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.
Sometimes you make a certain connection with someone. You aren't sure how it happens or whether that person will stay in your life or not but you know once you meet them that you'll never forget them. For the aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) the moment comes when he crosses paths with the twentysomething Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) one night in a luxury hotel bar in Tokyo. Lost In Translation succinctly captures this life moment and eloquently paints an exquisite portrait of these two people. Bob neck-deep in a midlife crisis is in the Asian capital for a week because as he explains "[he is] getting paid $2 million to shoot a commercial when [he] could be doing a play somewhere." Charlotte on the other hand is also having a what-do-I-do-with-my-life? dilemma and is in Tokyo with her workaholic photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). Bob and Charlotte's meeting is fortuitous and soon turns into a surprising relationship albeit a fairly chaste one. The two simply enjoy each other's company and begin to have one hilarious misadventure after another on the streets of Tokyo. Unfortunately though their time together is short-lived as each must go back to the realities on their own lives. Yet through the strong bond between them they each develop a new belief in life's possibilities.
It's about time someone gave Bill Murray a leading juicy role the talented actor could sink his teeth into. Throughout his career he has made moviegoers laugh themselves silly in broad comedies such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day but only small parts in independent films have allowed him to show his more sensitive side. Many said Murray should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the underrated Rushmore but maybe that just paved the way for his Oscar-worthy turn as Bob. The actor has moments in Translation where he is the Saturday Night Live alum we all know and love; he is excruciatingly funny especially as the over-six-foot comedian improvises with the smaller Japanese people in his usual deadpan style. But when Bob connects with Charlotte the funny guy is put on the back burner while the more complex lonely Bob emerges searching for clues to make his life right again. Charlotte is looking for her own signs and Johansson (Ghost World) is nothing short of amazing in the role. The young actress is achingly honest either sitting around her hotel room in her underwear or observing the odd Japanese culture and she let us know that Charlotte has a whole life waiting for her to take hold of. And when the two actors finally come together the combination is electric. In one particular moment in what will most likely be the film's signature scene Bob and Charlotte sweetly sing karoke songs to one another--his Roxy Music's "More Than This " hers the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket"--both knowing the physical attraction could never happen but knowing they are sharing a romance nonetheless. In the supporting roles Ribisi does a nice job as the ambitious husband while Anna Faris (Scary Movie) makes a hilarious appearance as an actress hawking her latest B-movie in Japan.
With Lost In Translation writer/director Sofia Coppola who made her directorial debut with the critically acclaimed understatedly poignant The Virgin Suicides has proven her talent behind the camera wasn't a fluke. While Translation is a brilliantly written character study of two lost souls finding redemption in one another it is also clearly a love letter to Tokyo where Coppola spent some time when she was younger. As the atypical Americans Bob and Charlotte can at times stick out like sore thumbs. It's not hard to miss that the Japanese view things a little bit differently than the rest of the world--and the film revels in this from the technologically advanced arcades that populate the city to the whacked-out over-the-top television programs. Yet Translation never becomes an "us against them." On the contrary Coppola wants the audience to love the city and culture as much as she does and affectionately paints Tokyo in its various incarnations with series of long shots and panoramic views. The young director also lets us see a bit of the Japanese countryside as well when Charlotte visits a Kyoto garden and Buddhist temple. Although beautiful some of these indulgent moments drag on a bit too long but soon you realize their significance within the theme of the movie.
Film buffs and memorabilia collectors now have the chance to own props and costumes from the upcoming epic "Anna and the King" before they even get to see the film on the big screen.
Twentieth Century Fox is currently holding an online auction of genuine props and handcrafted costumes from the film. The film boasts the largest set built from scratch since "Cleopatra" in the 1960s.
Under the supervision of Academy award-winning production designer Luciana Arrighi and costume designer Jenny Beavan, many of the items were handmade to faithfully represent the look and feel of the time period.
Bidding started in the United States on Dec. 3 at the film's official Web site, and will expand internationally to Asia, Latin America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Spain on Dec. 13. The first set of items, including hand-painted parasols and brass candelabras used in the film, are currently up for auction.
The second group of items, including costumes worn by the film's stars, Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, will be available Dec. 13.
With more than 60 items open for bid, the Fox auction is the first of its kind that features props from an upcoming movie. The auction items range in value from $15 to $50,000, and each item will come with a certificate of authenticity from 20th Century Fox archives.
Based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, "Anna and the King" stars Academy Award-winning Foster as a British governess headed for Thailand to care for the children of the country's king, played by the Hong Kong action star.
The film is scheduled to be released nationwide Dec. 17.