Playing for Keeps is the kind of movie that broadcasts its message and even its ending from the very trailer. There are plenty of movies where the end is apparent — Lincoln for instance. The pleasure is getting there. But in Playing for Keeps there is little pleasure found in connecting the dots. Even though it only runs 106 minutes it feels much much longer.
Gerard Butler plays George a former soccer player whose career is in the toilet moves to Virginia to be nearer to his son and ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel). There he reluctantly takes on the responsibility of coaching his son's soccer team. It would be impossible not to know that our dashing but irresponsible absentee dad will reconnect with his sensible ex before she marries her square fiancee. In the interim George sleeps with all the horny divorced ladies who swoon over his talent for working with kids. There are no real consequences; anything that could possibly go wrong doesn't.
There are so many guns waiting to go off that Chekhov would pull his own beard out. Playing for Keeps is a souped up Lifetime movie except there's no over-the-top drama just one or two shots of Gerard Butler shirtless and sex that's merely implied and alluded to. At one point I wondered if (okay hoped that maybe) a character would perhaps have a car accident and die because they were upset and driving in the rain. No nothing that exciting and silly could happen. Playing for Keeps is so by-the-numbers that it's almost offensive.
What does work in the movie's favor is the touch — just a touch — of chemistry between its leads. Even though there are 15 years between them in real life they've attempted to meet halfway by putting highlights in Butler's hair and dying Biel's dark brown and dressing her in casual suburban mom clothes. Still there's a little something between them that makes their sappy scenes together a little touching. That grin works on her after all these years for a reason.
The rest of the ensemble — Judy Greer Catherine Zeta-Jones Uma Thurman and Dennis Quaid — are wildly uneven though not necessarily miscast. A more fleshed-out script would have allowed the characters some dimension and given the movie at least a little more bite despite the rote premise. Greer as a naturally weird sense of humor but her character is left flailing as a newly divorced soccer mom who gets her groove back with George. Zeta-Jones is a sexy possibly dangerous soccer mom who helps George snag a professional opportunity but her character is ultimately harmless. Quaid is supposed to be some sort of jealous sleazy drunk rich guy who would be the type to pull a gun on someone but doesn't and Thurman as his wife comes on like a dippy rich housewife instead of channeling the biting bad ass-itude we know she's capable of. As a character George is confusing; it's as if he doesn't even want to sleep with all of the soccer moms but they're just throwing themselves at him and he's hapless to stop them. It's gross and doesn't even fulfill the movie's underlying promise which is to give its target audience a good dose of Harlequin-style romance with Gerard Butler. Guess those soccer shorts will just have to do.
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.
S5E23: I’m sorry to say that 30 Rock did not end its season on a high note. It wasn’t really low either, it was sort of disappointing – I guess that sad trombone sound is probably more appropriate. It could have been great, because 30 Rock is such a great show, but it was just alright. It had a few ups and quite a few lulls.
“I’m not sleeping. Last night I sat in front of the TV and ate an entire carton of fioe gras. I could hardly drink my morning shower scotch. I miss Avery.” –Jack
This was the part of the episode that I really enjoyed. Since Avery is gone, indefinitely kidnapped by Kim Jong-il, Jack is having a rough time adjusting. Everyone’s response is to baby him, but it’s not working so Liz says he needs a reset (I like that she starts this off by “being a bummer” – “Bush is a war criminal!”) and he sets out to get himself back to normal. Unfortunately, because Kenneth is so sweet, he shows up at Jack’s apartment with a home-cooked meal (with potatoes instead of Union soldier meat) and starts a chain-reaction that is both hilarious and disturbing.
Jack ends up replacing Avery with Kenneth, even forcing him to stay for another dinner and spooning and having him dress as Avery in a flowered robe and diamond earrings. This was great because not only did it make Jonathan so upset (for some reason that never ceases to be funny) but it also meant that Kenneth had to eventually truly embody Avery – the mean part of Avery – and berate Jack for abusing Kenneth. Not only with this eerily spot-on, but it was hilarious. It really worked and it may be my favorite Kenneth moment in a long time.
“I’M ALIVE!” –Liz
I think the problem is that Liz’s storyline simply fell flat, much like it did last week. The plastic bag representing her death thing was alright, but like I said last week, the bag’s monologue killed it. This time around, she’s trying to get her Hamptons on and have a normal summer after a shit-storm of a season and witnessing Lutz poop in his Call of Duty marathon diaper in the writers’ room, which is understandable.
I did love the moment where she fantasizes about living the grand life next door to Ina Garten, drinking white wine and eating bruschetta by the ocean. That “I’M ALIVE” exclamation before grappling over her shrubs to join Ina was pretty perfect, but it was a slow downward slope from there. Tracy ends up being her neighbor and he blackmails her into friendship by threatening to be a pain in the ass next season if she doesn’t. Vacation ruined. So what does she do? She throws a hissy fit in court when she has to appear to fight the fine for destroying “what the city is now claiming was a Jewish tree” last episode.
Like the writers do while playing Call of Duty in order to avoid being hit by their teammates, she has to blow herself up, or respawn. I did enjoy the fact that she used a video game reference to get her life back together, well sort of back together. Of course her interaction with the gavelless judge, or your dishonor as she likes to call him, lands her in 12 weeks of community service which she says is perfect because she gardening outside and learning Spanish. I guess this bothered me because the great thing about Liz Lemon is that she’s wacky, but completely relatable and when she goes into these extreme places she loses that relatable quality that I love so much. She’s best as a hyperbole of real women, not a caricature.
“I hate to be the stereotypical man, but this is my home and I want to wear this blouse.” –Paul
Finally, we have the element that was the most bothersome; as usual, it’s Jenna’s storyline. She’s attempting to spend her summer as the celebrity face of the wool council, but when pictures come out of her walking her cross-dressing boyfriend like a dog, the head of the council is a bit worried. She almost loses her job, but she convinces him to come to dinner with her and Paul so he can see how normal they are.
Of course, this upsets Paul because she asks him to “change” for the dinner – literally meaning change his clothes, but representing the larger change that her spokesperson role would demand from both of them. When the dinner comes, their sitter (a little person dressed like a jester who comes to actually sit on them for some strange fetish) shows up and Paul puts on a show, pretending to dismiss him as disgusting. The wool folks are impressed, but Jenna and Paul are disgusted with themselves so they hatch a plan to get back at them. They go to Jenna’s photo shoot in drag and of course the head of the wool council hits on Jenna (really moral for someone insisting on a morality clause, but too easy as a plot device) she turns around and it’s Paul. Jenna is dressed as a man that looks like Steve Jobs with a beard and they tell him they want to be themselves.
Not only was this plotline boring, but it wasn’t that funny. 30 Rock is best when its absurdity skirts along the line of the normal and this was simply too much. Paul sucking on Jenna’s beard was a little suggestive for network TV and it wasn’t that funny and the shot of Jenna dressed as a dog while Paul walked her through the park in an S&M mask was just obnoxious.
Like I said up top, it was an okay episode. Like any 30 Rock, it had some great moments but it wasn’t the best note to end the season on. I’m not really sure what’s going on with Kenneth at the end, but I’m almost positive it was just for comedic effect. However, I guess we’ll have to wait until next season.