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-mogul Tyler Perry didn’t come to preside over a vast media empire by paying much heed to the tastes of critics. His 10 feature-film releases to date – churned out over an eight-year span – have drawn mostly jeers from reviewers with his Madea comedies starring Perry in drag as a tough-talking southern matriarch singled out for special scorn. His latest effort the romantic drama Good Deeds isn’t likely to change many minds but it’s not for lack of effort from co-star Thandie Newton whose performance a struggling single mother stands out amidst the film’s otherwise crudely wrought melodrama.
Trading his Madea getup for the less-familiar guise of a leading man Perry stars as Wesley Deeds the scion of a wealthy family and whose lofty expectations have begun to wear on him. Beneath his sheen of polished affluence exists a man who draws little satisfaction from running Deeds Inc. the software giant his father built and who tires of shouldering the demands of his overbearing mother (Phylicia Rashad) the burden of his bellicose and oft-intoxicated bother (Brian White) and the monotony of his loveless engagement to his similarly well-bred fiancé Natalie (Gabrielle Union).
Trapped in a stultifying routine seemingly mapped out for him at birth Wesley longs to escape his gilded prison and trek across Africa on a Harley digging wells with his college buddies. Seriously that’s his dream: digging wells on a Harley.
Situated firmly on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum is Lindsey (Newton). Left alone to provide for her daughter after the death of her soldier husband in Iraq she has little time for fanciful visions of Harley-riding and well-digging. She’s too busy trying in vain to make ends meet as a janitor at … you guessed it: Deeds Inc. Despite her lowly status Lindsey clings fiercely to her independence which places her in stark contrast to Wesley.
Fate all but demands that Wesley and Lindsey make a match but not before their respective plights are established – and re-established – over a prolonged and laborious set-up that drowns in tedious exposition. (The majority of the dialogue in Good Deeds is devoted to affirming the obvious.) The desperate nature of Lindsey’s situation in particular is driven home with wearisome repetition in scene after scene depicting her various indignities suffered at the hands of the System. Newton an actress of impressive range and dexterity brings dignity and pathos to a role that probably asks too much of her.
A more efficient filmmaker might have trimmed a half-hour from Good Deeds’ first half without compromising its story one iota but then again that would only hasten the descent into soap-opera hysterics that marks the film’s second half.
The potential exists in Good Deeds for a thoughtful examination of class divisions within the African-American community – a topic that Perry who rose from poverty to become Hollywood’s highest-paid entertainer is uniquely equipped to explore – but what we get instead is an overwrought hybrid of aristocratic melodrama and How Wesley Got His Groove Back.
An artless aesthetic and narrative inconsistencies attest to the hastiness of the film’s assembly. In one scene Natalie’s flamboyantly effeminate male friend (played inexplicably by comedian Jamie Kennedy) complains that she’s never even mentioned her fiancé let alone introduced them. Yet when he encounters Wesley in quite literally the next scene they appear as if longtime acquaintances. It’s a problem that could have been easily fixed by a quick re-shoot or two but I suspect Perry was already too preoccupied with work on The Marriage Counselor – arriving in theaters less than six months from now – to bother with them if he worried about the issue at all. And if he doesn’t care then why should we?
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The Hollywood star, who has also appeared in Sin City and Kill Bill, walked into the house on Thursday night (05Jan12), insisting his stay would be like a previous stint in rehab.
He quipped, "I don't know f**k all about Big Brother. But it's gonna be like rehab without the doctors."
Madsen was joined by Playboy twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon and British rapper Romeo Dunn.
U.K. soap stars Natalie Cassidy and Denise Welch were also among the star contestants, while retired, gay rugby star Gareth Thomas, who is to be portrayed on the big screen by Mickey Rourke, is also part of the new season's line-up.
The celebrities follow in the footsteps of Tara Reid, Stephen Baldwin and Pamela Bach, who have all previously taken part in the show.
The long-developing remake of Evil Dead, Sam Raimi's cult horror-comedy classic, has found its star, and it isn't what genre fanatics -- or anyone, for that matter -- expected. Ash, the character memorably portrayed by Bruce Campbell in the original film, has been rechristened "Mia," and she will be played by Lily Collins, Bloody-Disgusting reports. Star of the ill-fated Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction and the Tarsem-ized Snow White hallucination Mirror, Mirror, Collins is in final negotiations to star in an Evil Dead update which focuses on "five friends (David, Natalie, Eric, Olivia, and Mia) holed up at a remote cabin where they discover a Book of the Dead with a demonic force unleashed possessing each until only one is left to fight for survival." BD adds that "there is a drug subplot" involving Collins' character, who was foolish enough to kick her habit before all the demonic shenanigans began.
Click on the image below for more Lily Collins pics:
More turmoil in Asgard: Patty Jenkins' recent departure from the Thor 2 director's chair has reportedly rankled its female lead. THR's Kim Masters reports that Thor star Natalie Portman, who played the earthly love interest to Chris Hemsworth's Norse superhero in the summer blockbuster and is slated to reprise her role in the sequel, is "deeply upset" over Marvel Studios' decision to relieve the Monster helmer of her duties. Portman had apparently lobbied hard for Jenkins to secure the high-profile gig and wasn't notified of the firing in advance. But, being the trooper that she is, Portman will reportedly remain in Thor 2 and abide by the terms of her Marvel contract, which no doubt spans a dozen or so lifetimes.
It's unlikely that Marvel execs, a famously cost-conscious lot who've shown little sympathy toward disgruntled actors in the past, will be swayed by Portman's alleged grumbling. The could just as easily pull a Cheadle and replace Portman, who is hardly an essential piece of the franchise, with another, more compliant actress who looks vaguely similar. Say, Keira Knightly, perhaps. If they really wanted to get cheeky, they could go with Mila Kunis.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Click on the image below for more Natalie Portman pics:
Just days after Patty Jenkins lost the Thor 2 directing gig over those ever-pesky "creative differences," Marvel is said to be narrowing its list of possible replacements. THR reports that Alan Taylor and Daniel Minahan, two prolific TV directors with minimal feature-film experience, are the leading candidates to helm the sequel to the 2011 summer blockbuster, which starred Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding Norse hero and Natalie Portman as his plucky love interest. THR adds that the studio is mulling different writers for the job of re-tooling Don Payne's Thor 2 screenplay draft, including John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Robert Rodat (TNT's Falling Skies) and former Tarantino collaborator Roger Avary.
Thor 2 may not have a director or a screenwriter, but it does have a release date: November 15, 2013.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
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Darren Aronofsky is ready to get biblical. Deadline.com reports that Paramount and New Regency have reached a deal to produce Noah, the Brooklyn-bred writer-director's long-planned take on the epic Noah's Ark religious fable, and are hoping to start production as soon as Spring 2012. John Logan (Gladiator) has been hired to rewrite the script from Aronofsky and Ari Handel, which itself is based on Genesis chapters six through nine. Genesis is currently repped by CAA.
Aronofsky's previous film, the campy ballet thriller Black Swan, won Natalie Portman the Academy Award for Best Actress. Click on the image below to view our Natalie Portman photo gallery:
The revenge thriller Colombiana directed by Olivier Megaton stars Zoe Saldana as a woman who after witnessing her parents’ murder at the hands of ruthless narco-thugs grows up to become a professional assassin. The film which was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen could very well serve as a companion piece or perhaps quasi-sequel to Besson’s 1994 classic The Professional. Whereas in that film Natalie Portman’s orphaned Mathilda is rebuked when she expresses her desire to become a “cleaner ” Saldana’s character Cataleya sees her trained-assassin dreams lovingly nurtured by her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) a low-level crime boss in Chicago. Positive mentorship is so important.
She shows early promise. A first-act sequence in which Colombiana’s tone is cast sees young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) approached by the gunmen who’ve just finished executing her mother and father. Traumatized but composed she listens patiently as the oily lead goon played by Jordi Molla presses for information he knows she’s hiding. Just as the girl seems poised to comply she pulls out a giant knife pins the man’s hand to the table swears revenge and leaps out the nearest window. Her latent Bourne powers suddenly and inexplicably activated she leads her pursuers on a sprawling footchase through the streets of Bogota leaping from buildings sliding beneath barriers showing flashes of parkour before finally escaping to the sewers. The sequence is a microcosm for the film as a whole: slathered with action thin on plot utterly implausible.
Indeed Colombiana might be easily dismissed as another derivative and forgettable action film if it weren’t for the agile and focused Saldana grimly determined to wrest every ounce of character possible from the film’s perilously thin material. When we first meet her as the adult Cataleya she is already an accomplished assassin with dozens of kills under her belt. In between jobs she keeps a booty-call (Michael Vartan) on standby to fulfill her intimacy needs. He yearns for a deeper connection but she’s stubbornly closed-off only occasionally betraying glimpses of the emotional torment within. As essentially the inverse of the standard male assassin/ female love interest dynamic it stretches the limits of believability which is to say it’s entirely consistent with the rest of the film.
Colombiana’s plot such as it is turns on the most preposterous of coincidences and appears aimless for much of its second act. Cataleya takes out various high-level targets in sequences that are often thrilling in their complexity but their relationship to the main storyline – Cataleya exacting revenge against her parents’ killers – is unclear. Deprived of details Megaton expects us to subsist on action alone but it’s not enough to fill the void left by the absence of story. When Cataleya does eventually get down to the business of revenge it comes far too swiftly to provide any real satisfaction.
Heather Graham is tapped to star in this year's most generic pilot, Little In Common. The show follows a couple with kids (Graham and co-star Rob Corddry) who move to a new neighborhood and make some eccentric new friends through the local little league. How charmingly predictable! These aforementioned wacky neighbors include a single mother (Alana Ubach) with an unusual approach to child-rearing and a pair of sports nuts (Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union).
The pilot marks Graham's first return to TV since short-lived comedy Emily's Reasons Why Not. The actress also had a recurring role on Scrubs.
Here's another reason to keep Little In Common on your radar: the show was created by Rob Thomas, the man behind two of the best shows of the new century. Veronica Mars, perhaps the only good thing to come out of UPN, was a thrilling and funny serialized high-school detective show with a heroine that would make Joss Whedon proud, and a first season that ranks among the best TV seasons in history. Party Down, Thomas' most recent creation, followed a group of Hollywood wannabees working at a catering company in order to pay the bills, had an excellent selection of guest stars, and was absolutely hilarious.
Any other writer, we'd be skeptical of Little In Common, but because of Thomas, I'd recommend giving it a shot.
Enough already with this nonsense about Friends With Benefits being the exact same movie as No Strings Attached. Yes, both films happen to be R-rated romantic comedies about attractive twentysomethings who attempt to maintain a sex-only relationship, only to face complications when feelings start to intrude — but that's where the similarities end. Don’t believe me? Here are seven crucial areas in which these polar-opposite films differ:
Female Lead No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan, while Friends With Benefits stars Mila Kunis, who didn’t win an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan.
Male Lead Friends With Benefits stars Justin Timberlake, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting experience, while No Strings Attached stars Ashton Kutcher, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting talent.
The Arrangement In Friends With Benefits, the parties pledge to keep matters physical before they do the deed; in No Strings Attached, the pact isn't made till after sex has been had.
Token Gay Friend In No Strings Attached, the Token Gay Friend, played by Guy Branum, is bald and stereotypically effeminate. In Friends With Benefits, the Token Gay Friend, played by Woody Harrelson, is balding and aggressively masculine (but still unquestionably gay).
Embarrassing Parent In No Strings Attached, Kutcher is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish father, played by Kevin Kline. In Friends With Benefits, Kunis is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish mother, played by Patricia Clarkson.
Setting No Strings Attached takes place in Los Angeles; Friends With Benefits takes place in New York and Los Angeles.
Tone The tone of No Strings Attached is that of a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch. Friends With Benefits boasts an aura of transgressiveness ... before devolving into a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch.
Comedic Style No Strings Attached relies primarily on situational humor, supplemented with clever dialogue; Friends With Benefits relies primarily on clever dialogue, supplemented with situational humor.
There you have it. You can suss the differences yourself this weekend, when Friends With Benefits opens in theaters nationwide.