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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Jack Johnson and Daryl Hall & John Oates will share top billing with kids' act Yo Gabba Gabba at the 2013 Life is Good Festival in Massachusetts. The two-day family event will be held at Prowse Farm in Canton on 21 and 22 September (13). The Roots, Dawes and Amos Lee are also on the bill.
Romance isn’t like it was back in the 1960s, the good ol' days when a top-of-his-game adman would dress to the nines to court the tittering diner waitress who got his coffee and stole his heart — that soft-spoken lass who’d have a roast ready the moment he’d stumble in from drinks with the fellas — or an occasional twilight romp with the boss’ secretary. Yes, it was a better time. But there's one couple who looks to bring that sort of passion back from the dead: Alexis Bledel and Vincent Kartheiser, whose onscreen extramarital tryst was one of the zestiest elements of Mad Men's fifth season, are now engaged, as Hollywood.com has confirmed with Kartheiser's reps.
Kartheiser, the AMC drama's reliable cretin Pete Cambell, welcomed the unhappily married Beth Dawes (Bledel, otherwise known best as Gilmore Girls' Rory) into his jagged embrace in an engrossing arc on the most recent season of Mad Men. Pete and Beth evaded their unknowing spouses, dodged the call of their own consciences, and thrust cacophony into every conceivable element of their lifestyles, all to be together... meaning that Bledel and Kartheiser are going to have to keep a watchful eye on one another.
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While we firmly believe that Pete and Rory are destined for a long and happy life together, there's no denying that in this post-'60s America, love is a difficult thing to maintain — especially in Hollywood. So if the pair is going to make it work, they'll need to be vigilant. Compassionate, supportive, compromising... and totally on top of all the signs that the other might be cheating. Luckily, their Mad Men material should give them a bit of an edge here...
Alexis, if Vincent makes a habit of giving rides home to the stranded wives of fellow commuters, keep watch. His intentions might be good, but as we learned from Pete and Beth, it's bound to amount to something more.
Vincent, if Alexis experiences sudden bouts of "amnesia," denying memory of recent periods of time, she's probably just holing up in denial over having just slept with a Madison Avenue account executive.
Alexis, if Vincent starts smashing champagne glasses in public places, you might want to assume he's frustrated over being stood up by a desired mistress.
Vincent, if Alexis begins acting strangely when you invite a friend to have dinner with the two of you, there's likely some funny business going on between the two of them.
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Alexis, if Vincent starts haphazardly fighting with some guy on the train home from work, there's a good chance he's shtupping the man's wife.
Vincent, if Alexis decides to stay with her sister for an extended period of time, you could be wise to assume that there's a cuckholding underway.
Alexis, if Vincent breaks the news that he wants to get a second apartment in Manhattan, it's not too farfetched that he's knee deep in an affaire de coeur.
And finally, Vincent. If Alexis gets electroshock therapy to relinquish herself of conscious thought and erase all of the memories that anchor her into the swamps of dejection... well, you've got a whole mess of problems. And one of 'em might be the milk man.
But if none of that's going on, then you guys have got a blessed union! Congratulations, Pete and Rory!
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
[Photo Credit: AMC]
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For the first time the tale is centered firmly on the Batman himself or in this case Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and not on one of his over-the-top enemies. Now the non-comics audiences can witness--and understand--the sequence of events that led an orphaned billionaire to dress up like a bat and scare the bejeezus out of bad guys. Expanding The Batman's world beyond the claustrophobic confines of Gotham the film opens on a tormented and rudderless Wayne abroad in Asia recruited by hypnotic Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) to join the world-redefining forces of the enigmatic Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) by way of some serious ninja schooling. All the while Bruce flashes back on his parents' violent murder and his growing sense of impotence against injustice despite the attentions of childhood sweetie and future D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Unwilling to mete out Ra's extreme form of "justice " Wayne returns to Gotham City to launch his own unique campaign to clean up the city's corrupt and crime-plagued streets with three key allies: his faithful family valet Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); Gotham's only clean cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman); and tech-savvy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who provides the Batman's wonderful toys from Wayne Enterprises' experimental arsenal. Now trying on two different masks--Batman's crime-hating fury for the back alleys and a foppish playboy façade for the public--Wayne soon finds himself pitted against an inventive doomsday plot instigated by psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane better known as the sinister Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who uses fear as a weapon almost as formidably as The Batman himself. We're finally given a noble post-modern Batman who with compelling motivation will not resort to lethal force.
Bale leads the all-star cast making the best movie Batman since Michael Keaton's excellently eccentric 1989 performance. Whereas Keaton's slight intensely brilliant Wayne seemed to don the Batsuit to gain an edge of intimidation Bale's Batman is simply a dark emblem expressing the rage and fury roiling underneath the billionaire's surface. His is a ferocious Dark Knight indeed. He's also effective portraying two other sides of the character's persona: the silly randy public face of Bruce Wayne and the tortured real man underneath both guises. Of the potent supporting cast Caine imbues Alfred with the appropriate fatherly warmth and wit while adding a fresh element of authority and capability as well; Neeson's multidimensional Ducard leaves one guessing if he's a hero antihero villain or all of the above; and Freeman is clearly having a ball as Batman's own "Q." Holmes is comely capable and utterly superfluous; Tom Wilkinson tastefully chews the scenery as crime boss Carmine Falcone; and Murphy (once a close contender for the role of Batman himself) is tantalizingly creepy and villainous--the film could have used more of his off-kilter charisma. The only minor speed bump is Oldman's Gordon. His acting is always on the mark but the character so well-developed in the seminal comic book tale Batman: Year One is never utilized to its fullest potential.
Along the way every element of the Batman's back story is fleshed out in almost excruciating detail. Here's how he found the Batcave. Here's where he got the Batmobile. Here's why he has little pockets on his utility belt. Yadda yadda yadda. But some clever plot twists from director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter/professional comic book scribe David S. Goyer fuel the story's forward momentum. Nolan and Goyer work hard to inventively crib together a mélange of origin elements and plot points from influential comic book storytellers including original Batman creator Bob Kane unsung early writer Bill Finger Sin City's Frank Miller David Mazzuccelli Dennis O'Neil Neal Adams and others (even bits and pieces from a comic story penned by Ducard's creator Sam Hamm also the screenwriter behind Burton and Keaton's 1989 film). All these patches are effectively sewn into a clever quilt creating a cohesive original tale told with entertaining gusto. However the film does lack a certain knockout visual flair that defines the best comics--great imposing "money shots" of the fearsome Batman are few and far between--and the action sequences are a tad too choppy close-up and over-edited. Plus for a film about a dude dressed as a winged mammal it takes itself so darn seriously. The movie would definitely have benefited from a jolt of loopy outlandishness akin to Burton's undeniably quirky vision. And--despite the reigning notion that the previous films overdid the villains--a crazier more charismatic bad guy would have done wonders to liven up the stately proceedings. There's a reason the audience burst into wild applause in the screening I saw at a third-act allusion to one of Batman's more famous adversaries. Let's hope for a little more inspired lunacy in the sequel.