Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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In the days of yore, the celebrity game show reigned supreme in the realm of small screen entertainment. The Match Game and Hollywood Squares channeled the comic talents of their arsenal of big name players to thrill viewers week after week. Somewhere along the line, we stopped thinking this stuff was funny, instead turning our attention to deplorable nobodies running amok through seaside neighborhoods and Southern California valleys. But NBC is vying for the golden era with Hollywood Game Night, a Jane Lynch-hosted game show that is lining up an endless supply of notable showbiz figures. Deadline reports that the roster thus far includes:
Amy PoehlerMaya RudolphJason BatemanKristen BellDax ShephardMatthew PerryFred ArmisenEllie KemperMax GreenfieldKal PennMinnie DriverMartin ShortCheryl HinesMolly ShannonKristin Chenoweth
The series, which has received an eight-episode order, will pit two focal stars against one another in competition set in a "cocktail party" atmosphere, with one ultimately being deemed the victor after a night of intended humor and high jinks. How exactly the winner will be determined is at this point nebulous, but we can imagine, judging from (at least part of) the list of acquired guests, that some degree of comic talent will be called upon to win these high stakes games.
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[Photo Credit: Chris Haston/NBC]
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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.
And the network parade continues with ABC's latest offerings. We haven't got full-length trailers for their new material for 2011/2012, but we have got a few clips and boy, do they run the gamut. Unfortunately, many of them run on the weak side, but there are a few gems. As we've done with Fox and NBC, here's video evidence with a little context and a few thoughts on each new prospect.
Starring: Christina Ricci, Kelli Garner
Basics: Another 1960s throwback is upon us. Enter the sexy, scandalous, cutthroat world of a top 60s airline.
Why: It's tough with so many 60s shows hitting television, and while this certainly looks sexy and a little more serious than NBC's 60s romp, The Playboy Club, it seems to fall in middle ground between Mad Men and the salacious soap. Unless audiences are more into that era than we think, it's likely that one of the major networks' period pieces is going to falter.
Starring: Krysten Ritter, Dreama Walker, James Van Der Beek (as himself)
Basics: Brand new Manhattanite gets schemed by her new roommate but earns mutual respect when she schemes her back. Also, James Van Der Beek plays a womanizing version of himself.
Potential: Pretty good
Why: From what we've seen, this looks pretty cute but the real clincher here is Van Der Beek's presence. As long as that doesn't wear thin -- and it may -- this could be a nice addition to other successful ABC sitcoms like Modern Family and recently, Happy Endings.
Starring: Ben Koldyke, Amaury Nolasco
Basics: Two out-of-work guys have trouble finding jobs to support their families until they overhear a woman saying her company is looking to hire more women. Naturally, the pair cross-dress and try to keep the lie alive to earn some dough.
Why: Are they kidding? It's Bosom Buddies 2.0 and it doesn't even have the decency to add someone as charming as Tom Hanks. There is a reason we make jokes about that show and about White Chicks: because they're awful. No. Not at all.
Starring: Kerry Washington, Henry Ian Cusick
Basics: It's a Shonda Rhimes take on a crisis management professional and the dysfunctional folks she works with.
Potential: Not Bad
Why: It's Shonda Rhimes. Grey's Anatomy may have taken a dive in the last few seasons, but it was once the most talked about show on television. Private Practice never reached that level, but it has its place. This follows the Rhimes formula, has a charismatic lead and this clip even has a baby. It'll be fine.
Starring: Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Annie Ilonzeh
Basics: A modern take on the classic television show.
Potential: Not Bad
Why: Hot girls kicking ass with great costumes and sweeping shots of Miami: a recipe for success. If Hawaii 5-0 can succeed, there's no reason this show can't. Even with awful lines like the one at the end of this clip.
Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Jane Levy, Cheryl Hines
Basics: A father and daughter move from New York City to the suburbs in search of wholesome living, but instantly experience some serious culture clash. Of course, as the show goes on, they start to figure things out.
Potential: Not great
Why: Let's hope this clip is no indication of the rest of the show, because if it is, this is going to be painful.
Last Man Standing
Starring: Tim Allen, Nancy Travis
Basics: Tim (yep, just like Home Improvement) finds life a little more difficult when the women around him are more successful and ambitious than he is.
Potential: Not great
Why: Despite being led by a writer from 30 Rock, this doesn't look that promising. Allen is back to his old tricks and this clip is pretty awful. Then again, we must keep in mind, it's just a single clip.
Once Upon a Time
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison
Basics: Emma's estranged son believes she is a lost storybook character. When he finds her, she ends up living in Storybrooke, a town where fairytale creatures live, even if they don't remember where they came from.
Why: I had hoped this would have a Pushing Daisies feel to it, but from what we've been shown, we're looking at a rambling show with too many directions. Remember that embarrassment you felt when you caught yourself watching reruns of Charmed, even though you were home alone and no one would ever know? That's what this clip is like.
Starring: Emily Van De Camp, Madeleine Stowe
Basics: It's simply Gossip Girl permanently set in the Hamptons. Think of Van De Camp as the Jenny Humphrey in this situation...well before she started designing punk duds and pissing off socialites.
Why: Gossip Girl is losing it's grip and like so many New Yorkers who leave the city for The Hamptons when the going gets rough, fans may find themselves flocking to this Hamptons soap...that is, if they can figure out what the hell is going on in this clip.
Starring: Christopher Moynihan, Dan Fogler
Basics: Will is a man's man. He doesn't manscape and he loves playing video games and he finds himself at odds with a world in which men are getting a little more in touch with their feminine side.
Potential: Not great
Why: I'm not sure Dan Fogler knows why he's in this show and I'm pretty sure ABC doesn't need two shows about men having issues with a more feminine world (see: Last Man Standing). We just don't see much weight to this multicamera sitcom, but once again, we're only seeing clips here.
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Joe Anderson
Basics: Dr. Emmet Cole went searching through the Amazon, never to be heard from again. When his emergency beacon suddenly goes off, his wife and his son join an expedition to find him and uncover the shocking secret behind his disappearance.
Why: This wannabe J.J. Abrams style mystery is punctuated with shaky Blair Witch style camera work and seems to play more to The Paranormal Activity set than the serial mystery lover. We're not really sure how this one will pan out, but we aren't that excited to find out either.