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.
Now that Thanksgiving is done, the holiday shopping rush has officially commenced. In order to help you shop for those on your list with more eclectic tastes, we’ve compiled some of the best offbeat DVD and Blu-ray releases of late. We’ve even arranged them so that you can present your loved ones with one gift for each of the 12 Days of Christmas. Here’s what they should expect…
“12 Angry Men”
Title: 12 Angry Men
Company: Criterion Collection
12 Angry Men is the preeminent courtroom drama. Legendary director Sidney Lumet crafts an unbearably tense, remarkably humanist depiction of strangers coming together to decide another man’s fate. As you would expect, Criterion’s high-def transfer is absolutely gorgeous.
Special Features Include: Frank Schaffner’s 1955 television version, production history, archival interviews with Sidney Lumet, new interview with screenwriter Walter Bernstein, “Tragedy in a Temporary Town”—teleplay directed by Lumet, original theatrical trailer
“A Show Boasting An 11 Season Run”
Title: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII
Company: Shout! Factory (Release Date: 12/6)
If you’re already a fan of MST3K, there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t want to purchase this set. If you are on the fence about the show, these are some of the funniest episodes as yet released. The titles themselves are hysterically bad: Time of the Apes, Mighty Jack, The Violent Years, and The Brute Man. Shout! Factory’s animated menus and plethora of special features continue to pay sincere tribute to fans.
Special Features Include: Interviews with Delores Fuller and Kathy Wood, “The Making of MST3K” (1997 Sci-Fi Channel Special), 4 exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance
“10 10 Different Kinds of Adventure”
Title: The Adventures of Tintin: Season One
Company: Shout! Factory
Before you rush off to the theaters this holiday season to see Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, check out the animated series on which it was based. Join Tintin and his trusty canine pal Snowy as they solve mysteries and go on fantastic adventures. Here's our review.
“9 Shades of Red and Blue”
Title: Red vs. Blue Season 9
Company: New Video Group
Red vs. Blue comprises some of the best parody available online and now it can once again be viewed in the comfort of your living room. Based on the popular Halo videogame series, Red vs. Blue demonstrates action chops just as adept as its comedic timing.
Special Features Include: Director’s commentary, special videos and PSAs, outtakes, deleted scenes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes videos
“8 Hookers with Whom to Play Doctor”
Company: Synapse Films
If you are looking for a twisted take on the classic story of Frankenstein, you could not get any more twisted than Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. When a young scientist’s fiancé is cut to pieces by an errant lawnmower, he must harvest spare parts from a select group of ladies of the evening to put her back together. The scene in which he sizes up eight such ladies for his unholy creation is outlandish, crass, and hilarious.
Special Features Include: Audio commentary, three featurettes, photo scrapbook, and theatrical trailer
“7 Teams Racing for Glory”
Title: The Cannonball Run
Company: HBO Studios
The Cannonball Run is a schlock classic available for the first time on Blu-ray. Directed by ’s Hal Needham, the film weaves the whacky tale of seven teams competing in a cross-country race. The cast list alone should entice you to check out this film; Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan, and Peter Fonda just to name a few.
“6 Featured Women-In-Cages Films”
Title: Machete Maidens Unleashed
Company: Dark Sky Films
It's one of the most entertaining documentaries on cult genre film you will ever see. Directed by Mark Hartley, this doco catalogues the very strange history of genre films from The Philippines, both native and made by Roger Corman’s visiting production company. Corman was known for his nefarious women-in-cages films and several of them were filmed in The Philippines.
Special Features Include: Commentary and trailers
“5 Heroic Stories”
Title: Marvel Knights Collection
Company: Shout! Factory
Fans of Marvel’s extensive catalogue of heroes will love this collection of motion comics from some of today’s leading genre authorities. The collection features motion comic stories of The X-Men, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Woman, and Thor. Particularly recommended are Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov and Astonishing X-Men: Gifted by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.
“4 Dysfunctional Siblings”
Title: Our Idiot Brother
Company: The Weinstein Company (Release Date 11/29)
Format: Blu-ray & DVD
Though predictable in many ways, Our Idiot Brother is more personable than a good many of Paul Rudd’s typical comedic fare. The film also features dynamite supporting performances from Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks.
Special Features Include: Director’s commentary, deleted and extended scenes, making of featurette
“3 Unlikely Heroes”
Title: Three Amigos
Company: HBO Studios
Finally available on Blu-ray, Three Amigos contains one of cinema’s most impressive comedy team-ups. Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short play three phony Hollywood heroes in this unquestionable classic. If you don’t already own this film, or even if you only own it on DVD, now is the time to get your little buttercups down to your local electronics store and pick up this Blu-ray today. Also check out our interview with director John Landis.
Special Features Include: Cast interview with Martin, Chase, and Short, deleted scenes
“An Evil Part 2”
Title: Evil Dead 2 (25th Anniversary Edition)
Company: Lions Gate
In 1987, Sam Raimi managed to accomplish the impossible; he created a horror sequel that many fans actually preferred to the original. Evil Dead 2 has never looked better and this release is an absolute must-have for any horrorphile.
Special Features Include: Commentary with writer-director Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and effects artist Greg Nicotero, “The Gore the Merrier” featurette, Evil Dead: Hailed to The King videogame preview, theatrical trailer, still galleries, and talent bios
“1 Terrifying Train Ride”
Title: Horror Express
Company: Severin Films
Horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing join forces with the great Telly Savalas in this fantastic 70s fright fest. A creature being transported by train breaks free and begins taking victims left and right. Horror Express is exquisitely shot (something emphasized by Severin’s phenomenal Blu-ray transfer), eerily claustrophobic, and incredibly exciting.
Special Features Include: Interviews with director Eugenio Martin, producer Bernard Gordon, star Peter Cushing, and composer John Cacavas, theatrical trailer
Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards amicably settled all the remaining issues in their pending divorce proceeding yesterday.
The couple issued a joint statement through their lawyers, stating their intention to move forwards in a positive way, after a bitter public divorce battle.
Sheen's attorney Lance Spiegel, with Richards’ lawyer Neal Hersh at his side, made a statement outside a Los Angeles courthouse.
He said, "Both parties have amicably resolved any outstanding issues on an interim basis."
The divorce has not been finalized and the couple was not present at the brief hearing, which took place in a judge's room.
A protection order against Sheen, which stated he was required to stay away from Richards and their daughters--Sam, 2, and Lola, 1--except for supervised visits with the children, expired yesterday.
Attorneys for the pair declined to comment on questions over whether the restraining order would be extended or what the custody arrangements for the children might be.
Richards is currently dating Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, while Sheen has been seeing real estate investor Brooke Mueller.
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