Category Archives: Film

Is ‘Divergent’ the Next ‘Hunger Games’?

Given the year-long lull between Hunger Games films, YA addicts have been scrambling for a fix. It comes this weekend with the release of Divergent (March 21), the first film in a trilogy inspired by Veronica Roth’s dystopian-romance novels. (If you’re bringing a guy along, tell him there’s knife throwing and street fighting.)

But can the new series live up to the serious hype of The Hunger Games? We pit them against each other in our own Culture Binge Arena.

My Dystopia Is Worse Than Yours
The former city of Chicago, now centuries in the future, has been divided into five factions to keep the peace. People are  either members of Erudite (the intellegencia, also the city’s teachers and scientists), Amity (peaceful farmers), Candor (overly honest, loud-mouthed lawyers), Abnegation (the selfless, who form the city’s government), or Dauntless (the bold and brave, security forces).
Hunger Games Panem, a post-apocalyptic nation formed in the western reaches of the former United States, is divided into 12 Districts, each with its own function (agriculture, mining, fishing, textiles, making weapons, etc). A totalitarian ruler, President Snow, quashes any spark of rebellion by forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
Advantage Hunger Games. That whole “kids fight to the death” thing is pretty bleak.

Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)
Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)

Fierce Heroines
Divergent Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a meek-and-mild member of Abnegation taps into her inner Xena Warrior Princess when she turns 16 and joins Dauntless. Played onscreen by 22-year-old Shailene Woodley, she of long, flowing hair and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is a cool, no-nonsense hardass who supports her mother and younger sister by hunting game in the forest outside District 12. Played onscreen by Jennifer Lawrence, a 23-year-old Oscar winner and everyone’s wannabe best friend/spirit animal.
Advantage Are you kidding? Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

Girls with Skills
Hunger Games Katniss can shoot a bow like she’s an Olympic archer, build a fire, skin a squirrel, sing on key, and make boys cry.
Divergent Tris can toss knives, shoot a gun, fight dudes, withstand a tattoo needle, climb great heights, and resist mind-altering drugs.
Advantage Divergent.

Made-for-Movie Action Sequences
Climbing a Ferris wheel, ziplining from the top of Chicago’s Hancock building, jumping on and off trains, and navigating a fear landscape that’s basically a hallucinogen-induced obstacle course through your worst nightmares.
Hunger Games The Arena.
Advantage Draw.

Love Story
Hunger Games A love triangle that 1) is a strategic play to stay alive in the Arena, 2) keeps President Snow off their backs, and 3) is kinda sorta something special.
Divergent Relationships born of lusty teenage hormones and a full-back tattoo. Every. Touch. Is. MAGICAL!!!
Advantage Hunger Games.

Divergent Tris’s BFFs — Christina, Will, Al, Four — are all Dauntless warriors in their own right, each with an extra skill (Will is bright, Al is a gentle giant, Christina can sniff out the truth and run quickly, Four is a reluctant leader and a hunk).
Hunger Games Peeta bakes delicious pastries, Haymitch appreciates a fine whiskey, Rue is good at hiding, Cinna makes gorgeous dresses….oh, forget it. Katniss is on her own.
Advantage Divergent.

Divergent Jeanine Matthews (played by Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudite, has the biggest brain in the land and a utilitarian approach to the greater good. She’ll take drastic measures to rid the city of its factionless/homeless and its outliers, or Divergent.
Hunger Games President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) gets a sick kick out of orchestrating the Hunger Games and squashing hope across Panem. His beard can’t be trusted either.
Advantage Hunger Games.

The Trilogy
Divergent Starts off strong. Second novel Insurgent is forgettable (and I just read it). Allegiant creates a clever world “outside the fence” but has an insanely disappointing ending.
Hunger Games Starts off strong. Second novel Catching Fire is a snooze fest until the Arena. Mockingjay is a mixed bag of high-stakes rebellion and long, long walks down alleyways.
Advantage Hunger Games.

Final tally: Hungers Games – 5. Divergent – 2. One draw.

The real winner: Lionsgate, for producing both film series and laughing all the way to the bank.


Recap: Oscars by the Numbers

4 The number of hours the award show ran. That’s a lot of pats on the back and not nearly enough George Clooney. (Seriously, where was he?)

4 hours, 23 minutes The longest-ever Academy Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg in 2002. So…it could be worse.

7 The number of awards Gravity — the night’s big winner — took home, including best director for Alfonso Cuarón, cinematography, and pretty much anything with “effects” or “sound” in the title.

12 Years a Slave, now the best picture of 2013.

1 The number of people in my Oscar pool surprised to see that The King of Cool was not the director of 12 Years a Slave.

3 The number of actors who gleefully took home a golden statue for the first time: Lupita Nyong’o (best supporting actress in her big-screen debut), Jared Leto (best supporting actor) and Matthew McConaughey (best actor).

5 The number of ways John Travolta got Broadway superstar Idina Menzel’s name wrong when he introduced her performance of “Let It Go.” Adele Dazim?

5,206 The number of followers Adele Dazim now has on Twitter.

9 The number of seconds the Academy paid tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Way too long The amount of time the Academy paid tribute to The Wizard of Oz, celebrating that all-important 75th anniversary.

3 Number of pizzas host Ellen DeGeneres ordered for the audience.

$1,000 Roughly the amount celebrities threw in for three pizzas.

2 The number of slices Meryl Streep took because, as @mpventura would say, “HELL YEAH MERYL STREEP TAKES TWO SLICES.”

40 million? The number of people rooting for a very pregnant Kerry Washington to get two slices of pizza.

2.6 million and counting The number of retweets of Ellen’s celebrity-studded selfie (pictured), a new Twitter retweet record.

2 The number of words Sidney Poitier likely wouldn’t use in a sentence (retweet, selfie).

Find the full list of Oscar winners at

Image: Courtesy Ellen DeGeneres/Twitter.

‘V Day’ Belongs to ‘Veronica Mars’

Thankfully, Valentine’s Day has been hijacked this year by anti-saccharine TV. Not only does House of Cards return to Netflix February 14 in all its conniving glory, but the teen detective Veronica Mars starts her grand comeback as well.

Chances are you may have missed Veronica Mars when it was on the air. Only (only) 2.5 million people tuned in to its debut season on UPN in 2004, before its star, Kristen Bell, was a Big Deal. The murder mystery show, created by Rob Thomas, played with traditional notions of noir by casting a female lead as a private investigator (part-time P.I. — she still had to go to high school) hellbent on solving the murder of her best friend. Thomas also gave Veronica Mars a healthy dose of sass, prone to lines like:

“Just be glad I don’t flip my hair. I’d own you.”

The show developed a cult following over three seasons, but went the way of Freaks and Geeks and was cancelled prematurely in 2007. Teens (and twentysomethings) cried. Life went on…

…until Thomas, Bell and several Veronica Mars cast members decided to mess with the stuffed shirts of the film industry. They launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to raise money for a Veronica Mars movie. The goal: $2 million. Watch them make their case:

By the end of fundraising, 91,585 backers — the most in Kickstarter history — had donated $5.7 million to the cause, proving there is life for Mars after all.  The Veronica Mars movie opens March 14 in select cities. Tickets go on sale February 14 at (Hint: Makes a good gift.)

Gone Too Soon: Philip Seymour Hoffman Dead at 46

Philip Seymour Hoffman, photographed by Lindsay Borden at the Fairmont Olympic, Seattle, in 2010.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, photographed by Lindsay Borden at the Fairmont Olympic, Seattle, in 2010.

What devastating news this morning, that Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his Manhattan apartment of an apparent drug overdose. He was 46. Only 46.

News reports say that he was found with a syringe in his arm and an envelope of what looked like heroin nearby. Hoffman had struggled with addiction and substance abuse earlier in his career, but had been clean for 23 years until he spoke in interviews of “falling off the wagon” last year, reports The New York Times.

Hoffman seemed to have it all: an Oscar for his titular performance in Capote in 2005; the respect of his peers; a busy career with starring roles in complex dramas (The Master, Doubt) and blockbusters alike (he was in the middle of filming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2).

But more importantly, he was a family man with three children — Cooper, 10, Tallulah, 7, and Willa, 5 — and a long-term partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell. He was loved. He knew love. That’s what we talked about when I had the pleasure of interviewing Hoffman in 2010 for Seattle Met magazine. He was making his directorial debut with the film Jack Goes Boating, but our conversation turned personal when I told him I was getting married that summer. He lit up and quickly started dispensing relationship advice: “You’ve gotta say I love you a lot and touch each other a lot.” “I cook [my partner Mimi] breakfast a lot, whatever we have in the fridge.” When the story went to print, we titled it “Lover Boy.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a gentleman and an amazing talent. I knew him briefly, and superficially, but his memory will live on.

2014 Oscar Nominations and Snubs (Or: Why I Feel Vindicated for Hating ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’)

As many, many entertainment outlets reported early January 16 — early enough to get Jared Leto out of bed so he could have an existential crisis, think about vegan pancakes, and get back into bed — the 2014 Oscar nominations are out. American Hustle and Gravity lead with ten nominations each; 12 Years a Slave trails just the slightest with nine. (As one critic pointed out, 12 Years a Slave would likely have 10 nods as well if the movie even had a leading actress to nominate.)

And then, there were the snubs and surprises. Our favorite part.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson get nothing?!

There’s no love for the lovable. Tom Hanks hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since Cast Away in 2001, and his leading role in Captain Phillips had all the makings of another sure thing: a character who was emotionally and physically adrift, left to survive at sea on increasingly smaller boats. And this time, Hanks got to act opposite a Somali pirate (played by Barkhad Abdi, up for best supporting actor in his film debut) instead of a volleyball (played by Wilson). His final 30 minutes in this film deserved a nod.

Meanwhile, Emma Thompson will have to settle for Meryl Streep’s adoration instead of an Oscar. The Academy didn’t recognize her outstanding work as P. L. Travers — the fussy author of Mary Poppins, dogged by Walt Disney for 20 years to turn her novels into “sentimental animated rubbish” or “[insert British-y putdown here]” — in Saving Mr. Banks. It probably didn’t help that the movie and the late Walt Disney have received hate press for the past month, but Thompson shouldn’t be punished because Disney didn’t like women, Jews, or cats.

Lots of love for Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club.

In the shadow of his fellow nominees — Nebraska director Alexander Payne (best director), Bruce Dern (best actor) and the hilarious June Squibb (best supporting actress) — stands Bob Nelson, nominated for best original screenplay for his debut script. He’s something of an unknown to the Academy, but in Seattle, he was one of the funniest guys around for over a decade. His story — of an addled alcoholic (Dern) who’s convinced he won the Sweepstakes and embarks on a Great Plains Odyssey to collect his winnings — both warmed and broke my heart.

Not surprising that Matthew McConaughey (best actor) and Jared Leto (best supporting actor) ride their Golden Globe victories for Dallas Buyers Club into Oscar season. What is pleasantly surprising is that DBC sauntered into the best picture category, elbowing out Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks with a McConaughey-styled “all right, all right, all right.”

Only two nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis.

For cinematography and sound mixing, which probably feels like nominations for “best trailer” and “best mixtape.” Despite Llewyn Davis topping multiple “best film of 2013” lists, the melancholic movie about a pitiable Greenwich Village folk singer looking for his big break in the early 1960s was like a 105-minute Jeff Buckley song. Sad, and beautiful, but really, just sad. No wonder critics loved it. Happy things don’t get nominated for Oscars unless Pharell Williams is involved.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is shut out.

That’s what you get for sticking your name in the title. Is the butler waiting on Lee Daniels? No.

The movie also committed the cardinal sin of Oscar maneuvering: Thou shalt not release thine film in the summer. Even Oprah’s star power couldn’t keep The Butler’s momentum going from its release, in mid-August, through Oscar voting season this winter.

Handicapping the 2014 Academy Awards

  • If it’s a visual effects or editing category, give it to Gravity.
  • If it’s an acting category, give it to American Hustle or Dallas Buyers Club. (Or just give it all to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine.)
  • Best screenplays go to 12 Years a Slave and Her, otherwise the Academy will feel guilty.
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón. The man conquered space.
  • Best picture: Toss-up between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. It’s a rare best pic that doesn’t win best director and/or best screenplay. Advantage goes to Slave, since Harvey Weinstein  publicly praised it.
    The 86th Academy Awards airs Sunday, March 2, at 7e/4p on ABC.