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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
NBC Photo Bank via Getty
After weeks of conflict, bros all over the world can finally take comfort in the news that the Entourage film is set to enter production. According to writer and director Doug Ellin, the cast managed to hug it out and have all signed on to make the movie a reality. Jerry Ferrara, who played Turtle, also confirmed the news via Twitter last night. But while some people are rejoicing, and others are asking if it's suddenly 2007 again, we're left wondering what the plot of the film will entail. After watching Vincent Chase's (Adrian Grenier) rise and fall (and rise and fall) in Hollywood and his friends various successes and failures for eight seasons, are there any stories left for the Entourage film to tell?
It's undeniable that the show's quality dropped during its last few seasons, and it felt like the writers were recycling old plots in order to fill air time, and watching Vince miraculously escape any consequences for his actions over and over became a bit tedious. In honor of the film moving ahead despite the conflicts and criticisms, we've brainstormed 10 possible plots for the Entourage movie, so that they don't have to keep putting the characters in the same situations again and again.
1. Since the storylines on Entourage are often inspired by real-life events, the most likely plot for the film would center on Vince attempting to get the movie version of a successful television show that he starred in off the ground. However, tensions arise when he discovers that several of the cast members have decided to hold out on signing films contracts until they are paid the same amount of money as Vince, who became the show's breakout star. Things get even worse when Eric, who produced the show and is trying to produce the movie, calls the stars "greedy" to TMZ. Luckily for them, Turtle bonds with one of the actors, and together they help broker a deal while giving cheerful interviews to the media, exciting legions of frat-boys fans the world over.
2. In another storyline inspired by real-life events, Vince makes his Broadway debut in a play by David Mamet, alongside several well-respected theater actors. However, barely two months into the run, he gets sick and drops out the play immediately, leaving the cast in the lurch and surrounded by bad publicity. When his replacement gets better reviews than he did, Vince goes on the defensive, which only brings about more negative press, and he is forced to lay low for a while. He finally manages to turn his luck around when E convinces him to star in a PBS miniseries, which makes people respect him again. The chances of the Entourage writers using this plot depend on how frustrated they are with Jeremy Piven at the start of production.
3. Instead of continuing from where the show left off, the team behind Entourage decides to scrap a film about Vince and the guys and instead give fans what they really want: a feature-length version of Queens Boulevard. Since it was Vince's breakout role, the movie has been referenced on the show often, and the tagline "I am Queens Boulevard" has become one of the show's most famous lines. Alternatively, the writers are inspired by Hearts of Darkness and decide to turn the Entourage film into a mockumentary detailing the making of Queens Boulevard, and the nightmare of working with Billy Walsh, the most unstable director in Hollywood history.
4. In an attempt to lure in a new audience, Entourage goes highbrow with Turtle and Drama Are Dead, a Tom Stoppard-inspired film which outlines the major events of the series through the eyes of two of the more minor characters. Due to salary disputes, only Ferrara and Kevin Dillon actually appear in the film, but Vince, E, and Ari are all mentioned throughout. At the end, the two are ambushed by mafia hitmen after being unknowingly sold out by Vince after her couldn't pay back the money he owed for a drug deal.
5. The Entourage team decide to find comedy in a more domestic set-up, and the film follows E and Sloan in their attempts to raise their kids in their Westchester mansion. Between one of their kids being bullied at school, attempting to help another break into show business as a child actress, and Sloan's ongoing conflicts with the obnoxious neighborhood mothers who look down on her for not raising their kids vegan, they think things can't possibly get worse until Vince, who is unable to properly function without E around, moves to New York and into their pool house. Vince gets into hilarious hijinks while babysitting the kids during the day and throwing massive parties at night. However, in a touching happy ending, he finally learns to grow up and let go.
6. After the producers read on Twitter that the young people of today love when things get "meta", the film follows Vince's attempts to get a television show based on his life and his friends off the ground. Having never produced a show before, Vince must work with writers, casting directors and studio heads in order to get Hangers-On optioned. It eventually gets picked up by HBO and becomes a massive hit, but some of the people in his life are unhappy with their portrayal, causing Vince to have an internal battle against protecting their feelings and making good television. There are at least three references to the film Inception.
7. Deciding that they've told all of the stories they could about Vince, E, Drama and Turtle, the writers instead decide to focus the Entourage movie on the true star of the show, Lloyd. After winning a harassment lawsuit against his former boss, Ari Gold, Lloyd decides to open his own talent agency, and is immediately inundated with clients. He makes a promise to himself never to verbally abuse his employees, which helps the company's roster of top agents grow quickly. However, his unbelievable success is putting a strain on his relationship with his fiancé Tom, and Lloyd must balance work and love while trying to plan the most outrageous wedding Hollywood has ever seen. When they eventually make it down the aisle, Ari is his man - the two reconciled during the film's third act.
8. Hoping to rebuild their roster of celebrity chefs, Drama gets offered a cooking show by Food Network. His builds his culinary empire quickly, and suddenly finds himself richer and more famous than his brother. He hires Turtle to manage the business side of things, which upset E, who thinks Turtle isn't qualified enough. However, they must set find a way to band together when Drama insults Guy Fieri on a morning talk show, sparking the tackiest and worst-dressed feud in celebrity history. When Drama opens up a pop-up restaurant outside of Guy's Time Square eatery, Guy challenges him to a cook off of epic proportions, which will be televised after the hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July. Paula Deen will attempt to recover from her recent scandals by making a cameo.
9. M. Night Shyamalan comes aboard the project as the new writer and director, hoping to boost his profile after a string of flops. The boys fly to a remote village in the countryside in order to start work on Vince's next film, only to discover that the cast and crew are being mysteriously killed, one by one. Mark Whalberg will take on the role of the gruff detective in charge on investigating the murders after his wife, a costume designer, dies tragically on set. Shyamalan's twist is that the scripts are possessed and killing people, and only Turtle makes it to the end. It gets uniformly negative reviews, but still inexplicably becomes a hit.
10. After years of their storylines being criticized as unrealistic, the Entourage film takes a more true-to-life approach in seeing where all of the characters have ended up. As a consequence of his constant stupid decisions, Vince has endured a second stint in rehab and a nasty divorce from his reporter wife, Sophia. He mostly makes ends meet through nightclub appearances and a string of mediocre films. E is also divorced, and has moved back to California to live with Vince and manage his mostly C-List clients. He and Sloan have joint custody of their child, but he still pines over her. By the end of the film, he is hopefully on his way to being a decent human being again. Drama's had a spike in popularity after a cable network decides to reboot Viking Quest. He's made a few guest appearances on the show, but mostly makes his living by appearing at fan conventions. Turtle owns a medical marijuana dispensary. Ari retired for good after all of his anger led to a minor heart attack, but his presence at home drives his wife crazy.
Or something like that.
Follow @hollywood_comFollow @julesemm
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.
The King of New York director is reviving the original 1974 production, which follows the lives of a racially-mixed group of inmates at a New York prison who are joined by a white middle-class man accused of raping a girl.
Carl Rumbaugh and Susan Batson - who worked on the 2004 Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean 'Diddy' Combs - will produce, along with Antone Pagan and Charles Rosen.
Casting has not yet begun on the show, which is expected to debut during the 2010-2011 season.