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 God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
The race to Macedonia is in full swing--and it looks like director Oliver Stone is in the lead. He'll be directing a feature film on Alexander the Great--you know, that wily young king of Macedonia who, at the tender age of 20, conquered most of the known world in 300 B.C. and then died at 33--and vows to have it in the theaters Christmas 2003. This would put the film way ahead of the competition, including HBO's 10-part Alexander series, due to air in 2004, and Martin Scorsese's film for Initial Entertainment Group with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star.
This is what Hollywood does: All at once, producers collectively decide the time is right to make a movie about one topic and then run around frantically to get the first one made. They did it with virus movies (Outbreak won the race--or lost, depending on how you look at it) and journey to Mars movies (but both Mission to Mars and Red Planet failed). Now it's Alexander the Great. True, it's a compelling subject matter, promising many bloody battles and much gnashing of teeth. We'll see if the talented, but crazy, Stone has what it takes to make the best one.
Stone is off to a good start, though, with his choice to play the young king--Aussie hunk-o-rama Heath Ledger. Hollywood is certainly clamoring onto the young actor's bandwagon after he made a huge splash in last year's sleeper hit A Knight's Tale. With that wild hair and smoldering good looks, I could see Ledger playing Alexander, easily. Now, let's see if he's up for all that bisexuality the real Alex was so famous for.
Portman "Wore Black"
Young waif Natalie Portman, who will be reprising her role as Queen Amidala and get it on with the dashing Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode II--The Attack of the Clones (oh man, I cannot wait!), is attached to star in Bride Wore Black, a film currently in development at 20th Century Fox.
This romantic comedy centers on a young man who, while attending the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, finds out his hotel room is haunted by a beautiful ghost (Portman). Apparently, she was jilted at the altar long ago and is bitter about it, so she plans to ruin the wedding. That's the synopsis The Hollywood Reporter gives us. Let me see if I can guess the next part: The guy, who desperately wants the wedding to go through so he can rid himself of the ex-girlfriend, tries to stop the ghost but ends up falling in love with her instead. Yep, that sounds about right. The film will most likely work if and only if they can find the right leading man. Good casting is always the key.
The question is: Do we really want the mean little guy who uses rats as a weapon to come back? My first and only answer would be a resounding NO. But who listens to me? New Line Cinema has decided to do a remake of the 1971 horror film Willard and has hired Crispin Glover (Charlie's Angels), one of the weirdest actors to ever make it to the big screen, to play the title character. Granted, that's the only somewhat interesting part to this really horrible idea. Glover seems born to play the part and will certainly add a level of, shall we say, insanity to the role.
Now, in the 1971 version, if we all care to remember the plotline, Bruce Davison played a nerd whose only friends were pet rats. When a careless co-worker killed one of them, Willard didn't just get mad, he got even--by using the rats. They bit, gnawed and then, of course, killed Willard's enemies. Right. Can't wait to experience that little bit of joy all over again.
Cusack needs some "I.D."
John Cusack tends to pick interesting projects--and his next film seems to follow suit. He'll star with Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman) and Ray Liotta (Hannibal) in the psychological thriller I.D. for Columbia Pictures. Here's the premise: A group of 10 strangers find themselves in the desert, running from a terrible sandstorm. How or why remains to be seen, but somehow they all end up in a roadside hotel to ride out the storm. The hotel apparently makes the Bates Motel seem like the Biltmore because no sooner do they get there than one by one, they start to get bumped off. Now the survivors have to figure out who the killer is while also trying to stay alive. Agatha Christie meets Alfred Hitchcock, ladies and gentlemen. Done right, this could be a lot of fun.
Cusack also just completed another eerie-sounding film,Max, where he plays a prominent art gallery owner named Max Rothman who meets a young Adolf Hitler and tries to steer him into the world of art as an painter. I don't think it works out to Max's advantage in the end, do you?
Connery joins "Gentlemen" club
Sean Connery will star in 20th Century Fox's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which starts production this summer. Labeled a period piece X-Men, the film is based on the Victorian era-set comic book by Alan Moore. Queen Victoria calls upon several literary protagonists, including Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, Allan Quartermain and Mina Harker, to help fight against an evil madman. Well, you can't say that isn't an original idea. Where do they get these comic books? Connery will play Quartermain, a character created by British novelist H. Rider Haggard, who was an adventurer, a precursor of sorts to Indiana Jones.