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 Whole Ten Yards picks up about two years after the events that changed the lives of Oz (Matthew Perry) Jimmy "The Tulip" (Bruce Willis) Jill (Amanda Peet) and Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge)--and made them a whole lot richer. Nice-guy dentist Oz is now married to Jimmy's ex-wife Cynthia and living in Brentwood Calif. where he still practices dentistry. They seem happy but Oz is so paranoid someone will come after him that he keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home which is teeming with high-tech surveillance equipment. His suspicions however are not so farfetched: Turns out Cynthia is in cahoots with Jimmy who is now married to Jill and living in Mexico and they're planning to rob Hungarian mobster Lazlo Gogolak (Kevin Pollak) who's just been released from prison. But Lazlo has an agenda of his own. He wants to kill Jimmy for the murder of his son rival hitman Yanni Gogolak a couple of years ago. When Lazlo kidnaps Cynthia to get to Jimmy (he figures Oz will spill the beans on his whereabouts) poor Oz runs off to Mexico and pleads for Jimmy's help. What Oz and Jill don't realize however is that they are part of a much bigger revenge plot against Lazlo perpetrated by their own spouses Jimmy and Cynthia.
The only thing that makes The Whole Ten Yards engaging is the returning cast who have a playful and endearing on-screen chemistry. Willis and Perry are at the forefront reprising their roles as Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudesky and Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky respectively. The actors craft their characters well and uniquely and the conflicting personalities they create--Willis' cool and collected Jimmy and Perry's nervous and scatterbrained Oz--make watching their interactions entertaining. When the two discover that the hostage in the trunk of their car has died for example Willis stands there unflinchingly while Perry yelps "It looks like he got shot in the foot! Who dies from being shot in the foot?" Peet blends in with her own brand of humor; her klutzy character Jill is hilarious without trying to be which is the key to her performance. Jill's hung up on the fact that although she's a professional marksman she's never had a real kill--she's so accident-prone that her targets always die by default. Also returning for the sequel is Pollak who played Yanni in the first film. Here he returns as Yanni's father Lazlo aged with the help of prosthetics and makeup. It's a great idea and the result is pretty funny although the character is cartoonish.
Director Howard Deutch makes a valiant effort with this sequel to the 2000 hit; there's continuity in the characters although their lives have progressed since the events of the last film. The problem with The Whole Ten Yards is its story penned by Mitchell Kapner and George Gallo. While The Whole Nine Yards had an elaborate storyline it was easy enough to follow--everyone was basically trying to kill one another. Here the plot's equally convoluted but rather than interesting twists and turns we get inconsistencies and dead ends. Take Jimmy's new Suzy Homemaker role for instance. As the film opens Willis is traipsing around his Mexican villa in bunny slippers wearing a 'do-rag on his head fussing over dinner and the fact that the potatoes are supposed to be "floating around the lobster not just stuck there." We find out it's all an act but the reasons are never disclosed. By the time the film ends audiences will be asking themselves what it was all for. Perhaps the filmmakers thought the sight of Willis as a dowdy housewife would make moviegoers laugh so hard they'd forget to ask why.
Top Story: Another Osbourne Enters Rehab
Following in brother Jack's footsteps, it's Kelly Osbourne's turn to go into rehab. The 19-year-old daughter of rocker Ozzy Osbourne and wife Sharon entered a California drug rehabilitation clinic Friday to deal with an addiction to painkillers, Reuters reports. Promoting the upcoming third season of MTV's The Osbournes, Sharon Osbourne told CNN's Larry King Live that the couple confronted their daughter early on Friday after the family was contacted by an English tabloid seeking comment on a picture in which Kelly appeared to be buying drugs. "She admitted it after a lot of twisting," she told CNN. "Literally, a couple of hours ago, she was admitted to rehab." Ozzy, an admitted drug addict and alcoholic who has spent time in rehabilitation clinics himself, said he had asked Kelly repeatedly if she used drugs, but she denied it. "I can't believe we were buying into it," he said. "The amount of pills I found in her bag was astounding."
Brown, Houston Get on Reality Wagon
Bobby Brown and wife Whitney Houston are thinking of joining reality--television, that is. USAToday.com reports Brown, and his Atlanta-based production company B2 Entertainment, are shooting a new reality TV series chronicling the Houston/Brown family life, in hopes of selling it to a network. "It's Bobby's project, and he's her husband," Houston spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer told USAToday.com. "Of course she would do it with him." It isn't clear, however, if the show will focus on the troubled couple's recent past, including Houston Mar. 15 drug rehab stint or Brown's court appearance May 5 on battery charges stemming from an altercation with Houston last December as well as his probation violations.
Writers Begin Negotiations
Negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers are set to begin Monday, City News reports. The WGA, whose current three-year contract is due to expire May 2, is expected to demand higher residual payments for its members for DVD and video releases, contracts with "reality television" producers, and increased pension and health insurance contributions, among other things. "While there is no expectation of a strike at this time, the board of directors does want to be prepared in the event contract talks break down,'' the guild advised in a Web site update for members. The last time the WGA went on strike in 1988.
Kids Choose OutKast, Nemo
Disney's smash animated hit Finding Nemo and the hip-hop duo OutKast were the big winners at Nickelodeon's 17th Annual Kids' Choice Awards Saturday, Reuters reports. The show--where 17 million kids voted both online and by telephone for their favorites--was hosted by the upcoming Shrek 2 co-stars Cameron Diaz and Mike Myers, as kids watched voluminous amounts of slime poured onto unsuspecting celebrity presenters. Other winners included Jim Carrey for favorite movie actor and Amanda Bynes as favorite movie actress, while Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and Disney Channel's Raven-Symone took favorite TV actor and actress, respectively.
Actress Cannon Suffers Smoke Inhalation
Actress Dyan Cannon suffered smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in her Los Angeles condominium, The Associated Press reports. Los Angeles County fire officials received a call Sunday morning of smoke coming from the building and discovered a fire in Cannon's eighth floor condo. They put out the blaze in about 15 minutes, fire dispatcher Brendon Peart told AP. "According to Ms. Cannon, she was sleeping at the time, and it appears that a fire started, perhaps electrical, in her kitchen," said fire Capt. Steve Martin. "The smoke detector woke her and her dogs up and, luckily, she got out safe," he said. About 200 residents were evacuated, but most of the damage was confined to Cannon's condo, fire officials said.
Rooney Gets WWII Honor
Veteran actor Mickey Rooney, who received a Bronze Star during World War II, was bestowed a special award at the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia for his nearly two years of service in Europe, AP reports. At the same time, the 83-year-old Rooney was also honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Blue-Ridge-Southwest Virginia Vision Film Festival, which honors films made in the state or by Virginians.
Too Much TV May Cause Attention Problems
In a recent study, researchers found that preschoolers who watch too much television, especially before the age of 2, may have attention deficit problems later in life, AP reports. Yet, Jennifer Kotler, assistant director for research at Sesame Workshop, which produces educational children's television programs including Sesame Street, questioned whether the results in the April issue of Pediatrics would apply to educational programming. "We do not ignore this research," but more is needed on variables that could affect the impact of early exposure to television, including whether content or watching TV with a parent makes a difference, Kotler told AP.
Role Call: Miramax Snags Hostage
Miramax Films has acquired the North American rights to the thriller Hostage, starring Bruce Willis. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film, currently shooting in L.A., follows an LAPD hostage negotiator (Willis) who heads to the country after a bloody standoff to take a job as the police chief of a small town. But instead of finding peace, the cop becomes embroiled in negotiations to save his own kidnapped wife and daughter. It also stars Kevin Pollak, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker and Serena Scott Thomas.