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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Late soul man James Brown is set to be exposed as a crazy oddball in a new documentary from the man behind the explosive new Bettie Page film. As The Help director Tate Taylor develops his Brown biopic, with 42 star Chadwick Boseman as the star, Mark Mori is making a very different film that will shed light on the Godfather of Soul's private life.
He tells WENN, "He's got a little secret part of his life. These are people who worked with him that have stepped forward and want to tell the story.
"Maybe I shouldn't boil it down to one word but the one thing they all agree on is he's crazy! The kind of ends he would go to to do things are kind of amazing and his public life is different than his private life in major ways."
Mori hit the headlines earlier this month (13) after revealing he had stumbled across never-before-seen shots of pin-up Page while researching his new film on the beauty icon.
Dionne Warwick and Keith Sweat are set to be honoured at the upcoming Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas. R&B veteran Sweat has been named the recipient of a 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award and Warwick will receive the night's Legend Award.
The accolade will mark a full circle moment for Warwick, who helped late TV mogul Don Cornelius perfect the 1970s music show that was to become Soul Train, and inspire the awards. Gladys Knight, Ronald Isley and Eric Benet will be among the stars who will pay tribute to the singer at the event.
Meanwhile Sweat will perform a medley of his hits and join Faith Evans for a special performance.
Comedian and actor Anthony Anderson will host the awards on Friday night (08Nov13). Janelle Monae is hoping to bounce back from a throat infection to perform alongside Toni Braxton and Kenny 'Babyface' Edmonds at the awards, which will also feature a Cirque Du Soliel tribute to Michael Jackson.
Hip-hop sensation Kendrick Lamar leads this year's nominations with six, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Tied with five nominations each are Miguel, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, Chris Brown, Tamar Braxton and Janelle Monae.
Comedian and actor Anthony Anderson will host the awards on Friday night (08Nov13).
Lady Sybil is back, ya'll — well, the actress who played her is, at least. In the trailer for the romantic fantasy Winter's Tale, Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay is romanced by Colin Farrell (although we wish she were still madly in love with her Irish rebel back at the Downton estate), and... time-travel is involved?
The Warner Bros. film, which is based on Mark Helprin's 1983 novel of the same name, follows a thief named Peter (Farrell) who falls in love with a dying woman named Beverly (Findlay). (Side note: Why is Findlay always dying?). Decades later, we find an un-aged Peter in New York City with no recollection of his former life. Yes, it appears that we've got another time-traveling romance on our hands (we're looking at you, About Time), or as IMDB says, a story of reincarnation.
The trailer makes the film's plot seem a little bit scattered, but what we can discern from the two-and-a-half minute peek is that Jennifer Connelly eventually steps in to help forgetful, time-jumping Peter remember who he is and what happened to him and Beverly. Oh, and Russell Crowe plays a mobster with a gigantic scar on his face who's out to kill Peter, and Peter's mystical horse might be able to travel through time as well. Yup, that's all we can put together. Take a look at the trailer and try and figure out if you can solve the Winter Tale mystery.
Winter's Tale, which is directed by Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), is set to hit theaters on Feb. 14, 2014. If the film is being released on Valentine's Day, it has to have a happy ending, right?
Getting the likes of Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Kline in one film should be a recipe for a rousing success, and in many ways throughout Last Vegas, the casting is very successful. The main cast gives everything actors can really contribute to a film, and they excel as well as they can with what they're given. But the film shows that, at the end of the day, the script is king, and Last Vegas falters because its dreadfully weak writing hinders some fun performances.
Like another Vegas comedy, to which comparisons are unavoidable, the film centers around a bachelor party. Billy (Douglas) is trying to hold onto his youth with the grip of an iron vice. He's engaged to a much younger woman and decides that his wedding is the perfect time to rekindle his relationship with his three best friends, a group friendship that has frayed over the years. Archie (Freeman), Paddy (De Niro) and Sam (Kline) pack up to experience a weekend full of geriatric high jinks before Billy's wedding. Each of the four characters travels to Vegas with a certain amount of baggage stowed away in the carry-on compartment, and it's all related to aging, but the resolution to all of these character threads ends way too predictably. The first resolution to each of their stories that swirls around in your head while watching will undoubtedly be the one that pops up on screen before the credits roll.
One of the biggest sins Last Vegas makes is that it's just not all that funny, and the problem lies in the script. The film seems content with telling the same joke about old people over and over again, ad nauseam. It can barely mine humor from any other source besides the characters' advanced ages, pounding that theme into your head like a pulsing jackhammer. Jokes are fired at a machine gun pace, but so many of them fall ridiculously flat. Even when the cast is able to sell some of the feeble punchlines, they still aren't very clever or memorable. If anything, it makes it clear to see why these actors are as celebrated as they are. They all posses a serious amount of charm that bounces across the screen and makes the duds clank a little less loudly.
In fact, any enjoyment to be had from Last Vegas stems solely from the performances of the principal men, and sultry lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen). All five actors possess a natural chemistry that carries the film's limp material around long after the script has forgotten how to be clever. They all have an excitable energy that permeates the rest of the film, but energy means little when they aren't saying anything particularly interesting. During the film, you're never quite bored or offended, but you're never excited either. It just chugs along in a miasma of general competence but not much else.
Last Vegas isn't quite dead on arrival but it's no a spring chicken either. Its high points ride on the backs of its stars' finely aged charisma, and much of the pleasing aspects that exist in Last Vegas would still be intact if the film just consisted of the actors sitting in a room, chewing the fat with each other without a script or direction. At the very least, they would have fewer stupid things to say. What happened in Vegas probably should have stayed there.
Veteran singer/songwriter Van Morrison is offering fans free tickets to a special gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland to celebrate winning the freedom of the city. The Brown Eyed Girl hitmaker will be handed the civic honour from officials at a ceremony at the city's Ulster Hall on 15 November (13), and will hit the stage later the same day.
A total of 2,000 tickets will be made available online and fans will be chosen at random to receive admission to the once-in-a-lifetime gig.
A council spokesperson says, "The one-off concert at the Waterfront Hall is being held to mark Belfast City Council conferring the Freedom of the City on the legendary musician to mark his remarkable global status and contribution to the city where he was born."
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mairtin O Muilleoir, who will present the honour to the singer, adds, "The term living legend is too loosely thrown around these days but there is no doubting Van Morrison's eligibility for such status due to his incredible talent as a songwriter, musician and vocalist."
Morrison, who was born in Belfast, is only the second person in 10 years to be handed the honour.
If you managed to stay away from all means of communication this past week and have no idea what's up in Hollywood, look no further. From Scar-Jo as World's Sexiest Woman to Bryan Cranston on Broadway, here are the week's top stories from our favorite websites:WENNShould We Be Talking About Chris Brown's Latest Interview?Chris Brown, whose new album X is set to drop at the beginning of December, raised some eyebrows in his published interview with the UK's The Guardian last weekend. The singer revealed that he lost his virginity at an extremely young age, and Flavorwire's Tom Hawking explores the reason behind the lack of discussion on what would normally be called sexual assault. Could Lady Gaga Have Done Without Jeff Koons?Lady Gaga refuses to be just another pop singer, but is her latest attempt a bit curious? ARTPOP will be released on Nov. 11 with an album cover designed by NYC-based artist Jeff Koons, but would Gaga have been better off without him? Flavorwire is wondering if her attempt at high art is missing the mark.Bryan Cranston Confirmed for Broadway PlayWalter White is headed for the city that never sleeps! Kind of... As much as we'd all love to see Breaking Bad-gone-Broadway, it's Bryan Cranston who will be making his debut on stage as Lyndon B. Johnson later this fall in All The Way. Hollywood.com has all of the details on Cranston's latest role.Scarlett Johansson Named Sexiest Woman Alive, AgainSeven years later and she's still got it! As if the release of her new movie isn't enough, Johansson, who can be seen in theaters alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon, was once again named the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire. Celebuzz has the full story.
Sir Paul McCartney is convinced he is responsible for The Rolling Stones' reunion gigs, insisting his constant touring inspired them to hit the road again. The Brown Sugar rockers got back together last year (12) to mark their 50th anniversary with huge concerts in London, New York, and New Jersey.
McCartney made sure he caught their show in the Big Apple, and he is adamant his old pals Keith Richards and Sir Mick Jagger were prompted to tour again by his own love of playing live.
He tells NME magazine, "They wanna be part of what I'm doing. 'Cos (sic) I've been touring quite consistently. But it's what we do, it's the thing we're best at. And we've had a lot of practice and we've got a lot of music to draw from. So, it's really natural that if the Stones are getting on - which they are - they come out."
Veteran singer/songwriter Van Morrison is to play a special gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland to celebrate winning the freedom of the city. Civic officials announced last month (Aug13) that the Brown Eyed Girl hitmaker will be given the Freedom of Belfast, and he has now announced a gig at the city's Ulster Hall on 15 November (13) to mark the honour.
Morrison says, "Belfast is my home. It is where I first heard the music that influenced and inspired me... It is where I first performed and it is somewhere I have referred back to many times in my songwriting over the past 50 years. I am delighted and honoured to receive the freedom of the city."
The singer is expected to receive the Freedom of Belfast next year (14).
Stars including Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Matthew Mcconaughey, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Stiller and the Jonas Brothers have joined millions across the world in marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. Nearly 3,000 people were killed on 11 September, 2001, after two hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, while a third plane ripped into the Pentagon military defence headquarters in Virginia and another went down in Pennsylvania.
A ceremony was held in New York City on Wednesday morning (11Sep13) to mark 12 years since the atrocities, and a number of celebrities marked the anniversary in posts on Twitter.com.
Pop star Lady Gaga, who was brought up in the Big Apple, writes, "12 years ago today Sept 11th. We will never forget. Still remember the smoke in the sky. Saying lots of prayers for families who lost lives."
The Jonas Brothers wrote, "Never forget. 9/11" while Kings of Leon rocker Nathan Followill adds, "Remembering those who were taken too soon on this date 12 years ago. Sad day for all but stronger than ever. Never Forget."
British musicians Duran Duran posted, "Our thoughts are with every one who was affected by the tragedies of 9/11. We hope that all reading have a day filled w/ (with) peace," and music mogul Simon Cowell reached out to the victims' relatives: "My thoughts are with the families who lost someone special. They will never be forgotten."
Singer/actress Miley Cyrus threw her support behind a campaign which urges members of the public to do a good deed to mark the sad occasion, writing, "Do a good deed today in observance of 911 Day. Make your pledge at 911day.org."
Missy Elliott marked the day by recalling her time in New York City on the day of the attacks, writing, "I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I was in NY just did (a) Michael Jackson tribute the night before... Me and Nelly Furtado performed. She made her plane but I got stuck in NY for days during 9/11 they closed everything... Many Prayers for the families grieving over the loss of a loved one during the 9/11 tragedy. May they rest in peace. Never 4gotten (sic)."
Actor/director Ben Stiller adds, "Glad to be in NY on 9/11. Remembering all those who lost someone."
Other messages came in from Josh Groban, Spike Lee, Mena Suvari, Sheryl Crow , Bobby Brown, Julianne Hough and Chely Wright, while actors Matthew McConaughey and Chloe Grace Moretz both posted photo tributes.
A number of other stars are raising money for good causes on Wednesday by manning the phones on trading floors in both London and New York as part of the annual Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners' Charity Day.