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.
Actor/director Mel Gibson has topped a poll naming the most powerful Christians in Hollywood.
The Passion of the Christ director, who last year vowed to stop drinking alcohol after he was caught driving under the influence in California, beat out competition from fellow Bible fan Denzel Washington.
At No. 3 in the list, compiled by Web site BeliefNet.com, is Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton, while heavily religious stars like Mark Wahlberg and Jim Caviezel failed to make the top 10.
The Top 10 most powerful Christians in Hollywood are:
1. Mel Gibson
2. Denzel Washington
3. Patricia Heaton
4. Tyler Perry
5. Ralph Winter
6. Angela Bassett
7. Martin Sheen
8. Martha Williamson
9. Kristin Chenoweth
10. Philip Anschutz
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CBS has a new twist in store for the sixth edition of its popular reality TV series Survivor, and it's all about the girls vs. the boys. A month before the show is set to debut, the network screened 12 minutes of the premiere of Survivor: The Amazon for critics, revealing two tribes, Tambaqui (men) and Jaburu (women). While Survivor producers thought the format change was necessary to keep the show unpredictable, host Jeff Probst said the same-sex grouping presented its own challenges. Initially, Probst told The Associated Press, women couldn't flaunt "string bikinis to show off" and gain advantage. "Keeping them separated, the sexual tension kept building. When they met for challenges, it was like a mixer," he said. Survivor: The Amazon debuts on Feb. 13 with a 90-minute premiere.
It seems Nia Vardalos, the star and writer of the sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, isn't sharing the wealth, at least according to her former management company. Marathon Entertainment filed a lawsuit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging Vardalos reneged on several oral agreements to pay the company from the film's proceeds, Variety reports. Her attorney said the allegations were without merit and that the company has already been paid commission on all monies that Vardalos has received.
Director Kinji Fukasaku, who helmed the 1970s historical drama Tora! Tora! Tora!, died of cancer over the weekend in Tokyo, Variety reports. He was 72. Fukasaku gained international recognition for the war epic, a reconstruction from both sides of the events leading up to Pearl Harbor. His last project was 2002's apocalyptic thriller Battle Royale, featuring brutal killings among high school students, which became a surprise hit at the Japanese box office.
Filmmaker Maurice Pialat, who directed the 1987 religious psychodrama Under Satan's Sun, died Saturday in Paris of kidney failure at the age of 77, Variety reports. Pialat made a total of 10 feature films in his career. Under Satan's Sun, which starred Gerard Depardieu as a priest battling temptation, won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or.
The partner of opera star Luciano Pavarotti gave birth to twins in a hospital in Bologna, Italy, Monday, but a baby boy died of complications involved in the pregnancy, a hospital spokeswoman told Reuters Tuesday. Nicoletta Mantovani, 33, and the baby girl are said to be doing fine. The girl is the first child for Mantovani but the fourth for Pavarotti. The 67-year-old tenor has three daughters from his former wife.
Get ready for Ocean's Twelve. Director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney are eyeing a possible March 2004 start date to film the sequel to the 2001 Las Vegas crime caper. According to Variety, Warner Bros. is looking to lock down star Brad Pitt and other stars from Ocean's Eleven, as well as new additions. The studio asked screenwriter George Nolfi to give his pre-existing Honor Among Thieves script an Ocean's Eleven twist for the sequel, which could be set for a possible holiday 2004 release.
U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska denied a bid Monday by CBS to stop rival ABC from airing a competing series, I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here, which it called a Survivor rip-off. CBS filed the copyright infringement suit in November seeking a court order to stop ABC from airing the show in the United States, but Preska refused the motion after finding that the shows were not substantially similar, Reuters reports.
CBS, meanwhile, plans to cancel the popular drama Touched by an Angel, AP reports. The TV series stars Roma Downey as a helpful angel on Earth, along with Della Reese, John Dye and Valerie Bertinelli. The May finale will include scenes showing heaven, which executive producer Martha Williamson said has yet to be depicted on the show. Touched by an Angel premiered in Sept. 1994.
While no deal is done, NBC and producer Warner Bros. TV have moved closer to a pact to keep the White House drama The West Wing on the network. Insiders told Variety that NBC will likely pay Warner Bros. a license fee of about $4 million to $5 million per episode--more than double what the network currently shells out for the show. The two sides are still hammering out terms of an agreement.