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 Hollywood actress has been confirmed as one of the famous contestants who will have to brave the rainforest to set up camp and complete a series of hair-raising trials in a bid to win the show.
Powers' campmates will include McFly rocker Dougie Poynter, model/actress Lorraine Chase, funnyman Freddie Starr, former jockey Willie Carson and Olympic athlete Fatima Whitbread.
The celebrities have jetted out to Australia ahead of the show hitting small screens in the U.K. on 13 November (11).
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.
Groundbreaking reality make-over show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has been cancelled after three seasons--but the stars of the show insist they are still a huge hit with celebrities.
The show features five gay men who make-over unstylish straight men each week on the Bravo network, and since hitting the screen the camp stylists have been asked to revamp the homes of stars including Jennifer Lopez.
Queer Eye member Jai Rodriguez says the show won't be returning for another season, explaining, "Well, we haven't been asked back for 2007.
"It's only been three years, but it feels like so much more due to the overexposure. I started when I was 23. In that first year, I was on Oprah's couch.
"I was on Ellen (DeGeneres). People recognized me. J. Lo is a huge fan of ours. (Queer Eye member Thom Filicia) just re-did her house."
The show recently broke new ground again by making over Miles, a transgendered man.
Rodriguez adds, "Maybe this is how we are going out with a bang. Everyone (in the group) has big new projects.
"I'm working on a TV show and a movie in the fall. We just had a tour of the Philippines. We are huge there. Like Michael Jackson in 1983."
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One year ago to the day Flight 180 went down in a ball of flame and took the lives of all but a handful of would-be passengers who got off the plane at the last minute--only to have Death (heralded by a John Denver tune) catch up with them one by one. This anniversary is not lost on our spooked heroine Kimberly (A.J. Cook) who's driving with her friends to Daytona Beach when she suddenly has a horrific premonition about a freeway pileup that kills them and those around them on the road. Thoroughly freaked she stops the car and blocks other cars right before the pileup happens--more or less saving the p.o.'d drivers behind her. Death doesn't like to be cheated and the spared motorists are soon being picked off like so many cherries in such gruesome ways they'd have been better off dying in the car wreck. Realizing the events of last year are repeating themselves--with a slight twist--Kimberly seeks the help of Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) the one survivor of Flight 180 who has since committed herself to an institution seeking safety in a padded cell. The girls along with pileup survivor CHP Officer Burke (Michael Landes) team up in an effort to somehow stop Death's ultimate design.
Cook makes a cute and appealing Kimberly but she's on the cold side. The crash survivors meet the grisliest of ends right before her very eyes but she barely bats a long eyelash before running off to save the next victim-to-be. Larter brings nothing special to Clear Rivers who is often downright unpleasant (she's so difficult you wonder why she bothered to leave her little cell to help). As the cop who never seems to be on duty Landes is suitably sensitive and eager to help although that he's an officer of the law doesn't seem to matter much when it comes to using his job to run license plates illegally hold people in custody drive like a maniac on the road etc. etc. None of our three heroes tends toward brilliance but together they make such astronomical leaps of logic that Einstein would be amazed. Among the motley crew of highway survivors which include a Valium-popping single mom a cokehead and a chain-smoking control freak T.C. Carson (U-571) as disbeliever Eugene is the only standout: "This is bool-sheet man " he proclaims before promptly going into convulsive fits of terror after witnessing Death settle the score with one of his compadres. Tony Todd (Candyman) makes an appearance as an over-the-top creepy mortician whose help Rivers and co. seek but bizarrely his cameo has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
The death dismemberment and destruction in Final Destination 2 is so grievous so bloody so seat-squirmingly ghastly sometimes you've simply got to laugh. Out loud. As horrible as they are the fantastical death scenes are this movie's ace up its sleeve. What happens when you put someone in a kitchen with some old spaghetti a lit stove burner a garbage disposal and an open window? Don't even hazard a guess but its good fun to watch--albeit from in between your fingers as your hands cover your eyes. Fans of the first movie which had more character development less gore and introduced an intriguing concept might find FD2 falls short. We already know the premise it's just a matter of watching it be carried out; the characters are so random and knocked off so quickly you hardly get to know them--or care. Most of them are such unsavory types you get the idea Death is doing the world a favor anyway. Director David R. Ellis (Homeward Bound II) is well aware he needs to give moviegoers a few good chills and jolts and he does. Without winking at the audience too much he takes the film to the edge of camp without crossing the line. Quite simply this is a horror movie hoot.
On its first day of release in Britain, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone sold an astounding 1.25 million video and DVD copies, breaking the 1.1 million sales record set by Titanic in 1997. Some stores even opened at midnight Friday to sell the video and reported large crowds, The Associated Press reports. Harry Potter videos and DVDs, which are distributed by Warner Home Video, are set to go on sale in the United States on May 28.
Madonna made her West End debut in the play Up For Grabs at London's Wyndhams Theatre on Monday evening. While members of the press were not allowed into the auditorium, fans who saw the preview show commented that the pop star got off to a nervous start but that her performance improved as she went along, according to the BBC. The show opens for a 10-week run starting on May 23.
Nicole Kidman's camp is dismissing rumors that the Aussie star is dating Spider-Man thesp Tobey Maguire. "They hung out together some, a couple of weekends ago. End of story. No romance," a spokeswoman said. Funny--we never even heard of the rumor until now.
"It's all untrue." That is what ex-football star O.J. Simpson is saying about an article that appeared in Ohio paper Toledo Blade, which alleges he did illegal drugs, the AP reports. According to the article, admitted drug dealers told federal agents they snorted cocaine with Simpson as far back as 1999 and sold him the drug as recently as seven months ago.
Sylvester Stallone, Thandie Newton, Gabriel Byrne and Stuart Townsend will star in Damian Nieman's directorial debut, Shade, for RKO Pictures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is set in the world of poker hustlers working the clubs and martini bars of Los Angeles. Production begins in Los Angeles May 30.
Friends star Matthew Perry has agreed to star in two films for Paramount Pictures, including One of Us, a drama in which he falls in love with an alien who's cloaked in human form, Variety reports. Perry will follow that film with a comedy. The deal comes after Perry filmed Paramount's Serving Sara, alongside Elizabeth Hurley, which hits theaters this August.
In the Biz
Paramount has more than the Friends star up its sleeve. The studio, along with MTV Films, has teamed up with Ludacris and Original Film to develop a feature film based on the rap star. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Skip Day will be a sort of House Party meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Ludacris starring as a teenager who is transferred from an inner-city school to an uptight suburban prep school.
Following the success of the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is churning out four new shows for CBS this fall. The network has already picked up Bruckheimer's CSI: Miami and Without a Trace, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A new Gallup Poll shows that Johnny Carson is ranked the best late-night talk-show host of all time, CNN reports. Respondents were asked to pick from six hosts, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Dick Cavett.
Richard Karn, who played Al on the successful series Home Improvement, will become the host of Family Feud, the AP reports. Karn will replace Louis Anderson.
U2 frontman Bono and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will begin a 10-day tour of Africa on May 20, the AP reports. The duo will visit Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Ethiopia to visit schools, AIDS clinics and various World Bank development projects.
Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford accepted an award from Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment on Monday, the AP reports. Ford was honored for his work with the board of Conservation International, in helping to save various plants and animals around the world.
In a Beverly Hills court today, Halle Berry pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Berry didn't enter the plea in person -- her lawyer did it. Another hearing was set for April 21.
Police had asked that felony charges be pursued against the star for the two-car Feb. 21 crash that left Berry with a gash on her head and the other driver with a broken wrist.
MORE GOOD NEWS FOR WHITNEY HOUSTON: The new People magazine says family and friends are concerned by the "erratic" behavior of Oscar night no-show Whitney Houston. The magazine says drugs are suspected by some -- even if Houston's camp denies anything to do with the "D" word.
WHITNEY WATCH: The singer, by the way, is supposed to perform Monday in New York at Arista Records' 25th anniversary party. Supposed to, being the key words here.
WHITNEY KARMA ATTACK? Composer Burt Bacharach, who reportedly fired Houston from her Oscars gig, suffered a fractured shoulder while admiring a chandelier in Indiana. Really.
HOW'S CARSON DALY'S LOVE LIFE? Just fine, thanks. The blandly handsome MTV veejay announced on today's "The View" on ABC that he's been dating actress Tara Reid ("American Pie") for three whole weeks.
DON'T LAUGH -- ONE DAY WE'LL ALL BE WORKING FOR 14-YEAR-OLDS: Richard Dreyfuss, who approximately 500 years ago won a Best Actor Oscar (for "The Goodbye Girl"), has bagged a cyber job, creating interactive stories for Goosehead.com, a California-based Web site run by a 14-year-old girl.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.