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The film version of The Hunger Games is a fine example of the contemporary Hollywood franchise picture. It features a cast full of next-big-things breakout actors supported by old-pro ringers having a blast with funny wigs. It conjures up an intriguing new fantasy world without overdosing on world-building (like John Carter) or mythology (like Green Lantern.) More importantly, it manages to capture the propulsive energy of Suzanne Collins’ novel. Adapting a great book into a good movie is not an easy task, and the makers of Hunger Games deserve credit just for the bad decisions they didn’t make. (They didn’t Twilight the movie into a romantic “triangle;” they didn’t turn Peeta into someone who could even remotely be construed as a badass; the kids still kill each other.) But there is one important aspect of the original novel that is almost entirely absent from the movie: The darkly funny way in which Collins directly accuses the audience. As in, us. Weirdly, by turning the book into such a fan-baiting crowdpleaser, the movie version of Hunger Games seems to oddly miss the point of its own source material.

Every great YA book series of the modern age has an origin story. Think of J.K. Rowling writing on napkins, or Stephenie Meyer’s vampire dream, or Christopher Paolini being twelve. The story goes that Hunger Games came to Suzanne Collins while she was channel-surfing between a reality show and footage from the Middle East wars. That’s why the book, despite its reputation, is not just a junior-high remake of The Most Dangerous Game.

The events in the Capitol constitute one of the most bleakly funny satires of the media this side of The Daily Show. Katniss is primped. She gets better clothes. She learns to give a good interview. Notably, one of the big turning points for Katniss — the first appearance of the “Girl on Fire” dress — has absolutely nothing to do with her own skills and everything to do with how her handlers present her. It’s a portrayal of the very carefully planned creation of a media star — a storyline that can’t help but seem meta that the actress playing Katniss has jumped in just one year from her own metaphorical District 12 (Winter’s Bone) into hitting the red carpet and hanging out with talk show hosts.

In the movie, these scenes are a lot of fun, but they’re somewhat… empty. The “audience” of the Capitol is mostly faceless people applauding. Even worse, the decision to focus so strongly on President Snow has the effect of dampening the satire. The great Donald Sutherland plays Snow as a combination of the Emperor from Star Wars and a James Bond villain. What we’re seeing, really, is a dramatic oversimplification of Collins’ moral universe. In the book, Katniss is the hero, and everyone except for her family is the villain. In the movie, Katniss is the hero, and everyone else is misguided, and Snow is the villain.

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Basically, The Hunger Games in movie form has become a superhero film. Katniss’ arrival in the Capitol is her origin story. Cato is the minor villain she faces in the first movie — think Scarecrow in Batman Begins — while the real villain lurks around the outskirts, building up lots of tension for the sequel. That’s not a bad thing, and Hunger Games is a fine superhero film. But by making the moral stakes so obvious, the movie basically becomes exactly the sort of simplified media narrative that Collins was originally criticizing.

The film is even more problematic when it moves into the Arena. One of the most interesting things about Katniss’ time in the Arena — as rendered by Collins — is that she isn’t just trying to survive. She’s also trying, in her own way, to please the audience: A key aspect of the Games is the presence of the sponsors, who send in helpful presents if they’re enjoying a Tributes’ performance. To that end, Katniss has to pretend that she is in love with Peeta. Much of the central tension of her time with Peeta in the Arena comes from the fact that what she’s doing has little to do with what she’s thinking. When she kisses Peeta, it’s not really a big swoony moment. She’s playing the game. Really, they’re having a reality-TV “showmance” — it just so happens that one of them didn’t get the memo.

This notion of performing — of Katniss playing the romantic hero, the way that Russell Hantz played the villainous mastermind on Survivor or Kelly Clarkson played the Everygal ingenue on American Idol or The Situation played the douchebag on Jersey Shore — is a central aspect of the book’s appeal. And the film has almost none of it. There’s a funny sequence where Haymitch prods her — “You call that a kiss?” — but the kiss itself is treated as a swoony moment.

To say that there is no romance in The Hunger Games isn’t quite accurate. Katniss herself is confused throughout the first book about her own feelings for Peeta — even if those feelings thankfully play a distant second to her constant concern for staying alive. But the movie pointedly chops out the payoff to this whole subplot: The moment at the end of the book when Katniss inadvertently admits that she was playing it all up for the cameras.

“It was all for the Games,” he says. “How you acted.”

“Not all of it,” I say, tightly holding onto my flowers.

“Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what’s going to be left when we get home?” he says.

“I don’t know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get,” I say. He waits, for further explanation, but none’s forthcoming.

“Well, let me know when you work it out,” he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.

That is a hell of a way to end a book: With betrayal, and confusion, and bitterness. The movie has not one bit of that exchange. Our last view of Katniss and Peeta are of them waving to District 12, while Gale looks on smiling. Meanwhile, back in the Capitol Command Center, cranky old President Snow glowers.

It was probably always going to be impossible for a Hunger Games movie to really follow through on Collins’ bread-and-circuses satirical edge. In his review of the movie, the AV Club’s Scott Tobias accurately compares the book’s bloodsoaked satire to the films of Paul Verhoeven, and it’s been a long time since any major movie studio has given a big budget to a director as dark or weird or fundamentally R-rated as Verhoeven. Moreover, The Hunger Games as a film franchise could very well wind up making billions of dollars. Audiences don’t like being morally implicated. They like love stories, and shaky-cam action, and villains played by Donald Sutherland, and funny wigs. (It makes you wonder what the filmmakers will do with Mockingjay, one of the bleakest conclusions to a sci-fi franchise since Alien3.)

Hunger Games is one of the very finest and most interesting funny-wig movies of the modern age. But by translating Suzanne Collins’ angry, fascinating, gloriously accusatory novel into a nicely-paced action picture — the kind of movie where a starving girl from a bleak mining district wears a nice leather jacket when she goes out hunting with her handsome Hemsworth pal — the movie version of Hunger Games winds up being a well-packaged, unchallenging studio product. Caesar Flickerman would be proud.

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Report: Michelle Duggar miscarries


Michelle Duggar has miscarried her 20th child, People magazinereported on Thursday.

“I feel like my heart broke telling my children,” said Michelle, who announced her pregnancy publicly last month on TODAY.

Michelle and her husband, Jim Bob, were hoping to find out the gender of their unborn child on Thursday; but the doctor was unable to find a heartbeat, People reported. The baby had been due in April, so Michelle was six months pregnant.

Last month: The Duggars announce they’re expecting a 20th child

“After the appointment, we came back home and told the children,” Michelle, 45, told People. “We had just been talking about baby names last night and they were getting excited about naming a boy or a girl. It has been a real sad disappointment.”

The Duggars told People magazine they plan to name the baby, once they find out if it was a boy or a girl, and then they’ll have a funeral service.

“The Lord is the giver of life and he can choose when that life is ready to go on and be with Him,” Michelle Duggar said.

The Duggars star on the TLC reality series “19 Kids and Counting,” which chronicled the difficulties of Michelle Duggar’s last pregnancy with Josie, now 2 years old. Michelle suffered from gall-bladder problems as well as preeclampsia. In order to save her life, doctors delivered daughter Josie three and a half months prematurely – she weighed only one pound, six ounces at birth, and endured a series of health emergencies, including a perforated bowel. Josie eventually went home with the rest of the Duggar family, and is now a healthy toddler who celebrated her second birthday in December.

In an interview with TODAY last summer, Michelle Duggar acknowledged the struggles of the 19th pregnancy, but said she would welcome more children. “The precious life that we see here is not a coincidence,” she said, referring to her youngest daughter Josie. “I just know that it is a miracle. I don’t take that for granted. I know that God is the one who gives life, and I’m just so grateful and thankful. We would welcome another if He saw fit, but we’ll wait and see.”

The Duggars also suffered a miscarriage with their second pregnancy. Originally, they planned to have only one to three children, and Michelle took oral birth control pills. But the miscarriage led them to believe they should eschew birth control.

The couple felt “devastated” by their first miscarriage, they wrote in their recently published book, “A Love That Multiplies”:

“At that point we read in Scripture that children are a blessing from the Lord and a gift from Him. We asked God to forgive us for taking matters in to our own hands and to give us a love for children like His love for them. We committed to letting Him decide how many children we would have and when they would be born,” the Duggars wrote.

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LONDON (AP) — Writer J.K. Rowling and actress Sienna Miller gave a London courtroom a vivid picture on Thursday of the anxiety, anger and fear produced by living in the glare of Britain’s tabloid media, describing how press intrusion made them feel like prisoners in their own homes.

The creator of boy wizard Harry Potter told Britain’s media ethics inquiry that having journalists camped on her doorstep was “like being under siege and like being a hostage.” Miller said years of car chases, midnight pursuits and intimate revelations had left her feeling violated, paranoid and anxious.

“The attitude seems to be absolutely cavalier,” Rowling said. “You’re famous, you’re asking for it.”

The pair were among a diverse cast of witnesses — Hollywood star Hugh Grant, a former soccer player, a former aide to supermodel Elle Macpherson and the parents of missing and murdered children — who have described how becoming the focus of Britain’s tabloid press wreaked havoc on their lives.

Rowling said she was completely unprepared for the media attention she began to receive when her first book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” became a sensation. The seven Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies, spawned a hit movie series and propelled Rowling from struggling single mother to one of Britain’s richest people.

“When you become well-known … no one gives you a guidebook,” she said.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry amid a still-unfolding scandal over illegal eavesdropping by the News of the World tabloid. Owner Rupert Murdoch closed down the newspaper in July after evidence emerged that it had illegally accessed the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search of scoops.

More than a dozen News of the World journalists and editors have been arrested, and the scandal has also claimed the jobs of two top London police officers, Cameron’s media adviser and several senior Murdoch executives.

It has also set off national soul-searching about the balance between press freedom and individual privacy.

Rowling, 46, said media interest in her began shortly after the publication of her first novel in 1997 and soon escalated, with photographers and reporters frequently stationed outside her home. She eventually moved after stories and photographs revealed the location of her house.

“I can’t put an invisibility cloaking device over myself or my house, nor would I want to,” Rowling said. But, she added, “it feels threatening to have people watching you.”

Rowling said she had always tried to keep her three children out of the media glare, and was outraged when her eldest daughter came home from primary school with a letter from a journalist in her backpack.

“I felt such a sense of invasion,” Rowling said. “It’s very difficult to say how angry I felt that my 5-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists.”

By the time her younger children were born in 2003 and 2005, Rowling said, the scrutiny was “like being under siege and like being a hostage.”

She also described how, early on in their relationship, her now-husband Neil Murray gave personal details over the phone to a reporter who was pretending to be a tax official. An article about him duly appeared in a tabloid paper.

“That was a not-very-nice introduction to being involved with someone famous,” Rowling said.

Rowling told the inquiry she had gone to court or to Britain’s press watchdog more than 50 times over pictures of her children or false stories, which included a claim by the Daily Express that unpleasant fictional wizard Gilderoy Lockhart had been based on her first husband.

Before the final Potter book appeared in 2007, a reporter even phoned the head teacher of her daughter’s school, falsely claiming the child had revealed that Harry Potter died at the end, in an apparent bid to learn secrets of the plot.

Miller, who became a tabloid staple when she dated fellow actor Jude Law, said the constant scrutiny left her feeling “very violated and very paranoid and anxious, constantly.”

“I felt like I was living in some sort of video game,” she said.

“For a number of years I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily,” she said. “Spat at, verbally abused.

“I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal.”

The 29-year-old actress told the inquiry that a stream of personal stories about her in the tabloids led her to accuse friends and family of leaking information to the media. In fact, her cell phone voice mails had been hacked by the News of the World.

Miller, the star of “Layer Cake” and “Alfie,” was one of the first celebrities to take the Murdoch tabloid to court over illegal eavesdropping. In May, the newspaper agreed to pay her 100,000 pounds ($160,000) to settle claims her phone had been hacked.

The newspaper’s parent company now faces dozens of lawsuits from alleged hacking victims.

Also testifying Thursday was former Formula One boss Max Mosley, who has campaigned for a privacy law since his interest in sadomasochistic sex was exposed in the News of the World.

Mosley successfully sued the News of the World over a 2008 story headlined “Formula One boss has sick Nazi orgy with five hookers.” Mosley has acknowledged the orgy, but argued that the story — obtained with a hidden camera — was an “outrageous” invasion of privacy. He said the Nazi allegation was damaging and “completely untrue.”

Mosley said he has had stories about the incident removed from 193 websites around the world, and is currently taking legal action “in 22 or 23 different countries,” including proceedings against search engine Google in France and Germany.

“Invasion of privacy is worse than burglary,” Mosley said. “Because if somebody burgles your house … you can replace the things that have been taken.”

High-profile witnesses still to come include CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan, who has denied using phone hacking while he was editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to Britain’s system of media self regulation.

Rowling said that she supported freedom the press, but that a new body was needed to replace the “toothless” Press Complaints Commission.

“I can’t pretend that I have a magical answer,” she said. “No Harry Potter joke intended.”


Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/

Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless


Perhaps she just wanted to take her mind off
her split from long-term boyfriend Alex Loudon.

For just days after her newly-single status
first leaked out, Pippa Middleton was enjoying a weekend-long shoot at the
stately pile of her close friend, George Percy, the Mail Online

Accompanied by a small group of friends, the
Duchess of Cambridge’s vivacious younger sister spent three days taking
pot-shots at grouse on his family estate in the Borders.

George – or to give him his proper title, Earl
Percy, son of the 12th Duke of Northumberland – also invited Pippa, 27, to join
his family at a Remembrance Sunday service held at Roman Catholic St Paul’s
Church in the nearby village of Alnwick.

She took a place in the front pew along with
his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, and grandmother, Dowager
Duchess of Northumberland, Duchess Elizabeth.

George, 27, sat in the row

The Rev David Archer, who led the service,
admitted he had noticed a rather ‘attractive’ lady in the front row but had no
idea it was the future king’s sister-in-law.

I had noticed an attractive lady in the front
row, but I did not realise it was her. She did look like Pippa Middleton,’ he

St Paul’s new priest, Father Phil Carroll, had
welcomed the group into the church but also failed to notice Pippa and remarked:
‘That shows how much we know about what is going on.’

But an unnamed worshipper said: ‘It caused a
bit of a stir in the church.’

According to friends, George was one of the
few men who made Pippa’s beau a little green around the gills.

Royal sources say that while Pippa’s
friendship with the heir to one of the richest and grandest dukedoms in the land
wasn’t the reason for their split, Alex never felt entirely comfortable with the
closeness of their relationship.

The pair have been confidantes since they
shared a flat at Edinburgh University along with Ted Innes Ker, son of the Duke
of Roxburghe.

Over the summer the couple were seen at
endless social events, including the Queen’s Club championships.

The night before the tennis Pippa and George
were also seen enjoying a three-hour dinner together in a French restaurant near
Sloane Square before returning to his London flat where she was eventually seen
leaving at 2am. Bizarrely, George shares a flat with another of Pippa’s ex’s, JJ

There was also a long weekend in Madrid with a
gaggle of girlfriends shortly after the royal wedding in May, where the affable
aristocrat was seen squiring Pippa out to several of the city’s hottest
nightspots as rowing her around a boating lake.

Old Etonian Alex, a contemporary of Prince
William at the upper-crust school, is no slacker in the family

His father, James, is a successful financier
and former High Sheriff of Kent while his grandfather, Francis, married Lady
Prudence Jellicoe, daughter of Admiral Sir John Henry Rushworth Jellicoe, who
commanded the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in the First
World War and became the second Governor-General of New Zealand.

Olantigh, his family’s Kent estate, is an
eminently respectable country retreat with more than 20 acres of

But it cannot even begin to compare with the
Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle, which features as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter

The castle is known as as the ‘Windsor of the
North’ and George’s family are regarded locally in Border country as royalty.

The family’s wealth is conservatively put at
around £300million and includes more than 100,000 acres of land as well as an
estate in Surrey and Syon Park in London.

A bright, well-mannered and well-meaning young
man, George, who studied geography at university specialising in renewable
energy, also recently set up in business and is poised to drill the first
commercial geothermal well in Country Durham.

His parents, Ralph, the 12th Duke of
Northumberland, and gardening-obsessive mother Jane are sensible sorts and
withheld the bulk of his inheritance to prevent him going off the

The couple are on ‘kissing terms’ with most
members of the royal family (including the Queen) and they and their four
children were all invited to prince William’s April wedding.

For her part Pippa was said to be ‘supremely
at home’ when she attended the wedding of their eldest, daughter, Lady Katie at
Alnwick In February.
Little wonder that
Alex found Pippa’s association with the family a little ‘claustrophobic’,
according to one well-placed source.

Last week The Sun reported they had finally
spilt after 18 months together – just weeks after Pippa was given the keys to
Alex’s Fulham home..

According to the newspaper, Pippa and Alex, a
former professional cricketer who works as a financial analyst at brewing giant
SAB Miller in Woking, are now ‘barely speaking’.

‘She and Alex split briefly in the summer –
but this time it’s over,’ a source said.

The paper claimed that Alex, who is intensely
private, felt uncomfortable with Pippa’s new found celebrity.

Friends have always expressed surprise at the
relationship – ‘Alex is very nice and steady and all that but he’s just, well, a
bit boring – particularly compared to Pippa who is hugely outgoing,’ one told
the Mail only last month.

Friends say her next beau would need to be
‘seriously sporty and well off’. ‘And it wouldn’t hurt for them to have even a
moderately respectable country pile,’ said one.

Perhaps the Middletons might yet boast double
duchesses in the family

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2061818/Pippa-Middleton-split-Newly-single-Pippa-takes-weekend-break-George-Percy.html#ixzz1dpbFDp8L

Egypt closes Great Pyramid after rumors of rituals



CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s antiquities authority closed the largest of the Giza pyramids Friday following rumors that groups would try to hold spiritual ceremonies on the site at 11:11 A.M. on Nov. 11, 2011.

The authority’s head Mustafa Amin said in a statement Friday that the pyramid of Khufu, also known as Cheops, would be closed to visitors until Saturday morning for “necessary maintenance.”

The closure follows a string of unconfirmed reports in local media that unidentified groups would try to hold “Jewish” or “Masonic” rites on the site to take advantage of mysterious powers coming from the pyramid on the rare date.

Amin called all reports of planned ceremonies at the site “completely lacking in truth.”

The complex’s director, Ali al-Asfar, said Friday that an Egyptian company requested permission last month to hold an event called “hug the pyramid,” in which 120 people would join hands around the ancient burial structure.

The authority declined the request a week ago, al-Asfar said, but that did not stop concerned Egyptians from starting internet campaigns to prevent the event from taking place.

“It has been a big cause now on Facebook and Twitter for many people to write about,” al-Asfar said.

The closure was unrelated to the rumors, he said, adding that the pyramid needed maintenance after the large number of visitors during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday last week.

The rest of the complex, which includes two other large pyramids, numerous tombs and the Sphinx, remained open Friday, though security appeared to be heavier than usual.

Dozens of police officers and soldiers were posted throughout the complex. Some patrolled on camel-back. One soldier stood next to his machine gun near a souvenir shop selling miniature pyramids.

Speaking by phone from the pyramids after 11:11 had passed, al-Asfar said he’d seen nothing out of the ordinary.

“Everything is normal,” he said. “The only thing different is the closure of the Khufu pyramid.”

Khufu is credited with building the Giza complex’s largest pyramid, now one of Egypt’s main tourist attractions. Khufu founded the 4th Dynasty around 2680 B.C. and ruled Egypt for 23 years.

Police: Bieber sexual tryst may be investigated


LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles police commander says his department could investigate an alleged sexual tryst between an underage Justin Bieber and a now 20-year-old woman because it violates California’s statutory rape law.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Thursday that no report has been taken about the October 2010 incident at Staples Center. However, police could look into the matter after various media outlets reported Mariah Yeater filed a paternity suit earlier this week against Bieber.

Yeater had just turned 19 when she says she and Bieber, then 16, had a sexual encounter after one of his concerts. Bieber’s camp denies he is the father of her baby boy, born in July.

California law states anyone who has unlawful sex with a minor and not more than three years older is guilty of a misdemeanor, which carries up to a one-year jail sentence.



What would Hermione say? JK Rowling has revealed that she “seriously” considered killing Ron Weasley “out of sheer spite” while she was writing the Harry Potter series.


Although the British author has not been shy about handing out sorry ends to a host of popular characters – from Hogwarts’s white-bearded headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who bites the dust in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to Harry’s owl Hedwig, who dies in the final novel – she never intended to kill one of her three main characters until, halfway through the series, she “wasn’t in a very happy place”. And it was the cheeky, ginger-haired Ron Weasley, best friend to Harry, love interest for Hermione, over whom the axe was hovering.


“Funnily enough, I planned from the start that none of them would die. Then midway through, which I think is a reflection of the fact that I wasn’t in a very happy place, I started thinking I might polish one of them off. Out of sheer spite. ‘There, now you definitely can’t have him any more.’ But I think in my absolute heart of heart of hearts, although I did seriously consider killing Ron, [I wouldn’t have done it],” she told the actor Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the films and who was “convinced one of the main three had to buy it”.


Rowling was being interviewed by Radcliffe for a special feature for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 DVD, which has been leaked online ahead of the DVD’s release later this year.


“It’s a real relief to be able to talk about it all,” the author added.


Fans were also relieved to learn of her change of heart. “Ron cannot die because he’s Hermione’s true love,” said one, writing on The Leaky Cauldron fan site. “Well she killed off three of my favourites: Sirius, Snape and Dobby so I suppose I should be grateful she didn’t kill Ron,” added another.


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