Tonight's Big Brother urged viewers to ponder some of Earth's greatest mysteries: Are we alone in the universe? (If we aren't, we better hope they don't discover Big Brother). What's the meaning of life? (Screw it, we'll let Shane answer that one). Is there a science to winning Big Brother? Now this one is tricky.
Some may argue that there is a method to winning Big Brother. That it's finding the delicate equation of brains, brawn, manipulation, keen strategy, making big power plays at crucial moments and staying under the radar when necessary. Others would argue it's just a random assortment of dumb luck and good timing. It's fitting that as Season 14 winds down that question is coming to the surface again, especially on such a science-friendly week. (Bill Nye would have been so proud. Or not.) Things kicked off where we left off on Thursday night, with the players orbiting in the "Soak Up the Sun" HoH competition. Joe fell first and received punishment from America, which was to hula hoop, at any given moment. Joe warned — sorry yelled at an entirely unreasonable volume — that if his kids watching at home were to make fun of him for falling off two minutes into the competition he would put his size 13 foot to use. Hey, you know what they say about guys with big feet. That they are loud, obnoxious, a**holes! Jenn quickly followed suit leaving Ian, Shane, Danielle, and Dan to compete in the high stakes HoH. It was a must-win for Ian if there ever was one. Not only did he acknowledge that his wishy-washy strategies ultimately cost Britney her place in the game, but with a disassembled Quack Pack he could very well be on his own. Frank, who is always in survival mode, was hanging on to that idea that if Dan hangs on he will keep their newfound alliance in tact if he becomes HoH. Now whether you're a man or woman of faith or science could ultimately determine how you think this season will pan out. Science will tell you that Ian's knowledge of the game and other bonus fun facts such as the laws of acceleration and the fact that comets are made of ice, yet the Big Brother comets are orange and fiery. Ya burnt, CBS! But faith will tell you that maybe Dan — who has earned his stripes as the most cunning player in Big Brother history — really is Judas. After all, what mere mortal who isn't a raging sociopath could reason that swearing on their loved one's lives isn't a bad thing because their intentions are for their mutual benefit. Back in the house Ian had previously said to Dan that he not only wanted to get the Quack Pack together, but that he was aiming to get Frank and Jenn on the block. Dan's "allegiance" to Frank was all but shattered, as he explained that the only loyalty he had in the house was to himself. Ultimately it wouldn't matter because both Dan and Danielle fell out of the HoH competition, leaving just Shane and Ian. It was no longer the intense faith vs. science match-up, but as Dan pointed out, "the prom king vs. the valedictorian." And who always emerges from that battle? That's right nerds, it's nerds! Shane tried with all his handsome might to stay on, but acceleration and all that other science crap Ian was blathering on about proved to be too much or him. While Shane was the "safe" bet for everyone else in the house, Ian's spritely physique and understanding of, you know, physics, made him the winner. But before Shane surrendered to Ian, he made him promise that neither he nor Danielle would be put on the block. Ian gave Shaners (?) his word that he wouldn't backdoor him or Danielle. And it's a good thing because without Danielle around, who would Shane have to whisper things to him while he's in the shower and couldn't possibly hear her from afar with running water pouring over him? Science! Shane assured Danielle that Ian would be gunning for Frank and Joe, not them, and Danielle gushed and batted her eyes that Shane is her "knight and shining armor" sent to protect her in the game. Somewhere, Zingbot and feminists everywhere were malfunctioning. It only got worse when Jenn told Danielle that Shane referred to her as his "girlfriend" which Danielle unconvincingly played off as annoyance that she doesn't "know what to do with this boy." Then Jenn spoke on behalf of everyone everywhere that's ever had to listen to a girl feign annoyance about a boy she's not so secretly crazy for: "You love it. " While paranoia ran high (Joe thought Ian would put Dan and Jenn on the block to avenge Britney, while Dan was certain the Quack Pack would realign), there was only room for one theory in the house: scientific theory! In Ian's HoH room, we find that not only does Ian know what's on the periodic table of elements (presumably a Big Brother first) but he has a favorite element. For the record, it's bismuth. You know, if Ian doesn't win Big Brother, there's another summer program he could do quite well on: Breaking Bad. Granted, he would be making Pepto Bismol instead of meth, but dammit if he wouldn't be the best Pepto Bismol maker on the market! Ian seemed stalwart in his allegiance to the Quack Pack and looked to put Frank and Jenn on the block, something Frank seemed to have a hunch about. During a heart-to-heart (well, carrot-to-heart) chat, Frank promised Ian that not only would he and Boogie have taken him to the end, but he's still willing to do that. Not only that, but with Frank's punishment and inability to play in any competitions he wasn't a real "threat" to Ian. (Of course, this being a double eviction week, anything goes.) Ian took Frank's words into consideration and opted backdooring Joe, the other lone non-Quack Pack member. Ian had a lot of thinking to do about who to put on the block, but Pandora's Box gave him something to think about. Now logic would tell Ian that the 50/50 odds of getting a "good" Pandora's Box is awfully risky this late in the game but faith will tell you...OHMYGODCHRISTMASPRESENTS! C'mon, it's Christmas presents every time. By Big Brother standards Ian would wind up on the good list rather than the naughty list. So if you believe in that kind of thing, that's exactly why he got a ton of awesome gifts (including a telescope, Legos, and an extra $1000) while his housemates got a visit from a pec-tacular elf in a thong in the form of Big Brother alum Jesse who didn't bring them presents, rather, took away all their glorious junk food. Young Ian clearly made the right decision when it came to Pandora's Box, but how would he fare in the nomination ceremony? Frank opted to play nice with Ian on the off chance he wouldn't be up for eviction and could try and restore his bond with him. Not to mention the fact that if Ian were to put anyone up to avenge Britney, it could literally be anyone else in the house as literally everyone else in the house voted her out. Still, Ian's mind was made up, he put Jenn and Frank (now out of his carrot costume) back on the block. Neither were terribly surprised. In fact, the only person that was surprised was Dan who was stunned at how easy it was to worm his way back into the Quack Pack despite stabbing them all in the back last week. If Frank wins PoV this week (which, let's face it, he probably will) he'll officially have nine lives. Of course, if anyone in this game has shown how coming back from the dead is done, it's Dan. Faith and science may keep you from believing in zombies, but damn if Big Brother hasn't proven us otherwise. Did Ian make the right choice in putting Frank up again? Should he have put his faith back in Frank or are his instincts about Dan taking him to the end right? Will Frank walk away from being a dead man walking again and send Jenn packing? Or will Dan put an end to Frank once and for all? Oh, life's unanswerable mysteries! Well, at least until Wednesday. In the meantime, share your theories in the comments section. [Photo credit: CBS] More: Big Brother Recap: Pleas and Carrots Big Brother Recap: Dan's the Man Big Brother Recap: Can We Speak Frankly?
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 first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.