Thursday, May 31, 2012
"THE HUNGER GAMES" (2012) Review
The year 2008 saw the publication of a best-selling novel for young adults called "The Hunger Games". Written by Suzanne Collins, the novel's success led to the publication of two sequels and a Hollywood adaptation of the first film.
Directed by Gary Ross and adapted by him, Collins and Billy Ray; "THE HUNGER GAMES" is about a sixteen year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, which consists of a wealthy city called the Capitol that is surrounded by 12 less affluent districts. As punishment for a past rebellion against the government, the Capitol created the Hunger Games – a televised annual event in which one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts are selected in a lottery as "tributes". They are required to fight to the death in a wilderness arena until there is one remaining victor. When the name of Katniss' sister, Primrose, is called as the female tribute for their district, the 16 year-old volunteers to take Primrose's place in order to save the latter from participating in the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss is joined by her district's male tribute, the son of a baker named Peeta Mellark. They travel to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games, under the guidance of former victor Haymitch Abernathy.
When the media blitz for "THE HUNGER GAMES" had first began, I dismissed it. Especially since all I heard were comparisons to the HARRY POTTER franchise. The comparisons merely led me to roll my eyes in contempt. Not even the publicity blitz surrounding Suzanne Collins' literary trilogy could generate my interest. However, by the time "THE HUNGER GAMES" was a week or two away from its theater release, I suddenly became interested. My interest was ignited by the fact that over a month had passed since I last saw a decent new movie. I went to see the movie at my local movie theater and left feeling more than satisfied.
I might as well admit it. I was very impressed by "THE HUNGER GAMES". I was more than impressed. Director Gary Ross did a superb job in bringing Suzanne Collins' novel to life on the movie screen. More importantly, the movie's dark portrayal of a post-apocalyptic future not only impressed me, but frightened me a little. Considering the present economic state of the world, it was pretty easy to image such a future for this country. "THE HUNGER GAMES" was not the first science-fiction movie with a setting featuring a wide disparity between the haves and have-nots. Last fall saw the release of a movie called "IN TIME". Whereas that movie suffered from a plot that went nowhere in its last act, "THE HUNGER GAME" ended on a more satisfying note - aside from the last minute or two. There were two main aspects of "THE HUNGER GAME" that made this movie so terrifying to me. One, the participants of this deadly game were children between the ages of 12 and 18, not adults. And more importantly, the actual games, which unfolded through two-thirds of the movie, came damn close to be a young adult remake of the chilling 1972 movie, "DELIVERANCE". Watching a group of adolescents and pre-adolescents being forced to ruthlessly kill each other pretty much made my skin crawl. Kudos to Suzanne Collins for creating a very effective tale and the same to Ross for translating it so well to the screen.
I was not surprised to learn that the exteriors for "THE HUNGER GAMES" were filmed in North Carolina. The movie's opening sequence, along with the setting for the actual games did look as they had been filmed somewhere in that state. However, I was surprised to learn that the entire movie was filmed there. Apparently, Lionsgate took advantage of an $8 million tax break from North Carolina in order for the movie's principal photography to take place there. Most of the outdoor scenes - the arena and the District 12 outskirts - were filmed at the DuPont State Forest. And cinematographer Tom Stern did an excellent job in doing justice to the location's natural beauty. But he, along with Ross, did an even better job in transforming the cities of Shelby and Charlotte. They were aided by production designer Phil Messina, whose designs for the Capitol were inspired by 1939 New York's World Fair, along with Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Red Square in Moscow. Messina's designs gave the Capitol an extravagant and decadent feel, in sharp contrast to the rural poverty of District 12. I was also impressed by Judianna Makovsky's colorful costume designs, along with the outrageous hairstyles and make up - especially for the characters in the Capitol.
But the movie's plot, production designs, cinematography and other aspects of "THE HUNGER GAMES" would not have worked without Gary Ross' direction and the outstanding cast led by Jennifer Lawrence. I have only seen Lawrence in one previous movie - last year's "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" - and I was impressed by her performance. But she was even more impressive as this movie's leading character, Katniss Everdeen. Many have not only gushed over Lawrence's portrayal of the 16 year-old Katniss, but they have also labeled her as a new breed of female action heroes and a feminist icon that has not been seen on television or in the movies for years. I do not know if I agree with the latter assessment, but I cannot deny that Lawrence did a superb job in portraying an adolescent girl who is not only strong-willed and intelligent, but also very complex. Another performance that took me by surprise came from Josh Hutcherson, who portrayed Katniss' fellow combatant from District 12, Peeta Mellark. Hutcherson's Peeta has such a mild-mannered persona, I had assumed that the character would not last very long in the competition . . . or would at least proved to be a weak character that would eventually turn on Katniss. Color me surprised. But Hutcherson's performance seemed so subtle and skillful that I was surprised to discover that his character had really grown on me by the end of the movie.
"THE HUNGER GAMES" was also lucky to possess solid performances from the supporting cast. Liam Hemsworth - brother of Chris - gave a nice performance as Katniss' childhood friend, Gale Hawthorne. Fortunately for Hemsworth, he will be given the opportunity to strut his stuff, when his role becomes bigger in the upcoming sequels. Woody Harrelson already managed to show what a first-rate actor he could be in his superb performance as the complex and alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy, a former District 12 winner of the Hunger Games, who is assigned to act as mentor for Katniss and Peeta. There was a good deal of controversy surrounding the casting of Amandla Stenberg as the Games' youngest participant, Rue. Certain fans took issue with her racial background. Pity. Because I was very impressed by her subtle, yet charming peformance as Katniss' competitor and ultimate friend. Elizabeth Banks gave a rather funny performance as Katniss and Peeta's uptight chaparone, Effie Trinket. Singer Lenny Kravitz (and father of Lawrence's "X-MEN" co-star and friend, Zoë Kravitz) was surprisingly first-rate as Katniss and Peeta's stylist, Cinna. It has been a while since I have seen Wes Bentley in a movie. And it was heartening to see that he had not lost his touch in his ability to portray very complex characters. He certainly gave a superb and complex performance as the 74th Hunger Games' Head Gamekeeper, Seneca Crane. Donald Sutherland was also superb as President Coriolanus Snow, the introverted, yet ruthless leader of the Capitol and all of Panem. The movie also boasted fine performances from Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Dayo Okeniyi, Isabelle Fuhrman and Alexander Ludwig.
What else can I say about "THE HUNGER GAMES"? It is one of the top-grossing movies in recent years or perhaps even of all time. Whether it deserves this honor or not, I cannot deny that it turned out to be a surprisingly well made movie, thanks to Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, the movie's production team and a superb cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. I heard that Ross has not signed up to do the movie's sequel, "CATCHING FIRE". Pity. I only hope that his successor will do as good of a job as he has done.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
A few years ago, I had posted a list of my favorite movies featuring train journeys. Below is a new list. To be honest, the revisions are few, but . . . hey, I felt bored. So I made another list. Without further ado, here it is:
FAVORITE TRAIN JOURNEY MOVIES (REVISED)
1. "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974) - Sidney Lumet directed this all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1934 novel about Hercule Poirot's investigation of the murder of an American passenger aboard the famed Orient Express. Albert Finney starred as Poirot.
2. "Silver Streak" (1976) - Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Jill Clayburgh starred in this comedy thriller about a man who stumbles across a murder and criminal conspiracy during a train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago. Arthur Hiller directed.
3. "North West Frontier" (1959) - Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this adventure about a British Army officer assigned to escort a young Indian prince across rebel-held territory in British India. J. Lee Thompson directed.
4. "From Russia With Love" (1963) - Sean Connery stars as James Bond in this action thriller about the British agent's efforts to steal the Soviets' encryption device, unaware that he is being used as a patsy by SPECTRE. Directed by Terence Young, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendáriz and Robert Shaw co-starred.
5. "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979) - Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred in this comedy thriller about Victorian thieves who make plans to rob a moving train filled with gold for troops during the Crimean War. The movie was written and directed by Michael Crichton.
6. "The Lady Vanishes" (1938) - Alfred Hitchcock directed Margaret Lindsay and Michael Redgrave in this thriller about a young Englishwoman, who realizes that an elderly female passenger has disappeared.
7. "The Tall Target" (1951) - Dick Powell starred in this thriller about a New York cop, who tries to prevent President-elect Abraham Lincoln from Confederate sympathizers out to assassinate him during his rail journey from New York to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. Paula Raymond, Adolphe Menjou and Ruby Dee co-starred.
8. "Narrow Margin" (1990) - Gene Hackman and Anne Archer starred in this crime thriller about an assistant district attorney from Los Angeles, who escorts a witness to the murder of a Mafia boss' accountant. James B. Sikking co-starred.
9. "Shanghai Express" (1932) - Josef von Starnberg directed Marlene Dietrich in this tale about about a dangerous rail journey through China during a civil war. Anna May Wong and Clive Brook co-starred.
10. "The Mystery of the Blue Train" (2005) - In this adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1928 novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the brutal murder of an American heiress aboard the Blue Train. David Suchet and Elliot Gould starred.
Monday, May 28, 2012
San Francisco, California
Inside one of San Francisco's police precincts, Olivia McNeill Turner sat behind her desk, as she faced the Department of Motor Vehicle website on her computer screen. Two days ago, the body of a local dentist had been found inside his office, stabbed through the heart. A building custodian had spotted a car driving away, several minutes after the dentist's death. Fortunately, the custodian managed a glimpse of the car's license plate.
A slight cough interrupted Olivia from her work. To her surprise, she found the Halliwells' whitelighter, Chris Perry, hovering near her desk. She frowned. "Chris? What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you," the young man replied. Last November, the Halliwells and the McNeills had discovered that Chris happened to be half-whitelighter and half-mortal. His mortal parent also happened to be a witch. "I . . . uh, have a problem."
Olivia instructed Chris to sit down. Once he settled in the chair next to her desk, she asked, "So, what is on your mind?"
"I need a favor," Chris continued. "You see . . . Phoebe is becoming . . . well, actually she's already found out."
One of Olivia's red eyebrows formed a questioning arch. "Found out about what?"
A sigh left Chris' mouth. "Phoebe found out the truth about my background. And I need her memory erased."
Olivia shrugged. "Why don't you use some of that memory dust that the Halliwells have?"
"And what exactly do you consider reliable?"
Chris hesitated, as he glanced uneasily around him. Then he leaned forward and murmured, "Cole. Or more accurately, his telepathic suggestion power."
Oh God. Olivia leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. She could easily imagine the emotional fallout if the Halliwells ever learned that Cole had manipulated Phoebe's memories. Nor could she see her husband ever agreeing to such an act. She sighed. "Chris, I hate to tell you but I believe you might have to deal with Phoebe knowing about your identity." She frowned. "I'm curious. Since Cole and I know that you're Piper and Leo's son, do you have similar plans for us?"
Deep blue eyes that reminded Olivia of her former whitelighter blinked several times. Then Chris stared at Olivia in shock. "How did you . . . I mean . . . how did you know about . . . my secret?"
"One only has to look at you," Olivia answered. "You've got the Halliwells' looks, which made me suspect that one of the sisters might be your mother. But you also have Leo's eyes." Olivia shrugged. "After that it was not difficult for Cole and me to guess that Piper was your mom."
This time it became Chris' turn to sigh. "Great! Now three of you know. What am I going to do?"
"Tell the truth," Olivia suggested. "If Phoebe knows, your secret won't remain one."
A despairing moan left Chris' mouth. "I suppose you're right."
Olivia glanced at the clock on the precinct wall. "Listen, it's almost time for lunch. And I'm supposed to meet Barbara at Morgan's. Why don't you join us?"
Chris frowned. "What about Cole? Don't you usually have lunch with him?"
"Are you kidding? Every day?" Olivia scoffed at the idea. "Get serious, Chris. Cole and I usually have breakfast and dinner together, every day. We need some time apart from each other. Besides, I believe he's having lunch with a client, today."
"Okay, but I'm a vegan."
Olivia replied, "Don't worry. Morgan's should have something on their menu for you." She stood up and removed her suede jacket from the coat rack. "Let's go."
Minutes later, the pair left the precinct.
Phoebe Halliwell regarded the Greek salad in front of her with a jaundice eye. "I don't know why I had let you talk me into coming here," she said to her lunch companion. "The food here is awful."
"Really?" The auburn-haired Samantha Ratner frowned at her dish - a pair of Maryland-style crab cakes with Peppercorn Sauce. "My food is pretty good. Perhaps this place doesn't make good Greek salads."
With a grunt, Phoebe muttered, "It would if Piper had still been managing this place." Her eyes scanned Quake's dining room. In the four-and-a-half years since Piper's departure, Quake had experienced many changes. The menu had changed . . . of course. The waiters wore more formal uniforms that included a tight black jacket. And the dining room's decor seemed to have lost its subtle elegance. It now seemed more formal. And pretentious. It seemed to Phoebe that Quake's current owner seemed bent upon aping some of the city's more prestigious restaurants.
Samantha, a fellow columnist at THE BAY-MIRROR, had invited Phoebe for lunch at Quake. Although the Charmed One had a good deal of work to finish, her curiosity over Quake's present appearance led her to accept Samantha's invitation.
"Why don't you ask the waiter to take back the salad?" Samantha suggestion.
Phoebe sighed. I would still have to pay for it," she bemoaned. Another sigh left her mouth. "Never mind. I'll just go ahead and finish it. Just remind me never to order a Greek salad if we ever come here, again."
Three figures entered the restaurant. Phoebe recognized two of them - Harry McNeill's former girlfriend, Janet Hui . . . and Cole. The dark-haired woman who accompanied them looked very familiar. "Sam," she said to her companion, "who is that woman? She looks familiar."
Samantha turned to stare at the newcomers. "I see two women with your ex . . . oh."
Samantha continued, "The dark-haired woman. The one who isn't Asian-American. That's Toby Macmillan's widow. Holly Macmillan. You know, the one who was recently charged with his murder."
Stunned by Samantha's revelation, Phoebe continued to stare at Cole and Janet's companion. "Oh my God! Of course!" She had met the McMillans on several occasions, while dating Jason Dean. Phoebe also recalled that Tobias Macmillan had been one of San Francisco's biggest philanthropists. Five weeks ago, someone had slipped a rare poison into Macmillan's morning coffee. Four hours later, the billionaire died of a massive heart attack in the middle of an afternoon business meeting. "Why is that woman having lunch with Cole?"
Samantha rolled her eyes. "Phoebe, your ex-husband is an attorney. Do the math!"
Phoebe opened her eyes to retort, when the realization of Samantha's words hit her. "Oh my God!" she softly exclaimed. "I can't believe that Cole . . ."
"Would do what? Defend Holly McMillan?" Samantha shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? She can afford him."
"Tobias Macmillan was a good man!" Phoebe declared emotionally. "He was practically San Francisco's own Mother Teresa. As far as I'm concerned, the person who killed him should spend the rest of her life behind bars!"
Both of Samantha's brows rose questioningly. "Her? Don't you mean 'his or her' life behind bars, Phoebe? You know the old saying – 'innocent unless proven guilty'."
Phoebe stared grimly at Cole's dark-haired new client. "Holly Macmillan? Innocent?" She snorted derisively. "Please!"
Chris and Olivia returned to the police station, following their lunch at Morgan's. Barbara, who had joined them, followed the pair inside. "Thanks for the lunch," the young whiteligher said, as the trio strode down the second-floor corridor. "But about that favor . . ."
"What favor?" Barbara asked.
Wearing a sardonic smile, Olivia shook her head. "You don't give up, do you Chris? I swear you're just as stubborn as your dad."
Again, Barbara asked, "What favor? And who exactly is Chris' dad?"
Both Chris and Olivia paused, before the former murmured, "Leo. And Piper is my mother."
"WHAT?" Barbara's eyes grew wide.
"Chris is Piper and Leo's second son," Olivia explained. "And Wyatt's younger brother. That's why he's here in the past. To save his family." She turned to Chris. "And as for your favor, the answer is still no." She paused in front of a water fountain. "Look Chris, we all realize that you're here to change the future. But you won't be able to do it without your family's help. And since Phoebe, Cole, myself and now Barbara already know your true identity . . ."
Barbara muttered, "Oh my god."
Olivia continued, ". . . you might as well tell Piper, Paige and Leo."
Resentment flared within Chris at the mention of his father's name. "I'll tell Paige and Pi . . . I mean, Mom."
Both Olivia and Barbara stared at him. "Why not your dad?" the latter asked.
Chris sighed. Loudly. "I don't see why I have to tell him. Besides, the only ones who can help me are the Charmed Ones. Dad will just . . ."
Olivia commented, "You don't like him, do you?"
"Hardly anyone does these days," Barbara sardonically added. Olivia glared at her. "What? Am I lying? Hell, Leo has been in your personal doghouse for half a year."
Olivia's question took Chris by surprise. Shifting into instant denial, he replied, "How did you . . . I mean, what makes you think . . .?"
"Chris, everyone knows you can't stand him," Olivia retorted. "I think even Leo is aware of your constant hostility toward him. It's not hard to miss. What had he done to piss you off?"
The half-mortal heaved another sigh, realizing that he could no longer avoid the subject. "You have to understand. Dad and I . . ."
Another masculine voice interrupted. "Turner! Is it true?"
The two witches and the whitelighter whirled around and found a burly man around Chris' height standing behind them. The young whitelighter could not tell what bristled more - his crew cut or the expression on his craggy face. "Is what true?" Olivia shot back.
The man shook his head in mild disgust. "C'mon Turner. Just admit it. Is it true that your husband is representing Holly Macmillan?"
"What concern is it of yours, Synder?"
Inspector Synder's countenance darkened. "I'm one of the investigating officers of the Macmillan case. Now, is your husband defending her or not?"
Olivia rolled her eyes and sighed. "Of course he is. Cole is an attorney. Do the math." She turned her back on the other police officer.
But Synder refused to leave. "Your husband is going to let a killer back on the street?"
The man's question seemed to annoy Olivia. Her green eyes glittered like polished stones. "What in the . . .? What's the matter, Synder? Afraid that Cole might win the case? You know, I'm curious. Just how strong is your case against Holly Macmillan, anyway?"
Self-doubt crept into Synder's dark eyes. A predatory smile curved Olivia's lips, causing Chris to shiver. At that moment, he realized that he would never want to make an enemy out of the redhead. Synder opened his mouth to speak. Instead, the only words that came out were, "Excuse me." Then he walked away.
"Self-righteous asshole," Olivia muttered.
Barbara replied, "More like poor bastard. You really got under his skin, Livy."
"Serves him right. He never gave a shit about Toby Macmillan," Olivia continued. "The bastard is simply concerned that he might be wrong. He already has more false arrests on his record than anyone in this precinct." Her gaze returned to Chris. "Now, what were you going to say about your dad?"
Chris hesitated. "Um . . . it's nothing. Just . . . just bad vibes between the two of us. That's all."
The two witches regarded Chris with shrewd eyes. Then Olivia gave him a tight smile. "If you say so."
San Francisco, CA; Alternate Dimension
Olivia McNeill stood in the center of a dirt path at Golden Gate Park. The warlock glanced around to ensure that no one noticed her. She had taken a chance by returning to San Francisco. There was the danger that her family or former friend, Barbara Bowen, might spot her. Not that they would do anything to her . . . as long as she refrained from harming anyone. But Olivia suspected that if any of them ever discovered her return, they would move heaven and earth to learn of her intentions.
With her tote bag in hand, Olivia strode toward a clearing situated between several trees. She removed an amulet from her bag. It once belonged to a 6th century sorcerer who had created the amulet to open portals to alternate dimensions. Olivia held the amulet in front her. She muttered an incantation in Persian. Seconds later, a white glowing tunnel appeared between two trees. Gripping her amulet and tote bag, Olivia took a deep breath and strode into the tunnel.
Seconds later, she emerged from the portal and found herself . . . in Golden Gate Park. Nothing seemed to have cha . . .
"Whoa!" A deep voice caught the red-haired warlock by surprise. Olivia whirled around and found herself facing a wide-eyed derelict. "How in the hell did you appear like that?"
Olivia sighed. Great! A witness. She smiled at the hobo before sending a stream of fire toward him. The hobo incinerated into a pile of ash within seconds. Olivia then placed the amulet inside her bag, situated it on her shoulder and made her way along one of the park's pathways.
END OF CHAPTER 1
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
Below are images from "MANSFIELD PARK", the 2007 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1814 novel. The television movie starred Billie Piper and Blake Ritson:
"MANSFIELD PARK" (2007) Photo Gallery