabs a bad guy with a potato peeler. Johnson and Knoxville would have made a first-rate action team had they had more screen time together.
A WWE production with Vince McMahon serving as executive producer Walking Tall has none of the subtlety of director Kevin Bray's last film All About the Benjamins and all the elements of a wrestling match. As with wrestling the film begins by melodramatically establishing the story (Chris and his family's lives are devastated by the mill's closure) and just like rival pugilists who publicly taunt the favored wrestler Chris challenges Jay--not for the world title but at least for control of Kipsat County--in a never-ending battle between good and evil that mimics wrestling to a T. But what's entertaining in the ring doesn't translate to film especially when the good guy running the town is a maniacal meathead. Chris is supposed to be the protagonist who single-handedly saves the town but who's responding to the citizens' domestic violence calls for example when the sheriff fires the entire precinct and spends 24 hours a day casing the casino? Never mind the fact that he has sex with his girlfriend in his office while he's on the clock.