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.
Matthew McConaughey became the first new celebrity dad of 2010 when he and Camila Alves welcomed baby Vida into the world, but they weren't the only couple celebrating births. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell experienced the joys of fatherhood all over again, while supermodel Claudia Schiffer and actress Monica Bellucci were bursting with excitement after announcing their pregnancies.
Love was certainly in the air - actor Josh Duhamel renewed his vows with Fergie, and British model Sophie Dahl became Mrs. Jamie Cullum. Russell Brand confirmed plans to wed Katy Perry, and Michael Buble got down on bended knee to propose to model Luisana Lopilato.
The same couldn't be said for Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend - they called it quits after nine years together. A cancer-stricken Dennis Hopper filed for divorce from his wife, and sporting pair Chris Evert and Greg Norman finalised the dissolution of their 18-month marriage.
There were new troubles for embattled celebrity offspring - Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal's boy Redmond was jailed after another drugs bust, and the future was bleak for Michael Douglas' actor son Cameron, who prepared for a lengthy prison sentence after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges.
Meanwhile, illusionist David Copperfield was cleared of rape allegations, and actor Rip Torn was arrested after he was found passed out on the floor of a Connecticut bank, clutching a gun. Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman was arrested on allegations of domestic assault and then hospitalised following a number of seizures.
Bad health also struck Dexter's Michael C. Hall, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, just as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber revealed he had overcome prostate cancer.
The music industry mourned the death of R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass when he lost his battle with colon cancer, while the literary world was hit hard with the passing of beloved author J.D. Salinger.
Awards season was in full swing and Beyonce, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift ruled the 2010 Grammy Awards, while director James Cameron's Avatar collected top honours at the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.
In the TV world, Simon Cowell confirmed he was stepping down as an American Idol judge, Miley Cyrus announced she was turning her back on Hannah Montana, and Ugly Betty got the axe from network executives.
Elsewhere, George Clooney led the Hope For Haiti Now telethon to raise funds for the Haitian victims of the 12 January earthquake, enlisting pals Jack Nicholson, Ben Affleck and Mel Gibson to man the phones as Madonna, Bono and Beyonce performed for charity. Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Gisele Bundchen all led by example and donated huge sums to the relief efforts, and the telethon raised more than $57 million (£35.6 million).
Jessica Biel and Emile Hirsch fronted another big charity drive when they joined a team of stars to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, drawing attention to Africa's chronic water shortage. They reached the Tanzanian peak for the Summit on the Summit: Kilimanjaro campaign on 12 January, six days after embarking on the challenge.
February was marked by tragedy when celebrated fashion designer Alexander Mcqueen was found dead after hanging himself at his London home. Meanwhile, investigations into Michael Jackson’s death in June, 2009 loomed as coroner’s officials determined acute intoxication of powerful anaesthetic Propofol was the cause. The ruling prompted prosecutors to file involuntary manslaughter charges against his former doctor Conrad Murray. Officials also ruled Brittany Murphy’s death in December, 2009 was accidental and caused by pneumonia, aided by anaemia and drug intoxication. Andrew Koenig’s family continued to mourn after his body was found in Vancouver following an apparent suicide. Marie Osmond also grieved the apparent suicide death of her 18-year-old son.
Nancy Kerrigan’s family was rocked by controversy after her brother, Mark, became the target of an investigation of their father’s homicide. Meanwhile, Etta James’ son revealed the singer had been secretly battling Alzheimer's disease for more than a year.
But there were still celebrations in Hollywood. James Cameron’s sci-fi film Avatar became the highest grossing movie in the U.S. and the U.K. His ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, had something to boast about too when her war drama, The Hurt Locker, scored nine Oscar nods, the same amount as Cameron’s cinematic sensation. She also won top awards at the BAFTAs.
The world watched as Canada's brightest stars including Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, K.D. lang and Joni Mitchell teamed up to help launch the Winter Olympics in the country. And in London, Lady Gaga walked away with the BRIT Awards’ top honours. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr unveiled his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and The Beatles' favourite recording studio Abbey Road was awarded historic status by the British government. Celine Dion, Kanye West, and Jennifer Hudson were among singers who recorded vocals for Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie's revamped We Are The World track to raise money for earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The country's biggest celebrity activist Sean Penn was caught in controversy and charged with criminal battery and vandalism following a violent run-in with a paparazzo, while Lil Wayne celebrated winning a postponement on his prison sentence for weapons possession.
It was a romantic month for several stars who announced plans to wed, including Nicole Richie and Joel Madden, Hilary Duff and ice hockey ace Mike Comrie, and Dave Annabelle and Odette Yustman. Kristen Bell revealed boyfriend Dax Shepard had proposed back in December, 2009. Meanwhile, Sienna Miller, who called off her engagement to Jude Law in 2006, rekindled her romance with the actor. Several stars welcomed bundles of joy, including Padma Lakshmi, Boris Becker, Sarah Jane Morris and Gary Busey. February wasn’t such a loved-up month for Ryan Phillippe and Abbie Cornish, or Cheryl Cole and her soccer star husband Ashley - both couples split. John Mayer risked the wrath of ex Jessica Simpson after referring to her as “sexual napalm”.
Public scandal took over headlines when Tiger Woods finally addressed reports he cheated on ex-wife Elin Nordegren with several mistresses and announced plans to return to rehab for sex therapy. Exes waged war in court, including Dennis Hopper, who won a restraining order against his estranged wife. Charlie Sheen was charged with felony menacing, third degree assault and misdemeanour criminal mischief stemming from an alleged altercation with his now-estranged wife, Brooke Mueller. Both parties checked in to rehab.
It was a shocking way to start the spring as March saw two of Hollywood's biggest star couples announce break-ups - Kate Winslet parted ways with her second husband Sam Mendes after seven years and Sandra Bullock's Oscar win was overshadowed after she found out partner Jesse James had cheated on her.
March wasn't any better for Take That's Mark Owen, who was also accused of cheating on his longtime girlfriend Emma Ferguson with 10 women - and he later revealed he's a struggling alcoholic and checked himself into rehab.
More scandals came as the month progressed, with fiery supermodel Naomi Campbell accused of attacking her driver by striking him on the head, and Michael Jackson's mum Katherine visited by welfare officials in Los Angeles over allegations one of her grandkids had purchased a stun gun.
Rapper J-Kwon was reported as a missing person after he failed to get in contact with his loved ones for more than a month, and reclusive R&B star D'Angelo was arrested in New York for offering an undercover cop cash for oral sex.
Other stars facing a tough time included Lil Wayne, who began an eight-month stretch behind bars stemming from a 2007 weapon possession arrest, and Lindsay Lohan, who had a fashion flop on her hands after being axed as the artistic advisor of style house Emanuel Ungaro following a slated catwalk collection.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom - Kathryn Bigelow made Oscars history when she became the first female to land the top director Academy Award for her war movie The Hurt Locker, beating ex-husband James Cameron in the process. Music mogul Simon Cowell confirmed his engagement to make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy while others to put a ring on it included Friends star David Schwimmer, who proposed to his photographer girlfriend Zoe Buckman, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher, who enjoyed a small private wedding ceremony in Paris, France.
There was also a string of spring babies - Shakespeare In Love star Joseph Fiennes became a first-time father after welcoming a daughter, while Kevin Costner announced he was set to become a dad for a seventh time. Hollywood stars Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart also became parents for the first time after the actress gave birth to a baby girl.
While March saw ups and downs for some of Tinseltown's finest, others were looking on the bright side - Ricky Martin confirmed the worst kept secret in pop by announcing he's homosexual, while Will & Grace star Sean Hayes also decided to come out of the closet and spoke for the first time about his sexuality.
Every fan of 1980s movies was left devastated after hearing Corey Haim had died from a drug overdose - the Lost Boys star was aged 38. The month also saw the passings of Little Women star Richard Stapley, veteran British actor Martin Benson and beloved U.S. TV star Fess Parker.
The eruption of a volcano in Iceland at the end of March meant the following month was dogged by stories of stranded stars as a giant ash cloud swept over northern Europe and closed airports across the continent.
California's Coachella festival was under threat as a number of acts cancelled their slots when they were unable to fly out to the U.S.
Several movie premieres were also affected in the chaos - the Iron Man 2 red carpet event in London was moved to Los Angeles when stars including Robert Downey, Jr. were unable to jet to Britain. Miley Cyrus also scrapped plans to unveil her film The Last Song in the British capital due to the cancelled flights.
TV stars Chace Crawford and Kiefer Sutherland were both stranded in London after the ash cloud hit, and the 24 actor made the most of his extended stay by taking trips to some of Britain's best-known landmarks, including a day out to visit Stonehenge.
But many celebrities refused to let a little bit of volcano ash get in the way of their work - Metallica continued their tour by swapping planes for roads and railways, while Status Quo drove back to Britain after finding themselves stuck in Russia. John Cleese was stranded in Norway, so he paid $4,950 (£3,300) for a taxi to take him to Belgium, where he caught a train back to London.
In non-volcano-related news, Sandra Bullock sent shockwaves through the showbiz world when she came out fighting after her husband Jesse James' cheating scandal in March. The Oscar winner announced she had filed for divorce and stunned the world by revealing she had also adopted a baby son, Louis. Bullock admitted the couple had taken charge of their new son back in January, but kept the news quiet and after splitting from James she resolved to raise the baby on her own.
Another high profile celebrity split hit headlines when Mel Gibson ended his year-long romance with Russian musician Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his baby daughter, Lucia. The couple didn't give a reason for the break-up, but Grigorieva subsequently hinted "you will find out everything quite soon". Jim Carrey and Jenny Mccarthy also ended their five-year romance.
The music world was rocked when Brett Michaels suffered two serious health scares in April. The Poison rocker was admitted to hospital for an emergency appendectomy at the beginning of the month and just weeks later he collapsed after suffering a brain haemorrhage. The rocker was in a critical condition, but slowly began his recovery. Another shock for music fans came with the death of former Sex Pistols manager and punk icon Malcolm Mclaren, who lost his battle with cancer.
April was a sad month for Dynasty fans after two of the show's former stars died within days of each other. John Forsythe passed away from complications relating to pneumonia and his death was followed by the passing of his onscreen brother Christopher Cazenove, who lost a battle with blood poisoning just six days later.
The scandal of the month came when Desperate Housewives actress Nicollette Sheridan filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the show's creator, Marc Cherry. The actress claimed he slapped her during an argument over the script and then fired her when she complained to producers.
Sheridan's co-stars, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria Parker, Felicity Huffman and Marcia CrosS, all took Cherry's side.
There were wedding bells this month for Scissor Sisters singer Ana Matronic and her boyfriend Seth Kirby, and actors Seth Green and Clare Grant. Meanwhile, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon sealed their love by renewing their wedding vows for the third time.
May was not such a happy month for Boyzone singer Ronan Keating, who split from his wife Yvonne, and he wasn't the only one facing heartache - former Bond girl Halle Berry split from Gabriel Aubry after more than four years together, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer star David Boreanaz's marriage was plunged into crisis when he admitted cheating on his wife.
Several stars heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet this month - Monica Bellucci gave birth to her second daughter, Leonie, supermodel Claudia Schiffer delivered her third child, daughter Cosima, and Amy Adams became a first-time mum after giving birth to daughter Aviana.
John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston had something to smile about after the death of son Jett in 2009, when they confirmed the actress was expecting another child, and it was double joy for singer Alicia Keys - she became engaged to producer Swizz Beatz and announced her pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Hollywood paid tribute to legendary actor Dennis Hopper when he died at the age of 74 after a battle against prostate cancer, and Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman passed away at the age of 42 after suffering a brain haemorrhage in a fall at his home.
There was further tragedy for the Redgrave dynasty when Lynn Redgrave died aged 67 after a long battle with breast cancer, and Brittany Murphy's grieving widower Simon Monjack was found dead at his home.
The rock world was plunged into mourning when Ronnie James Dio lost his battle with stomach cancer at the age of 67, swiftly followed by the sudden death of Slipknot bassist Paul Gray, 38, who was found dead in a hotel room in Iowa after an accidental drug overdose.
Former The Temptations star Ali-Ollie Woodson died from leukaemia, aged 58, and veteran actress/singer Lena Horne succumbed to heart failure at 92.
On the scandal front, Charlie Sheen's troubles mounted when he surrendered legal custody of his two children with ex-wife Denise Richards, and Miley Cyrus showed she's growing up fast when she was caught on camera dirty dancing with a 44-year-old movie producer in a nightclub. Lindsay Lohan was ordered by a court to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle tag in a bid to help beat her drink and drug demons, and troubled actor Michael Madsen was hospitalised following a nine-day booze binge in Britain.
Bono was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on his back, leading to the cancellation of U2's hotly-anticipated Glastonbury headline slot the following month.
June was a bumper wedding month with Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green marrying on a beach in Hawaii, while Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart wed after seven years together. Gemma Arterton married Stefano Catelli, and Alanis Morissette married MC Souleye. British newsman Piers Morgan wed Celia Walden and Mena Suvari married music producer Simone Sestitos. Glee star Jane Lynch married Lara Embry in a civil partnership ceremony – and love was also in the air for Orlando Bloom, who announced his engagement to longterm girlfriend Miranda Kerr.
Ugly Betty star America Ferrera became engaged to Ryan Piers Williams, while Kate Hudson hit headlines when she started dating MUSE frontman Matt Bellamy.
It was a baby boom month - Kevin Costner became a dad for the seventh time, Sheryl Crow adopted her second son, director Sofia Coppola welcomed another daughter, and R&B star Ne-Yo announced he is to be a father for the first time.
June was not such a good month love wise for actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who filed for divorce from his wife of 13 years. Meanwhile British singer Leona Lewis split from her childhood sweetheart and Twilight's Nikki Reed broke up with Paris Latsis. Brandy's romance with rapper Flo Rida came to an end, Welsh singer Charlotte Church split from fiance Gavin Henson, and former U.S. vice president Al Gore split from his wife of 40 years.
Rock stars were in mourning when former Stereophonics star Stuart Cable passed away, former The Kinks bassist Pete Quaife also died, and country music legend Jimmy Dean passed away at the age of 81. Hollywood was saddened when Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan died aged 76 after suffering a major stroke and actor/director Corey Allen passed away. Zorro star Eugenia Paul also died at the age of 75.
June also caused havoc for the music industry with numerous gigs being axed - Drake, Jay-Z, Ke$ha and Grace Jones all had to cancel shows, while illness caused cancellations for John Mayer, Cher and Wolfmother, and SUM 41 brought the curtain down on their European tour after Steve Jocz was involved in a car crash.
Gossip Girl star Chace Crawford was in the news following his arrest for pot possession, while Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil and The Sopranos star Joseph Gannascoli were arrested separately on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Meanwhile it was also another DUI arrest for actor Chris Klein - he then checked himself into a rehabilitation facility to deal with alcohol addiction later in the month.
Incarcerated rapper Lil Wayne's troubles worsened - he was sentenced to three years probation after striking a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors in relation to a 2008 drugs charge.
Other notable events in June included the launch of the soccer World Cup tournament, which saw stars including the Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, Alicia Keys and John Legend perform at the opening ceremony in South Africa. There was also a flurry of tributes on the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, and Larry King announced plans to retire from his 25-year run as the host of CNN talk show Larry King Live.
A number of awards were also handed out - The Twilight Saga: New Moon was the big winner at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, picking up four honours, while Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson caused a stir by locking lips onstage at the ceremony. Chris Brown stole the show at the 2010 BET Awards when he performed a dance tribute to Michael Jackson, while Alicia Keys and Drake were crowned the big winners.
After being cursed by delays The Wolfman Hollywood’s latest spin on the popular werewolf myth finally bares its ugly fangs in theaters this week. Predictably the film is a train wreck of a debacle -- one would expect nothing less from a notoriously troubled production that saw its original director Mark Romanek abandon ship just two weeks before the start of shooting -- but The Wolfman’s problems stem less from the late-game addition of helmer Joe Johnston who at the very least delivered a terrific looking film (its gorgeously eerie Victorian aesthetic evoking a palpable exquisite sense of dread is by far its best feature) than from the misguided efforts of its producer and star Benicio Del Toro.
The Wolfman is the brainchild of Del Toro an ardent horror fan who conceived the film as an homage of sorts to the low-budget “monster movies” from the ‘30s and ‘40s that he loved dearly as a child. It’s fashioned as a loose remake of 1941’s The Wolf Man a film that both established Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as the definitive take on the character and introduced aspects of the werewolf legend now considered sacrosanct. The notion that a werewolf can be felled by an item made from silver for example owes its origin to The Wolf Man.
But Del Toro feels all wrong in the role of Lawrence Talbot the prodigal son of a 19th-century English aristocrat whose fateful encounter with a bloodthirsty lycan the same creature that brutally murdered his brother just days prior triggers his unwitting initiation into the accursed tribe of feral man-beasts. Del Toro's resume of low-key understated performances marked by a muttering often imperceptible delivery in films like Traffic and The Usual Suspects suggests a skill set better suited to playing another famous movie monster one significantly less loquacious than his character in this movie. Seriously -- the guy should have remade Frankenstein instead.
Playing an American-bred (but English-born we’re told) character in an 1890 setting looking uncomfortable in period attire surrounded by such “proper” British actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt and fully annunciating all of his line readings for the first time that I can recall Del Toro appears hopelessly out of place in The Wolfman.
Things only get worse unfortunately when Del Toro’s character transforms into the dreaded werewolf. Each time the moon is full the film transitions with increasing ridiculousness from a somber Victorian drama into a hard-core horror flick replete with grisly shots of torn flesh exposed spines and severed limbs. The first overly gruesome attack triggers a kind of nervous laugh more from the shock than anything else. The second invites an amused uneasy chuckle which soon snowballs into an outright belly laugh. And the effect soon spreads to the dialogue the outrageous gore rendering the film's mannered melodrama strangely hysterical.
Of all the Wolfman players only Hopkins seems to get the joke reveling in his manipulative mischief as Talbot's inappropriately glib stoutly aloof father. If only he'd let his castmates in on it.