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.
During Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas’s rehearsals of the Argentine Tango, Chelsea seemed to let the fact that they would be dancing three dances defeat her, and she responded to the pressure by acting silly and not actively participating in the practice. Mark said she was dancing, but she wasn’t working. When they danced their routine in front of the judges, Carrie Ann confessed she didn’t find it up to par with what they usually do, and I agree. It wasn’t nearly as evocative as their other dances have been, and Bruno agreed with her but commended them for still delivering something exciting. They got 28 points for their Tango.
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson first danced the Argentine Tango, and the rehearsal footage started off with Kym explaining to Hines that she wanted to do all these extra tricks since they made it into the semi-finals. This made Hines pretty nervous because the fact that Kym was unsure of what she was doing made him even more nervous to perform. But she said this was the time for them to really do their best and try everything they’d been afraid of doing before. Then as they were practicing one of their most fancy tricks, Hines’s weight smashed down on Kym and her neck was crushed on the floor. She was rushed to the hospital and the footage ended, and then we saw them on the floor dancing the tango. The dance was exceptional, considering it wasn’t as cheesy as their Foxtrot from last week and especially after Kym had had been injured so severely. The judges gave them a standing ovation for their performance, and Hines cried. They were given 30 points for their dance.
In Ralph Macchio and Katrina Smirnoff’s rehearsals of the Argentine Tango, Ralph had a hard time embodying the character of the sexy and suave performer. Karina did her best to set him up with as much time with a hula hoop as she could, but eventually the time came for them to wiggle their hips for real. They bought a ton of time in the beginning doing nothing, and though his footwork was more solid than it has ever been, the dance was not what it could have been. Judges complained on a lack of sensuality and emotion, and they gave them 25 points.
Because Kirstie Alley danced the Argentine Tango last week, her first dance this week was the Viennese Waltz. And after she collapsed a few times last week during rehearsals because she wasn’t eating enough, she was proud to inform us that she was now eating 5 meals a day and getting all the sleep she could. Their practice sessions showed Maks getting extremely frustrated with Kirstie for not nailing the steps, but she explained that was just how the two of them worked together and it was past the point of bothering her anymore. I think the Viennese Waltz is my least favorite dance, as I just find all the movements so boring and I feel like whenever it is performed, there’s just no emotion. The judges complimented her movements and her endurance, and gave her 27 points.
The second dance Chelsea and Mark performed was the Rumba, and we got a big montage as to how and why Chelsea became the competitor that she is. Then we saw them dance the Rumba, which seemed to require very little movement from either one of them. The judges enjoyed it though, and Bruno said it was “stunning.” They gave them 30 points.
Ralph Macchio’s montage consisted of his family telling a few flattering stories about him, and the story of how Karate Kid made him a sex symbol. Then he and Katrina danced their Salsa, and it was pretty hilarious. The judges said it was too wild and too harsh, and Bruno made the crude comment that Karina was too rough with her pelvic thrusts. They got 23 points.
Kirstie and Maks’s second dance was the Paso Doble, but before she took the floor we learned that there was a period in her youth where she was addicted to cocaine. She said she just quit cold turkey and moved to Hollywood, where within a few days of her parents’ deaths, she was given a role on Star Trek. After the clip ended she performed her Paso Doble to rave reviews, and 27 points.
Then came the “Winner Takes All” Cha Cha Chas. These dances were performed at the end of the night and gave the dancers an opportunity to rake in a bonus 15 points. The way these dances worked was the couples each had four minutes to listen to the song they’re assigned and come up with moves.
The first two groups to perform were Hines Ward and Kym Johnson and Ralph Macchio and Karina. Hines seemed significantly nervous but before he noticed, it was over. Then it was Ralph and Karina’s turn, which was pretty uninteresting. The winners of the round were Hines and Kym.
Then, Kirstie Alley and Maks went up against Chelsea and Mark. First to dance were Chelsea and Mark, who kept things pretty simple. Then it was Kirstie and Maks’s turn, and it became clear that the object of this challenge is to find the best way to kill time. Chelsea and Mark won the face-off.
Finally, Hines Ward and Kym faced off with Chelsea and Mark. The first to take the stage were Hines Ward and Kym Johnson, and what they came up with was pretty impressive. Then Mark and Chelsea came onstage, and they just filled their dance with a ton of moves from their previous dances. The bonus points were awarded to Chelsea and Mark.
Last night on Dancing with the Stars, the remaining couples were divided into two teams: Chelsea Kane, Romeo and Ralph Macchio vs. Kirstie Alley, Kendra Wilkinson and Hines Ward. The idea was that the groups of three couples would come out, dance a little bit and be judged on their ability to stay in unison, and then briefly dance as individual couples like they usually do.
Chelsea, Romeo and Ralph danced the Cha-Cha-Cha to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and as a group, they did very well. No singular pair seemed ahead of the other three when they were sharing the floor, which was pretty incredible. But when they danced individually, it was really hard to see the routines as opportunities to enjoy the skills of each couple. Instead, the individual routines just seemed like breathers from the main event. The judges gave them 30 out of 40 points (because there was a fourth judge: esteemed ballroom dancer Donny Burns).
Next up was the team of Kirstie Alley, Kendra and Hines Ward. They also danced the Cha-Cha-Cha, but this time it was to Ke$ha. Again, the individual dances did not allow for time to showcase each group individually, and so it seemed like it was pointless to even ask them to do so. And even though this group’s choreography was better than the first group, they were not in sync as the first group. The judges gave them 30 points as well.
Then came the individual dances. Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas were tasked with dancing the Paso Doble and during rehearsals, Mark had a hard time convincing Chelsea not to laugh or smile because it conflicted with the dance’s seriousness. And since it was the week where the professional dances come by and offer their advice to the performers, Mark’s mom Shirley came by, who was a famous Latin ballroom dancer. And it was a little weird watching her instruct Chelsea to dance with her son more passionately and telling her to grab her son’s hair with passion. When they performed their dance for the judges, their choreography was, as usual, amazing, and it just seems like they’re improving more and more each week. Len complained their dance was too aggressive, and believed there wasn’t enough refinement in their performance. But the rest of the judges liked their moves, and Chelsea and Mark got 34 points.
Louis van Amstel told Kendra that this was week that he was going to make the choreography really hard for Kendra because they’re in week 7 of the competition, and no bad dancers are left. Luca Baricchi (a famous ballroom dancer) showed up during their rehearsals of the Tango, and he told Kendra (in a pretty unlawful way) to feel the dance with her body instead of being afraid of making a mistake. When they danced for the judges, it was arguably their best dance in the competition. Kendra seemed to finally understand what moving elegantly means, and she was rewarded with a score of 31 points from the judges.
Kirstie and Maks were assigned the Jive, and they also received a few tips from Shirley Ballas. They weren’t really shown though, because during rehearsals, Kirstie expressed sadness over how Maks chose to express his frustration by screaming and yelling at her when she missed a step. After they danced their jive, the judges complained that the entire dance was out of sync, but tried to make Kirstie feel better about her performance by complimenting her instincts and her spirit. They gave her 30 points.
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff danced the Quickstep, and Luca Baricchi came back to tell them what he told Kendra, which was to feel the movements instead of just performing them. Ralph expressed bodily discomfort throughout all of rehearsals and once they danced their dance, it became clear that even though their choreography is pretty weak, they’re a lively pair to watch. They got 36 points from the judges.
Romeo and Chelsie Hightower danced the Samba, and they went into rehearsals on a pretty high note because they got their first 10 last week. Shirley Ballas came by the studio and showed Romeo how to properly move his hips in Latin formation. But the judges didn’t care too much for it because it didn’t represent the Samba as much as it should have. They gave the couple a 30 out of 40.
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson danced the Tango as well, and Luca came back to tell Hines that he wasn’t feeling the moves enough. As usual, their performance was perfect and the judges loved it, as evidenced by their score of 36.