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 2012 People's Choice Awards are on their way and here's the proof: the nominees. As usual, teen-skewing series like Glee and The Vampire Diaries dominated the nominations, but a few more mature candidates like The Good Wife and The Walking Dead make a few appearances as well. In addition to half the cast of Glee getting some nomination love, newly announced People Choice host, Kaley Cuoco also earned herself a nod for her work on The Big Bang Theory. Plus, the great thing about these awards is that there are enough categories to give plenty of shows a chance for some recognition -- they even separate network shows from cable show to even the playing field.
Fans can voice their choices in all categories starting today and ending Dec. 6 via basically every internet avenue available. The Favorite New TV Drama and Favorite New TV Comedy will stay open until the night of the awards, Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. Votes are accepted at the People's Choice Awards website, on Facebook, Twitter and via mobile devices.
Here are all your TV nominees, now get to voting!
Favorite Network TV Drama
The Good Wife
The Vampire Diaries
Favorite TV Drama Actor
David Boreanaz (Bones)
Hugh Laurie (House)
Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries)
Nathan Fillion (Castle)
Patrick Dempsey (Grey's Anatomy)
Favorite TV Drama Actress
Blake Lively (Gossip Girl)
Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy)
Emily Deschanel (Bones)
Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives)
Nina Dobrev (Vampire Diaries)
Favorite Cable TV Drama
Game of Thrones
Pretty Little Liars
Favorite Network TV Comedy
The Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
Two and a Half Men
Favorite TV Comedy Actor
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Chris Colfer (Glee)
Cory Monteith (Glee)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
Favorite TV Comedy Actress
Courteney Cox (Cougar Town)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory)
Lea Michele (Glee)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Favorite Cable TV Comedy
Hot in Cleveland
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Favorite TV Competition Show
America’s Got Talent
Dancing With The Stars
So You Think You Can Dance
Favorite TV Crime Drama
Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Show
The Vampire Diaries
The Walking Dead
Favorite Daytime TV Host
Al Roker, Anne Curry, Matt Lauer, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie (The Today Show)
Anderson Cooper (Anderson)
Ellen DeGeneres (The Ellen DeGeneres Show)
Kelly Ripa, Regis Philbin (Live With Regis & Kelly)
Rachael Ray (Rachael Ray Show)
Favorite Late Night TV Host
Conan O’Brien (Conan)
David Letterman (Late Show With David Letterman)
Jay Leno (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno)
Jimmy Fallon (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon)
Jimmy Kimmel (Jimmy Kimmel Live)
Favorite TV Guest Star
Gwyneth Paltrow (Glee)
Jim Carrey (The Office)
Katy Perry (How I Met Your Mother)
Kristin Chenoweth (Glee)
Michael J. Fox (The Good Wife)
Favorite TV Celeb Reality Star
Tia and Tamera Mowry
Favorite New TV Drama
A Gifted Man
Hart of Dixie
Once Upon A Time
Person of Interest
The Secret Circle
Favorite New TV Comedy
2 Broke Girls
Last Man Standing
Up All Night
Vote and see the full nominee list here!
Top Story: Judge Orders Diana Ross Back to Jail
Diana Ross, who is currently touring Europe, was ordered back to the hoosegow yesterday by an Arizona judge who said she fell short by one hour of the two-day sentence he gave her for a drunken driving incident in Tucson. The 59-year-old singer, who was arrested Dec. 30, 2002, by police responding to a call of a wrong-way motorist in northeast Tucson, pleaded no contest last month to driving under the influence of alcohol. According to CNN, Ross was allowed "in and out" privileges at a Greenwich, Conn., jail, failing to serve at least 24 hours straight--as was mandated by the court--and fell one hour shy of completing the two-day sentence, Reuters reports. The judge now wants Ross to serve her time in Tucson. "The Greenwich jail arrangement clearly does not comply with Arizona law," Arizona Magistrate T. Jay Cranshaw wrote in a March 4 order. "To avoid any questions of impropriety, the defendant is ordered to return to Tucson to serve 48 consecutive hours in the Pima County Jail." An April 1 review hearing has been set, but Ross is not expected to attend.
Jackson Prosecutor Convening Grand Jury
District Attorney Tom Sneddon said a grand jury is convening in Santa Barbara, Calif., but would not say whether the panel will be investigating the Michael Jackson child molestation case. "The business of the grand jury is confidential," a D.A. spokesman told The Associated Press. "The office convenes a grand jury every quarter, so this could be considered part of their standard activity. We can't say." Use of the grand jury to secure an indictment would sidestep a potentially lengthy preliminary hearing and avoid the media spectacle surrounding public testimony. On Jan. 16, Jackson pleaded innocent to seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He's free on $3 million bail.
Cinequest Honors Schwarzenegger
California Gov. and former action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger accepted a Maverick Spirit Award Wednesday at the 14th annual Cinequest San Jose Film, which debuted Mar. 3 in San Jose, Calif., and runs for 11 days. Cinequest organizers said they chose Schwarzenegger because of his life and career accomplishments. "Throughout his life, Schwarzenegger has been known for setting specific goals for himself--and always achieving them," Halfdan Hussey, the festival's founder and executive director, said."Schwarzenegger uses his influence to better society and humanity." Past Maverick Spirit Award recipients include Jackie Chan, Kevin Spacey, Spike Lee and Jennifer Beals.
Trump To Host SNL
NBC announced Wednesday that Donald Trump will host Saturday Night Live on April 3. The appearance will not be Trump's first foray into the world of television. The real estate tycoon's latest endeavor, the reality show The Apprentice, which he hosts and co-executive produces with Mark Burnett, has been a ratings winner since it premiered Jan. 8 on NBC. The show features 16 contestants vying for a $250,000-a-year dream job as a top executive in Trump's business empire.
Miami Police Secretly Monitoring Rappers
The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that officers in Miami and Miami Beach have been secretly monitoring hip-hop stars P. Diddy, DMX and others in South Florida. According to the report, police began gathering intelligence on rap artists after The Source Hip-Hop Awards on Memorial Day 2001 weekend, when 250,000 hip-hop fans convened to South Beach. "We have to keep an eye on these rivalries," Assistant Miami Beach Police Chief Charles Press told the paper. "The last thing we need in this city is violence." Bruce Rogow, a law professor at Florida's Nova Southeastern University who represented 2 Live Crew when the rap group was prosecuted for obscenity in the early '90s said the conduct "implicates racial stereotyping."
Thirteen Leads Prism Nods
Director Catherine Hardwicke's drama Thirteen, which portrays teenage girls and their accelerated adolescence, earned multiple nominations for the eighth annual Prism Awards, which honor works that depict the pitfalls of drug and alcohol abuse. The film earned nods for feature film as well as acting bids for stars Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed. Other nominees in the feature film category include City of God, Love and Diane, 21 Grams and Wonderland. The Prism Awards will be handed out on Thursday, April 29 at the Hollywood Palladium with portions of the ceremony to be telecast May 16 on FX.
The Practice Takes a Bow
The ABC legal drama The Practice, which was on the fence last spring before being picked up at last minute for an eight season, will bow out May 16. At the time, the pickup was followed by the high-profile cast shake-up by executive producer David E. Kelley, who let go of original cast members, including Dylan McDermott and Lara Flynn Boyle. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the final episodes of the Emmy-winning show will set up a spin-off series, which has been given a 22-episode order by ABC for this fall. Sources told the Reporter the pickup is not contingent on any actor, but speculated that the show's latest additions--James Spader and Rhona Mitra--have been approached for the follow-up.
Queer Eye for Pier 1 Imports
The home furnishing chain Pier 1 Imports has given its spokeswoman Kirstie Alley her pink slip and has launched a new marketing campaign featuring Thom Filicia of the Bravo makeover show Queer Eye for t