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.
Rap star Snoop Dogg has escaped a prison sentence in relation to a 2006 incident over possession of an offensive weapon.
The rapper--real name Calvin Broadus--was arrested after he was found to be carrying a collapsible baton in his hand luggage at John Wayne Airport in Orange County last year.
Broadus pleaded guilty to one count of felony possession of a dangerous weapon in a California court on Thursday, and was sentenced to 160 hours of community service and three years of probation.
Donald Etra, the star's attorney, says, "We are very pleased with the outcome. Dogg's goal is to make music, not make court appearances.
"He wants to get on with his life. He will continue his music and his filming and performing."
Broadus was also ordered to make a charitable donation of $10,000 to a charity called Right Trak, while Etra claims Broadus' felony conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor after one year if the rapper doesn't violate the law.
COPYRIGHT 2007 WORLD ENTERTAINMENT NEWS NETWORK LTD. All Global Rights Reserved.
Snoop Dogg pleaded not guilty to a felony weapon charge through his lawyers yesterday, when he was arraigned in a Santa Ana, California, courtroom.
Snoop, real name Calvin Broadus, is charged with possessing a deadly weapon while trying to board a plane at John Wayne Airport in September.
Police also found a collapsible baton in his computer bag--one of the many non-lethal weapons which are illegal in California.
Orange County District Attorney spokeswoman Susan Schroeder says, "The reason we're pursuing this as a felony is because of Mr. Broadus' criminal history and his apparent and continued disregard for the law."
The rapper's attorney, Donald Etra, hits back at the claims, stating, "Snoop's not-guilty plea says it all. The item he's charged with was a movie prop, not a weapon. Snoop never intended it to be used as anything other than a prop."
He faces three years in prison if convicted. A pre-trial hearing has been set for April 5.
The 35-year-old rap star is also facing weapons charges stemming from another incident at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California.
He was arrested there in October and accused of illegally carrying a handgun and possessing marijuana.
COPYRIGHT 2007 WORLD ENTERTAINMENT NEWS NETWORK LTD. All Global Rights Reserved.
Top Story: Madonna Launches Tour in L.A.
Madonna launched her global Re-Invention tour Monday at The Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. The 45-year-old pop icon opened the politically charged show wearing a jewel-encrusted corset but changed into combat gear for the tune "American Life," while dancers dressed in Army fatigues did push-ups and calisthenics to a video backdrop of a war-torn country. Looking more toned than ever, the 45-year old performer belted out a string of her greatest hits including "Into the Groove," "Holiday," "Vogue" and "Material Girl," but no "Like a Virgin."Perhaps that is part of Madonna's new image, which isn't as sexually overt as it once was. In fact, Madonna's bid to reinvent herself translated into lots of Kabbalah-inspired stuff, including un-translated Hebrew text that often appeared in the background of her performances. The Material Girl turned spiritual mom even covered of John Lennon's "Imagine," which was accompanied by a video of sick and injured children from around the world. An estimated 750,000 people are expected to see 39 shows scheduled for the U.S. and Canada, with fans paying upward of $200 per ticket. Madonna, however, has canceled three Israeli stops on her tour because of violence in the region, The Associated Press reports. The singer told Access Hollywood that her manager wouldn't let her travel to Israel because of the "attack on the leader of Hamas," but insisted she would go if the decision was hers.
DreamWorks Greenlights Shrek Sequels
Hot off Shrek 2's $129 million take during its first five days across North American theaters has prompted DreamWorks SKG to greenlight two more sequels for the animated pic. Ann Daly, head of DreamWorks animation, told Reuters the studio would move ahead, one at a time, with plans for a third and fourth installment. "It wasn't really advisable to start working on three and four until we knew that we actually had something in two, and certainly this weekend confirmed that we do," she said. Daly said DreamWorks was in final talks with the principal voice actors to return, including Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas.
Snoop Dogg Files for Divorce
Rapper/actor Snoop Dogg has filed for divorce from his wife of seven years, Shante Broadus, citing general "irreconcilable differences," the AP reports. According to papers filed with Los Angeles Superior Court Friday, Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, is seeking joint custody of their children: Corde, 9; Cordell, 7; and Cori, 4. "The only thing I want to say is Mr. Broadus hopes that the divorce can be as amicable as possible," Snoop's attorney, Robert Nachshin, told AP yesterday.
David Gest's Lawyer Quits in Divorce Battle
In music producer David Gest's attorney bitter divorce battle with Liza Minnelli, Gest's attorney Raoul Felder has resigned, saying he often had trouble getting his client on the telephone, Reuters reports. "There was no bad feelings. He wants to go in a different direction," Felder told Reuters on Monday, saying he withdrew from the case two weeks ago in a letter he sent Gest in Hawaii. "I told him I had a great deal of respect and admiration for him in the face of adversity." Gest, 51, sued Minnelli for $10 million in October of last year, claiming she had beaten him up in drunken rages that left him with permanent facial injuries and unrelenting pain. Minnelli denied the abuse and counter-sued, claiming he had cheated her out of more than $2 million.
No Go on Simpson Sitcom
ABC cut Jessica Simpson's sitcom from its fall schedule, AP reports. Simpson, a 23-year-old pop singer known for her ditsy moments on her MTV reality show, had filmed a pilot which featured her as a ditsy reporter on a TV news magazine.
"Bandstand" Makes a Comeback
Dick Clark and the creators of American Idol are teaming up to bring American Bandstand back to television, Reuters reports. "We think there's a great opportunity to utilize television for the promotion of today's music and put some dancing in it, and run a competition and hopefully come up with a hit," Clark told Reuters. Clark, whose company has produced such perennial events as the American Music Awards and the Golden Globes telecast, said on Monday he is shopping an update of American Bandstand to a number of networks, aiming for a summer 2005 debut.
McDonald's Gets in on DVD Act
McDonald's is rolling out a DVD rental service that could give rental chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment a run for their money, Variety reports. Starting in Denver-area outlets, McDonald's will install automatic kiosks owned and operated by a company called DVDPlay. Units will offer 30-40 popular titles at a rental rate of only $1 per night. The DVD rental machines can hold up to 350 DVDs each. No membership is required and customers can use credit cards to pay for the disc.
Role Call: Damon, Peet Head to Syriana
Matt Damon and Amanda Peet are teaming up in the thriller Syriana for Warner Bros. Damon would play an oil executive who's in major deal-making mode with a sheik when he and his wife (Peet) suffer a major family tragedy. The story is inspired by real-life CIA agent Robert Baer's memoirs, See No Evil: The True Story of a Foot Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. George Clooney, one of the film's producers, is in advanced talks to play Baer.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) has one day and one day only to prove himself to his new partner Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) a 13-year vet of the LAPD narcotics division. Harris' years of hardcore experience on Los Angeles' meanest streets though have turned him into the same sort of criminal he's supposed to be putting away. At first it seems Harris intends to teach Hoyt his own brand of justice: that in order to catch the big fish sometimes officers must throw the smaller ones back. But as the hours slip away Hoyt learns just how bad his badass partner really is--Harris starts out as a taunting joker who just wants to give Hoyt a hard time but by nightfall he's turned into a full-blown monster bent on saving his own skin no matter what.
This two-man show is really a one-man show. It's Washington's game all the way as he bursts the almost priestly bubble of do-goodness that has surrounded him like a halo for most of his career with a sudden murderous burst of gunfire. In Day he is larger than life; clad in black leather and huge jewelry he towers both physically and psychologically over a scrawny goateed Hawke (looking like he just walked off the Reality Bites set) who tries valiantly to keep up with his Oscar-winning co-star. It's not that a perfectly wet-behind-the-ears Hawke doesn't adequately carry off the acting required for the situation he's in but really we're supposed to believe he hold his own in a fistfight-turned-deathmatch against guys more than twice his size? For his part Washington chews the scenery like it was his last meal as Alonzo goes from bad to worse but he sure makes it look fun.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Bait) used to direct music videos for artists like Coolio and it shows. Love the cool camera angles the warped POV shots the primary colors and raw soundtrack. And Fuqua's not afraid to show the L.A. streets at their worst. The first two-thirds are masterful work in character study as the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred. But by the final third the plot disintegrates getting hacky and waaayy contrived especially the "Hey! It just so happens..." coinky-dinks and a laughable ending that falls flat as a pancake and panders to an urban audience almost to the point of patronization. Most of this movie is so over-the-top it would be unwatchable were it not for its charismatic lead.