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.
Anyone who knows anything about the real-life Jackie Kallen will probably find
Against the Ropes a significant deviation from her biography. In the film Kallen (Meg Ryan) is a boxing fanatic whose work as an executive assistant at the Cleveland Coliseum allows her to watch the bouts from her office and do the hang at a bar frequented by boxers promoters and local sports paparazzi. Her big break into the man's world of pro boxing comes when she has a run-in with promoter Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub) and he sells her a contract with a boxer for a dollar. That boxer turns out to be a crackhead has-been but while visiting his derelict tenement she discovers her ticket to the big time in Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) a street thug with the raw talent to become a champion. She enlists the help of veteran trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S Dutton) and the rest of the story chronicles the team's meteoric rise to fame Kallen's Faustian over-reaching her lust for publicity and her ultimate professional downfall and resurrection.
As the movie version of Jackie Kallen Ryan dresses walks talks and verbally spars an awful lot like Julia Roberts did as Erin Brockovich and like her predecessor she tries to trade in her cherubic image for something a little well grittier. Picture lace-up bodices snakeskin leather minis suits with satin lapels cut down to there and other skintight skin-patterned accoutrements and you'll have a pretty good idea of what her character looks like. Add an indescribable yet undeniably lowbrow accent and you'll know what she sounds like too. But underneath it all this is still Meg Ryan cute as a button with those big blue eyes and the nose that wrinkles when she smiles. There are moments when Ryan seems to tap into her inner gnarly girl but they're few and far between; most of the time she comes off like a little kid playing dress-up which is kind of fun to watch for a while but eventually you want her mom to come and take her off your hands. Epps fares better although he's a bit duller as 'Lethal' Luther Kallen's star boxer and when the ever-charming Dutton who also directed has his few scenes in the spotlight he shines. Less impressive is a tight-lipped Shalhoub as LaRocca whose vendetta against Kallen culminates in a "curtain call" scene so forced and ridiculous it would have ruined the film had it not already been steadily progressing downhill from the start.
Producer Robert Cort says he and the other filmmakers never intended to make a "biographical" film; instead they tried to focus on Jackie's "astounding accomplishments in the man-eat-man world of boxing." For the record the real Jackie Kallen was first a professional journalist and later a businesswoman with her own public relations firm and she represented several athletes in that capacity before turning to managing her own boxers. No doubt that story sounded an awful lot like the female version of Jerry Maguire which is probably why it wasn't made. Instead the filmmakers try a different gambit: They tell Kallen's life story as if she were boxing's answer to Erin Brockovich--the ol' white-trash-gal-makes-good storyline. It's not especially original; it's not particularly compelling; but it may sell a few movie tickets although to whom is the burning question.
Against the Ropes would play great to Lifetime's mostly female audience if it weren't for all the blood and beating. (Director Dutton a former boxer himself has a lot of experience here although from a cinematic perspective this is no Ali where the slo-mo and close-ups of the boxers were poetry in motion.) And it'd do equally well on ESPN if it weren't for all the corny chick-flick tear-jerking stuff.
Supermodel Claudia Schiffer wore a Valentino wedding dress Saturday to her own wedding, but no one really got to see it. One of the world's most photographed women wore a blanket to cover up her gown, Reuters reports. Schiffer, who tied the knot with British film producer Matthew Vaughn in a 14th-century church in Shimpling, England, disappointed onlookers who wanted to wish her well. Presumably, anyone on the guest list, which included the likes of Madonna, Guy Ritchie and Trudie Styler, caught a glimpse.
"It's just a sex thing," quipped Hugh Grant of his Two Weeks Notice co-star, Sandra Bullock. The two were at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday telling reporters all sorts of steamy stories, according to Reuters. Although no one is really sure if their comments were for real or just a joke, Bullock has only admitted to kissing and holding hands with Grant 'cause she's "just not ready to have sex yet."
James Caviezel will morph from actor to racer today when he gets behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Corvette pace car to lead 33 drivers down two parade laps and the pace lap of the Indianapolis 500. Caviezel follows other famous celebrity drivers from past Indie 500 races, including Jay Leno and Anthony Edwards.
The former head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Thursday. Evans was instrumental in approving such film classics as The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II and Love Story, which helped turn the struggling studio around.
Attention all Matrix fans! The next two sequels are a bigger and better work in progress, according to producer Joel Silver. "We have done visual effects for the movies that, because of the time that we took to make them and the cost, will never be seen again," Silver told Sci Fi Wire on Friday in Sydney, Australia--where the films are currently in production. Look for The Matrix Reloaded to hit the big screen in May 2003. You can watch the teaser trailer for both films here on Hollywood.com.
In the Biz
Meg Ryan's not throwing any punches in her next role, although she will be managing a few boxers. The Associated Press reports Ryan will play female boxing manager Jackie Kallen in Against the Ropes, a big screen drama co-starring Omar Epps and directed by Charles Dutton. No word on when production will begin.
First, she made Pepsi the choice of the belly button ring generation. Now, popster Britney Spears' will have them geared up with Samsung cell phones. A new deal unites the singer and the phone company during Spears' Dream Within a Dream 2002 concert tour that kicks off Friday in Las Vegas, Launch Music reports.
Rock band Hole has announced their official breakup, Launch Music reports. Hole released three albums, including Pretty on the Inside, Live Through This and Celebrity Skin.
B.B. King was crowned entertainer of the year for the fourth year in a row at the 23rd annual W.C. Handy Blues Awards Thursday in Memphis, Tenn., AP reports.
If you like the tunes of the late Perry Como, now you can enjoy his clothing, too. AP reports Dawson's Auctioneers and Appraisers will be offering over 1,500 lots from the singer's former Florida home Thursday through June 2, including monogrammed cardigans, golf shoes and candid photos of Como with other celebrities.
February 05, 2002 11:22am EST
On Monday, the Director's Guild of America announced their nominees for best director for a TV movie: the honorees are Billy Crystal for 61*, Robert Allan Ackerman for Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Jon Avnet for Uprising, Frank Pierson for Conspiracy and Mark Rydell for James Dean. The DGA Awards will be presented March 9.
Meg Ryan will soon begin filming Against the Ropes--a story based on Jackie Kallen, the first female boxing manager--with Omar Epps co-starring and Charles Dutton directing, Variety reports. Kallen led a total of four middleweights to championships.
Kevin Spacey's production company Trigger Street Prods. will see their first documentary, Uncle Frank, on the big screen soon. The Berlin Intl. Film Festival, which opens Wednesday, will present the film--along with several others--as a special screening, Variety reports. Uncle Frank takes a look at old people's homes in New York.
Catherine Zeta-Jones will soon be the new face of Elizabeth Arden and apparently both parties are happy about the contract, People reports. A spokesperson for Arden said the beautiful 32-year-old Welsh actress "is the epitome of personal style." Zeta-Jones gushed, "I am proud to be part of the company."
Looks like more than Patriot fans walked away happy from Sunday's Super Bowl. Neither advertisers nor Fox can complain about the 86.8 million TV viewer average, the Los Angeles Times reports. The toughest competition was NBC's halftime Playboy Playmate episode of Fear Factor, which only held a mere 11.4 million viewers captive. Approximately 83 million watched U2's half-time tribute to the Sept. 11 victims.
Michael Jordan and his wife Juanita Jordan have announced they will "attempt a reconciliation," Reuters reports. After 12 years of marriage, Juanita cited irreconcilable differences as reason for the couple's split, but has now withdrawn her divorce petition.
Just because he's no longer the acting President of the United States, Bill Clinton still has fun playing politics. Saturday, Clinton attended a birthday party for a former staffer where he hobnobbed with senators, and Sunday, he hosted a Super Bowl party for guests ranging from Chris Tucker to Alec Baldwin, PageSix.com reports. Just in time for a nightcap, Mr. Clinton picked up a 10:30 p.m. cocktail at the Waldorf to raise money for his William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.
HBO is moving up its movie version of The Laramie Project, starring Janeane Garofalo and Steve Buscemi, to March 9 from March 16 because the latter date happens to coincide with NBC's premiere of The Matthew Shepard Story, starring Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston, the LA Times reports. What's the big deal? The two movies recount the same incident--the 1998 murder of gay college student Sam Shepard--and the networks don't want to compete for viewers.
Tune in to MTV on Valentine's Day if your heart beats true blue--red, white and blue, that is. Secretary of State Colin Powell will sit down with youths across the globe to answer questions on politics and current events. Powell will take questions from people at MTV locations around the world, and the program will be translated into multiple languages.
The WB is getting ready for their fall line-up, complete with comedies and dramas aplenty. And though about the same number of pilot shows will be produced this year as last by the WB, the focus is very clearly on "family and teen appeal," Variety reports.
Pay-per-view (PPV) movies that have had a theatrical release seem to be the most popular items on PPV these days, as revenues for released movies jumped 54% to $1.354 billion, Variety reports. Live events, such as boxing and wrestling, have fallen on hard times, due to lack of headliners (boxing) and market consolidation (wrestling).