"The Hunger Games" (Lionsgate): In a bleak and not-too-distant future (maybe sometime after the end of Rick Santorum's second term?), in the North American land of Panem, preparations are being made for The Hunger Games. The Games, in which young residents are selected by lottery at a public "reaping" to participate in a death sport for the entertainment of the decadent denizens of the Capitol and for the punishment of the country's 12 districts, are the result of a failed uprising.
In the coal mining-centered 12th district, sisters Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence - pictured) and Prim (Willow Shields), attend the selection ceremony where, much to Prim's shock and dismay, she is selected to represent her district as a Tribute (competitor). Knowing that Prim won't survive, the heartier and older Katniss volunteers to take her place. Baker's son Peetah (Josh Hutcherson of "The Kids Are All Right") is selected as the male Tribute.
What follows is the elaborate training and transition of Katniss and Peetah, from working-class, impoverished country folk to fit and ruthless, cold-blooded killers and survivors. In the hands of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and to a lesser extent Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peetah are transformed into first rate killing machines. Each one brings their special skills – Katniss' deadly aim with a bow and arrow, Peetah's ability to throw heavy items great distances. Once the Games begin, the body count rapidly mounts, with each death marked by a cannon blast and the image of the fallen Tribute projected on the sky and various Jumbo Trons. As you might have guessed, Katniss and Peetah survive, with a potential romance simmering below (and occasionally on) the surface.
Peripherally, at least for now, there is Gale (hot Liam Hemsworth), the guy Katniss left behind in District 12; white-haired President Snow (a particularly insidious Donald Sutherland), who uses hope as a weapon; flamboyant TV personality Caesar (Stanley Tucci), who prefers his color commentary of The Hunger Games to mostly be blood red; and chief Gamemaker Seneca (Wes Bentley), who manipulates the computer generated terrors that the Tributes must face.
All in all, "The Hunger Games" is exhilarating, thought-provoking and visually captivating. Director Gary Ross outdoes himself, balancing theatrics and subtleties, with special effects and compelling performances (especially those of Lawrence and Harrelson). "The Hunger Games" is a thoroughly satisfying movie experience that, as you might expect, leaves you hungry for more.