Venganza Media Gazette

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Stuart in L.A.: Don’t mistake ‘Hunger Games’ for ‘Twilight’ romance

When The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 bows in U.S. theaters on Nov. 20, it will cap a film saga that has seen four films in three years, grossed more than $2 billion (at the time of Part 2’s release), and transformed leading actress Jennifer Lawrence into one of Hollywood’s most lauded, and richest stars.

The film’s release will also mark the end of Now Playing Podcast’s Fall 2015 Silver Level donation series, in which listeners can hear reviews of the aforementioned Hunger Games franchise, as well as the two Japanese Battle Royale films. Both series’ are based on popular novels that feature groups of children isolated by their governments and forced to kill one another for survival. Yet while there is no question that Battle Royale was conceived and presented as a violent thriller, The Hunger Games has occasionally been written off as a Young Adult fantasy for teenage girls – akin to the Twilight franchise.

In addition to reviewing the films for Now Playing Podcast, host Stuart Atkinson is also reviewing the Battle Royale and Hunger Games novels for Now Playing’s sister podcast, Books & Nachos. Stuart spoke with the Venganza Media Gazette about the differences between The Hunger Games books and films, the audience it attracts, and whether the franchise has a future after this fall’s sequel.

Q: Is there a misconception that The Hunger Games is geared toward young teens? The violence is very adult.

Stuart: “I think it’s a misconception to think these films could ONLY be enjoyed by teenagers. I first became aware of Hunger Games as a book phenomenon in 2010. I’d read a magazine article explaining that today’s young women and girls love reading dark science fiction involving kiddie death matches. That kinda blew my mind. I have a young niece. It made me wonder why such nihilism would appeal to girls her age. Once I read the trilogy, it was obvious that this story had much wider appeal. It touches on ideas and satirizes things that anyone engaged with our 21st century social media culture is going to find entertaining.

Q: You’ve mentioned that The Hunger Games have more in common with Stephen King’s The Running Man than Twilight.

Stuart: Yeah, I see The Hunger Games as part of a long tradition of stories involving children killing each other for sport. Battle Royale, King’s The Long Walk (which he wrote before The Running Man), and even Lord of The Flies. I haven’t read Twilight or seen any of the movies, but my perception is that it’s a soap opera where a girl must choose between two dudes. Hunger Games has a love triangle too, but it would be a real stretch to call it a romance. Lionsgate owns the film rights to both Twilight and The Hunger Games, and I think they’ve marketed them as sister franchises. Don’t believe the poster. Katniss enters the arena fighting for her life, not trying to get a date. Think of this as Disney Channel greenlighting The Running Man.

Q: Without giving too much away, what are the biggest differences between the books and the films?

Stuart: I definitely feel like the movie makers struggle with how to portray child violence in a PG-13 movie, particularly in the first movie. You read The Hunger Games and there are some really ghastly things in there that they wouldn’t dare bring to the screen. Reading the story makes your mind deliver the R-rated version Lionsgate was unwilling to make.

Q: For those who haven’t read the books or seen the films, is there a definitive end to this series? Any chance of sequels or spinoffs?

Stuart: There are characters left alive at the end of Mockingjay, so I suppose there could always be more. But I see a very definitive end to this particular story. If they made more films in the Hunger Games universe they would probably involve new characters in a new trilogy in some distant time afterward. Kinda like Star Wars Episode VII, or these not-quite Harry Potter spinoffs they have planned for next year.

Now Playing Podcast’s The Hunger Games Retrospective Series begins Friday, Nov. 6.

November 6, 2015 Posted by | News, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off on Stuart in L.A.: Don’t mistake ‘Hunger Games’ for ‘Twilight’ romance

‘Turtles’ Power Now Playing on iTunes, ‘Children’ lurking


Now Playing Podcast is leaving the sewers and venturing into the cornfields.

Venganza Media’s flagship podcast capped its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Retrospective Series this week with its review of the Michael Bay-produced franchise reboot. The film marked the Turtles’ return to the big screen after a 7-year layoff and captured the box office crown on opening weekend.

Now Playing Podcast marked its own triumph on Thursday, when its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) episode debuted at No. 5 on iTunes’ TV & Film audio podcast rankings.

The achievement extends Now Playing’s summer winning streak, highlighted by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II episode, which peaked at No. 2 on iTunes in late July.

Throughout the TMNT series, hosts Arnie Carvalho, Stuart Atkinson and Jakob Brewster have guided listeners through the highs and lows of Ninja Turtles lore, and ventured outside of the feature films to discuss long-forgotten turns in the franchise’s history, including the infamous Coming Out Of Their Shells concert tour.

“Turtle Power is a real thing, it cannot be underestimated,” Atkinson joked. “I give all the credit to those green guys. They’ve been through hell at the movies and they deserve a little Top 10 love.”

With theNP_SKSeries-ChildrenCornArt_1400 Turtles franchise now in their rear view, the hosts are set to begin the next chapter in Now Playing’s massive Stephen King retrospective. The series, which began last fall, picks up again Aug. 19 with Children of the Corn, a nine-episode arc that will complete Now Playing’s coverage of King’s Night Shift collection.

The first Corn adaptation hit theaters in 1984 and was followed by seven poorly-received sequels, as well as a television remake. Fans of Now Playing’s earliest horror retrospective series’ can look forward to the hosts continuing their discussion of Hollywood’s sequel addiction as they try their best to remain composed in the face of mediocre filmmaking.

“Reviewing Night Shift has been a long haul, and I say that as the King fan!” Carvalho said. “I haven’t watched most of these Corn films, but they made nine of them — there has to be something there, right?”

“Nine films? Most direct-to-video?” Brewster added. “I just hope I can come up with enough corn puns to bring a kernel of humor to our listeners’ ears. Sigh.”

The Children of the Corn series will carry Now Playing Podcast into early October, before the hosts embark on a journey through the films of director Christopher Nolan, leading up to the release of November’s Interstellar.

August 14, 2014 Posted by | News, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Turtles’ Power Now Playing on iTunes, ‘Children’ lurking

The 40-Year-Old Critic – Introduction


40-Year-Old-Arnie-Master-working-CloseUp-2In exactly 40 days I turn 40 years old.

That milestone is not one without heft.  If the actuarial tables for American males are to be believed, I’m likely at least halfway through my time on this planet.  Each day I am probably closer to my death than to my birth.  Now is the time to start measuring life by the things I’ll never do instead of the things I could do.  It’s a time to reflect on what has been and determine what will be for the rest of my days.

The usual things come to mind when I ponder my life thus far:  My loving, supportive, smart, and funny wife, Marjorie.  My long-time best friend, Stuart.  My godparents, who helped raise me and taught me to be analytical.  My sister, who exposed me to literature and deconstructionist themes.  My father, who gave me a cynical view, a strange sense of humor, and a love of classical music.

But what all these people have in common is a strong memory of watching films together; sitting in a dimly lit cinema, absorbed by the images on the screen.

Marjorie and I have seen so many films together that I doubt I could compile a comprehensive list. but a few stand out.  Our first film as a married couple, watched in a midnight release on our honeymoon, was Star Wars:  Attack of the Clones.  The projector broke.  We sat for 3 hours past the planned midnight start time before the movie began.  I can still sing that New Orleans’ theater’s jingle for popcorn and candy, which played on a loop the entire time.

Another memorable movie trip was to see Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. It was a limited release so we had to drive 4 hours each way just to watch the film, and I was so tired on the return trip we had to get a hotel.

I remember Ocean’s 11 — a movie with such a strong feel-good vibe that it saved our Sunday.  We walked into the theater in the most sour of moods, and left extremely happy.

I remember watching Fight Club on video.  Marjorie was tired so she went to sleep, and the next day all I could talk about was how she had to see that film–the first movie that I felt she and I had to share as a couple versus being able to experience on my own.

Stuart and I have seen films together since 1982.  I remember going with him to see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Return of the Jedi.  Many more movies followed, but there are standouts. Charlie Sheen’s The Wraith, which we saw hoping for horror but got car races and heavy metal instead.  We hated it at the time, but I later came to love this film for what it was (and the Sherilyn Fenn waterfall scene).  We saw The Gate the weekend it opened, and bemoaned our choice for days.  Not all the movies we watched were terrible — I first saw The Godfather trilogy in Stuart’s Chicago apartment, and he introduced me to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner as part of a film noir marathon we had together as teens.

For years Stuart and I had a standing Christmas night movie appointment.  He was in town to spend the holiday with family, and so a dinner of Chinese food and a movie viewing was had. Jackie Brown was the most memorable of those Christmas viewings, and we had wildly different reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction follow-up.


But from European Vacation to Jaws 3-D to The Devil’s Rejects, Explorers, JFK, The Lawnmower Man and hundreds more, Stuart and I are still going to movies together.

My sister Susan took me to see my first R-rated film, Beverly Hills Cop.  She also exposed me to many movies I’d have not seen in my youth without her influence, including Ghostbusters and Lady and the Tramp.  She is much older than I, so our movie time together has been sparse, but always memorable, including E.T., Return of the Jedi, and Bridget Jones’ Diary.  (Though she staunchly refused to join me for a Hellraiser marathon.)

Yes, throughout the years my romantic, familial, and friend relationships have all involved, and in some ways been shaped by, movies.  Sometimes there is no quicker way to look into a person’s soul than to ask what films they cherish.  So it seems appropriate that to celebrate my 40th birthday I look back at 40 years of cinema.

Each day, from now until my birthday on September 12th, I will post an article looking back at the one film from each year of my life that impacted me most.  This may not be my favorite film, it may not even be a film I like, but the one that had the longest-lasting impact on me and helped shape my view of the world.

I hope you’ll join me each day as I reflect on my lifetime of cinema.




August 3, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments