Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire began filming in Maui, Hawaii, on Monday after wrapping in Atlanta earlier this month, and we have a first look at the beginning of the third quarter quell! Check out these just released photos of the start of the 75th annual Hunger Games.
In the Hunger Games sequel, adapted from Suzanne Collin’s hit YA novel, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself back in the arena when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) announces that this year’s tributes are to be reaped from the remaining victors. Since District 12 has only one female victor, Katniss is thrust back into the subject of her nightmares for another go at the Hunger Games.
This year’s arena is set on a tropical island, and the cornucopia bloodbath takes place in the water. This offers a unique advantage to sea-faring districts when the tributes are forced to swim to shore. District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) doesn’t know how to swim, and the first alliance is formed when Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) helps him stay afloat, and alive.
Also pictured is Lynn Cohen playing Mags, an elderly female victor with bite from District 4 (the same fishing district from which Finnick hails). Mags joins the unlikely alliance with Finnick, Peeta, and Katniss, along with a few other surprising tributes.
The wetsuit-inspired outfits look extremely useful in the conditions the tributes are dropped in, as well as all-around awesome. The uniform is streamlined and simple, giving the tributes a badass look. We also get a glimpse of Katniss wielding her legendary weapon of choice, a bow and arrow. I don't envy the tribute on the receiving end of that point.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits theaters November 22, 2013.
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[Photo Credit: Juan Sharma/Goodrich/Pacific Coast News (2); Zeus/Apollo/FameFlynet]
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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
Bosses at Columbus' 1492 Pictures acquired the rights to the tome last year (11) and now the moviemaker is looking for a young unknown to play the Messiah.
Casting directors Suzanne Smith, Elizabeth Barnes and Corbin Bronson have released a statement to PRWeb, revealing they are hosting an international online casting call for the part.
The statement reads: "He is a very special seven-year-old boy with a buoyant energy and magnetic charm, as well as quiet intensity. In many ways a normal young boy, he is beginning to understand his divine nature; at times we see in him a soulful quality, an unspoken intelligence and a deep stillness."
Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt will be directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and shooting is expected to start in Italy in March (13).
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
This is a huge week for fans of young adult fantasy series. One of the most ambitious film franchises of all time is coming to a close. And while we’re sad to soon be entering a world where there isn’t a new Harry Potter film on the horizon (though just yesterday I argued the entire series needs to be remade), there’s still plenty of YA stories out there that will help fill that gaping hole you now find growing in your chest. Some are already heading to the big screen and some aren’t even out yet, but if you’ve got a YA itch that you’ve just got to scratch, at least one of these is bound to be your fix.
"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
Alright, let’s just get the big one out of the way first. You’ve probably grown tired of hearing about The Hunger Games at this point purely because Lionsgate dropped more casting bombs over the last few months than the Luftwaffe dropped on London during the Blitz. For many it’s already worn out its PR welcome, and if that’s the case, you’re probably still wondering what exactly is the big deal about YA’s current biggest craze.
Here’s the skinny: The Hunger Games is not a fantasy series. It’s a vaguely sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic future where a newly reformed nation is forced to participate in an annual, televised competition to the death. Basically, it’s Battle Royale meets The Long Walk. Conceptually, it’s unoriginal, but it’s not exactly bad. Collins’ writing is of the standard, breezy variety most will have come to expect from novels written for teenagers, but the material does show promise for the big screen. The first book in the trilogy isn’t good enough to recommend outright, but it won’t make you want to throw the book on a smoldering pire.
Chance it Will Scratch Your Potter Itch: Low, but it may (very) temporarily distract you from it.Who Owns the Film Rights: Lionsgate.
"Incarceron" by Catherine Fisher
I haven’t read Incarceron, but back when Potter mania was proving fantasy novels can be big, big box office business, every studio could be found trying to find the next big thing. One of those properties snapped up quickly was Incarceron, which sounds like a truly unique blend of science fiction and fantasy that has more originality on a single page than something derivative like The Hunger Games has in its entire series.
The story is about a society that exists inside a virtual prison controlled by an AI named Incarceron. One day two characters, each coming from two very different backgrounds, find a key that they believe will allow them to escape this realm, which has been designed to mirror the 18th century, though it’s overseen by robots and Incarceron’s omnipresent eye. The trouble is they have to find what door the key actually unlocks.
Chance it Will Scratch Your Potter Itch: Pretty decent. Its world isn’t quite as accessible the wizarding world, but it indulges in its own fully realized and bizarre world with similar devotion.Who Owns the Film Rights: 20th Century Fox.
"Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld
If you’re a fan of alternate history settings and steampunk stylings, Leviathan was created just for you. It takes place in a bizzaro reality where World War I is being fought between the Clankers, the tech-based faction who fight with mechanized war machines, and the Darwinists, allies that do battle with highly specialized animals that have been bred and evolved for war. Sounds pretty damned rad, no?
Westerfeld’s writing is probably a bit more youth-oriented than most adults will want from that premise, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering a complex, wildly imaginative narrative full of high concepts with a vague relationship to our own World War I. Adults will enjoy it, but if you happen to have a kid between 9 and 13, please give them a copy of this instead of The Hunger Games.
Chance it Will Scratch Your Potter Itch: Mild. It’s got nothing to do with magic, but, as with Incarceron, it’s absolutely a unique setting and story.Who Owns the Film Rights: No one as far as I can tell, which is stupid. Leviathan would make for a helluva animated film. Just check out the book’s trailer to get a taste of what you’re missing out on:
"The Spook’s Apprentice" by Joseph Delaney
Note: This series has a silly amount of titles. The series itself is called The Wardstone Chronicles, in America its first entry in it is called The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, and the movie is actually called The Seventh Son (a change that was no doubt made to distance any assumed association with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which floundered at the box office).
As with Incarceron, I haven’t actually read any of The Wardstone Chronicles, but it’s now at the top of my always growing "To Read" pile. It’s about a young teenage boy in the 1700s who, because he is the seventh son of a seventh son, is able to see all manner of otherwise ethereal beasties like ghosts and boggarts. He then takes an apprenticeship under the local spook and learns how to kill all the supernatural baddies that threaten his town and are under the control of an evil queen.
A film adaptation is currently in the casting stages, with Jeff Bridges set to play The Spook, while Ben Barnes is locked down as his apprentice (I guess they’re aging the character quite a bit). Julianne Moore is attached to play the queen. And if that cast isn’t enticing enough on its own, the film is being produced by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the Thomas Tull-led team that has given the world Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Chance it Will Scratch Your Potter Itch: High. The series, which currently has 8 books under its belt, has both a critical and fan following thanks to Delaney’s dark(er) fantasy sensiblities.Who Owns the Film Rights: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.