Monday, July 30, 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' more about hope than superheroes

The Dark Knight Rises is not your typical summer blockbuster. While superhero movies thrive on special-effects laden scenes, big explosions and thrilling fight scenes, The Dark Knight Rises highlights the vulnerability of our world and that anyone, not just Bruce Wayne in a Batman suit, can be a hero.

Christopher Nolan's series has grown steadily darker with each successive Batman installment and The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. This third and final installment plays on our worst nightmare. Bane's attack on Gotham City is a 9-11 terrorist attack on steroids.

Bane manages to crash the stock market, blow out all the bridges leading from the city and steals a nuclear device which he threatens to use as a bomb. Bane holds the entire city hostage and even worse Batman is terribly outmatched compared to Bane who seems an unbeatable Goliath.

Early in the movie our expectations for a superhero are shattered when Batman is beaten badly by Bane and is dumped down a well-like prison with no possibility of escape. Bane taunts Bruce Wayne with a TV news feed so he can watch Gotham burn while he languishes in prison unable to do anything.

Surprisingly The Dark Knight Rises is not about a superhero, but how anyone can be a hero even in the worst circumstances. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) finally has the strength to confront the lie told about Harvey Dent after Bane publicly reads Gordon's confession. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a police officer promoted to detective, shares several interesting parallels with Bruce Wayne such as being an orphan and struggling with his own personal anger.

Blake also believes in doing what is right even when Bane and his massive army is against him. While Bruce is in jail, it's Blake's efforts that spearhead the resistance against Bane. Selina (Anne Hathaway), who plays a sexy, smart and a kick ass Catwoman, also discovers there is more she values than just petty thievery. She decides to stay and fight Bane even when she has a chance to escape the doomed city.

Perhaps the one flaw in The Dark Knight Rises is an overemphasis on the back story of Bane and the reemergence of the evil League of Shadows intent on destroying Gotham City forever. The Dark Knight didn't have to deal with any lengthy history with the amusing and psychotic Joker played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. In comparison to past villains, Bane seems menacing, but doesn't have a riveting screen presence. Tom Hardy, who played Bane, undoubtedly was limited by the scary, but static leather mask he wore throughout the entire movie.

The action sequences and special effects are wonderful when on the screen, but mostly bookend the movie with Bane seizing control of Gotham at the end of the first act and the final showdown when Batman fights Bane. Audiences who are expecting non-stop dazzling special effects might be disappointed in the slow middle act when Gotham is under Bane's control while Batman languishes in a prison.

The Dark Knight Rises, however, is a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's three-part saga. When Batman does return to take on Bane, the aerial flight sequences in Batman's new beetle-like flying vehicle are impressive. Nolan also provides an interesting twist at the end where it seems the good guys are fighting a battle they can't possibly win. Perhaps the best message in the series' conclusion is you don't have to wear a costume or spend billions of dollars on fancy gadgets to be a hero. That quality comes from the heart.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Borgias' David Oakes interview explores Juan Borgias' downfall - Part One

As Showtime’s The Borgias nears its second season finale, I talked with David Oakes on June 11 about his character, Juan Borgia, and the direction the show might take after Juan’s final scene in ‘World of Wonders’ (Season 2, Episode 9).

Athough Oakes has a reputation for playing the bad guy back from his days as William Hamleigh in Pillars of the Earth, my impression when I talked to Oakes is what a nice guy he is. Oakes doesn't see Juan as the villain and often empathizes with Juan who is stigmatized as the black sheep of the Borgia family, especially by Juan’s siblings, Lucrezia and Cesare. While Juan’s life ends tragically on The Borgias, it was a dream role for David Oakes.

What were you thoughts on your final scene? Was it as intense as you thought it’d be?
It was the last thing that was shot. It was the penultimate day of shooting. It was a nice thing to die when you died and not have to come back to work the next day after being thrown off a bridge. It was kind of like his confession scene. It was the previous three episodes worth of gangrene, syphilis, opium addiction, cigars, horse riding and everything coming to a head and just exploding. It was great fun to do. I think Francois liked it immensely too because he didn’t have to learn any lines. He just had to stab me which was fine at least when he got the safety pad that I was wearing. He kept missing me now and then and stabbing me in the stomach. He needs to get some fight training at some point. (Laughs)

Did you know Juan was going to die at the beginning of the season?

I knew I was going to die. I knew that was going to happen. I didn’t know when. At one stage they were toying with killing me off in Episode 3. The next rumor I heard was Episode 5, then it got to Episode 7. I definitely was going to die episode in Episode 7 they told me. Then I had Episode 10, then I had Episode 9 and then I thought I was going to make it to the third season, but then I was knifed. It’s a funny thing, scripts come out and you only find out piece by piece.

I didn’t know it’d be quite so fun to build up to my death. I didn’t know the gangrene and the syphilis and the opium would all come into play. It was a gift of a part as an actor really. I think while everyone is falling in love or getting a bit angry or coping with cathedrals falling down or whatever I had an amazing personal journey to go on with that character and hopefully I presented it with a sense and reality and hopefully you will feel a bit sorry for the guy. I don’t think he’s useless. Everyone says he’s a useless coward. He’s just placed in some sh*t situations. I mean he would have won Forli. He would have kicked ass at Forli if his character had let him know the other Sforza was coming to cut him down from the rear.

Cesare kind of set him up on that because he didn’t warn him.
Yeah! I mean what’s his beef? He makes me lose a war, then he blames it all on me and then he kills me, but I’m not entirely sure why he kills me.

I think out of jealousy sometimes.
Huge jealousy. I always ridiculed him when we were filming because there’s at least two situations, one in Episode 8 and one in Episode 9 where for no reason Cesare goes, “Ten more sons,” just to wind him up like proper little brothers do and push their buttons and make them go crazy. I just kept telling him, “None of them [the fans] will like your character because he’s just such a bitch.” It was quite nice to do that because everyone knows Juan is a useless cowardy worm so it was quite nice to get Francois worried the girls would stop liking him for a bit.

You know there a quite few women who like your character.
Well they’re all sick and wrong. (Laughs)

How was it like working with the cast?
It was great. The funny thing is by the second year you take it all for granted. I think for me personally I was most excited working with Gina McKee as Caterina Sforza. I remember watching her in so many stage productions over here (England) and films like Notting Hill. It’s a treat. It’s what actors dream and die for really. As you said you get to wear the armor and ride the horse for a job.

I was really pissed off when I started shooting Episode 8 because I wasn’t able to walk everywhere. At that point onwards I’m in a wheelchair or I got a stick or a crutch and felt restricted. There’s a reason why Juan starts in a wheelchair and switches to a crutch and then ends up with a walking stick, but quite often forgets his walking stick because I didn’t want the prop.

I was shocked at how quickly Juan’s downward spiral was. Do you think the Siege at Forli was the downfall for his character?
Yeah. I think there is the syphilis as well which he had before Forli. The one issue I’ve always had is I wanted to elongate certain sections. Every episode has so much stuff going on and so many great meetings whether it’s the fight between Juan and Cesare or Lucrezia meeting her different lovers or it’s the pope talking to different people about political machinations. I always wanted to have Juan in Spain. I wanted to have a month where I could go over with my own unit of shooting where he finds himself a wife, but that’s not to be.

Do you think Juan was different when he came back from Spain?
Neil [Jordan] was always keen on Juan coming back different and secure and grounded. That’s how I wanted to play it when he came back. I think the shock of Lucrezia actually manning up and trying to kill him had a huge effect as well. He’s growing and maturing, his pleasures were being taken away from him. He definitely was becoming an adult. Certainly there are moments in the second season where he manipulates other people in a similar the way they’ve been manipulating him. The scene between Jeremy and myself with the dagger is a last ditch frantic attempt at trying to win him over. It’s kinda successful in a weird way. He’s just a bit useless at that point.

Do you think Juan was genuine in the knife scene? Do you think he would have killed himself?

Yeah I think so. I think if there’s one aspect of Juan that never changes throughout both seasons is he always does what it true inside him whether it’s an attempted rape or trying to win a war. I also believe if Lucrezia hadn’t come over in the first season during the first war, he would have led all his troops into death. He’s not afraid of dying in that sense, he’s afraid of not being liked or loved and being left by his family. If Jeremy disowned him he would have done it. I don’t think he’s a coward in that sense. I don’t even think he’s that much a coward. It’s just his entire family, whether they know it or not, has been ganging up on him from the very beginning of the first season. What’s the problem with him? I think he’s lovely. I think he’s really kind and compassionate and cuddly.

Do you think Juan is jealous of Lucrezia’s and Cesare’s relationship?
Definitely. There’ a great little scene which we shot on the third from last day which is Juan in the opium den scene, looking up at the ceiling with the smoke everywhere where he says, “I think my brother and sister are having congress,” which is the first time anyone in the entire series. I mean the audience had been thinking that for awhile that something twisted was going on between them and the fact that Juan is aware of this and concerned by this is quite an interesting one.

I don’t think he’s jealous of them being together. I think he’s jealous of not being a part of it as well. When he forgives Cesare at the end saying how they’re brothers and wants to be together, I think that’s genuine. That’s the first time you realize what he’s always wanted. He just wants to be a part of the family and at every turn they’ve not allowed him. They’ve always pushed him away which is a great a shame.

In Juan’s final scene, I thought there might have been some reconciliation between the two brothers.

It gets very close doesn’t it? It’s interesting that Juan’s attempt at relieving pain is through closeness and hugging and love. Cesare’s attempt to relieve pain is through murder and fratricide and that’s very interesting. It would have been quite nice to have seen where the character could have gone next, but I think what it certainly sets up is (God knows what will happen in Season Three) the downfall of the family. It will be a very different family without him. They will need different things to get annoyed by.

Part Two of the David Oakes interview

Exclusive François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia) interview

The Borgias reviews:
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli

The Borgias' David Oakes interview explores Juan Borgia's downfall - Part Two

It isn’t easy being Juan Borgia, especially when his own brother, Cesare, stabs him to death and throws him off a bridge on Showtime’s The Borgias. In part one of my interview with David Oakes on June 11, Oakes talks about how Juan just was looking for love even if it was in all the wrong places.

In the second part of this interview, Oakes talks about how he got the role of Juan and what it’s like working with Jeremy Irons. Oakes also mentioned what his next dream role would be. Hint: It includes wearing a cowboy hat or shooting in Hawaii.

Do you think your work in Pillars of the Earth led to getting the part of Juan?
I think it led to the role. I’m pretty certain in fact. I only met Neil [Jordan] only once and the only audition scene he asked me to read was the bit with me on the horse in Episode 3 of the first season where Juan’s just arrogant. So I think it was to see if I could do the petulant childish side of him. I think the fact I could play a psychotic rapist was taken for granted.

I was watching bits of Pillars of the Earth recently and cutting together my show reel. It’s very interesting for me to see where I was with Pillars two years ago and the final scenes of this season in Episode 7, 8 and 9. I feel like I’ve certainly gotten better. I’m playing more with characters now and manipulating them in different ways which proved very exciting for me. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Do you think Juan is bothered by being a bastard or being called a bastard?

I think in the first season that definitely was his driving force, especially when you’ve got Theo, his potential real father there. I think in the second season, especially when he’s come back from Spain and he had his child, I think he’s come to grips with it. It’s that confrontation with Lucrezia where he does the Michael Jackson baby dangle, it’s then when he says to her, “We’re Borgia bastards,” and he’s accepted that. He knows that they all are. He is very secure in himself at that point I think.

Did you ever create a back story for Juan?
Not really other than the one that already exists. I think that was the great thing about playing a genuine character although we play a little fast and loose with some moments in history. During the season I definitely felt the lead up to the first season was pretty much accurate as it is in the history books. A great deal is known about Juan. I think that’s quite interesting, but I mostly took all the factual stuff I could find.

Now that you’re done with The Borgias, what’s next for you?
There are a couple of plays I’m going to be doing in England soon, but they’re not very long. I want to do a big TV series. I love having years of time to present a character across a long distance. I’m becoming less interested in playing smaller parts, not just because of the profile, but you don’t necessarily get the chance to play all those nuances across their existence. So it’d be nice to do a big series or a film or two. Who knows? I’m open to suggestions.

Do you have an ideal character you’d like to play? Do you want to keep playing the baddie?
I don’t know. Part of me wants to do a rom-com [romantic comedy], another one wants to play a cowboy, but I love playing the bad guys. They’re so much fun. I wouldn’t mind a rom-com, maybe something nice and fluffy, maybe in Hawaii.

Was there any filming location for the Siege at Forli?
No, that’s all pretend. That’s all constructed and it was built just for that. I think they left it up. I think they’re going try and use it for Season Three. I imagine Caterina and Benito Sforza will come back to play some significance in the third season. That was great fun. We literally spent a week in a field with this wonderful horse which we trained up for especially that scene. We bought it whilst we were out there. He’s a brilliant horse, so well trained.

You seem very comfortable horse riding. Do have a background in it?
I used to ride a bit as a kid, but over the three years when I’ve been out in Budapest, when I haven’t been filming, I’ve just gone horse riding. I love it. I’ve ridden a lot, but I’ve never had to do armed combat. I never jumped until I did The Borgias in the first season and jumping has been great fun. There’s nothing quite as exciting as that symbiotic link between man and beast.

I’d love to do some kind of extension of that. That’s why I’d like to do a Western. You’ve got Ronan [Vibert] (who played Giovanni Sforza). He just did the Hatfields and McCoys and in fact Sarah Parish, she played my mother in Pillars of the Earth, was in it as well. We were filming The Borgias so I couldn’t do it, but I was so jealous.

Do you have a favorite scene this season?
I think my favorite scene was with Jeremy and the dagger, partly because I was working with John Maybury. John pushed it quite big for the first four takes, really big performances, all very different because it was all the drugs, all opium. I’m sure when you play those takes back it’s like pantomime, like it’s really quite silly, but it’s the best bit of directing I think I experienced on the job. He went, “Okay take that all away and just try one really flat, really quiet,” and that’s the take they used for the close up on me which was take number five. And I think it’s great.

It’s a great cross section between myself and my performance being focused. You’ve got Jeremy feeding all the lines and giving a great performance behind camera and you’ve got John Maybury who allowed us to have the time and manipulated us in such a way that I think is really electric. I think from that moment on if you don’t have any sympathy for Juan your heart is dead and you’re holding too strongly on to his past mistakes and not letting him be forgiven because he’s very vulnerable in that scene.

What’s it like playing opposite of Jeremy Irons?
Me and Jeremy had great fun playing together. We both trained at the same drama school which part of me likes to think might be the reason that we approach characters in the same way. We quite often do big things. I think if you compare my and Jeremy’s style of acting to Francois’ acting (Francois is always quite still and contained, sort of brooding and moody) whereas Jeremy and I do quite large things.

The challenge then is to make them seem truthful which we may not always do, but we try to make it quite dynamic. I mean he’s the pope for Christ's sake and I’m this crazy, drug-addled disease-ridden entity so why wouldn’t they be massive characters? It’s really fun to play.

Sibling rivalry is huge on The Borgias. Do you have any siblings?
I do. I have an older sister, a half brother and a half sister, and a step brother and a step sister from a previous marriage, but one way or another I’ve always been quite independent. I’ve always gone as far away as I could. So when I went to university, I went to the other end the country.

I went to Manchester and then when I went to drama school, I went to the other side of the country to Bristol. I get on really well with everybody. That’s always been my thing. I’ve always been nice to my family and to my siblings and hopefully my friends. If anyone has nasty things to say about me, I’m really sorry, but I didn’t mean to be horrible to you. With that rivalry with Francois, it’s all acting. We get on really well.

What has been the fans’ reception to Juan?
I felt very supported by the fans. It’s been great actually, even more so than with William [Hamleigh]. People have really gotten behind Juan. There are very few who hate him and the people who hate him kinda scare me. I don’t understand why they hate him strongly, but I feel very well supported which is lovely.

What do you think will happen on The Borgias now that Juan is out of the picture?
Who knows? It could be many things. It could be the Addams Family or it could be the Brady Bunch.

Exclusive interview with François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia)
David Oakes interview, Part One

The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli

Exclusive interview with François Arnaud explores Cesare and 'The Borgias'

François Arnaud is a busy guy. During his break before returning to film the third season of Showtime's The Borgias, Arnaud was wrapping up shooting the upcoming Civil War movie, Copperhead. I talked with Arnaud on June 14 about his character, Cesare Borgia, and where The Borgias will go now that Cesare's troublesome little brother, Juan, officially is out of the way.

Have you started filming third season of The Borgias yet?
No. I’m starting third season next week. I’m going to Budapest on June 23. I’m also doing a movie called Copperhead which is an American Civil War movie. So we’re shooting now. We just wrapped today (June 14). I’m going back home for eight days and then flying to Budapest on the 23rd for bootcamp. I need to do some training with the stunts master for like eight days before the rest of the cast arrive to get ready for a lot of action for season three.

Do you have a background for horseback riding and sword fighting before you started The Borgias?
Not in horse riding. I’ve done a little when I was 12, but I’d completely forgotten it. In The Borgias Season One was the most horse riding I’d ever done. I got better by season two and we work with great people, Peter Miles who is the stunt coordinator. I’ve worked on some amazing movies with Tom Cruise. So there’s some sword fighting, but mostly stage fighting which is a little bit different, but I’ve done a little of that in drama school.

How did you get the role of Cesare?
I had an agent in L.A. and he sent me the script for The Borgias. I sent a tape for it since there was casting in London and then a couple of days later, like 24 hours later, I got a call from Neil Jordan saying he wanted to meet me. Then they flew me over to London the first time just to audition with him and the casting director and then another time to test with Jeremy Irons. So it was like a two month long process.

Do you remember what scene they had you audition?
Yeah. I remember it was a scene in the first episode where I confront my father and he wants to make me a cardinal. I wasn’t a cardinal by then, I was just a bishop. He forces a cardinal hat on my head and I remember the day of the audition Jeremy had no cardinal hat. He only had his cowboy hat. (Laughs) So it was like a different [scene] completely.

Do you have a favorite scene this season?
Some of my favorite scenes are in the finale. I thought it was a great episode when I first read it. Everything I’ve been feeling as Cesare kind of came together. [In the finale] I confessed to my father about Juan’s murder. It was a very headstrong scene I thought. I love working with Holliday [Grainger] and Sean Harris too. It feels like walking on air really. It just feels so natural and we all connect to one another.

Where will The Borgias go now that Juan is out of the way?
I think there’s still a long way to go. Obvious the rivalry between the brothers was a big part of season two and now that that’s over with we’re going to need some more enemies. When the rest of the family hears about Juan’s death I think it’s like a bomb just dropped. It doesn’t really resolve any conflict. There’s that and early in season three we understand that the Borgias have a lot more enemies than they thought and I feel that Cesare is going to go after every single one of them.

What was that scene like killing Juan?
It was an intense scene to do. We had been working on this rivalry between the two brothers for so long that there’s a certain sense of closure that comes with the scene, but also it was his [David Oakes’] last scene on the show too. I think it was the last thing that we shot in season two actually so David was such a big part of The Borgias on and off screen that is was a bit sad to see him go. It was time for my character to take the final step and go somewhere else.

Do you think Cesare believed Juan was going to destroy the family or killing him was a means to get what Cesare wanted?
I think he had different reasons for doing that. Obviously Juan has become dangerous for the rest of the family and for Lucrezia’s baby and he hadn’t been much use as head of the papal army. He was a bit of a wreck at that point of dying from syphilis. Those are all reasons that made it possible for Cesare to finally do what he wanted to do for years really. I think it’s still fueled by envy and rage, but I think he finds some morally righteous reasons to commit that act, but still I think it’s out of envy and anger.

Was the fire real in 'World of Wonders' or was it all CGI?
No, there was a lot of fire actually. It was really hot. I had dry ice for two weeks after that. Steven Berkoff was a trooper, who plays Savonarola, actually did quite a bit himself like even when they set him on fire it was a stuntman wearing a mask of Steven’s face, but it was all pretty real. I don’t think there was any CGI.

So when you see fire on his robe that’s all real?
Yeah. They actually set a guy on fire. I mean he’s wearing layers and layers of cold cream and woolen robes, but it was great. Steven Berkoff was amazing and also the conversations I’ve had with him in between takes. I mean he’s a fascinating man. He’s an actor, a director; he’s directed some of the great actors of the 20th century. He was fascinating to talk to.

Do you think Cesare ever was afraid Savonarola would survive the fire?
No. I don’t think so, not at first, definitely not when he challenged him to do it, but maybe when Savonarola is starting to walk through fire I think there might be a little moment where he wonders. Same thing like with the plaster cannons in episode three. It was pretty risky actually. That could have failed miserably.

Did you ever read Machiavelli’s The Prince as inspiration for your role?
During the first season I read The Prince a couple of times. It became like my Bible for the character. I think Machiavelli’s character is interesting on the show. They’re so clever, both of them, and they both inspire each other and it’s great.

What is it like working with Sean Harris?
(Laughs) I mean he’s nothing like Micheletto, but he keeps a lot to himself and is very reserved and composed, but since our characters are so close and have such a unique relationship, I think he kinda lets me in a little more than he does with others. That relationship between Cesare and Micheletto is so different from anything else that I’ve ever seen or known. It’s not exactly friendship, it’s not master and slave either, it’s not brotherhood, it’s something really unique that they’re kinda figuring out themselves so it keeps you on the edge. You can’t fully trust that person either, not from the start anyway, so you can see that trust and that bond developing and I think that’s great. That’s the great thing about doing a series, you have that time to do these things.

Will we see Cesare's and Lucrezia's close relationship from Season One reemerge in Season Three?

I think we’ll get some closure on that. They’ve grown up a little bit. They can’t be as childish anymore. There was an innocence in that relationship that I think was beautiful actually, but I think you’ll see in Episode 10 in the finale as well where you see that moment when Cesare kinda decides to move on because he feels that he needs to move on and move away really, but then I think season [three] will bring them back together.

Did you know you were going to kill Giovanni Sforza in season two?
Oh yeah. I knew from the start and made sure that it would happen. That was a very intense scene.

You had some sexy scenes with Gina McKee in 'The Choice.' Was that awkward?
She was lovely. I get to work with such brilliant British actors that I’ve never seen onstage because I’m not from London. With Gina McKee I heard so much about her and I was impressed. She was lovely from the start. It is touchy material to begin with because it’s seduction, but it’s also power play and they’re sex scenes, but they’re not love scenes. It’s about who’s in control and letting the other one be on top of the situation. So yeah, she was great.

How was it like working with Jeremy Irons?
Jeremy is great. He’s such an experienced, seasoned actor. I was terrified when I started working with him, but very early on he made it clear we were in a working relationship and we’d be working as equals regardless of what his background was and I think he’s been great. He calls me the night before a big scene and we talk about what we want to do or we think what we could have done better or how we can improve it next time.

It’s a really great relationship and he’s a hard worker. He really comes to set completely prepared. Sometimes he questions a lot of the lines, but I think it’s great he wants to be comfortable with everything he has to do and I think that’s very inspiring. He never just mimics something or he does something because he was asked to. He needs to understand before he does it. I think that’s why he comes across as genuine.

Do you have any siblings?
I have a younger sister who I love more than anything else. I would do anything to protect her and I wouldn’t stab her ever. If anyone tried to I probably would stab them.

David Oakes said you kept missing the pad and stabbing him in the stomach.

What a wanker! He kept moving all over the place. He kept sliding up and down and it never was in the same place twice so I probably did stab him in the stomach. He’s been baiting me for two years, so he probably got what he deserved.

Exclusive David Oakes interview

The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli
Day of Ashes
The Beautiful Deception
The Choice
The Borgia Bull

Sunday, March 25, 2012

'The Hunger Games' a better movie than the hype

The Hunger Games is not the big blockbuster audiences have been waiting for. It's something even better. While The Hunger Games opened on March 23 to much fanfare, the movie doesn't have the glitz or big blockbuster sleekness of many summer movies.  The Hunger Games has a gritty, dirty realism to it as though shot in documentary style.

Even the title is in a simple white text after audiences are given a quick run down on the story. Two tributes, a boy and girl, are chosen from the 12 districts that rebelled against the tyrannical Capitol. These tributes are then brought to the Capitol to fight in The Hunger Games. Each tribute is to kill each other until the last survivor wins.

In place of big explosions, high-budget special effects and impervious heroes immune to danger, pain or fear, we are given Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss grows up in poverty and fends for her family by hunting game in the forest. It's these survival skills that factor into Katniss's survival, but its not her archery that makes Katniss the heroine; it's her humanity.

Katniss selflessly volunteers to take her younger sister's place, Primrose, when Prim is chosen in The Hunger Games lottery. Katniss's one souvenir from home is a Mockingjay pin, which also later becomes a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol's cruelty. Katniss's fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is a baker's son who saved Katniss years ago from starvation when he threw out a loaf of bread to Katniss. Tension builds as Katniss must pretend to love Peeta in order to gain sponsors for the games.

The movie doesn't hide the brutality of the games. One clip of a previous season of the games had a fellow tribute bludgeon another tribute to death with a bloody brick. Perhaps the most heart breaking scene in the movie is when sweet little Rue is killed with a spear to the stomach. The movie deviates from the book when the result of Rue's death doesn't lead to a gift of a loaf of bread from District 11, but the district launching a rebellion after Katniss salutes the cameras in honor of Rue.

The Hunger Games does start out on the slow side with the set up, but the movie is leaner and at times, more poignant than the novel by Suzanne Collins. While the book followed Katniss in first person, the audience can see behind the scenes back at the Capitol. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the role of Haymitch, who seemed more an ineffectual drunk in the book. Haymitch is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, who proves to be a clever mentor, maneuvering behind the scenes and getting the critical aid needed to Katniss and Peeta.

A delicious addition is President Snow (Donald Sutherland) played with subdued maliciousness. After Katniss makes the Capitol and President Snow look bad during the games, Snow forces game keeper, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), to commit suicide with the same lethal nightshade berries Katniss and Peeta nearly killed themselves with.

The Hunger Games may disappoint audiences looking for big special effects, explosions and gradiose presentation. Director Gary Ross showed real chutzpah in showing the brutality of the games and that humanity and love can rise above even the cruelest situation. At the end of the movie's showing, the audience applauded. They probably will not be the only one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Face Off" down to final contestants in 'Dinoplasty'

SyFy's "Face Off" contestants faced a double elimination in the episode 'Dinoplasty' (2.9) on March 7. This is the second to the last episode for the makeup and special effects series. The remaining five, Sue, RJ, Matt, Ian and Rayce, were taken to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History to look at dinosaur skeletons. Their challenge was to create a convincing human-dinosaur hybrid. Tensions ran high with the double elimination looming over everyone.

Sue (Tianyulong dinosaur) based her creation on a colorful, punk rock looking dinosaur that embodied "girl power." She went with a bold paint job, mohawk hair and a skateboard prop. Clearly the most playful and out of the box creation of the night.

RJ (Velocoraptor) went for a play on the dinosaur's name and created a dino that was a rapper, complete with dinosaur-themed gold bling. RJ stressed the judges wouldn't like the concept and that he'd be sent home on his birthday.

Matt (Carnotaurus) went for big and aimed too high. Matt went with the idea of a dinosaur god, complete with breast plate of a dinosaur skeleton attacking a human skeleton. The dinosaur-head shoulder piece was a bit odd. Vee thought the face looked more like a demon or exoskeleton rather than a dino.

Ian (Triceratops) had the most impressive head with a full triceratops head sculpt, horns and beak that looked shiny instead of the dull matte of Sue's creation. The costume was lacking as a few tattered rags hung from his model. Glenn thought Ian should have put a body sculpt beneath the rags to make the model more barrel-chested.

Rayce (Corythosaurus) created in impressive head that was built up around the eyes. Rayce also incorporated the sloped features of his dinosaur down the head, including the hump and flow into the tail. The judges really loved the profile of the creature and Vee even was won over by the striped blue paint job.

The winners:
  • Rayce
  • Ian
  • RJ
Going home:
Matt and Amy
The judges had difficulty deciding on the winner as all the creations were strong and for the most part beautifully executed. Next week's "Face Off" will decide the winner for the series.

Other "Face Off" episodes:

Triple Threat
A Dangerous Beauty
Rock Your Body
Return to Oz

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Supernatural 'Repo Man'

Sam and Dean Winchester fight demons and Lucifer in the latest episode, 'Repo Man.' The action begins four years ago when the Winchester brothers were tracking down Lilith and trying to avert the apocalypse. 'Repo Man,' which aired Feb. 17 on the CW, has Sam and Dean Winchester on an old fashioned demon hunt and murder mystery. The Winchester brothers have demonically possessed Jeffrey tied up in chains and bound to a chair. It turns out Jeffrey (Russell Sams) has been a busy boy with the brutal serial killing of women.

Normally the Winchester would exorcise the guy and be done with it, but this demon has information on Lilith and they need answers. While the demon taunts Dean in the guise of Jeffrey, the unpossessed version of Jeffrey seems like a decent guy and appears horrified at the killing. Unfortunately it's not that simple. Dean has to beat up Jeffrey pretty bad to get the intel before they send the demon back to Hell.

Four year's later we discover Jeffrey is in sorry shape. After the demonic possession and nasty beating, he lost his job and was considered crazy when he tried to tell the truth of what happened that night. Jeffrey comes back on Sam and Dean's radar when a brutal string of bloody murders crop up with the same emo as the demon. They think the demon might have "repossessed" Jeffrey to relive the good old bloody days.

Jeffrey seems bewildered and frightened when the Winchesters return into his life as he seems to be getting his act together, complete with getting a new dog. It being Supernatural, 'Repo Man' takes a nasty and awful turn. Sam Winchester finds out more about the victims and discovers there was a heavy dose of tranquilizer in the victims' bodies. That raises a red flag as a demon has incredible physical strength and wouldn't need to sedate his victims to overcome them. Meanwhile Lucifer appears as a nagging hallucination to Sam. Lucifer offers to "help" Sam and even points out important clues to the case.

Meanwhile Dean Winchester spends some quality time with Jeffrey, which perhaps is not the best move considering Dean beat Jeffrey to a bloody pulp four years ago. Jeffrey seems more than willing to help and even guides Dean to the demon's old lair. Not surprisingsly that lair is a dark and creepy abandoned warehouse. Dean discovers a man tied to a chair much the same way the Winchesters bound demon-possessed Jeffrey. Perhaps Dean should have seen it coming, but Jeffrey sneaks up and stabs a huge hypodermic needle into Dean's neck and injects him with a tranquilizer. Dean is out for the count.

Sam Winchester freaks out when Dean doesn't pick up on any of his cell phones and is forced to work the case with hallucination Lucifer. Sam pays a visit to Nora Havelock (Nicole Oliver). It turns out Nora's son was kidnapped by Jeffrey and that's why Nora gave Jeffrey the demon summoning spell. Nora also gave Jeffrey some demon-related info before her son was kidnapped. What isn't clear is why Nora even gave Jeffrey anything regarding demons in the first place.

Sam Winchester gets Nora to whip up a tracking spell and they find the creepy warehouse. In a bizarre turnabout, Jeffrey admits he liked being possessed and the demon gave him the guts to launch his bloody serial killing career. Jeffrey wants his demon pal back and completes the summoning spell. There is one problem, the demon possesses Nora's kidnapped son instead. Jeffrey pleads for the demon to take him, but it's no go. The demon is just a "talent scout" and Jeffrey has already reached his full potential.

In a rushed conclusion, the demon is sent back to Hell in short order with an exorcism spell. Jeffrey is also sent to Hell post-haste with a bullet to the head after he tries to attack the Winchesters. This is the second human, not monster killing in two weeks, although it can be argued a serial killer is as horrible a monster as any ghoul, vampire or shapeshifter. What doesn't make sense is the episode is why Jeffrey feigned horror at the killings when the Winchesters first captured him. Wouldn't Jeffrey fight the interrogation and the exorcism if he wanted to keep his demon friend?

The real climactic ending, however, is when Sam and Dean return to their scuzzy avocado-colored motel room. Dean settles in for a deserved rest while Sam sees the hallucination of Lucifer appear. Lucifer gloats with a smile, "No nap for you Sam." Sam tries to banish the hallucination by pressing at an old scar on his palm, but it no longer works.
"I believe you've let me back in," Lucifer says gleefully and laughs.
Next Sam sees his bed consumed with hellfire. Sam's pupil's also glow red, perhaps as his memories of Hell threaten overtake him.

The 'Repo Man' is an excellent episode that is made even better by Mark Pelligrino's absolute delight in tormenting Sam as Lucifer. While I wasn't too much of a fan of Pelligrino's Lucifer during the apocalypse arc, Pelligrino's hallucination Lucifer is a delight to watch. The trap Lucifer set in starting as a distraction to Sam, then acting like a petulant, insistant child in the library was fun and added a levity to a very dark and heavy episode. Jared Padalecki and Pelligrino have a wonderful chemistry, which also was evident in 'Hello Cruel World.'

''Repo Man' definitely has an old fashioned feel, much as last week's 'Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie.' The Winchesters are off to fight a monster and are united in a common goal rather than fighting each other. The return of the series' roots seems an improvement rather than a setback in the story arc.
The next episode, "Out with the Old," will air on March 9 on the CW.